Assurance (theology): Wikis

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Assurance is a Protestant Christian doctrine that states that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit allows the justified disciple to know they are saved. Based on the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, assurance was historically a very important doctrine in Methodism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, and remains so among some members of these groups today.

Contents

Historical Interpretations

John Wesley and Methodism

John Wesley believed that all Christians have a faith which implies an assurance of God's forgiving love, and that one would feel that assurance, or the "witness of the Spirit". This understanding is grounded in Paul's affirmation, "...ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father. The same Spirit beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God..." (Romans 8:15-16, Wesley's translation). This experience was mirrored for Wesley in his Aldersgate experience wherein he "knew" he was loved by God and that his sins were forgiven.

"I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken my sin, even mine." - from Wesley's Journal

Early in his ministry Wesley had to defend his understanding of assurance. In 1738 Rev. Arthur Bedford had published a sermon in which he misquoted Wesley's teachings. Bedford had understood Wesley as saying that a Christian could be assured of persevering in a state of salvation, the Calvinist view.

In a letter dated September 28, 1738 Wesley wrote, "The assurance of which I alone speak I should not choose to call an assurance of salvation, but rather (with the Scriptures), the assurance of faith. . . . [This] is not the essence of faith, but a distinct gift of the Holy Ghost, whereby God shines upon his own work, and shows us that we are justified through faith in Christ...The 'full assurance of faith' (Hebrews 10.22) is 'neither more nor less than hope; or a conviction, wrought in us by the Holy Ghost, that we have a measure of the true faith in Christ..'"[1]

Lutheranism

...man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness... –Augsburg Confession, Art. 18: Of Free Will[2]

Lutheranism accept monergism, which states that salvation is by God's act alone, and reject the teaching that humans in their fallen state have a free will concerning spiritual matters.[3] Lutherans believe that although humans have free will concerning civil righteousness, they cannot work spiritual righteousness without the Holy Spirit, since righteousness in the heart cannot be wrought in the absence of the Holy Spirit.[4] Lutherans believe that the elect are predestined to salvation.[5] According to Lutheranism, Christians should be assured that they are among the predestined.[6] Lutherans believe that all who trust in Jesus alone can be certain of their salvation, for it is in Christ's work and his promises in which their certainty lies.[7] However, they disagree with those that make predestination the source of salvation rather than Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. Unlike Calvinists, Lutherans do not believe in a predestination to damnation.[8] Instead, Lutherans teach eternal damnation is a result of the unbeliever's sins, rejection of the forgiveness of sins, and unbelief.[9] The central final hope of the Christian is "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting" as confessed in the Apostles' Creed, but Lutherans also teach that, at death, Christians are immediately taken into the presence of Jesus,[10] where they await this resurrection and the second coming of Jesus on the Last Day.[11]

Reformed

Calvinism teaches that believers may have assurance of their salvation especially through the work of the Holy Spirit and also by looking at the character of their lives. If they believe God's promises and seek to live in accord with God's commands, then their good deeds done in response with a cheerful heart provide proof that can strengthen their assurance of salvation against doubts. This assurance is not, however, a necessary consequence of salvation, and such assurance may be shaken as well as strengthened.[12]

Additionally, the Augustinian doctrines of grace regarding predestination are taught in the Reformed churches primarily to assure believers of their salvation since the Calvinist doctrines emphasize that salvation is entirely a sovereign gift of God apart from the recipient's choice, deeds, or feelings (compare perseverance of the saints).

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Comparison between Protestants

This table summarizes the classical views of three different Protestant beliefs.[13]

Topic Lutheranism Calvinism Arminianism
Preservation and apostasy Falling away is possible, but God gives assurance of preservation. Perseverance of the saints, once saved, always saved Preservation upon the condition of persevering faith with the possibility of a total and final apostasy.

Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that an infallible certitude of salvation is not a usual experience, as seen in the sixteenth canon of the sixth session of the Council of Trent:

"If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema."[14]

In critiquing the Reformed doctrine of the assurance of salvation, prominent Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis explains the utterly problematic complication of the doctrine as it relates to the Reformed doctrine of sola fide:

"The burden is on the Reformed position because it says that a person can live his whole life thinking that he is justified by faith alone and yet come to the point in time where he stands at the judgment seat of God and finds out that he or she did not have the works that qualified the faith to be justifying faith and therefore God would say, 'I’m sorry, you were never justified in the first place.' So, if there’s anyone who lives under a cloud of terror, it’s the Reformed Protestant because he or she never knows if he or she (or God) did the proper works in order to qualify the faith that he or she needs for justification. And this is especially important because the Reformed position says that works can never enter into the faith that procures the justification because works are all in sanctification. So, if works can never enter into the faith that one needs for justification how can they ever qualify the faith that one needs for justification? So, now there is a double-dilemma."[15]

External resources

See also

References

  1. ^ The discussion of Wesley's understanding of assurance is a revision of information presented on the website "Days of Wesley", copyright 2004, Days of Wesley, Conrad Archer, Entry on Assurance.
  2. ^ See Augsburg Confession, Article XVIII: Of Free Will
  3. ^ 1 Cor. 2:14, 12:3, Rom. 8:7, Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent: Vol. I. Trans. Fred Kramer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971, pp. 409-53, "Seventh Topic, Concerning Free Will: From the Decree of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent".
  4. ^ Augsburg Confession, Article 18, Of Free Will.
  5. ^ Acts 13:48, Eph. 1:4–11, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article 11, Election, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 585-9, section "The Doctrine of Eternal Election: 1. The Definition of the Term", and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 124-8, Part XXXI. "The Election of Grace", paragraph 176.
  6. ^ 2 Thess. 2:13, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 589-593, section "The Doctrine of Eternal Election: 2. How Believers are to Consider Their Election, and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 127-8, Part XXXI. "The Election of Grace", paragraph 180.
  7. ^ Rom. 8:33, Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 127-8, Part XXXI. "The Elblahhhection of Grace", paragraph 179.
  8. ^ 1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article 11, Election, and Engelder's Popular Symbolics, Part XXXI. The Election of Grace, pp. 124-8.
  9. ^ Hos. 13:9, Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. p. 637, section "The Doctrine of the Last Things (Eschatology), part 7. "Eternal Damnation", and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 135-6, Part XXXIX. "Eternal Death", paragraph 196.
  10. ^ Luke 23:42-43, 2 Cor. 5:8, Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 130, Part XXXIV. "The State of the Soul in the Interval Between Death and the Resurrection", paragraph 185.
  11. ^ 1 Cor. 15:22–24, Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 505-515; Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 624-632; John Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, 616-619
  12. ^ Compare the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XVIII.
  13. ^ Table drawn from, though not copied, from Lange, Lyle W. God So Loved the Word: A Study of Christian Doctrine. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2006. p. 448.
  14. ^ The text of the Council of Trent translated by J. Waterworth, 1848.
  15. ^ Part 20 of 25 of the Justification by Faith debate with Protestant apologist James White (theologian).

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