Tag Archives: Protestantism

Christianity is Not a Contract!

Diablo 3 - Tyrael

Tyrael of Diablo fame.

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” — C.S. Lewis

A fairly common question I see asked regarding Christianity is, “Is it okay to do _________?” I recently saw such a question posed again and I thought to myself, “Why is this question even being asked? What theological framework allows for such a question to even be asked in the first place?” As I thought about the answer to these questions I realized that to ask if a certain behavior is “okay” is to approach Christianity with the assumption that it is a contract entered into between a person and God, an assumption I believe is invalid.

In a contract two parties agree to fulfill certain responsibilities and it remains in effect as long as the terms of the contract are not breached. Such an approach sets up the expectation that as long as we do not breach the “contract” God will still fulfill His side of the deal and give us a place in heaven. And since we are by nature sinful and evil beings we then try to seek out what the bounds of this contract are; we ask ourselves, “How far can I go? What sort of loopholes can I find that will allow me to do what I want and fulfill my desires without breaching this contract?” It is this mindset I believe that leads to the question, “Is it okay for a Christian to do _________?”

Such a mindset is, I believe, taught nowhere in Scripture. We are taught that we were created by God, in His image, and were commanded to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1.26-28). In order to sustain us He gave us the plants and the trees and their fruits (Gen. 1.29) and of the trees the only prohibition was from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and if we did so we would die (Gen. 2.17). So we see that one tree leads to death, while all the others (including the tree of life [Gen. 3.22]) lead to life. Thus we had two ways set before us, one of life and another of death, and we had to walk in one or the other, there were no alternatives. For if we ate of the trees that were allowed, we would live and fill the earth and subdue it; and if we ate of the tree of which eating was prohibited, we would die; and if we had tried to be “neutral” and not eaten of any of the trees we also would have died as we require sustenance by our nature.

Even though we chose the way leading to death, the way to life was not thereby made unavailable to us, for we were prevented from eating from the tree of life, which would have resulted in us living forever in our fallen state (Gen. 3.22). Thus God cast us out of the Garden in order to work the ground from which we were taken (Gen. 3.23-24) in order that we might learn that the way of life was now through repentance and trust (Isa. 30.15).

The Commandments given through Moses were given in order that we might know more clearly which way leads to life and which leads to death. For at the beginning of the list of blessings for following the commandments it is written, “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28.1. Or in other words, they would subdue the earth. But concerning the curses it is written, “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.” – Deuteronomy 28.45. Or in other words they would die.

The New Testament also presents two ways, one of death and another of life, and these two ways are opposed to each other. Representative of this are the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians 5.16-26:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Thus Scripture does not present us with a contract, but with a choice, a choice between two ways, one which leads to life and another which leads to death. In Advent we are called to recognize our sinfulness and repent as we await the coming of our Lord. Let us do this so that when He comes we will be found working as the wise servant and serving others (Matt. 24.45-47) and not as the unwise one and be found exploiting and beating them (Μatt. 24.48-51). Let us continue on the way of life. Let our prayer throughout this Advent season truly be:

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

 

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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.

Answering the Question of Authority

One of the questions that I have had to deal with in my search for a tradition is the question of authority. Where does it come from? Why is something authoritative? Up until recently I thought that there was a great discrepancy between the 3 main Christian traditions, but now I realize that there really isn’t much difference at all.

– Roman Catholicism says the Pope is infallible with regards to teaching because he is prevented from teaching errors by the Holy Spirit.

– Eastern Orthodoxy says the seven ecumenical councils are infallible because they were guided by the Holy Spirit and thus prevented from proclaiming error.

– Protestantism says that the Scriptures are the only infallible source because they alone were breathed out by God and that the teachings of the Roman and Eastern Churches are thus subject to error (though not necessarily wrong).

Though it appears that these 3 traditions locate infallibility in different places they in fact locate it in the same place: God, specifically the Holy Spirit. So the question for me now is not: “Is the Pope, the councils, or the Bible alone infallible?” Instead the question is: “What has been the extent of the Holy Spirit in protecting the Church from error?” Certainly none of these traditions doubts that the Holy Spirit has been active in guiding and protecting the church since the Resurrection, but they cannot agree on how far He has gone in guiding and protecting the church.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox views are tough for me to accept, but I think they are certainly valid. Growing up Protestant I felt that I was taught that the church (specifically the Roman Church) could not be trusted and that the Bible alone was to be trusted. The decisions of the early ecumenical councils were accepted, but only because they agreed with Scripture. However, now being aware of all that has transpired over the course of Christian history and seeing what an absolute mess ALL the traditions have made over the course of their existence, but yet seeing that there is still an active Church where the Gospel is proclaimed and people are saved I cannot deny that the Holy Spirit is indeed active in preserving the Church.

So for now this question is of much less significance for me, since I know that wherever I go I know that the Church is being protected by the Holy Spirit. If I had to accept the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox position I could, because I know, at least to a certain extent, that it is true.