DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL SECURITY
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
introduction of new "revelations" from God are supposedly given to
supercede 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
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
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.
AND ETERNAL SECURITY
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 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.
of falling away or apostasy. (Eternal Security)
3. Man has no
4. One cannot
know if they are saved.
5. God commands
6. The supreme
authority of the Roman church.
8. Prayers for
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 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)
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
4. Imputed righteousness (mystical
transfer of righteousness in place of our filthy rags) (5)
5. Perseverance of the saints.
(Assurance, eternal security) (2) (1)
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
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 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
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
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.
we are Today
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.
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
a heretical sect that gained such popularity in Augustine’s time that it
nearly superceded 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.
The question that confronts us is
that when it is admitted that Augustine was the 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. 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 prior to this time but were associated with
Manichaeanism. Some historians have noted that they thought that Augustine
brought this influence into the Church. Mainly, this was the 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
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
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 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.
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock
and Strong, Baker Bookhouse, 1981
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
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, 1989