Bible Studies/The early church

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Question
Mr. Mealy, if I have asked you this before please overlook me. I forget what I have asked people and what I have not. Mr Mealy you are a very smart man, and very wise. There is no doubt in my mind from all your studies and education that you couldn't shed some light on my question. As you know starting around the 1500's maybe? one can start seeing Calvinism. And of course today we have all kinds of beliefs and denominations. Now I attened a Church of christ but I lean more toward the may John Macarthur believes, if that makes since. But something has bothered me for a while now. When I read the early church fathers, pre catholic chruch, I see they believed in baptism regeneration, and conditional secruity. Now as you know today people do not believe such unless your church of christ or something similar. But here is what gets me, I am afraid not to consider their thoughts. Cause I would think they being so close to the apostles would know the correct truth. I mean if the apostle john taught polycarp and polcarp taugh Irenaeus then I would think these men would know their stuff. So when they talk about baptism regeneration and conditional security, I tend to believe them. Not over the bible of course but you know what I mean. So you have theology such as John Macathur, then you have the early church fathers. One scholar told me we didn't have the origianl writings of the church fathers but only their writings in latin. One preacher said they were not inspired so we can't listen to them.  What is your thought?

Answer
Dear Josh,

We've had a few exchanges on this general topic before. Given that there are a handful of sayings in the New Testament that suggest the idea of security of salvation thanks to God's grace, it's not a bad thing to thank God for keeping you safe--and to pray, as Jesus teaches us, "Lead us not into temptation" (i.e. the temptation to fall away from the faith). On the other hand, for every "security" verse, there are about ten or twenty verses that warn Christians that they must endure to the end, and obey Jesus--not just have a conversion experience or get baptized--in order to be saved. So it's not just a matter of dueling verses; it's a pastoral matter. Which do we emphasize, and do we emphasize either principle in such a way as to lessen the force of the other, or blind people to the risks pointed out by the other? Calvin, in my mind, is guilty of essentially shooing away the lion's share of verses about what one needs to do to be saved, because his obsession is with making people stop worrying about their salvation. But the BIBLICAL way to help people stop worrying about their salvation is to pastor them into being real followers of Jesus--not simply pointing them to the most encouraging verses--which only concern those who do indeed follow Jesus.

As for baptismal regeneration, I think it is a big mistake to try to make a doctrine that ties people's salvation or reception of the Holy Spirit to the physical process of water baptism. In the writings of Paul, baptism is what is called a synechdoche--a metaphor for your conversion and attendant reception of the indwelling Spirit. It's not a magical ritual that automatically confers the Spirit or confers "salvation." If some church fathers looked on it that way, so much the worse for their imagination. They're thinking stiffly and rigidly.

Sincerely,

Webb

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J. Webb Mealy

Expertise

Qualified to answer questions about the New Testament, including ones that require expert knowledge of Greek, New Testament History, and New Testament Theology. Particular area of expertise is New Testament eschatology (teachings on the end of the world), the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel and epistles of John. Questions about English translations--how they are arrived at, whether they are accurate, and whether there are alternative possibilities. Textual criticism.

Experience

Have taught the Bible and New Testament to lay people for 20 years. Translator of the Spoken English New Testament (www.sentpress.com), author of After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment in Revelation 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Senior Biblical Studies Editor, Sheffield Academic Press, 1990-1995.

Organizations
Instructor, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, CA

Publications
See my online publication, www.simplegospel.net, which gives an easy-to-understand but thorough introduction to the Christian Good News. See www.sentpress.com, home of the Spoken English New Testament, the most accurate available translation of the New Testament into natural contemporary English.

Education/Credentials
PhD, Biblical Studies, Sheffield, UK MA (Honors), Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY BA (Cum Laude), Religious Studies/New Testament, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Awards and Honors
Research Paper, "Tracing the Rise of Modalism in Rome," named best graduate paper of the year, Western Kentucky University, 1981

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