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. 


Pumice said...

Zombie Christians. I can see a lot of parallels. They also tend to seek out those who are still alive and draw them into their state.

This could develop a new genre of movie about The Zombie Exorcist. Would Spirit filled believers be immune? Would they run at the sight of a cross?

Grace and peace.

SLW said...

They would definitely run if they were called to carry their cross! ;-)