Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Eternal Security: The Hermeneutical Dilemma

Every teaching or doctrine in the church comes down to one issue: hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). And with the issue of eternal security, the same issue (hermeneutics) is just as vitally important as the other numerous issues the church discusses. In today’s post, I’d like to start examining the problems with the doctrine of eternal security, specifically from a hermeneutical standpoint.

I’ve been thinking upon the sermon I heard from the preacher “John” two weeks ago (I posted on that sermon here at CTS), and how it is that John could place a bunch of prooftexts before the congregation while denying that the Bible has anything to say about “losing salvation” or “losing faith.” And what shocks me most is that believers are to approach the text of the Word of God with fairness and honesty, “understanding” (or “standing under”) the Word and letting it preach, instruct, guide, and rebuke us as those who will inherit its promises. But the problem I’m finding is that many people don’t desire to even discuss or entertain the idea of apostasy and falling away. No believer desires to think that the Bible affirms the possibility of falling away; and yet, there are quite a few troublesome passages that clearly state the possibility. Let’s look at one of them:

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6, NKJV).

Now these are verses that Calvinistic theologians (and Calvinist theologians alike, not to mention ordinary believers) interpret to refer to those who were “never saved to begin with,” people who only “pretended” to be saved, but were never genuinely converted. And Calvinists, therefore, are the ones who argue for eternal security: to them, it seems that if a person is truly saved, he or she will persevere to the end and be saved.

However, eternal securitists have never read Calvin’s “Institutes” if they presuppose this idea. Calvin, in his work, links the “falling away” of Hebrews 6 with “the unforgivable sin” mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels:

“First, the apostle OF NECESSITY must agree with the Master, who declares, that ‘all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men,’ ‘neither in this world, NEITHER IN THE WORLD TO COME’ (Matt. 12:31, Luke 12:10). We must hold that this was the only exception which the apostle recognized, UNLESS WE WOULD SET HIM IN OPPOSITION TO THE GRACE OF GOD. Hence it follows, that to no sin is pardon denied save to one, which proceeding from desperate fury cannot be ascribed to infirmity, and plainly shows that the man guilty of it is possessed by the devil” (3.3.21).

Henry A. Virkler notes in his work Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation that

“ ‘Scripture interprets Scripture’ was a favorite phrase of Calvin, which alluded to the importance Calvin placed on studying the context, grammar, words, and PARALLEL PASSAGES rather than importing one’s own meaning onto the text. In a famous sentence he stated that ‘it is the first business of an interpreter to let the author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say’” (Henry A. Virkler, “Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation," Fifth Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, page 67).

Calvin, therefore, believed that two passages of Scripture could not contradict each other (which is why he says in the quote regarding Hebrews 6 that we should not “set him [apostle Paul] in opposition to the grace of God.” Calvin believed that the Apostle Paul’s words in Hebrews 6 would match the words of Christ in the Gospels (and not go against them). Therefore, to discuss the impossibility of repentance in Hebrews 6 is to discuss blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, found in Matthew 12 and Luke 12.

In terms of Calvin’s interpretation, he is dead-on with making this connection; for Hebrews gives us further insight into those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit”:

“Anyone who has REJECTED Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has TRAMPLED THE SON OF GOD UNDERFOOT, counted the blood of the covenant BY WHICH HE WAS SANCTIFIED a common thing, and INSULTED THE SPIRIT OF GRACE?” (Heb. 10: 28-29, NKJV)

The person who “blasphemes against the Holy Spirit” is the same person who “insults the Spirit of Grace,” or “grieves the Spirit, whereby he is sealed” (Ephesians 4:30). Following Hebrews 10:28-29, verse 30 quotes from Deuteronomy 32:26 and states, “The Lord will judge HIS PEOPLE.” If the Lord’s people are the ones mentioned here, then Hebrews 10, as well as Hebrews 6, are not referring to those who “appear” to be saved...but, rather, to those who are saved...

I mentioned in a post on Hebrews 6 I put out a few days ago that Calvin writes that those who fall away (Heb. 6) are “voluntary apostates” (“Institutes,” 3.3.21) who “alienated themselves from the sanctification of the Spirit” (“Institutes,” 3.3.23). If this is the case, then even within Calvin’s own words we have clues that security in Christ can be breached. If this is true, then all eternal securitists need to reexamine what it means to have security in Christ.

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