Evangelism thoughts: “Savior Salvation” and “Fallen from Grace”

Apparently (unless something changes), I am going to be teaching a class in Evangelism at seminary. It seems strange that I would do this, since I am invariably awkward when I do evangelism. I suppose part of it is that I like to dwell on the complexities and paradoxes in life (including salvation). This interest tends to make things  difficult to simplify into a clear presentation. Personally, I always think that the best presentation of the gospel is a personal testimony anyway. It should be an interesting class. I am going to try to find that balance between intellectual speculation and practical action. No sense having a class about Evangelism where no evangelism happens after all.

1.  Savior Salvation.  In recent years there has been a question about something about “Lordship Salvation.” Can one accept Christ into one’s heart without accepting Him as Lord. To me the answer is NO. I think much of the problem stems from confusion of what Faith is. After all, Satan believes but does not have faith. Faith is placing trust in or agreeing to follow. To have Biblical faith without Lordship appears to be  inherently contradictory. That does not mean that a person doesn’t fail (and sometimes fail miserably). It means someone has agreed that he replaces the god in his life (usually himself) with God.

But to me, there is a more interesting question. We often ask in evangelism whether the person will accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. To me, the Lordship of Christ is critical in salvation. But what about Savior? Does one have to recognize that he was lost to agree to follow Christ. Commonly, in our gospel presentations, we spend a considerable amount of time emphasizing how bad people are and unable to be saved without Christ. I believe it is doctrinally sound to say that people cannot be redeemed by Christ without Christ. But can one agree to have Jesus as Lord (and thus be saved) without first recognizing Jesus has saved them from punishment? Previously, I have brought up that when Jesus had called His disciples, He did not (as far as we know) first try to convince them as to how bad they were, how unworthy they were to follow Him, and how gracious He was to invite them despite everything. Maybe He did do this, but I doubt it. I certainly agree that in discipleship, issues of God’s grace and justice should be clearly laid out… but is it a prerequisite for salvation?  Not sure.

What brings this to mind for me was a parallel issue. I have had friends who have argued that people from a certain denomination could not possibly be saved because they were not assured of their salvation. Such people believe that they could not be sure of their salvation until they stand before God at the end of this age. I do believe that God has made promises that can assure us of our place in His family… baptized of His Spirit into His Church. But does one have to know this to be saved? I would argue NO. My basic reason for this is the book of I John. The book appears to be written, in part, so that people will know they are saved– children of God. But this implies that the people John was writing to were saved but had to be assured of this.

So what is the Gospel? Is it that we were bound for Hell and God has given us a way to Heaven? Or is it that we were disconnected from God and God has given us a way to be joined to Him, recognizing Him as our Lord, and our Father? Both are true but is both necessary? And if not, which one?  <As you might guess, I am not trying to give answers… just asking questions.>

2.  Fallen from Grace. I was talking with a missionary friend of mine. He was discussing a meeting he was in (actually more than one meeting) where a person was described as having  “fallen from grace.” He was disturbed by this. I think he had a point.

Now the term, “Fallen from Grace” may mean different things to different people. For someone who believes that one cannot lose one’s salvation (I hold to this position), one might use the term “fallen from grace” to suggest that a person has backslidden and so does not experience God’s grace (blessing) in a particularly tangible/temporal way. For someone who believes that one can lose one’s salvation, one might use the term to suggest that a person has temporarily rejected God’s love and pardon, but will (prayerfully) return to God’s fold.

But the term doesn’t really sound like either of these. It sounds like a person has done something so bad that God’s love for him is not enough and the person is no longer redeemable. I do know that some people talk about the “unpardonable sin” and some even try to define it. The Bible is pretty vague about it. The Didache seemed to suggest that it involved doubting the words of an apostle or a prophet (but then goes on to describe ways of testing whether an apostle or prophet is saying what is true… that’s rather confusing). It seems to me that if God really wanted us to know that someone was truly irredeemable, He would have let us know how to know and how to judge. Yet, Jesus made it clear that judging is not really our job.

I would say that we should never describe someone as fallen from grace. God’s grace is far beyond our ability to limit with words. And God is certainly the one to judge not us.

Three Thoughts on Curses as it Pertains to Christians.

1. Christians “Cursing” Christians.  I was reading a blog about Christians, dealing with the question whether Christians can have curses placed upon them (the reference blog is at the bottom). According to the blog, apparently there were Christian leaders who were placing “curses”  on individual Christians. The writer made a pretty good case that Christians can’t be cursed.

English: Noah curses Ham
English: Noah curses Ham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But for me, at first, I was shocked and disturbed that Christian leaders would even WANT to put a curse on a Christian regardless of whether they have (or think they have) the power to do so. I mean, how can they reconcile that with God’s call to be a blessing to all nations (Abrahamic Covenant) and to express love to all (Great Commandment). I suppose one might draw on the story of Ananias and Sapphira to suggest a real example of a curse on a Christian. However, hard to say what lesson we should learn from the story, and whether this is a case of a curse or prophecy.

After some further thought, I realized that a Christian leader handing out curses makes a lot of sense from a power standpoint. If a leader “curses” a Christian, and the Christian believes it (any idea has power if it is believed), then presumably the leader has greater power over the individual. The Christian then believes that to remove the curse, he must conform to the wishes and whims of that leader (based on the presumption that only that specific leader could remove that said curse). It makes a lot of sense from a Machiavellian standpoint.  But it is a shame that some feel comfortable with such a misuse of ecclesiastical authority.

2.  Generational Curses? The first thing on curses reminded me of the odd teaching known as “generational curses.” I was invited to an “Encounter God Retreat.” They used to be popular in the Philippines, and in some places still are popular. Going into the first lesson, they showed us a list of sins and vices and said that even if we are saved, we could still be under a curse if we had done these things in our past. And then, even if one hadn’t done these things… but an ancestor (up to 4 generations back) had, one could be still under a curse. And then the leader of the training said that in the Bible, one generation is 120 years (have no idea where they pulled that one from) so if an ancestor as long ago as 480 years had done bad things, one could be under a curse. (Happily, all my ancestors only did bad things longer than 500 years ago so I guess I am in the clear). What wasn’t clear to me was who was doing the cursing. Was God saving us while still cursing us? Was Satan cursing us, so God saved us without removal of residual personal curses?

Happily, this is all nonsense. Ezekiel 18 clears up the confusion in this area, along with Jeremiah,… and much of the New Testament. Some like to pull stories like Gehazi as evidence of this as evidence that Numbers 14:18 refers to generational curses rather than natural consequences or family systems (or something else). Perhaps, but in the Numbers (and elsewhere) passage, the uncertainty of duration (3rd or 4th generation) would seems to be consistent with a natural consequences interpretation than a legal/penal interpretation. Regardless, in light of Ezekiel 18, and the consistent thrust of the New Testament, the  worst we can say if there were generational curses at one time is that they have been eradicated long ago. Now, I suppose if when one says “curses” one means “family systems” (addictions tend to be modeled and repeated in subsequent generations, for example) then I can agree. But if that is the case, then repeating a one paragraph prayer written in the EGR manual certainly would have no value (although in EGR, they seemed to think such a prayer would kill all sort of curses).

But why would a group want to make up a curse and then give them a little formula to get rid of the said curse? Again, it appears to be a power play. If a person believes that they are cursed then they feel obligated to the one who claims to have the power to get rid of that curse. It is like when a president assumes leadership in a nation, there is often the desire to push through an “economic stimulus package.” Why? If the economy gets worse or remains stagnant, well, the previous president was just so bad that the package wasn’t enough to fix his mistakes. But… if the economy coincidentally improves, the new leader can take credit for the improvement, giving him greater authority and power in the eyes of the electorate. Again, in Christianity, is this REALLY what we are called to do… trick people into following us?

3.  Guilt-Based Evangelism. This led me to a third point, and it has to do with curses as they pertain to Evangelism. Most of the methods for evangelism that I am familiar with start with trying to convince people that they are cursed… or perhaps better to say, under the general curse of sin. Now, unlike the above two items, I believe this to be theologically accurate. We all are born into a sinful world under the curse of that sin. But, does one have to believe himself to be accursed to be saved? Is it a necessary doctrinal truth for salvation? Personally, I don’t think it is necessary… although it is certainly not wrong to have that part of the presentation. When Jesus called the disciples, He said “Follow Me.” As far as I know, He did not spend time prior to this convincing them of how bad they are and how unworthy they were to be be invited by Him to join Him.

It brings up an interesting question to me. There is a lot of question about Lordship Salvation. Does one have to accept Jesus as one’s Lord to be saved? But to me, the bigger question is not “Lordship Salvation” but “Savior Salvation.” Personally, I can’t see how one can be a follower of Christ without… well… following Him. Faith is not a propositional stance, but an active placement of trust. To me, still personally, I believe that one absolutely must place Jesus as Lord to be saved… recognizing that God judges the heart– I am not to do the judging… thankfully. But can one be saved… following Jesus as Lord, without realizing what one has been saved from?

The thing is that most of the methods of Evangelism we have today are built on a Guilt-culture viewpoint. We have sinned against God, and God forgives the sinner, restoring moral purity, in his sight. However, much of the world is more Shame culture. The Bible presents salvation in terms of shame culture as well. We have acted shamefully before God, and so are left is a desperate hopeless state. But God (in Jesus) humbled Himself, taking our shame, so that we may ultimately be honored and blessed in His sight. Most, I think, would argue that a person who has heard the guilt-based plan of salvation, does not also have to hear the shame-based one. But if that is the case, what about the other way around. Does a person who hears the shame-based plan of salvation also have to hear and respond to the guilt-based plan?

Could the focus on being saved from the curse, also be a power play on our part? Is the abundant life promised by Jesus not enough? Do we have to emphasize our role in being a part of the process of removing the curse of sin from them? Not so sure about this one… just thinking.