Sunday, October 27, 2013

Open letter to the CoC Oldsters

While my kids are at the local CoC halloween kids candy festival, I thought to write you a letter.
I hope it finds you well, although I suspect it will not. Your "denomination" has been falling apart for awhile now, which grieves me. If that characterization was unkind, that I don't mean it to be. I know that is going to be tough for you to believe, since I know how you see me- lost, blind, faithless, confused, misguided, and so on. I saw the others who left similarly, believing they traded their faithfulness for licentiousness, they have gone away like Edom, selling their birthright for nothing. Yes, I know how you see me, you are worried I'm headed for hell and taking my kids in tow. But you must see my perspective also. I only walked out of the room once the EKG flatlined and the doctors pronounced the CoC dead. I was called out into the marvelous living grace and I rose to new life, and I love you, even if your message is one of condemnation and warning.

That's enough of the introductions, so let me just get down to it. You're are a faithful member of what is now essentially a bygone era. You hold fast to the truth, and you will serve your savior until the end. I salute you, and love you for it. You will one day hear "well done, good and faithful one, enter into your masters joy" before I do, and it makes my heart glad.
But the church you are attending is not going to endure beyond you. Deep down you know this. The infighting, the dwindling membership, the graciousness at the various levels all show that something is wrong. You shake your head puzzled and can't figure this out, and I would like to tell you what it is: you do not understand salvation. You do not understand what it takes to be saved. If I were a lost soul who came up to you and asked 'how might I be saved' you would answer it wrong.
In the old days, when America was culturally Christian, back in the 1950s and 60s, that was okay, you could do well to love Jesus and know a thing or two about the Scriptures. But those days are gone, and as Christianity has left America so has it left your churches. Back to the problem I mentioned earlier, you're not going to grow because you believe I need to be baptized.
That sets up the key point of argument that we are saved by faith, not works, Galatians 2:16b, 21b "a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified....if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”"
 A man is not justified by his works. The word justification there means "counted righteous." We are not counted, or seen as righteous by God because of something we do, but because of what Christ has done for us, by faith. If we could be counted righteous on the basis of our own works then Christ died in vain, to no effect. It was a waste. Paul goes on, Gal 3:5 "Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”"
Ah. Here it is. Abraham believed God, and that was it, that was all that was required for him to be counted as righteous. Just as Romans 10:9 says "if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
It's by belief, and that alone, that we are counted righteous in Christ. Now, since we are counted, or reckoned as righteous, we are not actually righteous. No amount of working or deeds therefore could get us into a state of salvation, since it is required that we be counted as righteous. By faith alone, by God's grace alone, in Christ alone, and not of works, which is why Galatians 3:9 says "So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham." We are saved by faith alone. Full stop. Not church attendance, not midweek attendance, not baptism. Faith alone. The end.

You want to say 'but wait a minute, what kind of talk is that? That's not the whole picture!' don't you? You want to protest that I have given only a half truth. I know you want to say that because I used to say that myself.
But that's where your problem is, it's tantamount to trying to earn salvation. That places us under a curse, the curse of failing to keep the law. Galatians 3:10 again, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." And that is why there is no unity, because the curse abides. There is literally no place to rest. That's why the discussion over kitchens, and pews, or colors, or doughnuts on Sunday mornings must necessarily split the church. No disagreement, no matter how trivial, must go unfought, because nothing less than salvation is on the line. The sum of your doctrine is that Salvation is begun by Christ and held onto by us and our works. That's the curse of the law. But what does the Bible say in the very next verse?

"That no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith."

There at last, is the key difference between me, the soft headed Baptist you fear for, and the faithful remnant church of Christers: the just shall live by faith. Baptism is the fruit of faith, it's outpouring, or outworking. Church attendance is the fruit of faith. Patience, gentleness, compassion, love, all these are after effects of faith. Faith first, faith last, and you get works for free. Which is why we council people to seek faith above all, and we ask for nothing more from them than faith. Faith moves mountains, saves souls, faith is the answer to the question how then shall we live. We live by faith. As Romans 1 says it is "by faith, for faith." You have not understood this. You affirm that we are saved by grace, but you don't follow up on the implication of this, that we live by faith, by grace as well. It's the final liberation from sin that is missed here.

As you consider this, a number of other tangential issues may arise, original sin, predestination, regeneration, those sort of obvious baptist distinctions. I would urge you to ignore them all for now. First start with understanding how the Bible speaks of justification. And then, you will see what I mean about all the rest. Faith first. Faith last. Faith in between. The just shall live by faith.

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