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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Once Saved Always Saved - Part 1 - How did this Originate?

It was the first week of Spring Harvest, 1994. The main evening meeting was at the theatre, at the Butlins Holiday Camp at Minehead, Somerset. The Big Top, the largest meeting venue in the camp, stood empty, since still being school term, there was a considerable lack of campers during that week.
After the worship music died down, the evening speaker, David Pawson, stood up and began to admonish the audience - "You believe in Once Saved Always Saved? Then forget it! That is a false teaching..."

Then he began to preach on the text of the evening, a verse in Paul's letter to the church in Philippi, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling...
He went on about only overcomers will receive eternal life, and pointed out that he is aware that many in the audience are actually adulterers, living with a divorced partner, and therefore cannot go to Heaven after death.

The result of that sermon would have been a riot in the auditorium, if fellow pastor and a personal friend of Pawson, Roger Forset, had not stepped in to quell the uprising. After dismissal, hundreds in that audience sought counselling, which Pawson called "repenting" but more likely to have their fears calmed.

Pawson's cassette recording of the sermon was sold with a warning from Spring Harvest that the Committee does not necessarily agree with the contents of the sermon. Pawson himself was asked to leave that week, his career at Spring Harvest ended. Following this incident, Pawson wrote Once Saved Always Saved? a rebuke to R. T. Kendall's book with the same title, but without the question mark. Once Saved Always Saved? was one of many books Pawson had authored, including On the Road to Hell where he says that there are many saints (Christian believers) now suffering in Hell, and Leadership is Male with which on the cover of the 1990 copyright there was an illustration of a collar and tie.

So this was a highlight of an an ongoing debate which began in the 1500s, and there is absolutely no sign of the debate petering out. For this, just type in Calvinism or Arminianism on your browser and see how many page titles are listed on your screen. Or likewise, go to YouTube, and using the same titles, scores of videos will appear, from a 90 second musical clip to an hour long presentation.
In this blog I would like to present the history of this debate, and how it split the Christian Church right down the middle, and to see whether one or the other is a "false gospel" or not. But for the unchurched reader, I shall keep this article as simple as possible, and try to avoid jargon words which most likely be unfamiliar to them.

After Jesus Christ and his Apostles founded the churches in the early first Century, by AD 313 Roman Emperor Constantine, also then as today's Pope, known as Pontus Maximus, united the Church with the State, making it the only permitted religion in the Empire. Thus from this merger of Church and State, gave the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, headquartered at the Vatican, in Rome.

St. Peters Basilica, Vatican

During the years which followed the merger of Church and State by Constantine, new ideas and teachings began to develop within the Church. Many of these new teachings were the result of pagan customs brought in by the people. One example of this was the rise of the Virgin Mary to deification (become like a goddess) and was born without sin, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which became a binding doctrine all Catholics must believe to be saved, from December 1854, by Pope Pius IX. But adoration of the Virgin Mary goes right back into Roman times, when the goddess Diana was worshipped with her child son Horus.

Other changes since AD 313 include:

The doctrine of Transubstantiation, which means that the bread and the wine taken at Communion, becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, instead of just the symbols of his body and blood, as taught for centuries before. This teaching became legal during the Council of Lateran, 1215.
Then the teaching of Salvation by works, which basically mean that once one has receive grace from God, it's up to the believer to keep himself within the grace of God by a myriad of works. These works include confession to a priest, penance - which is a set of prayers and good works imposed to the penitent by the priest, and taking of the Sacraments, chief being the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, which is the taking the body and blood of Christ, in a form of a small disc known as the Host.

On top of this, if one commits a small sin, if it remains unconfessed and the believer dies, he'll go to a temporary hell known as Purgatory, where he stays to suffer intense torment until the sin is cleansed away. But a series of prayers with a Rosary (a string of beads) and good works would earn him an indulgence, a kind of free pass out of Purgatory and entry into Heaven.
A big or serious sin is known as a mortal sin, and one must carry out his penance or face eternity in Hell, having lost his grace from God completely.

Two main consequences arises here. First, there is absolutely no assurance of salvation for the Catholic believer. To get saved is purely upon the free choice of the believer, and he must work hard with the co-operation of God's grace. Which leads to the second consequence, that is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross has little or no saving power. The denial of the power of the Crucifixion is admitted by the Vatican itself, which explains the need for Mary, Infant Baptism, the Mass (Holy Eucharist), the Rosary, the need for Purgatory, Indulgences, Penance, Prayers for the Dead and regular confessions to a priest.

Then in 1517 a young Catholic monk named Martin Luther came across a verse in Paul's letter to the Romans. This verse read:

The just shall live by FAITH

which means believing alone was required for salvation, without working for it. Those few words absolutely changed him like a bright light from Heaven! Soon, Luther was approached by indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel. From his new-found revelation, he nailed to his church door the 97 Articles of Faith which launched the Protestant revolution.

Soon after, in 1536 Protestant reformer John Calvin wrote, Institutes of the Christian Religion which emphasised that salvation is a gift of God's grace, without human effort, that the Crucifixion of Christ completely cleanses the believer from all sin forever, and the believer, foreknown by God from eternity past, and predestined to be saved into the Kingdom of his Son, and therefore, if God foreknew from eternity past, it would be a silly idea had he fallen away and lose his salvation. Hence, Perseverance of the Saints, which itself is a grace of God and not a human virtue, or, as we would call it today, Once Saved Always Saved became modern Calvinist terminology.

John Calvin

Also at the time of John Calvin, a Spanish priest named Ignatus Loyola, who from 1523 received "mystic visions" one would ascribe to occultism, received a vision from the Virgin Mary to "fight the Babylonian hordes". At first Loyola thought she meant the Muslims, but it soon became clear that Mary was talking about the Protestants. Loyola hated the doctrines of God's grace with a passion. By August 1534 he founded the Jesuits or Society for Jesus, making himself a military General rather than a church abbot. By September 1540, Pope Paul III ordained the Jesuits to get out there and completely destroy (i.e. literally kill) everyone who holds the doctrines of grace, after receiving a specific command from the Virgin Mary in a vision. This included the slaughter of all men, women and children.

In 1560 A boy named James Arminius was born in Holland. Having lost both his parents at a young age, as a young man he was educated by one Calvinist, Professor Theodore Beza in Amsterdam, between the years 1575 to 1586. Beza became suspicious of Arminius apparent apathy over Divine grace, and begun to question the student on his leanings. Arminius lied and swore under oath that he was devoted to Calvinism, a move which allowed Beza to ordain him as a minister some years later.

James Arminius

But some years before his ordination, in 1586 he fled Amsterdam for a "holiday" in Rome instead of working to pay off his tuition fees. Arminius then became a private student of a Spanish monk and Jesuit - Luis de Molina.

Molina, as a devout Roman Catholic, had to swear allegiance to Thomas Aquinas and his teaching of Divine Sovereignty, but as a Jesuit, he wanted to defend the Papacy against Calvinism. Molina saw a willing student in Arminius, and he began to study Molina's solution to the problem of theological contradictions - Divine Sovereignty versus Free Will, salvation by grace against human effort. Molina came up with the halfway measure, a bit from both sides. First known as Molinism, this "Middle Knowledge" entails one being saved by divine grace, but this must be worked upon by the free will of the believer, or else the grace becomes ineffective. So therefore by Molina's reasoning, the atonement made for our forgiveness of sins by the death of Christ on the Cross loses its effect and becomes much weaker, leaving human effort to fill in the gap where the Crucifixion now falls short. Basically we have to "overcome" our own sinful nature and remain faithful in order to enter Heaven after death.

It was a major victory for the Vatican!

In 1588, James Arminius wrote his treatise: A Reconciliation of Free Choice With the Gift of Grace, Divine Foreknowledge, Providence and Reprobation, which changed Molinism to Arminianism.
This treatise became the norm for many Protestant churches, and it was embraced by John Wesley, founder of Methodism, a denomination from which David Pawson was brought up.

In 1610 the disciples of James Arminius signed a petition to the Government asking for protection of their Arminian views. This petition was known as the Remonstrance which pleased the likes of the Methodists, Pentecostals, Plymouth Bretheren, Assemblies of God and other well known groups.
So what have become of all this?

Namely it's a case of "another gospel" Paul the Apostle warns against in his letter to the churches in Galatia (Turkey today). What Paul was warning against were the teachings from the Jewish believers that circumcision was necessary for salvation for all non-Jews. In other words, human works added to faith to attain salvation was a false gospel.

There are many false gospel teaching going around today, some subtle enough to pass as Christian orthodoxy. One is, you need to be baptised to be saved, a teaching known as Baptismal Regeneration. It is taught by the Roman Catholic Church, along with Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Christ and all groups with an Arminian leaning to Salvation.

We as Christians need to accept that we are saved by Divine grace, a free gift given by God to all true believers. God foreknew us from eternity past, he knew from before birth every work we would ever do, and therefore predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son in character. Furthermore, every true believer is a gift of the Father to the Son for dying on the cross. We are his reward. Now if we can lose our salvation, as the Arminians teach, then we have to conclude that God is capable in making mistakes - God chose a "naff" gift that was of no use to the Son!

How God could make such a mistake and yet hold the Universe together is even a greater mystery than anyone can answer to.


  1. I want to thank you Frank for this detailed history that brings us where we are today as believers in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May our Lord continue to shine through you and your blog. Blessings, Lloyd

  2. Is Salvation a transaction?

    An evangelical Christian recently said to me, "When a sinner turns from sin to the Savior...A transaction is made and a soul is saved."

    This statement is the crux of the problem with Baptist/evangelical theology: God DOES NOT conduct transactions with sinners!

    God saves sinners, and he does so WITHOUT their assistance or even their cooperation. Salvation is not a is a FREE gift. Gifts do not involve "transactions".

    It is interesting to note this point: In Baptist and evangelical theology the sinner has a free will BEFORE he is saved, but loses his free will, the ability to choose or to reject God, after the "transaction" of salvation with God has been completed.

    In Lutheran theology, the sinner lacks ANY free will in spiritual matters prior to salvation. The reason that the sinner lacks a free will to make spiritual decisions (such as "accepting Jesus into his heart") is because the sinner is spiritually dead. However, once God saves him, quickens (makes alive) his spiritually dead soul, he then has the ability to make spiritual free-will decisions: to follow Christ, or to turn back to his former life of sin and darkness.

    Which theology is most consistent with Scripture and the historic teachings of the Christian Church?

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