Beyond Mere Christianity


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  • Beyond Mere Christianity





  • Six:

    The Mechanics of Salvation

     

    ‘God will bring all things (to view), whether they are as
    small as a mustard seed or (high) in the heavens or (buried deep) in the earth.
    God is well aware of all things, to their tiniest details.’
    (Qur’an 31:16)

    In the Bible I bought for myself when I decided to accept
    Jesus Christ as my personal savior back in 1974 (I was thirteen), there is
    written, in my young hand, a slogan I may have heard from a pulpit in those
    days, or read in a tract somewhere. It reads:

    ‘Jesus didn’t come to help you get it
    together. He came to get it together for you.’

    Whoever came up with it, the basic idea
    is still valid for most Christians, even if the tone feels a bit dated now.
    This saying is, in fact, the essence of mainstream Christianity. Certainly it
    is the essence of Lewis’ Christianity.

    The basic idea
    behind the saying is that the mechanics of salvation are extremely simple,
    featuring only one ‘moving part’, acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
    as savior. This is what I believed as an adolescent, and this is what the
    majority in contemporary Christianity believe today.

    Here are just a
    few examples of prominent Christians through the centuries who have said
    precisely the same thing, using different words:

    ‘But
    God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,
    Christ died for us.’

    St. Paul (Romans
    5:8)

    ‘Jesus,
    whom I know as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God.’

    St. Athanasius

    ‘As
    Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not; Incarnate,
    he could and did.’

    Malcolm
    Muggeridge

    ‘I
    have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.’

    Charles Haddon
    Spurgeon

    These are just a few of the hundreds of
    examples one could supply of this type of teaching. It is the core of contemporary
    Christian doctrine.

    Now if
    salvation really is this simple
    if it really does have
    only one moving part
    then there is certainly a huge advantage
    for the Christians who are saved in this way. They can leave (as it were) all
    the driving to Jesus.

    The thoughtful Christian, however, is
    entitled to ask a question about all this. This person is entitled to ask whether Jesus himself embraced the view
    that he did not come to help us ‘get it together,’ but rather to ‘get it together
    for us.’

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    Ó Ó

    It can be quite difficult to ask such a question, either privately
    or in public. Force of habit and social conformity can be such very strong
    forces! Most Christians have been conditioned
    perhaps from
    their parents, perhaps from years of observing how churchgoing people behave,
    perhaps from a combination of the two
    not to ask such questions.

    We may even have been conditioned to
    believe that posing such questions would make us ‘bad Christians’.

    Yet we have to ask these questions. And
    here is why:

    If we withdraw obediently when someone discourages us from
    exploring what Jesus actually taught about human salvation
    and
    if we then live our lives under this code of obedient withdrawal, then I am
    afraid Christianity as a creed is pretty much meaningless for us. This variety
    of ‘Christianity’ asks us to accept Jesus as a Savior, as a Son of the
    Omnipotent, All-Knowing God, but
    forbids us to compare his actual teachings with those of the religion that
    bears his name.

    Now, if this is
    not a perversion of Jesus’ mission, then nothing is a perversion of that mission.

    After all, these are teachings that must,
    by the faith’s own definition, be divine in nature! Surely we are entitled, and
    obliged, to study them very closely indeed.

    So please … if
    you consider nothing else that I have suggested in this book, please … please
    do take a moment to consider the following two sentences closely before proceeding
    any further. What we are about to
    discuss here are the preserved teachings
    of Jesus Christ
    on the subject of human salvation
    not the teachings of St. Paul, or St. Thomas Aquinas,
    or Thomas
    à Kempis, or Malcolm Muggeridge, or the Pope, or
    Franklin Graham. The teachings of Jesus, by definition, must matter to Christians.

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    Consider. What if we were to find something in the earliest,
    most historically relevant teachings of Jesus that showed us clearly how he envisioned the mechanics
    of salvation?
    If we were to encounter such information, what would our attitude toward the
    opinions of St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomas
    à Kempis, the Pope, Malcolm Muggeridge, or
    Franklin Graham have to be? For a true Christian, the answer is obvious. What
    those men all had to say about salvation would
    simply have to wait
    for a moment.

    All
    of them, every single one, would have to wait while we listened
    to Jesus.

    Anyone who believes otherwise simply cannot
    claim to be a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.

    So: Did
    Jesus embrace the view that he did not come to ‘help us get it together,’
    but rather to ‘get it together for us’?

    Or did he leave us other instructions?

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    ‘Enter
    ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that
    leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait
    is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be
    that find it.
    (Matthew 7:13-14)

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    If Jesus did advocate what I wrote in the
    front of my Bible, the view that he came to ‘get it together for us,’ it is odd
    that he should place such heavy emphasis, as Islam does, on the fateful
    consequences of the choices we make as
    individuals
    as we travel the road of our life. It is these choices, he assures
    us, which will determine our salvation. It is
    simply not possible for any
    intelligent person to misinterpret his meaning
    here.

    After we read these words, a question
    appears. What, specifically, is ‘narrow’
    about the act of accepting
    Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior?

    Isn’t the act of accepting Jesus Christ
    as savior a comparatively simple, straightforward decision, one that has been
    engaged in by hundreds upon hundreds of
    millions of people down the centuries? What is difficult
    or rare about
    that choice?

    Why does Jesus agree with the doctrines of Islam by telling us that the
    path to destruction is wide and easy to travel, but the path to salvation is
    much more challenging? Once Jesus has ‘gotten it together’ for us, and we have
    accepted him as our savior, is the traveling of this narrow path he speaks of
    still a requirement for salvation?

    If so, doesn’t
    that mean the mechanics of salvation may be different than we might at first
    have believed, that it may have more than one moving part?

    If not, why does Jesus mention this path at all?

     

    Ó
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    ‘When
    the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking
    rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence
    I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
    Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than
    himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is
    worse than the first.’
    (Matthew 12:43-45)

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    If Jesus did embrace the view that he came to ‘get it together
    for us,’ it is hard to understand why he is so keen for us to grasp, as Islam
    is keen for us to grasp, the vital importance of our maintaining a constant
    guard against negative forces. These, it is clear, are forces that may rush
    into the mind and soul of even someone
    who has sincerely repented and believed.

    Once Jesus has ‘gotten it together for
    us,’ and we have accepted him as our savior,
    we are, apparently,
    still subject to being defiled by these forces
    in
    a way that leaves our last state worst than our first, and our very souls in
    grave peril.

    If our ‘last
    state’ is worse than our ‘first,’ we are clearly headed for
    Hell.

    Doesn’t that
    mean that the mechanics of salvation may be different than we might at first
    have believed, and may have more than one moving part?

    If salvation has only
    one moving part, why does Jesus mention
    this danger
    at all?

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    ‘Not
    everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven
    only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 7:21)

    Ó
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    This is an odd teaching indeed for a religion built around
    the principle of acknowledging that Jesus Christ is Lord.

    If Jesus did
    embrace the view that his role was to ‘get it together for us,’ it is hard to
    see why he would tell us, in the plainest possible words, that simply appealing
    to him as lord is, on its own, not enough to win us salvation. And exactly how
    different is this kind of appeal, which Jesus
    clearly regards as
    insufficient, from the act of proclaiming him one’s
    personal savior?

    Once Jesus has
    gotten it together for us, and we have accepted him as our savior, is his command
    to perform the will of God in order to attain salvation still binding upon us?

    If we fail to
    do the will of his Father in heaven, is our salvation imperiled?

    If it is,
    doesn’t that mean that the mechanics of salvation may be different than we
    might at first have believed, and have more than one moving part?

    If it isn’t, why does Jesus mention this
    requirement, and not mention, at a
    time when it would be perfectly appropriate to do so, his own soul-saving role
    as the only begotten Son of God? Why does he choose instead to emphasize so
    very strongly the necessity of obeying the will of Almighty God?

    Ó
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    The central reality of Christianity, we are told, is that Jesus
    Christ died to redeem humanity, thereby giving those who believe in him a fresh
    start with the Almighty.

    Suppose we were
    to ask: Why should we need a fresh start in the first place? C.S. Lewis, and a
    great many who agree with him, would offer this answer: ‘Humanity has fallen
    from grace and is, as a result, inherently
    sinful. The only thing that can
    reverse such a fall is the blood of
    Jesus Christ.’

    If they are right, then we have found the
    answer to the all-important question of eternal salvation.

    If they are right,
    we have encountered a momentous
    and important piece of information,
    certainly a piece of information that should be of interest to every human being
    on earth.

    If they are right, we have a responsibility
    to try to share this information, this Good News, with every member of the
    human family.

    Before we accept such a responsibility,
    however, we have the right, and the duty, to ask the question that is somehow always
    neglected: Do the words that the Gospels attribute to Jesus support this theory?

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    ‘Agree
    with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any
    time the ad-versary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge de-liver thee to
    the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt
    by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the ut-termost farthing.’
    (Matthew 5:25-26)

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    Can this parable of Jesus, so rarely taught or analyzed in
    church congregations, be understood as anything other than a parable of
    salvation and damnation?

    Can ‘prison’ represent anything other
    than
    Hell?

    Can the ‘judge’ represent anyone other
    than God?

    Can the ‘adversary’ who may hand us over
    to the judge ‘at any moment’ be anything other than our own inevitable death?

    Is it really the blood of the crucified
    Jesus that saves us while we are on our way to court?

    Or … is what saves us our own choice to come to terms with the
    adversary?

    In this parable
    of Jesus, salvation lies in our decision to acknowledge the reality of our own
    impending death, our willingness to ‘settle’ our case before the judge renders
    a binding decision that we know we will not enjoy. What saves us is our own eagerness
    to ‘pay up’ by repenting and doing good deeds in this life, thus avoiding punishment
    in the next. What saves us is our own conclusion that we had better accept the
    ‘terms’ we are being offered, submit to the hard facts of the situation, and
    strike the best deal we can before we get
    to ‘court’.

    This pragmatic submission to the Reality
    of the situation we all face is, as it turns out, the guiding theological
    principle of Islam. And it is, to the careful reader of Q, Jesus’ guiding
    theological principle, as well.

    We have a right, and a duty, to ask: Where, within this parable, are we told of
    the atoning action of the blood of the Son of God?

    We have a right, and a duty, to ask: If Jesus shared a parable of salvation with
    us, and left out the part about his own sacrifice for mankind, is the problem
    with Jesus … or is the problem with our theory of his sacrifice for mankind?

    Ó
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    We cannot seriously
    maintain that it is simple
    ‘coincidence’ that Jesus fails to
    mention the atoning action of the blood of the Son of God in any of these
    sayings.

    Nor can we regard as ‘coincidence’ the
    stark and disorienting fact that not a
    single word promoting the theology of redemption in Christ’s sacrifice appears
    in any of the most ancient Gospel verses.

    Instead, in Q, we hear Jesus rebuking Satan when Satan tests him by
    referring to him as God’s son.

    In Q, we hear Jesus forecasting the doom
    of people who listen to his instructions for living and fail to take action on
    them. If he meant to forecast the doom of those who fail to accept his sacrifice
    for mankind, surely he would have done so!

    In Q, we hear Jesus refer to himself as
    the Son of Adam
    not at all the same thing as being the only begotten
    Son of God.

    These facts cannot be
    accidents. They cannot be co
    incidences. They cannot be happenstance.

    The early evidence is quite clear.
    Notions of Jesus’ sacrifice and his ransom for all mankind of a human being who
    was God Incarnate simply were not part of
    the earliest Gospel.
    These concepts were added later, long after the
    conclusion of Jesus’ ministry.

    Ó
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    If we read the earliest Gospel verses
    with both a functioning heart and a functioning mind, we cannot honestly say to
    ourselves that Jesus really saw his own mission as that of ‘getting it together
    for us.’

    We must instead conclude that he was much
    more interested in finding ways to get us
    to guard against evil
    to get us to choose to turn over and over again to Godto
    get us to commit ourselves to discerning
    and submitting to God’s will
    to get us to listen to our own soul’s adviceto
    get us to purify ourselves under the guidance of Almighty God
    to
    get us to repent our sins before we
    are brought before the Judge.

    Ó
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    ‘Without Jesus’ sacrificial death,’ a
    contemporary American pastor preached recently, ‘there would be no Christianity.’

    His words echo the sentiments of C.S.
    Lewis and the vast majority of Christian clergy and theologians. If Chadwell
    and all the rest of these people are correct, then the clear Gospel instructions
    for salvation that you have read in this chapter
    instructions
    have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus’ sacrificial death
    presumably
    belong to some other faith. If the experts insist that these teachings have no
    place in Christianity, then they may be sure that these teachings are entirely
    in keeping with Islam.

    If we are true Christians, we must accept as authoritative what Jesus
    actually taught about salvation.

    And if we are truly interested in what Jesus actually taught on this
    subject, we cannot escape noticing that his message is a great deal like
    is, in fact, identical towhat Islam teaches.

    Ó
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    Eventually I found it necessary to immerse myself in
    a faith community. I joined, and became active in the local Protestant
    denomination, a Congregational Church.

    I led Sunday School classes for children, and briefly taught a
    Gospel class on the Parables for the adults. In the Sunday School classes for
    the kids, I stayed right with the curriculum I had been given; but in the adult
    class, I tried to challenge the participants to confront certain parables directly,
    without filtering everything through the Apostle Paul. We had interesting
    discussions, but I sensed some resistance, and I didn’t try to teach an adult
    class again. My wife eventually joined my church.
    (She is a member there today.)

     

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