2005-04-15

A REALIST View of Salvation

A REALIST View of Salvation

For the past 400 years, the debate in Protestant Soteriology (the study of salvation) has focused almost entirely on two alternatives: Calvinism and Arminianism. The outline of this debate has been centered around the five cardinal points of Calvinist Soteriology summed up in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. The debate has been basically an affirmation of the five points of the TULIP on one side, and a denial of these points on the other. For at least 400 years (or more, since essentially the same debate was going on in the Catholic Church long before the Reformation) no new information has been added, nor have any radically new perspectives been looked at (with the possible exception of Karl Barth). The debate has mainly centered around one side twisting the other side's "proof texts" to fit their own agendas. The basics of this debate are summed up below:

T = Total Depravity

Calvinist perspective: People are hopelessly lost in sin and have no way of finding God on their own.

Arminian perspective: People are very, very lost, but God has showered creation with general, or prevenient, grace so that all people can find Him if they so choose.

U = Unconditional Election

Calvinist perspective: God elects certain people to salvation based on His good pleasure, and nothing else. In some versions of Calvinism, God creates people He hates and destines them to hell. In other versions of Calvinism, God creates all people to Love, but "passes over" some to be lost to hell (although He does not create them for hell).

Arminian perspective: God elects people based on foreknowing that they will have faith in Him. God elects people because He foresees that they will choose Him first.

L = Limited Atonement

Calvinist perspective: Jesus only died to take away the sins of the elect.

Arminian perspective: Jesus died to take away the sins of everyone, on the condition that they have faith in Him.

I = Irresistible Grace

Calvinist perspective: The Holy Spirit makes people choose to have faith, no matter how they feel about it.

Arminian perspective: The Holy Spirit does all He can to bring people to Jesus, but they can refuse at any time.

P = Perseverance of the Saints

Calvinist perspective: Once saved, someone cannot loose salvation.

Arminian perspective: Once saved, someone's free will always gives them the chance to reject Christ.

There are many permutations of these two polar opposite interpretations of the TULIP, and many thinkers who try to intermix these two. However, all views that rotate around the axis of the TULIP seem to me to suffer from the following flaws:

First, there is no explicit place for God's Love here. It is presumed implicitly, but not explicitly mentioned. Furthermore, Love is seen as a subset of God's sovereignty, not vice versa. Therefore, it seems that God's Love is relegated to a second class position behind such concepts as sin and election. Clearly, if God's Love and goodness are the reason for election and salvation, then this should be clearly stated and put in a primary position. The tangible effect of putting God's Love in second place in our Theology is that we will tend to put Love in second place in our own lives.

Second, TULIP confuses the actions of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the economy of salvation and atonement. TULIP assumes that it is Christ's work alone that saves people, when actually Christ's work is never alone. It is accompanied by the work of the Father and the Spirit. It is better to see salvation as a Trinitarian act, done by the separate persons of God, with each piece fitting together like a puzzle to accomplish salvation. The Father Loves every person, but allowed all to fall away into death by their own choice. The Son came to atone for all men on the condition of faith, but no one came to faith because they were too sinful. Therefore the Father elected some unconditionally to have faith. The Spirit then comes and calls those elect to faith, which they would not have come to if left to their own devices. Likewise, to be acceptable to God, a true legal payment for sin and guilt is necessary. This is payment present in the Son. However, an acceptance of this payment for sins by faith is necessary as well. The gift is of no use if there is no faith to open it. This faith is accomplished through the Spirit. Man can neither get to God without the payment or the faith. They don't work without each other. Therefore, God gives both, to His glorious praise! This view that the Atonement is unlimited and conditional has been upheld by Reformed thinkers throughout the ages, notably the 18th century French Theologian Amyraut and the Amyraldians, and in the current era by Millard Erickson in "Christian Theology" and Gordon R. Lewis & Bruce A. Demerest in "Integrative Theology".

Third, TULIP focuses on the individual to the exclusion of the Church or the greater community. There is an underlying assumption that salvation is just a "me and Jesus" thing, when in fact the family of God has much to do with it. Salvation is not just the individual and Jesus. It is Jesus, His family, and the individual. Any theory of election and salvation cannot just focus on the God-individual dynamic. It must also take into account the prayer and action of the Church, for it is the Church that is God's instrument to share the Gospel with others. In truth, salvation almost never happens as the result of Jesus appearing directly to a person without the aid of His Church. In 99.99% of all cases, the Church is the direct means through which an individual comes to know Jesus personally. Therefore any accurate theory of salvation MUST deal with the action of the Church.

For these reasons, and many more, it is time to uproot the TULIP and plant a more realistic model of salvation. Here, represented by the acronym "REALIST" is a different, more comprehensive, model of salvation to replace the less comprehensive models used by both Calvinists and Arminians.

R = Relational Love:

God created all people, each and every person, the whole world, to share His Love and be in relationship with Him and each other. God is Love and desires a Love relationship with each and every person (Mat. 22:36-40, 1Jn 4:8, 16, John 3:16-19, 1Ti 2:1-6, 4:9-10). He even Loves the weak and destroyed (1Co 8:10-11). He does not want anyone to die, not even the wicked, nor does He take pleasure in their death (2Pe 3:9, Eze 18, 33:11, 2Sa 14:14). He wants us to Love our enemies (Mat 5:43-48), just as He is perfect and Loves His enemies (Rom 5:6-11, 9:19-24, 2Pe 2:1).

In the Bible, only one person is ever said to be "hated" by God before they were born or did anything (Rom 9:11-13, cf. Mal 1:2-3), and even at that it can be seen: (a) That both the Hebrew 'san-e' and Greek 'miseo' carry the meaning "passing over", or "overlooking in preference to another", not just the sense of personal animosity. (b) This "hating Esau and loving Jacob… before either did anything good or bad", was done with God's foreknowledge that all men (including them) were dead in sin by nature, and would choose sin freely. Therefore He chose one out of two who were already dead. Both would be hated (or passed over) "before they were born" due to God's allowance of sin if it were not for God's Election (see below). The same word for "hate" is used by Jesus to say that a person must "hate" their family and friends in preference for Christ (Luke 14:26). This does not mean to have animosity towards them, or desire their harm. Rather it means to turn from one toward the other.

All of this is to say that God hates no one in the sense of having personal animosity for them and willing their destruction. God does, however, pass over some in preference to others because of the hardness of their hearts and the actions of His children. God Loves everyone, but God has also designed the human race in such a way that His Love is shared with individuals through community. Specifically, He allows His own Love to be spread or restricted by the decisions of His family (see below).

E = Entire Corruption:

We have all become disconnected from God, through the sins of our forefathers and our own choice to refuse the light we have. We are utterly lost and unable bring ourselves back to God. God, in His Love, allowed (but did not decree) that each and every man would fall away into sin and death due to their free will. All men are hopelessly lost. No one can do good before God, and no-one, naturally, even wants to do unselfish good or seek after God. All are dead in sin (Rom 1-3, 5:12-21, 1Jn 1:8-10, Ecc 7:29, Jer 17:9, Isa 53:6, 64:6-7, Eph 2:1-3, Tit 3:3). This sin deeply hurts God (Gen 6:3-6, Luk 19:41-42, Eph 4:30, Isa 63:10, 1Sa 15:35), and it hurts mankind and destroys all of Creation (Rom 1, Gen 3).

Therefore, sinners must die and the just punishment of this sin is eternal, burning, solitary confinement apart from God and anyone else, so that sin is isolated from ever hurting anyone or anything ever again (Rom 6:23, Prov 14:12, Gen 2:17, 3:19, Gal 6:7-8, Jas 1:15, Mat 13:41-42, 1Co 6:9-10, Rev 20:14-15, 21:8, Isa 3:11, Eze 18:4, 18:20, Rom 5:12). All of us are hopelessly lost sheep who need a Shepherd to save us (Isa 53:6, Eze 34:15-16, Mat 18:12-14, Joh 10).

A = Absolute Grace:

If there is to be salvation and restoration of an individual back to God, it has to be entirely by the Father's grace, because we are unable to merit it. God initiates and brings to fulfillment an individual person's salvation. This is His grace- the totally free, unmerited gift of God to sinners who could never deserve His salvation (Deu 9:4-6, Exo 33:19, Rom 3:27-28, 4:4-5, 9:16, 9:11-12, 11:6, 1Co 4:7, Gal 2:21, 5:4, Eph 1:3-14, 2:4-9, 2Ti 1:9, Tit 3:5).

Paul makes it clear that man's salvation is not given based on man's own willing or striving (Rom. 9:16). Salvation is not based on a man's outer merit (striving for good works), nor is it based on his inner merit (a willingness to have faith). This is because man, in sin, is stone cold dead to God. Rather, it is merely because of God's Love and mercy that a person is saved.

L = Limitless, Conditional Atonement:

In order to open the door to forgiveness, God Himself took our sin, and its consequence of death, on Himself as Jesus Christ. Jesus died to take away each and every person's sins, on the condition that they accept His payment by faith.

God came as the God-Man Christ Jesus and died to take the penalty for each and every person's sin. This substitutionary sacrifice must be accepted on faith to become effective for a person. No where is Jesus' death ever applied to anyone who does not meet the condition of faith and acceptance of that sacrifice. See Isa 53 (esp. v 6), John 1:1-13, 3:16-18, 4:42, 6:51-54, 11:25-26, 12:32, 1Jo 1:7, 2:2, 4:10-14, Mark 16:16, 2Co 5:15, Rom 3:25, 1Ti 2:1-6, 4:9-10, Tit 2:11, Heb 2:9, 2:17, 4:15, 9:1-28, 2Pe 2:24, 3:9, 3:18, Heb 2:9, Rev 5:9.

Note also that all of the texts which state that Christ died for the elect can be explained within His death for ALL men, but that the texts that state His death for ALL men cannot be explained within those that say He died for the elect. Thus, if He died for ALL, this automatically explains and includes that He died for the ELECT without twisting Scripture. But if we say He died for only the ELECT, we have to twist the Scripture to make that fit with the texts that say He died for ALL. Therefore we take the simple solution- that He died for ALL, which includes the ELECT, and this death is applicable to people only through the condition of faith.

However, despite this great sacrifice, men are so very corrupt that no one will ever choose to come to faith on their own (Rom 1-3).

I = Incarnational Election:

Even though Jesus died for us, we are still too lost to choose to have faith in Him on our own. Therefore the Father has to elect certain people who He will bring to meet the condition of faith in Christ. Since no one will ever believe in the sacrifice of Christ on their own, the Father unconditionally chooses some men to be specially called to faith (Mat 16:15-17, Joh 6:44, Act 13:48, 16:14, Rom 8:28-11:36, Eph 1, Mat 22:14, John 15:16, 1Pe 1:2-3, 2Sa 14:14). He chooses this completely because of His Love, as released by His children, not because there is anything "good" enough in them to deserve or merit salvation.

This election cannot be by mere Divine fiat (as many Calvinists say), because this would make God the author of evil for intentionally willing some to be evil. God is not evil, nor does he tempt people to be evil by choosing them to be evil (Jam 1:13-18). No matter whether this is an active choice to create two races of people, the saved and the damned, or if it is a passive choice, by saving some and allowing the rest to pass into evil and death, it still leaves God open to the charge of actively choosing to be a party to evil and destruction. If salvation is just a random lottery choice by God, in which on a whim people are saved or damned, then God is a monster. Furthermore, this God is a “god of the philosophers”, abstracted from ideas of complete knowledge and static perfection. It is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of passionate love who reaches out to all people, even to the point of sacrificing His own Son. Thus, the Calvinist version of election does not work out because no matter how subtle it is, it still makes God into an un-fair monster.

But, on the other hand, this election cannot be by choosing people based on foreseen faith (as many Arminians say) because that would make salvation by merit (for those "good" enough to choose faith). It is a cosmic version of “God helps those who help themselves”, because God will only save those who have something inherently good enough in them to be saved. This could be an outward righteousness, in which people do enough good deeds to earn God’s salvific Love. This could be an inward righteousness, in which people have an inherent inclination or desire for faith, that makes them “choosable” by God. Does He choose us because He knows that we will choose Him if He chooses us (a sort of cosmic passive-aggressiveness)? Yet, Jesus clearly says “you did not choose me but I chose you… and I appointed you to go and bear fruit” (John 15.16). Paul goes on to say that our election does not depend on the “willing” or the “effort” of the recipient of salvation, but on His mercy. Both the letters of Roman and Galatians decry any hope of salvation by our merit. Thus the Arminian version of election does not work out because no matter how subtle it is, it is still a version of salvation by works.

Yet, Scripture is clear that “those He foreknew” are those He predestined and called (cf. Rom 8:28-39, Eph 1). If election is not from God’s foreknowledge of His own random whims, nor is it from His foreknowledge of the worthiness of human recipients, then what is His election based on? The question is, what did He foreknow that was instrumental in His choice of those who are elected to be predestined to salvation? What is the divine foreknowledge that is the basis of election? Calvinism’s version of predestination makes God a monster. Arminianism’s version of predestination makes salvation possible only by merit. The truth is that God does not consider the thoughts or actions of the lost in His choice of electing them, because they are His enemies (Rom. 5:10), and dead to Him (Eph. 2:1). If they are just dead corpses to Him, if they are in fact enemies of God, then they warrant no place in His considerations of who will be elect at all. It is nothing INSIDE those who will be elected that God considers in electing them. It must be something OUTSIDE of them altogether, both outside of their personal worthiness, and outside of how God feels or does not feel about them. Rather, I believe that God’s foreknowledge is based in His Son and His Son’s Body as the means to election.

Neither the Arminian nor the Calvinist views have a real place for the Church as Christ's Body, which releases, or binds up, God's Love and forgiveness (John 20:23; Mat. 16:19, 18:18).

The missing ingredient in both Calvinism and Arminianism is the Community (which is corrected by a more sacramental, Orthodox view of theology). Both Calvinism and Arminianism focuses solely on the individual and God with little or no thought about the place of God’s Family, Christ’s Body, in the economy of salvation. How does the Body of Christ function in this economy? Are we merely a self-help society for the sanctified that does little in the world, or are we a genuine conduit of God’s grace to change the world? It is my supposition that He considers the prayers and efforts of His own children as they reach out to the lost.

Scripture says that prayer can be effective and actually causes God to change reality (Mat. 18; Jam. 5:16-18; 1Jo. 3:22). Furthermore, Scripture connects the prayer of believers with the salvation of all people (1Tim. 2:1-5). God has made the Church the continuing incarnation of Christ (1Co. 12; Rom. 12), and it is through this body of believers that the Good News reaches and converts people (Rom. 10:11-17). While it is true that humans cannot choose the good, or do God’s will, apart from God, once we have become new creations in Christ (2Co 5.17), we actually become co-workers with God (1Co 3.9, 12.6; Phil 2:13, 4:13; 1Th 3.2). After we are saved and grafted into the Body of Christ, God actually works in and through us to accomplish His actions. In Christ, we are given the gift of freedom to work with God or to sin (see Rom 6 and 8), and our actions are able to actually bind up or release God’s grace into the world (Mat 16.19, 18.18-20).

God is shown in Scripture to change His course of action due to the intercession of His children. He saved Lot from destruction on the request of Abraham (Gen 19:29). He didn't destroy Israel on account of Moses' requests (Exo 32:14 et al). He added an extra 15 years to Hezekiah's life although He had decreed to that he should die (2Ki 20:1-6). These are just a few of the many times that God "changed His mind" because His holy ones prayed (see Rom 10:13-15; 2Ki 13:18-19, 20:1-6; Jam 5:16-18; 1Jo 3:22; Gen 19:29; Exo 32:9-14; Jon 3:1-10).

Therefore, we look to a new model of election that takes into account the decisions, prayers, and efforts of God's children, the Church, the Body of Christ. Our Father has chosen to allow His family, the Body of His Son, to be the instrument which releases or binds up His Love and forgiveness. Our Father wants everyone to share His Love, but He allows His family to dispense that Love. God, based on His foreknowledge of who His children pray for and reach out to, elects people to be adopted into His family. As the Church, our prayers and actions influence our Father to choose and call certain people into salvation and into His family. God "foreknows" those people His children will reach out to, and chooses them. Just as a human father will not choose to adopt a child into his family that his family rejects, so also our Heavenly Father will not adopt people whom His Church rejects. The Father may elect some directly through the request of Jesus Christ (as in the Twelve Apostles), but the normative way in which God elects people to salvation is through the prayer and effort of His Church.

What about those who are not elect? Unfortunately, Scripture makes it clear that some will be sadly lost to hell, to the sad disappointment of both God and the elect (see Luke 13:23-24; Mat 7:13-14, 25:41; Dan 12:2; Rev 20:15). God foreknew them too, from before eternity. He knew they would lead a life of sin and never come to Him. He also knew that for some reason His own family would not care enough to really reach out to them and Love them unconditionally. Thus He formed them knowing that they were destined for His wrath, not due to His choice, but due to the their own choice, and the apathy of His own family. God constantly nudges His children to spread His Love, since they are the only creatures in all creation who can actually co-operate with Him. Yet, even then the Church, in its hard heartedness, does not reach out to everyone as God desires. Therefore, these people are not elected to salvation and are "passed over" for reprobation and hell (see Eph 2:1-5; Exo 33:19; Rom 9:11-13, 9:19-23, 9:27, 10:16, 11:5, 11:32; Mal 1:2-3; Luke 14:26; Mat 22:14). God leaves them alone and allows them to practice their radical individuality, thereby hardening themselves and heaping up judgment on themselves. God hardens men's hearts because He allows them to harden their own hearts and does nothing to stop their choices (Rom. 1), unlike what He does with the Elect (Rom 9). The non-elect receive justice, whereas the Elect receive mercy and Christ takes their justice in their place.

S = Sure Calling:

The Spirit then specially calls people to come to faith in Christ. Although all men have a sufficient calling in nature (Rom 1), and morality (Rom 2), and in the historicity of Christ (Joh 20:31), none will come to Him through this "general call". Therefore the Spirit specially and specifically calls certain people to faith (Rom 8:28-30, 9:24, Eph 1, 4:1-4, Act 16:14). He regenerates them, gives them a new heart, and makes them want to have faith (John 1:13, 3, 6:44, Jas 1:18, 2Co 5:17, Eph 2:1, 1Jn 4:7, Tit 3:5, Eze 36:23-27). Thus, all men are called- and should respond- but only a few are chosen (Mat 22:14, John 15:16). In this calling, the Holy Spirit does not "force" men to choose God, but rather makes salvation so specially and specifically attractive to the person that they will not fail to eventually choose Christ. Because the Spirit is God, He perfectly knows the heart and mind of each person. He knows how to "woo" them and make Christ look so beautiful to them, that they surely choose Christ without the Spirit ever having to "force" them to choose. Those who are thus specially "called out" by the Spirit (Greek "eklegomai"- John 13:18, 15:16, 15:19, Eph 1:4-6, Jas 2:5) then become God's Elect (Greek "eklektos"- Mat 22:14, 24:22-31, Mark 13:20, Luke 18:7, Rom 8:33, 2Ti 2:10, 1Pe 2:9-10, Rev 17:14).

Two analogies may serve to help us understand how God can "woo" us and call us to Himself, and give us true freedom, and yet assure that our acceptance of His call. The first analogy is that of a couple married for 50 years. The longer one knows another person, the more they know how the other will act in any given situation. A couple married for 50 years can finish each other’s sentences and accurately predict the actions and attitudes of the other in most circumstances because of the personal knowledge they have of each other. As such, they can present things to one another in such a way that the response is almost guaranteed, yet not determined. To take this analogy into the life of salvation, God has absolutely exhaustive knowledge of us, and He can present salvation in such a way that our acceptance of salvation is all but guaranteed, yet in no way coerced or determined. Another analogy would be a to put a person into a drab, blank room, with no furnishings or windows, except for a big bouncy red ball. Eventually anyone put into that room will play with the ball, and the better we know that person, the more we will be able to predict how long it will take for them to play with the ball. God’s offer of salvation is like that. He uses our life experiences to present the world as so drab, and salvation in Christ as so vibrant, that we eventually choose to “play” with Christ without destroying our freedom.

T = Total Security:

The Elect cannot loose salvation- it is based on God’s gift, not their will. They may backslide, but the power of salvation is so great that they will not want to continually choose to deny it AND God will not let them die in a state of denial. In addition, the Spirit seals those who are now God's possession, so that they are never again lost (Joh 6.27, 10.27-29, 14.16-17; 2Co 1.20-22; Eph 1.13-14, 4.30; 2Ti 2.19). After God calls us to Him He is utterly faithful, even though we may want to be faithless. He will complete the good work He started in us (Rom 8:31-39, 14:4, Phi 1:6, 1Co 1:8, 1Th 5:23-24, 2Ti 2:11-13, 2Co 5:5-6, Col 2:6-7, 1Th 1:11, 3:13, 2Th 2:16-17, 3:3, 1Pe 5:10, Num 23:19). He will strengthen and confirm us and help us stand up to the trials we will face (1Co 10:13, Jas 1:2-8, Rom 5:3-5, 2Pe 2:9).

Those who do continually fall away show evidence that they were never truly "born again" from God in the first place (Heb 6 &10, Luk 8). As John says: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." (1Jo. 2:19) The only ultimate sin is to die denying Christ and not truly knowing Him, thereby attributing the work of Christ and His Holy Spirit to the Devil (Mat 7, 12:31-32, 1Jn 5:16, Mat 10:33, Luk 12:9, 2Ti 2:12). Those who die in this manner were never truly saved. Though they may have been involved with Christianity for a time, and had an intellectual belief in God, but they "fell away" from it because they were never truly part of it (Luk 8, Mat 24:10). Those who truly are "born again" will bear the fruit of good works in their life. A person with no fruit is the sign of a person with dead, or non-existent, faith. But a person with true faith will "bloom" with the fruit of Love (Jas 2). We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but apart from Him we can do nothing (Phi 4:13, John 15:5). Paul sums it up best:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Are we created things as humans? Yes. Can any created thing anywhere separate us from God's Love that He has saved the elect with? No. Therefore can we separate ourselves from, and deny ourselves of, His salvation? No. If we try, God will let such misery into our lives and show us with such clarity the joy of His ways that we will be drawn back and choose Him. He will make sure that He woos us back to Him. We are His sheep- and our Shepherd won't loose us: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30)

It is important to realize that even in the most powerful passages used to teach against "Total Security" of the Elect (Heb. 6 and 10), the context shows that the writer is speaking to people with real faith that "accompanies salvation". These are people who "believe and are saved". They are SECURE in their salvation.

"Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case-- things that accompany salvation." (Heb 6:9)

"But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved." (Heb 10:38-39)

The warnings issued in these passages (and in other passages used to teach that a person can "loose" or "forfeit" salvation), are aimed at people who have false faith- a fake faith built on selfish motives to manipulate God. It must always be remembered that false faith is extremely deceptive- even to the hearts of those who possess it (Jer 17:9). They can convince themselves of faith even though they have no relationship to Christ. And, in convincing themselves they can convince others and the Church. It is something that ultimately can be known only to God. In this age it is like weeds among God's crop (Mat 13). We do not know who is a weed and who is elect. It must be remembered that God has called all men through creation, morality, and the historical fact of Christ. All men SHOULD be able to come to Christ, but our sin stops us. We are all guilty and deserve Hell. Therefore we only come when God specially calls us and brings us to be "re-born", or "born from above" (John 3). Since God is the only thing that can ever bring us new life or sustain our new life, then for Him to let us fall away would be the spiritual equivalent of infanticide. We can be assured our God does not allow His elect children to be spiritually aborted, even by their own hand. Therefore, in viewing the totality of God's Word, we see that his "falling away" warnings are meant as warnings against people with false faith who do things in Christ's name but never really knew Him (Mat 7). It serves as a constant warning to us all to double check ourselves and see if our faith and practice is pleasing to God.

Is REALIST more realistic?

The REALIST view of salvation presented here is not totally new. There are many aspects that line up with traditional Calvinism, and at least one (limitless atonement) that lines up with Arminianism. To be sure, this view is much more Augustinian-Calvinist than it is Arminian or anything else. Yet, I believe that it is much more realistic because it fully takes into account the following three things: First, it takes seriously God's Love for all creation and every person, while at the same time realizing that God normatively shares His Love through His community, the Church. Second, it takes seriously the differences in the roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit in salvation, realizing that the salvific act is not completed by only one person, but is a synergy among all three persons. Third, it takes seriously the role of the Church and the efficacy of the work and prayers of God's people. In this, it also takes seriously the apathy of God's people and the consequences of our activity or inactivity to share Christ's Love.

The main issue I could see being raised against the REALIST view is this: Does this view take glory away from God and give it to His Church? Does it contradict "Sola Dei Gloria"? If election is normally triggered by the intercession of the Church, then isn't it the Church (and not God) that receives the glory? I think not, on at least two counts. First, the motivation for the Church to intercede and evangelize comes from God. If it were not for the Spirit of God moving in the hearts of His people, there would be no desire for prayer or outreach. The Church may cooperate with God's Love and grace, but it does not create God's Love and grace. Secondly, it is not the Church that actually turns hearts toward Christ. They may ask for God to turn people's hearts, and they may provide information and service to make the Gospel attractive and reasonable, but the Church cannot work in someone's heart and mind to turn them to Jesus. Only God can do that work of conversion. We are just the folks who ask God to do so. So, in summary we would have to say that all the glory is God's in salvation because it is He that moves His children to reach out to the lost and it is He that opens the hearts and minds of the lost to accept Christ.

In the end, the question is this: does the REALIST view of salvation best fit the facts of God's revelation? Is it the best model to understand the Triune economy of salvation, and the interaction of God and His people to reach the lost? Only time, and the judgment of God's people, will tell if the REALIST view of salvation is more realistic than views that revolve around the Calvinist TULIP. Until then, you decide. Which view best meshes with the Biblical data?

2005-04-04

THE RISE AND FALL OF CONFIRMATION

Confirmation is a sacrament that has its origins (like all sacraments) in the life of the Apostles who followed Jesus. You might say that the first confirmation was administered by Christ Himself when He poured out the Holy Spirit upon His disciples at Pentecost, giving them the power to preach, teach, pray, heal, and perform miracles (see Acts 2). This empowerment by the Holy Spirit was Christ's "confirmation" of His Apostles and their mission to spread His Gospel everywhere. Every place they preached, their message was confirmed by the gifts of Christ's Spirit working powerfully in them.

In like manner, once a group of people came to Christ through public confession of Jesus as their Lord (usually accompanied by Baptism), the Apostles would lay hands on them and pray for them to receive the power of the Holy Spirit so they could also minister Christ to others. The Holy Spirit would them come and empower these new disciples with spiritual gifts, including powerful preaching, miracles, healings, and speaking in unknown languages. Thus, just like the Apostles, Christ would "confirm" these new believers as His disciples through the power of His Spirit.

As the Jesus movement spread, and new assemblies of believers started to grow all over the Roman Empire, these groups of believers were pastored by mature believers who had known the Apostles. These pastors, or leaders, were usually called "overseers" or "elders". The overseers would baptize new converts, and then, like they were taught by the Apostles, they would lay hands on them and pray for the Holy Spirit to confirm their faith with powerful gifts. In this way every new member of Church was a Spirit-empowered, bold-speaking, faith-praying disciple of Christ.

Within a few decades after the Apostles' deaths, the leadership of the Church became two-fold. Overseers became head pastors of whole geographic areas, and became known as "bishops" (from the Greek word "episcopos", meaning overseer). Elders became assistants to the bishops, and pastors of local assemblies of believers within each bishop's territory. They eventually became known as "priests" (coming from "presbuteros" in Greek, which became "prester" in Old English). These priests would preach the Gospel and baptize new converts, and then the bishop would periodically confirm these converts with the laying on of hands and prayers for the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

About this time, two problems began to face the Church. First, Christianity became an outlaw religion, and Christians began to be persecuted, tortured, and put to death by the Roman Empire. What should the Church do to try and make sure that Christians would not abandon their faith during persecution? Second, since the time of the Apostles, if an adult was baptized and confirmed, typically his or her whole family, including children, were baptized as well. What could be done to make sure that those baptized as infants would really become committed disciples of Christ as adults? Over time, a lengthy period of preparation for baptism and confirmation became the solution to these problems.

From around the third and fourth century, the following practice became common in the Church: Those who converted to Christianity became "confirmands" who had to go through intense training, prayer, and exorcisms for 1 to 3 years before being baptized. During this time, the priest instructed them in the basics of Christianity, and what it meant to take up Christ's cross and die to self (sometimes literally). They were taught that being a Christ-follower was not just a personal belief and a short prayer, but a literal matter of life and death. The new Christian was switching sides from Satan's kingdom to God's Kingdom in the cosmic war. They were becoming part of a new Family, and a literal member of Christ's Body. They were taking up a warfare faith, not just a belief system. They knew they were not just committing to believe in Jesus, but they were also committing to His Family to live for Christ, and even die for Him.

Those in training were regularly tested by other believers to see if they were living a Christ-like lifestyle, including living according to the commandments, helping the needy, and regularly attending worship and training classes. When they went to worship, they could only attend the reading of the Scriptures and the sermon. After that they were released to learn and pray. They could not attend the prayers of the Church, because that was when the other members admitted their faults and vulnerabilities. They also could not attend Holy Communion because that was a mystery reserved for only those baptized and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

After a year or more of training, examination, and prayer, they proved themselves to be committed enough to be baptized and confirmed. The priests prayed several times for exorcism (to deliver them from demons) because it was taken for granted that those coming from Satan's kingdom into God's Kingdom were demonized to some extent. Exorcism prayer was usually accompanied by "slapping the devil out of them", and this is why some bishops still lightly slap confirmands during confirmation. On the last week before baptism and confirmation, the confirmands would fast and pray several days.

Finally, on baptism day the confirmands would confess their faith in Christ by reciting a creed and promising to live in God's Family according to Christ's commands. Then they would be submerged nude in water three times: once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Spirit. After this, if the bishop was present, they would receive anointing with oil to symbolize that they were anointed to be Christ's own forever. The word Christ literally means "The Anointed and Chosen One", and being a Christ-ian means to be a little christ, one who is anointed an chosen by THE Chosen One. The bishop would then lay hands on them and pray for them to be confirmed with power and gifts from the Holy Spirit. Finally, they were admitted into the prayers of the Church and Holy Communion, and they became mature members of God's Family! It was a day of rejoicing, power, and praise! They were finally confirmed!

Often, however, bishops were not available to confirm those newly baptized because of all the churches they oversaw. New Christians had to wait a year or more for confirmation, and those who were baptized as children of believing parents had to wait until they were mature and instructed in the faith to receive confirmation. So gradually, confirmation became a special event that was separated from baptism. Baptism was seen as a new birth into the Church, while confirmation was seen as an official commitment to be a Spirit-empowered mature member in the Church. This created a Christian church that was so spiritually powerful that something amazing happened: the entire Roman Empire converted to Christianity as its official religion! The miracles, healing, goodness, commitment, and love of the early Christians was so self evident that even those who persecuted them became convinced by the Gospel.

This was the greatest triumph and the greatest defeat of the early church. Why? Because once Christianity became the official religion and socially respectable, people started becoming Christians for other reasons than Jesus Christ. Many became Christians because that is what "nice respectable" people do. The time of instruction and requirements for confirmation became less and less as more and more people crowded into the Church. Eventually, every good citizen was duty bound to have their children baptized, because it was basically required to be a citizen. Confirmation no longer had much to do with prayer, commitment, or power from the Holy Spirit. It became just a coming-of-age ritual to celebrate a citizen's onset of puberty. The church became merely the religious institution of the state, and they forgot that Christ had not come to make us into "nice" people, but into radically transformed ministers of His Gospel.

As a result, the Church entered into decline. Faith was at a low point. Superstition reigned. There was little power, few miracles, and a lack of healing manifested by the Holy Spirit. The Church was almost ripped apart by infighting several times. Wrong priorities and lack of commitment was the cause for this decline in the power of the Church in all areas, including the poor practice of confirmation. One of the few places where the power of the early Church was still seen was among those communities of monks, nuns, and other people who had withdrawn from society to commit themselves wholly to Christ. In fact, every time there has been a movement in the Church that stressed passionate commitment to Christ and relying on the strength of His Spirit, there has been revival and power.

Today we struggle with the same problems. How do we form passionate, Spirit-empowered followers of Christ who will change the world? In many churches, confirmation is still just a coming-of-age event to celebrate becoming a teenager. There is no power, and the children have little idea Who or what they are committing to. Still others see confirmation as a "graduation from the Church": the exact opposite of what Christ intended it for! After confirmation they feel like they have come to know all they need about "religion", and they do not have to come to Church or Sunday School or volunteer any more. It is "cultural Christianity", if you can even call it Christianity at all, for it bears little resemblance to the life-changing, world-transforming faith of the book of Acts. Is confirmation just a photo-opportunity, or a commitment to follow Christ with one's whole life? We all must decide this for ourselves.

In our Church family, we take confirmation seriously. It is not just a rite of passage or even a right for all Christians. It is a choice about life and death: Who will we live and die for? We seek to take confirmation back to what the Apostles intended. Because of this, we emphasize certain requirements: There is a requirement for living faithfully as part of our Church family by attending regularly and coming to special events. There is a requirement for learning, in community, what it means to be a sold-out follower of Christ. There is a requirement for serving the needy as part of God's Family. All of these things are done regularly and IN community, because following Christ is about living faithfully for Him IN our Church family.

Are these requirements tough? Compared to many churches today: Yes. Compared to the early Church and being martyred for Christ: Not at all. For us, Confirmation is a promise to live faithfully as a mature member of God's Family, fully involved, fully committed to Christ, and fully active in His mission to transform the world by His Love. To do this, we ask for and expect the Holy Spirit to empower us through our bishop's prayer and laying on of hands, so that God's gifts, power, and boldness flow out of us. If all we are looking for is a beautiful ceremony to celebrate coming-of-age and a photo opportunity, then we will be sadly disappointed. But if we want to see God move in amazing ways, then this is the place to be confirmed!
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.