In my nearly six years in the United Methodist Church, the number one question I receive from people who are affiliated with my former Southern Baptist denomination is “Do Methodists believe you can lose your salvation?” Growing up in the Baptist church, we were always big on doctrine and knowing what we believed and how scripture supports that. I’m thankful for this training in the Bible even though a small handful of my views have changed. So back to the question at hand. Are believers saved once and for all, or is there opportunity for them to “fall from grace” or turn their back on their faith.
Most Baptists are varying degrees of Calvinists, who adopt the “Perseverance of the Saints” tenet of John Calvin’s 5-point TULIP doctrine, which emphasizes the sovereignty of God over man’s choice in salvation. Scriptures that support this can be found in many books of the Bible. Here is a list if you are curious (go to the “Biblical Evidence” section). John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Societies that would later become the present-day United Methodist Church was a follower of the teachings of Jacob Arminius, who presented a different view from Calvin’s, which emphasized not only personal faith, but also continuing faith in God that was revocable by the believer. This article explains the United Methodist view on “falling from grace.” Scriptures in 1 John 2:3-9, Galatians 1:6-9, Hebrews 6:4-8, Hebrews 10:19-31 can be interpreted that the believer is subject to falling out of good graces with the Creator.
But I want to present an alternate approach to the debates that entangle those of us in the church who enjoy debating these sorts of topics. As my faith in God grows, I have adopted what I call a “big God” approach to my faith. When I read Romans, I read chapter 7 and know the importance of our personal, ongoing, choosing to follow God. Yet when I read chapter 9, I am reminded of how big God is and how God initiates the process of salvation (another important tenet of Methodism), and how he is sovereign. So what is my alternate approach?
Suppose John professes his faith in Christ. He begins living the life Christ called us to live, then after a time, no longer demonstrate Christ’s presence in his life. (Remember the Parable of the Sower how some seed fell among the weeds and rocks and was either choked out or died because it had no strong roots to sustain it?) He does not put others first, he doesn’t meet with others for worship, he doesn’t pray, etc. Some on one side of this debate would say either he was never saved, or he is still saved he is just no longer living the life God called him to live. Proponents of the other view would say that John has renounced his faith and is no longer a believer.
In either case, someone is trying to determine whether or not John is still “saved”-something that only God truly knows. So while we sit around debating whether or not John is still a believer, John remains a derelict who needs the presence of God in his life. Whether or not he is still saved is not the issue. If he is still a believer, we have a responsibility to reconnect him with God, and God’s people. If he is no longer a believer, of course we have a responsibility to reconnect him with God, and God’s people.
So how about this? Why don’t we quit playing God in trying to determine things that God only knows, and focus our time helping people connect and reconnect with him? What do you think?