The following is from a post authored by Eric Landstrom from the Society of Evangelical Arminians Private Facebook Group back on March 5th, 2021, discussing the Southern Baptist distinction of once saved, always saved (OSAS) and the Wesleyan rejection of the same.
Years ago when I was active with the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) serving on the Board of Directors, Mike, an associate pastor, who was on staff with Adrian Rogers at the time, sought to explain OSAS in the context of Arminian logic to me. Ours was a friendly conversation. On whole, all agreed the depravity of man requires God’s ministry of grace in order for anybody to see, think or do the things of God and at all states and stages of Christian growth. All agreed to the universal call to repentance and salvation and that at all stages God’s ministry of grace may be resisted (resistible or irresistible grace should the point of primary study in the differences between Arminian and Calvinist theology).
Where we differed, Mike explained, is how we understood God’s promise to save. At once, Mike shared that logically OSAS does conflict with the logical ordering of Arminianism, but Southern Baptists adhere to OSAS not as a point of logic, but as a point of faith in Christ’s power and promise to save.
I thought Mike’s explanation was fair.
My point of rejection was and is two-fold (and understand within bounds of Christian liberty, we all remain friends even amid this disagreement). First, what I don’t like is the unreconcilable stance that OSAS forces upon those who fall-away through the claim that those who fall away never truly believed, that they were never a part of us, that their experience of God and assurance was false. This denies their Christian experience and makes restoration and reconciliation with them all the harder. Secondly, both Calvinist and Wesleyan pastoral theology teaches one can experience the present assurance of salvation by the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. And while that is true, ultimately Calvinism holds no advantage over Wesleyanism on the topic of perseverance because both teach that one cannot be certain they are in fact elect unless they persevere to the end. Both theologies maintain the right-now, not-yet tension found in the Bible. As such, faith isn’t to be a one-time occurrence, but immersive, continual, and persevering to the end to secure your salvation—or, as the Apostle Peter admonishes us, “Brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10).
John Wesley said, “The promises of salvation are conditional upon the continued reliance of the believer on… grace” (John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity, Thomas C. Oden, 1994, p. 274). God builds grace upon grace but the reverse is also true in that through defiant, continual, purposeful, rebellion the person can bring themselves to a state where they cannot hear God.
After posting the above, I entered into a discussion with a Southern Baptist turned Methodist, who, because of his struggles where he retained his belief in the Southern Baptist distinctive of OSAS, had not sought to become a pastor, but remained a lay leader instead. With him I shared my understanding as to how grace works, writing:
Forgive the following lengthy post, but if you’re willing to follow with me, I’d like to share a bit of my understanding of how the ebb and flow of grace works personally and situationally. For Wesleyans, salvation is primarily relational and we view grace in relational terms between the individual person and our Lord. We seek to be in constant and continual communion with our Lord and our Lord speaks to us primarily by bringing to mind Scripture for our present situation and thoughts. Thus the more familiar we become with Scripture, the deeper the conversation and joy we are able to have with God. Ours is primarily a contemplative faith. Yet we know our communion is because God first reaches out to us and in response, we listen.
Pastorally, the idea is that God’s voice is closer than many believe because God’s voice is the inward and unspoken call you’ve experienced as a moral presence other than your own. Everybody has this voice. For those awaiting entry into the kingdom of heaven, the experience of God’s voice within ourselves points to that which is beyond oneself. Conscience is not something we merely give ourselves (and thus could also fail to give), but is a God-given gift to correct and instruct against immorality. If the moral voice within is considered something of our own making, this would not constitute a suitable answer as to the origin of conscience because we often wish we could get rid of our conscience, that it would cease to bother us. Nevertheless, because of our ability to listen to the moral awareness is known and apprehended on a variety of levels but mostly as a call to do what is right. In this regard, the conscience cannot be reduced to conceptions that it is an act of will—for we can be morally aware that something should be done and do nothing. Neither is conscience an emotion—for we can find temporary pleasure in a thing but find such a thing as wrong upon further reflection of our conscience. Neither can conscience be wholly considered to be the direct voice of God or the absolute will of God because conscience may be led astray by misperceptions. Rather, it is said that God speaks indirectly through our conscience and then only when the soul isn’t anesthetized by habitual sin (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2) and listened to with humility, honestly, and intently with an ear to hear what is right.
For believers, God’s voice works much the same but the normative way God speaks is through the conscience and then by bringing to memory “a more sure word” of Holy Writ (2 Pet. 1:19). The deepest self-examination (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5) comes through habitual prayer, the habitual dialogue with our Lord where we listen intently for his address and ask God for the grace so that we are able to hear and understand rightly (Ps. 51; 86).
Deficiencies and shortcomings in the conscience aren’t due to the insufficiency of God’s voice but to the corrosive, habitual history of sin and God’s voice upon our heart diminishes as a consequence of habitual sin. Notwithstanding, by grace God uses a variety of means to spark the conscience and ignite the fires of moral awareness that attest to God’s own revulsion of moral evil who seeks to reconcile sinners by repentance and faith and change the fallen conscience to a redeemed, good and holy conscience that is freed to the will of Christ (1 Cor. 10:25-29; 2 Cor. 1:12).
That said, I believe that as a person forfeits grace they move themselves further and further away from God. Without repentance at first comes an awareness of remorse but then with continued forfeiture of grace that awareness of remorse turns to guilt which is accompanied by a growing awareness and feeling of a lack of assurance. Beyond those feelings with continued forfeiture of grace comes either a feeling of indifference or a feeling of resentment toward God and then the final rejection of God where the once-believer moves him or herself to a place where they cannot believe. At least that is how I understand the Bible because in John 12:39 it is declared of certain people that, “they could not believe,” and in the next verse where John quotes from several verses from Isaiah, we read, “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”
The Bible is replete with examples of people suffering the consequences of their choices most famously in the person of Pharaoh and the nation of Israel’s captivities. According to the Midrashic, the old Jewish oral exegesis of the Old Testament, God warns those to stray away from him and the life found within him but a time will come when he gives them over to the evil inclinations of their hearts, the consequences of their persistent pursuit of withdrawing from him.
In this regard, I believe that our Lord never reveals himself except to have that person obey what he or she knows about God. If such a person goes on believing, then God is faithful and continues to reveal more and more of himself. However, if such a person disbelieves and continues to disbelieve what God has revealed when our Lord presents himself, then the time will come when God no longer reveals himself and the eyes of the man are blinded to the truth and his heart is hardened. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 we read of “them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” At the same time, as I said earlier, deficiencies and shortcomings of the effectualness of grace aren’t due insufficiency of grace but due to the corrosive, habitual history of hardening one’s heart against the call of God’s voice wherein the heart for God gradually diminishes as a consequence of habitual sin because of the willful inability to listen and hear his voice.
All to say that the conscience seeks to lead a person toward true knowledge and true fellowship with God and not a counterfeit. Those who receive a counterfeit have, as the epistle to Rome tells us, “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations,” and they have “changed the truth of God into a lie” (Romans 1:21, 25).
The process is all very sad and as I understand things, I believe that it is tragically possible for a person to forfeit his or her place in Christ through a persistent, willful hardening of the heart “through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).