By E. C. Koltenbah
(We are glad to give editorial space to the following review by brother E. C. Koltenbah. We are fully aware when we printed brother Holland’s article that it set forth ideas which would–and we believed should be challenged. We suggest that you turn back to the issue of November1961, and re-read brother Holland’s article, and then this review. G. J. P.)
In the Nov. 1961 issue of Truth Magazine is an article, “The Life That Now Is,” by C. R. Holland, Bremerton, Wash. This writer is well acquainted with Brother Holland and his peculiar views of eternal life and appreciates his sincere and benevolent spirit in his practiced religion, but cannot go along with him in this matter. He holds to the idea that eternal life is a present positive absolute possession of the believer and thus he takes issue with gospel preachers in their opposition to sectarians on this matter. As far as we know he is the only man among churches of Christ who has adopted this purely sectarian view. We know of numbers of brethren who gave it up when they renounced sectarian errors. Brother Holland, who is not a preacher, has sought continually to engage faithful evangelists in discussion and believes he should persuade brethren to his view. However, he has not been very successful in it and his view does not reflect the view of the Bremerton Church of Christ. Not all of the tenets of his doctrine appear in his brief article so in this review we confine ourselves simply to what he has written. He promises to write further and if he does there will be time enough to reply. The fact that he has written makes imperative this response in behalf of revealed truth, of the Bremerton Church, and of the views shared by its regular preacher and his many yoke-fellows of the cross.
The Error of the Use of “Redemption”
Brother Holland labors under the mistaken notion that the term, “redemption,” in the scriptures always refers to salvation from sin, thus in his opening argument attempts to prove that the literal body of the believer is not saved at all until the resurrection, and he misapplies both Rom. 8: 11 and 8:23 in the attempt. Actually, Paul used the term to describe the resurrection of the body from literal death, not from sin. The only way to prove the contention of the article in question is to show that “redemption” (Gr. apolutrosis) always means salvation from sin, but this is impossible. Example: “Women received their dead by a resurrection: and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance (apolutrosis); that they might obtain a better resurrection. ” ( Heb. 11:35) Here the torture was unto death in behalf of faith in revealed truth and thus redemption (deliverance) was refused in order that the resurrection into life be obtained. If “redemption” always means from sin, then we have the ludicrous view that these faithful women suffered torture that they might not be saved from sin! Rom. 8:23 simply asserts that even the apostles themselves awaited their resurrection from the dead, not from sin. It was a strong encouragement to the saints in Rome who faced literal death. Brother Holland’s view is untenable here. It violates the hermeneutical rule that a word may have a given meaning in a particular instance, but may have a very different application in another use; and again, another rule is that the author has the right to define his own terms within the latitude of linguistic usages. A common sectarian error is to ignore these rules, thus remain in error.
Inconsistency as to “Spiritual life and Spiritual Death”
Our brother seems to labor under the delusion that “spiritual death” and death in sin are two different concepts. As far as we can observe the New Testament speaks frequently enough of death in sin, but does not use the expression, “spiritual death.” How, then, establish either identity or difference? There is no safer ground than to use Bible language to describe Bible doctrine. He says, “As spiritual life is conscious existence in relationship with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence (emphasis mine, E. C. K.) in separation from God. Thus, when the spirit (or inner man) comes into relationship with God, that is life from the dead, the spirit is redeemed, resurrected to life. It then passes from death into life. (Jn. 5:24) The body also is redeemed and resurrected to life. (Jn. 5:29, Rom. 8:23) “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:44) As seen here Brother Holland holds to the view that at baptism only the spirit of man receives “spiritual life,” the body does not; it receives “spiritual life” only at the resurrection so remains “spiritually dead.” But he says, “Spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God.” Then immediately he does an about face setting forth the astounding view that the body remains “spiritually dead” until the resurrection! Hence, it follows that the body has conscious existence in separation from God until the resurrection! Verily, the legs of the lame are not equal. If our brother would use Bible language, to wit, “death in sin,” instead of language borrowed from sectarian commentaries, then uses that Bible language as the inspired writers use it, he would not involve himself in such an egregious blunder. Either the body of the believer is not dead in sin or “spiritual death” cannot mean “conscious existence of separation from God.” Both views can’t be right; they are in juxtaposition with each other. The fact is no man can prove by the Bible that the bodies of the faithful in Christ Jesus are dead in sins. We challenge the brother to try his hand at it. We promise a response, God willing. The texts quoted by Brother Holland do not hint of his peculiar view; his distinction is wholly synthetic, artificial and unknown to the inspired writers. The passages do set forth what is proclaimed by faithful gospel preachers whom he censures.
The Fallacy of Positive Absolute Possession of Eternal Life
In paragraph five of his article our brother cites Gen. 3:22 to assert that Adam lost eternal life when he sinned. The passage does not say that. Note it; “And Jehovah God said, behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: therefore Jehovah God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.” (Gen 3:22-23) The text teaches plainly that Adam was driven from the garden lest he eat of the tree of life and live on earth forever in sin. This was imperative for in such an event the devil would have been proven true when he said, “Thou shalt not surely die” (Gen. 3:4), and thus God’s decree (Gen. 2: 17), proven false! Even if Adam had lived forever that is a far cry from the eternal life promised to them who obey the gospel! Brother Holland writes, “We come into possession of eternal life of the spirit when we are raised to walk a new life (note that he excludes the literal body, ECK), if we live as God would have us to; this life will never end, hence eternal. Therefore, to contend that we are still to hope for eternal life that applies to the inward man, saying we do not have (possess) it, is a serious charge against God’s word.”
First, when he introduces the conditional clause, “if we live as God would have us to,” he involves himself in an irreconcilable inconsistency with his contention that “we have eternal life now.” How can it be eternal (impossible of ending) if it is a conditional possession? This makes a farce of the Greek term “eternal” as used in the New Testament. Our brother does not know his grammar.
Second, the apostle Paul is among those guilty of this “serious charge.” “But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Ti. 3:4-7) We submit the following argument.
1. The hope of eternal life is the motive of our justification. (v. 7)
2. Our justification must be maintained for life’s duration. (Rom. 6:16, 23; Rev. 2: l0b).
3. Therefore the motive of the hope of eternal life must be maintained for life’s duration.Our brother is obligated to disprove the argument by showing the fallacy of either major or minor premise to maintain his indictment and also his position.
Third, let us examine the definition of the term, “eternal” (Gr. aionios) as used in the
New Testament. Thayer notes three; 1. “Without beginning or end, that which always has been and always will be.” God, Rom. 16:23; Spirit, Heb. 9:14. 2. “Without beginning.” Times eternal (in reference to the gospel in purpose), Rom. 16:25, 2 Tim. 1:9, Ti. 1:2, Rev. 14:6. 3. “Without end, never to cease, everlasting.” 2 Cor. 4: 17, 18 and all references to damnation in hell and life in the heaven that shall be and the like. Obviously, the first two uses are not applicable to eternal life but the third is. There is no other use in the entire New Testament so we are compelled to stay within the scope of the third usage in the matter under discussion. Hence, we submit the following arguments.
1. Eternal life as taught in the scriptures has absolutely no end.
2. We absolutely have eternal life now. (Holland)
3. Therefore the eternal life we have now can absolutely never end.To meet the argument the brother has open to him one of four alternatives, viz; 1. he must refute the major premise and thus set himself squarely against the New Testament, 2. he must refute the minor premise and thus repudiate his position; 3. he must ignore it completely and thus tacitly admit he can’t meet it; or 4. he must dodge it by drawing a distinction between the life of the believer and eternal life as he teaches it and thus meet himself coming back. We are not concerned as to which course he pursues. Baptists see the force of this argument so have invented unto themselves the doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy as a way of escape, but Brother Holland rejects this logical deduction which Baptists place upon their fallacious premise.
Again we submit this argument.
1. The life of believers on earth can end in apostasy. (Heb. 2:3, 6:4-6, 10:26-27)
2. The life that is eternal can never end. New Testament.
3. Therefore the life of believers on earth can never be eternal life.The same alternatives are open to the brother here also. His view as expressed in his article betrays the fact that he does not know the scriptures as he thinks he knows. He flagrantly ignores the common rules of hermeneutics in his verbal meanderings.
Inconsistency of Censure
Brother Holland further says, “‘I cannot understand how a good gospel preacher can, in a debate, be pressured into a position as to plainly deny Jn. 5:24 and I Jn. 5:10-13, and the only way he tries to explain these passages is by trying to array other passages against them.” I doubt seriously if he realizes the enormity of his baseless charge. He sets himself squarely against all the faithful defenders of the faith of many decades and champions the erroneous position of sectarianism in utter disregard of either the rules of grammar or of interpretation, yet inconsistently rejects the very premises upon which these same sectarians make their own contentions. Thus without the very means of scriptural censure he sets himself as counselor for the entire brotherhood of believers. Had it not been for the good name of the sound believers in Bremerton who do not go along with him this crass statement would have been left to fall on its own glaring absurdity. For the very sectarians to whom he appeals and who make such arguments upon these passages (Jn. 5:24, 1 Jn. 5:10-13), also insist that the faith mentioned in them alone saves. The brother cannot see that by swallowing the sectarian bait he is caught in the sectarian trap. He neither holds to the Bible view here nor does he know how to reconcile himself with the sectarians whose position he has espoused in regard to the possession of eternal life.
First, Jesus himself explains what is meant in Jn. 5:24 in the very same context (Jn. 5:28-29), for he says that all that are in the tombs will come forth ( to render literally) “the ones having done good things into (Gr. eis) a resurrection of life, the ones having done evil things into (Gr. eis) a resurrection of judgment ( damnation ) . ” Note the tense of the participles, Brother! Note the Greek, “eis” (into) ! Thayer says it always points forward. By whose authority do you make it to point backward? If you ignore it here why censure the sectarian when they make it point backward in Acts 2:38? You charge faithful men of arraying text against text! Why, you make Jesus to contradict himself! The gospel preachers whom you censure accept what Jesus says; the sectarians whom you follow do not, but they, consistent in their error, make “eis” have the same sense both in your attempted proof texts and in Acts 2:38. Your position puts you out on a limb by yourself. Furthermore, to attempt a dodge by assuming that “having eternal life” is one thing, and “into eternal life” is another, is to make a distinction without a difference; a mistake to hold and a mistake to assert; fair warning should be sufficient.
As to 1 Jn. 5:1 13 the apostle himself clears the matter in 1 Jn. 2:25 by identifying the “eternal life” with the promise. To say that the term, “promise,” is used by metonymy affords no comfort for the error. On the contrary it condemns it, for it must be so used to be acceptable at all; it thus establishes the futurity of the possession of eternal life! Furthermore the grammar of 1 Jn. 5:11 forbids “present positive absolute possession” of eternal life, sectarian scholars to the contrary notwithstanding. John says, “And the witness (testimony) is this (the testimony in his word), that God gave (Gr. aorist tense, past specific act; one act, completed in the past; not continuing) unto us eternal life, and this life is (Gr. present tense, continued state) in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life (Where’ in the Son); he that hath not the Son hath not the life (Why? for it is in the Son).” (1 Jn. 5:11- 12). Paul says that it is one act that was made in God’s Son (Rom. 5:18), not countless numbers in the lives of believers. The gospel preachers also know the office of present tense, but they also know that of the aorist, nor are they deceived into sectarianism by sectarians in their misapplications of tenses. Will Brother Holland accept the same sectarian misapplication of the present tense in Matt. 12:28? If “he believes what it says” when the sectarians have done with wresting it out of context then in all consistency he is compelled to accept their view of the establishment of the kingdom before Pentecost of Acts 2! O consistency, thou art a jewel! The misuse of any number of translations cannot establish the truth of any false doctrine or practice. Moreover, the citation of a list a page long argues nothing as to whether a position be formidable; it may be the contrary.