by JEFF PATON
Almost every doctrine within the Christian religion has gone through a developmental stage resulting in what is considered orthodoxy today. Our understanding of many current doctrines are the result of heated theological battles that have sprung up and challenged the common thought of their day. The victor in these theological battles has always become orthodoxy, and the loser's position has generally become known as heresy.
Orthodoxy has been a fluid idea which the majority has held to be true. Heresy, it has been said, is an opinion held by a minority of men which the majority declares unacceptable. Upon this observation we can gather that "orthodoxy" is not necessarily "truth" since the establishment of truth is not to be determined by a popularity contest. In our modern age where "truth" is determined by the latest opinion poll, we can see the necessity of a "more sure" means of measuring what is the genuine orthodoxy of the Christian religion and what is not.
One principle that was brought forth from John Wesley was, "whatever is true is not new; whatever is new is not true." The only sure truth we can know comes from the Bible. If what we believe is a new and novel idea that has never been given any sanction within the Church, we must conclude that it is not the doctrine of the Bible.
Most Christians are very leery of the approach of modern day cults where an individual is elevated to the status of "prophet." The introduction of new "revelations" from God are supposedly given to supersede the doctrines of the Bible, the established teachings of the early Church, and the cumulative weight of accepted doctrine throughout all of Christian history. Some of these groups do not claim new revelations, but have based their speculative interpretation upon the limited information we have about the New Testament Church. In light of this, they insist that the modern church is corrupt. Their strategy is to decipher the New Testament and restore the church to its original condition. By doing so, they have chosen to bypass all of church history. The mistake that they make is not in their intent, but in their approach. The information we get from the Bible about the New Testament Church is vague enough that we cannot reassemble the original without the aid of extra-Biblical literature. Even with the aid of all the available resources, it is not possible for a 20th century mind to place itself into the unique culture and social situation in which the Church was birthed. Our Westernized understanding of Christianity can do nothing but interfere and distort our thinking of the original Church.
The best gauge that we have of what the early church believed is the record of the Apostolic Fathers. They were the first to have anything that resembled what we have today as the completed New Testament. Some were taught by the Apostles themselves, or were one generation removed. This does not mean that they were inspired, or that they were infallible, but in all probability they were more accurate in their understanding as to the essential nature and unwritten thoughts of the early church. This does not mean that they understood everything more fully that we can seeing that we have a complete Bible and 2,000 years of reflection on its truths. What we can conclude is, that compared to us, they were probably more accurate in what they did know.
Anytime someone endeavors to trace the history of a doctrine they must decide on a method of approach. Some start from the beginning and work forward to show how the doctrine developed. Others start with the present, and work back, showing the historical connection with the past. Since the history of a doctrine can span such a large period of time, I will take a different approach, I will start in the middle. This I believe will simplify things for most readers. By doing this I will start Augustine, the Father of Western thought. It will be easier for most readers to identify with this reference point since his influence has had the greatest impact on our modern theology. I will trace the doctrine of eternal security forward from Augustine, and then I will trace it back from Augustine to the Early Church to show any influences upon his thought.
Many of our doctrines have developed from doctrines in their infant stages to what we know and understand today. This is the case with Augustine. He did not teach eternal security as we know it today, but he was a key figure in setting the groundwork that is the basis in which this doctrine could thrive. His influence on theology and Christian thought as a whole is without question.
This portion of the history of Eternal Security follows Augustine’s influence on forward. The development of his thought on back to the birth of Christianity will be discussed later. What is important for the reader to know is that this influence exists before we take a look at whether it is a Scripturally sound influence.
We all have a paradigm on how we approach what we see in the Scriptures. We come to the table with pre-conceived biases that at times will determine what we see as truth from the Scriptures. The foundational beliefs and biases that many Christians have today are to be discovered in the roots of what Augustine has started. For this reason, "Saint" Augustine is referred to with great favor amongst most theologians. While most of these theologians agree with Augustine, many of them don’t. All of them will concede his great influence on Christian thought.
Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, was born in Tagaste, in Numidia, on November 13, 354. He was raised in a divided household where his mother attempted to influence him with Christianity, and his father, also a Christian, directed him towards worldly and secular knowledge that could bring him profit. When he moved to Carthage as an adult, he took an interest in rhetoric and was influenced by the Manichaean error. He believed and taught these errors for around 9-13 years until he was influenced and baptized a Christian on Easter of 387 by Ambrose.
Perhaps there has been no one that has ever lived that has impacted the world of theology as Augustine has. He was a Roman Catholic, and is responsible for much of what we consider "Catholic" doctrine today. Surprisingly, he can also be credited with being a major player in Protestant thought also. Here is a short list, which shows many of the doctrines that he was credited with introducing into the church.
1. Absolute predestination
2. Impossibility of falling away or apostasy. (Eternal Security)
3. Man has no free will.
4. One cannot know if they are saved.
5. God commands impossibilities.
6. The supreme authority of the Roman church.
8. Prayers for the dead.
9. The damnation of unbaptized infants and adults.
10. Sex is sinful because depravity is inherited.
The first five "contributions" may appear to be what is known as "Calvinism." This is exactly where the basis of Calvin’s theory comes from. Points 6-10, do not fit the Protestant model of salvation in any way, it is Roman Catholicism. The question is, how can we accept the first five points that are listed in light of the egregious errors about salvation that this man taught that promotes Roman Catholicism? It is clear that his view of things is at best confusing, self-contradictory, and outright unbiblical at points. Because of this we must cautiously entertain what he taught with great skepticism. How can we blindly accept what he had to say when we know that he obviously was not clear about salvation?
This does not mean that everything that Augustine thought and taught is to be thrown out because of what he believed at other points. I believe the Catholic Church is in great error on the issue of salvation. However, I agree with them about the Trinity of God. Because someone is wrong in one point does not mean that they are wrong in all points, though they may be! I believe that while Augustine may have touched on truth in some ideas that are not listed above, I have singled out the preceding list as an example of what I believe to be his errors. The subject of why I believe that these are all errors will be covered later as I trace the thought of Augustine back to its source. For now, I only want to establish the starting point of these doctrines and to follow them where we are today.
John Calvin is a better-known figure to Protestants today. He wrote the most talked about systematic theology the world has ever known. His ideas have permeated the Protestant world and will perhaps do so until our Lord returns.
Calvin took the ideas set forth by Augustine and developed them even further. Instead of just touching upon the ideas of predestination, final perseverance, and the believers security, he developed an incredible system of thought that knows few rivals. John Calvin took the concept of Augustine and filled in the unanswered voids to form his theology. He followed these ideas to their logical end. If man is not free and God must predestinate, and all are not saved, then God must be Sovereign in salvation. This tends to ignore the fact that if God willed man to be free, and thus responsible for his own damnation, this would still mean that God is Sovereign. Sovereignty and predestination are in no way essential partners.
The acronym for Calvinism is TULIP. This is what is known as the "Five points of Calvinism."
1. Total Depravity (Free will lost) (3)
2. Unconditional Election (Salvation is decreed apart from any change in an individual.) (4)(1)
3. Limited Atonement (Jesus "paid" for the "elect" that he desired to save. No one else!) (1)
4. Imputed righteousness (mystical transfer of righteousness in place of our filthy rags) (5)
5. Perseverance of the saints. (Assurance, eternal security) (2) (1)
(A technical note: The official "I" in TULIP is "Irresistible Grace," which is tied to Unconditional Election. I use Imputed Righteousness because it is the logical progression of explaining "how" a predestined sinner (Points 1-3) is allowed into God's perfect heaven).
After each of the five points there is a number that corresponds to the previous list of Augustine. It is almost as if Augustine had most of the pieces of the puzzle and Calvin put them together and added the ones that he thought were missing.
Following in the footsteps of Calvin we have Theodore Beza who took the conclusions of Calvin to its logical end and developed what we would consider "Calvinism" today. We can attribute the development of the Calvinistic theory of the atonement around this later stage.
We can follow the trail of Calvinism throughout history, mainly through the Church of England and the Puritans. The Baptists held to this system quite consistently until about 1800. At this point there was a compromise on the issue of predestination and the extent of the atonement. This was perhaps due to the influence of the Wesleyan revival or possibly the New Light movement of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. For whatever the reason was, there was a definite shift in their thought around this time.
The most definite deviation from Augustine and Calvin, while holding tenaciously to their end conclusion, came with the entry of the theology of dispensationalism. J.N. Darby put this into motion with the Plymouth Brethren, and it was later catapulted into prominence with the revival associated with D.L. Moody.
The significance of dispensationalism to the development of eternal security lies in the approach in which they divide Scripture. They viewed God as having a different plan of salvation in different times or "dispensations." This seemed to give sufficient allowance to accept the "Biblical" idea of irrefutable security and free-will at the same time. At this point the idea of a Gospel that allowed all men freedom to enter into eternal life while at the same time denying them freedom in their eternal destiny afterwards, has come to full acceptance within 20th century Christianity.
To understand the impact of this shift we must look back to the high-Calvinistic theory. If you will observe, the logical conclusion of predestination to salvation is the unfailing salvation of the one who is elect. The fact that the elect will never fail or apostatize is in the fact that they were predestined. They are not free to do otherwise. The logical conclusion of the opposite doctrine is that salvation is conditionally based upon faith and available to all. This implication of free grace to all leads us to the inevitable conclusion that we are not "locked in" to salvation in any way. If we take the position that we are given the opportunity to choose whether we wish to be saved or not, does this not infer that we are free to choose not to be saved at a later date? Eternal Security logically requires absolute predestination.
In fairness to the Calvinistic theory we must understand that they believe that a true believer will be evidenced by the fact that they "persevere unto the end" in the faith. Those that depart or fall away show that they were deceived and never really elect. Even though the Calvinistic theory of the perseverance of the saints is expressed differently than our modern idea of eternal security, it must be admitted that the logical outcome of Augustine’s and Calvin’s predestination inevitably demands an Eternal Security for the elect. In this the Baptist and dispensational teaching follows the line of thought properly, but misses the mark of logic and consistency when it denies the doctrine of absolute predestination.
If we are to follow this path backwards we cannot deny the dependence upon the ideas that preceded them. The path can vary a little on our way back, but inevitably it arrives at the doorstep of the man named Augustine. One cannot trace the doctrine of Eternal Security all the way back through the Apostolic Fathers and to the Scriptures. The doctrine had a specific time of arrival in history and it was around the beginning of the 19th century. Its beginning has its springboard taken from the absolute predestination and perseverance of the saints as propagated by the Calvinists. John Calvin himself was not the first to discover these ideas but found them loosely stated in the doctrines of St. Augustine. The trail ends here and does not have any endorsement of the early Church Fathers that preceded Augustine.
It seems like most Christians today uncritically adhere to this idea of eternal security. It has been the predominate doctrine of the Church for the last 80 years and continues to gain strength. Looking at the basis of where we derive this doctrine from, we must ask ourselves as to where Augustine’s comes from. If it is derived solely from the Scriptures, we must listen up and learn from his great observations. If it comes from an outside source we must question it and potentially discard it. Of the two options available to us I believe that the later is the truth.
Up to this point I only wished to show you the theological connection of Eternal Security to the idea of predestination that was taught by Augustine and Calvin. To see this connection is vital and necessary in order for you to see that eternal security is a theological invention based upon theological presuppositions and not upon Biblical and historical examination.
If Augustine was correct in his conclusions about predestination, then he was correct in his determination about the security of the elect. The two doctrines go hand-in-hand.
The historical question confronts us; did Augustine derive his doctrine from the Scriptures? Or did he derive these conclusions from some philosophy outside of Christianity? Does he adhere to the teachings of the early Church Fathers on the subject? Or does he take a drastic deviation from the accepted truth of historical Christianity up to his day? These are important questions for any believer who loves truth.
Augustine, the Manichaean
As discussed in the brief biography of Augustine near the beginning of this history we noted that he was a Manichaean for at least nine years before he entered the priesthood of the Roman Catholic church.
Manichaeanism was a heretical sect that gained such popularity in Augustine’s time that it nearly superseded Christianity. The founder of this religion was called Mani, in which the term Manichaenism is derived. He lived around 216-276 A.D. He set out to found a universal religion that was a combination of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. The "Christianity" that Mani was exposed to was the Gnostic form of the religion that the apostle John wrote so vigorously against in his First Epistle. He interpreted the N.T. history in a allegorical and symbolical way which was made to represent an entirely new religious system that was totally at odds with Christianity and its fundamental teachings.
There is a question that confronts every one of us. When we concede to the indisputable fact that Augustine was the focal point in Christian history where several doctrines took an unprecedented shift to prominence, and from that point they became the standards in which to build our theologies, we must evaluate where these ideas actually come from. Are they truly expressions of Christian philosophy or Manichaean influence? This is not an unfair question since the introduction of several of Augustine’s contributions were not accepted as orthodox Christianity prior to this time, but were associated with Manichaeanism and "Christian" Gnosticism; both being unbiblical heresies. Some historians have noted that they thought that Augustine brought this influence into the Church. Mainly, this was the Gnostic doctrine of the evil nature of matter and the purity of the spirit, (duality) and absolute predestination. Both of which are the basis and essential elements of the doctrine of eternal security that was to follow after centuries of development.
Because of his influence, much of Catholic and Protestant history has been founded on the belief that matter, (the physical body and its appetites,) are the embodiment of evil. This belief is undeniably Gnostic and not Christian. This duality that the Gnostics taught was illustrated by describing a pure golden ring as the spirit, and a pile of manure as matter, or the body. The ring can be put into the pile of dung and completely surrounded, but the filthiness of the dung does not permeate it. It remains as pure as it always has.
Augustine taught that the body, flesh, was the seat of evil and sin. This is why procreation was a sinful act in his mind. To this day I have heard eternal security teachers refer to the flesh as an entity that cannot help but sin, while at the same time they have asserted that sin cannot affect the spirit or the spiritual security of the believer. Gnosticism is alive today in those who propagate a salvation that makes the spirit pure, while maintaining the sinfulness of matter. The spirit is pure, but the body is sinful at the same time. A little Christian varnish may make this doctrine more appealing, but under the surface it is still pagan and not Christian!
One idea brought over from Buddhism is the idea that we are to die to "self." Being delivered from "self" might get us to Nirvana but not to heaven. The problem here is that the idea of "flesh" is thought of as the person, (self), which being matter, is therefore considered sinful. The Scriptures do not tell us that we are to be saved from "self." There is nothing wrong being the people we were created to be. God's qualm with us is not our "person" or "self"; it is our rebellion with Him. The thing we are to be cleansed from is not the "self," but the defilement and the filthiness of flesh. We are commanded "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Jesus Himself made the proper love of our "self" as a duty and a virtue when He said: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
There are many preachers that are mistaken when they teach that we "should die to self." It is true that we should not be selfish, but it is also true that "selflessness" does not save us or make us holy. The Bible reveals to us that there is no one more absolutely "dead to self" than the vilest sinner. They disrespect their own health and welfare through addictions to drugs and alcohol. They are dead to the voice of reason and conscience. They take no care for the future...they are dead to self.
It is an interesting fact that Romans chapter seven, where Paul cries out "Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall save me from this body of death!" was universally understood to be Paul’s cry for conversion from Judaism before Augustine changed this defeated image of a convicted and hopelessly sinful man into the norm for the Christian life. He changed his own previously held interpretation of this verse (the historical position) in order to rob his doctrinal opponent Pelagius of a proof text. By doing so he changed the historically accepted meaning of this passage forever, and created a proof text that bolstered his belief in Gnostic dualism. The spirit is holy; the body is evil. The spiritual man is secure while the physical man remains hopelessly corrupt and sinful; holy and unholy at the same time.
Augustine had written refutations to Manichaeanism before he had to contend with Pelagius. It is clear that he maintained the portions that he thought were part of his upbringing in the Christian tradition. The difficulty comes in when we consider the type of Christianity that Mani included into this equation that Augustine draws from. It was Gnostic "christianity," the very one that the apostle John condemns and warns us about! (1 John 1:1-9)
Augustine thought that Pelagius had taken a heretical stance by saying that man can "will" his own way into the kingdom of God and does not need any special drawing of the Spirit to compel them. To counteract this argument, Augustine went to the extreme opposite end by drawing from the absolute predestination that he was taught as a Manichaean. He brought this belief over with himself when he became a Christian. This was the beginning of what was to become Calvinism and then modern day Eternal Security. Ultimately, the roots of Eternal Security are in the Gnosticism that preceded Augustine, but it was Augustine that has the unwelcome honor of leavening the whole lump.
Eternal Security is pagan in its origin and is a thought that is in opposition to the Bible and genuine Christianity. Its lineage cannot be traced back but a few hundred years where it draws its inspiration from the "perseverance of the Saints" which in turn was drawn from Augustine's introduction of Gnostic and Buddhist thought into the Church. Eternal Security has a history, but not a very good one for the Christian who knows its origin.
May God save us from its falsehood.
Manichaeanism, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock and Strong, Baker Bookhouse, 1981
Augustine, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock and Strong, Baker Bookhouse, 1981
A History of Heresy, David Christie-Murray, Oxford University Press, 1976
The Spreading Flame, F.F. Bruce, The Paternoster Press, 1995
Scriptural Holiness and Keswick Teaching Compared, A.M. Hills, Schmul Publishers, No date
Where Two Creeds Meet, O. Glenn McKinley, Nazarene Publishing House, 1965
Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?, David W. Bercot, Scroll Publishing, 1989A Theology of Love, Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, Nazarene Publishing House, 1972