One of the perplexing problems of Protestantism is the lack of authority. Pray tell me which of these 33,000 separate denominations and/or independent churches[i] has that God given authority. How can anyone in their right mind claim that the Holy Spirit in these instances has lead them into all truth (John 16:13)? To make such a claim is preposterous foolishness. Yet, scripture unequivocally declares that the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15 NIV).”
The Calvinist, primarily Reformed and Baptists churches have their lopsided theology that rules under the tyranny of eternal security championed under the hubris of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” Lutheran and Anglicans and such have theirs. Almost all—if not, indeed, all, the evangelical and fundamentalists communions more or less cherry-picked their theology, but by-in-large, that includes agreement on sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura. Left out, of course is the key to authority—that is, the Church (1 Timothy 3:15). The question, therefore, is: Should we add sola ecclesia to the mix? If not, then, why not? Scripture declares that it is “the pillar and foundation of truth.” How dare we declare otherwise? Give the average Evangelical, however, a multiple choice question with “Which of the following is the pillar and foundation of truth?” and chances are if given a choice between the Scripture or the Church I guarantee you that the most likely answer will be Scripture. Why? Because we all see through rose colored glasses which have been tinted since childhood or from conversion to see what we want to see. Me included; although, I am trying to break the habit.
Let us, however, at this point back track and ask ourselves if we have not boxed in the process we call sanctification and eventually, of course, salvation by restricting it to a single act of faith?
So, may I asked you how many people have been “saved by faith alone?” I would dare venture to say that none has. That is not to say, however, that faith is not one of the ingredients necessary in salvation, but it is not the sole ingredient. In short, faith of the intellectual sort may acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior but fail to follow through with a personal commitment. Intellectual consent is far different than committed obedient faith. However, faith, even committed faith alone will not save us, unless it is faith of the proper order. The Watch Tower Society and The Mormon Church are faith communities, but where their teaching authority, and on what basis?
Hebrews 11:1 clearly declares that faith has substance (ὑπόστασις/hypostasis) which is something that we can place our hope in; in other words, there is structure and content to this faith—that is to say, Biblical faith has a distinctive essence. Not just any old faith will do. There are many false Christs and we must be careful not to buy into one of their twisted versions of the Gospel. "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect (Matthew 24:24)."
I know that Paul says in Ephesians 2:8—
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— (NIV)
Being saved through faith is different, however, than being saved by faith. What Paul is saying here is that salvific grace will only operate in and through the substance of faith. Not just any faith; however, will do. We must “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 1:3 NASV).”
Thus we can readily see that in a real sense faith is both a verb and a noun—a verb because it is active (we must contend); and a noun because it is of substance with content (which was once for all handed down to the saints). The parameters of faith are, therefore, clearly circumscribed.
Now, think with me for a moment. Which is the greatest: mustard seed faith or great faith? Shall I surprise you by saying, “Neither”?
Here is how blogger Jeremy D. Myers put it—
“Faith is the conviction that something is true. Jesus spoke of little faith and great faith, but He never spoke of more faith or less faith. Faith does not come in percentages or degrees. We are not made with faith containers in our souls which overflow when our faith is great, and which are nearly empty when our faith is little. Faith does not work like that.”[ii]
So, in essence, God does the saving, we do the obeying.
This either/or mentality that Protestants seem to obsess with is unscriptural to say the least, as it fails to take in “the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).” Now, I ask you, would it not be best, therefore, to approach theology with an open mind willing to concede that both/and may be scriptural and necessary? After all, we seek the full counsel of God. In line with this, one of my favorite questions to ask my sola fide friends is “How does one receive salvation, justification, the new birth, and eternal life? Is it —
- By believing in Christ (John 3:16; Acts 16:31)?
- By repentance (Acts 2:38; 2 Peter 3:9)?
- By baptism (John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5)?
- By the work of the Spirit (John 3:5; 2 Corinthians 3:6)?
- By declaring with our mouths (Luke 12:8; Romans 10:9)?
- By coming to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4; Hebrews 10:26)?
- By works (Romans 2:6, 7; James 2:24)?
- By grace (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8)?
- By His blood (Romans 5:9; Hebrews 9:22)?
- By His righteousness (Romans 5:17; 2 Peter 1:1)?
- By His Cross (Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 2:14)?"
Of course the answer is “all 11 of the above.” There is no short cut to salvation—it is obedience all the way. God does His part, but we must do ours also. To try and short circuit the process by adroit manipulation of some of these key principles, as if they exclusively stand on their own is simply not Biblical.
Now, I am fully aware that faith that produces charitable works in compliant with sincere obedience to the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is the essential ingredient; however, being fully persuaded (without rehashing the old Calvinism/Arminian debate) that the reason Calvinist so ardently fight charitable works as not just proof of their salvation but also a necessary sanctifying process is that by so doing they would have to give up the pet doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved (i.e., Unconditional Election).” The reason being, of course, that if anything (in their mind) can contribute to or short circuit the salvic process, then ipso facto it must be dismissed as out of hand—anything, meaning, of course, not abiding in the branch (John 15:6); making shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:19); apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-8; 2 Peter 2:20-22); straying after Satan (1 Timothy 5:15); falling from grace (Galatians 5:1-26); lukewarmness (Revelation 3:16); becoming a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:26-27); and many, many more.
Talk about rose colored glasses! This is, of course, in direct contradiction to much of scripture, and is once again an illustration of the either/or approach to doctrinal issues. Simply put: Why warn someone of the dire effects of apostasy, if indeed apostasy is impossible? Yet, this is precisely what they would have you and I believe. Why? Because theologically eternal security is out the window if we by the sheer strength of God’s working in us we freely cooperate in any sense of the word we have committed the horrible sin of works. So, as far as these men are concerned it is the sheer force of God’s determined will that overrides any reluctance we may possess as a product of a selfish free will, and so in essence we really have no choice.
However, after considering all of these dire warnings, and more, [iii] as I have said, I want to pay particular attention to a quote by Charles A. Hodges a noted predestinarian theologian) which he made in regards to 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 which in my Bible reads reads—
“Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Here is what Dr. Hodges had to say—
“It belongs (meaning all these verses and others of like nature) therefore to the same category as those numerous passages which make the same assumption with regard to the elect. [That] by God’s telling the elect that if they apostatize they shall perish, prevents their apostasy. And in like manner, the Bible teaching that those for whom Christ died shall perish if they violate their conscience, prevents their transgression, or brings them to repentance, God’s purposes embrace the means as well as the end. If the means fail, the end will fail. He secures the end by securing the means, it is just as certain that those for whom Christ died shall be saved, as that the elect shall be saved. Yet, it both cases the event is spoken of as conditional. There is not only a possibility, but an absolute certainty of the perishing if they fall away. This passage, therefore, is perfectly consistent with those numerous passages which teach Christ death secures the salvation of all those who were given to him in the covenant of redemption.”[iv]
Did you get that? In essence Dr. Hodges is calling God a deceiver? God tricks Christians into believing that they just might apostatize, but really He is just kidding because actually it is just a trick to scare them out of really apostatizing. The question is, however, why would I or God or anyone else warn someone of a danger when in fact a danger does not exist? To do so is a boldfaced lie. What else can we call it?
Again, this illustrates the length that these predestinarians will go to maintain this damnable heresy. Strong language I realize; however, no stronger than that of scripture. A false security is in fact no security at all. Yes, God will accomplish His purposes in us, but not without our cooperation—which in itself suggest freedom to choose otherwise. Again, why suggest freedom if indeed no freedom exists? Preposterous, to say the least.
Now, do I lie awake at night thinking I might not make it to Heaven? Absolutely not. You want to know why? The answer is that I have put my full confidence in God’s ability to keep me safe. Which is precisely what I have done; and I don’t have any intention on changing my mind, either.
[i] World Christian Encyclopedia by Barrett, Kurian, Johnson (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2001).
[iii] 1 Corinthians 9:27 (ESV)— But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
· Matthew 18:15-18 (ESV)— “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
· 2 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)— You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.
· Hebrews 10:26-29 (ESV)— For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
· 1 Timothy 4:1-3 (ESV)— Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
[iv] Hodges, Charles, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, © 1978) pg. 149
[v] I use the words “ecclesial community” in the same sense as I would use the word fellowship or ekklesia.