Friday, July 16, 2010

Preserved Through Death, Part I

I was once asked the question, “Isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says that the Lord will kill someone off in order to keep them from falling away from the faith?” I mentioned to the friend, “Well, I know Luis de Molina mentioned it in his ‘Concordia.’ But as far as the Bible itself, I haven’t seen a verse that says anything like that.”

I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in my experience of hearing this statement about God taking someone from this life in order to preserve them spiritually so that they go to heaven. Many of you, my dear readership, have probably heard something similar to the above statement made by a friend of mine. For some reason, it seems to be valid statement in the minds of many believers.

Charles Stanley has stated something similar to the above statement in his own study questions on the Doctrine of Eternal Security in his book “Eternal Security”: “If Christ came to seek and save that which was lost, and yet we can somehow become unsaved---and therefore undo what Christ came to do---would it not be wise for God to take us on to heaven the moment we are saved in order to ensure we make it? Isn’t it unnecessarily risky to force us to stay here?” (Charles Stanley, “Eternal Security," page 4).

And Charles Stanley is not alone. Read the words of Calvinist theologian Loraine Boettner (1901-1990):

“In regard to those who become true Christians, but who, as the Arminians allege, fall away, WHY DOES GOD NOT TAKE THEM OUT OF THE WORLD WHILE THEY ARE IN THE SAVED STATE? Surely no one will say that it is because He can not, or that it is because He does not foresee their future apostasy. WHY, then, DOES HE LEAVE THESE OBEJCTS OF HIS AFFECTION HERE TO FALL BACK INTO SIN AND PERISH?...but who can really believe that the heavenly Father takes no better care of His children than that?” (Loraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1932, page 183)

Calvinist preacher-theologian John MacArthur of the Grace Community Church had this to say in Part II of his series on the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-34)(

“And verse 32, he throws in a beautiful verse, fantastic verse, wish we had more time as we've got to hurry. But somebody by now is going to say, "Oh, man, this is too much, brother. I can't handle this, I'm going to come to the table and if anything's wrong then zappo. I mean, I...I may wind up in hell, you know, what's the deal?"
I love this, "But when we are judged," he says, "we are chastened of the Lord, we are krima of the Lord that we should not be katakrima with the world." We are chastened by the Lord that we might not be damned with the world.
You want to hear something? No Christian, no time, under no circumstance will ever be damned with the world. People say, "Oh, does this mean I lose my salvation? Does this mean I'm lost?" No. You will never be damned with the world because short of that you will be...what?...chastened by the Lord. The worst thing that could ever happen to a Christian would be the ultimate chastening. And what's that? Take you to heaven. You say, "That's not too bad."

John MacArthur states what he does about 1 Corinthians 11:32 because of the words of Paul to the Corinthians in verses 29 and 30: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor. 11:29-30, English Standard Version).
According to MacArthur, some backsliders in the Christian faith (near the point of apostasy, or spiritual divorce) are killed by the Lord Himself so that they will not fall away from the faith and experience the second death (Hell eternal). Although he has Scripture for it here as a punishment of God, we cannot say that in every young death (of a believer), that God took them in order to preserve them in heaven. Ananias and Sapphira are another case, according to MacArthur (Acts 5). Still, though, it’s safe to say that physical death was a consequence of showing utter disregard for the Lord’s Supper.

In his “Concordia,” Molina points to physical death as a means of preservation for the “stumbling” believer:

“...God, foreseeing the sins into which the just would fall if they remained in this life for a long time, in His mercy often takes them from this world---this according to Wisdom 4:11, ‘He was snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul,’ and a bit later at 4:14, ‘His soul was pleasing to God; because of this He hastened to lead him out of the midst of iniquities.’ Since, therefore, those sins were numbered among the future contingents and were foreseen by God and yet were never going to have existence in reality, it follows that it is not simply because things exist in eternity that God knows future contingents with certainty” [Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge” (“Concordia,” Pt. IV). Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell Paperbacks, 2004, page 118].

Molina’s words above regarding the Apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Solomon will take us into an interesting study. Suffice it to say that, for now, Molina used the quotes from the Apocrypha to argue that God knows not only things that “will” happen, but things that “will never happen.” Most eternal securitists argue today that “hypothetically” (in the words of William Lane Craig; see “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach”), a person can fall away...but won’t. While Molina seemed to hold to some form of preservation from apostasy (as shown in the quote above), he did argue that apostasy was a genuine option, for such is the nature of choice (see Freddoso’s translation of “Concordia, Pt. IV,” pages 245-246).
I will unpack Molina’s quote in my next post.

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