During my years spent in “once-saved-always-saved” churches, there was something lurking below the surface of the doctrine that I could not quite put my finger on. This morning it hit me. Although it is not intentional, there is a double standard. I certainly don’t mean to accuse anyone of malice or ill intent. It is simply a double standard that folks overlook. Most people that hold to “once-saved-always-saved” (OSAS) genuinely believe the doctrine and are well-intentioned in spreading it. They want to go to Heaven and take as many people with them as they can. That’s not a bad thing. They mean well. They sincerely love Jesus.
When King David committed adultery and murder, he was not “dethroned.” He remained King, not because of his good behavior, but because he was God’s anointed. When Moses was disobedient, he was punished but not “removed from office.” He remained the leader of Israel until he died because he was chosen by God to be the leader. When the Pharisees became hypocrites and made the Word of God of no effect Jesus did not say, “You have been bad, so you no longer have any authority.” Instead, Jesus told the people, “Do what the Pharisees tell you because they sit on the seat of Moses. Just don’t be hypocrites like they are.” Peter said the “wrong thing” prompting Jesus to refer to him as “Satan.” Then Peter denied Jesus three times during his trial. Despite this bad behavior Peter was still chosen by God to infallibly write letters that would become part of the inerrant, God-breathed, Holy Bible.
Regarding their own salvation, OSAS folks will say, “It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t lose my salvation because nothing can separate me from the love of God. I am sealed unto the day of redemption. I am justified (meaning, it is “just as if” I had never sinned). Once God decides to save me it’s a done deal. I may lose rewards in Heaven for bad behavior, but I’ll never lose my salvation. God has the power to preserve my soul!”
However, that same, steadfast, preservative power of God is never seen as applied to the Catholic Church. To the OSAS folks (and Protestantism in general), the Catholic Church cannot be the one true Church established by Jesus Christ due to “bad behavior.” Whether it is the Crusades, the Inquisition, the selling of indulgences, the Galileo ordeal or the more recent priest abuse scandals, people insist that such behavior disqualifies Catholicism from being Christ’s Church. In other words, God can keep King David and even individual Christians intact, but not his own Church. The Church had to be scrapped and “started over” because it just wasn’t working out. So, the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant Church, and the New Covenant Church was replaced by the “New” New Covenant Church in the 1500s. God’s grace and the Holy Spirit just couldn’t handle the behavior of Catholics.
Nevertheless, OSAS Christians (and Protestantism in general) accept the Catholic Church’s formation of the New Testament canon. The New Testament, as compiled and authorized by the Catholic Church, is accepted as the God-breathed, inspired, inerrant Word of God. But, because of the bad behavior of some Catholics, the Catholic Church was “dethroned” as God’s anointed and replaced by lots of different “churches” with various doctrines and practices. The office of the papacy, which once oversaw and authorized the compilation of Holy Scripture, no longer has authority. This is the double standard. It seems that the Holy Spirit and God’s grace are able to work with everybody’s bad behavior except for the Catholic Church.
The Holy Spirit-led Catholic Church allegedly gave us the New Testament and then suddenly turned into “The Whore of Babylon” at worst, or an “outdated, out of touch denomination” at best. Personally, I believe God is more powerful and more gracious than that. He is powerful enough to establish a Church with offices of leadership, and then preserve that Church until the end of time, just as he preserves the Scriptures compiled by that Church.
We need not apply the words of Christ, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” only to individual Christians. Those words also apply to the Church Jesus established, the Catholic Church. Jesus has not left the Church, but many of us have. Some of us have met Christ’s Church, but we have not met Christ. Some of us have met Christ, but we have not genuinely met his Church. Many people have only been introduced to a caricature of the Church propagated by anti-Catholic teachings, poor catechesis or simple misunderstandings.
Christ and his Church go together. We are incomplete with one but not the other. Where there are human beings there will always be sin. Nevertheless, “Once-Christ’s-Church-always-Christ’s-Church” holds true because of Jesus, not because of us.