A couple of weeks ago, I posted a piece here and over at the Anglican Centrist entitled "What is Necessary for Salvation?" A clergy colleague and I see the questions we're raising in that posting as perhaps going to the heart of our disagreements and divisions within the Episcopal Church (and Anglicanism more broadly). We're also concerned that our inability as Episcopalians to provide articulate responses to those questions, or to even understand them, or to even be willing to engage them, signals a growing identity crisis within the Episcopal Church. To be sure, we know who and what we are not (e.g., Baptists, etc.). But we're really not all that sure who and what we are.
So I found a recent posting over at Scott Gun's blog "Seven Whole Days" interesting because, in response to a recent Episcopal Church ad ("Get closer to God. Slice carrots."), he touches on the salvation question. And he does so in a way that I think puts into perspective why some of us are just not satisfied with the response that says, "Salvation is about loving God and your neighbor as yourself." After all, you don't need Jesus or the Church to do that.
Here's what Scott writes:
... many people who are not in church have no problem with Jesus. So why don’t we talk about Jesus or, I don’t know, God? If we’re trying to compete based on good works, I’m afraid we’re doomed. The Red Cross or any number of other entities is much more effective at “getting things done” than we are.
Church is about salvation. I think the reason our attendance is plummeting is that we’ve forgotten that. The related problem is that liberals got wishy-washy about salvation. Some of us let others define it. Salvation is not (repeat after me) about getting into heaven. Check out the New Testament on salvation, and if you learn that it’s about eternal life, which starts in this early pilgrimage. The Greek word (sozo) that gets translated as “salvation” is also translated as “wholeness” or “health” or “redemption.” So why can’t we talk about that?
To put it another way, we’re in the transformation biz, not the good deeds biz. Our good deeds spring from our faith. To be sure, sometimes our faith comes as we serve Jesus in the “least of these.” But mostly when we focus on good deeds, we’re repeating a mistake that Anglicans sorted out 550 years ago. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about works-righteousness. You don’t get into heaven by doing good things. You can’t get saved by doing good things. You can’t fix the church by doing good things.
So, sure, I’m OK with slicing carrots or clothing people or giving money to those who have less. We need to do all of those things. But we mustn’t confuse them with our purpose.