Tag Archives: community

Salvation, Baptism, and the Church

In the previous post the passage of Acts that we were looking at ended with this sentence:

And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Salvation is the most important aspect of the Christian life. In fact it is what the Christian life is all about. Yet in my Evangelical Protestant upbringing I noticed that it was also one of the least understood aspects of the Christian life and one of the least appreciated. This was quite alarming to me, especially since our salvation was the reason that Christ came to earth. As the Nicene Creed says:

We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…

At least part of the lack of understanding concerning salvation I believe can be attributed to two factors: 1)The Western proclivity for concrete definitions, and 2)The fact that salvation is, in the end, a mystery and a personal experience between an individual and God. In an effort to define salvation the West has articulated various and conflicting positions on salvation. In my native Evangelical Protestantism the end result of these varying positions has been not only divisions, but also seems to have led to salvation being primarily associated with getting into heaven. Thus to the Evangelical Protestant mind salvation is associated primarily with a completed past action: the moment they “accepted Christ,” became indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit, and were assured entrance into heaven upon death.* The downside to this association is that it can easily minimize, or even completely remove, the necessity and importance of following the commands of Christ and seeking to live more like him everyday.

Now to be fair Evangelical Protestants certainly agree that one must follow the commands of Christ, and if they aren’t then they have either abandoned their faith or were never really a Christian in the first place. However this is not called salvation in Evangelical Protestantism, but rather sanctification (becoming more like Christ). And while, technically speaking, sanctification may be included in the salvation process, dividing the process into different parts and defining different terms for each of the parts puts one at a significant disadvantage when reading Scripture because there does not seem to be such a distinction in terms made in Scripture. It is simply a form of “save” and could refer to the getting into heaven aspect, the sanctification aspect, the future glorification aspect (not discussed here), or could refer to someone being in physical danger, such as drowning, and in need of rescue.

Salvation is a personal experience between an individual and God and thus does not readily lend itself to definitions precisely because it involves multiple personal beings (i.e. a human and God). It also does not seem to be clearly defined and articulated in Scripture or in Christian tradition. It does involve coming to a recognition that Jesus is God and reconciled us to the Father through his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection; and following Christ’s commands and becoming more like him; and being glorified in the future. Thus I propose that when we think of salvation, or being saved, we do not think of “accepting Christ” and being guaranteed a ticket to heaven when we die, but rather the following:

The process of being restored to our original, perfect state of being from our current evil and depraved state of being.

For an adult this process begins first with the recognition that Jesus is God and reconciled us to the Father, from whom we were separated at the Fall, through his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Then as soon as possible baptism should follow. This is the pattern that we have seen so far in the Act of the Apostles. First the “men of Judea” recognized who Jesus was, then they were baptized.

Baptism, I think, is best viewed as the initiation rite into the Church, regardless of what one believes happens during baptism. As such I do not have an issue with baptizing infants since I do not see any good reason why a child of Christian parents should not be initiated into the Church. In fact, for a child of Christian parents, salvation begins as soon as they are born and thus they should be initiated into the community that will guide them through the salvation process. Later on these children who were baptized do make their own decision concerning Christ as they learn for themselves who he is and what he has done.

Baptism will be featured multiple times as we continue through the Acts of the Apostles and is certainly an important part of the Christian life. If someone claims to be a Christian they should have either already been baptized, or be waiting to be baptized. I do not believe anything else to be acceptable for someone claiming to be a Christian.

The Church, what the baptized are initiated into, is in general terms the worldwide body of people who have been baptized and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (called “believers” in Christian circles). The Church is such an essential part of salvation that Jesus himself personally trained and appointed those who would lead it during its initial phases. These were the Apostles, whose acts, words, and deeds we are currently reading about. And not only were Apostles appointed, but the Holy Spirit was, and still is, given to all who are members of the Church in order to guide the Church and protect it. The Church is not a man-made institution, but a divinely appointed institution whose main purpose is to guide people along the way of salvation and help them avoid the snares the devil has laid with the purpose of leading people off the path of salvation.

Summary

In order to be restored to their perfect, original state of being from their evil and depraved state of being a person must be initiated into the worldwide community of believers by being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit. Then they should learn from others in the community of believers so that they will be able to discern where God is leading them and avoid the snares the devil has laid for them.

Next up will be chapter 3.

* Protestantism disagrees as to whether or not one can lose their “salvation,” i.e. their admittance into heaven.

Just give up, it’s better for everyone

Flower

One is the loneliest number…

One thing that never ceases to amaze me about humanity is our propensity to forget things so quickly; I even amaze myself in this area. What is even more amazing is that I even forget my own personal thoughts and words quite often! Remember this post I made about community back in September? Well by the time November rolled around I had already forgotten what I said about community because I had to be reminded of my thoughts by an article in the student paper.

The article was entitled “Forgotten Flowers” and it compared single women with flowers in a field that grow and come into bloom so that they can be enjoyed by someone, but never are and die forgotten. Once I had finished reading I felt sorry for these Forgotten Flowers because their beauty was never enjoyed by anyone and they died unappreciated.

Disclaimer: I am not a woman and I am not looking at the article as I write this post. So if I am inaccurate in what I say following this feel free to correct me.

I also felt convicted that my attitude and outlook on marriage was not inline with God’s view. I am by no means opposed to marriage, but my attitude had shifted from desiring marriage (a few years ago) all the way over to the opposite extreme of desiring to be single because I didn’t want to be burdened with the demands of marriage in ministry. Now singleness is also not wrong by any means either, but what I felt convicted on was not that I wanted to be single, but my reasons for wanting to be single: it was motivated by a selfish desire rather than a God-given calling.

If, as the article seemed to state, that generally speaking marriage is something that women need in order to feel appreciated and part of a community (see disclaimer) then my attitude of wanting to be single because it would inconvenience me is most definitely wrong. If we never give up our desires and put others before ourselves (Philippians 2.3; Ephesians 4.2, 5.21; Romans 12.10) then we have absolutely no hope of achieving any type of community in the Body of Christ. My attitude was one of not willing to give up my own desires in order to benefit others in the Body of Christ and God rightly convicted me of this.

As of right now I do not have any clear direction from God concerning marriage or singleness. Neither has received a definite “yes” and neither has received a definite “no.” Whether God calls me to singleness or marriage I will accept it, but only on the basis that it is what God has called me to. For me cultivating this attitude has been a long and hard journey, but hopefully I am finally nearing the end of it.

Reflection: Community

I recently came to what you could call an epiphany concerning what community entails, so I figured I would share it with you all.

I’ve always been puzzled by the inability of people to establish community with one another, even among Christians. Some do indeed succeed in this area, but it seems that most groups of people fail to establish community for one reason or another. I’ve wondered why this is and yesterday it occurred to me what the reason for this might be: the failure to realize that each individual must make contributions to the group if community is to be established. A community is not a place that you take from because you need something from the other members, it is a place where you give yourself because the other members need something from you, and where the other members give themselves because you need something from them.

David and Jonathan

David and Jonathan

Everybody comes to a community needing just that, community. Community is something that has to be created though, which means that materials need to be contributed and fashioned in order for community to take shape. The basic material that needs to be contributed is love for the other members of the community. I think it is a very rare occurrence for someone to come to a community and naturally have love for the other members of the community, so usually this love must be established somehow. This love for others can be established simply by making an investment in their life. This doesn’t need to involve something huge, or even involve them, it can be something little, like praying for them,  asking them how a project at work or school turned out that they previously mentioned, or having a conversation with them watching a game. You don’t have to feel the desire to do these things at first, in fact you probably won’t. But if you force yourself to do them eventually you will come to genuinely love the others and will no longer need to force yourself to do these things.

The point is that everyone needs community, but you cannot gain what you need from community by taking from others, because what you need is to be part of a community and this will not happen until you contribute to the others in the community by loving them. You are only a part of something so long as you contribute to its benefit, otherwise you are a leech. Others need community just as much as you do, if they give themselves and you do not there is nothing for them to receive and you and them will both no longer have community. If everyone gives themselves everyone will get what they desire in community. As long as this is done the community will endure, when this is no longer practiced is when the community will fail.

The lesson for me in this is to share my thoughts, feelings, desires, etc with the people around me and not just keep them to myself and force myself to take an interest in their life, even if I don’t feel like it at first (probably a consequence of being an introvert) because they need them, and I need their thoughts, feelings, love, etc. This is God’s design for us to be in community and help each other because He saw that it was not good for man to be alone and He made a helper suitable for him.