In my previous article on the historic anomaly of the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved‘ I suggested the popular doctrine, as it stands today, might have its origins in Gnosticism and not Scripture or early Christianity.
For many, any such claim is unthinkable and a plain denial of Scripture. But these types of beliefs are problematic, since there are between 60-80 verses in the New Testament which give distinct warnings to believers.
Scripture repeatedly tells believers to “abide” in Christ (John 15: 4, 6, 10, 1 John 2: 28) which makes little sense if it were impossible for believers to do otherwise.
Likewise, a person cannot abide somewhere they never were in the first place.
Can a person abide in Christ if he or she was never in Christ in the first place? Why then should should the believer be told to abide in Christ if they cannot do anything else?
The above verses and between 60-80 others including Romans 11: 22, Hebrews 10: 26, raise serious doubts concerning the authenticity of the doctrine.
Scripture is absolutely important and if a doctrine is not taught in Scripture, it does not belong in Christianity and no believer in any part of the world is obligated to believe it. But for all 5 point Calvinists and Calvinistic revisionists, the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved‘ is absolutely iron clad and Scripture itself. It is somewhat devilish, ignorant or evidence of a lack of faith for someone to deny or doubt it. Likewise, any attempt to cause people to re-think this, is pointless, because they have already made their minds up.
This is also the case for many evangelical’s who inconsistently embrace the doctrine, while affirming free will at the same time. See my article on this.
There are some, who upon reading this post would probably have an attitude that says something like this; ‘I was reading this guy the other day who was trying to say that I can lose my salvation and that ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ is a Gnostic teaching…‘. They would utterly reject what I am saying without even reviewing the evidence.
Attitudes like that are extreme and immediately unreasonable and people like that are not worth reasoning with in my opinion, but they are a continuous problem.
But the question I am seeking to answer in this post is this: did the Gnostic’s teach ‘Once Saved Always Saved’? If so, was it the same doctrine as Calvinism or did their doctrines contain similarities with the modern ‘wishy washy’ version of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’?
To answer this, I am going to use six references from early Church father Irenaeus and his book ‘Against heresies‘ as my historic source. I will be reviewing the ancient Gnostic beliefs from his perspective and leaving the reader to compare them to the modern versions of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’.
- According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s claimed that Christians who did not follow their doctrines, believed in a salvation of works. Quote: “We of the Church, they say, are these persons. Wherefore also they maintain that good works are necessary to us, for that otherwise it is impossible we should be saved.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
- According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s taught that they would be entirely saved, not by works but because they were saved in the spirit. Quote: “But as to themselves, (Gnostic’s) they hold that they shall be entirely and undoubtedly saved, not by means of conduct, (works) but because they are spiritual by nature.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
- According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s claimed that they could not be corrupted or fall away from salvation, no matter what sins they did. Quote “so again it is impossible that spiritual substance (by which they mean themselves) should ever come under the power of corruption, whatever the sort of actions in which they indulged.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
- According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s addicted themselves to things forbidden in the Scriptures without any fear of judgement. Quote: “that the “most perfect” among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that “they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.(Gal 5:21).” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
- According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s had no issues eating foods sacrificed to idols. Quote: “For instance, they make no scruple about eating meats offered in sacrifice to idols.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
- According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s committed sexual immorality with no fear of judgement or with any remorse. Quote: “Others of them, too, openly and without a blush, having become passionately attached to certain women, seduce them away from their husbands, and contract marriages of their own with them.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
I think there are some disturbing similarities between those Gnostic teachings and the modern versions of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’. I don’t see any distinct exactness between the Gnostic doctrine to proper Calvinism, but some could go to that extreme.
However, none of these references can be dismissed as Gnostic distortions of what was already taught in Scripture, because the warning passages in the New Testament, make little or no sense if ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ is true. It is an assumption to assume that because someone is saved, that they will always remain that way. A document can be saved, but that does not mean it cannot be deleted? A royal document can be sealed, but it does not mean it cannot be broken off by the King.
But questions remain; why didn’t the early Church fathers teach it? If the original Apostles taught the doctrine then why didn’t the early Church pick up on it since they followed the Apostles teaching very closely?
What is possible is that the early Gnostic’s did distort the New Testament texts used to affirm unconditional eternal security, and introduced the doctrine into Christianity by influence.
It is fact that the early primitive Church never taught ‘Once Saved Always Saved’. But that does not mean that there is no truth to it. I believe that when a believer is absolutely saved, that he or she can never be lost, but it is an assumption to assume that all believers are fully saved right now. We await the return of Christ in order for salvation to be made complete. Just because a person is saved, it is an assumption to assume that they are fully saved. I say this because there are many things in Scripture that people are saved from. However, I can clearly see why people believe the doctrine as it stands, but it is an assumption to assume that God gives persevering faith to all believers. It is also an assumption to assume that what Paul wrote in Philippians 1: 6, is true for all believers. I say this because he never said the same thing to the Galatians.
It is furthermore an assumption to assume that the word “perish” used by Jesus in John 10: 27-29 is a reference to the eternal and it is also an assumption to assume that the promise refers to all believers of all generations. The context of John 10: 27-29 clearly refers to His people who were present at the time when Jesus said that.
It is my opinion that too many Christians today are guilty of making far too many assumptions. We put ourselves before the Biblical texts and read ourselves into them. It has become a rare thing to enquire into the minds of the original Apostles and seek to discover what the Biblical authors were intending to communicate.
What is clear is that too many people and preachers are busy feeding particular views into the Scriptures, things which preachers have already suggested prior to their guiding the thoughts of their listeners before quoting passages from the Bible. This, I’m afraid could well be the power of suggestion, thought control, and rhetorical persuasion.
Christians, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1: 21) “Abide in Him; that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed of Him at His coming.” (1 John 2: 28)
Today, it is not uncommon to hear the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved‘ proclaimed in many sermons and books. It is through sermons and books that many ‘Christians’ today believe the doctrine. Most people that simply read the Bible, come to different conclusions.
This popular nickname ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ has its systematic reformed origins in the Calvinist doctrine of the ‘Perseverance of the Saints’. This doctrine was devoutly affirmed by 2nd generation reformers and is most associated with 1st generation reformer, John Calvin.
Calvin was an excellent Theologian and his reforms centralised around Geneva. His influence on the reformation was considerable but the main core reformed doctrine was Lutheran. Luther attempted to reform the Church by getting back to Scripture. His conviction was the ‘the Gospel cannot be denied for the word of man’.
Unfortunately, by today’s standards, it is very difficult for any Christian to merely believe what the Bible says. I say this because the Church of today has been corrupted by argumentation and interpretation. So it is, in these times that my personal attempts to proclaim truth and find truth of Scripture and believe it, is very difficult. So often those who merely believe what the Bible says are the ones labelled the total opposite.
However, we are not here to please men. Men may interpret the Bible, but they are not above it. So it is that I come to my point. The popular doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ has a major historic anomaly attached to it. Thorough research reveals that the doctrine was not taught in mainstream Christianity until the time of John Calvin or later in the 17th century at the Synod of Dort (1618). Some claim that Augustine of Hippo taught it? others that the doctrine is Gnostic.
Difficult as it may seem to grasp, it appears that the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ has its early origins in Gnosticism and not Christianity. We know this because Irenaeus refuted an early form of it in Against Heresies. Book 1. Chapter 6. The connection to Calvin being that Augustine was influenced by Gnosticism because of his prior belief in Manichaeism and Calvin relied upon Augustine as an authority on Scripture and quoted him more than any other theologian. However, there is reasonable doubt whether or not Augustine ever taught ‘Once Saved Always Saved’?
But outside of these references, the doctrine is not to be found.
This presents a major problem; unconditional eternal security was not taught by the ancient Christian Church, and is, in fact alien to historic Christianity before the 16th century.
This presents a major problem for those who claim their beliefs are absolutely Scriptural. It asks an unanswered question; If ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ is absolutely Scriptural, as some preachers claim, how could a doctrine of such massive importance lay untaught within Christianity for almost 1500 years? If the doctrine was so clearly taught in Scripture, as many moderns claim, then why didn’t the early Church teach it?
Why did the doctrine only come to light in the 16th century?
Surely, it is better to witness Christ at Christmas, than to give out Christmas cards or speak into the air!
Christmas is an excellent time to witness to unbelievers and religious people about the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The season often brings with it a merry spirit and even in the UK, it can be a time when our shut up hearts are opened and we feel right to wish seasons greetings to fellow human beings.
With this in mind, what a wonderful time it can be to tell people about Jesus and why He came to earth, what He said and what kind of claims He made about Himself? And the biggest question of all; did He really rise from the dead and if so, what does that mean for us.
Christians can have the answer and a simple gospel track or a good word can lighten someone’s day with the good news that God loves us and Jesus died for us!
If I am critical, and I confess I am, I must state that all too often I see far too many evangelical preachers standing on street corners preaching to passersby who are not actually listening, and most of the time the preachers are speaking into the air because their sermons are spoken as they would be if they were in church. In other words, it is useless preaching a sermon to passersby if that sermon has a structured beginning, middle and end. By the time the preacher has made a point of reason, it is meaningless because the passersby have long gone and he is speaking into the air.
But is there a better way? Well, yes there is a better way. In fact there are many better ways!
Surely it is better to do what Scripture says and to reason with people in the marketplace (Acts 17: 17) and not merly speak while people are not listening. Surely it is better to engage with individuals or groups or create a forum of some kind from which to preach. Even better, why not try reading out scripture that the Word of God may be set abroad among our fellow-man. Surely it is better for people to hear the truth than to ignore it because it makes no sense to them.
As I have expressed in previous posts, I am content to doubt that the historical Jesus was ever born on December 25, I affirm it more likely that He was born at Nissan. But never the less, that does not stop me seeing beyond my understanding, and seeing Christmas as a time to proselytize and win souls to the truth. But none of this will happen if we keep silent (Romans 10: 14).
If we walk past our fellow-man and ignore him, minding our own business, we are ignoring souls for whom Christ died and are guilty of watching souls slip further away from heaven and deeper into the pit.
Christian, a majority of us have no problem giving out Christmas cards, how is it then only a minority of us are willing to give out tracks or evangelise? Christian, let us do better and not hide the light in the darkness, but make a difference in this dark world we live in.
Dear Archbishop Justin Welby,
Earlier this year I read with interest your “Statement from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York” concerning your prayer for unity and the call on Christians to repent for the Reformation split. I have repeatedly delayed myself from giving any response, because I have sought to understand properly the things that have been said.
Firstly, I would like to point out that any call for persons alive today to repent of the past, is a logical fallacy. A living person cannot repent for something he or she never did. A person is only responsible for what he or she has done and what they will do in the future.
Secondly, a Scriptural definition of the word “repent” means to ‘change ones mind‘ and sometimes refers to ‘expressing sorrow’ of wickedness and turning away from it.
With these two points in mind, I seek to ask you what it is that you would like Christians like myself to repent of? and how can any Christian repent of something that might not be a sin in the first place? Is the primary focus on how we deal with divisions within Christianity or on the divisions themselves? Or is the primary focus upon the larger agenda to reunite the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church?
I think the answer may well be both, but with a primary emphasis upon the latter!
May I remind you that during the 16th century German Reformation, it was Rome which excommunicated Luther and not Luther Rome. If Christians have common ground with Roman Catholicism, then what was it about the doctrines of Faith alone and Scripture alone that Rome despised so much? The positions seem quite Biblical to me!
I am reminded of Paul’s warning to Timothy “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4: 16) These words when translated in the KJV give a distinct warning, not concerning love, but doctrine.
In the statement it is worded; “We therefore call on all Christians to seek to be renewed and united in the truth of the gospel of Christ through our participation in the Reformation Anniversary, to repent of divisions, and, held together in Him, to be a blessing to the world in obedience to Jesus Christ.” Thus, while I do not disagree with the entire statement, I cannot agree with all of it when the context is measured with Scripture, because a Christian who holds to Scripture cannot repent of divisions that are caused by those who deny the Bible.
A true united Church can only be united to the truth of the Gospel when the Gospel is not denied by those who claim to represent it. But when establishments such as the Pope’s church deny the Scripture, how can those who love the Truth be at one with those who don’t? Can light mix with darkness?
Archbishop, though you may or may not see it, and I’m sure you have, close examinations have been done concerning the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and studies show the Pope’s church is little more than an apostate works based religion. Thus in the face of Scripture, it becomes clear that the Pope’s church does not believe the true Gospel of grace alone.
In the preface of a 19th century copy of of ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’ there is a distinct warning. It reads like so;
“Rome is labouring, with redoubled effort, for the subjection of Britain. She attacks us openly from without, while there are traitors ready to open our gates from within. And the people have forgotten that she is a siren who enchants but to destroy. It is time that the mask should be torn from her face, and that she should be recognised once more as “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and abominations of the Earth” (Rev. XV11. 5)“
Thus, I ask you; why should Christians repent of the divisions made by the Pope’s establishment and the stance the Reformers held that the true character of Rome’s tyrannical apostasy was something that the people of Britain and Europe had been so mercifully rescued from during the Reformation? Is the blood of the martyrs not enough to show that the true face of Pope’s church was shown by her own acts? Is a tree not to be measured according to its fruits?
Sir, I believe you are a true Christian and I hope to warn you that religion is something that rarely changes, and there are good reasons why the Holy Spirit has warned us in the New Testament concerning deception in the church perhaps more than any other topic.
Please think it possible, that while your intentions may well be good, you may also be mistaken.
Simon Peter Sutherland
November 5, 2017
On the evening of the anniversary of the Reformation, I attended an exhibition, debate and discussion at John Rylands Library.
The night began appropriately with the printing of indulgences (on an antique printing press) accompanied with music and an exhibition of artefacts and books from the reformation era. These artefacts included original handwritten and printed indulgences. A Tyndale New Testament and The practice of prelates and Luther on Galatians.
A summery toward the end of the evening focused upon what the reformation has given us today. Where would our world be if not for the Reformation?
This question is a good one and one that could possibly provide a never ending list. However, I have listed a few of the things I think are the direct results the Reformation has given the people of Britain and things inspired by the Reformation and the Theology and principles. These are things that we can be thankful for;
- The New Testament published in the original Greek
- The Bible in English
- The Apocrypha in English
- Chapters and verses of the New Testament
- The old and modern English language
- The Bible in multiple languages
- The freedom to read the Bible for ourselves
- The freedom to interpret the Bible
- The liberty to believe
- Independent Churches & Congregations
- Seats in Churches
- The priesthood of all believers
- Religious liberty
- Freedom of speech
- Puritan history
- Free education
- The bank of England
- The Wesleyan revivals
- The abolition of the slave trade
- Chetham’s Library, Manchester
- John Rylands Library
- Ongoing Bible translation
The list could go on…
Dear Pastor John Piper,
I am writing this letter to you because I know you are familiar with open letters.
All I ask of you is that you read it, test it, to see if it be of true. If it is true, I pray you will embrace it.
May the Lord be with us both as we remember this day.
Grace and peace
Simon Peter Sutherland
During our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, #Reformation500, it is good to remember the events from a number of perspectives.
It is easy to look at the Reformation as one singular event and neglect the series of happenings throughout Europe.
The ancient city of Geneva was a place uniquely driven by the reforms and ideas of John Calvin and his major contributions to the Reformation took place in Geneva between the years 1541-1549.
By 1541 Geneva was undergoing a political and religious war, and some sought peace by wanting to return to Roman Catholicism. But Calvin was strong enough to hold onto his conviction that all things, be they religious or civil, should be done according to the Bible.
Some of the controversial reforms the Genevan council of 60 implemented was the closing of taverns. A 16th century tavern, being a place where locals and travellers drank alcohol and eat food. Calvin had them replaced with Cafe’s where people would pray before every meal, and the Bible was always present. People were not permitted to sing in them either.
But the plan failed and it drove people away, so the taverns were reopened.
A lesson to be learned is that no Christian should ever try to force believers or none believers to do anything. People have to decide for themselves. Implementing Christian or none Christian ideals and morals on the public fails to do anything but drive people away.