DISCLAIMER: Some are uncomfortable with the idea of "judging" whether someone is saved. In my mind I am discerning in light of 1 John 2:19,29 & 4:7. I hope this discussion will be profitable as a warning and for closure.
My short answer is NO!
The long answer is:
It depends on what you mean by "saved".
I am now a Calvinist. In CBU we were Arminians (consistently). The two terms refer to two schools of thought on the doctrine of salvation. Theologians have studied and debated scripture for centuries. They didn’t wait for ST to appear and give them the final word on everything. Calvinists say that salvation is totally God’s work from first to last. They say, "we were dead in sins, God chose us before the creation of the world, sent Jesus to purchase with His blood those whom He would save, orchestrated circumstances so that we would hear the Gospel, softened our hearts so we would listen, then gave us the gift of faith, so we could be saved, and will keep us from falling and bring us to glory."
Arminians believe (with some variations) that we aren’t totally dead spiritually, that there’s some good in us, so that anyone can choose to hear and believe and be saved (because Christ died for us all). But it is up to each of us to stay saved and not to backslide. (Salvation by works is always Arminian.) So are Universalists (who believe that everyone will be saved.)
Since I have come around to the Calvinist viewpoint, I now believe in the doctrine of "the perseverance of the saints" (a/k/a"once saved, always saved", which I firmly resisted when in CBU and later). But I had to change my view on what "once saved" means. I no longer believe that any virtual stranger who prays a prayer is automatically saved.
"we would pray with people who were supposedly making a lifetime commitment; who were promising to change from a life in the flesh to a life of taking up their cross to follow Jesus. Yet we had only known them for 2 hours (or only 15 minutes). And of that 2 hours we did most of the talking. And if someone said they were in a hurry, we’d say "oh this will only take 5 minutes". So someone could "get saved" and not know: )who Adam and Eve were; )who Abraham was; )what the Passover was )what the 10 commandments are; )what exactly sin is; )etc.
I wasn’t the only one who at some point decided to be cautious about who I’d pray with."
In 1983 we began inviting street people to move in with us at Woodruff Ave in Bklyn. It was called "sweeping". We got lots of unconverted people to move in and say a prayer. None of them endured very long, and we had doubts even then about their salvation. But I even have doubts about the salvation of some long time brothers. There is someone who was in my "three fold cord" who showed the art show and prayed with people to get saved. He is now an atheist. Then there is a lady who used to "live in" who is now a non-Christian.
Humans are capable of great amounts of self deception. Hypocrites at the judgement will claim to have cast out demons. (They probably did.) Pastor Bob Hall preaches "it is possible to come under the influence of the word, such that it has a positive effect on your behavior, without actually being born again". (So a changed life is not necessarily proof of genuine conversion.)
Besides all people go through great changes during their adolescence. So how do you tell if a change in lifestyle is truly conversion? I used to be confident to pronounce someone saved. Not anymore! Some people joined us it seems, because of the good camaraderie. (We actually had that once.)
In his book "Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners", John Bunyan tells how he quit cursing, started attending church, became conversant in scripture and even became the church bell ringer without being saved or hearing about grace. (This process took a few years.)
I once believed that I got saved on the day I said the sinners prayer. I no longer believe this. I was saved at some indeterminate point a few months later. (I was already witnessing by this time.) But then I was convicted of what sin is, and what my sins cost Jesus. I cried out in despair and He gave me heavenly comfort and joy unspeakable. (Which moving in to COBU months later totally undermined.)
When I told a certain brother that I didn't believe that ST was ever saved, he said, "that's a pretty serious charge". To which I replied "to say 'he was saved' is even worse". Calvinist theology (which both of us consider to be right) insists that those who are truly saved will return if they backslide. How can I believe that ST was truly saved, was faithful for a short time, then spent 2-3 decades inflicting dreadful damage on Christ's flock, but will rededicate shortly before he dies? (He turns 63 this year.) It's more likely that he demonstrates the utter depths of human hypocrisy.
Mike had a good item on the Site Journals (?):
[Bracketed comments are mine.]
"I played the second tape of the 1 John 1989 to my wife. I am glad she wasn't driving. All the way to the zoo she was "going to war against every wrong thing" in Stewart. One point what we discussed had to do with an outsider who at this meeting stands up and blasts Stewart with scripture that in my estimation really was a direct hit. … My wife said that first you have to realize and treat Stewart for what he is not. HE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN! The standards of the Bible for a Christian do not apply to him [what she means is that ST acts like they don’t apply to him. Indeed he doesn’t meet them]. I see her point. [He just has] a "I repented so back off," attitude about it. But to call the brethren stupid for listening to him all those years. Blaming them for their messed up lives. Do you older brethren remember Stew saying over and over again through those years "The older ones just don't want to be responsible." Hey Stew, ….. You are guilty of everything you accused the older ones of. [Psychologists call this "projection" or "reversal"] You don't take a stitch of responsibility for your actions at all. Where is your mourning. You claim that you got born again in Jan 1989. There is no difference in you except that you are even worse than before. You condemn yourself. You condemn yourself. I may have a few tapes here on earth, but My Heavenly Father has every careless word you utter. Prepare to perform all your unkindness, all your aberrant theology, all your Blasphemies to Him! Repent and receive the Holy Spirit. You have not. You never did. You have bad fruit. You have evil treasure. Your pride will not allow you to listen to me, so take a look around at every human you come in contact with. Your first wife, your own children, the Brethren of the Church of Bible Understanding, past and present. ….. What will you say to God for these heresies? You took responsibility for their lives at the Grace Meeting. I guess now that you are BORN AGAIN you don't have to take any responsibility. You have redefined LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS, SELF CONTROL because you cannot bear these fruits because you have not the Spirit of God."
I took the liberty of editing that portion for brevity and grammar.
When Jesus said "you will know them by their fruits", He also called them "wolves in sheep’s clothing", not wayward brothers. If ST were a true son then he would be disciplined for his actions. What discipline did he ever endure?
Now Chris B says:
"If we were to get all of us who were there at the time together in
a room who experienced the grace, mercy, and power of God that was strongly
at work in and among us back
then, I believe the consensus would be that there was a process toward
more and more control on Stewart's part and less and less of God working
freely by his grace …… and God worked through him especially in his zeal to lead
others to Christ in open one to one witnessing and teaching Spirit led
prayer. The many who got saved through that bold witnessing approach
including you and me, can't say we didn't benefit in that we received
Christ and were presented with a choice of serving him with our whole
heart, which is what He desires. Many of us who have gone out with that
same kind of wholehearted zeal for God that Stewart once exemplified,
have been used to bless the churches in which we were replanted. The
Forever Family was once a work of God through which I believe about
40,000 people came to Christ and many of them serve him today …."
Chris is making the case that because God worked in the FF, then ST must have been saved (I edited his claim that ST was).
Without doubting one word of the above I still disagree with his conclusion because even unsaved people can learn and use scripture (look at the JWs). ST may have believed he was saved, he may have been trying to save himself by good works, he may have been very proud of his accomplishments, but that doesn’t mean he was truly saved. JWs and even the Nation Of Islam can help someone come off drugs, or modify their self-centered immature lifestyle. (One of the guys we "swept up" and supposedly converted, later joined the NOI (Nation Of Islam). There was an "older brother" of several years who left and joined the Hare Krishnas.) Nowhere is zeal listed as a fruit of the Spirit. I remember that witnessing was fun. I was doing it before I was truly saved. Besides, ST claims that he wasn’t saved until ’89. (If he was saved then, why is he denying it now? Why isn’t the "anointing he has teaching him"? (1 Jn 2:27)
When I moved in, Christian brothers at the college I attended, warned me that COBU is a cult. I disbelieved them because of all the decent brethren in COBU, mistakenly thinking that they were STs fruit.
Sometimes God allowed bad shepherds to tend His flock (Ezekiel 34). Peter warns that, "there will be false teachers among you" (2Pet. 2:1). Paul also that "savage wolves …will arise… to draw away disciples after them." (Acts 20:29,30) Also "if the eye is bad then the whole body….". I interpret this to mean that a real body can have a bad eye. Because of their youthful inexperience and their isolation from traditional theology, the founding brothers never thought to doubt that ST was really saved. Because they were praying with total strangers and pronouncing them saved, they were forced to accept that every FF member must be saved. (In their defense ST lead some of them to Jesus. While that seems bizarre, it’s still possible. Read up on John Wellesly.)
Some may be suspicious because I appeal to tradition and theology. Don’t be! Scholars were studying scripture centuries before STs country (Canada) was even discovered. They wrote commentaries and catechisms, which answered questions both universal and specific, both important and trivial. While tradition does not have the same authority that scripture does, tradition can be the accumulated wisdom of previous generations. It should not be discarded lightly. (When Martin Luther broke with Catholics he kept every tradition that wasn’t specifically forbidden by scripture.)
The 60s were a time of breaking traditions, just for the sake of it. The hippies wanted to prove that they could have a church apart from their parents. The FF/COBU were just one more group like many, many others.
Did God work in, through, and on the FF? YES! Does that mean ST has to be a great man of God? Absolutely NOT!
Owen Camp Bronx NY firstname.lastname@example.org