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Free Will? Liberal Christianity. Punished for Sins We Commit After We Become Christians? Tertullian and the Montanists, Part 7

by Karl Kemp  
5/15/2015 / Bible Studies

We finish this study here in Part 7.

THE CONTEXT IN WHICH THOSE EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITERS SPOKE OF FREE WILL. I have already demonstrated that they agreed that our salvation is dependent on the enabling, saving grace of God in Christ to become Christians and to think and live as Christians. The pagan world ((including many of the religions, very much including Gnosticism (which was a powerful opponent of true Christianity for a long time; the Gnostics spoke of Jesus, used parts of the Bible, practiced water baptism, etc., but they denied that sin is the problem and rejected the atoning blood of Jesus and had many other super-serious problems; those Fathers had to deal with Gnosticism on a much more serious level than the writers of the New Testament did); the occult (including astrology); and many of the philosophies)) in which these writers lived and wrote was given over in large measure to fatalism, which, by definition, denies the Biblical teaching of free will (limited free will after the fall). Another of the religions of those ancient days that denied free will was Manichaeism; Augustine followed that religion before he became a Christian.

The First Few Sections Of The Article On "Fatalism" In The "Catholic Encyclopedia" (on the internet) Give Some Insight Regarding The Widespread Fatalism That The Early Christian Writers Had To Contend With. I'll just quote two sentences from the paragraph titled "Fatalism and Christianity": "The pagan view of an eternal, inevitable force coercing and controlling all action, whether human or divine, found itself in conflict with the conception of a free, personal, infinite God. Consequently several of the early Christian writers were concerned to oppose and refute the theory of fate." (The writers of the New Testament didn't spend hardly any time, if any time, directly opposing this viewpoint, but they certainly rejected this viewpoint. They spent much of their time laying the foundation for new-covenant salvation and its relationship with the Old Testament and Judaism.) It is important to understand that when those early Christian writers spoke of free will they were reacting against the widespread viewpoint of fatalism; they were not denying our dependence on the enabling grace of God to become Christians and to live as Christians. The New Testament is quite clear on these points (as I demonstrated above). As I mentioned, I am not suggesting that the early Christian writers always emphasized grace enough, and especially when it came to dealing with the sin of Christians.

I'll Quote A Little From The Two-Page Article On "Fate and Fatalism" In The "New Catholic Encyclopedia" (McGraw-Hill, 1967), pages 850-852. The subheadings in this article are "Fate, Fortune, Chance, and Destiny"; "Mythological Fatalism"; "Astrological Fatalism"; "Philosophical Fatalism"; "Pagan and Christian Opposition to Fatalism"; and "Theological Fatalism." I'll just quote two sentences from under "Pagan and Christian Opposition to Fatalism." "The various treatises on fate by Christian writers (Origen, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, among others) all exhibited the same hostile attitude. They attacked fatalism to defend not only the rights of man [[I assume the author of this article (G. Faggin) was referring to facts like we were created in the image of God. We were not created to be in bondage to Satan, sin, or fate. We are called to repent (repentance is something we do in response to God's call to repent; we could not repent in an adequate way apart from the grace of God), etc. The fall of man made a very significant difference in man (spiritual death is a very significant thing); however, Gen. 9:6 (in a context after the fall) shows how wrong it is for man to kill man, in that we have been created in the image of God.]] but, above all, the Christian concept of a personal God [God is sovereign, not fate]." The early Christian writers found it necessary to emphasize free will because of the widespread acceptance of fatalism (which denied free will and the God who created us with free will) by so much of the world in which they lived and ministered. As I mentioned, those writers were not denying our need for the enabling grace of God by their emphasis on free will.

I'll Include A Paragraph From The Article "Free Will and Grace" In The "New Catholic Encyclopedia," Pages 93, 94, Under The Heading "Sovereignty of Grace." "Catholic belief in the sovereignty of grace holds that no free act leading to salvation can be performed unless it is initiated, sustained, and brought to completion by the merciful gift or grace of God. To deny this is to destroy the whole meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see, e.g., John 6:44; 15:5; Phil. 2:13; 2 Cor. 3:5; Rom. 11:6), as the Church affirmed in its vigorous reaction to Pelagianism (...), It even accepted with approval the judgment of the author of the Indiculus that the Pelagians are 'very impious defenders of free will' (...)" [page 93].

I'll quote a paragraph from David W. Bercot, who is the editor of "A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs," which I quoted from earlier in this paper and will quote from later in this paper ("Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up" 3rd edition [Scroll Publishing, 1999], page 71) where he quotes from Methodius, who was one of the early Christian writers who spoke of free will (It is one of many excerpts that demonstrate that those early writers spoke of free will in a context where free will was being denied because of the widespread worldview of fatalism): "Methodius, a Christian martyr who lived near the end of the third century, wrote... 'Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free will, but say that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils' ('The Banquet of the Ten Virgins' discourse 8, chapter 16)." (Methodius was strong on righteousness and victory over sin. I quoted from him on that topic in my paper on the interpretation of Romans chapter 7 that is on my internet site [Google to Karl Kemp Teaching].)

I'll also quote two sentences from "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up" on page 141. After mentioning that the early Christian writers believed in free will, Bercot says: "However, at the same time, they recognized that we all stand in need of God's grace - both His saving grace and His empowering grace. Without grace there can be no salvation."

Now I'll Include Some Excerpts From "A Dictionary Of Early Christian Beliefs" (see above) Where Those Writers Spoke Of Free Will In Contexts Where They Were Refuting Fatalism. They were not speaking of free will to deny that we need the enabling grace of God to become Christians or to live as Christians.

I'll quote a small part of what Origen said in reaction to the teaching of some Gnostics (who believed in fatalism and had so many other things wrong, and were powerful opponents of true Christianity) that, because of our ruined natures, salvation must be purely a matter of grace, eliminating free will. In a context like that you can see why those Fathers would emphasize free will. "...if it is [all] God's would be altogether an act of divine grace. This...annihilates free will. ... ...the Word of God promises to take away wickedness...from those who come to Him. But not if they are unwilling to come. It is only if they submit themselves to the Physician of the sick. ORIGEN ["Origen Against Celsus"] (about AD 225, E) 4.431" [page 290]. Our salvation is totally dependent on God's saving grace in Christ, but we must respond to and cooperate with His grace by faith (cf. Rom. 4:16).

" 'I planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants anything, nor he that waters, but God, who gives the increase [1 Cor. 3:6, 7].' Now we would not correctly assert that the production of full crops was the work of the farmer, or of him that watered, rather it is the work of God. Likewise, our perfection is not brought about as if we ourselves did nothing. Yet it is not completed by us. Rather God produces the greater part of it.... In the matter of our salvation, what is done by God is infinitely greater than what is done by ourselves. For that reason, I think, it is said that 'it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God, who shows mercy [Rom. 9:16].' For if that statement means what they [the Gnostics] imagine it means [fatalism, not free will]...then the commandments are unnecessary. Furthermore, it would be in vain that Paul himself blames some persons for having fallen away and praises others for having remained upright. It was in vain that he enacted laws for the churches.... However, it was not in vain that Paul gave such advice, censuring some and approving others. ORIGEN ["Origen De Principiis"] (about AD 225, E), 4.322, 323" [page 295]. Origen's opponents were the Gnostics, who rejected free will. Origen clearly shows that, in spite of our free will (which he believed in), we are totally dependent on the grace of God, who "produces the greater part," and He must receive all the glory for our salvation.

Clement of Alexandria ("Who Is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved") shows part of what the early Christian writers meant by free will with the words, "For God does not compel. (about AD 195, E) 2.593" [page 577].

May the will of God be fully accomplished and His people be edified through this paper!

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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