Friday, April 13, 1990

Letter 1 - March 24, 1990

Dear Greg,
.... Greetings; grace, mercy, and peace be unto you, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
..... Last week when we were having lunch, you asked me a doctrinal question. You asked me, whether I thought a Christian could lose their salvation? I answered that I didn't think that was a proper doctrine, but I think the answer may have misled you. I thought I'd better clarify, so that's what this letter is for.
.... It's true, I do not believe a Christian can lose their salvation. I think it's an improper doctrine, as I said. But having examined the other side of the argument (that a Christian cannot lose their salvation), I think that's an improper doctrine as well. I don't think either argument is proper in relation to salvation itself, and that some third thing must really be true on the subject. Please allow me to explain.
Two years ago, several friends of mine became involved in a doctrinal dispute on the subject of whether or not a Christian could lose their salvation. Some of them said "Yes," and others said "No." The arguing soon got out of hand. A lot of feelings were hurt, a lot of friendships were broken, and many people seemed confused. I decided to look into both sides of the argument for myself, to review both scriptural cases.
.... As I looked into those doctrines, I found that a lot of traditional understanding had crept into the subject – understanding that was not exactly Scriptural. This left room for presumption, and there was error enough to go around. Many of the terms involved in this subject were poorly defined or completely misunderstood.
.... As an example of a poorly defined scriptural term, we might choose the term "grace". Most people understand grace to be an attitude of unmerited favor towards us, proceeding from God (which I think is true, but there is more to it than that.) Others think that grace is a lenient attitude on the part of God toward our vices ("The grace of God will cover it"-- see Jude 4).
.... Grace is far more than an attitude God has toward us; grace is an actual empowerment, an ability God imparts to us that enables us to become servants to righteousness (See 2 Cor 9:8; 12:9; I Cor 15:10). In Titus 2:11,12 Paul tells us that this is the grace of God that brings salvation -- which casts an entirely new light on the meaning of "saved by grace".
.... Other scriptural terms, such as "predestination" or "foreknowledge", are understood to function in certain ways and to include certain aspects that are nowhere ascribed to them in Scripture. A good amount of presumption is involved in this.
.... There are other Scriptural terms that can only be understood properly in relation to Christ Himself: terms such as "elect" or "salvation" being the best examples of this (Eph 1:4; Col 3:11,12/Luke 2:30; Psalm 118:21,22). Without relating these directly to Jesus Himself, as a manifestation of Christ in you, those terms default to different meanings entirely.
.... To the average Christian, these charges are probably pretty alarming. But the only real question to ask is whether they are Scripturally true. Salvation itself is such a serious matter that any such questions must also be taken seriously.
.... But back to the basic question of the two doctrines: can a Christian lose his salvation? Or can he never lose his salvation?
.... I mentioned that I believe both of those doctrines to be improper. The way they are formed is just not the way you put together a good, sound doctrine. There are four fundamental reasons why I must fault them:

1) All Scriptures used as proof text, for either doctrine, are off-subject. "Falling from grace, Being estranged from Christ, Suffering shipwreck of the faith, Overthrowing their faith, Beware, lest you also be cut off"; or, "Knowing you have eternal life, Sealed by the Holy Spirit, No one is able to snatch them out of My hand", etc.
.... In actuality, none of those Scriptures have addressed salvation at all! They are addressing subjects that are peripheral to salvation, such as grace, faith, eternal life, redemption, perseverance, and abiding in Christ – everything except salvation itself. In those passages, the words ‘save', ‘saved', or ‘salvation' are not even being used (except in two cases, and in each case it is not the actual topic under discussion.)
.... In the concordance you'll find 110 verses, from the New Testament alone, that use the word ‘save', ‘saved', or ‘salvation'. So how can each side of the argument claim that they are addressing salvation, without quoting a single one of the verses that mention salvation? After all, there are only 110 of them! So my first reason for rejecting both doctrines is that their Scriptures are all off-subject.
2) My second reason for rejecting each doctrine is that they have no Scriptural premise. By this I mean, that each position lacks a basic Scripture that is able to set forth its belief in a doctrinal, creedal statement, upon which the rest of the belief may be founded.
.... For example: if there was a verse that said quite plainly, "You can lose your salvation" or, "Beware, lest you lose your salvation" or, "Oops! Sorry! Looks like you've lost your salvation!" Then there would be a reason for teaching such a doctrine. But without such a Scripture the belief has no foundation.
.... Again: if there was a verse that said quite plainly, "You cannot lose your salvation", then there would be a premise for teaching such a doctrine. But no such statement is ever made in Scripture.
.... In either doctrine the premise is simply presumed, and the rest of the doctrine is built upon the presumption. In Matthew 7 Jesus spoke of this very principle: when someone hears His word, he is building on a foundation; but others will build even without a foundation, even without a premise to build upon. And the fall of that house will be great.
.... Now this is another alarming thing to consider. Surely, God would not remain silent on a subject this important! If we could lose our salvation He would tells us so plainly; or if we couldn't lose it, He'd tell us that too. It could only mean that neither position is applicable to salvation, as salvation truly is; it means we've misunderstood something concerning salvation itself.
3) My third reason for rejecting each doctrine is that neither of them is answerable to the entirety of Scripture. Each argument seems fairly strong, if limited to the Scriptures they themselves have referenced; yet each position runs into Scriptural problems when it tries to take the other person's references into consideration. Neither can truly answer the other person's argument. As a result each have resorted, not to explaining the other's references, but to explaining them away.
.... Two tricks are used at this point. The first is a Sadducee trick that I refer to as "logical extensions." Jehovah Witnesses use it a lot, too. It goes something like this:
.... "Well, here is a Scripture so we know this point is true; so can't you see that this other point must also be true?" Or sometimes, they'll use a syllogism in a similar way.
.... The Sadducees used this approach in Matt 22:23-28. They used it, as Jehovah Witnesses use it, to explain away sound doctrine; but it can be used to teach unsound doctrine as well. But no matter how logical such points may seem, if they are not specifically outlined in Scripture then they may have taken an unqualified step. "Logical extensions" may be handled at more complex levels of the doctrine, but as the most basic levels they are a formula for disaster: especially if you're trying to use them for a premise!
.... Oh, yes, the second trick. The second trick is to declare, "We have the stronger argument". But there is no such thing as a ‘stronger argument' in sound doctrine; there are only sound, irrefutible arguments. If their ‘stronger argument' is refuted even once by the Scriptures, then by golly the word of God says it's wrong!
4) The fourth reason I reject both doctrines is because I don't see a true testimony of Jesus anywhere in them. I could take it by one doctrine that Jesus is not a good shepherd, and would not seek a sheep that is straying; I could take it by the other that carnal security is of God – even though they deny teaching this – but by their own logic there's no escaping that the conclusion could be true. This has perplexed the people who preach ‘assurance' for centuries.
.... Ephesians 4:13 tells us that in the knowledge of the Son of God there is unity of the faith: to see the true testimony of Christ in this subject is to see the truth of the matter. But each of these other two doctrines leave us with perplexing implications.
.... This letter is starting to get long, so I'll try to wind it up.
I am trying to be fair on this subject, and to really get to the bottom of it; and if I've been a little tough it has been justly so: I think there is complete integrity in the points I've made so far. Greg, I haven't geared this toward pleasing anybody but God. And for myself, I know I cannot be satisfied until I've found "sound doctrine that no man can condemn." There is a lot of research that must go into that, and a lot of honest question asking. But as long as I am following Scripture, I will follow it wherever it takes me.
.... In this letter I've mentioned Scriptural faults that I've found with those two doctrines. But in another sense those faults have become a criteria: a true doctrine would pass the test those other doctrines have failed. This is how you would go about finding the truth of the matter:

1) First go to the concordance and find those 110 verses, that use the word ‘save', ‘saved', or ‘salvation'. Those are the verses to begin your study with. If all your verses actually say ‘salvation', and it is truly the subject under discussion, then no one could accuse you of being off-subject, or of resorting to ‘logical extensions' in your doctrine.

2) Next, review those verses, seeking for their testimony of Jesus. The perspective you see of Him must agree with all Scriptures, being refuted by none; it vindicates them all, rather than explaining them away. It must vindicate Christ Himself in His very character.

3) When you've found their common testimony, and you're sure of it's integrity, look for one of those verses that will encapsulate the basic belief itself: it states the basic belief in doctrinal, creedal form. This will serve as the premise, and the rest of the doctrine can be built on this premise.

.... In my opinion, that is the way a proper doctrine should be put together. If you could really do that, it's inconceivable that anyone could ever fault it: it would be ‘sound doctrine that no man could condemn'. This would be true of any doctrine you might put together in such a fashion.
.... Of course, I have already done the things that I've just suggested to you here. Since last fall I have been looking at a third teaching on this subject. It is immense, but so far it seems very promising. I have shown it to a minister friend with a Baptist background, and he has completely accepted it (in fact, he wants to research it further.) I have another friend who believes Christians can lose their salvation (and he has pushed the point pretty hard in plenty of arguments) but when I showed him this doctrine he had to admit that he couldn't answer it.
.... I have a third friend, a pastor, who is a Greek scholar. He looked it over and accepted some of the points, without refuting any of them, and cautiously sent it back. A fourth friend, who is also a pastor, has not been able to Scripturally fault it at all, but has rejected it anyway. He is Calvinistic. That's where this doctrine stands so far, in terms of its acceptability.
I would like to share on this doctrine with you further, if you are curious about it and you think you'd like to hear it; but first I'd really appreciate it if you'd walk a mile in my shoes. I wish you'd look up those verses from the concordance and see what you come up with on your own.
.... If you do give this a try, as I've suggested, you'll quickly see the problem of ill-defined terminology that I mentioned earlier. It will lead you into a string of six apparent antinomies, one right after the other, so that answering one problem leads you smack into the next. One of these is the question of "Man's Free Will vs. God's Omnipotence", which I think we already agree on; another is the question of whether a Christian can or cannot lose his salvation, which we've talked about here. But there are others, each one leading to the next. Anyway, we can discuss it later if your curiosity has been aroused.
Greg, if you feel you need to show this letter to any of the leaders, I would not be offended for you to do so. I realize that any good shepherd has to take precautions in protecting his flock. But let me offer you one word of assurance as to my intentions:
.... Often, when you find someone who is ‘coming up with bright new ideas' in doctrine, they are nothing but a non-conformist. Their doctrines are different simply for the sake of being different, because they feel it distinguishes them -- which is actually pretty bad (I Cor 11:19). Heresies start that way! But my goals are nobler than that.
.... In all of my doctrines, I am looking for the clearest testimony of Jesus that I can find. According to Ephesians 4:13-14 this is the key to doctrinal accord, and among my friends these doctrines have usually been pretty well received (for Christ's sake, not just for mine).
.... Christ-centered teachings are a little like Christ Himself, in that they are always a little different from the standard beliefs of the day. But like Jesus again, those differences are spirit, and they are life. If my doctrines are different from standard, traditional doctrines, then those differences are well-considered, and may always be traced to some clearer perspective of Christ that I can see. If I am thus minded, and somehow commit an error anyway, God will reveal even this to me (Phil 3:10,15).
.... Oh well, this letter is already much longer than I'd intended, and I have other work to do! See you later. Take care.
Yours in Christ,