Thursday, February 6, 2014
On Tuesday we shared how Russell put himself in a theological blender, chopping up various doctrinal stances (or rather being chopped-up by various ways of thinking about God).
Yesterday we looked at baptism, and some of the many similarities there are between what Methodists think, and what my former home, the Baptists think.
In a group of Methodist pastor-friends I met with this week, I was asked why I switched from being Baptist. Before I could answer a young colleague blurted out: because he got saved! I responded, ET tu, meddling preacher?
Today let’s look at one of the other most commonly discussed issues which divide the body of Christ – eternal security of the believer (often referred to, I believe incorrectly, as “once saved, always saved”). Can a “believer” truly lose his/her salvation? This is certainly one that comes up every time Baptist and Methodist beliefs are compared.
United Methodist theology follows John Wesley’s doctrinal interpretation which is based upon Jacob Arminius’ teaching that salvation can be “sinned-away”. In the 17th century, Arminius’ growing influence was the main reason the Synod of Dort was called. That meeting reaffirmed John Calvin’s teachings and declared Arminius a heretic. (He was already dead so they couldn’t burn him at the stake or something worse.)
John Calvin’s teaching (generally accepted by Baptists, Presbyterians and others to varying degrees) is that genuine saints will persevere (be eternally secure to the end).
Generally either Calvinism or Arminian teaching is held today by most of Christendom. But they are both widely modified and watered-down. For instance, Calvin’s once saved/always saved generally degenerates to an insurance policy against punishment for sin. As long as you can point to a time when you said some prayer of contrition and repentance, you’re good; from then on – no harm, no foul – you can live the way you want to, and you will still go to heaven.
In Arminian (Wesleyan) circles, the modified understanding of salvation’s requirement of growing in the faith towards perfection has people so buried under a pile of good works that they’re keeping themselves saved instead of trusting in Christ.
So…which is it, Calvin or Arminias?
Remember, I’ve been on both sides of this argument. I’ve found we have very little, very little, very little….and very very little to argue about.
The key word in the phrase “eternal security of the believer” is “believer”. All of Scripture pointing to God’s grace, faith and salvation affirm that it is those who believe (i.e., those who trust-in, rely-on, cling-to) Christ, who are eternally-secure.
For those who fail to trust, or cease trusting:
With my Methodist family we call it “sinning-away the grace”.
In my Baptist family we simply judged the backslider (a more Methodist term by the way) as one whose profession of faith was insincere, because a “genuine believer” would never turn his back on God.
In either instance – belief, faith, trust in God was trashed, and the unbeliever walked away from God.
Paul has some really good advice for the Christian concerned about this issue:
Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. 2 Corinthians 13:5 (TMSG)
I believe Paul’s suggested “test” should include how we treat those who hold a different doctrine. This will be the main topic tomorrow as we finish up this series – what should be our stand/position when we encounter doctrine that is genuinely different.
For now…there’s a one word answer for what to do when you fail the test – repent!