For Christians of the evangelical bent (such as myself – though I have been called a ‘Puritan’) the Bible’s teaching about salvation is where the rubber meets the road. It is this truth that separates biblical preaching from what occurs in many churches and what many people hear from all too many pulpits in our land. At core, what evangelicals believe about salvation is that it is “from the Lord,” (Jonah 2:9) from beginning to end. There are many variations of the specific formulation of this doctrine, so it will be necessary to highlight a few of the more significant. Some of the variations of teaching on this doctrine are within the bounds of what would be considered ‘evangelical,’ others are not. For the sake of those who may not be familiar with the range of teaching on this critical doctrine, I will try to present a painfully short summary of several common positions. I realize that by being specific, I may alienate some who regularly read this note. I want you to understand that though I may disagree with you, I probably really like you and enjoy hanging out with you (shoot, I’ve been known to even hang out with democrats). Just one more encouragement: hang with me through the theological words. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try to clear things up.
Universalist view of salvation
This is what it sounds like: everyone will be saved, no one will go to Hell. As hard as it may be to believe, there are many pastors who believe and teach that everyone will go to Heaven. Aside from making a mockery of God’s justice (even Hitler will be in Heaven), this teaching runs counter to many passages of Scripture (including many statements from Jesus) that the unbeliever will suffer an eternity in a place of torment (Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 23:15; Revelation 20:15).
Pelagian view of Salvation
Pelagius was a 4th century British monk who debated with church father Augustine about the nature of mankind. Pelagius denied the doctrine of original sin. He taught that each person was born as sinless as Adam and that the death of Christ was not necessary for salvation. Man could achieve salvation by following the ten commandments. Pelagius was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. His teaching, however, lives on in all too many churches in our day. What many people hear from the pulpit (which is often different from what is actually said) is that if you do good works, you will go to heaven. This teaching is contrary to many passages of Scripture (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:4-10 just to name two).
Semi-Pelagian view of Salvation
After Pelagius was condemned, a related view came to prominence within certain venues in the church, which tried to find a middle ground between the teachings of Pelagius and the teachings of Augustine (more on Augustine later). This teaching, which has found a home in many churches in our land, holds that salvation is a cooperative venture between God and man. God does his part (Jesus died on the cross for our sin) and we do our part (religious works like baptism and communion plus following the ten commandments). One church document from this line of thinking reads “no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification . . . and for the attainment of eternal life” (emphasis in the original). Evangelicals would argue that salvation is presented as a completely free gift offered by God, with the only condition for eternal life being faith (Romans 4; Galatians 2:16-21; Ephesians 2:8-9). Religious works such as baptism and communion are not necessary for salvation, nor is following the ten commandments.
Arminian view of Salvation
James Arminius was a Dutch pastor and theologian in the 16th and early 17th century who sought to modify the current Calvinistic theology that was dominating the early protestant church. According to one author, “Both Arminius and Calvin taught that man, who inherited Adam’s sin, is under the wrath of God. But Arminius believed that man was able to initiate his salvation after God had granted him the primary grace to enable his will to cooperate with God.” Arminius also taught, contra Calvin, that election (to salvation) flows out of God’s divine foreknowledge. God sees (from creation) who will respond to His offer of salvation and then chooses (elects) that person for salvation. Further, Arminius believed that it was possible for a Christian to lose his or her salvation by sinful actions and choosing to no longer believe. In response, theologians at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) would compose what have been called the five central tenets of Calvinism (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints (TULIP)). Arminianism was condemned. The teachings of Arminius survive, however, in the churches that follow the Wesleyan tradition (Wesleyan, Methodist, Assembly of God), the Anabaptist tradition (Mennonites, some Baptists) and evangelical churches (to varying degrees).
Reformed view of Salvation
Classically, this view would refer to those churches which have the teachings of John Calvin at the core of their theology. John Calvin (1509-1564) was a reformer who taught in Geneva, Switzerland. In his views on the depravity of mankind (see note number 5), he was not alone, but was following the historic teaching of the church as found in the church fathers, including Augustine. He taught, as did Martin Luther and Zwingli and many other of the reformers, that man’s will was corrupt (Romans 3:10-18) and thus salvation had to begin with God’s work in Election, which was Unconditional. Before God created, He chose those to whom He would effectually call to salvation (Romans chapters 8 and 9). Unlike many who hold to a Reformed view of salvation, I believe that the death of Christ on the cross was sufficient for the whole world (unlimited atonement) (1 John 2:2). Because salvation is God’s work, His calling to salvation is effectual (meaning that those whom God has chosen will respond to His offer of salvation). Most importantly, what God begins, He completes. This means that our salvation is secure in Christ. Salvation is both unconditional and eternal. We cannot lose our salvation through sinful acts, nor can we finally and fully reject the salvation that God has granted (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:28-39). Churches that have a reformed view of salvation include many of those in the Presbyterian family and many Baptist and evangelical churches (including ours).
I would encourage you to read through the doctrinal statement here, picking up your bible and following along. Write with questions.
We believe that salvation is the gift of God’s grace given to all who God has elected to salvation. It includes all that God does in saving the elect from the penalty, power and presence of sin, and in restoring them to a right relationship with God. As such, it is solely the work of God from initiation to completion. It cannot be gained by good works, but it is a free gift for all who put their trust in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the Cross. All who so trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are forgiven and saved from their sins, are declared righteous before God and are born into the family of God by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. God’s purpose for saving His elect is so that they bring glory to Him by their lives (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; John 1:12; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 1:6; Tit. 2:11-14).