Monday, August 10, 2009

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church and the Doctrine of Eternal Security, Part 2: Knowing, Certainty, and Eternal Security

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

Pastor Carlo DeStefano at Fairwinds Baptist Church offers the same message three times a week at the end of every sermon: you can know this morning where you will spend eternity. You can be sure that when you die, you will go immediately to heaven. If you think you will not go to heaven or you are not sure, then you are probably not saved, you probably have not heard the true Gospel, and you probably do not know Christ as savior. You have probably been trusting something else (church attendance, good works, baptism, etc.) to get you into heaven. No! By trusting Christ as your savior, you can seal your eternal destiny. You will one day be in heaven. No matter what.

This is the doctrine of Eternal Security [ES], also known as Once-Saved-Always-Saved [OSAS], and it is preached service after service, week after week, at Fairwinds Baptist Church.

The basic facets of the doctrine are summarized in the following diagram, which shows that once a person has "been saved" (initial salvation), this person--according to OSAS--will without a doubt go to heaven. Their eternal destiny is sealed the moment they become saved. We will be referring back to this diagram throughout this post, so take a close look at it:

In 1 Thess. 5:21, St. Paul urges his readers to "test everything, retaining what is good." The purpose of this post is to test the doctrine of ES to see if it holds up to the demands of common-sense and logic. An earlier post offers a tract that teems with Biblical evidence against the doctrine. However, it is possible to show that ES contains so many internal flaws that it could not possibly offer the "eternal assurance" that so many people claim to receive from it. Since eternal security makes a claim regarding the (final) salvation of souls, there are few doctrines more important than this one. If it is wrong, it is truly one of the most dangerous false doctrines to be hoisted upon Christendom in the last five centuries. The stakes could not be higher.

I'd like to start by asking: What does it mean to know our future? What does it mean to be certain or to be sure of a future event? What does eternal security propose about the kind of knowledge we can have about our future after death?

1. Think about how few things we can be certain of that occur in the future--we can not be certain of anything. We can not be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. We can not be certain that we will live through the night. We can not even be certain of death (second coming, anyone?) and taxes, contrary to the popular saying. Thus, it is VERY RADICAL for the doctrine of eternal security to say that we CAN KNOW FOR CERTAIN that in the future we will be in heaven.

(Not to get side-tracked, but notice that 1 John 5:13 does not specify that we can know we have "eternal life" in the future, although Pastor Carlo reads this idea into this verse. Only because Pastor Carlo believes in OSAS does he equate "eternal life" with "guaranteed to go to heaven." 1 John 5:13 doesn't actually make this equivocation. I would suggest that anyone who has Christ living in them has eternal life at that moment, but this is no guarantee that they will always and forever have Christ alive in their hearts. We can always choose to reject the gift of his grace and reject the gift of salvation.)

2. How does ES get around the RADICAL CLAIM it makes on our FUTURES? The only way it can do so is by tying a knowledge of the FUTURE to a knowledge of the PRESENT. We tie our future certainty to something that we can be certain of: our knowledge of the present.

Although none of us can know for certain that we will be staring at our computer screen (or a printout from it) five minutes from now, we CAN know for certain that we are looking at it in the present moment. Similarly, you CAN be certain (so it is suggested) of the fact that at THIS PARTICULAR MOMENT, you are inviting Christ into your heart as savior. The OSAS theology takes over from there--it turns a PRESENT certainty into a FUTURE certainty. At this moment, you know Christ. Thus, at this same moment, you know that, no matter what happens, you will one day be in heaven. Simple as that.

3. The all-important implication here is that if the time-point "I.S." (the moment of your "initial salvation") and the time-point "F.S." (the moment of your "final salvation") are necessary and absolutely connected, then NOTHING that happens in between IS and FS can possibly have ANY effect on your future salvation. After all, the only way one can KNOW right now IN THE PRESENT MOMENT that one will be in heaven IN THE FUTURE is if heaven is guaranteed.

One result of tying I.S. so closely to F.S. is that the very term "salvation" is reduced down to a single meaning. Being "saved" is both a past event and one which automatically causes an absolutely certain future eternal destiny.Yet, because the future dimension is taken for granted (though certainly not unappreciated by good Baptists!), "salvation" is basically seen as a past event. Thus, the question, "are you saved?" means, "have you been saved sometime in the past?"

Catholics, on the other hand, tend to think of salvation as having three different temporal qualities: past, present, and future. We were saved. We are being saved. And we await with joyful hope to be finally saved in heaven. Turns out, the Bible also uses the word salvation in these three different ways as well, and Catholics are just picking up in their theology the use of "salvation" that we find in Scripture. (I'll update this post soon with references that show this.) Since most evangelicals, Baptists included, tend to think of salvation only as a past event, they should not be surprised when Catholics feel uncomfortable when asked, "are you saved?" The question, to Catholic ears, is ambiguous. Of course, I pray that my Catholic readers will do a better job understanding where their evangelical friends are coming from, and answer with a resounding "Yes! I have been saved in the past when I was baptized. Also, I am being saved right now, and yes, I hope to be saved one day in heaven!"

4. As I mentioned, OSAS teaches you can know that you will be in heaven one day. Let me pause to reiterate that the people who propose this doctrine for belief are NOT using "know" in a kind of feel-good metaphorical way. "Know" isn't a way of saying "I hope so" with extra confidence. In fact, Pastor Carlo specifically points out that "I hope so" is NOT a suitable answer to the question "if you you died tonight, would you go to heaven?" In fact, according to OSAS theology, Know means Know! And, they mean KNOW. Pastor Carlo emphasizes the certainty of this knowledge with the words "be sure," as in "you can BE SURE that when you die you will go to heaven."

5. Because heaven is tied to a present event that one could be certain of, there becomes a chain of certain knowledge that often becomes emphasized. After all, the PRESENT event quickly becomes a PAST event, such that you enter a stage where you "know that you know" that you are saved. One could say that I know I am saved because I "know that I know" that I am saved. In other words, I know that PAST event really happened, it was true, I really meant it, and it wasn't a dream, etc. This type of knowledge logically begets other categories of knowledge, such that one can claim that I "know that I know that I know that I know..." that I am saved.

6. While proponents of eternal security (such as Bill Rice, whose sermon at Fairwinds will be the subject of another post on ES) claim these expressions are silly, they do claim that being unsure whether you are saved likely means that you are not saved. Thus, while "knowing that you know" is a silly expression, NOT knowing that you know (and we might presume, not knowing that you know that you know...) is tantamount to not being saved.

7. Or is it? Does salvation depend on knowing you are saved, or does it depend on truly being saved? Proponents of eternal security seem to place an undue emphasis on knowing you are saved, rather than just being saved. The "selling point" seems to be the certain knowledge that your future in heaven is guaranteed, not that at the moment of initial salvation you are literally becoming a new creation in Christ by the greatest miracle that will ever occur in your life. ES seems to put the emphasis on the knowledge rather than on the grace itself.

8. Side track question: if BEING saved is more important and more miraculous than KNOWING THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED, then why eternal security proponents seem to focus so much on the knowledge? What might happen if these proponents actually focused on the miracle of initial justification/salvation itself?

9. One problem with eternal security is that once it occurs to people that the moment of initial justification/salvation is as huge (a bigger event than the creation of the universe) and miraculous (more miraculous than raising Lazarus) as it is, they can begin to question whether or not they were truly aware of, were ready for, and truly intended the magnificence of this moment. They can begin to question whether that moment when they were initially saved was actually a genuine, pure act of conversion. After all, the more people know themselves, the more they realize that our actions so often result from mixed motives. Were you "saved" partially due to pressure from parents or peers? Was your act of faith truly full and open, or were there implicit contingencies (such as, I give my life to you Lord, as long as that doesn't require me to give up my favorite sin).

10. Another problem is that we know at some level that being saved means following Christ, but what if someone's life takes a wrong turn and they begin making a series of bad decisions. Surprisingly, proponents of eternal security will occasionally admit that it is possible for people who "think" they are saved to not really be saved. (See how the certain verb "knowing" has turned into a much more uncertain, subjective term "thinking".) So, if it is possible for someone to be mistaken in their knowledge that they are saved, it is certainly possible that someone who has turned to a life of serious ("mortal") sin could question whether they truly were saved way back when. (According to Bill Rice, a person who falls into such sins loses the assurance of their salvation, but not their salvation itself. Hmmm... If you know you are saved, then there is no reason ever to lose your assurance, according to the doctrine itself...unless of course you are one of those people who think you are saved but really are not. But in that case, such a person, before committing serious sins, would have had a false assurance of a final salvation of which they had no inheritance. Ah, but more on Bill Rice's presentation of the doctrine later...)

11. Even further, since the focus of OSAS theology is that PAST moment of salvation, there becomes a need to continually come back to that moment, to reemphasize it as often as one can, almost in a kind of intellectual sacrament. We talk about eternal security EVERY SINGLE SERMON so as to "do this in rememberance of" that act of faith. Everything--one's entire eternity, in fact--hinges on that "once saved" act of faith. That is a (potentially) shaky thing on which to hang one's eternal life. Thus, it gets shored up as often as possible, so that the reenacting of the act of faith (through weekly alter calls) becomes central to the communal worship of all who believe this doctrine. The "sacrament" of the alter call becomes the true high point of the worship--the summit--of the liturgy of people who believe this doctrine. (The true Christian Church has always understood this to be the source and summit of our faith and worship.)

12. Two more important ideas have arisen from our discussion so far. The first is that there are two distinct layers wrapped up in the doctrine of eternal security: being saved and knowing that you are saved. These two layers are tightly bound up within each other, since being saved is the object of your knowledge, yet knowing you are saved seems to be the sign of being saved. Thus, according to Pastor Carlo, not knowing you are saved means you probably aren't. (Yet, according to Bill Rice a few weeks before, you can not know you are saved because of sin, yet you in fact remain saved. Here, we begin to wet our toes in an ocean of contradictions.)

The second idea is that, as much as we would like to think that "knowing I am saved" and "being saved" form a true correspondence, the fact is, it is possible for people's knowledge to be mistaken, and good Baptists throughout the world readily admit when they see people fall into sin that "this or that person must not have been saved to begin with." Yet, the obvious implication here is that there are people out there who go through some post-initial-salvation period thinking they are saved ("knowing they are saved") who are really not saved.

13. Thus, we suddenly find ourselves stuck with TWO post-initial-salvation categories of people: those who correctly know they are saved (and really are) and those who incorrectly know they are saved (but really aren't). Of course, the second category only appears to us to be a post-initial-salvation group, even though ES assumes that no initial salvation actually occurred. Here, we wade even deeper into the cloudy ocean...

14. Thus, if we are TRULY to KNOW that we ARE saved and will thus be in heaven in the FUTURE, we MUST have a way of being able to distinguish between the two categories described above. There MUST be a way of being able to distinguish AT THE MOMENT you supposedly invite Christ into your heart that you actually are saved.

15. This is where we run into a BIG problem. After all, who can tell the difference between a saved person and a still-unsaved person during an alter call? Don't both people approach the alter with the same intention of being saved, the same prayer on their lips, and the same heart open to Christ? Don't they live a perfect, sinless life for at least some stretch of time after being saved, even if for only a few seconds or minutes? Pastor Carlo almost constantly makes the distinction between "saved sinners" and "unsaved sinners." But the problem is, how do we make this distinction between two people who both appeared to be saved? How can we tell if our post-initial-salvation sins are those of a "saved sinner" or those of an "unsaved sinner" who thinks they are saved but really are not.

These questions are critical, because practically every person who attends Fairwinds Baptist Church is in the post-initial-salvation period. Everyone at Fairwinds Baptist, then, could potentially be mistaken in their assurance of salvation...and not even know it! Pastor Carlo himself might not actually make it to heaven one day (though I certainly pray that he does!) The question is, how do we know? ES says that you can know, but we have seen that this assertion presupposes that one can tell the difference between someone who is truly saved and one who merely thinks they are saved. Unfortunately, since it is impossible to be able to tell the difference, people who believe ES end up hanging their eternal security on an act of faith...but not faith in God. Rather, people who claim to know that they will one day be in heaven can only do so by making an act of faith IN THEIR OWN ACT OF FAITH. In other words, ES requires us ultimately to have faith in the saving quality of our own one-time saving act of faith. But the quality of our own act of faith is not something that should necessarily garner the trust given it by an act of faith, so we are left asking, how do we KNOW we are saved?

At this point, the doctrine of ES begins to be swept out into a sea of its own epistemological murkiness. Can anyone throw it a life preserver?

16. Ironically, the very people who admit that some people think they are saved but are not--thus destroying the original attraction of OSAS since it offers no real assurance--try to save OSAS by sticking to their guns and insisting that if one TRULY is saved, there is nothing that person could do to lose their salvation. In this case, it doesn't matter if a person has an affair, takes drugs, and commits murder one day or one decade after being "saved," that person will never lose their salvation. Nothing we can do can make us lose our salvation. After all, according to Pastor Carlo, there are "saved sinners" and "unsaved sinners," right? The difference is whether or not you are saved, not in whether or not you sin. Just think of all those verses in which St. Paul writes to the Christian churches claiming, "9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,a]">[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Paul could only have been speaking to non-saved people, right? After all, the doctrine of ES teaches that "saved" fornicators DO inherit the kingdom of God. "Saved" idolaters DO inherit the kingdom of God. "Saved" adulterers DO inherit the kingdom of God.

Or do they?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a mountain of Biblical evidence for the fact that one can lose one's salvation. I realize that there are a small handful of Bible verses that, when read in English, seem to support OSAS (the Greek verb tenses of these passages often suggest the opposite), but I can guarantee you that the vast majority of Christian Bible scholars (including famous Baptists) throughout the world and throughout time have understood and agreed that Christians can lose their salvation through serious sins (like the one St. Paul listed in 1 Cor. 6). The doctrine of OSAS is actually a very recent invention in the history of Christianity, and it is one that percolates at only a handful of Bible colleges, some of which have produced some of the most vocal Bible teachers of the day. Even though this doctrine receives a lot of attention, and even though many Bible teachers sincerely believe it, these things do not make it true.

Many of you were probably drawn out of the Catholic Church because you were offered the "simple Gospel" of OSAS which seemed so much easier and more promising than the message of salvation taught at the local Catholic Church. Sadly, you are now being taught a false Gospel, one that the early Church never taught, and one that flatly contradicts the Bible. In a later post, I will spend much more time looking at the Biblical evidence against OSAS as well as the verses offered in defense of it. A list of these verses, as well as a short analysis of some of the verses used by proponents of OSAS, can be found on the following tract.

I invite you to revisit and rediscover the glorious truth of the Catholic faith, including the true message of salvation that she has faithfully passed down since she received it from Jesus almost two-thousand years ago. The Catholic faith guides us to put our faith not in our own faith, but rather in the sacramental, life-giving promises (oaths) that Christ has sworn for the salvation of his Bride, the church. As Catholics, we put our faith and hope in Christ's faithfulness, not our own. As Christ pours his life into us through the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Most Holy Eucharist, we come to share in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity, and we share His love with everyone whom we meet. Our hope of future salvation is not to be scoffed at, as Pastor Carlo so often seems to do. Our hope of future salvation is as rock-solid as the faithfulness of Christ, who forgives us all our sins if we confess them. But, ultimately, our faith must work in love (Gal. 5:6), for the greatest of these is love...(1 Cor. 13:13)

Sin is the rejection of God's life and love. Sin tells God that we wish he didn't exist, at least at the moment we choose to sin. While all sin damages our relationship with God, St. Paul clearly lists sins that destroy our relationship with God, making it impossible for us to inherit eternal life unless we repent. St. John the Apostle literally delineates between sins that lead to death and sins that do not (see 1 John 5:16-17) This is clear, solid Biblical teaching, and it is also the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church.

We invite you to come home...


RAnn said...

It is always nice to see new bloggers. I host Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival, which is a meme that allows Catholic bloggers to share their best post with others. Consider joining us

rew said...

I just have one question and one comment. How can "eternal life" be temporary? To follow up, if it is not temporary, then isn't it forever? (That really counts as one question, right?) Now the comment: Most non-Catholics I know understand two aspects of salvation as well. Your "I.S." is viewed by Protestants as dying to sin and being raised with Christ. In other words an acceptance of Christ as Lord & Savior *as well as* the begining of a relationship with Christ. As it would be difficult to have a personal relationship with God and not know it, this is why your Baptist preacher emphasises knowledge. But non-Catholics do usually recognize that the "goal" of Christianity is not to get your ticket to Heaven, and forget about it. Rather we "being renewed to a true knowledge" according to the image of Christ. See Col. 3

Gary said...

You don't have to be a five-pointer to be a Calvinist. If you believe in "Once Saved, Always Saved" you are still a "Calvinistic Baptist". I believe that this false teaching is sending thousands if not millions of Baptists and evangelicals to hell due to a false sense of assurance.

The Back-Slidden Baptist's Salvation Check List:

Just as there are many orthodox Christians, including Lutherans, who, to their eternal damnation, rely on their infant Baptism as their "Get-into-heaven Free Card", I believe that there are many Baptists and evangelicals who rely on their one time "Decision for Christ" as their automatic ticket into heaven.

Just to be clear, I am sure that there are many, many Baptists and evangelicals who are much better Christians than I am. As Paul, I am the first among sinners. But I believe that the teaching of Decision Theology accompanied with the horrific teaching of "Once Saved, Always Saved", has damned just as many Baptists and evangelicals to hell as "Once Baptized, Always Saved" has damned many poorly catechized orthodox Christians.

I was taught growing up fundamentalist Baptist that a born-again Christian who stops going to church, reading the Bible, praying, etc. is a "back-slider". He has back-slidden into sin.

So let's review the "Back-Slidden" Baptist's and (Baptistic) Evangelical's Salvation Check-list:

1. Have I attended church in the last twenty years: No.
2. Have I partaken of the Lord's Supper in the last twenty years: No.
3. Have I read my Bible in the last twenty years: No.
4. Have I prayed (other than, "Lord please help me win the Powerball!") in the last twenty years? No.
5. Have I shared the Gospel with a non-believer in the last twenty years. No.
6. Did I pray the Sinner's Prayer twenty-one years ago in a Baptist altar call. Yes.

Conclusion: SAVED!

Now, if you present this to a Baptist or evangelical of the Baptist persuasion, he or she will say that the person above was never saved. That is why we do not see any "fruit of the Spirit".

They have a much harder time, however, using that explanation when the "back-slider" is a prominent conservative Baptist or evangelical pastor or evangelist who has "won many souls to Christ" and has preached great moving sermons for years. "How could the person who led me to Christ have been a non-believer??" Situations such as these really rattle these "Once Saved, Always Saved" Christians.

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
an orthodox Lutheran blog