Friday, February 27, 2009

Once Saved, Always Saved?

I recently watched a YouTube video that shows a pastor from an un-named denomination calling John Wesley [founder of the Methodist movement] a heretic because of Wesley's belief that one could "fall away" from his/her faith and "perish everlastingly".  This pastor quotes a few passages from Wesley's "Serious Thoughts Upon the Perseverance of the Saints" as he preaches about Wesley's "heretical" beliefs.  

"Perseverance of the saints" is a Christian teaching that none who are truly saved can be condemned for their sins or finally fall away from the faith.  This teaching is a part of the traditional Calvinist doctrine found in churches that adhere to the Reformed Christian confessions of faith [the Presbyterian Church is one example].  It is also a part of the Free Grace or non-traditional Calvinist doctrine found in some Baptist and other evangelical churches.  Although there are some differences between the traditional Calvinist and Free Grace [non-traditional Calvinist] doctrines, both would describe Christian believers as "once saved, always saved". 

When Wesley wrote this essay, Serious Thoughts Upon the Perseverance of the Saints, he was responding to what he felt was a need for a treatise that examined this doctrine [as found in the Reformed Christian confessions of faith]  and that was written so that most intelligent people could understand it, whether or not they were educated as theologians. [Author's note: I must admit that I think that for 21st century readers, 17th century writings can be a challenge to understand, in spite of one's level of education.]  

In his essay, Wesley askes the question,  "Can any of these [meaning "saints" - any person who has answered God's call to follow the Christian faith] fall away? By falling away, we mean, not barely falling into sin. This, it is granted, they may. But can they fall totally? Can any of these so fall from God as to perish everlastingly?"  The entire thrust of Wesley's essay was an answer to that question, and his conclusion, based on many scriptural passages, was that a "saint" could indeed fall away from the Christian faith and "perish everlastingly" [lose his/her eternal salvation].  In other words, one was not "once saved, always saved".  

This refuted Calvin's theology, which stated that those who apparently fell away from the Christian faith either never had true faith to begin with, or that they would have to return to the faith at some point in the future.  It also serves as an answer to those who believe the Free Grace Theology [non-traditional Calvinist doctrines], which, in effect, says that a person could accept Christ as Savior, but then could continue to willfully live a lifestyle of sin, or even completely walk away from their faith in Christ, but yet, still be thought of as "saved", with their eternal salvation unconditionally guaranteed.

So what do you think?  Is the pastor on the YouTube video correct - that Wesley is a "heretic" because he believes one can "so fall from God as to perish everlastingly"?  Do you believe that a person can fall from the Christian faith and lose their salvation?  Why or why not?   

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