2006-02-20

Theologically Correct Bible Songs (part 1)

Part of a series dedicated to revealing the concrete effects of imbalanced theologies by re-writing hymns and children's songs as if the theology were actually true.  The songs are somewhat funny, obviously badly warped, and certainly nothing we would want to teach our kids or congregations.  And yet, I think they faithfully carry out the explicit logical conclusions of certain types of theology.  If the theologies are correct, and something that people can actually believe, then WHY NOT sing these songs?  But, if the songs are horrendous, how can we keep believing the theology that underlies them (even if in a kinder, gentler, more nuanced version)?

Enough logic.  On to the songs...

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Jesus Loves the Little Children
(A Five-Point Calvinist Version)

Jesus loves the little children
All the chosen children of the world
All of those elect from birth
But the rest will die and burn
Jesus loves the chosen children of the world

Jesus chose the elect children
Out of all those lost and dead in sin
All the rest can't choose what's best
But God holds them guilty nonetheless
Jesus chose the elect children of the world

I am one of the chosen children
God likes me more than he likes you
We can tell who's damned to hell
'Cause they don't act nice or look swell
I am one of the elect children of the world
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He's got the whole world in his hands
(Extreme Augustinian Version)

He's got the whole world in his hands... (3x)
He's got the whole world in his hands!

My free will is just illusion, in his hands... (3x)
He's got the whole world in his hands!

All free choices are really movements, of his hands... (3x)
He's got the whole world in his hands!

The universe is just clockwork, in his hands... (3x)
He's got the whole world in his hands!

We are responsible for what we can't change, in his hands... (3x)
He's got the whole world in his hands!

We are puppets of providence, in his hands... (3x)
He's got the whole world in his hands!

What you think doesn't really matter, in his hands... (3x)
He's got the whole world in his hands!
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Amazing Grace
(An Arminian / Semi-Pelagian Version)

Amazing Grace, how nice is God
To help those who help themselves
I was a nice guy, but its odd:
I'm nicer with his help

Grace chose me 'cause God knew I'd be
A guy who'd choose His plan
He saw my potential and thought he:
He deserves a helping hand

If I get there in ten thousand years,
It will be 'cause I stayed true!
I used his grace to finish the race
So I am better than you!
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Jesus Loves Me
(A Theologically Liberal, Politically Correct Version)

Jesus loves me this I know
For a vague feeling tells me so
But your God is as good as mine
I'm sure your God makes you feel fine

Chorus:
I think some God loves me!
I think some God loves me!
I think some God loves me!
A vague feeling tells me so!

Your truth is yours and mine is mine
No one can know truth at this time
Our best guess is what we feel
Truth feels good, but guilt's not real
(chorus)

The Bible is such an old book
Modern thought has taken a good look
If its not new it can't be right
So only believe what's in your sight
(chorus)
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More to come later...

2006-02-18

An Open Letter to Those thinking of leaving their Christian Traditions

This is a letter primarily to some of my good friends (you know who you are) who have expressed severe disenchantment with their own Christian Traditions, and are currently thinking of moving over to the Anglican, Roman, or Orthodox Communions.  But this letter is also for everyone who may be thinking about "jumping ship".  I want to begin with a quote by St. Paul:

"To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings." (1 Corinthians 9:20-23)

Now let me tell a little story to illustrate the points I want to make:

The other day I was reading commentaries for my Seminary class on Genesis.  One of the commentaries that speaks to me the loudest is that of the internationally renowned scholar Walter Bruggeman (and believe me, there is a reason why he is renowned).  He is one of the few scholars that both so-called "Liberals" like and so-called "Conservatives" like.  I'm not a big fan of the "L" word, or the "C" word because they are both pejorative and both stretched so far that they have little meaning anymore other than being a verbal club to beat the other side with.  Yet, I am going to use both terms here because I need some type of verbal shorthand to make my point.  I will also use "Left" for "Liberal" and "Right" for "Conservative".  So forgive me if you don't like the terms nor my idiosyncratic use of them.  

But, anyway, Bruggeman comes out of the United Churches of Christ, which is arguably one of the more "Liberal" Protestant Traditions.  Despite this, he is one of the world leaders in a revival of looking at the Scriptures from a "canonical" viewpoint.  That is to say that he believes God is still speaking to his people through the words of the canonical documents we have in our Bible today, which have been virtually the same (for the Hebrew Scriptures) for the last 2,500-2,000 years.  Canonical criticism basically says that however God got these documents to us- whether by original authorship, or collection and adaptation of verbal traditions, or by gradual editing and redaction- he got them to us.  And ever more than that, the Word of God is genuinely and uniquely present in these texts and if we refuse to listen to God speaking through them, then we are simply refusing to listen to God altogether and are instead creating a "god" in our own image.

The professor of my Genesis class seems to come to the text with the same basic viewpoint as well. The very interesting thing is that both Bruggeman and my professor were educated in old-school, Bultmann-type, Demythologizing Liberal Biblical scholarship. This Liberal scholarship was the direct heir of 19th and early 20th century theological and Biblical Liberalism that cut up the Bible into a puzzle of thousands of "source documents" and "oral traditions", and declared the Bible to be just another book about human experiences of God, rather than a unique book that records God's self-disclosure to humanity.  Furthermore, this old-school type of Liberalism was empirical, naturalistic, and pseudo-scientific, so it largely emptied the Scriptures of any unique supernatural intervention by God (including becoming uniquely incarnate in Jesus Christ).

What was the "Conservative" reaction to these "Liberals"? To deny them, decry them, and ultimately leave them.  And, in all honesty, in the early 20th century most "Liberal" clergy were more than glad to kick their "Conservative" family members out the door and deny them as well. For 150 years "Conservative" screamed at the Liberals over and over that they needed to believe that God was really, uniquely speaking through the Scriptures, and that the classical doctrines of the Church on God, Christ, Spirit, Scripture, and Salvation were true.

Most of that went unheeded by "Liberals", who were so darned sophisticated they were sure the old faith needed to be radically re-adapted to fit a "modern age".  But, two world wars, two atomic bombs, several depressions and genocides, along with the radical failure of almost every utopian plan for a great society, and "Liberal" optimism began to falter and then crumble under the weight of failure to estimate the sinfulness of sin and the necessity for a supernatural salvation.

Enter Karl Barth, who was raised as a good son of Liberalism, yet began the first serious, sustained, in-house protest of his own Liberal Protestantism.  He did not leave the Liberal camp, nor did he yell at it from the outside like so many "Conservatives".  He sat resolutely, unflinchingly, expertly right in the midst of the storm and preached Christ crucified and risen, and the reality of God speaking through the Scriptures. His lead has been followed by many in this country, especially in such developments as Post-Liberal theology led by George Lindbeck, Radical Orthodoxy led by such people as John Milbank, and the awakening to classic orthodoxy led by people such as William J. Abraham and Thomas Oden.

This revolution in systematic theology started in the 1940's was followed by the "canonical" turn in Biblical studies that began in the 1980's, led by folks like Bruggeman. All of this led me to ask myself the BIG question:

Why has this turn in Liberalism back to classic orthodoxy happened in the last 50 years, spurred on by people INSIDE the Liberal camp, when 150 years of the rantings and ravings of the Conservative camp utterly failed to change Liberalism?  After all, the turn that Liberalism is making is coming back around to essentially classical positions on God, Christ, Spirit, Scripture, and Salvation.  Sure, those coming from the "Left" still reject some of the more oddball (and equally non-classic) doctrines of the "Right", such as absolute historical inerrancy of the Bible and scientific precision of the Creation and End-Times narratives of the Bible. But these doctrines are scrutinized from within the Conservative camp as well.

I believe that the reason why the revolution INSIDE has changed the "Left" far more than the OUTSIDE attack of the "Right" is because the "Right" has been guilty of protesting the "Left" in a way that is fundamentally un-Biblical, non-Christian, and anti-Incarnational.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is why 450 years of "Protest" by "Protestants" outside the Roman Catholic Church has failed to change them as much as 50 years of internal reformation has through Vatican II and Pope John Paul II.

The idea that we can somehow speak prophetically to change a group of people from OUTSIDE of that group of people is patently false.  The idea that social, political, and even military pressure from outside of a community can cause internal change in that community is utterly wrongheaded.  When the Hebrew prophets railed against the idolatry and injustice of the Jewish religious community, did they advocate leaving the Jewish community and making a new Temple? No, despite the Jewish abuses (which were as bad as the worst Catholic or Liberal or Protestant or Conservative abuses), the prophets advocated reformation from the inside of the community.

This is followed by the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles as well, who always conceived of the Jesus-movement as operating WITHIN the Jewish synagogue system.  It was only when forcibly expelled by the Jews that the Christians began separate gatherings.

In fact, the whole principal of changing communities is utterly, totally Incarnational throughout the Bible.  God leaves all of the perks, privileges, and rights of heaven, and empties Himself, and becomes one of us to reach us in Christ.  He does not invade from outside to force conformity (at least not until the end of the Age).  He comes in humility and speaks prophetically from within the human experience as one of us.

Paul, following this pattern, empties Himself of all of the perks, privileges, and rights of his Jewish heritage, considering it all a pile of crap compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing and sharing Christ with others (cf. Phil. 3). Paul empties himself, lives as Christ, and becomes all things to all people, so that he may bring them to Jesus.

Jesus and Paul do not merely tolerate the people they empty themselves to become part of.  They love them.  They like them.  They deeply enjoy and care for these people, not disdaining them (even if they have to rebuke them).

This same pattern is followed by all effective missionaries.  Look at St. Boniface among the Germans, St. Patrick among the Irish, the Family and friends of Jim Elliot in South America, and Mother Teresa among the Indians.  All emptied themselves and became part of the people they wanted to reach so they could be prophetic from the inside.

That is why Barth and Bruggeman and people like them have been able to speak prophetically to Liberalism and change them.  That is why Pope John Paul II was able to change the Catholic Church.  They are part of the ethos of their communities, and they speak the language of their communities, and they deeply value their communities, and thus they are able to speak Christ into their communities prophetically.

Conservatives who think they can bring about this kind of change by yelling at people from outside are simply not Biblical.  A true prophet does not speak from outside in, but from the inside up.  Even Jonah was brought by God into Ninevah to bring them to repentance (even though he did not want them to repent).  I feel like many Conservatives are a lot like Jonah.  They yell from outside about how bad this group and that group is, and how bad they need to repent, but they don't really mean it.  They just want to justify themselves by pointing out how bad others are.  They don't really want people to repent, or else they would leave their privileged status inside the Conservative community, become missionaries inside the community they despise, and speak prophetically from inside.

In the Bible, those who speak from the outside of a community only have two words to speak: judgment and abandonment.  Isaiah and the other prophets only speak of the judgment and abandonment of the pagan nations when they indict them.  When Lot and his family are called out of Sodom and Gomorrah, they are to utterly abandon them to judgment, and not even look back.  This is not a missionary move, but an anti-missionary move that indicates that they have given up all hope for those communities.  They no longer want to change them, nor have a part in changing them.  They only abandon them to judgment.

What does all of this mean to "jumping ship"?  It means that if you abandon your Church Tradition, you are denying and abandoning the Family you came from.  You are giving up all rights to critique or be a prophetic voice to them.  You are turning your back on Lot and heading to a new land, never to look back.

This is not to say that there is not a time to abandon ship.  Sodom had to be abandoned.  If many views of the End of the World hold true, then Christ will only come back when the world gets so far gone that it can no longer be redeemed. We all know that some families and communities can get so sick and unhealthy that they have to be abandoned or else they will literally kill those inside.  But abandoning is a very serious thing.  It is handing over something to death.  It is giving up all rights of being prophetic or redemptive as long as one remains outside of the group, abandoning the group.

When I first found the Anglican Communion, and its American segment, the Episcopal Church, I left my Conservative, Evangelical, and Charismatic "roots" and fell in love with a new way of following Christ.  I knew that I brought things to the table that the Episcopal Church needs- like a passion for Jesus, a love of the Scriptures, and a belief in the work of the Spirit- but they also brought me things I needed- like Reason, Sacrament, and Historical rootedness. After I found that, then I was eager to bring everyone to the Episcopal Church, with all her warts and all her glory.

I have changed this, however.  Not because I love my Christian Tradition any less.  But because I love the whole Church even more.  I still think my Tradition is better than yours, and would be glad to discuss why.  But what does it mean that mine is "better" than yours?  It means that where I see the Anglican Tradition doing things "right", I feel that they correspond with the my most important insights into the Gospel, and where I see them doing things "wrong", I feel I can either tolerate, or protest them, better as an Anglican than anywhere else.

Those on the Left and on the Right have strengths as well as sins.  The sins of the Left are the sins of Liberalism, while the sins of the Right are the sins of Legalism.  It just so happens that God has made me better equipped to deal with the strengths and sins of the Anglicans than anywhere else, and He has called me to be a prophetic voice here.  "To the Anglicans I became an Anglican."  But God makes us all a little different, and calls us to be prophetic to Anglicans and Atheists, Baptists and Buddhists, Democrats and Republicans, Churches of Christ and the Church of Satan, Catholics and Charismatics, Wahabis and Wiccans.  Some of these I can be prophetic to, some you can.  Some I can't stomach, some you can.

So, to those who want to leave their Church Tradition, I give a warning and a welcome.  The warning is this: If you leave your Tradition and become Anglican (or Catholic, or Orthodox, or whatever) you will find that the grass is not actually greener over there than they are on your side of the fence.  It just happens that the green spots and the brown spots are in different places than where you are, and you can't yet see that from the distance you are at.  If you leave your side of the fence to come over here, it will not be long before you realize all of our brown spots and wander if there is not a more pure, more green pasture somewhere else.  Furthermore, if you leave your Tradition you loose all rights and abilities to be prophetic to them.

The welcome is this, especially to my friends: I have no doubt you would make great Anglicans, and that you would be deeply edified by Anglican faith and piety, just as I have.  It could be a great home for you (but I don't make guarantees). Furthermore, the Anglican Church could benefit from people like you- people who are passionate about Jesus and who stand for the Scriptures.  You would have quite a ministry here, and you would be welcome.

So, you gotta decide: Who has God called you to be prophetic to?  To the Church in general?  To your Tradition in particular?  To those outside the Church? To the academic community?  To the business world?  How would switching Traditions affect your ability to be prophetic to the people God has called you to?  As the Clash sang: "Should I stay or should I go?  If I go it will be trouble, if I stay it will be double."  Stay or go: It opens doors and closes them.  It gives benefits and costs a great deal.  Choose wisely.

2006-02-16

How do you get "saved" in the Anglican Church?

This article was originally an essay in a booklet I am putting together called "Explaining Anglicans". But, today I read a wonderfully touching, yet insufficient, explanation of salvation from a fellow Episcopal youth minister. You can find it here.

Although I really, truly sympathize with the pastor who posted this article, I believe he frames the issue in an EITHER/OR debate: Either salvation is individual, other-worldly, and about doctrinal correctness (as in Fundamentalism) or salvation is communal, this-worldly, and about loving social justice (as in Liberalism). I think this is too simplistic. Salvation is rather both-and.

It is the central question of all Christianity. It may be asked different ways: How can I be saved? How can I know God? What is the meaning of life? How can I be made right with God? How can I be redeemed from all my mistakes and failures? If Anglicanism is to be called a Christian Church, it must have a Christian answer to how we are "saved" and enter into a relationship with the living God.

There are two different types of people who will read this essay. First, there are those who do not know God, but who are looking for a community of faith to find God. It would be a very sad thing indeed to tell all about the Anglican Church, without sharing the good news of Christ: how to receive salvation and know the living God. Second, there are those from other Christian traditions reading this, and they may want to know if Anglicanism is fully Christian by knowing what we teach about salvation in Christ. They want to know what the "Gospel", or "Good News" is that we proclaim. This answer should suffice for both readers.

With that said, let us define how we are saved. We believe in St. Paul's definition of salvation: "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. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph 2:8-10). To fully understand what this means, we need to define four concepts: saved, grace, faith, and good works.

First, Anglicans think of being "saved", or rather "salvation" as much more than a "get out of hell free card". In fact, salvation after death (that is, avoiding hell and gaining heaven) is just one effect of being saved. It is not the essence of salvation itself. Salvation is first and foremost a new relationship, or a new state of being, with God (Tit 3:3-7; 2Co 5:17). Salvation is love: to love the Lord with all of you are, above all else (Deu 6:5; Mat 22:37-40). To be saved means to go from a state of disconnection and alienation with God, to a state of being united with Him through Christ. When we are saved, we become new creations (2Co 5:17). Christ becomes our life, and lives in us (Gal 2:20). As a result, we partake in Christ's divine life and that life becomes a part of us, joined to us, flowing through us (2Pe 1:3-4; John 14:20, 17:21; Eph 3:16-19).

Think of it this way. We are like lamps that were made to show forth Christ's light (Mat 5:14-16). Being "unsaved" is like being an unplugged lamp. It is useless and cannot fulfill its purpose without electricity flowing through it. God is the power plant, the source of divine life. From Him flows all purpose, all love, all existence, through Christ. Being "saved" is being plugged back into God through Christ, so that His electric life, love, and purpose flows through you. This "plugging in" is what the Bible calls reconciliation (2Co 5:18-20; Rom 11:15; Eph 2:16; Col 1:20-22). This is an important distinction, because many people see salvation just in terms of avoiding hell after you die, and there is SO much more to salvation than that.

Salvation means entering into eternal life, but eternal life starts right here, right now. In fact, salvation stretches across time and includes a past event, a present process, and a future promise. We are "saved" in the past event of Christ's death and resurrection, because that event allows all people to be reconciled with God (2Ti 1:9; Eph 2:4-7; Col 1:21-22). We are individually "saved" as a past event when we hear the message of Christ and put our trust in Him (Eph 1:13-14, 2:8-10; Tit 3:5-7; John 1:12-13, 3:14-18). As a present process, we are being saved as we "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" while God's Spirit works in us to accomplish salvation (Phi 2:12-13; 1Pe. 1:9). As a future promise, we will be saved as we meet Christ face to face in the resurrection, and live with Him forever in the New Creation (Mat 10:22, 24:13; Rom 5:10, 13:11; Rev 21-22).

Now, if someone asks you "are you saved?" You can say: (a) Yes, I was saved 2000 years ago by Christ on the cross; (b) Yes, I was saved when I put my faith in Christ as my Lord and Savior; (c) Yes, I am being saved as Christ's Spirit works in me to make me more like Christ; (d) Not yet, but I know I will be saved when Christ raises me from the dead; (e) All of the above: they are all correct if you have faith in Christ.

Finally, for Anglicans salvation is more than just a "me and Jesus" thing. While salvation is a personal relationship with God through Christ, it is also a community relationship. God did not save us to be lone rangers. He saved us to be brothers and sisters in a family (see Eph 2:11-22). Remember, right after loving God above all, loving other people is next on God's list (Mat 22:37-40). Salvation is first and foremost communion with God, but secondly it is also community with God's people. You can't really love God if you don't really love God's family (1Jo 3:11-24, 4:7-21). Loving God and loving others are mutually dependent on each other, and the more you participate in one, the deeper you will grow in the other.

For this reason, Anglicans stress being a part of the Church, God's Family, as a necessary part of salvation. In extra-ordinary circumstances you can be saved apart from being part of the Church. The thief on the cross next to Christ was (Luke 23:39-43). But ordinarily, salvation includes membership in Christ's family, the Church (Eph 2:19-22; Mat 18:19-20; Act 2:42-47; 1Co 12:12-13:7). Neglecting God's family is neglecting God and neglecting to grow in salvation (Heb 3:13, 10:24-25).

Becoming a member of the Church happens by baptism (1Co 12:13; Eph 4:4-6). In one way, we are "saved" by being baptized and participating in the sacraments of the Church, because we are joining together with the community of salvation (1Pe 3:21). Yet, just participating in the Church is not enough if we do not have a personal faith in Christ (Heb 11:1-6, 4:2; Gal 5:6; Rom 14:23). Just sitting in an airplane does not make you a pilot, although getting on plane is a necessary step to becoming a pilot. In the same way, just sitting in a Church does not make you Christian, although it is a necessary part of being Christian. You miss out on all that salvation is if you do not know Christ personally AND participate in His family.

Now we turn to discuss "grace". Grace in the original language means "free, unmerited gift given to one that is not worthy". That is what salvation is to us. We can not earn or merit God's gift of salvation. We cannot go up to God and say "Remember that favor you owe me? Time to pay up!" If you want to make God laugh, tell Him that He owes you something. Everything we have, and I do mean everything, is a gift from God to us that we cannot earn. From our society, to our food, to the air we breathe, to the fundamental physical laws that hold the universe together, it is all a gift from God held in His hands (Job 33:4; Psa 104, 139; Col 1:16-17; 1Co 4:7).

To make things worse, it is not just that we don't deserve God's gifts. We have actually rebelled against Him. We have sinned, and sin means "to miss the mark" of God's perfection. Remember I said that the top two things on God's list are to love Him above all, and next to love His children (Mat 22:37-40). Sin is a fundamental denial of these two things. It is choosing to not love God, and choosing to use and abuse his children, which we all do in big and small ways (Rom 1, 3, 7). This sin disconnects us from God, literally unplugging us from His life, love, and purpose. It leaves us lost, hopeless, and needy. Sin destroys society, the environment we live in, and carries this destruction to generations yet unborn (Gen 3:7-24; Deu 5:8-10; Ezra 9:11; Rom 1:18-32, 5:12-21). In short, sin leads to death: social death, emotional death, spiritual death, physical death, and if we are not saved, eternal death (Rom 6:23; Jam 1:13-15; Eph 2:1-3).

Because of our weakness and sin, Anglicans do not believe that you can be saved in any way, shape, or form by earning salvation from God. We are not saved by good works, nice deeds, religious rituals, or cosmic merit badges (Eph 2:9; 2Ti 1:9; Rom 3:20, 9:16). We believe that God so far surpasses anything good we can do, that there is nothing we have in ourselves that will impress God enough to make Him Love us. With Isaiah, we say that "all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags" before Him who is totally pure and Loving (Isa 53:6, 64:6; Job 15:14-16).

That is where God's grace, His unmerited, un-earned gift, steps in like some sort of super-hero to save us helpless wretches (Tit 3:4-7; Eph 2:4-5). In fact, grace is not LIKE a super-hero. It IS a real-life super-hero: Jesus Christ. God became one of us to lead us back to Himself. When we were lost, Jesus showed us the way back to God in Himself (John 14:1-7). When we were dead in sin, Jesus took our death and sin into Himself on the cross and died for us (1Pe 2:24; Isa 53:4-6; 2Co 5:21). That's right, I just said that God died for us. But even more than that, He conquered sin, suffering, and death by rising again from the grave (Rom 1:4; 1Co 15). Death could not hold Him. Sin could not shackle Him. As the embodiment of grace, the embodiment of God Himself, Jesus saved us when we could never save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10).

In a very real way, we are babies to God like an infant in the arms of it's father. The baby can do nothing positive for the father except trust him. In fact, all the baby can do is poop on itself and cry for help (kind of like us with God). Yet the father loves the baby because it is his: his flesh, his blood, his creation. It is the same with us and God. God saves us by an act of sheer grace in Christ because we are His. All we can give God is trust which brings us to love, know, and follow Him. In return, we become His children, re-born by His grace (Tit 3:4-7; John 1:12-13, 3:1-8).

This brings us to the third word I want to describe from St. Paul's definition: faith. Faith and grace work together like a gift and a recipient. God's grace is like a Christmas gift under the tree. We have the choice of whether or not to open it. If we never open it, we never get to personally receive what is inside. It becomes useless to us, even if it was the most priceless gift in the world. Well, Jesus' gift of grace IS the most priceless gift in the universe (1Pe 1:18-19; Psa 49:7; 1Co 6:20). It is the gift of eternal life purchased with the blood of God's Son! It is sitting right there. But we must open it by faith. We must place our whole-hearted faith in the Giver and the Gift (John 1:12-13, 3:1-18). Without faith nothing else we do will contribute to our salvation one iota (Heb 11:1-6, 4:2; Gal 5:6; Rom 14:23).

So what is faith? Faith in Christ is a whole-person response to accept Him as your Lord and Savior (John 1:12-13; Rom 10:9-10). Faith includes our mind, our heart, and our will, and is made of three parts: Belief, Trust, and Repentance. Belief is simple. It is knowing and accepting facts about Christ. He lived, he did miracles, he taught, he died, he rose again, he will come again (1Co 15:3-8; Phi 2:4-8). Yep, I believe all those things are a reality. That is belief. Trust is a bit more difficult. While belief is knowing about Christ, trust is knowing Christ personally and relying on Him. Belief is head-knowledge of Christ, but trust is heart-knowledge of Christ. It is love, dependence, caring. Both believing in Christ with our mind and trusting in Christ with our heart are necessary to faith in Christ (Mat 22:37).

Finally true faith requires a movement of our will. This movement is called "repentance". Repentance means to turn from one thing toward another. It means to turn from lesser lords and turn toward THE Lord of All, Jesus Christ. This repentance includes renouncing all lesser gods and announcing that we believe in the one true God, who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 10:9-10). This three-faced faith of belief, trust, and repentance is what opens the gift of grace. If you don't have that faith, then ask for it from God. He will give it to you (Jam 1:2-5; Help my unbelief). After all, St. Paul tells us above that this faith is "not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8-10).

This brings us to the end of St. Paul's definition, in which he tells us that we were saved so we could do "good works". What are good works? "Good works" means to do the things that Jesus did: to obey His commandments, follow His example, and live in His Love (). They are not the cause of salvation. They are the effect. They are the result of living as new creations, saved by grace through faith.

Think of it like this: Salvation is like a plant, representing our new life as we grow in Christ (see Col 2:6-7). God's grace is the soil and water that this plant grows in. Faith is the root that holds the plant in the soil of God's grace. Good works are the fruit that grows out of the root. Notice that the fruit does not cause the root, but the root causes the fruit. In the same way, good works do not cause our salvation, but they demonstrate the growth of our salvation.

Just as a new plant grows toward the sun, the life of salvation grows toward the Son of God. Good works show that we are growing both closer to the Son and more like the Son. If we truly have faith, we will grow. If we are not growing closer to Jesus and growing to be more like Him, we need to ask God to "re-plant" us with even greater faith. If we have no good works, we may have a "dead faith", and we need to ask God for genuine, living faith (Jam 2).

So, are good works necessary in salvation? As a sign, yes, but not as a cause. Anglicans firmly believe that we are "saved by grace through faith" and that good works are the outgrowth of this salvation. We believe that this is the meaning of life, and that the whole universe was made by God for salvation, so that everything could participate in His divine live with Him. Anglicans invite everyone to join with us in participating in the salvation of Jesus Christ. This is our Gospel. Amen.

2006-02-13

An Open Letter to the Republican National Committee

I received an email on February 13th, 2006 from the Republican National Committee asking for feedback about the GOP.  Not letting any opportunity slip to tell someone what I think, I penned the following letter:

Thank you for asking for my feedback.  The first thing I would like to say is that, although I do not agree with President Bush on everything, I like him as a person, respect him as a Christian, and feel that his basic course of leadership is what the country needs right now.

With that said, I am SIGNIFICANTLY LESS HAPPY with the Republican party and its general slide into becoming the party of religious triumphalism and moral self-righteousness, rather than the party of limited government, strict constitutionalism, and separation of powers.  In fact, it has been enough to make me want to vote Libertarian.

In fact, I write to warn you that if you continue down the path of parroting the agenda of the so-called "religious right" then you are going to alienate people like me, and cause another "Ross Perot" type debacle, as true fiscal conservatives decide to leave the party to vote for someone who actually stands for their values.

Do you really want another Perot-type election?  

I don't.  And I don’t want another "Clinton" in the White House because the GOP has decided to abandon the principles of fiscal and constitutional conservativism, to become the party dedicated to making sure that every American mimics 1980's style Evangelical morality and cultural values.  But that is where you are headed if you do not change course.  Be warned.

And, in case you write me off as a non-religious person, let it be known that I write to you as a follower of Jesus Christ and strict constitutionalist.  I believe God has granted a specific sphere of authority to the government to protect citizens against criminal acts, but not to legislate private moral choices.

I do believe that one of the basic roles of government is protection of human life- ALL human life from womb to tomb- and thus I do side with legislation against abortion as "birth control", as long as abortion is still allowed as a last-ditch medical option in the case that a mother's life is in real danger due to the pregnancy.  My "pro-life" stance is perhaps one of the few areas where I agree with the current attempts of the GOP to legislate private moral choices.

For instance, I believe murder, gluttony, theft, lack of charity, coveting, and homosexuality are all sin, and thus immoral.  But, government has no authority to govern what we eat, how much charity we give, or what we desire.  Yet, the state can and should protect us from theft and murder.  It is basic logic: All crimes are by definition, immoral acts, but not all immoral acts are crimes.  The government has the responsibility to protect its citizens from crime, but has no authority to enforce non-criminal moral choices.  Thus, I urge you to refuse to allow government into our bedrooms or our living rooms.  Consensual sex activity is between a person and their God.

Furthermore, I believe the best "defense of marriage" is for married men and women to take their vows seriously, for their families to support them through troubles, and for their communities of faith to provide the education, formation, and assistance necessary to make marriages last.  When marriage once again is taken seriously by the Church and faithful families, it will no longer need "defense" from the government.  The obvious joy and love that radiates from such marriages will be the best "defense" we could ever want.

I have voted Republican for quite a while, but now due to the constant moral triumphalism of the "religious right" (as if we don't have sins of consumerism and greed), along with Republican attempts to enlarge Government and enter our bedrooms and churches, I am seriously thinking of
voting otherwise.  Please help me believe in the GOP again, alter the current course of the Party, and stand for small government again.

Thank you.

2006-02-04

SOVEREIGNTY AND FREEDOM, HOPE AND HELL

Examining The Paradoxes Of Creator And Creation In The Light Of Ultimate Reconciliation Through Christ

Copyright © 2006 Nathan L. Bostian

Out of all of the doctrines of the Christian faith that cause problems for both believers and those who are yet to believe, the doctrine of hell seems to create the most problems.  The traditional view that hell is the last word God gives to the unrepentant, even if hell is a self-chosen reality, seems absolutely horrific if God is as loving and powerful as Christians say that He is.  How could God be anything like a loving Father if He is content to give up on any of His children, and allow them to suffer forever.  Wouldn't He keep reaching out to them if there was any possible way to reach them?  And if anything is possible with God (cf. Mat 19:26), is there ever a reason for God to stop reaching out?  Why then is hell apparently God's last word to a significant portion of humanity?

Or is it?
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.