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Permanence of personal salvation

What the early Christians believed

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What the early Christians believed:

The teachings of early Christians are important to us today. From circa 30 CE (when Jesus was executed) to 200 CE (the end of the first century CE), believers were not very far removed from the direct teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Various Christian groups during much of the first century had direct access to the teachings of Paul and the former disciples in the form of his lectures and letters. By the late first century, this knowledge had been passed on to elders (a.k.a. Church Fathers), who wrote extensively on matters of belief. None of these elders were great theologians; none developed intricate systems of codified Christian beliefs and practices. That was to come later in the history of the Christian church.

The early "mainline" Christian movement unanimously believed that a saved person could lose their salvation. (By "mainline" we refer to Pauline Christianity which gradually evolved into the established Christian church. Authority eventually became concentrated in the five bishops or patriarchs located in Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome.) Early Christians believed that continued obedience was required of the believer in order to for them to maintain their salvation intact. Some examples in the writings from that era are: 1

bullet Irenaeus (120 to 205 CE) was the overseer of the church at Lyons, France. He believed that a person could only be saved once. If they performed some evil deed, then God would permanently reject them. A Christian had "only one swing at the cat." Irenaeus explained this very clearly in his book "Against Heresies," Book 4, Chapter 27, Section 2:

"Christ will not die again on behalf of those who now commit sin because death shall no more have dominion over Him...we should  beware, lest somehow, after [we have attained] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we [will] obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but rather be shut out from His kingdom."

bullet Tertullian (140 to 230 CE) was the elder in the church at Carthage, North Africa. He wrote in his book "On Repentance," Chapter 6:

"Some people act as though God were under an obligation to bestow even on the unworthy His intended gift...For do not many afterwards fall out of grace? Is not this gift taken away from many?"

bullet Cyprian (200 to 258 CE) was an overseer of the church in Carthage, North Africa. Referring to Matthew 10:22, he wrote in his book "Unity of the Church," Sec. 21:

"It is written 'He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved.' So whatever precedes the end is only a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation. It is not the final point wherein we have already gained the full result of the ascent."

He appears to have believed that an individual only attains salvation at the end of their life. Everything before their death are just steps on the way towards salvation. One might infer that a saved person could stumble in sin before they died and never attain salvation.

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Reference used:

  1. D.W. Bercot, "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity," Scroll Publishing, Tyler, TX, (1989), Pages 72-73.

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