I was just reading the Wikipedia article about it and one of its characteristics is:

Unlimited scope of the substitution: According to governmental theory, Christ's death applies not to individuals directly, but to the Church as a corporate entity. In other words, Christ did not make a one-to-one substitution, but a general substitution. In this view, Christ's substitution can also be considered to be infinite, so that God could apply the substitution to an arbitrary, not pre-determined number of individuals and to their sins.

It seems to say that Jesus died only for the Church as a general group. What does death applies to the Church mean here?

  • 1
    This is an interesting Q because if Christ's death applies to the Church, which is made up of millions / billions of individuals, then how can it be possible to claim that it does not apply to individuals directly? All those who make up the spiritual 'body' of Christ, his Church, are directly 'joined' to him, whether or not they are on the membership role of any Christian denomination. I've never heard of this 'Governmental' theory of atonement. Can you identify for us some denominations that hold to it, please?
    – Anne
    Commented Feb 4 at 13:56
  • i have read only a bit but it was stated that it was/is somehow held among (some?) memebers of methodist church of nazarene Commented Feb 4 at 15:16
  • Thank-you. It was a lovely lady in a local Church of the Nazarene who was used of the Lord to help get me away from the grips of a pseudo-Christian group. I went with her to one of their services. I know they are firmly Trinitarian. A booklet of theirs says they began in 1895, out of the 'Holiness' revival in Methodism. Also, that the atonement is for the whole human race and whoever repents and believes on Christ is saved; they have 'representative' church governance; believers are identified with the church but are saved by faith first. But see my answer.
    – Anne
    Commented Feb 4 at 17:09

2 Answers 2


This Governmental Theory of the Atonement seems to have been started by one Hugo Grotius (1583-1645). He had been trained in law. Theologically, he was Arminian. There was a sharp divide between Protestants holding to the Five Points of James Arminius and the established Belgic and Heidelberg Confessions of Faith.

One point of Arminius was that of Universal redemption, or general atonement. This taught that Christ died to save all men, but only in a potential fashion. His death was said to enable God to pardon sinners, but only on condition that they believed.

A detailed explanation of Grotius’s theory of Atonement is found in his writing against the Socinians, “Defensio Fidei Catholicae de Satisfactionae Christi adversus F. Socinum” (1636). He used the language of government to spell out his view of God as moral governor of the universe. However, the Reformers maintained that Christ actually received the actual punishment due to men and women – known as the Penal Substitution theory. But in time, traditional Methodism went towards the Arminian ‘camp’. Governmental theory has been detailed by 19th century Methodist theologian John Miley in his Atonement in Christ and his Systematic Theology (ISBN 0943575095) and more recently by Nazarene theologian J. Kenneth Grider in his 1994 book A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (ISBN 0834115123.) It seems that great emphasis is put on the love of God with respect to this theory.

In this view, Christ's death serves as a moral example, salvation is defined in terms of what the sinner must do leading to perfectionism, moralism, or other works-based forms of religion.



I'm just a crippled old farm boy, who loves the truth, and believes the original manuscripts were God-breathed and profitable for reproof and correction....(2Tim 3:16), and therefore must be without errors or self-contradictions. While copy and translation errors do exist, on your question, I gather that the "Good Shepherd" died on behalf of His Sheep (Jn 10:11-15), chosen (by grace alone) from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), with their names eternally written into "The Lamb's Book of Life" from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8, 17:8), having been predestined into adoption as sons (Eph 1:5), as well as, predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son (Rom 8:29), and eventually, glorified (Rom 8:30) with immortal bodies at "The Last Trumpet" (1Cor 15:51-52).

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