Thursday, February 24, 2011

Responding to Questions About Salvation

A few years back I posted a piece entitled "What is Necessary for Salvation?" in which I asked the following questions:

  1. What is necessary for salvation?
  2. What is the meaning of this sentence at the top of page 298 in The Book of Common Prayer: “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble”?
  3. Are there certain behaviors or sins which, if committed without repentance, can condemn a baptized Christian to hell? If so, what are those behaviors/sins?

In reply to a comment I left on a posting entitled "But how are we saved?" over at The Conciliar Anglican, Fr. Jonathan recently offered the following response to my questions:

To briefly, and thus probably inadequately, answer the questions you pose:

1. What is necessary for salvation?

Simple answer: Jesus Christ. Slightly longer answer: God choosing to take the corruption of our sin onto Himself so that we might be freed from it. This is accomplished through Christ’s incarnation and death on the cross. The grace of God is then given to us to the extent that we trust in Jesus and allow Him to save us.

In any event, I would always want to put the stress on God’s action, rather than on ours. Theories of salvation usually start to fall apart at precisely the point when we start to get too specific about what we have to do with the whole thing.

2. What is the meaning of this sentence at the top of page 298 in The Book of Common Prayer: “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble”?

The grace that comes to us in Baptism is irrevocable. Through Baptism, we are brought into Christ’s Body and made one with Him. That cannot be undone, any more than two who are made one flesh in marriage can be separated. This does not imply that it’s impossible for a baptized person to apostatize, but rather that grace is given freely to each baptized person, whether they accept it or not.

3. Are there certain behaviors or sins which, if committed without repentance, can condemn a baptized Christian to hell? If so, what are those behaviors/sins?

Yes. All of them.

One finds some small degree of variation amongst classical Anglicans on this point, but in general the classical Anglican position rejects the Roman Catholic Tridentine notion that sin can be categorized mortal or venial. Sin is sin. It is that which separates us from God. I would be willing to grant that there is a difference between sins, in that some separate us faster and more deeply than others. But even a small separation from God is still a separation. If a thirsty man dies five feet away from a bottle of water, is that really any better than dying five miles from it? Hence, the need for grace is great. Fortunately for us, so is the love of God.

In addition to one Orthodox Christian's answer to the question "Are you saved?", I deeply appreciate Fr. Jonathan's response to my questions.

24 comments:

R. H. said...

Thanks for this well-written article regarding Salvation. As someone raised in the Episcopal Church, I find that very few congregants today understand the things you have written. I think much of the problem is due to: Biblical ignorance, poor or non-existent Christian education classes and the disuse of the 1662/1928 Book of Common Prayer. I would like to recommend a couple of blogs that might interest you and your readers: http://northwestanglican.blogspot.com,
http://www.dailyaudiobible.com (by The Rev. Brian Hardin)
http://solidpeople.blogspot.com and
"Anglican in the Wilderness blog from the United Kingdom Keep up the good work preaching the Gospel! Matt. 6:33 -- Roland

Fr. J said...

Many thanks for the compliment of reprinting my words.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the kind words and blog recommendations, Roland. I'll have to take a look at them.

And thanks again, Fr. Jonathan, for your thoughtful response to my questions and for what you're doing over at your blog. It's much appreciated!

I'll piggy-back on Roland by recommending a couple of Anglican blogs that I think are outstanding. First, there's Catholicity and Covenant by a priest in the Church of Ireland. And then there's Anglican Down Under by the Rev. Peter Carrell in New Zealand. Please pray for Peter and everyone in Christchurch and elsewhere in New Zealand who have suffered from the devastation caused by Tuesday's earthquake.

Steve Hayes said...

Perhaps even more necessary is the question "What is salvation?" Christians seem to give such very different answers to that question.

Bryan Owen said...

You may be right, Steve. And such a question is related to another one for which Christians give different answers: "What is the Gospel?"

plsdeacon said...

When I work with the men in prison, they all want to know what is the unforgivable sin? What is "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?"

I usually tell them that the unforgivable sin is to say that God cannot forgive this sin.

There is no sin, be it ever so venial or slight that will not keep us from fellowship with God if we insist on keeping that sin instead of repenting.

Likewise, there is no sin - be it ever so heinous - that God did not pay the price for on the Cross and that God cannot and will not forgive if we repent.


As for the first two questions, the problem in TEC begins with soteriology. Too many of our leaders don't really believe that we are sinners who need to die to self, but that we just need some improvement. Thus, we don't need a Savior - let alone a Lord. We need a guide or guru. Thus Jesus is not our savior that gives us divine life, but our friend and guide that teaches us to be better. Thus He doesn't need to be divine and, therefore, his body - the Church - is a purely human institution that can be changed when it suits the needs of the moment.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder
YBIC,
Phil Snyder

Roland said...

In my earlier post I forgot to give you the contact info. for "Anglicans in the Wilderness" (the name used on their facebook page). To go directly to the site: http://anglo-reformed.org I don't know if all this blogging is doing much to expand the Kingdom of God or not. I find I have been spending too much time with it, to the neglect of prayer, fasting and evangelism. I hope we all don't become gnostics in our pursuit of more and more (and more!) information. It's a trend I am concerned about for myself. I think maybe we all should go "off line" for a week each month. Or at least on day, eh? -- R.H.

Bryan Owen said...

Good points, Phil, about the power of sin - any sin - to alienate us from God, and also the power, grace, and mercy of God to forgive any sin, no matter how horrific.

And sadly, I think you may be right about too many TEC leaders no longer believing in the basics of sin and salvation. Little wonder, then, that we never hear them use the language of sin and salvation. They've abandoned it.

For this year's Lenten book study, we're going to read Barbara Brown Taylor's Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation. In the Introduction she writes:

"Abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience alienation, deformation, damnation, and death no matter what we call them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives. Ironically, it will also weaken the language of grace, since the full impact of forgiveness cannot be felt apart from the full impact of what has been forgiven."

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the corrected info, Roland.

And that's an interesting and important point about blogging. I think that if our use of such resources as the blogosphere, Facebook, etc. is balanced with the other work to which we are called that blogging, Facebook, etc., can, indeed, be Kingdom work. We can use our time and our talents on a blog to spread the Gospel and speak the truth in love. But we must also take care to resist the many temptations to incivility that such venues seem to offer. I note, for instance, how vindictive some Christian websites can be towards other persons (and, in particular, other Christians). But on the other hand, I also know many examples of Christians whose blogging offers an exemplary witness.

Rick said...

I appreciate much about the Anglican Church, but the stance on baptism is...well...confusing.

There seems to be a difference between question #1 and #2. If one is saved through Jesus Christ, and what he accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection.

But then in answer #2, it indicates that only through baptism are we brought into Christ's Body and made one with Him.

So it would seem that it is not just Jesus Christ, or that He is sufficient, but rather that it must be Him plus a work.

Am I reading that right?

(p.s.- I enjoy your blog and emphasis on creeds and orthodoxy)

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Rick. Thanks for your comments and questions.

I'll take a stab at answering your questions by drawing on the Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer.

There we read that sacraments are "outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace" (BCP, p. 857). It's not that God's grace is limited to sacraments such as Baptism and Eucharist. As the Catechism says: "God does not limit himself to these [sacramental] rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us" (BCP, p. 861). But the point is that these sacraments are "sure and certain means by which we receive" the saving grace made available to us by Jesus' death and resurrection.

The Catechism teaches that Baptism is the means by which we receive the inward and spiritual grace of "union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God's family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit" (BCP, p. 858). As I read this, the issue is not that the Church is adding a work in addition to the work of Christ for salvation (as though Christ's work was not sufficient!). Rather, the issue is how we receive the saving grace of Christ's work. How do we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ such that we, too, pass over from death to resurrection life? And how do we do it, not just as an act of will, but (contra tendencies towards Gnosticism) using material things and our bodies, and in a way (as in the case of infant baptism) that exemplifies prevenient grace? We do so through receiving the sacrament of Baptism.

Does any of this help to answer your questions, or have I only muddied the waters all the more?

Rick said...

Bryan Owen-

I appreciate your response. That was helpful.

The countering of Gnosticism was an interesting element I had not considered.

That being said, I still am not seeing an emphasis on trust and faith in Christ. As someone who leans towards the theology of J. Wesley, I appreciate the previenent grace aspect as well as seeing the sacraments as a means of grace. But does that include saving grace (justification), or is it a grace of sanctification?

In regards to our own death and resurrection, do we not rely on His death and resurrection, rather than our own? We are do die daily, and carry our cross daily, but is that not an aspect of sanctification?

I am found in the paleo-orthodoxy camp (Thomas Oden), so I appreciate the long history and contributions of Anglicanism. I am just trying to learn more about, and get a handle on that baptism (regeneration) issue.

Again, thanks.

Bryan Owen said...

Hello again, Rick. Thanks for following up with more questions. I'll take another crack at it, this time by drawing on the liturgy for Holy Baptism in the Prayer Book. (You can access a pdf version of this part of the Prayer Book here.) I'll put the parts of your comment to which I am responding in italics, and I'll respond to each part in a separate comment.

"I still am not seeing an emphasis on trust and faith in Christ."

There are a few places in the liturgy that can help address that concern. One of the clearest places comes in the questions of renunciation and adherence on pages 302-303. After acknowledging and renouncing evil at the cosmic, systemic, and personal levels, candidates who can speak for themselves (or parents/godparents on behalf of infants and younger children) say "I do" in response to the following questions:

* Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
* Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
* Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

So after acknowledging and renouncing evil, persons acknowledge that there is One who can do something about that problem (Jesus Christ the Savior), that Jesus is worthy of our trust, and that Jesus alone is the ultimate authority over our lives.

Following the renunciations and adherences is the Baptismal Covenant (BCP, pp. 304-305). Here, every baptized person present renews his/her commitment to the faith of the Church and to the promises we make for how to live our lives as those "sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever" (BCP, p. 308). The first three questions are sometimes called "Questions of Trust," and the answers take the form of the Apostles' Creed. The next five questions are sometimes called "Questions of Promise," and they lay out what the practical implications are for placing one's trust and faith in the God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And at the very center of it all is Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

So before we even begin to get close to the water bath, all of this takes place first. I interpret that as a strong emphasis on the need for trust and faith in Christ.

Bryan Owen said...

Continuing my response to Rick:

As someone who leans towards the theology of J. Wesley, I appreciate the prevenient grace aspect as well as seeing the sacraments as a means of grace. But does that include saving grace (justification), or is it a grace of sanctification?

I'll start by going back to the Catechism (BTW, you can access the entire BCP Catechism here). Please bear with me - I'm quite literally "thinking out loud" as I write, so I hope this makes sense!

According to the Catechism, in Baptism we receive the inward and spiritual grace of "union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God's family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit" (BCP, p. 858). I interpret this to mean that Baptism is a sure and certain means by which we do, indeed, receive saving grace ("union with Christ in his death and resurrection" and "birth into God's family the Church") that also justifies us (we receive "forgiveness of sins" and "new life in the Holy Spirit").

However, while Baptism is administered only once (in the Nicene Creed we say: "We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins"), we spend the rest of our lives living into the meaning and practical implications of having been baptized into Christ Jesus.

Justification is about what Christ has done for us, while sanctification is about what the Spirit does in us. Justification is a completed, transient act, whereas sanctification is a progressive, continuing work. We are declared justified in our baptisms, but we also make a commitment in our baptisms to the progressive, continuing work of cooperating with the Holy Spirit's work of transforming us more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.

In regards to our own death and resurrection, do we not rely on His death and resurrection, rather than our own?

Yes, we absolutely rely on Jesus' death and resurrection rather than our own! Without Jesus' death and resurrection as actual, historical, bodily events, the end of our life stories is death and nothing more. Everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.

We are to die daily, and carry our cross daily, but is that not an aspect of sanctification?

Yes, this is an aspect of sanctification and part of the process by which we live more deeply into our identity as those who have been "sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever" (BCP, p. 308). The call to die to self is also one of the reasons why we renew our Baptismal Covenant vows several times in the course of a year - we need to periodically remember our baptisms and the way of life to which baptism calls us. And it's also why, among the vows, we promise (in language that echoes the renunciations and adherences) to "persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord" (BCP, p. 304). That's a realistic acknowledgment that we have yet to become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, but it's also a commitment to proactively doing something about our failures by repenting and returning to the Lord, thus cooperating with the Holy Spirit's ongoing sanctifying work.

I hope at least some of this makes sense.

Bryan Owen said...

One more response to the grace questions, Rick, this time from Anglican bishop N. T. Wright:

"It is one of the most important principles of biblical ethics, and one trampled in the mud again and again in contemporary debate: that God's grace meets us where we are, but God's grace, thank God, does not leave us where we are; that God accepts us as we are, but that God's grace, thank God, is always a transforming acceptance, so that in God's very act of loving us and wooing our answering love we are being changed; and, more dramatically, in baptism and all that it means we are actually dying and rising, leaving one whole way of life and entering upon a wholly different one."

Rick said...

Bryan Owen-

Again, thank you for your informative responses. They are very helpful.

Your comment on the baptismal candidate coming to some kind of faith (trust) decision before entering the water was something I had too considered, so it was helpful to see you mention it as well. Of course this could lead to the whole infant baptism issue, but that can wait for another day.

I appreciate your N.T. Wright quote. Although I don't always agree with everyting he says, I have great respect for him and therefore take into consideration what he has to say. That quote by him will be no exception.

Finally, you wrote:

"It's not that God's grace is limited to sacraments such as Baptism and Eucharist. As the Catechism says: "God does not limit himself to these [sacramental] rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us" (BCP, p. 861). But the point is that these sacraments are "sure and certain means by which we receive" the saving grace made available to us by Jesus' death and resurrection."

And you wrote:

"I interpret this to mean that Baptism is a sure and certain means by which we do, indeed, receive saving grace"

Would you then say that saving grace is available apart from baptism, but that baptism is a more certain means in which one can have confidence?

Again, thanks.

plsdeacon said...

Rick,

Forgive me for interloping into your discussion between you and Bryan, but a quote from one of my former Rectors is appropriate here. He said (regarding salvation apart from the visible Church): "I don't know what doesn't work. I can only testify to what does work."

I know that Baptism and living a life strengthened and powered by God's grace works towards salvation and the New Life that is given to us in Jesus. I don't know that other paths do not work. I am only sure of what does.

Rick said...

Plsdeacon-

Thank for jumping in. Your comments are appreciated, and help shine more light on Fr. Jonathan's answers to questions #1 and #2.

However, your "living a life strengthened and powered by God's grace works towards salvation" does muddy the water a bit more, since that brings up the "works" issue, and the question of one's "salvation" status (is it a present tense status, a future status, or as N.T. Wright may say- a present and future status?).

Fr. Jonathan's answer still gives a slight hint that the baptism is largely a response (as you discuss- one that is established by a confidence in God's means of grace) to salvation.
As he stated,
"This is accomplished through Christ’s incarnation and death on the cross. The grace of God is then given to us to the extent that we trust in Jesus and allow Him to save us." That "grace of God", as I take it, is prevenient grace, and not the grace experienced in baptism (I know I am getting close to splitting hairs, but that is not my intent).

This brings up another question then: how does the Anglican view of baptism differ from the Roman Catholic view? In attempting to be the via media, is this one area that mostly agrees with the RC position?

Once again, thanks.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks, Phil, for sharing words from your former rector. I think he very succinctly and accurately addresses this difficult topic.

Rick – rather than addressing the questions you’ve raised in response to Phil’s comment (hopefully Phil will tackle that), I’d like to go back to your earlier question:

Would you then say that saving grace is available apart from baptism, but that baptism is a more certain means in which one can have confidence?

In addressing this question, I’d like to draw on Beverly Tucker and William Swatos’ Questions on the Way: A Catechism Based on The Book of Common Prayer. (I note that the authors say that this book is not meant to replace the Prayer Book’s catechism, but rather "to expand upon its content"(p. 8). Here are a couple of questions and answers they raise that are relevant to the question/topic at hand:

Q. Does being baptized mean we will automatically be saved?
A. No. Baptism is ordinarily required as the first step on the way to salvation, placing ourselves in God’s hands in a saving relationship of love. If we are to receive the promises of God, then we must keep our side of the covenant by faith and following Christ in his way of love (1 Cor. 10:1-15). [p. 78]

I don’t think this contradicts the teaching that we do, indeed, receive saving grace in baptism. But it does underscore that we still have the freedom to choose whether we will live into our baptismal identities, or whether we will leave the Father’s house for a distant country where we may very well squander the gift we have received.

Continuing with Tucker and Swatos:

Q. Is it impossible for an unbaptized person to be saved?
A. No. With God all things are possible (Mk. 10:27), but since Christ has ordained this sacrament for us as a means of receiving God’s grace, to refuse it willingly is to our peril (Jn. 3:5). [p. 78]

This issue is related to a larger question:

Q. Can we be saved outside the Church?
A. God can save people under any conditions, of course (Lk. 23:39-43), but to ignore the means of grace which Christ has entrusted to the Church would seem to be directly opposed to his purposes. A drowning man might possibly be washed ashore by holding onto a piece of wood, but if a lifeboat should come along, he would be foolish not to get into it. [p. 34]

I’m reminded of Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware’s reflections on St. Cyprian of Carthage’s dictum Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus ("Outside the Church there is no salvation"). Bishop Ware writes:

"'Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. All the categorical strength and point of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church’ (G. Florovsky, ‘Sobornost: the Catholicity of the Church’, in The Church of God, p. 53). Does it therefore follow that anyone who is not visibly within the Church is necessarily damned? Of course not; still less does it follow that everyone who is visibly within the Church is necessarily saved. As Augustine wisely remarked: ‘How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!’ (Homilies on John, 45, 12) While there is no division between a ‘visible’ and an ‘invisible Church’, yet there may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must in some sense be a member of the Church; in what sense, we cannot always say."

BTW, an excellent book about the meaning and significance of baptism written by an Episcopal priest is Claudia Dickson’s Entering the Household of God: Taking Baptism Seriously in a Post-Christian Society.

Rick said...

One thing I am finding interesting in these helpful responses is the connection made between baptism and church. Perhaps due to the historical worldwide aspect of Anglicanism, the "corporate" aspect is as important as the individual aspect.
Do you all see this "corporate" church as Anglicanism, or more of the invisible church? In short, is a baptized Methodist, or Southern Baptist, part of that church?

Bryan Owen-

You quoted Bishop Ware, but would he not see Anglicanism as outside "the church"? I know there may be come varying opinions on that within Eastern Orthodoxy, but is not their typical opinion that Anglicanism does not carry the apostolic succession?

Enjoying and appreciating the dialogue/responses.

Bryan Owen said...

Hello again, Rick.

It is, indeed, important to underscore the corporate character of the Christian faith and the meaning of baptism. In the above-cited book by Claudia Dickson, for instance, she devotes an entire chapter to the topic of baptism as belonging. I also note that, unlike previous Prayer Books, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer says that "Holy Baptism is appropriately administered within the Eucharist as the chief service on a Sunday or other feast" (BCP, p. 298). This technically means that so-called "private baptisms" are ruled out (except in cases of emergency).

You wrote:

Do you all see this "corporate" church as Anglicanism, or more of the invisible church? In short, is a baptized Methodist, or Southern Baptist, part of that church?

Anglicanism does not claim to be the Church, but claims rather to be a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

We recognize the validity of all baptisms administered with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That's a different issue, however, from recognizing the ecclesiology of other churches as valid, just as not every other tradition recognizes who we are as fully valid (as in the case of the Orthodox). But since we do see ourselves as part of the larger whole, there is a history within Anglicanism of ecumenism that seeks greater unity among Christians. Within the Episcopal Church, one of the great heroes of the cause of ecumenism was William Reed Huntington, who played a major role in the development of an important expression of our Church's ecumenical principles in a document called the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

There's more on this in my postings "William Reed Huntington and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral," and "On the Way to the Quadrilateral."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your responses and recommendation of those resources! I have started to look into them.

Gary said...

How many steps did you complete to receive the "free gift" of Salvation?

Is this a "free" gift?

I tell my child that I have an incredible gift for him. However, in order for the gift to be his, he must:

1. apologize for his bad behavior and sincerely mean it.
2. he must commit to change his ways and follow MY ways for the rest of his life.
3. he must make a decision that he WANTS my gift.
4. he must then approach me, hold out his hands, ask me for the gift, and cooperate with me, as I place the gift into his hands.

If he does all this, he will receive his gift. But...if he chooses to reject my gift, I will damn him to HELL!

Now is this "gift" really a gift...or a REWARD for making the right decision?

No, that is NOT a gift.
.
This is a gift: "Dear Son, I have a gift for you. Here it is. I love you more than words can describe", and then I place the gift in my son's lap. No strings attached. The gift is his. He did nothing to receive it. I did everything.

THAT is a gift!

So what is God's free gift? It is the whole salvation package: faith, belief, repentence, forgiveness of sins, atonement, and eternal life. It is ALL free... to those whom God has predestined, before the world existed, for reasons we do not know, to be his children.

http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/07/how-many-steps-did-you-complete-to.html

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Gary. Thanks for some interesting points.

How many steps did I complete to receive the free gift of salvation? I didn't take any steps. I received the assurance of eternal life when I was baptized as a 4-month-old infant.

When I was baptized, I was buried with Christ in his death, I shared in his resurrection, and I was reborn by the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!