Evangelicals of the present day are being taught a doctrine of eternal security, but most are not aware of the dubious foundation and history of this doctrine. Here is how it all began.
In 312 AD Constantine was facing a battle with a rival whose army was twice the size of Constantine’s. The story goes that the night before the battle Constantine had a dream or a vision of the cross and the words “In this sign conquer.” The next day he went into battle with the sign of the cross on the shields and standards of his army, and routed his rival. Thus began the transition of the early church from a body of born-again believers to a state religion.
In 313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, granting freedom of religion to Christians in his empire. In 317 he mediated a dispute between the Donatist church and the Roman church and issued an edict confiscating all the religious property of the Donatists and deposing their religious leaders. In 325 he summoned the leaders of the Roman church to the Council of Nicaea to establish doctrinal standards for the church.
Constantine favoured Christianity as a means of bringing stability to the Roman Empire, therefore he watched over the church to guide it in the direction he desired. He died in 337 AD and the Roman Catholic church, the only permitted form of Christianity under Constantine, went on to establish its authority over the Empire, requiring all citizens to be baptized into the church in infancy.
This was contrary to the apostolic faith and required a man of genius to establish a doctrinal foundation to justify the establishment of a state religion form of Chrisitanity. This man was Augustine of Hippo, Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 AD. Augustine was the first to speak of an invisible church, that true Christians are an invisible body known only to God, and no one can know who among the members of the visible church are genuine Christians.
The doctrine of a just war originates with Augustine, also the doctrine that the church has a right to compel people within its territory to be baptized and to prevent them by force from leaving the church.
It was found necessary to develop a new doctrine of the means by which Jesus obtained forgiveness of sins for fallen man. The Biblical doctrine that He was the second Adam, the Son of God from heaven and the spotless Lamb of God whose sacrifice atoned for our sins was replaced. The new teaching was that Jesus was one part the son of Mary and one part the Son of God and that it was the son of Mary who died on the cross, then descended into hell and suffered unbelievable torments equivalent to the eternal punishment of all who would ever be saved. It was at this time that the phrase “descended into hell” was added to the Apostles’ Creed. The version of the Apostles’ Creed found in the Martyrs Mirror is the original version, lacking this phrase. Thus the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is based on the belief that Christ has already borne the punishment due to the elect, so there is no way they can ever face damnation.
Augustine taught that God had predestined before the beginning of time those who should be saved and those who should be lost. The elect were then called by Irresistible Grace, by which they could not refuse the call to salvation. And to these God granted perseverance, the grace to remain saved throughout their life. This doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, originating with Augustine, is the basis of the doctrine of eternal security, or once saved, always saved.
Augustine also taught the perpetual virginity of Mary. This is why many commentators have a problem declaring that James, Jude and Joses were the natural sons of Joseph and Mary and try to develop alternate explanations of who they might be.
Augustine also taught that the sacraments are a means of grace and that they are a means of grace even if the priest administering them is a known sinner.
John Calvin was a follower of Augustine, he strove to reform the church by emphasizing the doctrines first taught by Augustine. The followers of Calvin are not only found in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, but also in the Southern Baptists, and other Baptist and evangelical denominations. Churches vary in how strongly they teach Calvinism, but the most straightforward teaching is five point Calvinism, encapsulated in the TULIP formula:
T – Total depravity, man is so completely depraved that he has no ability to choose to be saved.
U – Unconditional election, salvation is not dependent on the conduct of the one who is saved.
L – Limited Atonement, Christ died only for those predestined to be saved.
I – Irresistible grace, man has no power to refuse the call to salvation.
P – Perseverance of the saints, those who are predestined to salvation can never be lost.
Many sincere Christians today believe that a person who has once given his heart to the Lord can never again be lost. If one approaches the Bible with a predetermined belief that it teaches the unconditional eternal security of believers, it is possible to select verses to support this view, but such an interpretation is not apparent if one takes an unbiased approach to the Bible as a whole.
Proponents of this view are forced into a corner when trying to explain real life examples of those who have led overcoming Christian lives for years and then made choices that led them away from God. Such people were never truly saved in the first place, they maintain. If that would be the case, on what basis can anyone know that they are saved? It appears to me that people who say such things have chosen a doctrine of eternal insecurity.