How secure is Dr. Charles F. Stanley's eternal security?
Some time ago I stumbled upon a Christian TV Channel here in the Netherlands called “Family7”. I witnessed a broadcast from the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, ministered by Dr. Charles F. Stanley (born in 1932, on the right you can see a picture of him). I was very impressed by what I heard and saw. Dr. Stanley is the founder of In Touch Ministries . What struck me particularly was not only the reverence for the Word of God which I felt was abundantly present in this church but also the great wisdom of Dr. Stanley. I curiously went to the website of In Touch Ministries and started to watch and hear many more sermons from Dr. Stanley. Listening to all these sermons you can almost sense the lifelong experience Dr. Stanley has in dealing with all the major biblical issues a believer has to deal with in his or her lifetime. I also noticed that Dr. Stanley puts heavy emphasis on so-called ‘Eternal Security’. One of the many books Dr. Stanley has written deals with this subject and this best seller is called: ‘Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?’
As I understand it, in my own words, eternal security means that our security of salvation is in what God has done for us when he sent His Son to the cross at Cavalry to pay for all of our sins. Elsewhere Dr. Stanley quite rightly writes: “The very gospel itself comes under attack when the eternal security of the believer is questioned. Placing the responsibility for maintaining salvation on the believer is adding works to grace. Salvation would no longer be a gift. It would become a trade—our faithfulness for His faithfulness. This is a far cry from the good news Jesus preached”. I could not agree more with Dr. Stanley.
However, Dr. Stanley also states: “Eternal life is received by grace through faith. It is a once-and-for-all transaction that can never be undone. Because of the nature of God’s grace, once you become a Christian, you are always a Christian”. Here I sense the beginning of a problem. To state this more accurately from a Biblical point of view, I would rather say that once you become a true Christian, you are always a Christian or once you are truly saved, you will always be saved (e.g. I John 2:19). Eternal security has therefore all to do with the doctrine of the so-called ‘Perseverance of the Saints’.Perseverance of the saints advocates the Calvinistic doctrine that if God has elected to save you, you are going to be saved forever and nothing can snatch you out of His hand (e.g. John 10:27-30). Because I never hear Dr. Stanley say that once you become a true Christian, you are always a Christian, I had some doubts and wanted to know exactly where Dr. Stanley stands on this issue, so I sent him an email. I received a reply from his staff and his staff confirmed to me that indeed Dr. Stanley believes that this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is supported by the Bible. That was quite a relief.Perseverance of the saints represents the P in the acronym TULIP, which is commonly used to enumerate what is known as the five points of Calvinism.
However, Dr. Stanley’s staff did more than I asked for and returned a document to me which states Dr. Stanley’s stance on all five points of Calvinism summarized in the acronym TULIP. What appeared? Dr. Stanley only believes that the T which stands for Total Depravity of man and the P which stands for Perseverance of the Saints are scripturally supported. Dr. Stanley believes that the other three points - the U which stands for Unconditional Election, the L which represents Limited Atonement and the I which represents Irresistible Grace – are not scripturally supported. I was really surprised to learn this from Dr. Stanley. Why?
The reason for my surprise is – as history has clearly shown us - that these 5 points are closely connected to each other and you either accept them all as scripturally supported or you reject them all as not scripturally supported. Those who reject TULIP entirely, mostly take their starting point in the T of Total depravity. They deny the Total depravity of man because they believe that although man may have fallen into sin and is in need of divine grace, there is something good left in him which leaves him at least some power to do well and – through good works – contribute to his own salvation. This stance has a lot of consequences for the interpretation of the rest of the contents of TULIP and most of the time the rejection of the Total Depravity gives reasons enough to reject the rest of TULIP acronym. This chain of reasoning to reject all five points of TULIP runs as follows:
If man has (part) his own salvation within the reach of his own capacity, he may chose for himself what way to follow and does not need any divine election as basis for his salvation, therefore he will denounce the U of Unconditional election.
Consequently he will also reject the L of Limited Atonement because man himself has the capacity to decide whether he will belong to the total number of those who will be atoned.
The result of this is that he will also denounce the I of Irresistible Grace because he is free to either accept or resist the offer of God’s grace and companionship and finally he will also reject the P of Perseverance of the Saints because man feels he has free choice to either persevere in his faith or to give it up entirely.
Dr. Stanley however rejects three of the five points of TULIP and in my opinion that does not seem to make any sense.Why not?
Because Dr. Stanley over and over, has emphasized that people are saved only by an act of divine grace which does not depend at all on any deeds of the individual believer and there is nothing a person can do to influence his or her salvation. Dr. Stanley even takes this to the point that once a person is saved there is nothing the believer can do to undo his or her salvation, even if this seems to happen at the expense of the sanctification of the believer. I’m sure that Dr. Stanley’s thesis of eternal security would make much more biblical sense, would be much more coherent and convincing, if he would accept all the five elements of the TULIP acronym. The fact is that all these five elements support eternal security and now, by rejecting 3 of the elements of TULIP, Dr. Stanley tremendously weakens the case of eternal security. Let me try to explain how all 5 elements of the TULIP acronym are indispensable to make eternal security Rock solid:
Because of my sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1) I am completely lost and helpless and unable to save myself. By nature I am so fully Depraved that I am even hostile to God (Romans 8:7), therefore for my salvation I am a 100% dependent on God’s mercy in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:5). So the first thing I need to embrace to get eternal security is the doctrine of Total Depravity.
But if there is one thing which gives me eternal security, then it surely must be Unconditional Election. By nature I was a sinner and a trespasser and hostile towards God. There was nothing in me, not any works, not even my faith, no reason at all why God should love me, on the contrary, and yet He has chosen me to be His child forever. He really has chosen me unconditionally. God had chosen me before I was even born (Psalm 139:16), He had chosen me even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). He has chosen me from all eternity and into all eternity. There is nobody and nothing in this world which can undo His election as is stated Romans 8:33: ‘Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?’.To make my election even more secure, God has sealed me with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1: 13) which is the guarantee of our childhood and our participation in His inheritance (Ephesians 1:14).So Unconditional Election is fully biblically supported and one of the corner stones of eternal security.
But because it is also biblical, I also need to embrace the thesis of Limited Atonement to get eternal security. Although the blood of Jesus Christ is more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world, not all will be saved. Saving grace through the blood of Christ is available for the whole world but not all will be salvaged. The effectiveness of Christ’s death works itself out in the elect only and that is saving grace. Through saving grace I am elected to be a sheep in the flock of the good Shepherd Jesus Christ. He laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). As a sheep in His flock, He gives me eternal life, and I will never perish, and no one will snatch me out of His hand. (John 10:28). The total number of sheep however, is Limited to those given to the good Shepherd Jesus Christ (John 17:9). Being a sheep in His flock makes me grateful and gives me eternal security.
The love and Grace of God, the Father, is Irresistible for and to me. By nature I am hostile to God (Romans 8:7) but His sovereign grace simply overwhelms me and conquers my natural resistance, resistance and hostility which is a bad fruit of my total depravity. I am not saved because my conscience is tenderer than that of other men or that I was more willing to accept His offer of salvation than other men – such a thought would again mean: works! -, on the contrary, there is no reason in myself which would give God any reason to save me. God is my loving Father and loves me for His own sovereign reasons and that is why His grace is so Irresistible and never depends on what I do or not do, like it says in John 6:44–45: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.... Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me." Therefore also the doctrine of Irresistible Grace is biblical and gives me great comfort and makes my soul rest in Him and brings me eternal security.
The Bible teaches me that there is also Perseverance of the Saints .Indeed: ’Once saved is always saved’.I am His child forever and God will never give up on me, no matter what happens to me in life .I may fall into sin and even, for some period in my life, lead a rebellious life, I may for some time have the feeling that I have lost my faith, for some time it may be dark in my life but my loving Father will never forsake me. Because I am His child, through the Holy Spirit, He will, in due course, surely make me repent and restore the joy and comfort of faith in me as it says in 2 Timothy 2:13: ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself’, and also what it says in I John 3:9: ‘No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God’. Therefore, the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is fully biblical and gives me great comfort, consolation and eternal security.
So I repeat the question: why does Dr. Stanley not accept all the five elements of TULIP when all these elements support eternal security? Please feel free to respond to this article. Please push the button ‘reacties’ and write a comment on this article.