Repentance And Salvation Part 1: The Doctrine of Repentance in Church History -- By: Robert N. Wilkin

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 01:1 (Autumn 1988)
Article: Repentance And Salvation Part 1: The Doctrine of Repentance in Church History
Author: Robert N. Wilkin


Repentance And Salvation
Part 1:
The Doctrine of Repentance in Church History

Robert N. Wilkin

Executive Director
Grace Evangelical Society
Roanoke, Texas

Few issues are of more vital interest to those who believe in heaven and hell than the question of what one must do to gain entrance into heaven. Answers to this question nearly always include a reference to repentance. Throughout church history nearly every theologian has taught that repentance is essential for salvation from hell.1 However, several disparate understandings of repentance have been advocated. This article will delineate those understandings.2

I. The Pre-Reformation View

From the apostolic fathers until the Reformers, essentially one view of salvific repentance prevailed. Unhappily this view knew little or nothing of grace. A system of works salvation emerged very early in the Church. Amazingly, the first generation after the Apostles distorted the good news which the Apostles had entrusted to their care.3 On the theology of the apostolic fathers Torrance notes:

Salvation is wrought, they thought, certainly by divine pardon but on the ground of repentance [self-amendment before God],4 not apparently on the ground of the death of Christ alone. There is no doubt about the fact that the early Church felt it was willing to go all the

way to martyrdom, but it felt that it was in that way the Christian made saving appropriation of the Cross, rather than by faith... It was not seen that the whole of salvation is centered in the person and the death of Christ .... Failure to apprehend the meaning of the Cross and to make it a saving article of faith Is surely the clearest indication that a genuine doctrine of grace is absent.5

Three main aspects of the pre-Reformation view of salvific repentance are apparent.

Initial Forgiveness of Pre-Baptismal Sins Only

The church fathers and their successors believed that salvation began at one’s baptism. When someone was baptized the sins which he had committed until that point in life [plus his share of original sin through Adam] were forgiven.6 The fathers thus believed that a person would begin the Christian life with a clean slate. Of course, the slate would not remain clean for long. Since everyone continues to be plagued with sin aft...

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