Amid the commemorations and celebrations of Martin Luther nailing several Latin points for disputation upon his local bulletin board, there has been some discussion about whether the Reformation “failed” or “succeeded.” The answer, of course, depends on what you think the Reformation’s goal was. But to enable you to reach your own conclusions, I thought a scorecard might be helpful. (more…)
It is often claimed that one insuperable difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants, since Luther, believe in the priesthood of all believers, while Catholics believe Christians need a priest to bring them to God. Today this is usually a Protestant accusation against Catholics, although in the sixteenth century Luther’s notion of the priesthood of all believers, including illiterate and semi-literate peasants, did come in for a certain amount of ridicule from some of the more educated members of the clergy. Some of the wilder branches of Protestantism have gone further than Luther, even rejecting, on the claimed basis of the “priesthood of all believers,” any ordained clergy whatsoever (this includes the Plymouth Brethren and the Quakers), while many “Bible-believing” Protestants draw a sharp distinction between Roman Catholic priests and their own pastors or elders. As with so many things, however, the disagreement between the denominations over the scope of the priesthood is based more on an argument over words than over the substance of what the Bible says. There are substantive disagreements in Roman Catholic and various Protestant understandings of priesthood(s), but the “argument” over the priesthood or not of all believers can safely be put down to a deficiency of northern European languages like English, which have one word where Greek has two, and a desire on both sides of the argument to affirm the superiority of their group over those who disagree with them.
One doctrinal formula which Calvinists bandy about and non-Calvinists like to mock is “once saved, always saved.” Like almost all doctrinal formulas, this one is shorthand for a longer assertion. It’s easy to expand it to “once a person has been saved, that person cannot lose his or her salvation.” But that formulation still presumes that we know what we’re talking about when we say someone “is saved.” Although this language is often used, especially among American evangelicals since the 19th C, I don’t think “saved” can meaningfully be used as an adjective as it always is, or even as an absolute verb (i.e. a verb without additional specification of the predicate). Now, some folks who know their Bibles really well will immediately point out that the apostles used the word “saved” in various contexts without adding additional specification (Eph 2:5 and 8 come to mind). But we must always ask, in every context, “What is the subject of the sentence saved from?”
Since the notion of “once saved, always saved” has come up recently in a few places, I thought I would re-post here an (edited) email I wrote back in 2010 in answer to a question from a friend. First, his question:
What does it mean to be “saved”? Is it a once-and-for-all thing, or a lifelong process, or what? A fellow who grows up a believer and manifests all the signs of a Christian and then in, say, his late teens turns away from the faith: is he saved?
In honor of yesterday’s feast of Corpus Christi, in some Latin liturgical calendars, here is a narration of my experience leading up to my first communion. I remember how I described those events at the time, without Christian jargon which was then unfamiliar to me, because of the impression they made on me, both because of their force and because of how unexpected they were.
When I decided to become a Christian, I started visiting churches on Sunday mornings, and in the course of four weeks I visited three churches, one a Calvary Chapel and the other two both Presbyterian churches. I think none of these churches offered communion more than once per month, but in four consecutive weeks I was offered communion three times. (more…)
Will the real Church please stand up? Go to a phone directory of any moderately sized settlement and see if the listings for “churches” don’t rapidly get bewildering. Indeed, such an exercise is often an education into varieties of Christianity we didn’t know existed! How should those who worship Christ sort through this denominational chaos?
One method frequently suggested by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Disciples of Christ (along with a few Baptists, on occasion) is to look at the evidence for early Christianity and see which contemporary denomination is most similar to the churches of the apostles and their successors. This is the argument from similarity. I recently read a blog post making this argument against Protestants of all stripes, and a commentator here pressed me to consider the same line of reasoning. It was not the first time. I have heard this argument made in favor of multiple different branches of contemporary Christianity. I like to imagine the question by asking which church would look most familiar to the apostle Peter or any of the other earliest Christians, if he were sent on a time-travel expedition from AD 60 to the present. I prefer someone else to Jesus for this exercise because Jesus is the God who knows the hearts, and this is usually posed as a question about external appearances. (more…)
(This is edited from a comment I posted on another blog, but I thought it might interest readers here.)
Some people explain their coming to Christ in terms of a prior experience of internal emptiness or “hunger.” I felt those sensations, but I think I would never have come to Christ due to internal hunger; I was struggling, in some ways like Buddhists are told to, to accept the nothing and dissociate from the hunger. So I wrote bad poetry, was depressed, and experienced near continual suicidal ideation over a course of several years. But God in his surprising mercy met me after my post-modern belief structure self-destructed (it was a surreal time), and when, about to kill myself, I prayed on a lark more than anything else, “God, I don’t want my life any more. Jesus, do you want it?” I was very surprised to get a response, a distinct internal, “Yep.” (Not “Yes,” mind you; God chose to speak my colloquial.) It wasn’t audible, but it was as incontrovertible as it was unexpected. I remember sitting back on my bed and thinking, “I… guess… I belong… to Jesus now? WEIRD.” And yet that experience was only one step in the Lord’s redemption of my life; as a born and raised non-Christian (very hostile to Christianity), there was a lot of learning to do, which God provided in the form of a godly couple who brought me into their family. I call them my godparents, because when I came to them I really only knew that Jesus claimed to be God (I was only starting to wonder if I believed him) and that in some sense I belonged to him. Not a substantial grounding in the faith! He continued to be very gracious to me as I talked myself into most classical non-trinitarian heresies within the first year of belonging to him, and he provided loving and wise pastors to talk me out of them. There are many more ways he’s been gracious, but I think that fits the bill as to why I believe in Jesus as God. My first communion ought to be part of the story, as well as many other aspects, even starting two years earlier with running into a stranger coming down from a crack high in the middle of the night outside my residence, who told me that the Bible was true. But the kernel of the story was a very depressed college senior reaching out into the unknown one last time, not expecting a handshake to seal the deal.