Friday, June 14, 2013

A Letter to the Protestant Church, Part I

Zombies seem to be popular these days with just about everyone, but they don't hold much fascination with Jesus, at least as far as we can tell from his Letter to the Church at Sardis. There, Jesus excoriates the believers in that town for having the appearance of life but the reality of deadness. In other words, they were zombie Christians. Before their condition leads to their full and final expiration, he calls on the zombie Christians of Sardis to wake up, shake off the slumber of their hypnotic trance, and save what can be saved before all is lost.

Jesus' beef with the zombie Christians of Sardis is not founded upon mere conjecture. He's seen them in action, he's witnessed what they have done. They had a name, or reputation, for being a vibrant community of Christians, alive in God, but their actions did not measure up to their hype. It's not that they did nothing, they at least made a feint in following through with the works of God, but they stopped short and took a nap before they had pressed through to true fruitfulness (completeness) in God.

What the actual nature of their shortcomings was Jesus did not say. Conjecture and personal application is left to us; in my case, it reminds me of the Parable of the Sower. Rocky soil or weedy soil has the start of something good in reaction to the gospel, an appearance of life, but whatever the initially promising impact may have been, it is not followed through on with dedication and focus. What began to grow withers or remains fruitless (incomplete) as a result.

I look at this and wonder if Jesus could have been writing to the Protestant Church. The promise of a return to the Word and the reformation of what had become mere superstition, idolatry  and commercialism certainly gave the name of life to the Protestant Church. However, given her history and current state of affairs, what would Jesus say of her works? Protestants have fallen asleep in the light while whatever spiritual life and light they may have had has ebbed away. The promise of greatness for that body is all but past, now it would be sufficient if she just woke up, came to her senses, and bolstered what remained.

The Protestant Church is struck, in my opinion, with an overreactive fear of works. I am firmly in the sola camp, so I have no issue with the Reformation's protestation against depending on works for status, position, or merit with God. Works certainly cannot save us nor can they keep us saved. That is not the same, however, as acknowledging that what we do does matter to God, as the Old and New Testaments readily attest! The Protestant Church has, since the Reformation, offered a confusing, befuddled notion of what in the scriptures is the clearly communicated expectation of godly works.

The truth of the matter is that Jesus himself said that final judgment is correlated to works. James did in fact say (notwithstanding Luther's opinion of his epistle's canonicity) that faith without works is dead. That Christ reiterates the concept in the Apocalypse by relating deadness to unfinished or incomplete works should surprise no one. The truth is that there is a consistent emphasis in the New Testament on the works Christians do, and even the need for those to comport with the confession that Christ is the Lord.

Let there be no misunderstanding, we are saved by grace through faith; however, saving faith must be actual faith in order to save. Actual faith that Christ is the Lord motivates change in a person and inspires the one believing to do the works that God has prepared for them. It's not that anyone can be perfect in the sense that their works are nothing but good or that they are above being tempted to walk in their former works. Yet, if anyone has true faith, and any time at all to live in such, his or her life will evidence God-inspired works which demonstrate the reality of his or her faith in Christ.

Being a Protestant should never entail protesting that one is alive despite the lack of any recent works which demonstrate it. To have the name of life but the reality of death is a sham seen through entirely by Jesus Christ. If we are able, that is not incapacitated, it is perfectly fine for a Christian to look at his or her actions and wonder to themselves if they truly believe that Jesus is Lord (God certainly does). A person who truly believes is never undone by such an examination, even if they realize they have works to repent of and sins to confess.

Christ's works may be finished, but ours go on--not to gain salvation, but merely because we are truly saved. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Shroud of Turin

Earlier this year, just in time for Easter, the news came out that the Shroud of Turin may be authentic after all. It has been claimed to be a forgery by knowledgeable people since it's been in the West (~1390 CE). And it's been claimed to be authentic by relic apologists and the faithful just as long. In 1998 what was apparently a slam-dunk scientific examination proved it was a forgery.

But now, supposedly better testing techniques, better controlled for contamination have yielded results that make the Shroud possibly contemporaneous with Christ. Different dating technique, no fibrous contamination, and viola, what was not so, now may be so. To tell you the truth, I could care less. Nothing about my belief in Christ rests on the Shroud. I do admit, however, that it would be cool if it did turn out to be possibly authentic...

Jesus burial clothes were part of the Gospel account of the resurrection story. I can't imagine Mary, Mary, Peter or John leaving the empty cloth in the empty tomb.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Is There A Person God Cannot Save?

Is there a person that God cannot save? I suppose it depends on what one means by "save".  In any given perilous situation (e.g. my car going off a cliff) the answer would have to be "no", God could save anyone in any situation. If what is meant by use of the term is to be preserved alive after the final judgment of sin, then the answer is "yes", and resoundingly so. That being said, I still must confess that scripture convinces me that if God could save everyone from judgment, he would.

"‘...As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked..."     Ezekiel 33:11 NASB

It is quite clear from scripture that there is a place of eternal judgment and that it will be populated with unsaved sinners as well as the demon horde. Eternal confinement to a lake that burns with fire seems harsh, minimally--not at all the kind of thing one might anticipate someone styled "Savior" doing. I think it would be natural to think that God would have done something about that, if he could have.

He did.

"...I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all..."      1 Timothy 2:1-6 NASB

It seems to me, what God could do to save all humanity from judgment he did do. If all humanity does not end up saved, the fault will not lie with God, but with man. He has provided a substitutionary sacrifice for sin that effectively meets the demand that both man and God see for justice, and effectively reconciles the broken relationship between God and man the sinner. All that is left is for man to no longer want to be a sinner.

Now that is not something that can be imposed. It can be coaxed, an invitation can be made, and a supernatural effort to convince the sinner of his perilous status can be undertaken. But to write over the will of the person in order to make it happen would only serve to cause the sinner to cease being a man. The result could not be said to be a man being saved, but would represent a man being transformed into something other than a man, something less than the image of God.

Man was made in the image of God, to do as he pleased. A man could not be said to be a man on those terms if someone else's pleasure were substituted (especially unwillingly) for his own. To be a man is to have independent will. Unfortunately, it is also to have the possibility of withstanding every effort of God to turn that will to the obedience of faith.

Is there a person God cannot save? Yes, the one who won't repent and believe the gospel.