The Challenge to Reformed Theology by Scriptural Fact

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, When in any field of study a hypothesis arises, it must fit the established and indisputable facts. If new facts come to light that collide with the hypothesis, the theoretical must be adjusted to fit the factual (often in the form of making exceptions), or if that fails be scrapped altogether. While in some fields relevant data are harder to produce than others, Christian theology has no shortage of facts about God, man, sin, and redemption as delivered to the saints in its sacred collection of scripture: The Holy Bible. And just as in any other field, any doctrine that arises among us must fit the facts that are clearly established (from the word of God in our case), else be rejected as errant.

Fact 1: A doctrine that is sound must be congruent with all of scripture

A harsh and unforgiving, yet altogether necessary trait of the nature of evidence and the discerning of truth from fiction is that to be tenable, a hypothesis must fit with all the facts, not just selected ones. In mathematics, a hypothesis is not proven by giving examples of it working or showing where it could work. As any good mathemetician will tell you, a million examples of a thing working prove nothing, whereas one counter-example (an instance where the hypothesis does not work) disproves it altogether, as the counter-example becomes recognized as a fact that the hypothesis is inconsistent with. Much like water flowing through a hose, it must flow through the entirety of the hose to come out the other end, not just a portion of it; so if at the beginning, end, or anywhere in-between it runs into a ‘kink,’ the water flow stops entirely. Likewise, a hypothesis must mesh with all of the facts from beginning to end, else it be relegated to the massive heap of victims already claimed by the process of elimination. Don’t think that this is restricted to just mathematics, theology works in a similar fashion. Even a fact taken from one or two passages in their proper and unmistakable context is certain disproof for any doctrine that runs contrary to it.

Take for example the Arian heresy or any other such doctrine that denies the deity of Christ: The way to discern the truth of this matter is not to line up how many possible proof texts both sides can produce and count them, nor is it in letting the proponents of each sling them till one of them dies of exhaustion. The fact of Christ’s deity is firmly established in scripture by a few clear and telling statements. John 1:1 and 20:28 among others clearly identify Christ as being the Word who was both with God and yet still was God, making Him the God who is worthy of worship incarnated in the flesh. The fact of His deity being thus established, it becomes an unresolvable kink in the Arian doctrine that no amount of quoting passages that emphasize God’s oneness or any evidence that could be construed as contrary can change. It does not matter what the tone, flavor, or possible implications of other passages may be nor what logical or philosophical arguments are made. Scripture does not contradict itself: the clearer interprets the less clear. Yes, there is only one God and the Son is a distinct person from the Father, nevertheless the clear fact remains that He is also divine. The argument is over: Arianism is disproven. Toss it on the heap of failed ideas and move on.

Fact 2: Any teaching that would make any passage of scripture meaningless or of no effect is a false doctrine

When it comes to light that a teaching is clearly contradicted by biblical fact, its proponents will often try desperately to find some way to make the facts fit their doctrine, stretching the limits of believability and sanity. Others try instead to simply cloud the facts or cast doubt upon the clear meaning of the words of scripture, effectively nullifying what the word of God is saying so they won’t be forced to deal with the facts therein. Chief among the earthly enemies of Christ were the Pharisees, who held their traditions and the teachings of the elders higher than the word of God. Often they would employ parts of doctrine they had themselves added to God’s words to nullify or ‘get around’ the clear commands of God, such as honoring and caring for one’s parents. Christ said to them concerning their doctrinal errors: “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6). Thus, if a doctrine requires that certain commands of God or the clear statements made in scripture be made meaningless or ‘explained away’ in whole or in part, it is a sure bet that such doctrine is in serious error.

Fact 3: The scriptures provide multiple warnings against believers falling away from God and into condemnation

The Evidence

A doctrine that has been circulating in the church for some time now is the belief that it is not possible for one who is redeemed in Christ to fall from God’s grace and thereby be lost, the formal name of it being ‘Perseverance of the Saints,’ and often called, ‘Eternal Security of the Believer.’ While enjoying some popularity in past and present, this doctrine, just as any other must consistently and at all points stand up to scrutiny from God’s word, else be rejected with the multitude of other errors. The doctrine being inherently a rule with ‘no exceptions,’ the existence of one valid counter-example or fact that runs contrary to it constitutes a thorough refutation. I then present the following pieces of evidence against the doctrine of the guaranteed Perseverance of the Saints: Three clear and indisputable warnings against falling from the grace of God and into eternal damnation. While I believe there are more ‘kinks’ in Calvinism and unconditional security than just these, I chose these particular passages for their conciseness and unambiguity. I believe that when possible, it is important when refuting error to cite several passages to firmly establish fact that is irreconcilable to said error, for, In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. (2 Corinthians 13:1). The three witnesses that testify to this fact are:

Exhibit A: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery:’ But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)

Jesus gives a very extreme solution to the problems of sin with the intent of communicating that a believer is to do whatever it takes to escape its deceitfulness and corruption. The end result and consequence of said iniquity is hell fire, and in contrast, entrance to life eternal awaits all who escape it. Some have tried to misconstrue this passage, saying that Christ is speaking not to believers but to those not in the grace of God. Of course for one who’s hand or eye has caused him to sin, no amount of avoiding iniquity or even cutting the offending part off will atone for his sins and afford him eternal life and escape from hell, for he who believes not is condemned already (John 3:18), this passage therefore would be utterly moot if applied to the unbelieving. Christ is speaking the words of life, which if a man hears and does he will be like the man who built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24). Additionally, Mark 9:43-48 holds an almost identical warning, with verse 41 plainly indicating that Jesus is speaking to His own disciples.

Exhibit B: There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. Let us labor [literally: be diligent, be earnest] therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4:9-11)

The ‘rest’ the passage speaks of is quite evidently eternal life through Christ. For the author states at the beginning of the chapter, “the gospel was preached to us as well as [the Israelites who came from Egypt], but it did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it; for we who have believed do enter into that rest” (vs 2-3). A major idea expressed here is that many of the Israelites who came from Egypt did not get to enter into their rest because of unbelief, but that there was a greater rest that they were denied for their faithlessness besides just the land of Canaan (for Joshua did not give the Israelites the true rest – vs 8), which we who believe enter into. Therefore we should be diligent in the faith of God to enter into that rest, lest we fall after the Israelite’s example of unbelief, and be like those of whom the Lord swore that He would not permit to enter His rest (quoted from Psalm 95 throughout chapters 3 & 4). For though they did indeed drink of Christ, with many of them God was not pleased and He destroyed them in the wilderness; therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:4-5, 12).

Exhibit C: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life [most texts say ‘tree of life’], and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)

The warning is clear, its implications unmistakable. If anyone dares detract from the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Lord will take away his part in the kingdom of God. I’ve repeatedly presented this evidence to Calvinist authors and theologians, but none can answer it adequately or make it fit with their doctrine, if they can even answer it at all. Some have tried to finagle with the meaning of taking one’s part from the book of life or argue that the more likely reading of ‘tree of life’ would make a substantial difference, but they do miss entirely the fact that God will take from them their part in the holy city of New Jerusalem. New Jerusalem is where all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be (Rev. 21:27), where God and Christ will be (Rev. 22:3), and where all believers will be, for when Christ comes, we will always be with Him (1 Thess. 4:17). Any attempt then to minimize the consequence of this dreadful sin to something less than being cast out of the presence of God for all eternity is folly that crumbles under even mild scrutiny.

The Challenge   The unavoidable fact derived from the above passages is that the scripture warns believers against being ensnared by sin and unbelief unto eternal destruction, thereby coming short of the reward of eternal life. This fact squarely contradicts any doctrine that states that such any occurrence is not possible. The challenge I present then is for any believer in unconditional eternal security or guaranteed perseverance of the saints to reconcile their doctrine with the warnings given in these passages. I don’t mean change the scriptures to suit your doctrine, I mean change your doctrine to fit the scriptures.

Fallacious Defenses I have seen some defenses for Calvinism and the like attempted concerning the above passages that did not resort to wild and unfounded reinterpretation, but were nonetheless ridden with fallacy. The most common one I hear is that God would never let this happen or that a true believer would never do what is warned against here. The canons of Dordt even declare concerning the idea of salvation being forfeitable, By this gross error they make God changeable… (Article 6, First Main Points of Doctrine, Rejection of Errors). If that indeed be the case, then God is threatening to change His very nature if we do something He would never allow us to do — an impossible consequence based on an impossible contingency, which effectively says nothing. One might as well contend it means, “Thou shalt not shoot tachyon beams from thine eyes, else God shall turn into a giant earthworm and start telling fibs.” For the statement is completely meaningless and utterly of no effect if we make it into one impossibility based on another.

To try to salvage their case, many will claim that the warnings are addressed to those who are as of yet unsaved. So if the consequence of the warnings given is forfeiture of eternal life, but it is spoken to the unsaved who do not have the Son and hence do not have eternal life, then the end result if they violate the commands is that they won’t have eternal life, making the commandments of God completely redundant and of no effect at all.

Yet another route some take to make scripture fit their doctrine is asserting that God did indeed address these warnings to believers, but only for the purpose of making them fear Him and live worthy of His calling. He would never actually take their eternal inheritance from them despite the dire warnings given (even John Calvin employed this defense when commenting on Romans 11:22). All inherent problems aside, even if this were the case and God were simply ‘putting us on,’ so to speak, for the sake of our living righteously, then is it not better to take the Lord at His word? If God’s purpose in giving such warnings was to make us live holy unto Him by indicating that if we walk away from Him, He will cast us away, yet you teach a doctrine that states He would never under any circumstance actually do such a thing, then have you not undone the holy fear which God’s word was meant to instill in the hearts of His people and again made it of no effect? Any way you slice it, any theologian that attempts to deny or explain away the real possibility of a believer falling away makes either the warnings against apostasy listed above or their consequences of no effect for the sake of his tradition.

Some might pit scripture against scripture, as if they could disprove one scriptural fact with another. They may argue that God guarantees our security because, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), or, “…the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you and keep you from evil.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3); but these scriptures are speaking to the faithful under the assumption that they remain faithful to Christ, for concerning God’s guarding of our souls it is also written that we are, “…kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation…” (1 Peter 1:5); and though faith itself is indeed from God (Ephesians 2:8), yet it also written that we will be presented holy and blameless, “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel…” (Colossians 1:23), concerning which steadfast faith it also says, “From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling…” (1 Timothy 1:6).

There is then no silver bullet here, no counter-fact that will magically refute the inescapable implications of the facts presented. The words of scripture are not contradictory, they are complementary. Yes, God is both sovereign and desirous that none be lost; and salvation is by grace, not works; nevertheless the clear fact remains that He also warns us against falling away unto perdition. The argument is over. Some will no doubt accuse me of deepest heresy and error, and so I ask: If even the suggestion that a believer could fall from God’s grace is a ‘false doctrine’ or ‘Pelagian error’, then why does God’s holy word testify to that very possibility? When the word of God effectively says, “If you continue in your sin, God will cast you out of His kingdom.” What do you say of it? Do you preach what scripture says, or do you quibble about it being impossible or only applying to other people? If you are trying fervently to dismiss God’s warnings while I say, “Heed God’s warnings or perish!”, then which of us is a preacher of righteousness, and which a purveyor of heresy and doctrinal error?

Conclusion

I urge you then, brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t be carried away by this errant doctrine any longer, nor lulled to complacency by the idea that you are secure no matter how you live, as it simply cannot be reconciled with the teachings delivered to us in scripture. If it is a clearly established fact from God’s word that it is possible for one to fall from God’s grace, then it matters not what else men say, what arguments they make against it, what we would rather believe, who disbelieved or taught against it in what time period, what creed or confession denies it, or if a council of very fallible men passed a measure against it: a doctrine that is contrary to the facts indicated in the Bible must be rejected as error because it does not comply with the unbreakable word of the Almighty God.

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