Howard M. Ervin (1915-2009) was a longstanding faculty member at Oral Roberts University (in fact, the second longest-serving faculty member). I have to imagine that his theology impacted generations of ORU pastors, so his views on salvation are worth looking into.
For example, in his book, Spirit Baptism: A Biblical Investigation, Ervin asks when the disciples were born again. A fair question. Your answer to that question will reveal a lot about the condition of salvation. As it happens, Ervin’s definition of what it means to be born again is very confusing. Consider this quote:
“When, therefore, were the disciples of Jesus born again? In other words, when did they pass from the sphere and influence of the old covenant to the privileges and responsibilities of the new covenant?” (p. 14).
I don’t think I’ve ever heard being born-again defined that way, i.e., as “passing from the sphere of the old covenant to the new covenant.” The implication is that Ervin thinks it was impossible to be born again before a certain point in history. In particular, he implies that no one was born again before the crucifixion:
“Some have assumed that this took place before the crucifixion when Jesus said to them, ‘Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven’” (p. 14).
Ervin doesn’t believe that is true. But I think that’s a great proof-text to show the disciples were already born again. Of course, being born again and having your name recorded in heaven are two different benefits, but if the larger question is, “When were the disciples eternally saved?” then surely having your name recorded in heaven is strong proof of your status before God! (Luke 10:20).
But not to Erwin:
“But all such suggestions ignore the fact that the covenant of Sinai was still in force…The new covenant had not yet been promulgated” (p. 14).
So what? Maybe they ignore that fact, because apparently it does not influence when your name can be recorded in heaven?
Ervin’s approach to this question is a good example of interpreting clear passages in light of confusing ones, instead of the other way around. For some reason, even though Jesus says the disciples’ names were written in heaven, Erwin didn’t believe it. Why? Because he was fixated on the idea that no one could be born again before the New Covenant.
Doesn’t Ervin believe that Abraham was justified? (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3). That happened before the New Covenant.
So when does Ervin think the disciples were finally born again? He answered by pointing to John 20:19-23, especially v 22 which reads,
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
I think this passage counts as an unclear passage. Frankly, I’m not quite sure what is happening here. But Ervin is sure. Although John does not say this is the point when the disciples were born again, or that was when the New Covenant started, Erwin takes it to mean both: “it marks the transition from the terms of the old covenant to those of the new covenant” (p. 20). I am not comfortable with that speculation. Again, I think that is an example of using an unclear passage to override a clear one.
I want to offer a simpler alternative to Ervin’s proposal, one that is also based on John’s Gospel. In his purpose statement, John said:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:30-31).
According to John, if you believe, what do you have? Life in His name, i.e., eternal life. In fact, that is Jesus’ consistent teaching through the Gospel—if you believe in Him, you have eternal life (e.g., John 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-26). And all through the Gospel, John tells us that people when have believed.
With that in mind, when, according to John, did the disciples believe? It was not in John 20:19-23, but way back in John 2, after the wedding at Cana:
This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him (John 2:11).
According to John, if you believe in Jesus, you get life in His name. And what does John says the disciples did in Cana? They believed in Him. So what did they get the moment they believed? Life in His name. That is when they were born again. That’s clear and simple and good enough for me.