I put the number 1 in the title because I’m pretty sure I’ll write about this again, though at the moment I don’t have a series, sequel, or even progression of thought in mind.
Yesterday I read an online discussion starting with the question about how sacraments play into the Anglican understanding of salvation. There was, of course, a range of answers, because Anglicanism is quite broad in this, ranging from classic protestant thought to practically Roman Catholic thought. And along the way there was raised the always-difficult issues of ‘can we be assured of our salvation?’ and ‘can we lose our salvation?’ And what was pointed out in the course of this discussion was actually quite simple: both of these questions are very protestant in nature.
What I mean by that is that both of those questions rest upon the protestant preference to consider salvation primarily (or solely) a past event. This assumption, and way of talking about ‘being saved,’ is something I’ve ‘complained’ about here before, so I won’t belabor that point. Suffice it to say right now that in the New Testament, salvation is described as a definite event (past tense), an ongoing process (present tense), and a hope or promise (future tense). So any question about losing salvation (or being assured of salvation for that matter) reveals the preference for the past-tense side of salvation.
Once someone is “born again,” can they “die again?” That’s the question that we really should be asking in light of the New Testament. Something respectable about Calvinist theology shows up at this juncture: the doctrine of the ‘perseverance of the saints’ does have the idea of “once saved, always saved,” but stakes the explanation more upon the past-tense nature of calling/election: those who are truly (or effectually) called/elected by God will persevere through the entire salvation process. Strictly understood with or without a Calvinist understanding of election as predestination, this makes a lot of sense in almost any other theological system.
But if we don’t know how God’s calling/election works, or rather, if we don’t know whom He calls, then the question of falling away becomes a very practical question. But as we examine this question, we must remember to frame it against the full biblical picture of salvation as a past and present and future reality, not just one of them. We’ve got to watch out for our binary legalistic way of thinking (saved/not saved, gained/lost), and be sensitive to the complexities that the Bible actually offers.