Friday, July 25, 2008

The Gift of God - Covenent, Salvation and Christology

I have been struggling with the age old issue that seperates Protestants and Catholics: What place do works have in salvation? I find that there are 3 key texts for understanding this (in my pathetic opinion) James 2, Ephesians 2, and Matthew 25.

I've already done James 2, and I must say that Catholics win some ground in that it does *sound like a refutation of Sola Fide, although Calvin and Jared compose a good counter-argument. The main problem is the fact that if they are right (Catholics), how on earth do faiths retain our justification. That's when we step from the biblical to the traditional, suddenly we find a phrase like 'retain our justification' and then we fall into this weird sphere which leaves us with a God who cares more about physical actions then the position of the heart, in essence a pharisaical (is that a word?) legalism, which many Catholic complain to me about (actually only 3 but still). On the other side, we have of course the free-grace-r's, whom Bonhoeffer dismisses quite effectively as well in his chapter on "Cheap Grace".

I read through the other 2 passages today and here are my thoughts and conclusions - at least for now, which shockingly place me in the sphere of Protestantism, something I haven't seen in a while. It appears I might be reshaking Luther's hand again, before all is said and done.

Ephesians 1-2.
I've been trying REALLY hard not to read my bible in the way I was taught as a reformed baptist, and been actively trying to make my bible sound like Catholicism, I have of course a strange Wesleyan-Orthodox theology, and so reading Ephesians 1 - the Calvinist gospel, yielded an interesting result for me.

Now, I go with the Arminians in that when I read Ephesians 1 and everything about predestination I see St. Paul discussing more of a category, rather than individuals. I think he's discussing the church as a whole, the new covenant group, and that God somehow has pre-destined (for a God outside time and space, I don't see how foreknowledge without predestination is possible) the church. So, it says in v4 that we are chosen to be "Holy and Blameless" meaning sanctification. In these chapters St. Paul contrasts the 'others', the pagans, those ignorant of Christ, and the Elect. Those whom God chose to reveal Christ to. Those in the new covenant. So he sealed them with the Holy Spirit and these are God's people.

He keeps saying though things like 'heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation' and that the people 'believed in him'. Very Protestant (i'm not honestly saying St. Paul was protestant or Catholic, I'm just saying it is points on their side. He seems to be saying that the formula is: 1. you were bad, 2. luckily God predestined you to be holy, 3. (because) you heard the gospel and believed. Paul always talks about faith and grace in these chapters and rejects the notion that the people of God/the church/believers really had anything to do with it. He is saying (in my opinion) that Christ achieved it all.

Riches is another key theme, it is that when Christ came and died he 'drew men unto himself' (Jn 6:44) and that they could become 'in Him' and 'in Christ'. The amazing thing to me is the pattern, it is that CHRIST earned it, NOT us. There can be no merit. The Catholic position is the opposite in some ways, in that they believe in salvation by grace, but that we can still merit our salvation. As St. Thomas Aquinas states:

"Man, by his natural endowments, cannot produce meritorious works
proportionate to everlasting life; and for this a higher force is needed, viz.
the force of grace. And thus without grace man cannot merit everlasting life"
(St. Thomas Aquinas ST I-II:109:5)

However in Ephesians 3:13-14 it says "in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (ESV). This is of course Christology, talking about how the blood of Christ brings unity between the believers. But I am always amazed at how throughout the letter the theme is always - Christ achieves eternal life, he distributes grace, and in his crucifixion he has bought all of the elect, they HAVE BEEN saved, in the Past tense. Somehow, mysteriously Christ bought the salvation of St. Thomas Aquinas, over 1000 years before he was born, because he was one of the elect, he 'believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness'.

It says in Chapter 2:4 "even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved" (ESV). It is a reoccuring theme that Christ has made us alive, not us. How do we know those who have been made alive? they have heard the gospel, they believe, they are being made holy. Again St. Paul hammers it out 'by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.' It seems clear to me that the case is closed for Paul, salvation is seperate from holiness, from works, from boasting.

Now I know Catholics will argue 2 things here. 1. Works means - works of the law of moses, etc. blah blah N.T. Wright, 2nd temple judaism, blah. I know. I've heard it. However, if the ESV was translated properly (I have no clue if it is), it says 'not your own doing', rather than Works/works of the law of moses. 2. This is talking about 'initial justification' blah blah Lutheran-Catholic joint declaration on Justification blah. I know. I've heard it. However, Paul doesn't seem to understand Trentine Catholicism, in that he says in v.6 "and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ". It goes straight from justification by grace, to glorification, theosis etc. This left my Catholic-side screaming: 'For the love of God Paul, don't you know about meritous good works! don't you know about Purgatory and indulgences! don't you know that you are one of the greatest of the saints, and that if you look at yourself in the mirror and say a hail mary you will earn 1000 years out of purgatory because of the merits of ... well you and the saints'. I realize this is one passage, but still, if you were in Ephesus, this was all the church really knew outside the basic life of Jesus, and the OT. It seemed enough for them.

Good Lord, I seem like a Calvinist. Ephesians 1 will do it to all of us... 'he desireth that all men might be saved' come on Andrew, remember 'sins of the world-not sins of the elect' ... just repeat it over and over again.... There we go, Wesleyan once more. Moving on.

Now the other thing is, I didn't discuss Chp 2:10, in typical Protestant style. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." But again, this says nothing about Salvation, it only seems to me to be pointing to proof of justification, proof of election, proof that you are in God's covenant. There is my protestant reading of Ephesians 1-2, may God have mercy on my soul, I defy the position of the church.

I was always guilted by Catholics and Orthodox who would say that if this IS the gospel, if this is the message, why did no one preach it throughout church history until Martin Luther in the 16th century. Why? How could the Gospel be lost. That is why I bought into Catholic interpretation, because it is a good argument. However when I honestly look at the text and at the life of Protestant and Catholic churches in my city and elsewhere, I have to embarrassingly say along with Luther that I really do think this is the gospel. I really do think that Christ lived, died, and rose to save us, to make dead people alive, not to empower us to be better, not to gain victory and then make us gain victory ourselves, not to make bad people pull themselves up. I think the fundamental premise is that they can't, ever. And even Christ's victory over death still has each Christian die. And even his victory over sin can't in this life free us from sin. I think it's a noble ideal, that we somehow become like Christ and merit our salvation. However, I can't do it. Me, personally, I can't be that way. Only Christ can I think, I will always be the same selfish fat bastard. But Christ is so much more, and when I give up everything and let Christ work through me, when I admit that I am rubbish, and give up my hope that I can save myself, then God changes me. I have to much faillure to be triumphalistic. My good works were predestined by God, and they don't merit anything other than thanksgiving to Him.

Matthew 25.
If Ephesians 1 was the Calvinist Gospel, then Matthew 25 is the social gospel. Now the idea of Covenant is still something I don't truly understand, but here is my underdeveloped view of it. Belief, faith, baptism, communion, are all things we do to enter into the covenant, but the key is really submission to Christ and trust in his ability to save us. Now the thing I never noticed before is that at the beginning Christ seperates the sheep and the goats, sheep on the right. Sheep on the right. Christ = The Good Shepherd (Ez.34, Jn.10), believers = Sheep, those in his covenant, those who believe, those who are saved. And on the left he seperates the goats, goat typically associated with Satan. As 1 John tells us, all who sin are children of the devil, which means, everyone except Christians and the Blessed Virgin Mary (Gen 3:15 + 1Jn3:8 = sinless Mary) are goats/children of the devil.

Now I was always taught that those who looked after the poor, who did everything 'for the least of these', were the ones who go to Heaven, and the others who neglected the poor, hungry, and naked, were the ones who went to Hell. HOWEVER, it says that to the ones on the right that they served him well, that they did the work of Christ, but they are judged TOGETHER, or Corporately. The Church itself is judged as Righteous on Judgement day, not the individul. Those outside the Church who do not share in it's corporate blessings, those who have not stayed in Christ, are the ones who are judged to go to "eternal punishment".

Thus, my believe is that we must stay "in Christ". I've always said that Predestination doesn't honestly matter, because if we are predestined not to believe in predestination, there's no changing our minds anyway. I am thinking that St. Paul's theme the more and more I read and re-read, is that we must be "In Christ" and those the people who are saved and will be made holy through sanctification, and that it is by grace, through faith, the good gift, salvation, the gift of God.

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