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Are You Saved???

April 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

If Grace is trueOccasionally people knock on my door or hand me a tract on a street corner or strike up a conversation with the aim of asking, “Are you saved?” Even before I believed in the salvation of every person, I always answered with an enthusiastic yes. Often, rather than sharing my elation, my inquisitors would look me up and down with a dubious eye and ask another question. The second question varied depending on the person. Many asked, “Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior?” Some asked, “Do you belong to a Bible-believing church?” Others asked if I’d been fully immersed or baptized in the name of Jesus or filled with the Holy Spirit and spoken in tongues. My salvation hinged on how I answered their second query. Those most aggressive about determining my salvation were also most certain what it meant to be saved. They knew the sole formula. Claiming to be a Christian was never enough. I had to subscribe to their specific explanation for the human condition, the activity of God, the means and purpose of salvation. If not, I faced damnation.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (p. 155). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We humans, and that includes everyone who is or has ever been in the church, put so many conditions on God’s grace where he seem to have put none. Putting an emergent twist on this topic, this has been the case for most of the church’s history. One theologian believes “X” and another believes “Y”. If they aren’t overpowered as a heretic then the church’s belief becomes “X+Y”. Over the ages this has resulted in a belief code that is almost as long at the U.S. tax code.  Much about the church has become what to believe rather than what to do.

I spent several years trying to sort all of this out. There are literally hundreds of published theologians around today and I studied many of them. In some ways they are kind of like expert witnesses at trials.  If you just look enough you can find one who will testify as the the truthfulness of whatever you want to believe. During those years of study I became overwhelmingly frustrated in trying to discern what God was really like. It was not until I heard a whisper telling me to not be concerned about what the theologians said  but instead to listen with my heart and soul.

At that point I learned a valuable lesson and that is that God just can’t be defined by human logic or understanding. Mine or anyone else’s. The theologians throughout the ages are simply men like you or I who have an opinion which they hope will garner them some authority with the body of Christ and praise from men.  They like everyone else want to leave a legacy behind so they make up this or that rule or belief to add to all the others before them.  Do they do this with a belligerent intent? For the most part I don’t imagine so.

As a result we, as one of the 39,000 different versions of church, have piled belief and rules one upon the other where God had put only two. As the quote above inferred every version of Jesus’ church they have the sole formula for salvation. God in the person of Jesus made it pretty simple and that is to love God with everything you have and to love your fellowman. It couldn’t be simpler than that.  Why have we allowed so many since Jesus’ time to pile on so many other things?

Am I saved? If I believe in the agape love and grace of God then I can give you an emphatic yes as an answer. If I live by the piles of accumulated beliefs that answer is not so simple. I think I will choose Jesus’ simple words instead of man’s complicated ones.

What matters to those who look to history for important lessons is that something was lost in the fourth century that permanently changed the nature of Christianity. If we do not recover that spirit of loyalty to the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount as opposed to saluting the Nicene Creed, the decline of the church will continue. If we persist in arguing across our theological divides in a perishing world, then the church deserves its fate. If we cannot reverse the move away from praxis and toward doctrine that was sealed by Constantine, the church will become, and deserves to become, the relic of another age.
It was post-Constantine theologians who gave us the doctrine of original sin (an inherited disease for which the institution that makes the diagnosis also claims to have the only cure) and the blood atonement, the belief that Jesus came to earth solely for the purpose of dying for our sins, a doctrine not fully developed in the church until the tenth century.
Are we born bad and must be saved, as conservatives assert, or are we born good, as liberals maintain, but have forgotten where we came from, where we are going, and to whom we belong? Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary for the salvation of the world, or is this the ultimate form of Child abuse?

The words above are from a book entitled The Underground Church by Robin Meyers. I must admit that this book along with the book by Harvey Cox entitled The Age of Faith have fundamentally changed my perception of what the church should be. The words above were an “aha” moment for me. When I discovered that much of what I thought was from Jesus but in reality came many years later from man it changed my perception of what being a follower of Jesus really meant.

When I took the time to study early church history it opened my eyes to some truths that were hidden from me and from so many others today.  When I realized that for the majority of its history Christianity has been in a constant conflict about its theology it made me realize that some of what I am told to just take as truth may actually just be the version that won out in a previous church conflict.

As the quote above states a major shift happened in the Church when Constantine changed it from being groups throughout the empire who followed the words of Jesus to a State mandated religion it changed the church in a very basic way. The power that came along with this dictate was corrosive to the church leaders and thinkers.   In order to rescue the church from the mistakes made during these periods we must get back to the pre-Constantine  church.  Simply parroting the doctrine of past theologians will no longer hack it with many who are looking for a more spiritual foundation for their faith.

The emergent movement that is taking place today within the church says that it is ok to believe that some of the things from past leaders could have been wrong hearted. It is ok to say we don’t fully understand the heart of God. In other words it is ok to say that we and all those who preceded us are human beings with human foibles and weaknesses and just may have gotten some of it wrong. That inevitably include the past leaders and theologians. Yes, even the popes.  I’m sure even Martin Luther would agree with that last part….

Anyone who has read much of this blog knows that I take the creeds of the Christian church to have done more harm than good.  Here are some words about that by Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith:

Creeds were always something theologians invented, often to stake out spheres of authority. The vast body of lay Christians knew little about them and cared less. Their faith was embodied in stories, saints’ days, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. But these everyday people constituted, after all, the vast majority.

The priests and theologians always remained a tiny minority. Consequently the recent emergence of “people’s history” is facilitating the recovery of Christianity’s original faith orientation. As the revival of religion and the change in religiousness spread around the world, it becomes clearer why the extraordinary growth of Christianity beyond the West is helping Christianity regain its initial impetus.

These areas lie far removed from Plato’s orbit. To be a Christian in India or Korea or Africa today does not mean to be a Christian à la grec. It means to be what is sometimes called a “postdogmatic” Christian. The content of the faith of non-Western Christians is much like that of the early church, even though the embodied style of their religion often resembles that of their non-Christian neighbors….

Religious people today are more interested in ethical guidelines and spiritual disciplines than in doctrines. They are also becoming less patriarchal, as women assume leadership positions in religions that have barred them for centuries, sometimes for millennia. Women are publishing commentaries on the Qur’an, leading synagogues, and directing Buddhist retreat centers. There are now women pastors, priests, and bishops in Christian denominations.

As you can see from these words things are changing at the root level in Christian churches. You might say that you have not seen much of a change but if you were a Christian in the southern hemisphere you would not question what is going on.  Western Christians want to point to the fact that the church is growing so therefore this “emergent movement” really doesn’t have much muscle. The trouble with that belief is that like many of the current beliefs/creeds present in the western church are naive at best or wrong at worst.

Much of South America is made up of Roman Catholics but they are not like the ones you come across in your Sunday visits. They are literally giving the pope heartburn with their non-allegience to many of the things the church hold dear. They are not aligning to all the things they are told to believe. Many of them in fact have embraced liberation theology. I know from the 2008 elections that was a dirty name in this country but not so in other parts of the world.

Yes, Christianity might be holding its own  overall but all of the growth is actually occurring  outside Europe and the U.S and it is a very different Christianity than what we know.  As the quote above says it much more closely resembles the early church than the modern church of the western world.  I personally think that is a good thing.  I kind of like the term post-dogmatic Christians. It has a nice ring to it.  I will be covering some of this in future posts because it will be a critical issue in the post-modern/dogmatic church of the twenty-first century by the emergent movement among others.

With this post I will begin looking at some of the early church leaders.  We will start with Origen.

Here a quote from another Diana Butler Bass book. This one is entitled A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story

While Tertullian emphasized the negative aspects of the military to Christian discipleship, Origen pointed out the positive vision of a life of Christian peacemaking. He criticized the army as a society of “professional violence,” pointing out that Jesus forbids any kind of violence or vengeance against another. “We will not raise arms against any other nation, we will not practice the art of war,” he wrote, “because through Jesus Christ we have become the children of peace.” To him the spiritual life means rejecting all forms of violence, an “absolute pacifism.”

Origen lived between 185 – 254AD. He was considered one of the most distinguished writer of the early church. One of his beliefs was in the pre-existence of souls and universal reconciliation. That is he believed that all our souls have been in existence just waiting for our time on earth. He also believed that because God loves all of mankind and wishes all of them to be saved that he will indeed bring all souls back to him. Origen was not the first prominent person in the church to believe this as Clement of Alexandria, whom we will be studying soon was also in the group.  When Constantine era bishops took power this is one the ideas that they rejected. They therefore deemed Origen a heretic. But today he is again generally regarded as one of the Church Fathers by the Catholic church.

Origen also believed that there was just too much inconsistencies within the documents that made up the then bible for it to be taken literally. He believed that it was necessary to gather all of the existing copies of many documents in order to try to discern just what the original writer intended. This included many of the document that later made up the “official bible”.

Origen’s views of the Trinity were also contrary to later authors. He saw the Son of God as subordinate to God the Father and not as an equal. This later became a common view of many of the “ante-Nicene Fathers” For this and many other beliefs that were later purged in the post-Constantine church where he was deemed a heretic but fortunately, unlike many declared heretics that followed him, some of his writings survived the purge to be included in church history.

Here are some additional comments made about him in Wikipedia:

Origen was born in Alexandria to Christian parents. He was educated by his father, Leonides of Alexandria, who gave him a standard Hellenistic education, but also had him study the Christian Scriptures. Name of his mother is unknown.

In 202, Origen’s father was martyred in the outbreak of the persecution during the reign of Septimius Severus. A story reported by Eusebius has it that Origen wished to follow him in martyrdom, but was prevented only by his mother hiding his clothes…

Eusebius reported that Origen, following Matthew 19:12 literally, castrated himself. This story was accepted during the Middle Ages.  Scholars within the past century however have questioned this, surmising that this may have been a rumor circulated by his detractors.

As you can see from this commentary Origen held many beliefs that are not part of the “official” beliefs of the current day church. But it was not until the purges of the post-Nicene period that he posthumously felt the sting of the “church”. To end this post Origen was one of those mentioned previously who was a  Saint then a Heretic and then a Saint again.

Church history is messy indeed….