In 1984, professor Dale Moody’s thirty-five year tenure at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary came to an end because of his views on apostasy. In his statement to Baptist Press, Moody said “there is a superficial faith and a saving faith, a temporary faith and a permanent faith. The superficial faith falls away, but the saving faith perseveres to the end.” In defense of this he cited “the parable of the sower:”
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy, but these have no root; they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.
Also Moody added that once those who had experienced a temporary faith fall away from it, it is impossible to restore them:
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavely gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. Heb. 6:4-6
Now despite the scriptural foundation for his beliefs, Moody’s views did not agree with the Southern Baptist doctrine of the eternal security of believers, and so this man, whom Duke McCall called “the most knowledgeable biblical theologian among Baptists in my generation,” was dismissed from his teaching position.
In the debate that accompanied this action some assertions were made to the effect that the truth of the Southern Baptist position was “obvious.” As a matter of fact, however, the doctrine of eternal security is the least defensible of all Baptist beliefs, and there have been Baptists on both sides of this issue since the denomination began. This being the case, it ill behooves anyone to take an inflexible, dogmatic position and censure those holding an opposing view.
Upon close examination, it appears that the Scripture is just about evenly balanced between the two views of security and apostasy. Here is a summary.
APOSTASY: Many individuals did fall from a preferred state, including Satan, angels, Adam, and, possibly, Judas (John 13:27). The Bible says that the Holy Spirit was taken from King Saul, and his successor, King David, also saw the possibility of the Spirit’s being withdrawn (Ps. 51:11). Jesus said that a person had to endure to the end to be saved (Matt. 10:22) and that some would fall away (Luke 8:13). Also, Paul warned against falling (1 Cor. 10:12, Gal. 5:4). Salvation was conditioned upon “if” a person continued in the faith (John 8:31) or “if” a person went astray (Heb. 6:4-6, 10:26).
SECURITY: Jesus said that whoever believes immediately possesses eternal life (John 3:16,36, 5:24, 6:47) and that He would not lose any soul that God gave Him (6:39), nor could a soul be snatched out of His hands (10:28). Paul said that nothing could possibly separate a believer from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:38), for God’s gifts and call are irrevocable (11:29). He argued that a believer was sealed for all eternity (Eph. 4:30) and his life hid with Christ in God - double security! (Col. 3:3). Furthermore, God is able to save for all time (Heb. 7:25, 10:14) in an eternal redemption (9:12,15). Not only is God able to keep persons from falling (Jude 24), but He will, in fact, do so (Phil. 1:6).
The most significant defense of eternal security is the rational argument that what is born cannot be “unborn.” Also, what is bought cannot be “unpurchased,” what is forgiven cannot be punished, and what is accepted as a gift cannot be subject to dispossession. (Otherwise, God is an “Indian giver.”) The most powerful argument for apostasy is that since a person accepts God through his own free will, he can also later reject God through that same freedom of choice. And so, in view of this ambiguity, it is unfortunate that the dismissal of an honest scholar from the Baptist seminary will tend to stifle free inquiry into various Bible interpretations.
The generally accepted position of Southern Baptists on this issue is shared only by Calvinistic denominations. Most of the Christian fellowship in other denominations accept the possibility of falling from grace, so the majority opinion is in that direction. Unfortunately, intuition in this matter is of little help, because a saved person may feel lost, while lost persons may be deluded into thinking they are saved. Certainly, backsliders, by the test of fruit-bearing, really do appear to be no different than sinners who never made a profession of faith.
The most practical position in this matter is to be sure to walk cir-cumspectly and to run the race to the best of one’s ability lest he might possibly be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). And while the scales may appear to be evenly balanced by “weight of Scripture” in this argument, still the believer can place great reliance upon that pearl of great price, John 3:16, which assures God’s people that whoever believes has eternal life. This supreme verse of the Bible is weighty enough in itself to tip the scales toward eternal security. And this provides the confidence that allows the believer to boldly sing that grand old song, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!”
Richard L. Atkins
QUIZ ON APOSTASY
1. Define apostasy.
a. Falling from grace.
b. Losing one’s salvation.
c. Renouncing Christ or the Church.
d. Joining a heretical cult group.
2. Name some denominations who believe in apostasy.
Catholics, Methodists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Church of Christ, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists. (Exceptions are Presbyterians and Baptists.)
3. Have all Baptists throughout history held one position on the subject of apostasy? Explain.
No. General Baptists (Arminian) believed in apostasy. Particular Baptists (Calvinist) believed in eternal security.
4. What is the relationship between the doctrine of apostasy and the doctrine of predestination?
John Calvin taught Predestination and Security of the Believer.
Jacob Arminius taught Free Will and Falling from Grace.
5. Quote one text of Scripture to support your belief.
“Neither life, nor death,...nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:38).