Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eternal Security Debate - Nick's 5 CrossEx Answers

Eternal Security Debate
Nick’s 5 Cross-Examination Answers

Question 1: Is it possible to lose and regain your salvation thousands of times within one life? Or is there a limit to how many times one can be saved? How does one re-gain their salvation after they have lost it?

Answer: A Christian can fall into grave sin, lose their salvation, then repent (especially through the Sacrament of Confession) to recover their salvation, all on any given day of their life. God, in His infinite Mercy, could allow this to happen “thousands of times within one life,” but there is by no means any guarantee. On one hand, we see Christ telling Peter he must forgive his neighbor “seventy times seven times” (Mat 18:21-22), which Christians have always understood to roughly mean “as often as necessary,” and not a strict math problem with a sin-forgiveness limit of 490 times per person. This suggests God would deal with His children on similar (if not more ‘generous’) grounds. On the other hand, the Bible warns that we must persevere, that God’s mercy is not mocked, and He can call you to judgment any any time you fall into grave sin could be your “last chance” (e.g. Mat 24:44). There is really no absolute and definitive answer to your question, only guidelines.

From a practical standpoint, a Christian should never become complacent, and rather should be striving to grow in holiness every day. As one grows in holiness, they will undoubtedly be faced with greater attacks by the devil, which God and the Saints who have gone before us teach very clearly. Because of this, God certainly provides even greater graces in proportion to the attacks, increasing the growth potential in holiness. The Catholic ‘rule of thumb’ is that the more one prays and lives a holy life and receives the Sacraments (like Eucharist and Confession) frequently, the less likely they are to fall into grave sin (though such a danger is never fully eliminated).

Question 2. Please explain the (apparent?) inconsistency in your view that the Roman Catholic Church could never become apostate and yet every single one its members and leaders could lose their salvation at any given time (similarly, do you believe the Pope himself could permanently lose his salvation?).

Answer: The shortest and most succinct answer to your question is “Divine Providence.” I think the best way to demonstrate this is by drawing a parallel: Though every Bible is the Word of God, it is still subject to being lost, destroyed, or corrupted. Yet God, in His Divine Providence, has always preserved the Bible in every generation, in spite of the many Bibles that have been lost, destroyed, or corrupted. No Protestant or Catholic who believes in Scripture’s plenary Inspiration and Inerrancy would deny this extraordinary miracle and truth.

Now with that in mind, we can see why there is in fact no logical inconsistency with a Catholic claiming Divine Providence extends further, to include the Church. Despite the fact all members are still capable of falling into sin, God, in His Providence, would not let His Divine Institution, the Church as a Body, fall away. In fact, if the Church is truly the Body of Christ, with Christ as the Head, as Scripture clearly teaches, then the Church is (despite sinful members) in a very real sense Indefectible (since Christ’s Body, by nature, has a Divine element to it). In short: God assures that not all members of His Body, especially not all members of the Magisterium, would never universally fall away (just as Jesus protected the original band of Apostles from collectively falling away).

As for whether the Pope could lose his salvation, the answer is “yes”. Peter, the first pope, lost his salvation when he denied Christ. Of course, since salvation can be recovered after genuine repentance, anyone (including a pope) can recover their salvation. That said, anyone (including a pope) who falls into grave sin and loses their salvation may not repent before departing this life, and thus they would be damned.

Question 3. I assume you hold that God has exhaustive foreknowledge, infinite power, and a purpose for all that He does. On your view, God knows all those whom He will truly save only to have them lose their salvation later.
What then do you think is God’s purpose in giving someone a new heart, coming to dwell within them, and uniting them to Christ , only later to have them undo the whole process?

Answer: This is probably one of the biggest and most difficult questions mankind has to face, right along with “why did God create the world knowing it would become corrupted?”and “why does God allow so much suffering?,” etc. I wont pretend to have a sufficient answer. All we can do is speculate, based on certain principles we know to be true. For example, God hates sin and could never command it, thus whenever sin takes place, it is the individual that is at fault and thus culpable. Given that, God can choose to punish that individual in any way He deemed proper, or He could have mercy to the degree He deemed proper. (I want to add that God is not arbitrary in any of the way He deals with sinners, and His decisions actually reflect a very real Divine ‘fairness’, ‘love’, and ‘justice’ that transcends our human understanding of these concepts.) Another principle (that is no less Mysterious than the one already mentioned) is that God only allows sin so that either a greater good may result or to avoid a greater evil. Thus we see the amazing passage of Scripture, “where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.”

In regards to a Christian falling away and eventually being damned, all we can be sure of is that (1) the Christian must have deliberately turned to grave sin, and (2) God allowed this for a greater good. Any speculation beyond that is just that, speculation, and we’re all aware of the various difficulties that arise when we try to pry into the transcendent plans and operations of God. As a final thought, though this is not a historical debate, since the only Christian group that believes in Eternal Security is the Reformed (Calvinists), this means that all the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and non-Reformed Protestants throughout history have pondered over these difficult things.

Question 4. You’ve stated numerous times during this debate that Judas was truly saved and then lost his salvation. Please give us a few lines of biblical evidence where we can see any clear signs that Judas was ever regenerate.

Answer: I’d say the strongest evidence that Judas was regenerate is that he was called by Christ to be one of the Twelve Apostles. The primary purpose of Christ calling The Twelve was to be a spring board to spread the Gospel to the world. The various texts of the Gospels that speak of Jesus originally calling the Twelve and listing off their names speak as follows: “[Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these...” (Mat 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-15). The entirety of Matthew 10 is essentially one big mission statement to the Twelve (Mat 11:1). This presupposes salvation, else the appointment would be sterile; if Judas wasn’t saved, he wouldn’t be able to do these functions of an Apostle, just as a never saved individual cannot technically truly be appointed to any Church office. Just before Pentecost when Peter recalls Judas’ life he says: “[Judas] was one of our number and shared in our ministry” (Acts 1:17), strongly suggesting Judas was originally on their side. The only distinguishing remark (for obvious reasons) in these lists of the Apostles is that when it comes to Judas, the texts add he was the one who would “betray” Jesus, and not then but in the future. But to “betray” someone indicates a pre-existing relationship, since betrayal is essentially back-stabbing. Further, nowhere do we read Judas “never really believed,” nor are such descriptions really taught about anyone in Scripture.
When it comes to John’s accounts of Judas, the two main passages of interest are John 6:66-71 and John 17:12.

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" 68Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." 70Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil." 71He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

12While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

The way John 6b is structured, verse 66 is speaking of those who couldn't accept “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:52-56), and thus “no longer walked with Jesus.” But this isn’t speaking of the Twelve. Turning to get the answer of the Twelve, the leader of the Apostles, Peter, re-affirms their faith in Him (implying Judas was also in agreement). Verse 70, when Jesus calls Judas a “devil,” could be construed to mean Judas was unregenerate, but given what’s already been said earlier in this answer, verse 71 indicates the reason Judas was to be known as such a bad guy was his future betrayal, nothing about any earlier sins or unbelief. (The term “devil” here, since not speaking of a literal demon, more accurately means “slanderer”.) In John 13, we see the text saying just prior to the Last Supper is when the betrayal took place, when it says Satan "entered Judas” (indicating Judas gave into consenting to the sin of betrayal). This leads to John 17:12, where Jesus says He protected those given to Him by the Father, specifically the Twelve, and that the only one to get “lost” was Judas, implying that Judas was originally not-lost.

The last text to examine is Matthew 27:3-5, where Judas recognizes he betrayed an innocent man, “changed his mind” (some translations render this “repented”), and returned the blood-money. While not proof that Judas was eventually saved (since being called the “Son of Perdition” strongly implies damnation), it suggests Judas wasn’t an unregenerate from the start but instead threw everything he did have away with one monstrous sin.

Question 5. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” In my rebuttal essay I discussed the emphatic nature of the word ‘never’ and that Jesus could have said “I don’t know you now” or “I used to know you” – but he didn’t.
We also see in John 10:14 Jesus said, “ I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Here we have Jesus saying that he knows His own and yet he says to the many on that day "I never knew you;" how does Roman Catholic theology reconcile all these facts together?

Answer: There are two ways Matthew 7:22-23 can be read: (1) that these folks were flat out never saved in the first place, and only did these “mighty works” for show, to deceive others, or self gain; or (2) Jesus was speaking hyperbolically (i.e. He didn’t need to say “I don’t know you now”), and thus the emphasis on “never knew” is a form of strongly condemning believers who fell away. The first option seems the most plausible, and makes things easier to respond to.

As I respond more fully, the key to keep in mind is that:
  • in Protestantism (specifically Calvinism), there are two classes of people: (a) those who never believe, and (b) those who believe
  • in Catholicism, there are three classes of people: (a) those who never believe, (b) those who believe and persevere, and (c) those who believe for a while but fall away later on
As you can see, the categories “a” and “b” are pretty similar for both Protestants and Catholics. With that, I can see both Protestantism and Catholicism reconcile those (and similar) verses together pretty easily. A text like Matthew 7:22f would fall into the “a” category. In regards to John 10 (not forgetting the actions in the present tense), the context is of true believers and thus the individuals fall into category ‘b’ or ‘c’. Since there is no overlap between ‘a’ and ‘b’/‘c’, there is nothing to ‘reconcile’, only properly categorizing them. This debate is really about whether category ‘c’ is Biblical or not, which I maintain it is, and is the only way to accurately interpret the passages about losing salvation I’ve put forth in my Opening Essay.