The Inconsistent Synergism of ‘Eternal Security’ – Michael Horton

charles_stanleyToday, many within the American Church speak of ‘Eternal Security’.  Charles Stanley is one key example that teaches this doctrine.  In this system, Charles Stanley actually is Arminian in the other four points of Calvinism and because a person “makes a decision for Jesus”, well Jesus is just kind of stuck with them, regardless of the lack of fruit or evidence of true faith in Christ.  This doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ is inconsistent with the Reformed Protestant view known as ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ (or the ‘P’ in TULIP).  In the Reformed understanding of the five points of Calvinism, salvation is all of grace from beginning to end.  Michael Horton in his recent book, For Calvinism very thoughtfully engages the ‘inconsistent synergism’ of the doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ commonly taught by Charles Stanley among many others.  Sadly, Reformed folk get a bad wrap for holding to ‘Eternal Security’ even though it is a view inconsistent with our system of doctrine and Reformed Confessional standards.  ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ is an altogether different doctrine than what has become known as ‘Eternal Security’ or ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’.  Reformed Protestants are not ‘Antinomians’ as the Assemblies of God would have us to believe as they lump Charles Stanley in within the pale of Calvinism and leave Reformed Protestants impaled.  Just take a look at our Reformed Confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Standards.

Michael Horton writes in For Calvinism:

Neither the Roman Catholic and Orthodox nor the Arminian view is Pelagian . Both insist on the necessity of grace, but this grace is regarded as making final salvation merely possible; it becomes effectual only to the extent that the believer cooperates with its infused powers.

If these rival views of perseverance represent a consistent synergism, another important view can be identified as inconsistent synergism. Generally known as eternal security, this view seems in some respects indistinguishable from the perseverance of the saints. However , at least as it is articulated by many of its leading proponents, this view locates security in the believer’s decision to accept Christ. 25 Although genuine Christians may fail to grow in their sanctification and persevere in their faith — in fact, they may never even begin to bear the fruit of righteousness— they are assured of eternal life. Such “carnal Christians” may leave the church, even deny Christ , and thereby lose the blessings of living as “victorious Christians” as well as the rewards in the next life for faithful service, but they will be saved, though “only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3: 15). 26

Although advocates often represent this position as moderate Calvinism, it is more appropriately identified as moderate Arminianism. This is why I have identified it as “inconsistent synergism.” After all, it denies that human beings are incapable of responding to God in faith apart from a prior regeneration, bases election on foreseen faith, rejects the particular scope of the atonement, and maintains that the Spirit’s sovereign call may be resisted. Even its teaching of eternal security is based on the believer’s decision to accept Christ, which renders this view actually closer to Arminianism than to a Calvinist interpretation of perseverance of the saints.

Over every form of synergism, Confessional Lutheranism strongly affirms a monergistic soteriology: God alone saves; it is not a process of human cooperation with God’s grace. Nevertheless, from a Reformed perspective the Lutheran system represents an inconsistent monergism. Confessional Lutheranism affirms total depravity and unconditional election while nevertheless holding with equal rigor to a universal atonement and the possibility of resisting the Spirit’s inward calling through the outward gospel. Lutheranism affirms with Reformed theology that the elect will persevere and “those who still take pleasure in their sins and continue in a sinful life do not believe” (Augsburg Confession, Art. 20); yet also holds that it is possible that (1) the elect may lose their salvation for a time (e.g., David, Peter), but not finally; and (2) others might once have truly believed, been regenerated and justified, but then lose all of these gifts through apostasy. 27

According to some Lutherans, salvation can only be lost through unbelief, while according to others it may also be lost due to mortal sin. 28 How can one say that God alone saves, from beginning to end, while also affirming the possibility of losing one’s salvation? It seems undeniable that this gift depends in some sense on the sinner’s nonresisting, although this conclusion is rejected by Confessional Lutherans.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints reflects a consistently monergistic view of salvation as entirely due to God’s grace alone from beginning to end. With the writer to the Hebrews, we can acknowledge the tragic reality of apostasy or falling away from the covenantal sphere of the Spirit’s activity through Word and sacrament without concluding that these visible members of Christ’s body were actually regenerated branches of the vine. Although some professing members may be devoid of saving faith, those who receive the reality that is promised to them in Word and sacrament are assured that they will continue to trust in Christ. In spite of the weakness of our faith and repentance, we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us,” so that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8: 37, 39). Now that is a message that takes command of our hearts and minds, leading us to worship and out to our neighbors with the best news that they will ever hear!

Horton, Michael S. (2011-10-25). For Calvinism (Kindle Locations 2129-2162). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.  (pp. 122-123 in the paperback)

Is Perseverance of the Saints Different from Eternal Security

The Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints — Michael Horton

Assemblies of God Position Paper on the Security of the Believer (Backsliding)

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