What Does It Mean to Be Saved?

Nicodemus

John 3:3

[3] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:16–17

[16] “For God so loved the world,  that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 5:24

[24] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (ESV)

Titus 3:3–7

[3] For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (ESV)

This post is Part II in my review of what it means to be Evangelical and what it does not mean to be Evangelical.  As a standard I will be using David Bebbington’s Evangelical Quadrilateral which gives the four elements which make up the fundamentals of Evangelicalism which are:

1) Biblicism—a high regard for the Bible as the Word of God and source of all spiritual truth; 2) Crucicentrism—the centrality of the atoning work of Christ on the
cross for salvation and as the centre of all evangelical teaching and preaching; 3) Activism—the belief that faith in Christ’s work compels one to share the faith with others in both word and deed; and  4) Conversionism—the conviction that every individual must turn to Christ through a personal decision in order to be saved from sin.

The question that many Evangelicals give to people is “if you died tonight, do you know where you would end up, or if you died tonight, would you be with God in heaven, or in hell?”  Another question that many Evangelicals as would be is  “do you know how much God loves you and are you experiencing God’s love?”  At the heart of Evangelicalism is bringing people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  From a Biblical Worldview, there are those that are outside of God’s Kingdom and do not know Jesus as Lord, and those inside the Kingdom that have made a personal decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  These questions that I have given which I have heard over the 30 years by which I have been a Christian would be under what Bebbington would classify as Conversionism.

My Own Conversion

My parents raised our family in different sects of Protestantism.  They were both raised Methodist, so I was baptized (Christened) as a baby into the Methodist church.  Yet, during my elementary school years, my parents chose to worship as Episcopalians because my father used to coach swimming and tennis at an Episcopal College in Gambier, Ohio.  Most of the emphasis of being Episcopal was learning how to take Communion (one of the Christian Sacraments), and being an altar boy.  During my teenage years, my parents took us to an Evangelical Lutheran Church, Upper Arlington Lutheran Church.  This church had a strong youth ministry and held to the elements listed above such as a strong regard for scripture as the Word of God, a belief that Jesus died for our sins as an atoning sacrifice, we needed to accept God’s grace through Jesus death on the cross, and a plug to invite our unchurched and unsaved friends to Youth Group.

With my own conversion, it happened at a youth retreat when I was junior in high school.  The Youth Pastor’s wife went through a small booklet called “My Heart, Christ’s Home.”  I knew when she was describing Jesus cleaning out the basement and the hall closet she was talking directly to me.  At that point, I made decision to ask Jesus into my heart and be my savior (Rev. 3:20).

Like any good Evangelical, when I went to college I was involved in both Campus Crusade for Christ (Crew), and with the Navigators.  Both organizations were very active (Bebbington’s Activism) in sharing the gospel to those that were our neighbors.  Neighbors would be those that lived in the same hall as we did in our dorms, our roommates, family members, and people we went to classes with.  Both groups used different methods and strategies in sharing the gospel.  Campus Crusade used a sale’s strategy with booklets and pamphlets called the four spiritual laws.  the Navigators used their Bridge Diagram. I believed that I wasn’t a good Christian if I wasn’t bringing people into God’s Kingdom.

But, later life I realized it wasn’t up to me to determine who would make a decision to be “saved” or not.  That work belonged to God (John 6:44).  My role was in making disciples and being a witness for Jesus in the arena’s that God placed me in (Acts 1:8, Matt. 28:19-20).

Problem with Conversionism

According to David Guretzki:

Ultimately, evangelical insistence upon making a decision for Christ reveals a deeper theological assumption that someone is either ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the kingdom of God and that there is no ‘sitting on the fence’ between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. Evangelicals will readily admit that it may be ambiguous to an onlooker whether a person is truly a believer, but theologically they believe that a person either really is or really is not a true believer; that is, evangelicals are convinced that someone really is or really is not ‘saved.’

One of the problems that I see with Evangelicalism is that it can be discriminatory between those that are saved, and those that are not saved.  Because it makes such a large emphasis on the element of conversionism, those outside of the church feel slighted, discriminated against, and are shamed into making a decision to follow Jesus against their will.  Many Christians will use “fire and brimstone” methods to preach the gospel and to make new converts.  These methods are not loving and can turn off many to the basic beliefs and fundamentals of the faith.

On the other hand since Evangelicals make such a large deal about people coming into saving relationship with Jesus, it does not matter how one worships God regardless of the sect that they belong to.  David Guretzki uses an example of someone who worships as a Roman Catholic:

In such cases, evangelicals will sometimes say something along the lines of the following: ‘Joe is a Roman Catholic [or Orthodox, or Lutheran or Anglican, etc. etc.], but he is evangelical,’ which when theologically translated means, ‘It doesn’t matter what denomination you are [transdenominational] as long as you have made a personal decision [conversionist] to believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins [crucicentrist] and to follow Christ with your life [activist].’

Next week, I will discuss what it means to believe the bible as the sole authority (Sole Autoritas) as the means by which people choose to follow Jesus as Lord.

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Persistent Prayer

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Luk 18:1-8 LEB And he told them a parable to show that they must always pray and not be discouraged, (2) saying, “There was a certain judge in a certain town who did not fear God and did not respect people. (3) And there was a widow in that town, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary!’ (4) And he was not willing for a time, but after these things he said to himself, ‘Even if I do not fear God or respect people, (5) yet because this widow is causing trouble for me, I will grant her justice, so that she does not wear me down in the end by her coming back!'” (6) And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge is saying! (7) And will not God surely see to it that justice is done to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, and will he delay toward them? (8) I tell you that he will see to it that justice is done for them soon! Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, then will he find faith on earth?”

I went to Men’s group on Saturday, and we had a lively discussion about the above passage.  What struck me about the passage is the theme of persistent prayer, to not be discouraged, and the issue of justice.  NT Wright says that this parable is not as much about prayer as it is about vindication and justice being served.  The Judge is unlike God in all ways, since God symbolizes justice and cares passionately about people and will see that justice will be done, where this judge is unjust and does not care about people at all.  NT Wright further alludes that this passage in addition to the next parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is more about “justification of faith” than about justice being done.  The vindication is that those that are shown mercy (like the tax collector), and the one that prays with persistence for God’s justice against their enemies are vindicated by their faith and allegiance to Jesus as both Lord and king.  NT Wright says that “justification which we meet a lot in Paul but hardly ever in the gospels, means exactly this: that the judge finds in one’s favour at the end of the case (see Romans 2:1-16; Romans 3:21-31; Galatians 2:16-21).

I agree with Wright, that as we groan and long for the restoration of all things at the end of the age (Matt. 19:28-29), we shall be vindicated.  Faith defined here is allegiance to the Kingdom of God that Jesus ushered when he rose from the dead.  This passage is also alluding to the previous passage where Jesus talks about the second coming  of the Son of Man (Luke 17:22-37).  God will restore all things at the end of the age.  To me this what Luke means by justice.

The application of this passage is to believe in the goodness of God, and come to him all the time with our requests and never give up praying.  God will answer our prayers, it is just a question of when.  We need to be specific about our requests.  God can hear our laments and complaints against this broken world.  At the same time we need hope that a new day is coming and justice (vindication) will be served.

Post-Evangelical

the-post-evangelical-159916790

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spot-light
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

 

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
(Mat 6:33 MKJV)

I am going to be writing a series of posts, on what it means to be Evangelical, and Post-Evangelical. These posts will be sort of a memoir, as I workout my own salvation (Phillipians 2:13). David Tomlinson defines Post-Evangelical as:

To be post-evangelical is to take as given many of the assumptions of evangelical faith, while at the same time moving beyond its perceived limitations. (Tomlinson, Dave. The Post-Evangelical: SPCK Classic – with a new Preface (p. 6). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Others have wrote about what it means to be Post-Evangelical as well.  Scot McKnight gives a good short synopsis of it here, and Rachel Held Evans talks about how it helps give shape and definition to those that seem lost who are leaving Evangelicalism.   For others, post-evangelicalism is a means at having a fresh interpretation of Jesus for the twenty-first century.  Al Mohler one of the leaders and gate keepers of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote a critique of David Tomlinson’s book citing that Tomlinson neglects the core doctrines of the faith such as substitutionary atonement, and other core doctrines of Christendom.

According to church historian David Bebbington, Evangelicalism is:

One influential definition of Evangelicalism has been proposed by historian David Bebbington. Bebbington notes four distinctive aspects of Evangelical faith: conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism, noting, “Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism.”

Tomlinson explains it this way:

Evangelicals recognize the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ’s atoning work as absolutely central; they assert that this faith must be personal, leading to an experience of conversion; they stress the importance of declaring the gospel to those who do not believe, and they hold to the supremacy of Scripture over all other sources of authority. (Tomlinson, Dave. The Post-Evangelical: SPCK Classic – with a new Preface (p. 5). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Yet Tomlinson argues that Evangelicalism needs to be understood in the lens of culture not belief. This was true after the 2016 Presidential Election. After the the 2016 election in the United States, statistically 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump whose character and integrity was suspect. Yet many justified voting for someone who did not represent the gospel or Jesus as a means to justify the ends (consequential-ism) by putting someone in the white house who would put a conservative supreme court appointee on the bench who could help overturn Roe V. Wade (the case that made Abortion legal in the United States), and someone who would limit the rights of LGBQT individuals, and support religious liberty under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Christian Ethicist David Gushee talks about the change in American Evangelicalism in regards to the “religious right’s take over of American Christianity:

The changed religious and social context has something to do with this transition that I am contemplating. The embrace of Donald Trump in 2016 by most white evangelicals was just the latest sign either of the bankruptcy of evangelicals or the meaninglessness of the category. To the extent there is a real thing called American evangelicalism, it is deeply damaged by now. I wrote this in my journal not long ago: It is hard to imagine how any single religious community could so often be so consistently wrong. One would think that they would get an issue right even occasionally and by accident. (Gushee, David P.. Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism (Kindle Locations 1850-1854). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.

What it showed was an institution influenced more by culture than by faith. Also, it forced me to rethink my own faith and look at things from a different perspective since Evangelicalism was not working in my life and had come to end of itself as reflected above.  It did not affect my faith in Jesus as my Lord and King, only my interpretation of what it means to be a Christian.

Thus in the next blog post, I will write about David Bebbington’s Evangelical Quadrangle discussing the four elements associated with evangelicalism. I will then write about some of the alternatives to evangelicalism within Christendom such as Progressive Christianity, Emergent Christianity, and Eastern Orthodoxy as places where those that consider themselves Post-Evangelical can land. All of these streams still recognize that Jesus is the arch-type of humanity, divine, and judge of the living and the dead.

More Eldredge – Rewards

My family and I go to the Ohio Renaissance  Festival for most weekends of the months of September and October.  It is a place where we can play dress up/make believe and live in a world of make believe and fantasy (I love the fantasy and sci-fi genre in movies, TV, and literature).  My fiancee loves to dress in long dresses and corsets and I like to dress up as a Celtic Warrior.  Anyway, at the festival they have different shows to watch and one of them that has been around forever is the “mud show”.  

One of the mud shows that are presented is a classic retelling of Beowulf.  They do it in all of it’s glory where the actors all are caked in mud by the end of the show.

In the classic medieval poem about the hero Beowulf defeating the evil Grendal and his mother Heindall:

Then Halfdane’s son presented Beowulf with a gold standard as a victory gift, an embroidered banner; also breast-mail and a helmet; and a sword carried high, that was both precious object and token of honor.7

Beowulf was given a reward for defeating Grendal.  When Jesus comes back or we go home to be with Him when all things are restored on the other side and accounts are settled, we will receive our reward.  Jesus writes in the Sermon on the Mount:

11 “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me.12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew5:11-12&version=CSB
The Apostle Paul writes to those that are in Colossae:

Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people,knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. – Colossians 3:22-24 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Colossians3:22-24&version=CSB
Even though we may be falsely accused because of our faith in Christ, or feel like our work does not mean much, yet as each person works into the Lord they will be richly rewarded in the life to come.

Eldredge writes:

Reward, reward, reward—it fills the pages of both Testaments. Saint Paul expected to be rewarded for his service to Christ, as have the saints down through the ages. Patrick, that mighty missionary to the Irish, prayed daily, “In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward. . . . So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.”10
In conclusion, our kids, Lily and Kayli got to take part of the knighting ceremony where they were given a new name by the Queen (Queen Elizabeth).  Lily loves swimming and water, so she was given the title, Princess Mermaid Lily.  That was part of her reward for the day just as we will be rewarded at the end of the age.

Hope in a Dark World

Sunday, November 3, 2017 was like any other day with my family.  We got up, had breakfast, and then went to church, and then came home and had lunch.  Sometime in the afternoon, I received a news feed that there was a mass shooting in a church in Texas.  My heart sank as I read the headline.  Twenty-six people died, and many more were injured.  The shooter supposedly had anger issues and spent some time in a military prison for domestic violence.  

Continue reading “Hope in a Dark World”

Family

Family photoTrue Relationships

31 His mother and his brothers came, and standing outside, they sent word to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him and told him, “Look, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters[fn] are outside asking for you.”

33 He replied to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers? ” 34 Looking at those sitting in a circle around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Mark 3:31-35 CSB)

In about 5 months, I will be getting married.  This is my second marriage, and this is my fiancée’s third marriage.  I am excited to see what God does in both of our lives individually and as a couple as we become one.  It also got me thinking about family.  What is a family?  In my case it will be a blended family.  She has a daughter from her late husband who is 11, and I have a daughter from my ex-wife who is 7.  Above is a picture of our family this past summer at the Serpent Mound in Peeble’s Ohio.

It also got me thinking of my church family.  Right now, I am not part of a church community even though I have been attending an evangelical church in Sunbury.  I have been hurt deeply by organized religion and by people who are leaders within the church.  Hindsight being 20/20, I have to give grace to those leaders because the church is full of people who are BOTH SAINT and SINNER who are also elders, deacons, Pastors, board members, etc.   Sometimes the sins committed against me were sins of commission and sometimes they were sins of omission. Yet, we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and all of us are both incredibly gifted and talented, and incredibly broken at the same time who are frail, proud, weak, and in need of God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:9-10).  Sometimes the pain was through disappointment where some of my expectations were not met, or other times, the leaders expectations were not met.  Either way, we have all sinned.  Yet at the same time where hurt and disappointment can be experienced, so can mercy forgiveness, and grace.  The only one that is perfect, is our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.  I like what Arba wrote in her blog:

Last Christmas our church disbanded. I’ve been through church breakups and crumbles before and they are never a good thing. The church is for the sick, not the well, and never is this reality  more evident than when we forget it. We are attending and in the process of joining a different church. I like to think I’m going in with my eyes open. We are all human, we come together to learn and worship, we bring all our sins and all our gifts to the table. We will be family, sharing together in laughter and in loss. We will all sin against each other and be brought back into fellowship again through Jesus Christ. You can’t pick your brothers and sisters in Christ anymore than you pick your genetic family — you just have to commit to love one another despite the cost. This is the Christian church and being able to find unity in Christ is a glory.

Arba makes some profound points that some of us forget.  First, the church is for the sick and not the well.  It is a hospital, and not a country club (Luke 5:31).  Second, we cannot pick our brothers and Sisters-in-Christ, just as much as I cannot pick my genetic brother.  Healthy families and churches is where love in Christ is fully realized by each person.  In that love for our brothers and sisters, that sacrificial love, God is glorified, and unity happens (John 17:21; 23).  The Apostle Paul writes:

Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit ​— ​just as you were called to one hope[fn] at your calling ​— ​ one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:1-6 CSB)

What I love about the above passage in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is that he talks about bearing with one another in love, and making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (shalom).  In the Greek, ἀνέχω literally means to show tolerance.  The CSB translates this phrase as bearing with one another in love.  It is difficult to show tolerance to those that are different than yourself, yet in Christ, tolerance can be displayed.  The other word that I find interesting is the Greek, σπουδάζω which literally means to “make every effort”.  Unity just doesn’t naturally happen.  Unity happens when we make an effort or being diligent to preserve what Christ through the Holy Spirit has brought together.  Divisions, disunity, and destructive relationships happen when there isn’t an effort to preserve what God has assembled.  The bond that preserves the unity is peace. 

When I briefly attended the Unitarian church this past summer, tolerance and unity is a huge value in that denomination.  The leaders are aware that there is tension in keeping the unity when so many of us have come from different religious backgrounds.  They talk about that tension often as they preserve their historical background when it comes to their denomination and religious practices.  I think as Christians we can learn from their conversations what it means to be unified in diversity and to keep the bond of peace as the means by which the church is unified.

Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day, and this year is the 500th anniversary of when it started.  Supposedly on October 31, 1517, a Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther posted 95 Theses (which was written in Latin and translated into German) against the Catholic practices of selling indulgences.  Due to the printing press mass producing this document, many cities in Germany and in the Holy Roman Empire, rebelled against corruption, non- biblical practices like selling indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church.  We all one way or another have been influenced either directly or indirectly by the Reformation.

I was influenced by the Protestant Reformation directly since I became a Christian and learned of grace when my family attended Upper Arlington Lutheran Church when I was a teenager.  For confirmation, we had to write a paper on Luther and through that learned the four great virtues of the Protestant Reformation.  They are:

  • Sola Scripture – by scripture alone;
  • Sola Gratia – by grace alone;
  • Sola Fide – by faith alone;
  • Sola Christus – by Christ alone.

The virtue I resonate the most with is Sola Gratia – by Grace alone.  I was a seeker, and the danger for those of us who are seekers are to try to earn our salvation.  When I met with Pastor Wessell, the Senior Pastor who was going to confirm me, he reminded me that salvation was a gift.  We have been saved through grace received by faith, not of ourselves (Eph. 2:8-9).  I could never earn God’s favor, and just like Luther, it brought tremendous freedom into my life and put me on a path of being used by the Lord to teach his word and put a love in my heart for his truth found in scripture.

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I love this quote from Luther about being United in Christ from his Galatians Commentary:

Since Christ is now living in me, He abolishes the Law, condemns sin, and destroys death in me. These foes vanish in His presence. Christ abiding in me drives out every evil. This union with Christ delivers me from the demands of the Law, and separates me from my sinful self. As long as I abide in Christ, nothing can hurt me.

For Luther, Christ was his life, and everything hinged on him being “United with Christ”.  He is a example of what it means to practice God’s Presence daily moment by moment.  When Christ lives on me all evil within had to flee.  The main point from the above passage, is “as long as I abide in Christ, nothing can hurt me.”  I can really relate to that statement.  We are most free, I am most free when I abide in God’s love (John 15:9).