Archive for category The Bible
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?
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
In 1523, a man named William Tyndale visited the city of London to gain permission to translate the Greek New Testament into English. He visited a Bishop by the name of Cuthbert Tunstall and requested help, but Tyndale was rejected.
It wouldn’t be long before Tyndale self exiled out of England and headed for Europe and onto Germany. Tyndale was a Lutheran, and there he likely met with Reformer Martin Luther who had recently published his own translation of the New Testament into German.
It was at Wittenberg, Germany where Tyndale probably began to expertly translate the New Testament, from Greek into English. By 1525 Tyndale had published his translation using the printing press at Cologne.
He did not have a licence, and his burden lay for his own people and so he was forced to smuggle the New Testament back into England by ship, along the River Thames.
By 1529 Tyndale had been publicly declared a heretic and his books publically burned outside St.Paul’s Cathedral. By 1535 a Judas by the name of Henry Phillips had befriended and betrayed Tyndale and he was captured, imprisioned, condemned, strangled and burned at the stake in 1536.
But it was not the end of Tyndale. That same year his translated work was lifted and used in the very first complete English Bible by Miles Coverdale. Likewise, the translation work was later incorporated into the Geneva Bible and eventually the King James Bible.
Some say as much as 84-90% of the King James New Testament, was the work of William Tyndale.
Most historians today say the English Reformation began with Henry V111’s quest for a male heir, but that is not quite true. The 16th century English Reformation began when Tyndale spread out the Scriptures openly before the people.
But it was never any man who reformed the Church, it was the Holy Spirit who brought about the change. The Lord used honest men to do it, just as He can use honest and God-fearing men today, to do His will.
In only a few days now the actual 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be upon us.
31 October for me is a time that can inspire things to be straightened out. A time that inspires misconceptions to be challenged and for the voices of the people to be heard.
At this time of such a momentous anniversary, there is a common misunderstanding today that I have noticed for sometime, where popular preachers from America often associate the labelling of ‘reformed Theology’ as somewhat exclusive to Calvinism.
There are a lot of brothers in America who claim ‘reformed Theology’ is little more than Calvinism in a nutshell.
Calvinism they say, is nothing more than the pure Gospel.
These claims however are highly speculative and cannot be verified beyond doubt in the face of history and Scripture.
The facts remain that reformed theology can be divided into about four branches or positions.
The facts remain that when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg in 1517, John Calvin was only eight years old.
Calvin was born 10 July 1509 in Noyon, France, which is nearly 600 miles from Wittenberg. When Luther stood at the Diet of Worms in 1521 and the outbreak of the Reformation spread, Calvin was an 11 year old boy who went on to study Philosophy in Paris. He went on to study and pursue a career in law and would not experience a conversion to Christ until 1533 when he was about 24 years old.
By that time Luther had already been excommunicated, translated the New Testament into German and his complete German translation of the Bible was close to being published. The following year Tyndale’s New Testament was in its final revision and the majority of key reformation books had been published and distributed.
By 1536 Calvin was working hard to reform the Church in Geneva and his publication of ‘the Institutes of the Christian Religion’ was in its 1st edition. And through his preaching and influence in Geneva, Calvin’s branch of the reformation spread throughout Geneva and the reformation reached its peak by 1545 and by influence continued on till about 1620. By 1545, many publications had been published and the majority position of the Reformation was Lutheran. Calvinism mainly taking root in France, Netherlands, and Scotland and remaining until after the counter reformation of 1648.
From the mid 16th century – the mid 17th century, Calvinism had taken root in England, Scotland, Greece, and Wales during the Puritan era, while Lutheranism held a majority throughout Europe, even making its way back to Rome itself. Thus, the simple facts remain that although Calvin’s influence had branches within the Reformation, it was probably not referred to as Calvinism until the 18th or 19th centuries, the majority of Calvinistic thought process at that time being the development and spread of the doctrines proclaimed in 1618 at the Synod of Dort and the Puritans who left England during the 17th century for America.
John Calvin’s steadfast work and devotion to the faith is to be admired and admonished, and I value his contribution to the reformation. I regard Calvin’s commentaries on Scripture among the best available. But, I am less favourable concerning the common claims that reformed theology is nothing more than Calvinism. On the contrary, the claim is little more than a fictitious propagation of this centuries favourite American Calvinist preachers, who because of their position on believers baptism, would probably have been either imprisoned or drowned by the very same people they claim to revere.
Surely it is time now for this fallacious claim to be amended!
In my previous post I wrote about an upcoming exhibition at John Rylands Library on the Reformation. The exhibition, now open, marks the 500th anniversary for a happening that would become one of the most significant events in Church history.
Yesterday I visited the exhibition for the second time.
On arrival I was faced with an original handwritten letter by Martin Luther dated 1 January 1528. Written in German, the letter is very Christ centred. It shows a man who’s life was heavily under threat, unable to save himself and looking to Christ who remains the life and justification of the those who believe and trust in Him.
A translation is available and presents a very humble and spiritual man. It is a very touching letter.
Moving through the exhibition it is clear that the representatives of Rylands have portrayed the reformation properly. There is a 1539 ‘Great Bible’ and for the most part, the exhibition Focuses on the writings, influence and controversies of the following three distinct persons;
- Tyndale “Radical“
- Henry V111 “Rogue“
- Martin Luther “Renegade“
Here is a list of some of the displayed items and books.
William Tyndale features prominently and there is a Tyndale New Testament, printed in Antwerp, 1536. There is a copy of ‘The Obedience of a Christian Man and how Christian rulers ought to govern’ (Antwerp, 1528)
There is also an intriguing book “The Testament of Master William Tracie esquier expounded both by William Tyndal and John Frith’ (London, 1535)
Henry V111 rightly features and there is a fine decorated copy of a ‘Defense of the seven sacraments against Martin Luther” (London, 1521) and “The confutacyon of Tyndale’s answere” by Thomas More (London, 1533)
Also on display is a fine copy of “The Bible in Englishe“, known as the Great Bible (London, 1539)
This work was the first English Bible approved of by King Henry V111 and the New Testament contains the majority of Tyndale’s translation.
Martin Luther is very prominent with an original 15th century ‘indulgence‘ printed by Gutenberg at Mainz between 1454-1455. Luther’s reaction to this is displayed in his bold “Disputation on the power of indulgences” (Basel, 1517)
Other Luther books include ‘A treatise touching the liberty of a Christian‘ (1579 print) “On the Babylonian captivity of the Church” (Strasboug, 1520) and a Luther New Testament in German (Wittenberg, 1522) with an image of the ‘whore of Babylon‘ wearing the Pope’s Papal Tiara.
I like that one a lot!
Today, Christianity has become very troubling. In fact, it has become so troubling that it is a difficult thing to claim one is simply a ‘Christian’.
Theological divisions and historic splits have split the wood of Christianity into many branches. It is because of this that denominations have developed the habit of sticking a title or nickname before them. Baptists, Calvinists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterian, and so forth. Most of them holding onto a doctrine or a set of doctrines which have caused them to separate themselves or be excommunicated, or dispersed from the Churches they once were part of.
History shows there are many Godly people who have been forced out of Churches because their fellowships have fallen into error or apostasy.
I cast my mind back to the “Great Ejection” of 1662 when the Church of England formed “The Act of Uniformity” which in effect caused the likes of Puritan Richard Baxter, John Flavel, Thomas Watson and over 2000 Godly ministers to be ejected out of the Church. It was clearly a mistake that the ‘Church of England’ has never recovered from to this day.
In 1770 John Wesley gave a sermon upon the death of George Whitfield in which he spoke concerning their disagreements by saying, “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature … In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials…”.
Whitfield famously chose to speak against Wesley because the two did not agree on definitions of ‘grace’ and ‘predestination’. Whitfield held to a Calvinistic interpretation of those doctrines while Wesley believed ‘Calvinistic predestination’ was a “monstrous doctrine”.
But it is the term ‘agree to disagree’ which is clearly something that many Christians have failed to do. Rather than do see the truth of what Wesley said “let us hold fast to the essentials…” too many Christians choose to make a ‘false teacher’ or an ‘unbeliever’ out of anyone who questions or does not believe their beliefs.
After all, is it not a historical fact that it was the Bishops and priests who had Christians burned at the stake for believing the Bible? Is it not a Biblical fact that it was the men in the pulpits who denied the Christ and were partially responsible for the execution of some of the Apostles and disciples? Is it not also true that the majority of problems within Christianity today are caused from leaders and pastors who deny the truth yet accuse others of things they themselves are guilty of?
I think too many leaders need to take the plank out of their own eyes!
Today there are too many dogmatic ‘preachers’ who will simply not move one iota from what they believe and at times mentally bully other believers hoping they conform to their requirements, not considering for a moment that their requirements are wrong. Thus if the believers in question do not comply, the preachers often misrepresent them or label them as ‘rebels’ or ‘not saved’ or accuse them of simply ‘denying scripture’.
This however, is quite simply not always the case!
Christianity today has perhaps more denominations than any other ‘religion’ and much of this has come as a direct result of the problems created by the leaders themselves. Some have claimed there are as many as 43,000 denominations of Christianity worldwide. Many of them claiming to be Christian and merely believing and teaching what Scripture says, yet when tested, contain a great deal of error.
Indeed, cults claim they too hold to scripture. Last week I was in discussion with a Mormon gentleman and he too claimed to believe ‘just what Scripture says’. This week, I was in discussion with a gentleman representative from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and he too claimed to believe ‘just what Scripture says’.
Obviously I do not believe ‘Mormon’ or ‘Jehovah Witness’ teaching to be true to the Bible. On the contrary, I do not believe either of those two religions to be part of the body of Christ, but even we, despite our major doctrine divides, still managed to ‘agree to disagree‘.
What troubles me today however in true Christianity, is how so many Christians and Pastors, Priests, Bishops and leaders refuse to consider anything that contradicts what they believe, even if those beliefs are not “essentials” or ‘salvation issues’ but merely Biblically questionable.
In closing I will say this, I think Christians desperately need to cease from contesting one another on none essential differences and creating more division by locking themselves away behind the doors or their own beliefs.
May believers not be like the ‘Jehovah witness’ who, when presented with Scripture, merely replied, ‘that’s not what I believe’.