Friday, April 24, 2015

Where does God draw the line?

I was brought up in a Baptist Church and was taught that God offers salvation from his wrath for everyone who believes in Jesus as Saviour. We understood that apart from God's grace, we all deserve punishment for our sin.

Trying to gain God's favour by good works is fruitless, because none of us can measure up, and because God has made clear that we are freed from sin through what Jesus has done, not from our own efforts.

But we were also taught that many people hope that they will be saved because their good deeds outweigh their bad ones.

And, many churches also do not truly teach salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but add extra things to this.

We were usually told that those who add to the good news of salvation through Christ cannot be saved from God's judgment.

However, every now and again, someone would say something like this:

When we get to heaven, there will be a lot of surprises. There will be plenty of Roman Catholics in heaven.
It seems to me there is a line between universalism (which teaches that all will be saved) and exclusivism (where only those in our little group are enjoying God's favour). But where does God draw the line?

I am sure many folk would think of me as being very narrow-minded. And we did spend two enjoyable, but challenging years in the little town of Narromine. The challenging part was high school Music teaching!

I enjoy reading articles in Christianity Today, but have discovered that some other Evangelicals think it is far too inclusive. I'm sure they would cringe at this article in which Marlena Graves writes about her experiences at seminary, where she learnt
to be generous to Christians who see some important things differently.
They might also not be very happy with the story in The Wall Street Journal about the identical twin brothers, raised as Baptists, who are now a Roman Catholic priest and an Anglican bishop.

I was also interested to see that the newly-formed Australian chapter of The Gospel Coalition is attracting criticism from folk who think it is too inclusive and from those who would like it to be less complementarian.

I think Marlena Graves achieves a good balance in what she says in the last half of her article:

I think of my experience in seminary, where I studied alongside students from 50 different church backgrounds and denominations, from Pentecostal to Presbyterian and Roman Catholic to African Methodist Episcopal. The distinctives of our traditions meant that at core, we had intense disagreements over doctrine (especially over the nature and practice of the sacraments) and other controversial issues (like the ordination of women). But amazingly, we didn’t spend time debating our differences.
We could all trace the genesis, trajectories, emphases, and tragedies of our particular traditions in church history. None of us could afford to be arrogant about our traditions. We all “called upon the name of the Lord”; we all “declared with our mouths, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believed in our hearts that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9-13). Our common devotion to Jesus and love for one another reigned supreme. For the first time in my life I thought, “This is what heaven must be like.”
As Protestant evangelicals, we have some specific beliefs that are starkly different than a lot of fellow Christians, including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. But to those who suggest that moving from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy amounts to “changing religions,” I direct them to our brothers in Christ who have been martyred for the faith.
Those Coptic Christians killed in February, or the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians killed just days ago, are they not really Christians? Are they members of a different religion, Orthodoxy, not “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”? I certainly wouldn’t say that. (And, for the record, neither wouldPope Francis.)
As CT blogger Peter Chin wrote earlier this year:
Our response to the death of the 21 clearly demonstrated that we share a profound connection with other believers despite the considerable geographical, cultural, and theological gaps between us. We have proven that we do not need to be in complete alignment with other followers of Christ to stand with them in their pain.
What do you think?

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