Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Other Side, Part IV: Arminius On The Issue of Losing Faith

I’m back to deliver what I promised: to cover Arminius’s thought regarding losing faith. Before I get into it, though, I’d just like to remind the readership that I’ve spent the last two days or so dealing with the idea of “losing faith.”

This renewed passion for the issue of eternal security came about because of a sermon I heard this past Sunday on eternal security and the loss of salvation. After that sermon, I was driven back into the Scriptures to examine them once more. And I’m thankful for the time I’ve had to study this debate. Every moment spent in the Word has been a moment used to glorify God, to seek to bring out (exegeomai, “to draw out,” from which we get our word “exegete”) the truths of God’s Word.

I’ve gone through passages that reveal that a person can come to Christ, lose faith, and then turn away from Him. In this post, I am gonna deal with the issues of losing faith and losing salvation.

Now, most people have an idea of losing salvation that is quite distorted, indeed. Most people think of losing salvation as the consequence of committing a sin. In fact, our dear old preacher “John” who preached the sermon on eternal security asked this question in the course of his sermon: “How many sins can be committed before a person loses salvation? One or two sins, or four sins? What number of sins causes a person to lose their salvation?” As I said, the problem with apostasy is not the issue of works, but the issue of faith. A person loses their standing in Christ by losing or giving up their faith. As Hebrews 10 tells us, they throw away “their confidence,” or assurance in Christ. However, “losing faith” shows itself in a person’s actions. When a person begins to lose faith in Christ, they begin to engage
in all sorts of sinful deeds and actions; and those deeds and actions multiply rapidly because they’ve started to become so numb to their sin (and so numb to God) that they actually feel as if sinning is “liberating,” more liberating perhaps than even the Word of God, which James calls “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25).

Having said this, I wanna go into Arminius’s theology regarding losing faith. Two posts of this series were spent on passages that either outright describe apostasy or suggest it in order that you, the readership, would see that apostasy is a doctrine of Scripture, not just something that the modern-day church has made up. Paul even said that THE SPIRIT HIMSELF tells us that people will depart (apostatize) from the faith in the last days (1 Timothy 4:1). So apostasy is a scriptural teaching that tells us that, while all believers COULD fall away, only some will do so. It is for this reason, therefore, that we cannot overlook it and treat it as if it does not exist.

It is because of this that I will venture forth now and detail Arminius’s discussion of apostasy, or what we call “losing faith.” The biblical word for losing faith is “apostasy,” translated as “apostesontai” (apostatizing, or apostasizing) in 1 Timothy 4:1. The same word is used in Matthew 19:7 in the Greek phrase “biblion apostasiou,” translated in various Bible editions as “writ of divorce.” The “writ of apostasy,” therefore, was used in Deuteronomy 24 because of the injustices against wives and to protect husbands if the wife was unfaithful. It makes sense, then, that apostasy as a biblical doctrine concerns a “divorce,” a “cutting off” or “severing” of the spiritual relationship between God and man...since the Bible also discusses in the same passage the issue of marriage between man and woman (Matt. 19), which is to symbolize the marriage of Christ to His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:24ff).

Arminius writes in his “Apology”:

“I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences: (1) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from the faith;’ and (2) ‘it is possible for believers to decline from salvation.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted;-- it being IMPOSSIBLE FOR BELIEVERS, AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS, TO DECLINE FROM SALVATION. Because, were this possible, THAT POWER OF GOD WOULD BE CONQUERED WHICH HE HAS DETERMINED TO EMPLOY IN SAVING BELIEVERS. ON THE OTHER HAND, IF BELIEVERS FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH AND BECOME UNBELIEVERS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO DO OTHERWISE THAN DECLINE FROM SALVATION,---that is, provided they still continue unbelievers...for this cause, the second article ought to be corrected in the following manner: ‘It is POSSIBLE for believers finally to fall away or decline from the faith;’ or rather, ‘Some believers finally fall away and decline from the faith.’ This being granted, the other can be necessarily inferred,---‘therefore they also actually decline from salvation’” (James Arminius, “Works,” 1:742).

Notice that Arminius says that losing faith begins the process that leads to losing salvation: “if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation...”
First off, Arminius argues that believers can fall away from the faith; this is proven true by 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 6:4-6, and Luke 8: 13. As a result, these once-believers become unbelievers, and they thus decline from salvation itself.
If you read my posts on this series, the first post (“The Other Side, Part I”) deals with Romans 11 and how we are secure in Christ BY FAITH. As Paul told the Gentiles, if they did not continue in His kindness, they would be cut off. At the moment of his letter, though, they stood in Christ BY FAITH (Rom. 11:19-22). The Jews, while currently in unbelief at the time of the Romans letter, were able to return to faith again and be engrafted into the Vine once more, since God is able to graft them in again (v. 23). Romans 11 tells us that the security in Christ can be “cut off” if not continued in. The security in Christ, therefore, is not, to use the words of the eternal securitist, “guaranteed.”

But there’s one thing that I think is extremely noteworthy regarding Arminius’s view of losing salvation: that is, that he actually provides ASSURANCE AND SECURITY IN CHRIST FOR THE BELIEVER! Notice what he says:


As long as a person continues to believe, they cannot decline from salvation. After all, the Scriptures show us the importance of “remaining” in Him (especially 1 John), and that the one who “continually believes” in Him will have eternal life (compare John 3:16 with Luke 8:13). Therefore, for the believer who stands by faith (Rom. 11), their faith is secure in Christ. This security, however, as Arminius notes above, is “conditional” instead of “unconditional”: “AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS...” Contrary to what most people think about Arminianism and the doctrine of conditional security (or conditional perseverance), the doctrine itself provides assurance for those who are believing in Christ. Only those who depart from Christ have reason to be uneasy and conflicted within about their salvation. They are, to use a phrase from Hebrews 10, ones who have “cast away their confidence,” or thrown away their assurance.

Arminius’s belief about losing faith and losing salvation no longer seem unbiblical, huh? After my research this past year, I discovered that Arminius’s theology regarding salvation and faith is more biblical than the others that are out there.

However, Arminius also had the support of Molina regarding losing faith:

“...let us take as our example an action that is supernatural and extremely difficult, namely, a confession of faith under torture all the way up to the end of one’s life, a confession that makes the person in question a martyr; and let us assume that this confession is elicited from an unbeliever, who is justified through it.
Clearly, for an action of this sort [supernatural and extremely difficult] it is not only necessary that there should exist all the divine predeterminations spoken of above with reference to the aforementioned indifferent or morally good action, but it is also required that there be a predetermination to call, assist, and comfort the man at the time in question by means of the extraordinary aids of prevenient and cooperating grace, without which the man’s faculty of choice would be unable to persevere. Still, THESE AND THE AFOREMENTIONED PREDETERMINATIONS AND AIDS LEAVE HIM ABLE, AT THE INSTANT AT WHICH HE IS CONVERTED, NOT ONLY NOT TO BE CONVERTED BUT EVEN TO DISSENT FROM THE FAITH AND TO REPUDIATE IT; AND THEY LEAVE HIM ABLE AFTERWARD, AS LONG AS HIS TORMENTS LAST, ALL THE WAY UP TO THE END OF HIS LIFE, TO SUCCUMB AND TO REPUDIATE THE FAITH. Nor, in accord with what was we doubt that this opinion is de fide [‘of faith’]; otherwise, such a conversion to the faith and such perseverance in confessing it would not be meritorious---indeed, they would not even constitute a morally good act, since THERE CAN BE NEITHER MERIT NOR MORAL GOODNESS IN ANY ACT UNLESS THERE IS FREEDOM, WHETHER OR CONTRARIETY OR OF CONTRADICTION, WITH RESPECT TO THE OPPOSITE”
(Luis de Molina, “Concordia, Pt. IV,” Disputation 53, Sec. 8).

Molina held the same conviction: that grace was resistible, even for the martyr who was soon to die. Why could the martyr resist AFTER confessing Christ? Because, such is the nature of choice.

I’ve covered Arminius and Molina here with regard to losing faith and apostasy; but what about John Calvin? I’ve covered his Doctrine of Temporary Faith before, but in coming posts, I’d like to examine Calvin’s comments on various passages of Scripture that clearly explicate apostasy (like Hebrews 6:4-6, among others). Calvin had to encounter these passages; how did he, and what did he say in response to his encounter with them? That is the exciting question I will cover in the coming days.

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