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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Hellfire Goodbye!

This is a continuation of my last blog, O.S.A.S. Quench Your Hellfire! Here, I wish to demonstrate how reading only a few Bible verses and then reading Hellfire into these verses can have a negative impact on a believer's faith and his relationship with God. OSAS is an acronym for Once Saved Always Saved, and its origin, believe it or not, was from a negative perspective, dreamt up by an itinerant preacher who constantly denies the truth of this statement, insisting that a believer can lose his salvation and end up in Hell after death if he was to fall away from his faith or commit a serious sin.  Therefore, before I go any further, let me define two words which may be jargon to anyone who is un-churched.
Arminianism - From James Arminius, 16th Century Dutch Theologian. Denies the reality of OSAS, instead insist that a believer in Christ can still end up in Hell after death if he falls from his faith, commit a serious sin, or to live an ungodly life. Arminianism is an offshoot of Roman Catholicism whose Catechism includes the forfeiture of divine grace should a Catholic commit a mortal sin. Salvation is more of human choice rather than God's sovereignty.
Well known advocates alive at present: Dan Corner (USA), David Pawson (UK).
Calvinism - From John Calvin, 16th Century French Theologian. Accepts the reality of OSAS due to the foreknowledge and predestination of God, and of his Sovereignty. Also known as Eternal Security of the believer, Calvinism emphasises the rebirth of the spirit in the believer, therefore making him a new creation in Christ and as such, cannot lose his salvation. Moderate Calvinism, the position held by the majority of those who accepts Eternal Security, also accepts that every person is commanded by God to come to repentance, indicating human choice.
Well known advocates alive at present: R.T. Kendal (USA), Terry Virgo (UK).

James Arminius 

As a moderate Calvinist myself, that is one who accepts Once Saved Always Saved as Biblical, I have seen shortcomings with this idea, as I have seen shortcomings with the Arminian group. The reality lies in the situation if a Christian falls into serious sin, or falls away from the faith. The Arminian will use such a case as proof that a believer is not at present eternally saved, and unless he comes to repentance, he would have forfeited his salvation and is in danger of eternal doom. However, if the believer's faith fails, and ends up as a permanent doubter or unbeliever, or even hostile to the faith, he has passed the point of no return, and is unable to repent. The only remedy with this kind of Sotorology (study of salvation) is for the believer to die physically shortly after conversion, while his faith is still alive and strong.  This Arminian way of thinking totally denies the Omniscience of God, as well as his Omnipotence and his Sovereignty.
I have personally known two separate church pastors who had both lost their role in church leadership after each of them having committed adultery at different times and places. Interesting enough, one pastor was a Calvinist, the other an Arminian. However, both parties believe that their salvation were kept by their confession and repentance from their sin. But supposing both of them carried on with their sinful lives? The Arminian would insist that they were both saved in the past, but now they are lost again and Hell awaits them both. But the Calvinist, who accepts Eternal Security, would insist that those two were never saved in the first place. That means they would have both ended up in Hell if they died even before committing the sin or falling away.
And here is what I see is the dreadful shortfall of those who believe in once saved always saved. According to them, a person can be committed to Jesus Christ for thirty years, then something horrible happens, and he falls away. According to one author:* the Calvinist would insist that he was never saved in the first place. But suppose he came back to the faith, and starts serving God again. Oh, he was saved after all. Then he falls away again. Ah! He wasn't saved after all. But he returns to the faith a while later. Oh, so he was saved all the time. So on and off, on and off. What is meant to be expected for a saved person, of course, is a life of constant godliness. And this is why I think this whole idea is totally ludicrous. Could it be possible for a person to be truly committed to Jesus Christ, publicly confessing him as Lord and enthusiastically celebrating his Resurrection every Easter Sunday - only to be proved that throughout all that time, by an unfortunate incident later in life, that he was still in his sins?

Let us consider this Scripture:
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth you confess and are saved...For everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.
Romans 10:9-10,13.

Now either this Scripture is true or it isn't. If true, does this imply eternity? Or is there some small print to be found elsewhere?  A couple of Old Testament verses can be applied here. In Isaiah 64:6, it says that all our righteousness are as filthy rags, and like a shrivelled leaf blown in the wind, we are all swept away, and no one calls on God's name. Jeremiah 17:9 confirms this, by declaring that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Therefore can the Arminian, and for that matter, also the Roman Catholic Church, really put forth a convincing argument that once saved, we have to hold out faithful to keep our salvation and to refrain from sinning? If we were so helpless before believing, to the point that every good deed we have accomplished still stank before God, then are any of our efforts better after believing? How valuable are our works in order to stay saved, if they were worthless before believing?

But both Arminians and Calvinists alike find small print in the New Testament by adding the threat of Hellfire to all believers, when the writer had no intention of doing this. A classic example is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which reads:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Christians in general, whether they believe in Once Saved Always Saved or not, always read Hellfire into these verses without properly considering what Paul was saying here. Calvinists would say that anyone who profess to be a believer and practices those things is proof that he was never saved - even if he might have been a devoted believer for a number of years earlier in his life. Arminians would say that anyone who falls back into this way of life after believing loses his salvation he had before, and is lost again - unless he repents. This is almost parallel with the Roman Catholic Catechism.

This seems to be the wretched consequence of chapter and verse! Originally intended for rapid searching and quoting of specific texts, Paul's intended thoughts are often lost. The New International Version, from where all these verses were taken, also adds in subtitles, breaking up the chapter entirely and forming separate subjects of discussion. Therefore what the writer is trying to say gets lost under a mountain of theological debate.

So what is Paul saying here? He was showing his shock and disgust over believing Christians taking their disputes to a Court of unbelievers. In verse 2 and 3, Paul assures with a promise that they - the Corinthian saints - will judge the world, and they will judge angels. (A promise of Eternal Security?) So this must apply to us also. If we are to judge angels, what on earth are we doing, bringing a dispute to Court, to be decided by an unbelieving magistrate? Paul then shows us that these judges, to whom the disputing saints were allowing to decide for them, were themselves guilty of many sins, one in particular was abandoning their wives to bed with prostitutes, along with other ungodly acts. But prostitution, apparently was the magistrate's chief sin.

So in this context, I have stripped the chapter of verse references, and I have condensed it to make clear Paul's thoughts. Here is the result:

What? You who are believers in Jesus Christ Resurrected are taking a dispute to Court? Are you letting an unbelieving magistrate decide your case? This is crazy! You are going to judge the world, and angels too - and you take a dispute to Court. Really, how pathetic you really are! Don't you know that these magistrates are guilty of many sins themselves, so how could they possibly decide on your case? Don't you know that those unbelieving judges who practice sexual immorality will not inherit the kingdom of God? Neither will those who steal, are greedy, slander, swindle, drink to excess, engage in homosexual acts, and so on. These magistrates do all those things, but you have been washed by the blood of Jesus and made holy by the Spirit of God.

Gosh, by letting them set an example over you, you even do the things they have been doing, such as prostitution. Don't you understand that if you, who have the Spirit of God dwelling in you, lie with a prostitute, you become one flesh with her? Yet you look up to these judges so much that you are following their ways. So I say to all you saints: Flee from fornication! For whoever sin in other areas sin outside the body. But if you fornicate, you sin against your own body. Consider this: Would your life be honouring to Christ before other men if you were to cringe in pain as a result of your actions? How dishonouring to God is it, if the temple of the holy Spirit is cringing in pain due to a sexually transmitted infection?

In this paraphrase, I tried to stay as close to the original Scripture as I possibly could. But I can see the real meaning of Scripture becoming clear. Paul was not threatening Hell fire to the saints. So the average Christian should not read Hellfire into verses which does not imply it.

There are other Scriptures which Christians can read Hellfire into them. Such as 2 Timothy 2:11-13, which reads:
Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

It looks to me that Arminian believers love to quote these verses as proof that we can lose our salvation if we disown him, or fail to endure. They tend to be quieter concerning verse 13, where it says that if we are faithless, he still remains faithful. But isn't faithlessness unbelief, the bottom cause of not enduring or even disowning? By reading Hellfire into these verses, they do imply loss of salvation to the disloyal believer.

But taking in the whole letter, what was Paul's main instruction to Timothy? It was a pastoral letter written personally to Timothy, and it was instructions for good church leadership. For a leader to sin was more serious than one in the congregation, because the behaviour and actions of the leader had consequence for the whole church in the sight of the watching world. Jesus Christ is either honoured or dishonoured by how the church is led. No Hellfire threat implied here, if the pastor denies or disowns Christ, not so much by speech as unfaithfulness to his wife and family, then he would be defrocked as a leader. I have seen this happen myself, on two occasions, and for the same sin - adultery.

I guess there is a good example of this in the Old Testament. It is about King Saul, the first monarch of Israel appointed by God through the anointing of Samuel. What I have found very disturbing was that King Saul had been placed in Hell as a result of disobeying God, not only by Arminians but by Calvinists as well. And for the same reasons - the one says that he was never saved in the first place, the other that he was saved for a while but he then had lost his salvation.

King Saul disobeyed God on just two occasions. The first was while he was waiting for Samuel to turn up and offer a sacrifice to God. But Samuel tarried, probably on purpose to test Saul's patience. But his patience ran out, and perhaps under the bidding of his troops, offered up the sacrifice himself. The second instruction was for him to wipe out the entire nation of the Amalekites - men, women, children, and all their livestock. But after slaying every human, he kept some of the best livestock alive for sacrifice. God then told Samuel:
But Samuel said to Saul...You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.
1 Samuel 15:26,35.

The Scripture says that God was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel, and not as a man. God knew Saul. He will not be told, "I never knew you, depart from me, you worker of iniquity" (Matthew 7:23) - because God spoke to Saul through Samuel, set him up as King, and for at least the first years of his reign, had a heart to serve God. This could be implied that the cattle he had spared were for sacrifice, and not to make himself rich. He even pleaded Samuel to worship God with him after his sentence (rejection as king) was passed. Saul failed as a leader, but he was still saved by grace through faith alone.

Yet Arminian public speakers such as Dan Corner has placed King Saul in Hell. Also King Solomon was sentenced to Hell by Corner, and as for King David, he escaped Hell by a whisker, according to this determined Arminian. And Calvinist author Norman Robertson had also placed King Saul in Hell, much to my disappointment. This is the consequence of reading Hellfire into Scripture where there was no implication on such a thing. I have discovered throughout forty years of Christian experience that reading Hellfire into Scripture had always brought me low. I have never felt edified, nor wanting to praise and thank God for his love and goodness. Instead, by reading Hellfire where it was far from the original writer's mind had brought fear, and placed me under the Law.

I would wish to exhort everyone to read their Bibles without allowing anyone to colour their thinking.

To be continued...
*R.T. Kendal: Once Saved Always Saved.

1 comment:

  1. Amen, Frank! Let believers read their Bibles and let the Holy Spirit teach them the truth. God is not the author of confusion but of peace. He makes no mistakes, so it is not possible for someone to fall in and out of salvation. Once truly saved, always saved.
    Thanks as always for the great post and exposition of Bible truth.
    God bless,