Lynn R. Wessel
The doctrine of Perseverance of Saints is familiarly identified with the Baptist church. While it is not accepted by Free-Will Baptists and perhaps some others, the teaching of "once in grace, always in grace" is characteristic to most Baptist churches. Some try to make a distinction between "perseverance" and "security," but the end result is the same. The basic concept is that once an individual is in a saved state, it is impossible to sin so as to be eternally lost.
This doctrine is an inseparable part of the "package" of Calvinism. As one author stated, "For he (the Christian) can know that if he really has put his trust in Jesus as his Savior, then he can never slip away and be lost, whether because of his own sinful weakness and tendency to unbelief, or because of the wiles of the Devil. This . . . hangs or falls together with the other four points (of Calvinism) . . ."(1) This system of doctrine was named after John Calvin (1509-1563), a leader in the Reformation Movement. The five points which summarize Calvinism are: (1) Total Hereditary Depravity, (2) Unconditional Election, (3) Limited Atonement, (4) Irresistible Grace, and (5) Perseverance of Saints. As you see, the subject of this article is the fifth point in this system. In spite of their human origin and destructive effect upon faith in God's word, these things are taught by many churches as a part of their denominational doctrine. The Baptist church is in this group.
Calvinism has had a strong influence on the Baptist church almost from its beginning. The earliest Baptist church (1607), and some to follow, were known as General Baptist churches. In 1633, under John Spilsbury, the first Particular Baptist church was formed in London with the primary difference being that Particulars held to the teaching of John Calvin. Since that time, Baptists have drawn up many Confessions of Faith with varying degrees of Calvinism. Among the more notable is the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742) which is strongly Calvinistic in content. It had such a strong influence on the early Baptist movement in this country that one historian said it ". . . had been recognized as the standard of orthodoxy by most of the Associations . . ."(2) The influence of this and other Calvinist confessions of faith account for the "once saved, always saved" doctrine~of many Baptist churches.
Clarifying The Issue
An examination of this doctrine requires that we have the issue clearly before us. This can be done by first eliminating any dispute over the power of God. Missionary Baptist debater Oscar Hill said, "I'm affirming tonight that the child of God, one that has been saved by the blood of Jesus, that it is impossible for him to die and go to hell, because he is kept by the power of God . . ."(3) Such teaching implies that to deny absolute perseverance or security of saints is to impugn God's keeping power. This is not the issue! There is no question about God's ability to protect saints from temptations and adversities (John 10:27-29; Jude 24-25).
Rather, the issue concerns the power of man to choose and God's reaction to the choice man makes. Can a Christian choose to sin and depart from God? If we exercise volition to leave Satan and turn to God, it stands to reason that we can choose to leave God and return to Satan. If not, when is our free moral agency taken away? If a Christian chooses to go back into sin and remains impenitent, will God react to usher him and his sin into heaven against his stubborn will? If so, the doctrine of perseverance stands; if not, it fails.
What The Bible Teaches
When we accept only what the Bible teaches, the Baptist's unconditional perseverance falls. A child of God will persevere by faithfulness in making his "calling and election sure"; but, he can sin so as to fall away from the grace of God and be lost. Biblical evidence is in the following forms:
(1) Conditional promises. Promises pertaining to eternal life are conditioned upon "if's." Paul told the Colossians they would be saved "if so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:22-23; cf. 2 Pet. 1:10-11). This implies the possibility of not continuing and falling away from the hope of the gospel.
(2) Warnings. The saved are warned, "Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God" (Heb. 3:12). At the close of Revelation, Jesus said, "If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city …" (22:19). The fact that a Christian's part in the tree of life can be taken away and his name blotted out of the book of life shows he can be cast into Hell (Rev. 3:5; 20:15).
(3) Exhortations to restore. (Gal. 6:1; II Tim. 2:24-26). These have meaning only if erring Christians are in a dangerous condition. This is confirmed in James 5:19-20: "My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." When an erring saint is restored, a soul is saved from death! Such a one was "once saved," but not "always."
(4) Definitive statements. (a) John 15:1-6. If a branch (disciple) doesn't bear fruit, "he is cast forth …and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." (b) Romans 11:22. God's goodness "grafted" the Gentiles into His family while His severity cut the unbelieving Jews off. Gentiles (along with believing Jews) must now continue in the goodness of God through an obedient faith or "otherwise thou also shall be cut off." (c) Hebrews 6:4-6. A child of God can fall away by rejecting Christ and His atonement. As long as this is done, "It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" (cf Heb. 10:26-31). If these statements aren't teaching that a child of God can be lost, what would have to be said?
(5) Actual cases. (a) Simon the Sorcerer, (Acts 8:13, 18-24). He "also" (as did the others) believed and was baptized; yet, he sinned and needed to repent and pray for forgiveness to avoid perishing. (b) Certain false teachers (2 Pet. 2:18-24). They had turned back from the holy commandment and their "entangled again" state was worse than their former lost state. The "true proverb" explains how "it has happened unto them." (c) The Galatians (Gal. 1:6; 5:2-4). Some of the Galatians were removing themselves from God by going to the law of Moses for salvation. Paul informed them, "Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace" (5:4). How much more definite could the Word of God be than to illustrate the truth with actual cases of those "once saved" falling into the snare of the devil (2 Tim. 2:26)?
The truth is revealed with undeniable clarity. We either have to accept the Baptist doctrine of perseverance of saints with its roots in Calvinism or accept the Bible. We can't have both! May we all humbly accept only what the Bible teaches.
1. Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 59, as quoted from Calvinism In The Light Of God's Word, by C.A. Feenstra, p. 10.
2. A.H. Newman, A History Of The Baptist Churches In The United States, p. 490.
3. Ramsey – Hill Debate, p. 55, published by Star Bible and Tract Corporation.