Monday, July 8, 2013

A Letter to the Protestant Church, Part II

Continuing with our look at the Letter to the Church at Sardis...

Jesus' command to the Sardisians to remember is similar to his command to the Twelve concerning the Lord's Supper. In that case the subject of recall was Christ himself, in this case it is what the Sardisians had embraced (received) and understood (heard) as believers. This is not the first time a NT writer used recalling that which had been experienced by believers as a means of correction. It seems that Christians forget what they've seen and heard, and which elicited and strengthened their faith in Christ at their own peril.

Instead, the Sardisians were told to guard (keep, watch over) what they had embraced and heard. Finishing one's work certainly progresses toward that end, but it also means revisiting, checking up on, remembering the things by which we stood and continue to stand in faith. The celebration of Communion can help with this, so long as it isn't seen as making the bread and wine instill some spiritual benefit of themselves, rather than being a means of remembering the Lord and what he's done to save us.

The Christians of Sardis needed to change their minds about and attitudes toward (repent) what they had already heard and known. It is my sense that human nature has a ready appetite for the fresh, that we are more intrigued by the new rather than what we have already been exposed to. We can be dismissive and even disdainful toward what was once fresh but is no longer on the cutting edge. Disregard for the foundational and worthy of continued attention can not only lead to works going astray but also faith going dry.

"Wake up!" Jesus commanded the Sardisians. Really, watchfulness is the practical outcome of wakefulness which seems to be the point Christ was making--pay attention to your ongoing faith walk with Jesus. The mention of his surprise appearance catching them unaware is reminiscent of the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Whereas there, sleeping per se was not cast in an irredeemable light (as it is here), the force there and here is the faithless lack of attention and concern some have toward what they have and are expecting in Christ.

As in any church, not everyone part of the congregation is truly part of the Church of the First-born. Some walk unsoiled (in this case, that is equivalent to unsleeping) and will be at the banquet when the Son of Man returns, some will not. Regardless, the action, one way or the other, is not attributed to Christ but to the one wearing the garment. If one keeps his garment unsoiled (perhaps that is the only proper garment for the occasion), he will thus have white garments, akin to Christ's and appropriate for eternity.

Take special notice to the typical use of white here. This treatment is consistent with the other symbolic uses of "white" throughout the scripture, but especially that in the Apocalypse. White is always associated with the good and right, never with the evil and unrighteous. Which, incidentally, is the reason the White Horse cannot be interpreted as evil (i.e. as representative of the Antichrist), but only as good (e.g. the Church turned loose on the Great Commission).

That one can have one's name "unwritten" or erased is a slam-dunk destruction of the Once-Saved-Always-Saved doctrine. As is clear from this letter, one whose name was written in the Book of Life can have that name erased from the Book of Life. Since that book is the instrumentality of final judgment later in the Apocalypse, the message is all too clear. There is a possibility that those who would have been saved eternally at one time in their lives, can at a subsequent time lose that status: the saved can become the unsaved.

Since we are saved by grace through faith, the consideration above would seem to indicate that the faith in question is something in the purview of the believer rather than God. There is in the believer that responsibility in regards to faith which is his or hers and dependent upon him or her to execute and maintain. God will not believe for the believer, the believer, ultimately, must do that for his or her self (despite their need for God's enabling assistance). For those that make the good confession of faith before men, Christ will confess them as his at the end before God and the angels.

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