I’m learing my faith (Catholic for 2 years now). The learning has been hastened by the quesitons I get from Protestants - particularly Baptists - about Catholic beliefs. Let me be clear - these questions are not posed to further the knowledge base of the questioner; rather, they are posed to open the door, as a primer, to attack Cathoic beliefs (hate to be so blunt about it, but it is what it is).
This induction into Catholicism has led me to learn my faith for the sake of knowledge, but also to equip myself to refute the far more frequent attacks against the faith than I would have previously imagined.
One of the arguments that I get is that once a person accepts Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour, that’s all that is needed. This is the “once saved always saved” theory. I’ve gotten familiar with Luther (certainly no expert - far from it). We are dunghills covered with snow, etc. So I’m familiarizing myself with the origins of this argument. I’m researching Bible verses and Church tradition on this issue for yet a more rounded understanding of why this doctrine is false. Any help would be appreciated.
Luther did not believe in “once saved always saved.” He taught (at least in his later years) that a believer who willfully persisted in sin would lose faith in Christ and thus be damned. (People trying to trash Luther quote an unfortunate and hyperbolic remark that he made in one letter and can’t be bothered to study what he said in his serious theological writings!)
Historically, the roots of “once saved always saved” are in the theology of Huldrych Zwingli and his Swiss and South German colleagues. Zwingli emphasized predestination over faith–he thought that an infant or a person who had never heard the Gospel could be saved by God’s sovereign will even though they never had the chance to believe. An elect adult who did encounter the Gospel would of course respond in faith. And similarly, an elect person would do good works insofar as they had opportunity.
Calvin’ combined Luther and Melanchthon’s emphasis on justification by faith with Zwingli’s teaching on election and perseverance (I’m missing out the important figure of Martin Bucer, on whom I wrote my dissertation–but I’m trying to keep things simple!). Then, in the 19th century, in the context of evangelical revivals, American Baptists (most of them historically Calvinist) moved away from the predestination part, while keeping both sola fide and eternal security. That’s how you get “once saved, always saved.” It’s a doctrine that has managed to migrate from a theological context that privileged predestination over faith to one that believes in faith alone while having dropped predestination. In the process, of course, the doctrine has mutated seriously (to the point that Calvinists usually won’t admit that their doctrine is the same as the “eternal security” believed in by most Baptists and many other American evangelicals).
There is a book by James Akin called the Salvation Controversy that has a sustantial treatment of this issue, from the Catholic and Protestant points of view. It is available at the CA bookstore here
Another good primer is in the Beginning Apologetics workbook, volume 1. Great short and straightforward presentation of the Catholic refutation of OSAS doctrine. You can order the book here.
Both of these sources present the Catholic response to OSAS.
The fundamental problem with OSAD is that it confused the completed nature of Christs redemptive work with our own acquisition of that redemptive work for our salvation. In other words, we Catholics agree that Christ’s redemptive work is complete, but differ in how that redemptive work is applied on a personal level. Protestants believe it is applied in a moment of faith. Catholics, in a nutshell, believe it is applied over a lifetime of faith working in love. If we die in God’s friendship because of this grace, we go to heaven. We have the free will to affect the relationship, even to kill it completely. This takes nothing away from Christ’s redemptive work, nor is it a tacit questioning of the fullness of his sacrifice.
First I would ask them to tell you where in the Bible does it say “Once saved always saved”. They can’t, because it does not say that in the Bible.
Second, ask them what is the purpose of the Ten Commandments. What if you break one of the Commandments? Are you still saved? If so, then they are no longer Commandments, they are 10 suggestions.
Third, ask them why do we ask God for forgivness in Our Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Why do we ask for forgiveness if there is no danger of losing salvation?
Neither of my points refer directly to Catholic teaching (but that may be a good thing, for those who reject Catholic teaching :)). So, FWIW…
The first thing I find helpful in framing the question is to ask whether any baby or infant who dies can get to heaven. If any can get to heaven, then they must have been saved before the common Protestant notion of “getting saved”. In which case, according to OSAS, that baby, had it lived, never needed to “get saved”. That baby could have grown up to be a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist and still have been saved. How do they respond to that?
The second thing I like to bring up is this man. Surely he once thought he was saved, but now he is a militant anti-Christian atheist. So, is he saved? If he dies tonight, is he assured of going to heaven?
Exactly. Which suggests that each and every one of us could be just as misguided about our actual state of salvation as that man was. So OSAS becomes OSIRSAS - Once saved, if really saved, always saved. And that is supposed to be reassuring?
Atmmgraves, great subject! I would like to start out with what I would call the most convincing reason to believe that “once saved always saved” is not correct. There is a sin that cannot be forgiven and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. One would think that Judas as a personal disciple of Jesus had accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Does anyone think that “once saved always saved” applied here? If there is sin that cannot be forgiven then truly our salvation is not assured at any point. What I believe people forget is that salvation is through God’s Grace and we must respond and accept His Grace. It’s not a one-time deal where we accept God’s Grace once and we’re done. We must always keep our hearts open to His Grace and be willing to accept it. We are called to accept His Grace every day of our lives.
I do not mean to offend anyone but rather pose a question for thought, is not “once saved always saved” an easy way to salvation? Once you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior that is it? Jesus Himself said that Christianity is not easy.
In the Acts of the Apostles Ananias and Sapphira fell dead after lying to the Holy Spirit. Look at 2 Corinthians, Chapter 13. If “once saved always saved” was true doctrine why would Paul be so concerned with those who have already been saved?
If “once saved always saved” is true doctrine then why do we have to ask God’s forgiveness after we’ve been saved?
We must have a faith response to God’s Saving Grace every day. Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him. That is not just a onetime deal, it’s forever.
any baby or infant who dies can get to heaven. If any can get to heaven, then they must have been saved before the common Protestant notion of “getting saved”. In which case, according to OSAS, that baby, had it lived, never needed to “get saved”. That baby could have grown up to be a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist and still have been saved. How do they respond to that?
This is where the original version made more sense. Zwingli would have said that what matters is whether you are among the elect or not. A person who is among the elect will respond to the Gospel by faith when and if he or she hears it. But if that person never hears the Gospel, they will be saved anyway by God’s election. Many of the other Reformers were uncomfortable with this. Calvin would say instead that God will ensure that all the elect hear and respond to the Gospel if they live to be adults. Calvin also taught that the children of believers will be saved if they die in infancy–as far as I can tell, he thought that we can’t be sure one way or the other about children of unbelievers, but one can infer that they would probably be damned. (This may be what the Puritan poet Michael Wigglesworth is referring to in “The Day of Doom,” (see stanzas 166 ff.) although I’ve heard that horrifying passage interpreted as applying to all infants, since they have original sin and have not been converted. But I’ve heard this interpretation from people hostile to the Puritan tradition, and I’m not sure that’s actually what the Puritans believed.)
Modern Baptists, however, have quite a different view. Like the Anabaptists, they believe that children who die before the age of accountability are counted innocent by God and thus go to heaven even though they did not consciously place their faith in Christ. Only those who have actually sinned (though this means everyone with sufficient rationality to know the difference between right and wrong) need to be “saved.” (This is one of the reasons why it’s hard to get Christians of this tradition even to understand the arguments for the Immaculate Conception–more traditional Protestants will disagree, but they at least have a concept of original sin within which the Immaculate Conception is a live issue, and within which the Catholic interpretation of Mary’s salvation is intelligible.)
I’ve always felt that this concept of the elect was logically consistent (also repugnant, but that’s a different issue).
In the “Baptist” approach you outline, there seems to be a moment in a child’s life when they commit one sin and condemn themselves to eternity in hell. Presumably there will be some years before that first sin and the time the child chooses God and “gets saved”. Also, presumably, some children die between the first event and the second. That seems to lead to the conclusion that there are some children in hell because they stole one cookie, or didn’t pick up their dirty socks when mommy asked them to. Yes, it’s a hard case, but I wonder how the “Baptist” view deals with it.