By Harry E. Ozment
One of the most widely believed, yet destructive, religious doctrines is Calvinism’s “Impossibility of Apostasy.” The Presbyterian Confession of Faith states: “They whom God hath accepted in his beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” In other words, this theory teaches that a child of God cannot so sin as to fall from the grace of God and be lost in eternity. Sometimes referred to as “once in grace, always in grace” or “once saved, always saved,” this doctrine was formulated as a result of Calvinism’s “Predestination.” If God elected certain individuals to be saved, His will cannot be overturned or upset by any man (not even the elected); hence, these people must be saved and can do nothing to change the situation.
On the other hand, to affirm the possibility of apostasy is not to say we mistrust God, for God’s promise of salvation to His children is conditional. If a person fails to reach heaven, he failed to meet the conditions of God’s grace-and God
cannot bear responsibility for the failure. In such a case, God did not fail to fulfill His promise; rather, man failed to fulfill his responsibility.
Errors of the Doctrine
“Impossibility of Apostasy” is a Biblically destructive doctrine because it:
1. Denies plain Bible statements. The New Testament is replete with scriptures attesting to the possibility of apostasy. In 1 Cor. 10: 12, Paul said, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” In verses 1-11, Paul had been using the history of apostatizing Israel to warn the Christians not to do likewise. This Corinthian letter was addressed to “the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (I Cor. 1:2) Calvinism denies that these Corinthians would not and could not “fall@-yet Paul warns them, to take precautions against falling! Calvinism would make Paul as foolish as I would be if I were to say, “Don’t drive a car, lest ye become seasick.”
The same apostle Paul said, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith.” (I Tim. 4: 1) One cannot depart from any place, unless he was once there. To affirm that some departed from the faith necessarily implies they were once in the faith. Calvinism, however, denies the possibility of apostasy. Will they deny the formation and existence of the apostate Roman Catholic Church? If so, they will be denying the voices of Bible prophecy and secular history.
Notice the powerful words of Paul in Gal. 5:4: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” The inspired writer is not here issuing a warning-he is stating an existing condition, using the present tense “ye are fallen . . . .” Did not Paul (and the Spirit Who guided him) know whereof he spoke? To answer negatively, as the Calvinist must do, is to deny the verbal inspiration of the Bible.
The inspired words of Heb. 6:4-6 deal a death blow to Calvinism. The subjects under discussion are Christians, for they are described as those who: (a) “were once enlightened”,- (b) “have tasted of the heavenly gift”,(c) “were made Partakers of the Holy Ghost` (d) “have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of ;he world to come.” Two questions are in order for the person who denies this is speaking of Christians: Which of the above is not a description of a Christian; and, what must be added to the above to qualify it as a description of a child of God? Certainly, these are Christians and the principle taught regarding these Christians is: “For it is impossible … if they Shallfiall away, to renew them again unto repentance.” All the squirming and theorizing the Calvinist might do will not let him escape the force of this passage.
Peter throws Calvinism into a ridiculous light in 2 Pet. 2:20-21: “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” Calvinists argue that a person who has escaped “the pollutions of the world” and “known the way of righteousness” cannot fall from the grace of God. Peter, however, states that it is possible for such a person to be “again entangled” and “turn from the holy commandment” and he describes the tragedy of such a condition. Who are we ‘to believe-Peter or Calvinism?
2. Denies Bible illustrations of apostasy. In examining New Testament examples of apostasy, two ideas stand out: (a) The certainty with which the scripture describes the .1brmer saved state of the apostate. Many times, when directed to an example of apostasy, the Calvinist will deny that the apostate was ever really saved. (b) The certainty with which the scripture describes the completely fallen state of the apostate. The Calvinist will sometimes deny that the apostate has really fallen from the grace of God. No amount of hedging and quibbling by Calvinists, however, can destroy the effect of these Bible illustrations of apostasy:
(a) Parable of the vine and branches. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (Jn. 15:1-2) Notice that the branch is first saved: “. . . branch in me. “Every “branch” in Christ possesses salvation: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” (Eph. 1:7) When the branch does not fulfill God’s condition for salvation, God “taketh away” that branch-it is lost because it is fallen from Christ and no longer in Him. The branches “taken away” are “cast into the fire, and they are burned.” (Jn. 15:6) This is a clear case of salvation-apostasy-damnation!
(b) Simon the sorcerer. We read of this controversial figure in Acts 8. Calvinists often deny that this man was saved. But notice Acts 8:13: “Then Simon himself believed also.” “Also” is an adverb meaning “likewise” – (Webster). Simon’s obedience was being compared to the obedience of the Samaritans in v. 12. Whatever the Samaritans did, Simon did “like wise. ” Whatever the Samaritans were (saved or lost), Simon was Alikewise.” If Simon was never saved, neither were the Samaritans. If the Samaritans were saved, so was Simon. Notice again Acts 8:13., “He continued with Philip.” Simon’s obedience was genuine, for he had enough interest and zeal to “continue with Philip.” Simon, however, fell from the grace of God through envying the miraculous gifts of inspired men. There is no denying his fallen state, for Peter said unto him: “Thy money perish with thee . . . .” (v. 20), “thy heart is not right in the sight of God . . . .” (v. 21), “repent therefore of this thy wickedness . . . .” (v. 22), “thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (v. 23). Surely, Calvinism cannot muddy the clear water of these scriptures.
3. Denies possibility of a sinning Christian. Calvinism readily affirms that sin will cause a person to be lost-yet readily denies that a Christian can be lost. The only alternative left to Calvinism, therefore, is to affirm that a Christian cannot sin. John, however, would allow no Christian to affirm this, for he, says of Christians: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I Jn. 1:8; cf. v. 10) Can a Christian sin? To ask it is but to answer it! What explanation does Calvinism have for those scriptures which command Christians to abstain from acts of ungodliness? Are the commands useless and senseless? In an effort to escape this difficulty, Calvinists will sometimes reply, “But this is the old fleshly body of the Christian that sins. The heart, or the true part of the Christian, does not sin.” This dodge will not hold water, for Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts,’ false witness, blasphemies.” (Matt. 15: 19; cf. Jas. 4:5) The heart is the motor for the body’s action; therefore, both body and heart must bear responsibility for the sins of the person (whether a Christian or not).
4. Denies blots in book of life. John said, “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.” (Rev. 22:19; cf. Rev. 3:5) Would Calvinism have us believe that God would blot the name of an eternally saved person from the book of life? This conclusion would follow if Calvinism is true. The simple truth is that God puts the names of the saved on the book of life. When they sin so as to fall from His grace, their names are then blotted from that book.
5. Denies necessity for godly life. This is, perhaps, the greatest tragedy ‘of Calvinistic doctrine. Theoretically, the doctrine would have us believe that a Christian could commit all manner of evil without falling from divine grace and being in danger of hell. I thank God that my denominational friends and neighbors do not really believe this false doctrine: If they put into practice what their false doctrine theoretically teaches, no one could live in such a wicked world. In denying the necessity of godly living, this doctrine also:
(a) Discourages study of God’s word. Paul said, “Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we, should let them slip.” (Heb. 2:1) Why heed and study, if we cannot slip?
(b) Discourages work for restorations. James said, “Brethren, if any of you do err I from the truth, and one convert him;. let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death.” (Jas. 5:19-20; cf. Gal. 6:1) Why work for the restoration of a brother’s soul if it is impossible for him to err and fall?
(c) Discourages confession of sins. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I Jn. 1:9; cf. 2 Jno. 9-11) Why pray for the forgiveness of sins if the stain of those sins will not cause us to be separated from God finally and eternally in hell?
(d) Discourages brotherly consideration. Paul said, “But judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” (Rom. 14:13; cf. Rom.14:15; 15:1-3; 1 Cor. 13:4-5; Gal. 6:1-2; Phil. 2:14) Why take care how we live before our brethren if our manner of life cannot in any way cause one in Christ to stumble and fall from grace?
(e) Discourages patient endurance. Jesus said, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life.” (Rev. 3:5, cf. Acts 11:23; 14:21-22,. Rom. 2:6-7; 1 Cor. 15:1-2, 58; 16:13; Gal. 5: 1; 6:9; Eph. 6.13, 18; Phil. 1:27; 4: 1; Col. 1:22, 23; 2:7; 1 Thess. 3:8; 5:21; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:13; 2 Tim. 1:12, 13; 13,14; Tit. 1-9; Heb. 2:1; 3:5-6; 4:14; 6:11-12, 15; 10:23, 35-36; 12:1-15; Jas. 1: 12; 5: 1-11; 2 Pet. 3:17; Rev. 2:7, 10-11, 17, 25-28; 3:11-12, 21; 21:7-8). Why should we try to overcome trials and temptations if yielding to these things will not in any way lose for us our salvation?
Calvinism is very closely akin to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans’ basic philosophy was that the salvation of the Christian was secure, and therefore, the Christian was above any moral law of God. Jesus wrote: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Rev. 2:6) Every follower of Christ should likewise hate the tenets of Calvinism and oppose them. with all his might. May the words of Peter serve as the guideline for our lives: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2 Pet. 1:10)
(End of Series)
Truth Magazine, XVIII:33, pp. 9-10
June 20, 1974