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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Unchristian Thoughts, Part Deux

Wow! Yesterday I was just trying to write a small interesting point, and (something that sadly happens to me), did not express the point as well as I could have or should have :-( Well, my apologies, and never being afraid to rush in where angels fear to tread, here goes again...

I wrote yesterday:

You can see that the largest emphasis was placed on living a *good* life, living by the ten commandments, not doing wrong things. In fact, Kinnaman's book discusses that many of these *born again* Christians seem to have a works component of their faith: that they must consistently do certain things in order to be considered forgiven. Some think that there may be other ways to heaven besides believing in Christ.

Let me make it clear that every person is entitled to believe whatever he chooses: I am NOT preaching here. However, if these beliefs are held, they are not consistent with Biblical Christianity.

Philangelus, a dear friend and someone never willing to let me go on in error (I am so grateful to her) was troubled by this statement, and responded:

I disagree with your interpretation of the facts. These people found these things as priorities not because "living a good life" and "learning about Christ" were "works that will get them into Heaven" but rather because they were, as the survey says, "important priorities for a Christian to pursue in terms of his or her faith."

The Bible itself says that faith naturally manifests itself in good works (the book of James) and that our good deeds are the only things that follow us into the next life (Revelation) and Jesus said, "If you love me, do what I tell you."

In other words, these things BECOME priorities because of what we hold dear. They are the proof of our love of God rather than the substance of our love of God or the reason for God to love us. Are they important? Absolutely, the same way you don't love your husband only because he brings you roses on Valentine's Day but you accept those roses as a sign that he deeply loves you and wants to make you happy.

Good point! She is correct that attempting to live a good life is certainly a component of the Christian life. James, after all, states that "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:20) A Christian who does not demonstrate changes in how he or she lives can reasonably expect others to become skeptical of the conversion.

I totally agree with this. Philangelus and Rosslyn, and anyone else, I hope I got the point and answered it correctly? If not I'm hopeless, and I'll stick to posting cute emails that people send me instead of trying to expound on things beyond my ken.

Now, back to the point I was so awkwardly trying to make yesterday:

I believe many people call themselves a Christian because they did an altar call when they were 12, or did *The Jesus Thing* for awhile in youth group, or go to church. However, they may not hold some of the foundational beliefs that are clearly articulated in Scripture.

One of the most frightening passages for me is Matthew 7:21-23, when Jesus is speaking:

"Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'"

As a Christian who accepts Christ as Lord, I take from this passage that one must be very careful of what he believes. I believe that the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, are reliable and sufficient to convey the orthodox or *correct/complete* understanding of the Christian faith. A person is entitled to believe anything he wants; however, if you are going to call yourself a Christian, you should play by the rules and hold to the Christian doctrine. I came to my faith through studying the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus --> the evidence established to my satisfaction that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, therefore he was who he said he was, therefore the Scriptures are reliable for information pertaining to God. (Anyone with questions about these statements, feel free to write if you wish to engage in a friendly and polite debate).

Kinnaman's book in his survey statistics seemed to support some trouble spots that I occasionally run across in my own conversations with Christians, say at church:

1. A Works Doctrine: I hold to the idea that there is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation; it is all through the Lord. Ephesians 2:8-9: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." There are many other verses to support this idea also. If someone tries to emphasize living by rules, not sinning etc., they MAY (repeat MAY) have the wrong emphasis -- the ability to live well comes from within, not from following external rules. This is what I was referring to yesterday. I throw this thought out more for someone to ask himself if this applies (because it does to all of us, to some degree) and take corrective measures to emphasize God's glory and gift, not our ability to be *worthy* by doing something to earn salvation.

There are many thoughts about the role of the person versus the role of God. An interesting article that discusses the role of purgatory for salvation is here. As a Protestant I do not believe in the concept of Purgatory (2 Cor 5:6-8), but respect those who do and do not consider this a Deal-Breaker within the Christian faith; rather this is something that can be debated in-house.

I'm not going to argue Calvinism versus Arminianism either. The roles of the Holy Spirit versus the Human spirit in salvation are deep mysteries that I don't want to attempt to debate. I simply want to make the point that we must rely on the Holy Spirit, not our own power, in order to live righteously.

2. Multiple Salvations: that there are other ways to salvation besides Christ. Again, any person is entitled to believe what he or she wants, but traditional Christianity says that no one comes to the Father except through Christ. (John 14:6) This in my opinion is a nonnegotibable point of understanding of Christianity, since it is repeated often in the Scriptures and never ever contradicted.

I've had several discussions with self-identified Christians who seem to think that being a *good* person is good enough to be reconciled with God. Many people who are not Christian also believe that *things will even out* and on balance they'll be OK. As much as I wish this were true, I don't believe that the Scriptures support this conclusion.


OK, I hope these points better express what I was trying to say yesterday! These are my understandings of Scripture.

What do you think? What are the deal-breakers for Christianity? Is Christianity the *only* way to be reconciled with God in the first place, or do all belief systems have truth? If you believe in Christianity but I am a Buddhist, and we both live good lives, can't we both be right?

Anne pointed out yesterday that Christianity is a relationship with the Lord, not a religion per se -- so what is the difference? Can you HAVE a relationship with Someone who you can't see, or hear, or touch?

Wat about Luther's insistence on Sola Scriptura? Any thoughts?

Have an awesome day!


Jane Lebak said...

Thank you for clarifying.

I've heard many,many people arguing against a pure-works doctrine. And yet I have NEVER in my entire life heard anyone preach a pure-works doctrine. ie, "Do this and you go to heaven." Anyone I've ever met who had the slightest idea about Heaven also understood that we could never possibly merit such a gift on our own.

I won't get into my opinions on sola scriptura in a com box, but if you want to email me, you can be properly horrified in the privacy of your own home.

As for multiple salvations, here's my understanding of the matter: everyone who is saved and entered Heaven does so only because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That he opened the way and therefore he is the only way.

But many people don't accept him directly. In such cases, I believe that God will accept actions done in the name of those individuals' higher good (whatever it may be: Judaism, Buddhism, whatever) as done in His name, and then allow them entrance to Heaven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The Divine Mercy is so great that as human beings, we can't possibly fathom all the ways that God loves us and wants to reach our hearts.

On my blog last week, I discussed having a relationship with God when you can't see or hear him with your senses.

And as for a deal-breaker? It's got to be rejecting the Holy Spirit and the "sin that kills" as referred to in the letters of John. Sins so great that when undertaken willingly and with full understanding of what we're doing, actually cut us off from the love of God.

Krista Phillips said...

I agree *grin* Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE light. The only way to the Father is through Him.

And I also agree with the point that good works don't get you to heaven, but are the evidence of your new relationship with God. This comes over time though and is a growing process:-)

Travis said...

While you can't and shouldn't dismiss James and those scriptures, and while you can't dismiss that those good works are valid and important, you must also recognize that most popular televangelists are now preaching a man centered gospel.

Joel Osteen is a lot about pop psychology and not much about righteousness and repentance. When you are fed a diet of "do good things" and "sow good seeds" without an understanding of God’s holiness, you tend to place emphasis on them for the wrong reasons. Good works should grow from the soil of repentance and righteousness, not from the soil of self centeredness (if that's even a word).

Excellent discussion, Amy. Good job!

Anne Lang Bundy said...

I thought I'd said enough yesterday, but I guess I'm back in this discussion.

I missed the remark about Purgatory when I read this post earlier today. This is most definitely a make or break issue. Jesus died once for all sins. When He declared "It is finished!" He meant it. To believe in Purgatory goes right back to man being a part of gaining salvation for himself. We don't gain it by works, not even the work of serving time in Purgatory. If you open the door to Purgatory, how much else do you say we must do to gain our salvation apart from faith?

Second, sola Scriptura means Scripture is our only authority. Period. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the Word of God. He is Scripture, and He is the only Way, the only Authority. It is by the Holy Spirit's empowerment that we understand and apply Scripture.

[Travis, you posted two comments to different posts. I missed this one until you asked about it on FB.]

I agree with Travis' comment that "Good works should grow from the soil of repentance and righteousness, not from the soil of self-centeredness." The whole point is that no man performs good works of self. Ever. Not before or after repentance. It's only when "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2.20). Any "good" works I'm doing are because I'm yielded to the work of God through me. Jesus said no one is good but God.

Andra M. said...

Interesting discussion, Amy! Thank you for bringing up the subject.

If you don't mind a shameless plug, I wrote a piece that addresses the argument about the so-called exclusivity of Christianity (Worry not. It's short):

My Way or No WayMany people scoff at the Christian belief that only through Jesus will any person will make it to heaven. It is seen as exclusive, because anyone who doesn’t believe, no matter how good or kind, will be doomed to hell for all eternity. It’s a club they can never get into, as though God will take only a certain kind of people, the rest be damned. "That's a petty, bigoted God no thoughtful person should worship."

Let’s look at this another way.

I receive an invitation to a party from a friend. I show up at his home at the appointed time. It could either be a fancy mansion with many wings and rooms and surrounded by a massive granite wall no one could scale without a ladder. It could also be a small one-room house with a short wooden fence even a small child could step over without trouble. It doesn’t matter.

Do I run through the darkened back yard, climb the side fence, or sneak through a window, or do I walk to the front, open the gate, and knock on the door?

Jesus is the gate to heaven. It's never locked and swings both ways. Every human has been sent an invitation to his house. It’s up to us whether or not to accept it, and arrive as any considerate person would.

Through the front door.

Jane Lebak said...

Anne, you don't understand the doctrine of Purgatory at all. If that were it, I wouldn't believe in it either. It has nothing whatsoever to do with earning one's way into Heaven. What it has to do with is the trial of our souls by fire, the final purification of ourselves to remove the last of our unholiness so we be like God and see Him as He is.

There's a very informative article about it here:

Amy, the 2 Corinthians verse you cited doesn't seem to have anything whatsoever to do with Purgatory.

Anne Lang Bundy said...


Please forgive me if it came across that I “don’t understand the doctrine of Purgatroy at all.” I was Roman Catholic from birth until age 23, and am a product of thorough indoctrination into Roman Catholicism via my father (a Roman Catholic lay deacon), private Catholic education, and extensive private study. Numerous Roman Catholic relatives and the news keep me abreast of the evolution of Roman doctrine (e.g., Limbo).

If we first agree that Scripture is our canon for faith (as does Mr. Shea in the linked article you mention), then we shall neither go beyond Scripture nor assert that where Scripture is non-specific we are free to define doctrine through conjecture. While the Holy Spirit does illuminate and guide us in the use of Scripture, He does not write doctrine, nor does any human.

The Scriptures Mr. Shea cites are specific concerning only sanctification. Romans 7:17-8:11 clearly establishes that while the soul is not subject to condemnation or penalty for sin if it is “in Christ,” sin continues to dwell in the flesh (and we are indeed subject to the consequences of that sin). The presence of sin and process of sanctification exists only while the soul dwells in the flesh. At the point of physical death, the soul is set free from all corruption of the flesh and the need for further sanctification. Did Jesus not tell the thief on the cross, “This day you shall be with me in Paradise?”

The Maccabees passage Mr. Shea cites refers to prayers being made for the dead. 1) The Apocryphal books included in Roman Catholic Bibles were not included with the canon of Scripture by either compilers of the Septuagint or the early church (though the Apocrypha is an invaluable historical document). 2) Even if Maccabees were accepted as Scriptural, the documentation of Jews offering prayers for the dead (whether in the present or Maccabean era) does not establish the existence of Purgatory.

Jesus speaking of forgiveness in both this age and the age to come simply affirms that those apart from Christ are condemned in both ages. It cannot be applied to those "in Christ," who do not experience full freedom from the consequences of sin in this age. When we pray, “forgive us our debts [sins] as we forgive our debtors [those who sin against us],” we pray only regarding the very real penalty of unforgiveness in the present age. Forgiving our debtors sets both parties free. If we carry part of sin’s debt and penalty into the age to come, then Jesus’ death proved insufficient to pay the whole debt. Heresy!

I maintain that eternal life begins at the point when we submit ourselves to purchase by Christ’s blood. Our level of cooperation with the process of sanctification until physical death is a matter of our free will empowered by the Holy Spirit.

I encourage anyone who argues for the existence of Purgatory to do a careful and prayerful study of Romans, especially chapters 6-8.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

P.S. Praise the Lord that salvation of all who are in Christ—whether they wear the label Roman Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox or none at all—is based on our relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior rather than on our human knowledge! I look forward to the day when all of us will have perfect understanding and knowledge in the Presence of Christ.

Jane Lebak said...

Anne, you are obviously very, very angry at the Catholic Church, and I'm sorry to have upset you.

But you clearly don't or didn't understand Purgatory because your comment that Purgatory constitutes a second chance or a means of working one's way into Heaven. It's neither of those things, only our final purification before entering the All Holy Presence of God Most High. So while you might have been Catholic for 23 years, something got missed.

The books you're calling the Apocrypha were always in the Bible until Martin Luther removed them. Maccabees is cited in the Book of Hebrews; Jerome translated all of them. The Church Fathers commented on all of them. They were accepted as canon (and still are by the Orthodox and the Catholics) until Martin Luther moved them into an appendix, as he also tried to do with Revelation and the Book of James.

I'm not going to argue with you point by point in Amy's combox. This is a very positive and supportive weblog, and neither of us is going to convince the other of anything. But please don't think Catholics actually believe what you're saying we believe, because we don't.

I'm sorry you're angry at Catholicism, and I'm glad you've found a better home for your heart.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

Philangelus, I'm not angry at anyone, including you. But I did allow my pride to color the edge on my words. Shame on me. My apologies to Amy and all her readers.

Travis said...

As I’m not Catholic, and never have been, I really don’t have a dog in this fight. However, I would like to point out a few things for consideration. Martin Luther was a devout Catholic, to the point that he was willing to bear the heat of Rome in order to point out fallacies within their practices and doctrines. When he separated from the church, it was at great cost to him. If he saw the need to remove the books from the Catholic’s cannon, then he must have had a reason. While the Maccabees might have been cited in Hebrews, that is not sufficient reason to endorse it. Judas Iscariot and Simon the Magician were both quoted in the Bible. These are protestant vs. Catholic issues.

Historically, the Baptists NEVER had the apocrypha in their Bible, and they never had the Maccabees included at an authority. They remained completely independent from the “church” throughout all of the history of the church, and through all of the medieval era when the Catholics gained so much power.

This was offered to bring another perspective that none have mentioned yet.