Whole Counsel Theology

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Analyzing the Position of the Assemblies of God on Security, part one

This is something I've been considering for a while, especially given recent conversations I've had with some students in our youth ministry. It's been a hot topic, and they've been asking some good questions, digging into the Bible text; for that reason, I commend them.

One of them has a good friend who is part of an Assembly of God church who, of course, was brought up to believe that someone can lose his/her salvation. This is the official position of the Assemblies of God churches, and the document stating such can be found at this link. However, and I say this to her credit (the friend of our student); she has been searching through the Scriptures, desiring to find an answer to the matter, and not just accepting what she's been told.

I've read through most of the paper at the link posted above, and there are many errors in it. The thing is, I am not just saying that because I've been raised different; I 've had my bouts with full Arminianism in the past. God saw fit to bring me out of it, thankfully, and I now embrace the Doctrines of Grace (TULIP) and the absolute sovereignty of God.

This isn't a result of just thinking that one side is better than the other; no, anything that we believe about God and the Scriptures must be based on a solid exegesis of the Scriptures, using proper language analysis, but most importantly, using the context of the passage(s) in question. The Assemblies of God has failed to do this (as all Arminians do), and I will demonstrate this, and pray that I will be loving yet thorough at the same time. May God grant me wisdom.

The main error of the line of thinking that we can lose our salvation is that salvation is up to us, ultimately. The truth of Scripture is that, from beginning to end, salvation is of the LORD. He is the one who initiates it, and He is the one who sustains it. I do hope and pray that becomes extremely clear as these posts continue, and that God would get the glory He deserves.

This will be a five part post. I'll tackle their introduction first, and then each of the four points the mention in their introduction in subsequent posts with quoted from their material in bold. May the truth of Scripture come out from the Whole Counsel of His Word.

"The Assemblies of God has declared itself regarding the security of the believer in its bylaws (Article VIII, Section 1):"

Well, it is good to know they've at least articulated their position and don't leave people to wonder. I commend them for that, and I'll look hard to commend them for something else as I proceed through their paper. :)

"In view of the Biblical teaching that the security of the believer depends on a living relationship with Christ (John 15:6), in view of the Bible's call to a life of holiness (1 Peter 1:16; Hebrews 12:14); in view of the clear teaching that a man may have his part taken out of the Book of Life (Revelation 22:19); and in view of the fact that one who believes for a while can fall away (Luke 8:13); The General Council of the Assemblies of God disapproves of the unconditional security position which holds that it is impossible for a person once saved to be lost.

Immediately we have issues. Even without looking up any of the passages they use to support their view, the fact that they have only cited a single verse without the surrounding contexts should make us, at the very least, raise an eyebrow. Not only that, but the statements in Revelation 22 and Luke 8 are not as cut and dry as they say they are, with the word "part" in Rev 22:19 and the word "root" in Luke 8:13 having a lot to do with how the verses must be interpreted. I'll address those verses in more detail later, since the AG paper repeats them in one of its later points. However, from what I can tell, the issue of John 15:6 isn't addressed more fully. Therefore, I'll hit on it here really quick:

John 15:2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.
John 15:3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
John 15:4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.
John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.
John 15:6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
John 15:7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.
John 15:8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.

The main issue is in verse eight, which they didn't cite. The phrase I want to focus on is the last part of the sentence, which says "...and PROVE to be My disciples." (my emphasis) The Greek word is ginomai, which carries with it the idea of "being found" to be something, "be showed" to be (Strong), or "to be made, finished." (Thayer) What then are we "shown to be"? The verse tells us -- His disciples. What shows us to be "His disciples"? The answer is also in the verse: that we produce much fruit. So then, those that prove to be Jesus's disciples show that they were producing fruit. Those that fail to do so prove that they were NOT His disciples.

What is helpful here is to cross-reference these verses:

John 8:30 As He was saying these things, many believed in Him.
John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples.

The word for "believe" in verse 30 is an important word, but more important that the word itself is the tense in which it is used. It appears in the aorist active indicative, rather than the present active indicative. The reason this is important is that the aorist tense conveys the idea of an action that is completed (happens then is done) rather than an ongoing action, which is the present tense (as in John 3:16). What Jesus does here is confront the supposed belief of the "many who believed in Him" and challenged the genuineness of it. I think AT Robertson puts it well in his Word Pictures:

"Your future loyalty to my teaching will prove the reality of your present profession. So the conclusion of this future condition is put in the present tense. As then, so now. We accept church members on profession of trust in Christ. Continuance in the word (teaching) proves the sincerity or insincerity of the profession. It is the acid test of life."

Thus, understanding this, we can move back to the passage in John 15 and arrive at the conclusion that those who Jesus were talking about who were "branches in Him" that were burned were not truly believers, as in, true followers of Christ. They were superficial, only giving lip service to Him that never amounted to saving faith. This will come out more when I talk about the Luke passage, and it helps establish a doctrine called Perseverance of the Saints (the "P" in the TULIP). This doctrine is NOT to be confused with the watered down doctrine commonly referred to as "eternal security." They have their similarities, but there are important differences that I'll discuss later. I share some of the concern my Assembly of God brothers have about this latter doctrine, and that concern will come out in this series.
Hermeneutical (interpretive) principles used: Context (passage, book, and author), theological corroboration (let Scripture interpret Scripture), word studies.

"This paper seeks to explain further why this position has been taken."

I would expect so. :)

"In the matter of the security of the believer, The General Council of the Assemblies of God stands between the extreme positions of Calvinism and Arminianism. It accepts the scriptural elements found in both teachings.
The Calvinist stresses, rightly, God's sovereignty and divine prerogative, while the Arminian stresses, also rightly, man's free will and responsibility. The two positions, however, must be considered together if they are to be properly understood. The General Council of the Assemblies of God believes in the sovereignty and divine prerogative of God untainted by arbitrariness or caprice. It also believes in the free will and responsibility of man."

First of all, the AG church takes a common stance here -- and falls into a common misunderstanding. What they appear to be implying is that Calvinists don't emphasize man's responsibility; the reality is, nothing could be further from the truth. All stand guilty before God because of our sin, and we wholly responsible for that sin. What the Calvinist really does is emphasize both God's absolute soverignty over all actions and man's total responsibility for his actions. Both of those can be seen in ONE verse, though the doctrines are found throughout Scripture:

Luke 22:22 For the Son of Man will go away as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!

Can you see it? In one verse, Jesus declare that God determined that this would happen (giving the cause of His betrayal to be the Sovereignty of God, See Isaiah 53), and that Judas was held responsible for his action, because he'd be punished for his sin (holding Judas responsible for his action). Both are present in Scripture and both must be accepted. There is SOME resolution to this mystery that the Bible provides for us, but some of it remains just that -- mystery.

To help further in this matter, I VERY STRONGLY suggest reading this artcile by Dr. Tom Ascol of Founders ministries. He explains the non-biblical positions of hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism and then addresses the issue of where Calvinism stands on it. I carry a copy of it around with me in my Bible to answer this issue when I need to. :)

Second, the Arminian position of "free-will" is a dangerous heresy. Notice I said the "Arminian position." I'll readily agree that we are free to do what we want to do. An unsaved man is free to sin, but passages like John 3:19-20 and Romans 3:10-18 indicate clearly that he is not free to obey God, nor does he even seek Him on his own. The bottom line is this: we do not seek God; HE seeks US. If we are seeking after Him it is because He has sought us, and only THEN do we willingly follow Him and continue to do so.

The Assemblies of God tries to take the middle ground between the debate, as I once did too, and as many others do. The truth of the matter is that these positions are completely opposed to each other; that is, they are contradictory. Man is either totally depraved or partially depraved. We're either chosen by God unconditionally or we have some merit that makes Him choose us (conditionally). Scripture either limits the power of the atonement, or it limits its intent; God's action in saving us either is always effective (irresistable), or we can thwart the ultimate purpose of God (resist), and last (this being the subject of this post), we either are secure in Christ and will persever until the end (Perseverance of the saints), or we can be lost after being truly saved. These positions are opposite each other, and each set of doctrines hangs together, supported by the other doctrines in the given set. That is, if one collapses, the others fall too. One of these sets is biblical, and the other is not, and we must consider the WHOLE COUNSEL of Scripture to determine which is. May God grant us wisdom as we do, and may He receive all the glory for it!

"In order to explain the position taken by the Assemblies of God on the security of the believer, four points need to be emphasized:
1.) Salvation is available for every man (2 Peter 3:9; John 3:16; Romans 10:11-13).
2.) Salvation is received and kept by faith (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9; Hebrews 10:38; 1 Peter 1:5; Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:20, 21).
3.) Continued sin will adversely affect the believer's faith (1 John 1:8; 3:8; Romans 3:5-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 3:12-14; 12:1).
4.) The believer's salvation is forfeited by rejecting Christ (John 17:12; Hebrews 10:38; 1 Timothy 4:1; 5:12, 15; 1 John 5:16; 2 Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:26, 27; 6:4-6)."

I will address each of these four points in my next four blog entries on the topic, and as before, I'll quote the AG statement in its entirety in bold, and any Scriptures I use wil, like here, be from the HCSB unless otherwise noted.

To God Alone be the Glory.

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