Monday, October 26, 2009

Perseverence of the Saints....???

William Birch (click here) and I are doing a tag-team today.

One of the main points of Calvinistic theology is their doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This is the doctrine in which one who is elect of God cannot lose his or her salvation.1

Calvin said:
"In like manner, in the Gospel of Luke, those in whom the seed of the word is choked before it brings forth fruit, or in whom, from having no depth of earth, it soon withereth away, are said to believe for a time. Such, we doubt not, eagerly receive the word with a kind of relish, and have some feeling of its divine power, so as not only to impose upon men by a false semblance of faith, but even to impose upon themselves. They imagine that the reverence which they give to the word is genuine piety, because they have no idea of any impiety but that which consists in open and avowed contempt. But whatever that assent may be, it by no means penetrates to the heart, so as to have a fixed seat there. Although it sometimes seems to have planted its roots, these have no life in them. The human heart has so many recesses for vanity, so many lurking places for falsehood, is so shrouded by fraud and hypocrisy, that it often deceives itself."2


This being the case, I think it's important to point out the true lack off assurance any Calvinist truly has. If anyone can be fooled about their conversion, no Calvinist can say they ARE elect with certainty. They feel elect, maybe, but they have no idea if Christ died for them or not, since Christ only died for a select few. The irony is most Calvinists tout this as one of their distinctive advantages, they KNOW they are saved; but we can see there is really no grounds for this assurance because they can't be sure their Christian experience isn't the false assurance Calvin described.

R.C. Sproul writes:
"A while back I had one of those moments of acute self-awareness…and suddenly the question hit me, 'R.C., what if you are not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not heaven after all, but hell?' Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified… I began to take stock of my life, and I looked at my performance...”3
Am I missing something? What good would introspection do in this case? If you aren't elect, no amount of introspection is going to change that!!! The introspection does nothing in any case. If upon introspection you find you aren't elect, there's nothing you can do to change that.

As an Arminian, however, there is good grounds for assurance. We know that Christ has died for all (1 John 2:2, 2 Peter 3:9, etc.) and by faith we can have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us (Acts 16:31, Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8-9). We also know no believer can be separated from the Lord (Romans 8:35-39).4


1 There are some Arminians and other non-Calvinists who hold to this theological distinctive. The reasoning, however, is different in the non-Calvinist versions. While in Calvinism it is necessary when considering unconditional election and limited atonement, in non-Calvinist theology it is seen as simply a promise of God that once a person is saved they cannot lose their salvation.

2 John Calvin, Institutes Book 3 Section 2, http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/books/institutes/

3 R.C. Sproul, “Assurance of Salvation,” Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries, Inc., 1989, 20. Cited in Dave Hunt, What Love is This

4 However, I do believe one can cease believing and, therefore, is no longer in Christ.

23 comments:

William Watson Birch said...

And we didn't even use the same quotes! :) Which means that there is probably even more evidence in the Institutes of this confused wrangling of words from Calvin on the topic of perseverance.

Huh! Who would've thunk it, that Arminianism would genuinely offer more assurance of one's salvation than Calvinism?

bossmanham said...

Yeah. This is why so many Puritans struggled so immensely with their pereverance. A doctrine that is supposed to comfort actually lead them to despair. Most Calvinists don't realize it because they don't think it through this far (and haven't read Institutes).

Steven said...

I don't understand how this is a problem with Calvinism.

"Am I really saved?" is a question that arises no matter your theology (unless, say, you're a universalist). I can picture an Arminian wondering to himself, "am I really in Christ?" If the Arminian has a sure answer to that question (say, asking yourself if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe he was risen from the dead, that he is the propitiation of your sins, and so on), then so also does the Calvinist.

Rhology said...

AIUI, these are actually two different questions -
1) can a person, once justified, lose his justification and thus be damned if he dies that way?
2) can a person be assured that he is saved?

On question #1 I am strongly convinced. On question #2 I am sorta, weakly convinced.

And yes, I should think that #1 without #2 would be rather abstract and not all that helpful for anyone in living out their life in the real world, but yeah.

Grace and peace,
Rhology

Rhology said...

Hmm, that wasn't very clear.
What I meant was that I am strongly convinced that #1 is false, that one cannot lose one's salvation. Sorry.

And weakly convinced that one can have assurance.

Chris said...

Thanks for sharing this. It was very interesting. And you rightly point out that the non-Calvinist version of "once saved always saved" (OSAS) is different to the Calvinistic view of perseverance.

The Arminians who believe that salvation can be lost can at least have assurance in the present. The Calvinists who believe that they have to persevere unto the end to know whether they are saved - what a dreadful teaching. They cannot be sure at all.

Rhology said...

Chris,

Knowing for sure b/c sight is achieved (thus faith/hope is no longer necessary, "for who hopes for what he already has?") is different from assurance. Calvinism isn't dreadful on that count at all. It's the exact same situation on Arminianism.

Peace,
Rhology

Chris said...

Rhology,

Please could you clarify what you mean by "b/c sight"?

As a four-point Arminian I believe in OSAS and therefore assurance. However I beleive in assurance because God preserves and disciplines those who come to him and not because the believer "holds on".

Arminians who don't accept OSAS (admittedly the majority) can not have assurance of final salvation, but they can at least know they are saved at present. But does a Calvinist know that he is one of the elect and that he will persevere to the end?

Rhology said...

Hi Chris,

What I meant by "b/c sight is achieved" is that assurance is the belief that one is saved, before one dies. Calvies and Armies both have the same endgame scenario, where when we die we'll know for sure whether we were saved. But assurance is BEFOREhand. I'm just saying that whether one is Calvie or Armie makes zero difference wrt assurance, with one exception - the Calvie, if he has assurance, knows that he'll never fall away. The Armie has no such guarantee.

You asked whether a Calvie can know he's one of the elect. The question is synonymous with "can a Calvie know whether he's saved", and yes, I really blv he can.


Peace,
Rhology

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Rhology,

I have to admit I like the idea of Calvinist assurance and perseverance, and I even tried believing it once. However I could not. For a start the fact that there are warnings against falling away and disobedience implies that such possibilities exist (eg. Hebrews 2:1-4, 3:7 onwards).

Secondly, we can underestimate the depths of sin and depravity in our own hearts. A Calvie may have present assurance but how do you know that your faith is not temporary (I believe Calvin spoke of "temporary faith" in relation to the parable of the soils)?

Rhology said...

Chris,

The warnings are simply some of the means by which God keeps His elect from stumbling. Like a "Bridge Out" sign before a bridge that's out. W/o the warning, ppl might drive off a cliff, and b/c of the warning, they don't.

Of course we can underestimate our own sin and depravity, thus the many commands to self-examine. But the Arminian has the same problem, so I'm not sure what the challenge is here. I know my faith isn't temporary the same way an Arminian knows - the Spirit bears testimony. I'm a Calvinist b/c not only does my position make sense of these bits of biblical data you bring up but ALSO of the other bits that Arminianism can't handle, such as the golden chain of redemption in Rom 8:29-30 and John 6:44-45.

Grace and peace,
Rhology

bossmanham said...

Rhology,

Good to see you.

The warnings are simply some of the means by which God keeps His elect from stumbling.

I think that would make them pretty shallow. They don't appear to just be there to help us to keep from stumbling, but to genuinely warn us against apostasy. It even seems that the writers try to emphasize that these are actual believers who fall away ("those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit" [Hebrews 6:4] and "if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off" [Romans 11:22]).

W/o the warning, ppl might drive off a cliff, and b/c of the warning, they don't.

But in Calvinism, it's impossible to drive off the cliff. The possibility isn't there not because of the warning, but because of unconditional election, isn't it?

I'm a Calvinist b/c not only does my position make sense of these bits of biblical data you bring up but ALSO of the other bits that Arminianism can't handle, such as the golden chain of redemption in Rom 8:29-30 and John 6:44-45.

Actually, we have a pretty good handle on those too. :)

My main point was that if there is this false sense of election that someone who is unelect is given by God, or allowed to feel, then I'm not sure how the Calvinist can ever be sure they aren't experiencing this false assurance.

Rhology said...

Hi Chris,
Good talking to you too!
Warnings are shallow? They're real warnings, but they always accomplish their purpose, like God's Word (Isaiah 55:10). Oh wait, they ARE God's Word! :-D

You don't want to cite Heb 6:4, trust me. Explain why everyone who thinks one can lose his salvation also thinks one can come back, in strict contradiction to Heb 6:4-6 and you'll see why I say that.
Rom 11:22 - yes, if you continue. And those who are truly saved by God always do continue.

God uses means to accomplish His purpose. Thus the warning. He uses the warning to keep people from falling away.
And again, there's no difference in terms of assurance between the Calvinist and Arminian, since an Arminian could have false faith too.
It's all I'm saying.

Grace and peace,
Rhology

bossmanham said...

Hey Rho,

Actually this is Brennon.

You don't want to cite Heb 6:4, trust me. Explain why everyone who thinks one can lose his salvation also thinks one can come back

I actually don't think that. I think if someone is truly a Christian and (note the emphasis) truly apostasizes, they have commited the unforgivable sin. I don't see any reason to read anything else into the text other than what it says at face value there. Yes the writer says, "But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you..." but i think that is simply the writer's confidence that these people will continue in God's work. I think it is reading into the text to extrapolate from that an unconditional perseverance.

Rom 11:22 - yes, if you continue. And those who are truly saved by God always do continue.

I also, likewise, don't see any context that would say the Romans 11 passage is any less of a real possibility, since you usually don't warn someone of something they can't do. All I see in the remainder of Romans 11 is the promise that God will never remove His offer of mercy from the earth.

Add to that the other passages in Hebrews, the parable of the sower, Paul's "if you continue" passages, etc. and I have come to the conclusion that apostasy is possible for those who truly and deliberately thrust their faith from themselves. Note that I used to believe OSAS.

I do think that there may be some who either were never saved to begin with that seem to apostasize and also those who are saved that don't actually apostasize. Their saving faith remains in tact.

since an Arminian could have false faith too

Yes, but I don't think this is anything like what Calvin was referring to. I think the false faith is what false prophets have (since that is the context of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:23) and they know that it is a false confession. I don't know that there are any who truly think they are saved and have experienced the witness of the Holy Spirit who aren't truly elect. In other words, I don't think there is a false assurance that approaches the witness of the Holy Spirit. The difference would be discernable.

Anyway, God bless. Keep up the good work agains the Darwinists.

Chris said...

Hi All,

Thanks for your replies. I actually believe in OSAS but not the Calvinistic view of perseverance. I believe it is possible to backslide to such a point that God puts that saint to death physically (as was the case with the Corinthians who abused the Lord's supper, Ananias and Sapphira and King Saul). The warnings in Hebrews are examples of this. In Hebrews 6, I do believe it is talking about true beleivers. The Amplified Bible puts it this way:

6 If they then deviate from the faith and turn away from their allegiance--[it is impossible] to bring them back to repentance, for (because, while, as long as) they nail upon the cross the Son of God afresh [as far as they are concerned] and are holding [Him] up to contempt and shame and public disgrace.

Having checked the Greek (via the help of Spiros Zodhiates Hebrew-Greek key study Bible) I think this is a good interpretation. It is saying that whilst they continue this, they cannot get past the elementary principles and therefore will not press on to maturity.

I agree with Brennon that the warnings would be shallow if they were not real. I also believe that God means what he says and therefore he does not make empty threats.

Rhology - I would avoid saying things like "Arminians cannot handle this text" as I have studied these texts and found the Arminian interpretation more convincing exegetically than the Calvinistic interpretation.

Rhology said...

Chris,

Well, I'm just expressing my conclusion as I've so far seen it. John 6:45 is what made me a full Calvinist, actually, just over 6 months ago, interestingly.

And I also have the Spiros Zodhiates Hebrew-Greek key study Bible! It's my main Bible, and I really dig it.

Anyway, good talking to you brothers.

Grace and peace,
Rhology

Rhology said...

Oh, and I wouldn't agree that the warnings are empty threats. But they are never carried out in actuality.

-Rhology

Rhology said...

Here's an interesting post on this topic.

Studier101 said...

I have three small objections. The first objection is that the reference is incomplete. Calvin's quote is from Book 3, chapter 2, section 10. I say this because I was having trouble finding it with the "Book 3, section 2" reference!

Studier101 said...

The second objection is that the section of Calvin is only half quoted. The first part is: "But as this shadow or image of faith is of no moment, so it is unworthy of the name. How far it differs from true faith will shortly be explained at length. Here, however, we may just indicate it in passing. Simon Magus is said to have believed, though he soon after gave proof of his unbelief (Acts 8:13-18). In regard to the faith attributed to him, we do not understand with some, that he merely pretended a belief which had no existence in his heart: we rather think that, overcome by the majesty of the Gospel, he yielded some kind of assent, and so far acknowledged Christ to be the author of life and salvation, as willingly to assume his name." (Emphasis mine) .

Studier101 said...

And the third and final objection is thus: the quotation is suggested to the reader as the true and proper faith of the elect or Calvinist, whereas Calvin everywhere in this section talks about a "false semblance of faith" the section itself being entitled: "...Who those are that believe for a time. The faith of hypocrites. With whom they may be compared." Contrast this with the following, in Section 15 " There are very many also who form such an idea of the divine mercy as yields them very little comfort. For they are harassed by miserable anxiety while they doubt whether God will be merciful to them. They think, indeed, that they are most fully persuaded of the divine mercy, but they confine it within too narrow limits. The idea they entertain is, that this mercy is great and abundant, is shed upon many, is offered and ready to be bestowed upon all; but that it is uncertain whether it will reach to them individually, or rather whether they can reach to it. Thus their knowledge stopping short leaves them only mid-way; not so much confirming and tranquilizing the mind as harassing it with doubt and disquietude. Very different is that feeling of full assurance (πλεροφορία) which the Scriptures uniformly attribute to faith—an assurance which leaves no doubt that the goodness of God is clearly offered to us. This assurance we cannot have without truly perceiving its sweetness, and experiencing it in ourselves. Hence from faith the Apostle deduces confidence, and from confidence boldness. His words are, “In whom (Christ) we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him,” (Eph. 3:12) thus undoubtedly showing that our faith is not true unless it enables us to appear calmly in the presence of God. Such boldness springs only from confidence in the divine favor and salvation. So true is this, that the term faith is often used as equivalent to confidence."

Studier101 said...

and also Section 16 "...A description of the true believer.": (as to the question of Calvinist security and fruit)"In one word, he only is a true believer who, firmly persuaded that God is reconciled, and is a kind Father to him, hopes everything from his kindness, who, trusting to the promises of the divine favor, with undoubting confidence anticipates
salvation; as the Apostle shows in these words, “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end,” (Heb. 3:14). He thus holds, that none hope well in the Lord save those who confidently glory in being the heirs of the heavenly kingdom. No man, I say, is a believer but he who, trusting to the security of his salvation, confidently triumphs over the devil and death, as we are taught by the noble exclamation of Paul, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom. 8:38). In like manner, the same Apostle does not consider that the eyes of our understanding are enlightened unless we know what is the hope of the eternal inheritance to which we are called (Eph. 1:18). Thus he uniformly intimates throughout his writings, that the goodness of God is not properly comprehended when security does not follow as its fruit. "