The Vine and the Branches: Once Saved Always Saved? [an Apologetic]

My latest blog LINK ] is a response to a request to read an article by John MacArthur titled “The Vine and the Branches”. The link provides it in a single shot, and here I provide it broken into 2 parts:

I recently read an article by Mr. John MacArthur about salvation (“The Vine and the Branches”) at the request of a friend. I’ve read several Christians’ explanations of salvation (Catholics as well as non-Catholics) that quote the Scriptures and conclude the opposite of MacArthur. A big question that comes to my mind is, “who is right and how do we know?” But before we get to that question, let’s explore Mr. MacArthur’s view. His article should be easy enough to find by the title I provided. He preaches a doctrine of “once saved always saved” and his article is primarily in regards to John 15:1-8.

Among a couple good points he makes, I think there are places where he makes assumptions that aren’t supported by Scripture and he makes a couple contradictions. I like what he says about Christians being pruned to bear more fruit, and the fact that it can be a painful process, yet worthwhile. But, I don’t see how he concludes that fruitless branches were never “truly attached” branches. How can a branch be a branch if it’s not truly attached in the first place? MacArthur’s reasoning is not convincing for me.

For example, he suggests that branches on Christ the Vine might not really be Christians. But if a person is not truly a Christian, how can that person be attached to the Vine which is Christ? Scripture says they are “cut off”. You can’t be cut off from something that you weren’t “truly” attached to, can you? It makes no sense.

He says “the fruitless branches represent Judas and all those who never were true disciples”. But Scripture doesn’t make any claim that they were never “true disciples”. There is no indication in Scripture that Judas wasn’t a “true disciple” of Christ prior to the betrayal. We only know that he betrayed Christ. But don’t we ALL betray Christ when we choose to sin? Or is sinning something we can do as Christians? In other words, does Scripture ANYWHERE say it’s okay to sin, or that in sinning we retain our life with Christ?

MacArthur also says that once we are forgiven by God, we are clean and do not need “the bathing of forgiveness again”. Where is that in the Bible? If we don’t need that forgiveness again, then why does Paul rebuke Christian believers in every one of his Epistles about sin and the need to avoid it? If they are “once saved always saved”, then why all the preaching about avoiding sin?
Why does James tell us to confess our sins to each other and that the prayers of the presbyters forgives sin in James 5:13-16? If we don’t need that forgiveness after being initially forgiven, then didn’t the Holy Spirit inspire James to make a moot point and a false teaching? Where in Scripture does it say “…once a person is forgiven by God…he does not need…forgiveness again”?

Scripture DOES tell us that one of Christ’s children cannot be snatched out of His Hand. But it NEVER says that we can’t CHOOSE to walk from His Hand by our own choice to sin. There is nothing in Scripture that says we can’t throw away God’s Gift of salvation. And in fact, we are warned not to take it for granted, lest we fall away. Read Hb 6:4-6. Paul writes of “partakers of the Holy Spirit” who have tasted of God’s Power, only to “have fallen away”. He doesn’t make any indication here that they weren’t “true” believers, rather they were believers who “tasted the heavenly gift” [they were saved] and now are not saved. Paul shows us again in Galations 5:4 that in seeking to be justified by the law, the Christians he is writing to can be “severed from Christ” and those Galations have “fallen from grace”. These were Christians who received the Word and the Spirit (Gal 3:1; 4:4-9)) and were “running well the race” (Gal 5:7) and THEN were tempted away from truth and toward going back to circumcision. They were Christians on the Vine of Christ, and then “severed” themselves from the Vine that they were truly attached to. MacArthur’s explanation contradicts Paul’s message here, so who is right?

[continued below…]

…continued…]

MacArthur contradicts himself by using Is 5:1-7 to explain the branches, and then expects us to accept his understanding of Scripture as the “true” one. Israel is described as being God’s chosen vineyard that bore worthless fruit. But nowhere does that passage say that these Israelites were not his true branches, as MacArthur alludes to. Rather, it says they were THE branches. Paul even calls them the “natural branches” (Rom 11:21). And what happened? They were “cut off” because they, as THE true/natural branches did not bear fruit, and so God grafted us in (Rom 11:20-23). MacArthur says that they were cut off because of their unbelief. But he’s drawing an incomplete conclusion here. The Israelites were initially allowed to be consumed, why? Is 5:1-7 tells us because they bore bad fruit. Their fruit was “worthless”. They subsequently did not believe, as Paul points out in Rom 11:20. But what ELSE does Paul say here that MacArthur conveniently forgets to mention? “19 You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.” (Rom 11:19-23)

What did Scripture say there? Once we are grafted in, can we never be cut off? Does verse 22 say we can never be cut off, or that we CAN be cut off unless we DO something? And what about the ones that had been cut off, which were initially attached? Does it say they were never “truly” attached, or that they had been “cut off” AND can be RE-attached…grafted in AGAIN (v.23)? Rom 11:19-23 makes no sense with a “once saved always saved” belief.

MacArthur says that those who do not abide in Christ “were never saved”. Where does Scripture say that?

MacArthur says that all Christians bear some fruit, but that some may have bad fruit. So, every Christian bears fruit, whether good or bad. So, what happens to Christians who bear bad fruit? Are they saved for their bad fruit? (Chapter and verse?) What examples do we have from the Scriptures about bearers of bad fruit (Is 5:1-7; Mt 7:16-27)?

MacArthur says that we can be a branch without abiding in the true Vine, citing Rom 9:6 that “not all are Israel who descend from Israel”. I believe he’s making a false correlation here. Paul is talking about those who are saved. Not all who are from Israel are saved because they reject Christ. It never suggests they were not part of a true Vine, rather Paul tells us plainly they were “the natural branches” and now have been “cut off”. MacArthur’s view is contradicting Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired writings here. So who is right?

There are over 40 instances* in Scripture where Paul talks of the “hope” of salvation, and NOT any “certainty”. (Cff. Rom 5:2,5, 8:24, 10:1; Gal 5:5; Eph 1:18, 4:4; Col 1:5, 23, 27; 1Thess 1:3, 2:19, 5:8; 2Thess 2:16; 1Tim 1:1, 4:10, etc…ad nauseum.) In fact, even Paul says he buffets himself for fear of being “disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27), which makes no sense in a “once saved always saved” belief, unless you want to believe that Paul was never a “true disciple”. Was Paul a “true disciple of Christ”? Did Paul EVER mention being ASSURED of his salvation?

Nowhere does Scripture tell us that salvation is a one-time step of asking the Lord into our hearts and making a one-time profession of faith in Him. Scripture tells us that salvation is a process. The Christian can rightly say, “*I have been saved *(Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5,8; 2Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5), *I am being saved *(Phil 2:12; 1Pet1:9) and I will be saved IF I endure to the end (Mt 7:21; Mt 10:22; Mt 19:16-17; Mt 24:13; 1Cor 9:27; 1Cor 10:11-12, etc…).

Ultimately, I think it boils down to authority. MacArthur wants us to accept his interpretation/understanding of Scripture, even though Scripture does not actually say what he tries to make it say, and he has to ignore and contradict several verses in Scripture to conclude “once saved always saved”. So the real question might be, by what authority does MacArthur (or anyone else) presume to be able to interpret and teach the Scriptures that I (or anyone else) don’t also have? Does Scripture give us any clues on whom to turn to when there are disagreements? Is there a “pillar and bulwark of Truth” (1Tim 3:15) that we can turn to when there are disagreements on matters of doctrine, and who is it, and where do you find them?

*For more Scriptural references on salvation, visit the Scripture Catholic website HERE :
scripturecatholic.com/salvation.html

Beautifully done! :thumbsup:

The parable of the Vine completely contradicts OSAS. It’s blatantly clear. You have to twist yourself into a pretzel to ignore the blatant contradiction.

I also reject OSAS but I’ll make a few points here:

You focused on one Parable, but my goodness every Parable Jesus told rejects OSAS. I’ll go through some:

The Sower: In this Parable you have two groups who accepted Jesus and failed; the one choked by thorns, and the one that withered away. If OSAS was true there would only be the good fruit and the seed that was snatched away.

The wedding: This one should be obvious, the first group did not accept the invitation, the second group did accept the invitation but those not dressed were kicked out.

The virgins: They were all waiting for the bridegroom but the one’s who were not prepared came back to a shut door.

Thanks zz912 and dronald. Yes, I focused only on the one because I was responding directly to MacArthur’s article…and I also wanted to keep it within 1,500 or so words. But thanks very much for the other supporting passages! :thumbsup:

Great discussion.

Many folks who believe in OSAS ignore this:

Heb 6:4-8: For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the holy Spiritc 5and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,* 6and then have fallen away, to bring them to repentance again, since they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves* and holding him up to contempt.d 7Ground that has absorbed the rain falling upon it repeatedly and brings forth crops useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives a blessing from God.e 8But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is rejected; it will soon be cursed and finally burned.f*

Only those who have been “saved” could have “tasted the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, those who have experienced saving grace can subsequently be “fallen away.” It would be contradictory to say, “well, that person never really was saved.” In that case, who could be sure they were saved at all?

May God bless you.

How do we reconcile this passage with the Prodigal son?

The prodigal son WAS a member of his father’s household, and as long as he remained in a distant land, he was dead and was lost.

Thus, although the son was safe in his father’s house he was lost when he voluntarily chose to leave it. ONLY by returning to his father was he restored to life. If he had not returned, he would have remained lost and dead.

This illustrates that salvation once had can be squandered.

My answer to your question about authority comes from;

(Luk 10:16) He that heareth you heareth me: and he that despiseth you despiseth me: and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.

Jesus talking to the Aposles.

and then:

(1Jn 4:6) We are of God. He that knoweth God heareth us. He that is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Apostolic sucession is where we go for truth. Is MacArthur of an Apostile, like my local priest is? If he is not, then anything he would say, concerning faith and morals, would make me question what he says is true.

Yes, I agree; but the passage in Hebrews says that one cannot come back.

Jesus said he could.

It is discussing the situation of those who are reverting to the Old Covenant after entering the New Covenant through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist (which are specifically mentioned). They won’t be able to repent and come back through the OT. And by celebrating the OC, they are rejecting the Cross and Resurrection. As long as they keep with the Old Covenant, they are unrepentant and can’t be reconciled.

The way I understand it, the writer of Hebrews isn’t saying that it’s impossible to be forgiven. That doesn’t fit with other passages in the Bible, especially the one you mentioned of the prodigal son.

We have to keep in mind Paul, or whoever wrote Hebrews, was writing to Christians who were being tempted to abandon Christ and go back to the temple sacrifices and the Old covenant. That’s why the entire letter is spent comparing Jesus to the various Old Covenant signs; Moses, the temple, the high priesthood, Melchizadeck, the sacrifices etc…and showing how He actually fulfills and surpasses all these things, “which were mere shadows of the good things to come.” (Heb 10:1)

What the letter of Hebrews is saying then is it’s impossible to be restored to repentance and a relationship with God after rejecting the New Covenant and going back to the Old Covenant. Because the Old Covenant practices were mere shadows, their fulfillment was in Christ. By returning to the temple sacrifices, they were in essence rejecting Jesus’ work on the cross, which is what saves us and restores us to a right relation with God. If someone trusts in those sacrifices and not Christ’s, then it is indeed impossible to be restored to repentance, because those things of themselves have no power to save us, only Christ can.

It’s not saying it’s absolutely impossible for someone to be forgiven if they do indeed turn back to Jesus, because that wouldn’t fit with the rest of the message of the New Testament, especially the Gospel.

That’s the way I’ve heard it explained anyway. Does that clear some things up? :slight_smile:

Thank you, that is an excellent explanation.

:thumbsup:

It doesn’t say he “can’t” come back…it’s says it’s “impossible…to bring them to repentance again”. Why is it impossible? Because, “they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves and holding him up to contempt”. In other words, they, having turned to Christ, now reject Christ’s Work on the Cross and fall back onto the Old Laws. They can come around and realize their fault and ask forgiveness (as we see with the Prodigal Son), but it is impossible for us to bring about, to repentance, someone who rejects Christ’s Work on the Cross…because they simply don’t believe in it anymore. That’s my understanding, but I really like the way Robyn puts it:

Also, fuller context makes this more clear:

1
Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God,
2
instruction about baptisms 1 and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
3
And we shall do this, if only God permits.
4
For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift 2 and shared in the holy Spirit
5
and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 3
6
and then have fallen away, to bring them to repentance again, since they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves 4 and holding him up to contempt.
7
Ground that has absorbed the rain falling upon it repeatedly and brings forth crops useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives a blessing from God.
8
But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is rejected; it will soon be cursed and finally burned.

It says it is "impossible to bring them to repentance again." Note that this does not say "it is impossible for them to repent." I think this is meant to emphasize the role God must play in their repentance. To be sure, God is always the one who converts them, but for someone who hasn’t heard the Gospel, the role of the missionary is quite different. Once they have heard the Gospel, it’s God who converts them. And if they subsequently fall away, it is again God who converts them, since they already heard the Gospel.

Just my two cents…

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