The Second Most Important Question Ever

I just began reading Christus Victor last night. In it, author Gustaf Aulén writes, “There are not different theories of the atonement in the Fathers, but only varient expressions of one and the same idea.”

I want to argue that whether he is correct or not, as long as the quote is applied to all the major doctrines of the fathers, is the most important question a Christian can answer other than “Is Jesus Lord?”

Irenaeus, around AD 185, makes this bold claim about Christians:

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith … the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. (Against Heresies I:X:1-2)

Irenaeus had reason to know. As a youth, he sat under the teaching of Polycarp, in Smyrna in Asia Minor. Polycarp had been appointed, it is said, by apostles. Irenaeus left Asia Minor as an adult for Gaul, to evangelize the barbarians, which he did successfully, living among them for the rest of his life. He kept close contact with both Rome (to whom Against Heresies was addressed), the closest apostolic church, and Asia, where his home lay.

If anyone had the ability to know the universality and content of the teaching of the late second century churches, it was Irenaeus.

He was not the only one to say such things. Just a few years later, Tertullian—of Carthage in North Africa—would base his entire argument against gnostic heretics on the unity of the apostolically founded churches in his legal brief, The Demurrer Against Heretics:

Is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can anyone, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition? (ch. 28)

Yes, Tertullian. Not just anyone can be that reckless, but in our day, everyone can.

Eighteen centuries later, churches that have been dividing and divided for centuries, whose worldliness—nay, whose defense of worldliness—would have astounded you and aroused the ire of your pen at least as much as the gnostic heretics you combatted, would freely and recklessly charge your churches, united and known everywhere for love, with error in handing on the tradition.

One Faith or Many?

Does it matter whether Irenaeus or Tertullian were right or wrong?

If the churches were not united, if there were different theories of the atonement—of salvation, of faith, of works, of the Trinity—then there is room for the development of doctrine. If one church of Irenaeus’ time believed one thing and was right, and another believed another thing and was wrong, then there is room for a church from the fourth century to believe one thing and be right, while a church from the second century believed another and was wrong.

If, then, it is possible for a church of the fourth century to hold a true doctrine, while a second century church held a false one, then it is possible for a church of the twenty-first century church to hold truth in contradiction to churches of the second.

But if Irenaeus and Tertullian are correct, and all the churches of the second century believed one thing on all these doctrines, and if the only reason that these churches believed one thing was because all their doctrines descended from one common source, then there is no room for a twenty-first century church to believe one thing and be right, while a second century church believed another and was wrong because all second century churches believed the same thing.

Development of Doctrine

We love the development of doctrine in church history.

We must. If there is no development of doctrine, but only corruption of doctrine, as Irenaeus and Tertullian argue, then the rug has been pulled out from under many, or even most, of the traditions of modern Christianity, no matter which branch we care to defend, because most of our traditions have no foundation in the united churches of the second century. This would mean that they have no foundation in the apostles, who passed on the fullness of the faith to those second century churches.

That is, if Irenaeus and Tertullian are right.

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some [gnostics] do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. (Against Heresies III:I:1)

What is development of doctrine, if it be claimed that doctrine has developed to more accuracy, more fullness, or a better explanation, than improving upon the apostles, the very thing Irenaeus found “unlawful to assert”?

Conclusion

I wrote an entire book, Decoding Nicea, arguing that the doctrine of the Trinity did not develop, but was one united message from the time of the apostles until fourth century battles over the Trinity after the Council of Nicea (where the bishops confirmed and codified what all the fathers had said before them). By producing a deluge of quotes, so copius and so widespread among pre-Nicene authors as to confirm themselves as universal, I showed that there was not diverse, nor even advancing, opinions among the fathers, but harmony, many voices singing one song.

Now I have found Christus Victor, which argues that the multiple voices found among early fathers concerning the atonement are another myth, vapor vanishing in the gust of a closer look.

Perhaps it is time to consider that Professer Aulén is correct or, even more importantly, that Irenaeus and Tertullian were correct.

In fact, perhaps the greatest concern of all is that Jesus was talking about us when he said, “They worship me to no purpose, teaching teachings that are the sayings of men” (Mark 7:7).

Postscript

It is said that I sometimes kick the foundation out from under my readers or hearers, leaving nowhere for them to stand. I’m sure that is true, as I expect those who find that their foundation is crumbling under them to look, or at least ask, for a firmer place to stand.

My expectations, however, need not be met, only our Lord’s. So let me direct you to safer ground.

The foundation of God stands sure, having this insignia: “The Lord knows those who are his” and “Let those who name the name of the King depart from inquity.” (2 Tim. 2:19)

We have time to sort out these things, my friends, as long as we who call upon the name of Jesus will obey him.

Oh, that’s right. Many of you have no good idea of what it means to obey him, and you fear you will not obey him enough. Stick around. There is nothing we talk about more around here.

Oh, and happy New Year!

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19 Responses to The Second Most Important Question Ever

  1. bburleson says:

    Great post and I too need time to digest. As a Baptist who loves and seeks a connection with the early church this is something I think about often. One question that arises often in my mind is what exactly would have Irenaeus and others have said is apostolic tradition/succession. If it was simply a litany of basic beliefs as stated in Against Heresies then basically all denominations today are ok and can be understood as maintaining that core surrounded with secondary beliefs shaped by specific, later historical events. However, if Irenaeus believed that apostolic tradition included a unified structure that must be obeyed aren’t we all in trouble? I say we’re in trouble because none of us have maintained exactly the type of church they had. Do we have even really know what that was? I don’t think so. I hope that makes sense. Thanks for the post.

  2. David Noah says:

    As usual … off the scale wonderful!

  3. Jim says:

    Paul,

    Terrific Post! I need time to digest this.

  4. Jon says:

    The problem I have with this is that there are plenty of early church beliefs that actually are very novel – beliefs that I don’t hear anyone, even the most ardent early church fans, saying we should adopt today.

    I’m sure you know the kind of things I’m on about and can probably list more examples than I can. For now, here are some I can remember off the top of my head:

    There is the belief that salvation could be lost without any possibility of regaining it if particular sins were committed. This can be found in Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Hermas (the latter says there is only ‘one repentance’ for the saints) . Cyprian even talks about doing penance for small sins.

    The Shepherd is chock full of weirdness but the one of the most alarming parts of it is it’s apparently low Christology – the notion that Jesus earned his position in the Godhead (and therefore only became divine after a certain point, kind of Arian).

    Forget simply the notion that works play a role in salvation – In many the fathers it seems that they thought salvation was only possible through following a very strict legal code of conduct. Often with this came some quite petty prohibitions- Clement of Alexandria, for example had some interesting rules forbidding chromatic and ‘liquid’ harmonies in music, enjoying variety in food and even shoe wearing for men. Following on from this is the general universal anti-marriage/sex vibe found throughout their writings that contradicts the New Testament in a number of places(a point that you actually note on your Church History website).

    How about the belief from Irenaeus that Jesus lived to be over 50?

    I find the quote from Tertullian a little ironic as that clearly did not prevent him from going off into heretical Montanist sect.

    The point is that presumably the church got these ideas from tradition handed down to – I would be as bold to say that yes, they were in error on these points. What do you think?

    (We did have a short email exchange on this some years ago so I apologise if you feel you are repeating yourself – I’m sure others would benefit from your answers).

    • Jim says:

      Jon, You bring up some great points. They are worthy of discussion and though I don’t have this all figured out, I have some thoughts.

      “The problem I have with this is that there are plenty of early church beliefs that actually are very novel – beliefs that I don’t hear anyone, even the most ardent early church fans, saying we should adopt today.”

      If you separate out the “novel” ideas, what you have left are the hefty and substantial ones. Essentially, you have “The Faith”, once for all delivered, as Irenaeus notes:
      “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples THIS FAITH.” (emphasis mine)

      “There is the belief that salvation could be lost without any possibility of regaining it if particular sins were committed. This can be found in Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Hermas (the latter says there is only ‘one repentance’ for the saints) . Cyprian even talks about doing penance for small sins.”

      I agree that this runs totally counter to the doctrinal position that flowed out of the Reformation. However, IF this was the faith that was handed down from the Apostles, then the Reformers have a different faith. At the very minimum it is an altered faith. A point that the Orthodox church in all it’s forms and the Catholic church would accept as true.

      Jesus did talk about a sin that was unforgiveable, so the idea is in the scriptures.

      “The point is that presumably the church got these ideas from tradition handed down to – I would be as bold to say that yes, they were in error on these points. What do you think?”

      I think that IS the question, as well as the point of the post. If we conclude that the early church got “The Faith” wrong, and passed it down incorrectly, how can we trust anything they tell us? Moreover, WHY should we trust them?

      The easy thing to do is what most protestants do: ignore the real challenge, pretend it’s not there and sweep it under the theological rug. (I am not suggesting in any way that this is what you are doing, far from it.)

      If we want to come to a knowledge of the truth in these matters, we have to examine the evidence with a truly open heart and mind and be uncomfortable with where it points us.

      • Jim says:

        Jon,

        By the way, Irenaeus describes this “Faith” that was handed down in the preceding paragraph of “Against Heresies. Here it is in context: (one of the longest sentences I think I have ever read!)

        1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith:

        [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

        • Jon says:

          Jim

          Thanks for your gracious and thoughtful comments.

          (By the way, I often read your blog and despite finding the title a little confrontational, have enjoyed a number of your posts. Your writings about sung worship in particular had me screaming ‘AMEN’ at my computer screen as it is a particular peeve of mine that many friends of mine don’t seem to get)

          I think your distinction about ‘the faith’ is a helpful one. I do find the phrase of Ireneaus “and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory” a curious one (and have done ever since his ‘rule of faith’ was presented to me at bible college). I am curious to what he means by ‘date of repentance’. Is this referring to those that drifted from the faith and came back, or is it referring to simply confession of sin?

          On a more personal note, I also take issue with the phrase “confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments”. I endeavour (I think/hope) to keep the commandments of Christ yet stumble many a time along the road. Am I, therefore, disqualified by Irenaeus’ distinction?

          On the unforgivable sin issue I am aware that Jesus taught this. However, it seems to me that Jesus was specifically referring to the Pharisees rejection of his works (attributing the his miraculous deeds to satan etc.) in this case. In contrast, the ECF’s seem to regard whatever sin they thought was too severe as being unforgivable. Tertullian even took issue with the Shepherd of Hermas allowing for just one repentance and referred to it as the ‘epistle of adultery’ for this reason.
          In this case, I would reject what the early fathers wrote precisely because it contradicts scripture (Matt 18:22, 1 John 1:9 etc)

          • paulfpavao says:

            Whew. Finally. Something I think I can grab onto in my discussions with you, Jon. What a relief! Well, unless I’m wrong, and this doesn’t work.

            It’s been a long time, and a lot of times I’ve scratched my head, wondering what I could say that might somehow allow you to hear perfectly scriptural things from me about works without attaching pretty extreme thoughts to it.

            So this time, it’s not me. It’s Irenaeus. Somehow, that seems to make things clearer.

            You wrote: “I also take issue with the phrase ‘confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments’. I endeavour (I think/hope) to keep the commandments of Christ yet stumble many a time along the road. Am I, therefore, disqualified by Irenaeus’ distinction?”

            So this isn’t me talking, it’s Irenaeus. Let’s transfer it further … to the apostles. 1 John 2:3-4 is the most obvious one to me. You don’t even know God if you don’t keep his commandments, so, are you “therefore disqualified by John’s distinction?”

            Let’s move on to Jesus. He said that you’ll abide in his love … if you keep his commandments. Are you, therefore disqualified by Jesus’ distinction?

            That’s the real question you have got to answer. Until you reconcile with John’s statements (because even the one I quoted from Jesus is in John’s Gospel), you’re never going to be okay with what Irenaeus and I say. He did his best to say what the apostles said, and so do it. If you’re not okay with them, how will you be okay with me?

            My request is that you wrestle with John’s statements about keeping the commandments, Jesus’ statements about only entering the kingdom of you do the will of the Father, Paul’s statements that are judged by our works and need to continue, without growing weary, in doing good.

            Once you decide how to be okay with what they’ve said, then please apply the same interpretation of their words to me when I say exactly what they said.

            I think this is critically important. What do you do with what Jesus and the apostles say about works? You have to answer that question; you have to answer it clearly and concretely; and then you have to wholeheartedly teach that answer to yourself–make yourself remember it; make yourself apply it to what you’re reading. Stop bouncing around and driving yourself crazy.

            If you reject what they said as too hard or too unclear, then let me know. I’m thinking you don’t want to do that.

            • Rick says:

              Hi Paul. This is Rick. I have heard some different interpretations of what it means to obey the commandments of Jesus. As an example, the different Sabbath keeping churches will tell one that Jesus is referring to the 10commandments. My question is what commandments are we supposed to keep so we can abide in Christ. Thanks in advance for a reply. I will continue to pray for you and the brothers and sisters.

              • paulfpavao says:

                It’s Jesus’ commandments that we need to keep. Paul said his commandments are Jesus’ commandments. I don’t think he’s unique in that. Jesus’ commandments and apostolic commandments all come from King Jesus.

                So, what commands? Obviously, the two Jesus called the greatest. Then there’s the Sermon on the Mount. Ephesians 4-5 give some examples of apostolic commands. There are a lot. That doesn’t mean we should make a list of the 613 commands of Jesus like the Jews did with the Torah. We put the deeds of the body to death by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). Thus, first and foremost is to walk in the Spirit (which translates to setting your mind on spiritual things–Rom. 8:5-8) because it’s the Spirit who sheds the love of God abroad in our heart (Rom. 5). If we walk in the Spirit, then we won’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

                The point is not to make a list, the point is to have a Psalm 119 attitude. I run in the way of his commandments because I love his precepts. I think his teachings are THE teachings on how to live. I eat them up, learn them, embrace them, sing songs about them, and delight in them. Jesus died to make us zealous for good works (Tit. 2:11-14). So let’s learn those.

                Ok, now back to the Sabbath keepers. I’m so sorry that we live in the age we live in. In the apostolic age and among the early Christians, their doctrines wouldn’t even be considered … except among Jewish believers. The Gentiles had a much smaller list from the Law (Acts 15 & 21). The second century believers all understood that the Law of Moses, given to an earthly kingdom of earthly people, most of whom did not have the Spirit, had to be brought to fullness for the sons of God, the new creation filled with the Spirit, that Jesus created through his death and resurrection. Thus we keep perpetual Sabbath, and we keep our heart, rather than our food, clean by separating from this world (parting the hoof) and ruminating on the Word of God.

                That teaching, once common in the church, has long since been forgotten in the western churches. Roman Catholics don’t keep the Sabbath because the RC establishment thinks it has the right to change such things. Protestants descended from the RC, but credits it with no authority, so they have had to scramble for various reasons not to keep the Jewish Sabbath.

                Originally, it was because the feasts of the Law were mere shadows cast by a body, and that body is King Jesus. He is our Sabbath, and we find our rest in him … perpetually, every day, all day, or as we say nowadays 24/7.

              • Evan says:

                One can possibly veer off into legalism if one remains solely focused on which commandments to obey. If you study Jesus’ teachings, he focuses on the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. Thus in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, a commandment such as not committing adultery is elevated from the realm of committing a physical act to a measure of our heart condition that may reveal the presence of lust. The primary focus is on our hearts – love for God & love for others…if we do that, then we are following Christ. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” Love is the bottom line; not necessarily which commandment to obey. Thus we are repeatedly encouraged in Scripture to love the brethren through mutual sharing and edification and to love God by obeying him. That is how we know that we have confidence before God and we are abiding in him.
                In our modern day Christendom however it seems that we have defined love for God as an emotion or feeling. We are repeatedly told that God has justified us and thus accepts us and loves us unconditionally, irrespective of what we do but is that really true? “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (Jn 14:21). God loves us when we love him and our love for him is evidenced by our obedience. Perfection is not required but love through our deeds is.

                • Jim says:

                  Well said, Evan!

                • Jon says:

                  Evan (or anyone for that matter),

                  How would you address the apparent contradiction between John 14:21 (where Jesus love for us seems to be conditioned on our love for him first) and 1 John 4:19 (We love because he first loved us) ?

                  • Evan says:

                    That’s a very good question. Perhaps someone else has a better explanation but I don’t think there is a contradiction. It is true that God first loved us – so much so that he sent his one and only son to save all from sin. This great sacrifice initiated by God is targeted toward sinners (pre-conversion) and because he first loved us prior to our salvation we are naturally grateful for his loving mercy and indeed love him. However, the difference is that a saved person (post-conversion) must continue to persevere unto obedience by living according to the spirit in order to continue to abide in his love. In other words, unconditional love for the unsaved so that all might come to him but conditional love for the saved that they might remain in him.

            • Jon says:

              Paul

              I didn’t think such a question would lead back to the topic being about me, but seeing as I do ask most of the questions from a kind of existential stand point you do well to read between the lines.

              You said:
              “What do you do with what Jesus and the apostles say about works? You have to answer that question; you have to answer it clearly and concretely; and then you have to wholeheartedly teach that answer to yourself–make yourself remember it; make yourself apply it to what you’re reading. Stop bouncing around and driving yourself crazy.”

              Yes, this EXACTLY is the question, the wrestle, the pondering and worrying (or at least a very large part of it) which the questions and comments I have stem from. I do not deny the weight of those passages (and I would be as bold as to say that the majority of the protestant tradition hasn’t either).

              There have always been two sides to the question on such scriptures a) What does this mean theologically/intellectually/doctrinally? and b) what does this mean personally and what should my response be?

              I really liked your reply to Ricks question, and Evan’s addition, and I still think that what you (and many others) highlight as ‘walking by the spirit’ is a reality I have not experienced (I don’t think).

              To put it another way , with an example , let’s say I read this passage from 1 John 2

              “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

              The obvious question in response is “do I keep his commands?”. The logical way to answer that question would be to make list of them and measure “how I am doing” against each one. The answers are going to vary from commandment to commandment and not be a definite yes or no to all of them, but more like ‘that one I’m doing ok on, that one is getting there, that one not so good and that one not really’.

              With that kind of an answer, there is no clear answer to the question “Are you, therefore disqualified by John’s distinction? “ and, indeed, there is no obvious application other than to do better and try harder at obeying the commands until you can tick them all off. However, you indicate in the reply to Rick keeping such a checklist is not the way to go about it.

              Maybe that better illustrates where I’m coming at with this.

              • paulfpavao says:

                I believe God will judge us according to our works. I believe that is impossible to deny for anyone who reads the Scripture without denominational blinders on. I also believe that 2 Cor. 12:20-21 makes it clear that churches and Christians have problems. Some of them are so bad that they’ll keep a Christian out of heaven. Uncleanness and fornication are mentioned in 2 Cor. 12:20-21 and said to keep Christians out of heaven in several places (e.g., Eph. 5:3-5).

                God’s not going to define that line so clearly that it takes away our fear. The description of the faith by all the apostles is a pressing forward, a pursuit of a goal (e.g. Php. 3; 2 Pet. 1:5-11).

                Nonetheless, I think we can confidently conclude from the letters to the Corinthians, from Jesus’ seven letters, and Jesus’ behavior around prostitutes and tax collectors that he brings the weak along; he doesn’t throw them out on the first wave.

                This makes me confident that my job is to hang around Jesus, to talk about the things he teach, and basically to make him the center of my attention.

                Somewhere, in there, is a life that should give us peace. There’s only one way God could say, “Let me show you, o man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” That is only possible if real holiness, real obedience, is attainable.

                If that’s true, then I can look around and find the people that are attaining it. There was a period in my past that I found most Christians careless. In my eyes, they weren’t really Christians if Christianity is people who read the Scriptures and attempt to make their life conform to the Scriptures. These people looked around for the minimum they could do.

                A small change of mind would have changed my judgment of them. It would also have opened doors for the Lord to train them that I don’t think were open to these people.

                Somewhere in there, a person who love justice, does mercy, and walks humbly with God can comfortably get up each day, open their lives to God, and rejoice in his love toward them. Yes, they’ve made a choice to devote themselves to paying attention and learning every day, but they have not make a choice to keep a list, check it twice, and worry that a capricious God is going to have a fit because they forgot to cross a t or dot an i.

                Personally, I don’t think that fuzzy line I just drew is overwhelming, nor do I think it falls short of Scripture.

          • paulfpavao says:

            As an aside, I’m convinced Irenaeus reference to the “date of their repentance” is a reference to those put out of the church and then returning to it. He talks about that happening in Against Heresies. In that book, it’s people seduced, sometimes literally, by gnostic teachers who later return to the church, but I’m sure it would apply to repentant adulterers, thieves, etc.

    • paulfpavao says:

      I’m really, really glad Jim beat me to this response. I especially like his “If you separate out the “novel” ideas, what you have left are the hefty and substantial ones. Essentially, you have ‘The Faith.'” I could never have come up with that line even if I had managed the thought.

      I want to use this spot to address something that applies more to Irenaeus’ “from the date of their repentance.”

      More and more I become convinced that this “one repentance” or “no repentance at all” is a reference to things judged by the church. The issue is not someone who sinned such and such badly. It’s not the person who couldn’t control his temper and punched a brother. It’s not the person fighting an addiction and failing repeatedly.

      It’s the person put out of the church.

      In a place where being in or out of the church is everything, that would be a huge event. In the second century, if you put someone out, then they repent and come back, it’s a huge occasion.

      But what if you have to put them out again? Do you take them back a second time?

      I’ve experienced that. In fact, we I could name a couple that we refused a second repentance in that sense. They came, and the husband gave faint efforts at supporting his family. The wife worked hard to make and sell things to help support their many kids, and she even managed to do so while finding time to buy pot and finding people to hang out and smoke it with.

      We put them out, and a couple years later they begged their way back into the fellowship. We allowed them a huge repentance, lots of promises, and we welcomed them with open arms and a lot of love, hoping that they meant what they said.

      They didn’t. We had to ask them to go on their way again, and yes, they tried again a few years later. We said no.

      I’m pretty sure this is the “one repentance” issue.

      And again, my overall response is the same as Jim’s, and I love that sentenc I quoted from him.

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