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What do Methodists believe about predestination and "once saved, always saved?"

Great question.  I will try to give you the answer without boring you with too much Church history, but you need a little because Predestination and Perseverance of the Saints (or “once saved, always saved”) are ideas on which Christians disagree.  Basically there are two different beliefs; one is called Arminianism (named after James Arminius, 1560-1609) and the other is called Calvinism (named after John Calvin, 1509-1564). 

For those of you that have never heard of either Arminianism or Calvinism, don’t worry.  These are terms that people discussing theology (the study of how humans understand a relationship with God) use as shorthand for several intertwined ideas.  But that doesn’t mean the ideas behind those big-sounding words aren’t interesting or important.  Simply because I might not understand some of the terms a medical doctor uses doesn’t mean I don’t understand that I feel bad. 

I will give you a basic answer about predestination first.  After that, we will be in a better place to understand where that term “once saved, always saved” comes from.

Unfortunately, predestination is a word that means different things to different people.  The scripture passage that is most often cited in this discussion is Romans 8:29.  Some people use the word “predestination” to mean that before anybody was created, God purposely chose and ordained which people would be forgiven, saved, and taken to heaven.  Logically then, by not choosing the other people, God chose to send them to hell.  That is basically what Calvin taught, only with a few other supporting ideas (which you can see below).

Other people, Arminius for instance, taught that God does not choose who goes to heaven and hell because that would mean that we really don’t have any free will.  If people have no way to choose God, forgiveness, and salvation, then you can’t really blame or punish them for being sinful.  These people sometimes still use the word “predestination” (and this is where it gets a little confusing) but they don’t understand it to mean God chooses who is saved and who is damned.  Arminians use the word as a way of saying that God, being the almighty, all-knowing Creator of everything, does know how everything works out in the end.  Yes, God knows who ultimately chooses salvation, but that is different from God making that choice for us.  Arminians don’t believe in fate, that you have no real freedom to choose, as Calvinists do.  They believe that in the end, God knows who makes it, but we don’t!  So, just because God is omnipotent, doesn’t really change our life.  We still have to choose God or not.   

United Methodists are Arminians.  We believe that God may know what is going to happen, but everybody has free will, the ability to choose!  Yea!  

You might already be able to see how a Calvinist would say “once saved, always saved.”  But here is a more expanded answer to make it clear.  John Calvin founded the Reformed/ Presbyterian Church on 5 major points:

1.      Total Inherited Depravity. This is the belief that all people are born totally sinful and wicked.  Yes, even babies, because we all are descendants of Adam and Eve who sinned. 

2.      Unconditional Election. Calvin taught that since humans are totally depraved, it is impossible for them to choose to serve God. Therefore, God must arbitrarily choose who will be saved. In other words, God decides who will go to heaven and who will go to hell - and you have no say in the matter.  This teaching is what Calvinists mean by Predestination.

3.      Limited Atonement. This is the idea that since God arbitrarily chose those who would be saved, Jesus only died for those individuals.

4.      Irresistible Grace. You will notice how these ideas build on each other…the same is true here.  This belief states the Holy Spirit overwhelms those people whom God has chosen to save.  God’s love is so overwhelming that you are forced to believe. 

5.      Perseverance of the saints. And if these others are true, then humans predestined for heaven cannot lose their salvation.  This is where the phrase “once saved, always saved” comes from.  In other words, if you ever renounce the faith, you were never really a believer in the first place – because God obviously never really chose you.

As I said, Methodists disagree with Calvin.  We believe that James Arminius was correct when he taught about free will – that each of us has the ability to choose God or not.  Arminianism’s 5 major points:  

1.      Election of the Persevering.  God in Christ chooses to save those people from their sins those who believe, receive, and persevere in the grace of God and to reject those who do not believe.

2.      Full Atonement.  Christ died for everyone.  Not everyone takes advantage of that death by connecting with Jesus, but the forgiving power of Christ’s death is available for all. 

3.      God’s Grace.  No one could believe without the help of God’s grace.

4.      Resistible Grace.  All of our good works are only possible because of God’s unearned love, but this grace is not irresistible.  You have free will.  You can push away the overwhelmingly good, loving grace of God if you want to do so. 

5.      Faith Can Be Renounced.  True believers can fall away from the faith.

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