Does Hebrews 6 contradict eternal security?
I'm a believer and I too believe in eternal security (Eph. 1:13-14 seems to be a biggie for this). However, I must admit the verses that brought up by those who believe you can lose your salvation (e.g. Heb 6:5-6) seem difficult to understand. You mentioned that "careful study can lead to conclusions from these verses that does not necessitate the idea of losing your salvation." Would you mind expounding on these other conclusions? I would greatly appreciate it.
I must say that Hebrews chapter 6 is one of the most hotly contested scriptures in the Bible! (But, I did say that one could examine them and come away with a perspective other than someone losing salvation, so I guess I'd better not duck your question.) Let's review the passage:
"For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been partakers of the Holy Spirit, and having tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame."
We must first see who is being discussed in the above verse, and what their true spiritual condition is in order to gain understanding into what the writer is conveying. I will, for the sake of argument, assume we're talking about the salvation of the subject being described. If you believe the above verse addresses believers who are backslidden, then we have a problem because the verse says, "It is impossible to renew them to repentance." Thus, if you did believe and fell away from the faith (became an apostate), the verse would imply that you've committed an unpardonable sin. This just doesn't line up with scripture. It also doesn't line up with Armenian teaching of being restored again to the Lord's salvation.
Let's look at it the way some Calvinists have interpreted Hebrews. If we take the passage to mean those who mearly profess to be Christians, but have not given their whole lives to Him (ref. Matt. 7:21-23), then we still have a problem because the act of pretending to be saved becomes the sin that cannot be forgiven ("impossible"), and we know there is no sin too great that God cannot forgive the sinner. Either way, it puts us in a tough spot by saying "there's no way God can forgive him!" We know that "the Lord's hand is not so short that it cannot save" (Isaiah 59:1) so if we took the position of the above passage referring to salvation, either way we are faced with a contradiction.
So, what's left? In Hebrews 6:4, the writer's subjects are defined for us. We know they've "once been enlightened". That could be translated "once and for all" from the Greek. That sounds pretty definite. They have "tasted of the heavenly gift", which does not mean they just nibbled at it. The term "tasted" holds a different connotation for us in the English than in the Greek. The same writer used the same word earlier in the book when he said Jesus "tasted death for every man"(Heb 2:9). That also is a pretty complete experience. Jesus didn't just nibble on death, He fully died! They also "tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." 1 Peter 2:3 imputes this tasting to those who obtain salvation. Lastly, they "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit". Romans 8:9 makes a pretty convincing argument that anyone who has the Spirit indwelling them is in the body of Christ. All these references allude to a person who is truly saved, not one who is only religious or pretending to have a relationship with the Lord.
So, if the passage is addressing saved people, we must find out what is meant by "impossible to renew them again to repentance". Let's look at that word repentance. Notice that it does not say it is impossible to renew them again to salvation. In fact, the Greek word for "fallen away" is parapipto which can literally be translated "to stumble or fall along side". It is not apstosia from which we get the idea of apostasy or apostate. So, what kind of repentance do we mean, and what are we falling away from?
In verse 9, the writer mentions that he is "convinced of better things of you, and things that accompany salvation." The thing that accompanies salvation is a believer's fruit. By fruit, I mean the evidences that he is a follower of Christ. This is his witness to the world. In fact, in verses 7 and 8, the writer talks about the ground bearing fruit, and it being judged if it is without fruit. A parallel chapter is found in 1 Cor 3:13-16. The person is a believer, for Paul in 1 Cor.3:15 says the man shall be saved, but his opportunity for witness and his ability to impact other people (not to mention the service he could render for Christ) will be forever lost. The repentance that the writer to Hebrews speaks of is a "repentance from dead works" mentioned in verse one of the same chapter. I believe the verse applies to more than just Jewish legalism. In Revelation Chapter 2, Jesus warns the church at Ephesus that even though their deeds are good, their work is without love, and as a consequence, they will lose their lampstand, i.e., their witness (ref. Matt 5:14-16).
The entire chapter of Hebrews 6 is devoted to the Hebrew believers showing their faith through their works. The writer emphasizes the believers' security in their salvation when he makes statements like "the full assurance of hope until the end (vs. 11)"; "The unchangeablenss of His purpose (vs. 17)"; and "this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast(vs. 19)".
This is a very difficult portion of scripture, and it can be confusing trying to explain it in such a brief letter (many scholars still argue as to its exact meaning; experts much more qualified than I), but I hope I have shown you that it doesn't HAVE to be taken as to mean someone can lose their salvation or never again come to a saving faith in Christ. Please let me know if I can clear up any point that may have been vague.
May God bless you.