Salvation

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“If we are to be God’s people together, we must make room for conversations that we may not always agree with, but which allow all who are on the same journey a voice and a right to say, think and believe.”

Salvation is one of those often-used words in Christianity that can have so many different meanings and nuances of meaning. The most-often used is that of being “saved” from sin. I seems to go without saying in Evangelical circles that salvation is THE entire purpose of Jesus’ advent and death, and that this salvation is a personal and individual act of praying a certain prayer to “invite Jesus come into your life.”

I must confess that I am questioning a lot of the underlying modern-day assumptions about this teaching. Further, I need to admit that I don’t see a solid Biblical basis for a good amount of teaching on this subject. Rather, I’m afraid I see things such as “the sinner’s prayer,” “a personal Saviour” and “inviting Jesus in” as quite recent additions to the church’s historic understanding of salvation.

And whilst I am thinking about these things, I must also consider how much of what I believe is based on the paradigm I have been brought up to embrace.

Here is a conversation with a few questions which I read recently on another blog:

[Question:] I guess what I’m wrestling with is the question “Does Jesus play a crucial role in our salvation?” Consider this: What if Jesus had never been born and life for the Jews had progressed, or regressed, on into the 1st century and beyond? Could we still be reconciled to God and others? Couldn’t we realise our error, recognise God’s wisdom and repent? Or did we need a personal Savior? Or consider that Jesus had never been crucified, lived to be an old man, fell and broke his hip and died of pneumonia in the hospital. Couldn’t we still be reconciled with God and others without him dying on the cross?

[Response:] This is a serious and important question, and I don’t think I could do it justice without writing a whole Christology … To some degree, I think you’re asking about “penal substitutionary atonement theory” . . .  Let me try to rephrase your questions like this:

Was the only reason Jesus came to save us from the wrath of God, to avert God’s wrath so we wouldn’t be tormented in hell forever?

Which is related to this question:

Does Jesus offer anything of value besides his blood to assuage the wrath of God?

Which is related to this question:

Is God unable to forgive sin without inflicting pain on someone?

When facing questions like these, you make a choice before you even start answering: do you try to answer these questions within conventional paradigms . . . or outside them? In my experience, when you step out of conventional paradigms, the questions begin to evaporate and different questions present themselves, questions like these:

What would it mean for God to be revealed in a vulnerable human being who is tortured and killed by religious and political elites?

If Jesus had never revealed God “in the flesh” as he did, what would we not know today?

In what ways does Jesus’ death intensify and strengthen our call to repentance and transformation?

I know I will be labelled as a heretic by some simply for the reason that I am giving a voice to someone’s questioning an important Biblical truth. I don’t think that’s fair, but you are fully within whatever right you think you may have to do so.

If, however, your criteria for orthodoxy is broad enough (and I hope it is) to include all who confess to a historic faith as stated in The Apostles’ Creed, then let me say that I affirm with full conviction every statement made in the Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Maybe it’s time we put our labels aside and look at the content of the heart (in the words of Dr King) rather than the colour of our theology-skin (possibly this is not so good a picture, but the thought is there).

If we are to be God’s people together, we must make room for conversations that we may not always agree with, but which allow all who are on the same journey a voice and a right to say, think and believe. We may see a doctrine in a different way, or express our opinion using different words or shades of meaning. And, in allowing one another freedom to discover the faith for themselves, we may just find that they have something to share that would be of value to us on our own journey.

That is, if we determine we are on a journey and not willing to settle into a lonely existence where only one voice–our voice–is heard.

Living by Core Convictions

Increasingly, I have found doctrinal statements or prescribed sets of beliefs don’t work for me. In setting our ‘rules’ in stone, we (as Christendom, historically) have legislated exclusivist behaviour–accepting those who agree with our truth and excluding those who do not.

Reading about the Anabaptists (and their various incarnations across the globe), I discovered that they share the same caution regarding creeds and statements of faith. I appreciate their conviction that what we believe today may change as we see things in a different light tomorrow.

I found the following on the website of the Anabaptist Network (UK & Ireland).

The Anabaptist tradition has been wary of creeds and fixed statements of faith, concerned at imposing interpretive grids on Scripture and of conveying the idea that there is no possibility of our understanding developing in fresh ways. But Anabaptists have produced various Confessions, setting out not a comprehensive statement of beliefs but a summary of distinctive values, convictions and practices. These statements are always provisional and subject to review in light of fresh insights.

The Anabaptist Network has set out seven ‘Core Convictions’ which form the basis of all their inter-relatedness and mission. I can’t help but see these as a good starting framework for a better way of living as the ‘Beloved Community’ (a.k.a. the kingdom of God) within our own context of relationships and church/para-church/ex-church communities:

1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.

2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus, and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.

5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers.

6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation, and working for justice.

7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.