A Defense of Reformed Orthodoxy
Against the Romanizing Doctrines of
the New Auburn Theology (4/5)

By Rev. Brian Schwertley

Part 4 of 5


The Auburn Paradigm’s Rejection of Historic Calvinism Considered and Refuted

The Auburn theology with its rejection of the two-fold distinction of the church, baptismal regeneration, unique understanding of the covenant idea that people who were truly saved and forgiven can fall away is primarily based on two types of passages. There are passages which supposedly teach that genuine Christians can fall away and go to hell and there are those which are said to teach that people who apostatize were at one time truly united to Christ. Given the foundational nature of these kinds of passages for the Auburn system we will examine some of their primary proof texts in order to prove that their interpretations of these passages are illegitimate and contrary to the analogy of Scripture.

The first class of passages that need to be explained are those which warn professing Christians of the danger of falling away. Are there not many warnings in Scripture against apostasy and unbelief? Further, are there not many examples of “believers” who apostatized (e.g., King Saul, Judas Iscariot, Hymenaeus Alexander, Philetus and Demas)? That the Bible contains many admonitions to persevere and warnings against apostasy cannot be denied (e.g., Jn 8:31; 15:6, 7:10; Col 1:21-23; Heb 2:1-3; 3:14). The Bible talks about: the need to continue in God’s goodness (Rom 11:21-22) and endure (2 Tim 2:12); those who endure for only a while (Mt 13:21); some who depart from the faith (1 Tim 4:1) and have strayed concerning the truth (1 Tim 2:17). Some of the strongest warnings against apostasy are found in the book of Hebrews (3:16; 4:6; 6:4-6; 10:26-30). Peter speaks of apostates who had escaped the pollution of the world for a season (1 Pet 2:20-22). The author of Hebrews says that apostates had once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift and even were partakers of the Holy Spirit (Heb 6:4ff.). The Auburn “theologians”, like Arminians, quote from among these verses and say that we have to take these passages at face value. When we do, they assert, it is obvious that believers can, have and do fall from salvation. Wilson even likens the traditional Reformed view to a giant “beware of cliff” sign in the middle of Kansas.[1]

Another class of passages that need to be considered is those which speak of the union of God’s people with Christ. There is the discourse of the vine and vinedressers in John 15:1-8ff., as well as the illustration of the olive tree in Romans 11:17-25. These passages (we are told) can only be interpreted as teaching that people who did not persevere and thus were cut off by God were really united to Christ by the Holy Spirit and forgiven. Steve Wilkins writes: “Calvinists have not dealt faithfully with this text. The distinction of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ union are invented and not in the text. Both kinds of branches are truly and vitally joined on the vine. Both can and should be fruitful” (“The Covenant and Apostasy,” tape 1).

 

There are a number of important issues to consider as we examine the Auburn “theologians” unique understanding of union with Christ and the ability of true believers to apostatize:

(1) There is the issue of biblical hermeneutics. The Auburn paradigm violates standard Protestant principles of interpretation. One of these principles is that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. The Bible cannot teach that real believers can never totally fall away and also teach that real genuine Christians can apostatize. When we assert that the Auburn system on this point is contradictory, it needs to be pointed out that the Auburn speakers have attempted to harmonize their system with Calvinism. On the one hand, they repeatedly assert in their lectures that real Christians who are forgiven can and do apostatize. Yet on the other hand, those Christians who happen to be elect are given the extra gift of perseverance and thus cannot fall away and go to hell. Note the radical difference between the Auburn theology and classic Calvinism. The orthodox Calvinist would say that people who fall away were never truly saved (i.e., forgiven by Christ’s blood) and baptized in the Holy Spirit. The orthodox Calvinist says this because: (a) He uses the clearer portions of Scripture to interpret the less clear (this point is considered below); and, (b) He wants to maintain the integrity of the doctrine of the atonement. The Bible teaches repeatedly and clearly that the efficacy of our Lord’s work cannot be separated from its application. The Auburn “theologians” have invented a new category of Christian who is truly redeemed but only for a season. This saved, loved, forgiven believer is not elect and thus does not receive the gift of perseverance. As we noted earlier in our discussion of the atonement the idea that Jesus loves the non-elect, washes away their sins by His blood and gives them the Holy Spirit is blatantly unscriptural and illogical.

Another principle of interpretation that the Auburn “theologians” violate is that the clearer portions of Scripture are to be used to interpret the less clear. What is a believer supposed to do when there are dozens of passages that teach that Christians cannot apostatize, yet there are many warnings against falling away and examples of professing Christians who have apostatized in Scripture? The orthodox Calvinist does two things. (1) He looks to clearer portions of Scripture that are related to the topic in question in order to harmonize what many consider to be an apparent contradiction in the Bible. There are several passages in Scripture which indicate that people who fall away were never really saved (i.e., justified, cleansed by Jesus’ blood) to begin with. Since we have already dealt with many of these passages we will keep our comments brief. In Matthew 7:23 we learn that on the day of judgment Jesus tells hypocritical false professors of Christianity “I never knew you”.

That is “I never had a saving love relationship, or interest in you whatsoever.” In 1 John 2:19-20 the apostle says plainly that people who apostatize were never “of us”. They were never genuine believers. They never really belonged to Christ or the invisible church. When the author of Hebrews discussed the issue of apostasy he made it abundantly clear that apostasy is a manifestation of unbelief (Heb 3:19). The Jews who were disobedient in the wilderness and thus could not enter the promised land (Heb 4:6) never were united to Christ by faith or justified. Further, there are many passages which indicate that apostates were never regenerated or born again (Ac 7:51; 2 Cor 13:5; 2 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 2:20, 27; 4:13). (2) The orthodox Calvinist examines his interpretation in the light of theology or the overall teaching of the Bible as a whole (the analogy of Scripture). Obviously, if an interpretation contradicts several well established doctrines such as election, the atonement, regeneration, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit then it needs to be rejected.

The Auburn paradigm (primarily because of an unbiblical view of John 15 and Romans 11) completely ignores the Bible’s own explanation of why apostasy takes place. Apostasy is the manifestation of unbelief. It demonstrates that some people in the visible church were never regenerated, united to Christ, baptized in the Spirit, justified or internally sanctified. Further, the Auburn system violates several important doctrines, especially the doctrine of atonement. While it is true that physical separation and temporary deliverance are sometimes equated in Scripture with being bought or saved,[2] it is never the case that Jesus’ blood removes a person’s sins who is going to go to hell. It is never the case that our Lord’s sinless life is imputed to an apostate child of the devil.

(2) The Auburn paradigm is founded upon unbiblical presuppositions and sloppy exegesis. There are a number of mistaken ideas that reoccur in the conference lectures. (a) There does not appear to be any recognition of a difference between genuine and false faith. For example Wilkins appeals to passages which speak of those who “believe for a while” (Lk. 8:13) as evidence for his unique view of the covenant. The Auburn theology fails to recognize that Scripture itself sometimes speaks of belief in a non-saving sense (i.e., as a false or spurious faith). An obvious example is John 2:23-24, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” Hutchinson writes:

“It is most unusual for some natural men to be so far affected with Christ and his working as to be convinced in their judgment of some excellency in him, and be drawn to profess some sort of embracing of him, and yet they remain still in nature and unconverted; for ‘many believed in his name’, or professed to do so, who yet were unsound, as the sequel cleareth.”[3]

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(b) There is little or no recognition of the distinction between common-external operations of the Holy Spirit and indwelling saving workings (e.g., see point number 10 in the AAPC’s position statement on the covenant, etc.). This lack of recognition of the distinction between the Spirit’s work in the elect and upon the non-elect not only contradicts Scripture, but cannot be harmonized with historic Reformed theology. For example, in the book of Acts, Stephen rebukes the circumcised Jews of his day saying: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Ac 7:51). Stephen tells circumcised Jews who were in the covenant: “You are unregenerate and thus you reject the truth and resist the Holy Spirit.” Yes, but doesn’t it say they “resist the Holy Spirit”? Indeed, it does. But, how does Stephen define their resistance to the Holy Spirit’s work? He says they persecuted the prophets and murdered the Messiah (Ac 7:52). Then he points out they received the law but they didn’t keep it (Ac 7:53). They did not believe in or obey the divinely inspired Scriptures. That is, they resisted the outward call of the gospel. They resisted an external work of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who refuses to repent and believe resists the Spirit. The Jews were especially guilty and worthy of judgment because they promised God that they would adhere to the terms of the Sinai covenant (Ex 19:8).

We ask the Auburn “theologians”: If the Spirit’s work is the same in the elect and non-elect, then how can you define regeneration and effectual calling in a manner that does not contradict Reformed theology? Regeneration and effectual calling are not works of the Spirit that man can overpower or render null and void. The Auburn paradigm must either define these theological terms in an Arminian fashion or it must admit that the Holy Spirit does not work upon the elect and the non-elect in the same way. The classic Reformed view is expressed in an excellent manner by James Bannerman. He writes:

“The members of the Church invisible are joined in an inward relationship to Christ, in consequence of having listened to His inward call by the Spirit, and being vitally united to Him through faith. The members of the Church visible are joined in an outward connection with Christ, in consequence of having obeyed His outward call by the Word, and being now made partakers by Him in the external privileges and ordinance of a church state.”[4]

Bannerman’s statement says nothing new and probably will not tickle any of the ears of those who seek to be profound and innovative. It does however have the advantage of being biblical and logical.

(c) There is the acceptance of the Arminian idea that commands or admonitions presuppose ability. Doug Wilson writes:

“But the Reformed have their own set of problems here. One such problem is to assume that all such warnings are hypothetical. In other words, God warns His elect away from something that cannot happen to them… something like erecting a giant ‘Beware of the Cliff’ sign in the middle of Kansas. The fundamental problem with treating passages as hypothetical is that the reality of the warning is often assumed in the warning. Demas really did fall away. Unbelieving Jews were really cut out of the olive tree and the Gentiles were warned that the same thing could happen to them. Judas fell away. These are not hypothetical warnings.”[5]

If Wilson is speaking of corporate election or the visible church then obviously such warnings are not hypothetical. Professing Christians do fall away, apostatize and go to hell. If Wilson is talking about individual election (which is likely, given the fact that he is critiquing the Reformed position) then we ask Mr. Wilson how is it possible for a member of the elect to fall away? Wilson apparently believes that the warnings against apostasy presuppose that the elect (individually) can apostatize.

Although Wilson’s view appears logical and is common among evangelical Arminians, it is neither necessary nor scriptural. The fact that Christians are frequently warned against apostasy does not necessarily mean that the elect can really fall away. Frequently in Scripture God commands people to do things which they cannot possibly do. Jesus commanded His disciples to be perfect (Mt. 5:48), yet the apostle John says that no Christian can achieve perfection in this life (1 Jn. 1:8). Our Lord often commanded people to do things that apart from God’s miraculous power they were totally unable to accomplish. For example, He told the man with the withered hand to “stretch out your hand” (Mk. 3:5). Lazarus who was a dead rotting corpse was commanded to “come forth” (Jn. 11:43). People who are dead in trespasses and sins and totally unable to respond to the gospel are repeatedly ordered to repent and believe. The fact that they are unable does not alter their obligation one iota. The fact that the elect cannot fall away and apostatize does not lessen the importance or obligation of God’s commands to persevere. Remember, in the process of progressive sanctification, God works through means or secondary causes. The warnings and threats found in the New Testament are used by the Holy Spirit to motivate us unto greater diligence, watchfulness, effort, and faithfulness toward God.

The Auburn paradigm assumes (in a manner virtually identical to Arminianism) that if genuine believers cannot fall away then they will not take the warnings against apostasy seriously. This assumption must be rejected because: First, all admonitions and commands of God are to be heeded regardless of ability or disability. Second, God works through secondary means in progressive sanctification. The elect persevere precisely because they don’t take their walk with Christ or holiness for granted. The real believer rests upon God’s precious promises regarding his own preservation; yet at the same time is never passive but strives after holiness as if his perseverance depended upon it. Murray’s comments are very helpful. He writes:

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[I]t is utterly wrong to say that a believer is secure quite irrespective of his subsequent life of sin and unfaithfulness. The truth is that the faith of Jesus Christ is always respective of the life of holiness and fidelity. And so it is never proper to think of a believer irrespective of the fruits of faith and holiness. To say that a believer is secure whatever may be the extent of his addiction to sin in his subsequent life is to abstract faith in Christ from its very definition and it ministers to that abuse which turns the grace of God into lasciviousness. The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere; it cannot be too strongly stressed that it is the perseverance of the saints. And that means that the saints, those united to Christ by the effectual call of the Father and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will persevere until the end. If they persevere, they endure, they continue. It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere. Consequently, the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance. Is this not what Jesus said? “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”[6]

Third, any professing Christian who backslides or who habitually practices sin ought to lose his assurance and should tremble before the passages which warn of apostasy. The many passages of Scripture which discuss self examination (2 Cor 13:5; 2 Tim 2:12; Rom 11:22; Heb 3:12, 4:11), how to have assurance (1 Jn 1:6-7,9; 2:19-24; 3:6-10; etc.) and the dire consequences of apostasy (Rom 11:20 ff.; Jn 15:6; Heb 3:19, 4:1 ff., 6:1-11, 2 Pet 2:1 ff.) are there precisely because Christians do backslide, because professors of Christ do apostatize. There is no need to pervert the doctrines of election, perseverance or the nature of the covenant to explain such passages. Calvinist theologians have successfully dealt with such objections for centuries.

(3) The passages which speak of apostasy do not teach that the elect or genuine believers can forever fall away and go to hell. A favorite passage of Wilson’s and all those who want to prove the apostasy of genuine believers is Hebrews 6:4-6, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” Although this is a difficult passage, a brief consideration of it within its context will demonstrate that it does not support the Auburn paradigm. The author of the book of Hebrews was dealing with Jews who joined the Christian assembly for a time and then returned to Pharisaical Judaism. They are said to “crucify the Son of God afresh, and put Him to open shame” (6:6). These Jews, by going back to the Pharisaical religion totally repudiated Jesus Christ. They joined forces with the religious leaders responsible for the frame-up, torture and execution of Christ. Note, the author of Hebrews does not refer to the apostates as “us” or even as “you” but as “those.” Note also that as soon as this section dealing with the apostates ends, the writers sets up a contrast between the real and the counterfeit, “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation” (v. 9).[7] “They are in the following verses compared to the ground on which the rain often falls, and beareth nothing but thorns and briers. But this is not with true believers. For faith itself is a herb peculiar to the enclosed garden of Christ, and meet for him by whom we are dressed”.[8]

But what about the terms used to describe those who fell away? Don’t they indicate a real interior gracious operation of the Spirit in the non-elect? No, they most certainly do not. When the author says that these apostates “were once enlightened” (v. 4) he simply means that they had been instructed in gospel doctrine. Similarly, Peter had said of apostates that they had a “knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 2:20). These people had an intellectual understanding of the gospel. They also “tasted of the heavenly gift”. The word taste is used metaphorically in the sense of sampled. They gave Christianity a try. They never really “consumed” Jesus by faith or internally received Him. They had a mere superficial interest in Him as does a person who experiments in the latest fashion or fad. Owen writes: “It is as if he had said, ‘I speak not of those who have received and digested the spiritual food of their souls, and turned it into spiritual nourishment; but of such as have so far tasted of it, as they ought to have desired it as sincere milk, to have grown thereby.’ But they had received such an experiment of its divine truth and power, as that it had various effects upon them.”[9] The Jewish apostates demonstrated their lack of saving interest in the Savior when they went back to Pharisaical Judaism.

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The statement that is supposed to be the most perplexing for Calvinists is in verse 4 where the author of Hebrews says, “...and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” Doesn’t this passage indicate that people in whom the Spirit dwells can apostatize? No, it doesn’t. Aside from the fact that Scripture teaches that those regenerated, baptized in and sealed by the Spirit can never fall away or curse the Savior (Phil 1:6; 1 Th 5:23-24; 1 Pet 1:4-5; 1 Cor 12:3; etc.). The word translated “partakers” indicates they shared or benefited from the functioning of spiritual gifts in the church. “It is one thing for a man to have a share in and benefit by the gifts of the church, another to be personally himself endowed with them.”[10] Pink writes: “It should be pointed out that the Greek word for ‘partakers’ here is a different one from that used in Colossians 1:12 and 2 Peter 1:4, where real Christians are in view. The word here means ‘companions,’ referring to what is external rather than internal.... These apostates had never been ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:6), still less were their bodies His ‘temples’ (1 Cor. 6:19).”[11]

There is no exegetical reason in Hebrews 6 (or any other passage of Scripture) for us to reject orthodox Calvinism in favor of the Auburn paradigm.

(4) The Auburn paradigm rests in large part on an unscriptural understanding of John 15:1-8: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” This portion of Scripture is appealed to many times in the Auburn lectures as proof of their new paradigm, that genuine believers who are truly and vitally united to Christ can be cut off the vine or separated from Jesus and perish in hell. We are told that this parable teaches that people who are truly saved, who are receiving sap from the trunk (i.e, who are receiving the Holy Spirit’s vivifying and sanctifying power), can forever fall away if they do not persevere in keeping the covenant. We are also told that Calvinists have been dishonest with their exegesis of this passage and have simply refused to accept the obvious import of our Lord’s words, that real Christians can apostatize and go to hell. This passage holds a special place in the Auburn system because they teach that everyone who is baptized is regenerated, united to Christ and sanctified internally by the Holy Spirit. After we set forth the standard Calvinistic interpretation of this passage we will explain why the Auburn view must be rejected.

The allegory of the vine and the branches is a continuation of teaching designed by our Lord to prepare the disciples for His departure. In this section of Scripture Jesus stresses the need for mutual love (13:31 ff.) and the love between Himself, the Father and His people (14:20-24). Chapter 15 comes in between two very important discussions of the coming of the Holy Spirit (14:26; 16:7-15). Christ is leaving the disciples physically, but He is coming to help His people and live in them by sending His Holy Spirit. He will not leave them alone. He will never forsake His sheep.

The central feature of John 15:1-10 regards the importance of abiding in Christ (the word “abide” occurs ten times in verses 4-10). The importance of abiding in the Savior relates to four main areas. First, genuine Christians have a true, real, spiritual union with Jesus, which they are obligated to nurture by faith, the means of grace and personal holiness. As believers we are to recognize our union with the Savior and live in terms of that union (Gal 2:20; Rom 6:1-18; 2 Cor 12:10). “Their root is Christ, and all that there is in the root is for the benefit of the branches. Because He lives, they shall live also.”[12] Second, the believer is completely dependent upon Jesus as a branch is dependent upon the main stem for life, nourishment and growth. All the saving graces flow from a believer’s union with Christ. In other words, “without Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). “[A]ll life and strength proceeds from himself alone. Hence it follows, that the nature of man is unfruitful and destitute of everything good; because no man has the nature of a vine, till he be implanted in him. But this is given to the elect alone by special grace.”[13]

Third, the union of believers with Christ produces good fruit. Union with the Savior results in a change in man’s heart (regeneration or initial sanctification) as well as justification and the gifts of faith and repentance. A person united to Christ has a new disposition, new desires, new motives. His works flow from faith in God’s word. They are practiced with a sincere desire to glorify God. Further, the Father is portrayed as active in the sanctification of Christians. “He prunes and purifies them in affliction and trouble, in order to make them more fruitful in holiness.”[14] Fourth, those who do not abide in Christ, who do not produce fruit are taken away (v. 2) or cast out, thrown into the fire and burned (v. 6). The common Calvinistic view is that those persons who do not produce fruit and thus are burned, are people who are baptized, make a profession of faith, join the visible church and thus covenantally, in an external manner only, are united to Christ. Such people, however, are not vitally or spiritually united to Jesus. Ryle writes:

“There are myriads of professing Christians in every Church whose union with Christ is only outward and formal. Some of them are joined to Christ by baptism and Church-membership. Some of them go even further than this, and are regular communicants and loud talkers about religion. But they all lack the one thing needful. Notwithstanding services, and sermons, and sacraments, they have no grace in their hearts, no faith, no inward work of the Holy Spirit. They are not one with Christ, and Christ in them. Their union with Him is only nominal, and not real. They have ‘a name to live,’ but in the sight of God they are dead.”[15]

This is the position that has ruffled the feathers of the Auburn speakers. They mock this interpretation as a clear case of reading one’s own theological system into the text instead of allowing the text to speak for itself. In response to the Monroe four and in defense of the standard Calvinistic interpretation the following points need to be considered. (1) This portion of Scripture is an allegory, not a straightforward didactic passage. Therefore, one should not use this section of the Bible to overturn the numerous clear portions of God’s word that define the atonement, union with Christ, sanctification and perseverance. Ryle adds:

“These verses, we must carefully remember, contain a parable. In interpreting it we must not forget the great rule which applies to all Christ’s parables. The general lesson of each parable is the main thing to be noticed. The minor details must not be tortured and pressed to an excess, in order to extract a meaning from them. The mistakes into which Christians have fallen by neglecting this rule, are neither few nor small.”[16]

That a literal detailed theological system should not be based on this allegory apart from the analogy of Scripture is evident from the following. First, the part of the allegory which speaks of the Father removing every unfruitful branch sounds as if every unfruitful branch is removed from the church in history. The truth of the matter is that most hypocrites are never discovered, dealt with or excommunicated at all. They are not dealt with nor exposed until the day of judgment. Second, the passage says the Father is the “husbandman” who takes away the unfruitful branches and burns them. If (as many believe) this statement is a reference to the judgment of unregenerate sinners then there is another problem for God’s word says, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (Jn 5:22). If the details of the allegory are not meant to be taken literally, then obviously it is ludicrous to use this section of Scripture as a primary support for a whole new paradigm in theology.

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(2) It is exegetically and theologically irresponsible to interpret John 15:1-10 in a manner that contradicts many clear teachings of Scripture including the explicit teaching of John’s gospel itself (e.g., Jn. 10:26-30; 17:11; 6:37-39). While the Auburn “theologians” arrogantly mock the Puritan understanding of the text, they are in the embarrassing position of simultaneously holding to mutually-exclusive doctrines. One should never interpret Scripture in a manner that makes one part blatantly contradict another.

The Auburn interpretation is not substantially different than the standard Arminian interpretation. The only difference between the Arminian and the Auburn view is the Monroe four’s arbitrary idea that some but not all genuine believers receive an additional gift of perseverance. The Auburn “theologians” either need to abandon the idea that real believers can fall away and go to hell; or, they must abandon perseverance and Calvinism. The Auburn “theologians” would rather hold to a blatant contradiction than abandon baptismal regeneration and their perversion of the covenant. Ryle’s warning fits the Auburn perversion of John 15 perfectly.

“The sentence [in v. 2] is the favorite weapon of all Arminians, of all who maintain an inseparable connection between grace and baptism [sound familiar?], and all who deny the perseverance of the saints.”[17]

(3) Within the allegory of the vine and the branches there is a recognition on the part of Christ that true Christians are clean. In other words Jesus understood and taught that not all branches or professing Christians are regenerated, justified and made holy. To the eleven disciples He said, “You are clean because of the word of God that I have spoken to you (v. 3).” Christ in a former chapter, had told his disciples, that they were clean, but not all, because the betrayer was among them [cf. Jn 13:10-11).”[18] Now that Judas had removed himself, our Lord could tell the eleven apostles what sort of branches they were. They were not fruitless branches but clean ones. The eleven are “assured that they are fruitful branches, really and internally grafted in Christ; and so were they regenerated, justified, and sanctified in part.”[19] “In ver. 3 Jesus declares to the disciples that He ranks them in the second class of branches, and no longer in the first.”[20]

(4) In a similar allegory where our Lord discusses good and bad fruit, Jesus makes it very clear that the people who bear bad fruit never were regenerated, saved or forgiven. People bear bad fruit because they are bad. “You will know them [false prophets] by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 7:16-19). Spurgeon writes:

“Every man produces according to his nature; he cannot do otherwise. Good tree, good fruit; corrupt tree, evil fruit. There is no possibility of the effect being higher and better than the cause. The truly good does not bring forth evil; it would be contrary to nature. The radically bad never rises to produce good, though it may seem to do so. Therefore the one and the other may be known by the special fruit of each.”[21]

What this means is that those who are said to be connected to the vine yet produce bad fruit cannot possibly be united to Christ by the Holy Spirit and regenerated or made holy. If a person was united to Christ and His merits in this sense, then he could not produce bad fruit. Therefore, some professing Christians are united to Jesus in an external sense by baptism, profession of faith and church membership yet they are not internally united by the Holy Spirit (the mystical union). The merits of Christ do not remove the guilt or the power of their sins.

(5) Ironically a favorite Auburn proof text (Rom 11:15-22) actually disproves their concept of membership in the covenant and union with Christ. In this section of Scripture the apostle uses an illustration regarding an olive tree and its branches. In this illustration Paul continues his explanation of what went wrong with the Jews and warns Gentile believers not to be prideful in the church. There are a number of things to note in this section of Scripture. First, the root of the olive tree is Abraham and the patriarchs. Not only was the Abrahamic covenant established with the sign and seal of circumcision, but Abraham is the father of all who believe whether Jews or Gentiles. Second, there is only one church or one people of God. There is only one olive tree. Many Jews were broken off of the tree because of unbelief, while many Gentiles were grafted into the tree because of their profession of faith in Christ. Third, the fact that one is in the tree or the visible church gives no occasion for boasting because faith removes all grounds for boasting. The people who have been grafted into the tree stand by faith not human works or merit. The people who have been removed from the tree were removed because they did not believe. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith” (Rom 3:27). Fourth, believers are exhorted to continue in God’s goodness. They are to continue in the faith. Murray writes:

“There is no such thing as continuance in the favour of God in spite of apostasy; God’s saving embrace and endurance are correlative. In another connection Paul enunciates the same kind of condition. We are reconciled to God and assured of being presented holy and unreprovable only if we ‘continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel’ (Col. 1:23; cf. Heb. 3:6, 14).”[22]

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According to the Auburn paradigm everyone who is baptized is regenerated, truly united to Christ (i.e., not merely united in an external manner to the visible church), forgiven, loved by God in a saving manner and so forth. Paul, however, held to an entirely different viewpoint. Note that people are cut off from the tree because of unbelief. This means that the apostle held precisely to the opinion that there are people in the visible church who are not regenerate, saved or forgiven at all. Israel (or the old covenant expression of the visible church) contained believers and unbelievers—Jacob and Esau, the elect and non-elect. Among the mass of Israelites there was a remnant according to the election of grace (Rom 9:27ff., 11:5). There was Israel and true Israel (Rom. 9:6). The olive tree contained unbelieving, non-regenerate branches. Yes, they were truly part of the tree or the visible expression of the kingdom. However, they were never savingly united to Christ. To assert that they were truly and spiritually united to Jesus is to read more into the passage than it can possibly bear. Once again the Auburn “theologians” are going beyond the simple point of Paul’s illustration because of their perverted view of baptism and the covenant. Boice writes:

“The most common of all errors in studying parables or illustrations... is to press them beyond the simple, single point of the illustration. Sometimes people do that by overly stressing the illustration’s details. At other times they treat the stories too literally.”[23]

One can only argue against the traditional Reformed view of the olive tree by asserting that people can be regenerated and possess true saving faith (and thus be justified in God’s sight) one moment and then be unregenerate and damned the next. Further, the context indicates that many Israelites were not elect individually or united to Christ and thus were hated, hardened and rejected by God (Rom 9:13 ff.). This position of Scripture is incomprehensible and contradictory to Paul’s own teaching in the book of Romans, if we adhere to the Auburn doctrine. But doesn’t Paul assume that real believers can fall away? No, not at all. Hodge writes:

 

2

There is nothing in the language inconsistent with the doctrine of the final perseverance of believers, even supposing the passage to refer to individuals; for it is very common to speak thus hypothetically, and say that an event cannot or will not come to pass, unless the requisite means are employed, when the occurrence of the event had been rendered certain by the previous purpose and promise of God; see Acts 27:31. The foundation of all such statements is the simple truth, that He who purposes the end, purposes also the means; and he brings about the end by securing the use of the means. And when rational agents are concerned, he secures the use of the means by rational considerations presented to their minds, and rendered effectual by his grace, when the end contemplated is good. This passage, however, has no legitimate bearing on this subject. Paul is not speaking of the connection of individual believers with Christ, which he had abundantly taught in chapter 8 and elsewhere, to be indissoluble, but of the relation of communities to the church and its various privileges. There is no promise or covenant on the part of God, securing to the Gentiles the enjoyment of these blessings through all generations, any more than there was any such promise to protect the Jews from the consequences of their unbelief. The continuance of these favours depends the conduct of each successive generation. Paul therefore says to the Gentile, that he must continue in the divine favour, “otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”[24]

Once again we see no need whatsoever of abandoning traditional Reformed theology with its concept of the visible and invisible church in favor of incomprehensible, illogical and unbiblical nonsense.

 

To be continued….



[1] Doug Wilson, Reformed Is Not Enough, 132. Actually, there are dangerous cliffs in Kansas (e.g., Castle Rock)

[2] The most common proof text for such a view is 2 Peter 2:1, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.” The Auburn paradigm (or Arminian view of such passages) should be rejected for a number of reasons. First, one needs to understand that Peter is not speaking about Christ in this passage, but God the Father. The word that Peter used for Lord (despoten) in this passage, when used of a person in the Godhead, is always used to describe God the Father, and is never used to describe Christ. For example, Jude 4 says, “The only Lord (despoten) God and our Lord (kurion) Jesus Christ.” Other instances are Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, 2 Timothy 2:21, and Revelation 6:10. The Holy Spirit for some reason uses a different word to describe the Father’s lordship from that of Jesus Christ. This, of course, is not meant to detract in any way from Christ’s glory and power. Gill writes: “the word despotes is properly expressive only of that power which masters have over their servants; whereas the word kurios, which is used whenever Christ is called Lord, signifies that dominion and authority which princes have over their subjects.” (John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth [Streamwood, IL: Primitive Baptist Library, 1978 (1735)], 61.)

The reason that it is significant that Peter is speaking about the Father rather than specifically about Christ is that the word “bought”, in this context, cannot refer to the blood of Christ. This makes sense in light of the fact that the Bible teaches that those redeemed by Christ cannot fall away and be forever lost (e.g., Jn 10:29; Rom 8:29-39; Eph 1:11, 14). What this purchase refers to is a temporal deliverance. Peter is using an expression which hearkens back to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. “Do you thus deal with the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father, who bought you? Has He not made you and established you?” (Dt 32:6). There can be no question that Peter had Israel’s deliverance and experience in the wilderness in mind (cf. 2 Pet. 2:12-13; Dt. 32:5). Note the comparison between the people’s corruption and their blemish. Gill writes: “Peter makes use of this phrase much in the same manner as Moses had done before him, to aggravate the ingratitude and impiety of these false teachers among the Jews; that they should deny, if not in words, at least in works, that mighty Jehovah, who had of old redeemed their fathers out of Egypt, with a stretched-out arm, and, in successive ages, had distinguished them with particular favours; being ungodly men, turning the grace, the doctrine of the grace of God into lasciviousness.” (Ibid.)

The history of Israel shows that many of the Israelites denied the Lord that bought them, and thus perished in the wilderness. But we know from subsequent revelation that the Israelites who perished in the wilderness were never truly saved in the spiritual sense, but only received a temporary physical deliverance. When the author of Hebrews describes the Israelites who perished in the wilderness he says, “They have not known My ways.” We see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb 3:10, 19). Therefore, there is no reason (in 2 Pet 2:1) to conclude that Peter refers to people who had genuine saving faith in Christ and who were actually purchased with His blood. In fact, there is every reason to conclude that Peter is discussing people, who never had true faith; who only received temporary outward benefits. As the apostle John says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 Jn 2:19).

Another strong reason to reject the interpretation which says that Christ shed His blood for people who go to hell is that it would totally contradict Scripture. Scripture consistently affirms that Christ died for: “His people” (Mt. 1:21); His “sheep” (Jn 10:11, 14-16); “the church” (Eph 5:25); “the elect” (Rom 8:31-33); “us”; that is, believers (Tit 2:14; 1 Pet 2:24; Heb 1:3; 9:12; 10:14; 1 Jn 1:7; 4:9-10); “the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16); the “many” (Mt 26:28; Mk 10:45; Heb 9:28). The Bible emphatically declares that all those for whom Christ died will definitely be saved (Jn 6:39; Mt 1:21; 18:11; Lk 19:10; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 1:4; 4:4-5). Furthermore, it is irrational to assert that Christ removed the guilt and penalty due for sin for a particular person who will also have to pay the penalty for his own sins in hell. That would be a great injustice.

[3] George Hutcheson, John (Carlisle: PA: Banner of Truth, 1972 [1841, 1657]), 39.

[4] James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Faith, 1960 [1869]), 1:31.

[5] Doug Wilson, Reformed Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002), 132.

[6] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 155-156.

[7] John Brown wrote of verse 9 and following: “The general meaning of this paragraph, all the parts of which are closely connected together plainly is: ‘The reason why I have made these awful statements about apostates, is not that I consider you whom I am addressing as apostates; for your conduct proves that this is not your character, and the promise of God secures that their doom shall not be yours; but that you may be stirred up to preserving steadiness in the faith, and hope, and obedience of the truth, by a constant continuance in which alone you can, like those who have gone before you, obtain, in all their perfection, the promised blessings of the Christian salvation.’ The reason why the Apostle had stated so particularly the aggravated guilt and all but hopeless condition of apostates, was not that he considered the Hebrew Christians whom he was addressing as in a state of apostasy. No, he was persuaded better of them—things accompanying salvation’ (Hebrews [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, (1862) 1983], 306).

[8] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980 [1855]), 5:85.

[9] Ibid. 5:82.

[10] Ibid. 5:81.

[11] Arthur Pink, Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981 [1954]), 291.

[12] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Cambridge: James Clark, 1976 [1873]), 3:106.

[13] John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 2:107.

[14] J. C. Ryle, 3:112.

[15] Ibid., 3:106-107.

[16] Ibid., 3:105.

[17] Ibid., 3:111.

[18] John Gill, Exposition of the New Testament (Streamwood IL: Primitive Baptist Library, 1979 [1809]), 2:66.

[19] George Hutcheson, The Gospel of John (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1972 [1657]), 315.

[20] Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary on John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978 [1886]), 854.

[21] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1987), 82.

[22]   John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 2:88.

[23]   James Montgomery Boice, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 3:1344.

[24]   Charles Hodge, Romans (Carlisle, PA: BOT, 1972 [1835]), 370.