The pendulum on the old grandfather clock swings back and forth from one extreme to the other. The pendulum itself hesitates the longest at its most wayward points, and the least amount of time at any point between. As this is the nature of the grandfather clock, so is it with theological debate. When making an argument to support one of our beliefs, we tend to polarize to the opposite extreme in making our point, and to offset our argument, the other person swings to the opposite extreme to compensate and defend their point. Sometimes both sides really believe something that is somewhere between, but they are afraid to give way to any ground that would rob them of the truth they wish to rescue.
In this article, I wish to bring the pendulum of truth back to the middle where I believe the truth is to be found concerning the security of the believer. I do not intend to imply that we arrive at correct belief by taking all the extremes within Christianity, draw a line between the two, and there we have it... the truth! This is a dangerous, and simplistic way of dealing with spiritual issues. What I am proposing is that we should listen to the reasoning of our brother and accept where they are right. This does not mean that we accept any or all of their position, but only that which we know to be true from the Scriptures.
John Wesley wrote: "A catholic spirit is not speculative latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions: This is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being 'driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,' is a great curse, not a blessing: an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit, has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun in his judgment concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles; but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavor to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of; who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding; because your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions
together."(1) Wesley states the position that I am contending for; an attitude of Christian love and a desire
to know the truth. We should never compromise with error, but we should always be learning and adapting
all truth into our theology as we endeavor to draw closer to our Savior and our Christian brethren.
In the light of how the theological pendulum swings, we cannot always gain ground with an ecumenical approach. Most people will usually follow the individual leader that sounds the surest of his doctrinal system. Taking a non-controversial stance in these days is viewed as a mark of weakness and uncertainty. While being non-controversial is not necessarily a mark of weakness, we must be pragmatic about how the average person thinks about and accepts spiritual teaching. In their minds, the one who is the most biblically correct is the one who contends for his beliefs the hardest. They want to be sure.
On this issue of eternal security the Church is largely divided. Passionate statements are made for and against this doctrine. Many have the perception that to deny unconditional eternal security is to deny the Gospel itself in favor of insecurity and a works salvation. To them, it seems the inevitable result of a denialof this doctrine. On the other side we could charge all who adhere to the doctrine of eternal security as being antinomians and "sinning saints." This charge of antinomianism is as baseless as the preceding charge of legalism is. We do not judge peoples' Christianity upon matters of doctrine only, but the result and fruit of their living. Not all Calvinists live in license, and not all Arminians are legalists. This is an example of the theological pendulum at its extremes.
One charge that many Calvinists accuse Arminians with is that we believe that the Saints are insecure. Calvinistic theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote: "While the great body of the New Testament Scriptures which bear directly or indirectly on this question declare the believer to be secure, there are upwards of twenty-five passages which have been cited in evidence by those who maintain the believer is insecure."(2)
Robert Shank responded to this by saying: "Please excuse me from the company of any who "maintain that the believer is insecure." It is abundantly evident from the Scriptures that the believer is secure. But only the believer. Many who have debated "the security of the believer" have missed the issue. The question is not, Is the believer secure? But rather, What is a believer?"(3)
John Walvoord in his revised edition of Major Bible Themes has now omitted Lewis Sperry Chafer's quote, but he perpetuates the accusation that Arminians believe in insecurity by saying, "A number of passages offered in support of insecurity are simply misinterpreted."(4) As to these "misinterpretations" I firmly disagree. I would charge them with an accusation of misinterpretation. These are strong words that have the purpose of shocking their opponents into reevaluating their beliefs by making them take a second look at their own doctrine. Does this statement apply to all Arminians? It would seem so, but it will be most effective with those who really do believe that the believer is insecure.
I really wish that we all could approach these doctrinal matters with what John Wesley called a "catholic spirit," but we have come to an impasse, Arminianism is rapidly losing ground from an aggressive push by both moderate and hyper-Calvinists. Do we sit back in the comfort that our doctrine is the truth while we allow those around us to go on believing a deception? Where are those Wesleyans that speak and write with conviction? Where are our leaders and theologians? Is it wrong to be aggressive in writing against the doctrine of eternal security? Let us answer this with the popular phrase, "What would Jesus do?"
I cannot envision the Savior who cleared the temple and challenged the religious status quo of his day,
allowing false and dangerous doctrine to continue unexposed. How can we claim that the one who contends
for the faith is being "Un-Christian?"
While Wesleyan Arminian Christians are busily trying to fit in with mainstream evangelicalism, the Calvinistic movement is seizing the opportunity to exploit our current weakness and compromise by showing the inconsistencies of our current policies. They are attacking us from a position of strength since they have refused to abandon the consistency of their theology while we have been more than willing.
I believe we should fellowship with Christians of other beliefs. We should not be antagonistic toward them but should be available for calm and rational dialogue. This is where unity can exist, not in uniformity of thought, but unity in love.
Our people would be better informed if we were to bring a little more balance into our preaching. When was the last time you heard a message preached on the security of the believer in an Arminian Church? Is it any wonder that they perceive that we contend for insecurity? Our people would not only know the assurance that the Bible promises the believer, but they will also be better equipped to answer any accusations about their beliefs without sounding like we are contending for a works salvation and insecurity.
As we approach these volatile issues, may we all have a catholic spirit that tempers our passion for truth.
1. Wesley's Works, vol 5:502. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1986
2. Life In The Son, Robert Shank, Westcott Publishers, 1960, pp. 54-55
3. Ibid. p. 55,
4. Major Bible Themes, Chaffer/Walvoord revised, Zondervan Publishing House. 1974. p. 222-223
This article was written by Mr. Jeff Paton. Mr. Paton has read and studied many of the classic Methodist and Wesleyan theological writings. He is a supporter of Bible Believing Methodism and IMARC. We thank God for his insight and ministry. If you would like to contact Mr. Paton, you may feel free to do so.