Perseverance of the saints

From Academic Kids

Perseverance of the saints is a point of doctrinal division between the Calvinist scheme of salvation and that of other Christian systems such as Arminianism and Roman Catholicism. The Calvinist doctrine is essentially that any person who has once been truly saved from damnation must necessarily persevere and cannot later be condemned. The word saints is used in the sense in which it is used in the Bible to refer to all who are set apart by God, not in the technical sense of one who is exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven (see saint).

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The Calvinist doctrine

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is a natural conclusion in a monergistic system of salvation such as Calvinism in which all the work of salvation is done by one party (in this case God). Men and women, in the Calvinistic scheme, are considered to be in rebellion against God and subject to his wrath for their disobedience, but even when God graciously provides a means of escaping eternal damnation, they are incapable of choosing that path because they are controlled by a desire to be independent of God. Thus, in order to save men and women, God must renew (or "regenerate") their hearts so that they can choose to obey God.

God, in this scheme, has elected some men and women unto salvation and has cleared them of their guilty status by atoning for their sins through Jesus's sacrifice, and he has drawn them to put their faith in himself by regenerating their hearts and convincing them of their need (compare John 6:44,65 (http://bible.gospelcom.net/passage/?search=john+6:44,65)). Therefore, Calvinists argue, since God has made satisfaction for their sins, they can no longer be condemned for them, and thus they must necessarily persevere as Christians and, in the end, be saved.

The Calvinist system, however, does not accord with the "once saved, always saved" doctrine adhered to by some fundamentalist, Baptist, and evangelical churches in which a person who "got saved" (often evidenced by some action such as signing a card at an evangelistic meeting, answering an "altar call" at a worship service, or repeating a "sinner's prayer") is considered "always saved" irrespective of the character of his or her life following the alleged conversion experience. Calvinists, and many other non-Calvanist evangelicals, insist that a truly converted heart will necessarily follow after God and live in accordance with his precepts, though perfection is not achievable and some temporary "backsliding" may occur.

Proponents of the doctrine also distinguish between an action and the consequences of an action, and suggest that after God has regenerated and a person has responded in faith, the person's will cannot reverse its course. To illustrate, if a woman dives from a platform into a swimming pool, while in mid-air, her will is no longer the determining factor as to whether she plunges into the water; gravity is. Similarly, after a person has been regenerated, it is argued that God has changed that person in ways that are outside of his or her own ability to alter fundamentally, and he or she must therefore persevere.

Theologian Charles Hodge summarizes the thrust of the Calvinist doctrine (Systematic Theology, 3.16.8 (http://www.dabar.org/Theology/Hodge/HodgeVIII/P3_C16.htm#s8)):

Perseverance...is due to the purpose of God [in saving men and thereby bringing glory to his name], to the work of Christ [in cancelling men's debt and earning their righteousness ], to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit [in sealing men in salvation and leading them in God's ways], and to the primal source of all, the infinite, mysterious, and immutable love of God.

On a practical level, Calvinists do not claim to know who is elect and who is not, and the only guide they have are the verbal testimony and good works (or "fruit") of each individual. Any who "fall away" (that is, do not persevere unto death) must not have been truly converted to begin with, though Calvinists don't claim to know with certainty who did and who did not persevere.

Biblical evidence for the doctrine

In addition to fitting neatly in the over-arching Calvinist soteriology, they find specific support for the doctrine in various passages from the Bible (all quotations are from the ESV):

  • Gospel of John 10:28-29: "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."
  • Epistle to the Romans 11:29: "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."
  • Epistle to the Philippians 1:6: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
  • First Epistle of Peter 1:5: "[the elect] by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

Also, arguing a fortiori, Calvinists support their doctrine with Romans 8:32: "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" That is, they ask, if God did the hard work providing a way for salvation, can he not also keep men in it to the end?

Objections to the doctrine

A central (and somewhat controversial) passage that is said by opponents to contradict this doctrine is Hebrews 6:1-12 (http://bible.gospelcom.net/passage/?search=Heb+6:1-12), which says that "those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come" can "fall away."

Calvinists note that the passage never states the people in question were regenerate (or "true Christians"), and thus, they may well have been part of the church community and had the advantages concomitant with that membership (citing the benefits of being a member of the covenant community in the Old Testament mentioned in Romans 3:1-4; 9:4-5 (http://bible.gospelcom.net/passage/?search=Romans+3:1-4;Romans+9:4-5)) without being truly "saved." They also cite such corroborating passages as I John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."

History of the doctrine

The doctrine is one of the so-called "five points of Calvinism" that were defined at the Synod of Dort during the Quinquarticular Controversy with the Arminian Remonstrants, who objected to the general predestinarian scheme of Calvinism. The doctrine is most often mentioned in connection with other salvific schemes and is not a major locus of Reformed systematic theology (for instance, it does not even get a subheading in the three volume Systematic Theology by Hodge). It is, however, seen by many as the necessary consequence of Calvinism and of trusting in the promises of God.

The Roman Catholic view

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes a synergistic (rather than a monergistic) view: "[T]he power of perseverance is neither in the human will alone nor in God's grace solely, but in the combination of both, i.e., Divine grace aiding human will, and human will co-operating with Divine grace." This differs from the Calvinist view less than it may first appear, for Calvinists claim that they do not reduce man to a volitionless puppet and can thus agree that, after regeneration, divine grace aids human will and human will cooperates with that grace (compare Phil. 2:12b-13 (http://bible.gospelcom.net/passage/?search=phil+2:12-13)). The point of distinction is in whether God permits men to "fall away." Roman Catholics affirm that they can, and Calvinists, as described above, deny that they can if they are truly regenerate because, it is claimed, God keeps them from it.

External links

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Con

"Once Saved, Always Saved"] by Steve Witzki

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