Monday, June 18, 2007

Better Christians? An Elite Maybe?

The more I read, and think about what is happening in the church scene, the more I'm convinced that we live in one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous times in the history of the church.

We have so much knowledge, so much scholarship, so much professionalism, that we have become proud, and the simple truths of the Gospel have been squashed under the weight of what we have decided that Christianity should be, and that according to our historical or cultural attachments.

On the one hand we see the authoritarian, and legalistic regimes in many churches, especially those claiming to hold to conservative Reformation orthodoxy, who lump together those they label as liberal, apostate, fallen, etc., even including those who hold to the same soteriology, but whose ecclesiology may slightly differ. In them we see a profession of belief in the great Solas of the Reformation, but their view of salvation by grace alone includes absolute obedience to, not only the laws of God, but obedience to the laws of the church, obeyed to the letter.

On the other hand, and I think, often in response to the forgoing, we have a situation which interprets "saved by grace alone" as "saved without any responsibility or accountability towards God or fellow believers". Cheap grace which has no value for the law as our signpost of what dishonors God.

Somehow in this, both views end up intimating, if not expressing, the view that there are, at least, two types of Christian;

1.The ordinary Christian, saved "by the skin of their teeth", most likely including you and I; and,

2. The "better" Christian, who by the appearance of their lives, their time consuming, life consuming busy activity, their frowning disapproval of things which offend their "piety", their application of themselves to obeying laws, their consistent "ministering" to what they perceive as the needs of others, look as if they are more worthy of God's special love.

What they don't seem to realize is that this is truly blasphemous, because it is, in reality, adding something to the finished work of Calvary, which they proclaim, but fail to understand.

As much as I would not attach this thought to a particular person, I have to wonder some times whether they really are Christians.

They seem to have embraced the Roman Catholic Theology of salvation which requires works of some sort or another, in addition to what Christ said was finished, which is, along with their magisterial idea of leadership, why I label what they practice as Neo-Catholicism. They are more Roman Catholic than Protestant.

Luther likened the R.C. theology of salvation to a pile of dung, which by baptism, becomes pure and undefiled snow, which can fall from grace and turn back into a pile of dung. So, to effect a cure, the Roman Church, has its, so-called, sacraments by which grace is again dispensed so that those who fall from grace, the born again dung, will again become snow.

Not a bad trick, but without the endorsement of God in His Word.

Much of the orthodox conservative Protestant church, which claims to be rooted in the Reformation, has retraced their steps to the heresy from which they were retrieved, where the Christian life has become a caricature of what the Scriptures teach, a never ending conveyor belt of the performance of satisfying legal requirements, which were satisfied in Christ, and trying through sheer effort of pretense, to be the snow, which Christ alone can be. How long before they start to introduce confession, penance and their appendages?

As much as they would strenuously deny the fact, they appear to believe that salvation comes about by us working our own righteousness and not Christ alone, or at least, us assisting Christ, our merit plus His.

This is Roman Catholicism by stealth, or if you like, gradualism. With this kind of thinking being produced in those who proudly place themselves in the order of the Reformers and their theology, why would we wonder at such men leaving Protestantism and embracing the heresy they once professed to have eschewed?

An Anglican, David Ould, has placed his finger squarely on the problem:

I don't know about you, but the idea that I should, somehow, have to contribute myself to my eternal status is a terrifying thought. Luther tried it and it drove him to despair. It is the common complaint of those who view the Christian life as one of constant work - no wonder Roman Catholics speak of guilt. And the notion of "saints" who have done more than the rest of us and so gain more love from God is thus appalling. We are all saints if we trust Christ and what He has done for us, not what He enables and empowers us to do for ourselves - as though there were something we could add to His majestic and finished work.”

Ould continues,

“Luther's great realisation and the thrust of the Reformation was to see that what happens upon conversion is that the person remains the dung that they are (and it is a stinkier and smellier dung that the Roman Church would acknowledge). The thing that changes is that they are viewed as snow, even though they are not. He coined the phrase "simul justus et peccator" to describe this - "at the same time righteous and a sinner".

This is what the theologians call a "forensic" righteousness. It is not that we ourselves are actually in our selves righteous but that we are treated as righteous by the Father on account of Jesus' righteousness which is now imputed (or "symbolically attached") to us. The Roman Church taught that we were actually infused with grace/righteousness, an actual change in our being. The Reformers understood the Bible to say otherwise.”

I am thankful to God for the fact that it is in Christ, and in Him alone, on account of His life and finished work alone, a forensic (legal) work was done on my behalf. I have been accounted (reckoned) as righteous. This righteousness is not mine, but has been imputed to me by His Holy Spirit’s work in me, which He alone has accomplished. Legally, according to God’s law, I was condemned for eternity, but now through His work alone, I am reckoned as being totally righteous in Christ, acquitted of any legal consequences. Even though reckoned as righteous, I am still dung in transition, becoming like snow in a process, which will take the rest of my life, looking forward to the day, when Christ returns, when I shall be like Him, as pure, righteous and holy as I am already reckoned to be.

As Luther said, "at the same time righteous and a sinner".

I wonder whether far too many of us identify ourselves and our theological position as that of the son who stayed at home with the father? If we do, maybe we need to remember Jesus words to Pharisees, "..go and learn what this means: "I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13).

It would do us all good, especially those in leadership, to remember the smell of the pig-pen which still stubbornly clings to every one of us, and the dry, taste of the husks of life, which is the experience of all who are apart from Christ.


David Ould said...

thanks for your kind words. Just one point of clarification:

You write: As much as they would strenuously deny the fact, they appear to believe that salvation comes about by us working our own righteousness and not Christ alone, or at least, us assisting Christ, our merit plus His.

No High Churchman understands it this way. They will argue that "our" merit is only Christ's merit that we appropriate for ourself. That distinction is key for them in claiming that it is still all of Christ.

Bryan Riley said...

Good stuff. Makes me think of Galatians 3.


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