Sunday, October 05, 2008
'God's judgment is Grace,' or, Want fries with that?
And there's the solution to my picture puzzle.
Didn't spill a drop. Didn't drop any bread.
Very cool -- and another sign that they'll let ANYONE in my church to serve. As it should be.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord of Life, we try so hard to save ourselves, when you told us that nothing more is required of us than to serve others. We worry abut money, about retirement, about our "net worth," but none of it seems to matter to You. On every deathbed the request is the same: not for more money, but for more time. No one will care how much we had, or how much we spent, or how much we left to our children. All that will matter is whether we served others. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
And since somebody elswhere has quoted this without attribution, I'll repeat it here fully attributed to Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, Oklahoma City:
"(We) invite you to experience Christianity as a way of life, not a set of creeds and doctrines demanding total agreement. We invite you to join us as we seek to recover the meaning of the gospel for our time, looking to scripture, faith, and reason -- interpreted by love. At Mayflower we believe that what Jesus teaches us about God is more important than what the church has taught us about Jesus. We believe in the liberty of of conscience, the responsibility of every believer to work out his or her own salvation, and the obligation of faithful men and women to become partners with God in building the kingdom. We take the Bible seriously, not literally, and believe that in our time the church must recover, above all, its radical hospitality -- welcoming all persons into her midst, without regard to race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or physical abilities.
We fence the table so that no one drinks judgment on themselves. In other words, if they are living in gross and heinous sin, they should not partake. Think of the man who was sleeping with his father's wife. We do it out of their own protection and to give them a time to reflect upon their sin, deal with it before God and hopefully repent.
But we don't look after fencing it. That's between the person in the pew and God. If they want to take it, they can. However... as we have warned them, they are drinking judgment on themselves. Sometimes God will hold the jugdment on them, sometimes He doesn't.
As for approaching the table, it is for sinners who have trusted Christ, been baptized and are members of an evangelical church in good standing. Those are our three requirements that we ask of people. Otherwise the table is open to anyone who meets those criteria. As I say, "it's the Lord's table, not a Presbyterian table."
Just so clarification for you to think about on what it means to fence it...
Also realize, there have been times where I have NOT taken it because of sin in my life that I needed to deal with. That always causes the elders to raise an eyebrow. But afterwards, I had people come by and tell me thanks for being honest in that regard.
True, none of us are worthy. But it IS a table for sinners. Come therefore, repent and rejoice at the forgiveness that is found at the cross.
Jesus has really given us a precious sacrament.
Btw, another problem of course is this matter of the Lord's Supper being a time to reflect on personal sin. The early Christians did not see communion that way. It was a celebration of what Christ had done for them! In other words, it should be about reflecting on Christ, not reflecting on yourself.
As for "Ms. Green"'s little piece, I'm surprised at you. Drinking, smoking, cursing, and having the audacity to say that God loves you. Don't you realize eternal torment awaits? I'm sure I read it in the Bible somewhere. . .
To "Anonymous" - the table and the elements on it are God's. If someone comes to the table, it is up to God to stop them. Now, if like you someone feels unworthy to take the elements, it is up to the celebrant to make that person aware that "unworthiness" is not a Biblical concept, and to come on down.
Brother, I can't explain what happened to me when I read this succinct statement. Stunned at the truth of it. Blessed. A gozillion things in a lifetime of balancing acts were reconciled. Bless you. Thank you. Wow.
Not either or! Not judgment OR grace! Or judgment THEN grace.
God's judgment IS grace.
Headline adjusted accordingly.
I would tend to think that being troubled over some sin in your life is a reason to TAKE COMMUNION, not decline it.
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!
Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
threaten the soul with infinite loss;
grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
points to the refuge, the mighty cross.
Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!
Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
brighter than snow you may be today.
Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see his face,
will you this moment his grace receive?
Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!
LOL! Mrs Green must be from Minnesota! That little gem of passive-aggressive is Olympic-grade "Minnestoa Nice"!
There are all sorts of these naive conceptions of God that float around, even among those who should know better. People claim to believe that they're saved by Grace, yet I suspect they still imagine God in Heaven with a gigantic tote-board to keep track of when you're naughty and when you're nice. If the number of jots in the nice column is higher than the ones in the naughty column, you go to heaven, if not, you go to hell.
Interestingly enough, in science education we talk often about students naive conceptions of physics or chemistry or astronomy. (For example, there's a famous video asking recent Harvard grads how we get seasons. Most of them think it's because the Earth is closer to the sun in the summer, even though they've been taught all their lives that when we have summer in the NH, it's winter in the SH.) It turns out that it is very, very difficult to get students to give up those naive conceptions, even when they see experiments that prove them wrong. And, even when they say the right words, if you ask them to demonstrate their knowledge, they retreat back to their naive conceptions.
I suspect the same thing is perhaps even more true in religion. Someone should do a study.
"Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship. ... You're apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a form of low comedy. True humility doesn't consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else."
-- from "Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith," by Frederick Buechner, HarperCollins, 2004
This statement is totally meaningless unless you can explain how one could experience a way of life without any concept of creeds or doctrines. How does one know one is living the life? I'm not trying to be flippant here, I'm asking in humble sincerity. It seems to me that at some point there must be some agreement in order to define what is meant by "a way of life".
Here's a few more questions:
"...when you told us that nothing more is required of us than to serve others..."
Didn't He tell us to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to go and sin no more? Seems He required a bit more than what this prayer suggests. But then, it is stated as a creed or doctrine if the prayer attempts to paraphrase His words.
I believe it was Paul who tells us to receive the sacraments unless we are in sin. As only the sinner can know for sure, there are occasions where a sinner is blatant in their sin. If one who serves the sacraments is aware of another's sinful behavior, and that other is unrepentant in their sinfulness, is not the server validating that sin by not withholding the sacrament from the sinner? Would he not be to some degree a partner in that sin by so blessing the sinner with the bread and wine?
Again, I'm not trying to be a smart-ass with these questions. But it seems to me that the difference between an ER and a Ms. Green is the degree of honor each shows by their manner of walk. That is, honor for Him. Alan describes people like Ms Green as one who might look upon the sacrament as "magic bread" or "gigantic tote-boards" and such, but these are just projections of his to justify his condescension of her manner of honoring God. It's very much like the type of judgementalism of which you and your readers accuse those of us who might be fundies/conservative/traditional in our beliefs.
Thanks for listening.
Jesus is a conservative fundamentalist.
I'm simply stating a hypothesis about what I see as real theological problems I have observed from any number of folks I've talked to. And I haven't talked to Ms. Green ever in my life. (The post ER links to is my one exposure to her, and I also read the other where she opines that the anti-Christ will be queer.)
Anyway, I'm surprised that you, one of the kings of complaining that people don't mean what they say they mean, would actually disagree with the hypothesis I stated above! OK, I'm not really surprised, I suppose. Nothing you write surprises me any more. I guess for you, MA, only liberals can be deluded into thinking they know about God, when they really don't. ;)
So you honestly don't think that some people still cling to works-based notions of salvation, even when they say the right words about salvation through grace alone? Really??
Or are you just disagreeing because *I* said it. Or to put it another way, perhaps your complaining about udgementalism is just a projection of yours to justify your condescension of my manner of honoring God. However I wouldn't put it that way because I tend to avoid armchair psychobabble like "projection".
Oh and MA, if you ever stop beating people with that Bible you carry around, and start reading it for a change, you might notice that the Apostle Paul had the same concerns, he just talked about it in a different way:
"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned as a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."
"Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. "
and the writer of Hebrews:
"Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,[a] and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so."
I simply pointed out that even easily observable, disprovable notions here in the world are difficult to displace with adult reasoning. How much more difficult it is to do so with notions of faith and theology!
re, "(We) invite you to experience Christianity as a way of life, not a set of creeds and doctrines demanding total agreement."
This statement is totally meaningless unless you can explain how one could experience a way of life without any concept of creeds or doctrines."
Not meaningless at all, to anyone who actually studies the Bible rather than using it is a bludgeon. Love God, others, and self. And Micah 6:8.
re, " If one who serves the sacraments is aware of another's sinful behavior, and that other is unrepentant in their sinfulness, is not the server validating that sin by not withholding the sacrament from the sinner?"
No one can know the state of another's relationship with God. The one sin that keeps one from God is keeping oneself from God. Coming to the table is repentance on display, as it is coming to God.
Re, "the difference between an ER and a Ms. Green: is that Ms. Green thinks she has the market cornered on Christianity, and thinks she has the authority to deem others apostates, and is a judgmental, hand-wringing jerk, and, ironically, appears to be rather faithless.
And I don't and I am not.
We're all blatant in our sin. If I would have looked carefully around the communion table on Sunday, I probably would have noticed among my fellow servers some slanderers, gossips (oops, that one's me) and other folks guilty of various evils listed at the end of Romans 1 for example. Some of us (well again, me) commit some of these same sins over and over. Under your criteria, I guess we should have all gone back to our pew. In fact, as I think about the congregation, I see blatant sinners all over the dang place! Maybe we should just shut communion down entirely!
(And, truly, if it is all about us, and not about Christ, we SHOULD shut it down.)
Also, I have noticed that some who follow the scripture so carefully in terms of pointing out sins only seem to name CERTAIN sins they see in others and refuse to acknowledge or recognize other sins, especially the ones that relate to themselves.
"I'm not trying to be a smart-ass with these questions."
Oh, come on! Yes you are!
"Jesus is a conservative fundamentalist."
Actually, Jesus was an illegal immigrant who dined with other lawbreakers. And the Savior of the world!
There's a difference between salvation through grace alone, and the total dismissal of the notion that faith without works is dead. To ignore the latter if favor of only the former is laziness and an incomplete faith to say the least.
As to your verses, it would seem to me that to tout the "salvation through grace alone" is to act like a child if one is to dismiss works altogether as a manifestation of one's faith. One cannot say they believe and then act like a total jackass through actions that are in stark contradiction to what Scripture teaches is walking the talk. That is not "going on to maturity".
So I ask again, how does one "experience Christianity as a way of life" without works to manifest what Christianity looks like?
I agree. And where have I done that? Oh right, I haven't.
Let me repeat that: I agree.
But that's not what I'm talking about. As I've already made abundantly clear, but will restate, I'm talking about people saying the right words about salvation by grace alone though faith alone, yet still clinging to the naive conception of God-as-Angry-Santa deciding our salvation based on a list of who has been naughty and who has been nice.
Unlike other self-appointed judges, I'm not casting stones at anyone's salvation for believing these childish notions. I'm simply saying that some people need to start trusting and believing in the things they claim to already understand (eg. salvation by grace through faith, Communion as a sacramental sign and symbol, not a magic potion, etc.) I'm also pointing out how difficult it is to rid ourselves of these notions by using an analogy.
MA wrote, "As to your verses, it would seem to me that to tout the "salvation through grace alone" is to act like a child if one is to dismiss works altogether as a manifestation of one's faith."
I don't "tout" that doctrine, I believe it, as centuries of Reformed Christians have before me. I suppose Calvin "touted" this too? LOL
But to reiterate yet again, though I'm specifically talking about those who "tout" these doctrines but do not actually believe them, I agree that we cannot dismiss works, nor did I imply that anywhere.
For more information on the relationship between faith and works in the Reformed tradition, I'd suggest reading The 2nd Helvetic Confession, Chapter XVI, where we read that good works grow out of faith, and that even those good works do not earn us merit, but they testify to God who inspires them. And we read that even those good works are not completely good, but are imperfect because we imperfect people do them. And the Scots Confession (XIII) makes it even clearer that these works, like our faith, does not proceed from us anyway, but from Christ.
MA wrote, "One cannot say they believe and then act like a total jackass..."
*cough* *sputter* Whew. LOL Excuse me, I have to clean the coffee off my screen now. ;)
How many years has Ms. Green known you? Have you kids spent a lot of time together?
It just becomes so ridiculous when, on the basis of a theological argument or a political spat, somebody in another part of the country who knows nothing about you can claim on the basis of reading the internet that they have intimate knowledge of YOUR LIFESTYLE!!!!
Take it from someone who Ms. Green apparently believes could be the anti-Christ, you're a total poser. ;)
(BTW, isn't clairvoyance suspiciously close to witchcraft or divination? I wonder if she floats like a duck.)
BTW, what's the rate of exchange between Christian salvation and, say, Buddhist nirvana, or whatever?
Or, wait, has it gotten caught up in the global meltdown?!?
"Now we have four billion people claiming to have souls. Someone is printing up souls, and it lowers their value, you know."
I think Marshall's question about being "in sin" is a common one, but it is one dealt with by theologians and church leaders for a couple thousand years. Please remember, Marshall, that even St. Paul admitted he did not do what he wanted to do, and did what he wanted to avoid, about as clear an admission of sin as he would really make. "Sin" does not refer to any acts we commit, but rather to what we are as creatures separated from God. This breach has been healed by God, yet is not fully overcome yet; even the most committed Christian finds herself stuck "in sin", and is in need of the reminder that God's love and grace transcends our sin, and the death that awaits us all.
To more directly answer Marshall Art's question, if everyone who was still "in sin" was denied communion, the table would be empty, the pulpit, too, the pews, the choir silent, the coffers empty. We Christians are people who believe that while we were in sin, God gave us the gift of grace in Jesus Christ to restore us to a right relationship with God and one another. We need to live boldly, not out of a commitment to any set of words, but out of a faith that tells us that grace is greater than any sin of ours.
First, for Alan, and all really, I might begin directing a comment to respond to one previous, as in my last directed to Alan, but then may digress to answer related points made by others. I'll try to be more direct in the future, but keep that in mind just the same.
Secondly, Alan, I didn't mean to expose you. If your shock resulted in a spit take, I can only hope your equipment wasn't severely damaged.
Getting back to serving the sacrament, I was hoping to draw a distinction between those who struggle with their sinfulness, which is most of us, and those who blatantly don't. Here's a better hypothetical:
A sinner approaches the altar to receive. The priest, minister, elder, deacon, or ER, notices the sinner, a known thief, is wearing his suit, his wristwatch, his wife on his arm and "watcha-gonna-do-about-it?" smile on his face. This is an extreme example of what I mean by a "blatant sinner". This person is not just a sinner, he's in rebellion against God in a very easy to see manner. He is unrepentant. Even for those of us who might see the Eucharist as "magic bread", it seems that to share the elements with such a person would be to bless his behavior. Rather, I would expect someone in this position to at least balk, but even moreso, deny this sinner until there's some sign of repentance. Sure, we can never know for sure the sinner's heart, but this blatant sinfulness is a mockery of what living the Christian lifestyle could ever possibly mean.
Also, for anon, it is entirely appropriate to judge the level of another's sincerity or to judge their claims of being Christian when their own words bring out questions. This is a freakin' blog debate, for Bob's sake (Pete left), and to waste time wondering about how deeply one knows another is a bit much. We only have the words printed before us, and in ER's case, when he's wearing his catcher's mit, typos abound. Fortunately, we have the ability to clarify or ask for the other to be more specific. If ER and Ms. Green were to meet and get to really know each other, their opinion of each other would likely change. It might worsen or improve when more facts are available. Either could change their tune regarding their OWN beliefs as well. We can only take these comments for what their worth and to make judgements based upon them are impossible to avoid. I try not to take them too personally.
Maybe she's a prophetess. Didja ever thinka dat? After all, isn't God still speaking? What makes you think He's only speaking to you?
"BTW, what's the rate of exchange between Christian salvation and, say, Buddhist nirvana, or whatever?"
There is none. Separate markets.
I want to first qualify my statements in saying that I don't have a complete grasp of the differences between Calvanism and Wesley-ism, as I am still studying such things on the side. But, I find it difficult to believe that works won't condemn us, not by fellow Christians because that would be silly and it doesn't happen, but God if the Bible speaks of Him as One of Justice. How can He be a just God without taking into account the actions of an individual? You suggest, and I'd agree if I'm understanding Alan, that there's a priority. One must have faith first, one must accept Christ first. But what has just happened? An action, a "work". It's a conscious decision, a choice. Then, to do good works is still a choice that we make to show our faith is real, not to others so much, but to ourselves and our God. But what works do we do? Those that are suggested by the words of Christ found in Scripture. I'll leave that there so as to avoid more digression but will clarify if such is desired. But I think we are in agreement of the necessity of both for salvation to some extent. I think we're also in agreement on the prioritizing of both.
Your reference to Paul is acknowledged, but I would say that he speaks of his humaness and thus his imperfection, that he would be so tempted and fall prey to that temptation from time to time, just like all of us. As such, I agree that sin is a separation of us from God as one definition, but "to sin" is to manifest that separation through our actions that run counter to Christian teaching. In other words, I think there's a bit of difference to be "a sinner", and "to sin". Are We together here?
I sincerely don't believe that conservative Christians, or fundie Christians, or however you want to describe them, are ever condemning anyone, but seeking to warn others of the condemnation they face should they be wrong in their perspectives, as we believe you to be. It's absurd to suggest that I could condemn anyone, unless I'm elected to be judge in a local district court. But for eternity? That's God's job. We don't confuse that at all.
He does. And His verdict is GRACE. REPRIEVE. PARDON. Period.
Re, "One must have faith first, one must accept Christ first. But what has just happened? An action, a "work". It's a conscious decision, a choice."
I wouldn't be so sure of that conscious decision part. And "accept Christ" is just so much religious jargon, although, like most jargon, is has meaning at its root. ... But this, the whole worry over whether faith-slash-salvation is "activated" on the delievery of Grace or the acceptance of Grace, is an old discussion and is akin to arguing the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.
Try being on the other side of it. From where *I* sit, Neil, Ms. Green, and others have defied their own interpretation of Scripture in condemning me -- hiding behind just that kind of BS. It's the same kind of BS as "love the sinner, hate the sin." It's a cop-out and it ringshollow because it IS hollow.
The main one is that only people give a rip about "to sin" -- and that mainly to control other people.
Back to your devil-may-care Communion taker, the thief: I'd serve him, and bring coals of fire upon his head. I'd serve him, and again, pour sloppy grace on his head. I'd serve him, because for me to not would be the greater shame! I'd serve him, because in no way am I better than him.
I'd serve him because as it has been said, Communion is not about him, or me, but Christ.
MA asks an excellent question, "How can He be a just God without taking into account the actions of an individual?"
Sorry, He doesn't. He doesn't. I want to emphasize that. He is a MERCIFUL God BECAUSE He DOESN'T take our actions are not taken into account. And we're damned lucky he doesn't!! I feel that you have to drop the notion of "I've been good, and others have been bad, so I should get a greater reward" and move to an understanding that you, no matter how good you think you are, and no matter how good you really are, are just a miserable worm like the rest of us. If God was indeed just, you'd burn, just like me, just like ER, and just like everyone else. Is that really the justice you want??!
What, exactly, have you done that matches up with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Nothing. Me neither. If God was just we'd both be hanging there on the cross instead of Christ. Instead God is merciful, knowing that we can never measure up. There is no one good, not one, except for Jesus Christ. That's part of what "Grace alone" means. They're not just pretty words, they're difficult and they don't, to us sinners, seem particularly fair sometimes. But we need to grow up and realize that we really don't want God to be fair, because if He was, we and everyone we know and love would burn.
Seriously dude, this is not a quid-pro-quo, MA.
MA wrote, "But I think we are in agreement of the necessity of both for salvation to some extent."
If by that you mean grace and works are both necessary for salvation, then I would say no, we don't agree. Grace is necessary for salvation. We desire to do good because of the work God does in us (the technical term for this idea is "effectual calling.")
"One must have faith first, one must accept Christ first. But what has just happened? An action, a "work". It's a conscious decision, a choice."
Nope, more disagreement.
In Calvinist doctrine, as I noted before, the good works we do are not our own work, but God working in us. Moreover, we acknowledge that we do not even do the work of responding to Grace in faith! We miserable sinners would not and could not even choose faith when given the choice. (Even Peter denied Christ 3 times! And as Paul said, the good we wish to do, we cannot do.) So God, instead, works in us so that we may have faith. The idea that God offers grace, and we meet him halfway with faith as a quid-pro-quo is, I believe, (and Geoffrey can correct me if I'm wrong) called semi-Pelagianism, which has been considered a "damnable and pernicious heresy" by many Calvinists. (It is "semi"-Pelagianism because full-blown Pelagianism says that we just decide to have faith through no work of God's.)
MA wrote, "but seeking to warn others of the condemnation they face should they be wrong in their perspectives, as we believe you to be."
We face condemnation if we are wrong in our perspectives? If we think wrong, we go to hell? No, then we do not agree. See, MA, this is an excellent example of precisely what I was saying in my first comment. A statement such as that appears to be exactly the phenomena of people saying they believe in salvation by grace alone, but then when pressed, we see that they really don't. Grace alone, means "alone", not "grace alone, but with all sorts of conditions, including having the right perspectives". It is indeed difficult to wrestle out those misconceptions. QED.
The notion that we face condemnation if we have the wrong perspectives (though you may not think this a fair characterization), is what I believe to be works-based salvation. If I'm "right in my perspectives" (which, in all honesty, appears to me to mean that I have to agree with you), God-as-Angry-Santa gives me a check in the nice column. If I say the wrong things or have the "wrong perspectives", I get a check in the naughty column (again, usually with columns defined by the person doing the finger pointing.)
I really didn't want to haul out the notion of unconditional election (which some call predestination) but if you read about that you'll see (whether you agree or not) why I do not subscribe to your notions. You may also, while you're reading, want to look up the concept of the "perseverance of the saints." BTW, unconditional vs. conditional election is one place where Calvinists and Wesleyans have traditionally differed. (Wesley supposedly said there wasn't a hairs-breadth difference between the two, but I think he was just trying to ride Calvin's coat-tails.) Obviously, we're right and they're wrong. But fortunately for them, that doesn't mean they're going to hell.
But again, being wrong is neither necessary nor sufficient for damnation.
And if I keep this up, Geoffrey is going to smack me, so I'll quit now. :)
"Also, for anon, it is entirely appropriate to judge the level of another's sincerity or to judge their claims of being Christian when their own words bring out questions.."
Brother, you miss the point entirely. You can know practically NOTHING about someone else's LIFESTYLE by reading about their politics or theology on a blog. It is ridiculous to say you know someone you have never met, and that you know something about his life. (You don't. I have known the real world ER for 25 years, and yours and Ms. Green's assessments of him aren't even near the ballpark.)
"We can only take these comments for what their worth and to make judgements based upon them are impossible to avoid."
If you take your Bible seriously, you'd better not. We humans make crummy judges, which is why we are warned over and over again not to do it.
Anyway, I think you nailed, it Alan, because Marshall's comments betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues of sin, grace, judgment, and salvation. Salvation, grace, judgment - these are all Divine acts personified in Jesus Christ. Sin is the condition of humanity at all times, no matter how hard we try not to be. You, me, bishops, popes, princes, prostitutes - we are all equal before God, equally condemned by a just God, equally saved by a loving God, who expresses his judgment in the bleeding and dead and resurrected Christ. Whether or not we grasp this idea, whether or not we declare, "I believe" (although "I" is always a tenuous statement, theologically speaking), that salvation is God's work, and no matter how hard we try we cannot earn it, keep it, lose it, trample on it, or hold it up for others to see. Likewise, any success we have at reforming our lives, at setting aside sin when temptation rears its ugly head, isn't us, or the result of some kind of successful 12-step-style program of sin-avoidance, but the work of the Holy Spirit in us, whether we either acknowledge it or not, or even allow for it or not.
Everyone at the communion table, celebrant and partaker, the one serving, the one being served - we are all sinners. Period. No one gets an out, no one gets a pass, no one gets to hold themselves up as a model of virtue. The reason the United Methodist table is a completely open table - any baptized Christian can partake - is simple: it isn't ours but God's, and God invites everyone, as our liturgy clearly states. Does not taking part mean one is a particularly horrid sinner, or unworthy? I would rather think of it as a sign of false modesty.
To reiterate - the answer to Marshall Art's question about God being a God of justice is simple. Grace is God's judgment, and we are to model that in our lives. How we go about saying it in particular words, even how we go about living it out in particular acts, vary with circumstances, and there is no way to determine beforehand, or even after the fact, if one is "correct" or not. All we can do is believe, hope, love, and leave room for grace to make up the slack.
The good news is that there is plenty to go around, so no rationing is needed.
As for being worthy or not being worthy, THESE are words of Paul, who clarifies this sacrament for us in 1 Corinthians 11. These are not my words, but words from the Bible.
I know that many interpret the Bible differently, but these is why we fence the table. Jesus gave the sacrament, Paul explained it.
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. Fore he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
All the worthy/unworthiness is Biblical language... fencing is a biblical concept. Yes, grace exceeds my sin, but there are times when we are NOT worthy because we refuse to deal with our sin.
We get the principle of holding back from Matthew 5:23ff. If we have something against our brother, leave our gift at the altar, go reconcile, and then come back. (Loose translation).
I don't expect all to agree with me, but the reason we fence, examine, and sometimes withold even ourselves from the table are all based on biblical principles.
The first Anon...
As you know, "it's biblical," to me, is no defense. Slavery, "keeping women in their place," genocide and a thousand others grevious actions are "biblical." If I thought the Bible was a rule book, and that Paul had us today in mind when he wrote what he wrote, I might think differently. But I don't, and I don't, so I don't.
As for grace not being enough for some: This has been an amazingly snark-free thread. I my own self was the snarkiest, toward Ms. Green, for her passive-aggression against me. Which a friend saw and brought to my attention -- I sure don't go looking for trouble, or anything else, at Ms. Green's joint.
And notice the clear words Paul uses, "But let a man examine himself", not "Let a man submit to the examination and judgement of some other human being to decide whether or not he's worthy to take communion."
That's one reason we don't "fence" the table in the Presbyterian Church.
Which evangelical church of good standing was Jesus a member of, I wonder? From what I've read, his own wasn't seen to be in good standing for quite some time after he first sat with the sinners - the prostitutes, toll-collectors, and others.
So, I'll try again, but it won't be nearly as cool.
First, for anon, it is YOU who miss the point. In this medium, we are limiited indeed and no one would dare suggest that they KNOW someone else unless they truly are personally aquainted. Thus, we only have what is written by them and it that written representation, as limited as it is, to whom we address our comments. Thus, I say again, it is appropriate to make judgements because we are making them against the words we are given to read. I'm sure that it's likely that I could easily socialize with most, if not all, of the people with whom I debate and I'm quite certain that my opinion of them would be greatly altered by meeting any of them/you. But with that said, should they speak the same words in person, my response would likely be the same but with a different tenor based upon a greater knowledge of the actual person as opposed to a nom de plume on a blog.
Next, for Alan, that wasn't my jackassery that was dropped. I've got mine right hear in the quiver. The thing is, mine is not a pre-emptive jackassery, but only defensive. It only fires when fired upon. Keep yours holstered and everything's cool. I never go lookin' to f**k with anyone, ever. (My snark-shooter's a different story.)
For all regarding the subject at hand, I must insist that there are many references in the Bible regarding judgement, hell, separating the wheat from the chaff and such and quite a bit of it is within the four Gospels. Jesus speaks of "not knowing" someone if they continue on their path when judgement comes. In fact, Matt 5-about 8 says a lot about acts and works. And of course we are reminded that we must be reborn, that we must accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. These are acts.
If these acts are only a result of having received Grace, and Grace is freely given to all, then how do we account for hell, of which Christ speaks? How do we account for His teaching that death comes like a thief in the night and we must prepare? If Grace is given in the manner you suggest, then what's the use of preparations? We're going anyway. If we are compelled by this freely given Grace to act in a Christian manner, then we don't ever really take up any cross because we have no temptations due to the compulsion to act in a Christian manner when the showered Grace fell upon us.
But I think it's pretty clear that Scripture does not speak in the manner you present. Grace may be freely given, but it's more like a store giving free stuff "But you must act now!" It has to be accepted out of one's free will. Your version takes free will out of the equation. Your version greatly widens that narrow gate of which Jesus speaks in Matt 7:13. And we are told to be holy because God is holy. These are all actions, works and they show that one's faith is not empty or dead. You say that good works is compelled by the freely given Grace, and I say that the works show that one has accepted the Grace and has the faith.
Keep in mind that I don't refer here to backsliding. That's a sign or our imperfection and the reason we have Christ. But as Grace falls on the wicked as well as the good, the wicked don't get a free pass but much repent and come to the Lord, otherwise judgement comes to them. And only Scripture contains the lessons on what constitutes the holiness we should be seeking to emulate in our behaviors. That's a choice and that's "works". Secondary to faith, but faith is dead without it.
Anyone else now may have the last words.
I'll only say that the question, "Why bother to do good, if we are members of the elect" has been asked over and over throughout the centuries, and many other folks have more thorough answers than I could give in a blog post.
It's a reasonable question, and there are plenty of reasonable answers out there, if you're interested in finding them.
You want to be judged on your works? Really? You must be far more confident than your total depravity warrants.
Grace is free, but not cheap.
Alan speaks of "magic Santa God" or some such, but it seems to me that the idea of Grace as expressed here is the most magical description of all. Grace causes us to accept Christ. Grace causes us to live in a Christian manner (an ambiguous manner without Scripture's explicit descriptions) Grace covers absolutely anything we do because no matter how outside the text to which we can no longer consider God's last word, we can now do no wrong.
Today we looked at Matt 22: 1-14 at church. It speaks of God calling us. It speaks of God acting in the case of those who refuse the call. It speaks of God acting in the case of he that answered the call dressed as he pleased. The parables of Jesus had exact equivalents to what He was trying to teach us about the Father, Heaven, judgement, etc.
Alan asks if I want to be judged by my works. Of course not, and I won't be as long as I am a believer, have accepted Christ, have repented and become born again in Him. Never is there any indication that I would be incapable of changing my mind. He claims the road can be rough, meaning there are temptations to lure us from the path, but that we have the ability to overcome no matter how difficult and that if our hearts are set on Him, we are forgiven. But it is not true that once saved, always saved and that the stamp can't be rubbed off. That thought makes a complete mockery of everything between the covers of the Bible. Man's sinful nature is the result of choice, an act, a work. Man chooses Christ over himself and his works either prove he's sincere or they prove him a liar. God sees the heart and judges accordingly, so that gives one an idea of where works fall in the pecking order, but to say works don't count at all means that God accepts any behavior now that Christ has dies and that we have no part in our own salvation. That is not true. Yeah, we won't be perfect, but to assume we got it locked is quite an assumption for an imperfect being to make.
I just realized I missed Alan's last comment that Grace is free but not cheap. That certainly suggests some work or sacrifice.
Regarding the Bible as an idol. ER, my friend. This is nonsense. We look upon the Bible in a manner similar to this:
You're away from those you love, let's say your wife. You haven't seen her for some time, and you know you won't be for some time more. You have a letter from her. It is not her, but a piece of paper with a message to you from her. Is it not more to you than just the funny papers? Even if you specifically are content to have read it once and then toss it, is it not more than that which wrapped your sandwich? Most people keep love letters for years, sometimes they are found after the receiver passes away. That person never mistook the letters for the one who sent them. We don't either. So you can drop that "Bible as idol" bit and lessen your burden when dealing with Christians who continue to use it because it's all we have that informs us of God's Will and message. When we refer to God speaking, it's where we find what He's saying. It's the only place.
Perhaps we're just using the term "backsliding" in different ways. When I have heard it used, people mean "lose your salvation though sinful works." Since we cannot win our salvation through works, we cannot lose it through works. God chooses us in spite of ourselves, fortunately for us.
"but it seems to me that the idea of Grace as expressed here is the most magical description of all. "
No not magic, but certainly loving, merciful, and kind. God's justice is not about giving people what they want; God's justice is about giving people what they need. We need salvation, and if we could earn it ourselves, we wouldn't need Christ.
MA writes, "God sees the heart and judges accordingly, so that gives one an idea of where works fall in the pecking order, but to say works don't count at all means that God accepts any behavior now that Christ has dies and that we have no part in our own salvation. That is not true."
First, you continue to to speak of works as if we can actually do good works! We cannot. Everything we do is tainted by sin. How can anything then win us our salvation, or be counted in the "nice" column when it is tainted by sin?
Again, I've not said works don't count. Obviously we must be mindful of our actions. But they don't earn us salvation. God does not accept just any behavior, but fortunately for us, we don't lose our salvation through works, nor do we gain it by our works.
We do indeed have no part in our own salvation, MA. In fact, we cannot have a part in our own salvation. Look at it this way, let's say you've been a jerk to someone, MA. How can you forgive yourself for that behavior? You cannot do so; only the person you have wronged has the ability to forgive you for your behavior towards them. We have wronged God, separating ourselves from His holiness through sin. You believe there's a way for *us* to repair that rift? There is none. Only Christ can (and has) done that for us.
That doesn't mean we can do anything we want, nor does it mean we don't continually have to repent for our sinful behaviors. However, it is God working in us that causes us to want to do good in the first place, not our own choice, and it is God who works in us to cause us to want to repent. (This is the process of sanctification, and is separate from justification.) It is God who moves our hearts to respond to His Grace through faith, and it is God who assures us of our election.
Free will, MA, is over-rated. You might remember from Genesis, that's what got human-kind into this mess in the first place. ;)
Yes, these doctrines are tough for our individualistic, American, "I can do it on my own" mentalities to understand and accept. It's a blow to our pride to think that we can't somehow dig ourselves out of our own sin through our own actions, to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. The Law, as Paul reminds us over and over, demonstrated that we cannot, and Christ demonstrated that only He can.
"But it is not true that once saved, always saved and that the stamp can't be rubbed off. "
Yes, it is. Let's imagine person A. Person A is a good person, does good works, and has faith in God. God chooses to save that person. Then later in his life, Person A hits a bad patch, does a bunch of sinful things and looses his faith. According to you, it sounds like you're saying that you believe a "just" God now decides "Oops, I was wrong, I guess I, God, The Almighty, couldn't have possibly foreseen that Person A would loose their faith and thus I have to revoke their salvation. You believe God makes a choice to save us, then we do something wrong, and God un-chooses? God didn't foresee us losing our salvation? Not a very bright God then is he? ;)
Sorry, I think God is a little brighter than that. He doesn't make His decisions about who are elect based on fragile, fickle human actions. If He chooses to save someone, they're saved. We cannot thwart God's plans for us.
Everything you've written seems to demonstrate, MA, that whether or not you want to admit it, you believe we earn our own salvation, at least partially.
But we didn't die on the cross, even partially. Only in Christ, because of his death and resurrection are we dead to sin and alive in Christ.
Now you see why I said earlier that this is how theological discussions with some folks get so confusing. People say the words, "Salvation by grace alone" but they don't really mean "alone." Unfortunately these traditional doctrines get lost or twisted somehow, or perhaps some ministers are just not doing a very good job educating their flocks. Either way, this causes all sorts of confusion when people *think* they understand the traditional doctrines, who then accuse others of not knowing them or believing them, when they're pretty fuzzy on those doctrines themselves.
In the broader world beyond blog comments, we see this same confusion in our denominations. In the PCUSA, for example, we now have a small group of fundamentalists, who would say much the same things you're saying here, MA, who have convinced themselves (and they try to convince others) that they are the holders of traditional Reformed doctrine, and classical presbyterianism, when quite clearly they are not. They say the right words, but mean something very different.
However, hopefully you've seen what Grace Alone really means, and has historically meant for the last several centuries, since Calvin. I'm not saying that's what you have to believe, nor do I really much care what you believe. But if you say the words, some folks are going to think you really mean them. To avoid confusion, you may want to be more clear about your beliefs. You'll notice early on in this conversation, I thought we actually agreed on these matters, because it appeared that you were saying the right words. Yet, upon digging we find out that we don't agree. That's exactly what I was pointing out in my first comment on this thread.
But, it actually started with my reading, as a child of Romans 8:38-39. I was, like, 9 or 10.
It took. To this day. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, not to me -- but I eavesdrop. And I accept Paul's interpretation.
How anybody can read any of Romans 8 and not "get it" -- well, it boggles. The trouble starts, as always, when one person starts looking at another, and with a sickly sin-drenched crook of a finger, wheezing and gasping "J'accuse!" and insisting that another doesn't have the Spirit of Christ because of this, or that, perceived sin!
Obviously, I've now unwashed my hands of this thread.
ER wrote, "The trouble starts, as always, when one person starts looking at another, and with a sickly sin-drenched crook of a finger, wheezing and gasping "J'accuse!" and insisting that another doesn't have the Spirit of Christ because of this, or that, perceived sin! "
I would say that a lot of these misconceptions, or naive conceptions, whatever we want to call them are based not only on our usual childish love of revenge and need to feel better about ourselves by pointing fingers at others, but they also have a very long history in the Church, pre-Reformation. Once they got in our brains, they've been notoriously difficult to extract, even now, centuries later.
For example, paying to get into heaven? That isn't just a wacky idea that started with a laity that loved to be judgmental, and wasn't only a way for some people to feel better about themselves than everyone else (though those are probably useful side effects.) It was a great way for the church to make money and to hold onto power. What's amusing is that today, it's the supposedly Protestant fundamentalists who are now the folks most likely to hold on to these formerly papist ideas, even now that the papists themselves have given them up. Oh, sure, the fundamentalists don't say you have to pay to get into heaven, but they do believe your works save you ... at least somehow (the underlying idea behind dispensations.) And, such notions still earn the fundamentalists and their spokes-ministers (Dobson, Robertson, et. al.) plenty o' coin.
Plus it is just so much easier to tell people, "Hey, if you do good stuff you go to heaven, and if you don't you don't." Rather than try to convince people that they're miserable worms and can't claw and scratch their way into heaven. In other words, trying to tell people that they're not good enough doesn't sell. One reason, I suspect, that such churches end up getting many congregants. Simple sells better than nuance.
So while I agree that a lot of these naive conceptions live on because everyone enjoys a good finger wagging from time to time, I also think they get passed on from long dead historical notions of God and salvation, etc., and that they're kept going, at least partially, by greed.
Who doesn't? :) And for good reason, I mean, he wasn't the nicest guy around, just ask Servetus. ;)
Did you know that Calvin once went to the Geneva city council (or whatever it was called) and asked them to pass a law to make it illegal to name your dog John Calvin? Seems he was so unpopular, that the town residents had taken to naming the mangy strays "John Calvin." Probably apocryphal, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. :)
But I think part of the problem is that few folks have actually read Calvin, but instead read hyper-neo-fundie-Calvinist drivel that bears little relationship to Calvin's actual ideas. Such people are rarely fun at parties. :)
We've all heard of death bed conversions. People about to be executed for example (which is why clergy is present). Obviously these people were in rebellion all their lives and now, with death staring them in the face, they choose God, some sincerely, some as bargaining due to fear of death. I don't think any of you deny this is possible for God to do if He believes the subject truly worthy of His Mercy.
Yet, you seem to project the idea that the opposite is impossible. That one who led a "Christian" life, even as you describe it, might at some point suffer so much that he throws up his hands and rejects God soundly, curses Him and swears he wants nothing to do with Him. Then he walks in the street still steaming and gets hit by a bus. His hatred for God sincere at the moment he was killed, do you really believe that God would simply say, "Oh well, he was just having a bad day."?
Or perhaps you're saying that in the first case, the guy had somehow been saved long ago, before he ever considered coming to the Lord? This is where your theology confuses me. I don't see anywhere that suggests that rebellion is no longer possible, that that choice to rebel or keep the faith is removed from us and we are automatons from the moment God's saving Grace brushes our cheek. When life's going good, it's easy to believe. When life goes bad, that's when doubt creeps in and people are likely to reject any notion of God in the spirit of "Where's He when I need Him?"
Have I articulated a distinction for you here?
NONE OF US IS WORTHY OF HIS MERCY -- EVER.
Therefore, in rdsponse to this: 'His hatred for God sincere at the moment he was killed, do you really believe that God would simply say, "Oh well, he was just having a bad day."?
YES! YES! YES! You act as if God acts within "time" -- and He does not. So, ANY moment that ANY of us, "hate" God is the PRESENT forever to God.
Man. You think your salvation hinges on whether, in a fit of pique, you raise your puny self up and dare to "hate" God???
You think that because you're having a good day and doing God the favor of not "hating" him that you're "worthy of His mercy"?
Give it up. Hit your knees. Start over. And for Christ's sake, quit confusing the agreement you seem to have with political-economic conservatives with agreement with them on doctrine. One, their doctine is wrong, and two, you don't agree with even most fundamentalist doctine if you think what you think has a damn thing to do with salvation, or grace of what God does or does not do with you.
Lord, open some eyes here.
It's a site for deconverting, or deconverted Christians. Top a person, the people I've seen over there thought that their salvation was up to them, the sustaining of their faith was up to them -- and that now their deconversion is up to them. Makes logical sense.
But it's bullshit in the Christian-spiritual sense. They either never had it, and thought they did, or they think they've lost it but they haven't.
Any in any case, I think Grace covers them all.
You, too, actually. It's not people who get stuff wrong I worry about. It's not even this new breed of atheists running amok. It's people who don't give a damn about anyone other than themsleves -- they're the ones teetering at the abyss, whatever that IS exactly.
Anyway, MA, you seem to be drawing a distinction between good works and bad works. But all our works are tainted by sin. Think of the very best things you've done in your life. If God is honest (and He is) each of those still get checked in the naughty column. Your very best works are not done for pure, unselfish reasons, and/or they do not go far enough, and/or you only think they're good by human standards but God disagrees, and/or they have evil unforseen consequences, probably all of the above, if you're honest with yourself. Those good works you're so proud of? They stink to Him. Sorry, but they do. None of your works are holy enough or worthy enough for Him.
So the distinctions you are attempting to draw are meaningless because you assume that some works are good and others are bad, when even our best works are tainted by sin, as I've been saying all along.
Sorry, but that miserable sinner who throws up his hands and rejects God? You're no better than he is. You reject God every day, in every action, even in the very best things you do. And if you don't believe that you do, well, there's another sin: pride.
The doctrine is called "total depravity." Total. That is, everything is we do is tainted by sin. Even those things we convince ourselves are good. The heart, as Jeremiah reminds us, is deceitful above all things. So I wouldn't think yourself more highly than either of the people in your two examples.
I think you need to rethink your understanding of sin, as we all do every day. It's broader and deeper and more prevalent than you seem to give it credit for being.
I think this is a fundamental flaw in fundamentalism, actually. I've had this same conversation again and again with various fundamentalists over the years and I'm led to the same conclusion each time: frankly, fundamentalists simply don't take sin seriously enough. Say what you like about us Calvinists, but you can't deny that we take sin and its pervasiveness pretty seriously.
Anyway, read Romans 3.
But in the end, it may not be that I don't understand you, or that you don't understand me. It may simply be that we disagree.
BTW, most of what I have said is clearly and pretty simply laid out in our (and by our, I mean Reformed, Calvinist) confessions such as the Westminster Catechism, Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Scots Confession, etc. and they'll be much clearer than I am able to be in a blog comment. So, if you are indeed interested in more detail about what I'm saying, you can find them online. I say that not to convince you of anything, but only to point out resources if you're interested in studying more completely, what I've been trying to say.
I will also point out that several whole branches of traditional Christianity (eg. the Methodists, the Catholics, the Anglicans, etc.) would disagree with many of the things I've said here, so it isn't like you're alone in your disagreement with Calvinism. But then, they also disagree with each other on these topics. That's fine, we don't all have to agree. That's why we have different denominations.
"But I am still devoted. I still ache to be with my Lord some day. I still accept Christ as my Savior, as God made human who gave His Life for me. "
Let's see if I understand the distinction you are making. Let's take a simple example: giving to the poor. There's the action -- handing out the money -- and there is the intention of the action -- trying to follow Jesus' commands regarding helping the poor. You appear to be saying that you realize that the actual alms-giving is itself, even though a "good" act, still tainted by sin. However, you seem to be making the distinction that the intention of wanting to do good is what is important. Is that a reasonable restatement of what you're saying?
If so, I would respond that I believe that the intention of wanting to do good is not yours, but is God working inside of you through the Spirit. That intention or wanting to do good (even though we can never completely succeed) is a result of God's Grace. Grace saves us, and the result is that it works in us to make us want to do good. As the hymn states, "'Twas Grace that taught my soul to fear, and Grace my fears relieved." And, when we fail (as we always do) it is not our choice to want to repent, but it is God working in us that makes us want to repent. We have a choice, either to repent or not, but it is God in us, poking us in the ribs, that makes us understand the need for repentance, makes us feel guilty when we don't repent, etc. We have the will to make the choice to repent or not, but it isn't our own free will that gave us that choice in the first place.
That, by the way, is part of the way we can be personally assured of our election. If we were not saved, we would not care to do good, nor would we really care much if we did bad, because God would not be working in us to instill such needs and feelings.
"But some never do and others did and then reject Him, never to return to Him. And you think that this means nothing? It makes no difference whatsoever? If this is where you're going, then it is no wonder Calvin's name was used in deragatory ways."
No, my point is that if they rejected Him, who is to say they were saved in the first place? If they were truly saved, they would not have truly rejected Him. BTW, actually rejecting God, and shouting at the top of your lungs "I hate God!" during a time of extreme stress, anger, rage, sadness, say perhaps at the death of a loved one, are not the same things at all. I think God knows the difference.
Anyway, I don't mean to keep pushing this, but I really would like to hear your explanation for why God, who has complete foresight, would save someone whom He knows He's going to have to "un-save" later. It just doesn't make much sense to me.
"Christ's sacrifice does not give us carte blanche to act as we choose..."
You're right. Now, I've been trying quite hard not to misinterpret what you're saying, MA. Now please do me the favor of not misinterpreting what I'm saying. No where have I said that Christ's sacrifice allows us to do anything we want. I have said just the opposite when I wrote above, "That doesn't mean we can do anything we want, nor does it mean we don't continually have to repent for our sinful behaviors." Let's continue to try to keep our eye on the ball here and not misstate each other's positions.
"... nor does it eliminate our free will to accept or reject His most special gift of eternal life."
You're sort of right. It does not eliminate our free will. I can stand up now, or remain seated. I can choose to give money to the poor, or choose to try to instead spend my time being a good steward of the environment, or I can choose to become a missionary to those who have never heard the Gospel, or I can try to do all three, etc. I have a choice of how I respond to God's grace. That's free will. But the desire, the motivation to do good is a result of God's grace. Because left on my own, I wouldn't naturally want to do any of that because of our sinful nature.
When I stand in church and say the Apostle's Creed, "I believe..." It is my choice to affirm that belief. That's free will. However, I don't get credit for that because the impulse to believe is God's doing, not mine. There is no prayer I can make to be saved. I wasn't saved when I was baptized. I wasn't saved when I was confirmed. I wasn't saved when I was ordained as an elder. I was saved 2000 years ago. That's Christ's doing, not mine.
Maybe that sounds nuts. But there is good Scriptural reasons to believe this stuff I'm saying. “For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Phi. 2:13
So anyway no, we do not have absolute free will, and I believe support for that is to be found all sorts of places in Scripture (how many times does God "harden" someone's heart? When it came to her pregnancy, He didn't give Mary much of a choice. Do you think Paul, on the road to Damascus, confronted with the light and voice of Christ actually had the chance to say "Nope"? Confronted with the Glory of the Lord, do you think puny people can just say "Nahh"? (How'd that go for Jonah, BTW?) So again, the notion of absolute free will is explored in the Bible, and is over and over revealed as a fiction of humanity's pride and arrogance.
We do however, have the free will to make the choices that God sets before us. Not absolute, but we're not mindless robots either.
An analogy (not perfect, but it might explain what I mean.) Imagine a parent is about to make dinner and is going to give a child a choice of what to eat. Now a crazy parent who wants to spend all night arguing about dinner, will give their child absolute free will: "What do you want for dinner?" And the answer will probably be something along the lines of "chocolate peanut butter marshmallow pie." A wise parent however, gives a child the opportunity to make good choices, but not absolute free will, "Would you like macaroni and cheese, or tomato soup for dinner?"
See the difference? Now if we could add to that analogy the understanding that God's effectual grace makes us want and intend to make good decisions, we'd be close to the point I'm trying to make.
You may disagree, and that's fine, but I hope, at least, that you understand that this isn't just some crazy sh*t I'm making up as I go along, but that these are ideas that people have prayed about and argued about and worried about and thought about for several centuries. They are the historical basis for an entire branch of Christianity, the Presbyterian denominations, the Reformed denominations, the Congregational churches. These days even the Souther Baptists are claiming to be Calvinists! (Seriously.) And I hope that you understand that I take them very seriously and have prayed about and argued about and worried about and thought about them for more than half my life. These ideas are Biblically based, historical, orthodox, and consistent. I hope, if nothing else, that this discussion might allow you to take my beliefs a little more seriously than you seemingly have done in our past conversations, whether you agree with me or not. It's fine if you think I'm wrong, it's fine if you disagree. But I don't believe what I believe because I'm simply believing whatever I want, or because there isn't good Biblical and historical reasons for believing these things.
I guess that Calvin College education may have been worth something after all. :)
As I said, my jackassery is a strictly defensive weapon. But I have also been enjoying the exchange. It's the true spirit of blog discussion. I appreciate your patience as I believe I'm coming to some level of understanding of whence you come. Not prepared to say I agree, but as Dennis Prager likes to say, clarity is more important than agreement. Or something like that. Thanks also for the sources, as I will indeed review them in time.
"However, you seem to be making the distinction that the intention of wanting to do good is what is important."
Close. The distinction is that no matter what actions I perpetrate, my ultimate goal, my intention, is to love, honor and serve God with all my heart, mind and soul. I wish to be regarded by Him as a disciple, a believer, a member of the saved. Hardships or temptations may here and there distract, but my overall attitude is as stated above. I have given myself to Him and, at least in my case, it's a constant struggle insofar as the darker side of my nature still beckons. God bless those that find the path easy to tread, but most find it a bit too narrow to travel easily I suspect. Indeed, I have strayed on more than one occasion in my life and I can say for sure that there, but for His Grace, I could easily have stayed. You might be saying that it was He who brought me back, while it surely felt like my own reason brought me to understand the logic and wisdom of returning (such as I have).
Perhaps its an overall lack of that feeling of conviction that tells me that I am in charge of the ultimate choosing of acceptance. He chooses us. Not everyone chooses Him. What of His Grace on those who do not?
You spoke of God as knowing both ends of our lives. There is that mystery of God being not just here, there and everywhere, but back then, in a week from now, and at this very moment all at the same time, but still, I believe we have that free will to accept or deny Him. I will say that I do not believe He saves, then unsaves, then saves as we go back and forth in our lives being as holy as we can before debauching ourselves when little Elvis demands attention. I believe that despite His omnipresence, the free will thing still is in play. I can't say how it works exactly. It's above my pay grade. (Urp!) But I can't help but think about death coming like a thief in the night. What significance exists in this analogy if choosing is beyond us?
I think your examples are a bit off. Without tracking each incident, I believe when God hardened someone's heart, it was in the context of a teaching moment, as it were. It was for someone else's benefit. And when you bring up Jonah or Paul, I think that God didn't give any prophet a choice, nor did He give Mary any choice. But the OT is rife with examples of the whole of Israel rejecting God who demonstrated His power with regularity. Indeed, Paul speaks of God giving people over to their wicked desires and it's due to their having first chosen to act on those desires. And again, in and around your Phillipian exerpt, Paul instructs them how to act. There is some value there in what works they perform, what actions they perpetrate that are to be as manifestations of their faith. And of course, as I mentioned earlier, Matthew 5,6,and I believe it was 7 and perhaps 8 is nothing but Jesus speaking about how people should be acting.
I think I can agree that God works within us if we accept Him. I can agree that the stronger our faith, the more Christ-like we behave. But still, we have the choice.
I don't think God is impressed with forced love. To be loved by force means nothing. But to be loved by choice means everything. My wife could have gone with anyone, but she chose me. I didn't have to drug her (not after the first time), I didn't need a shotgun, I didn't have to lie, and she certainly didn't have to settle for me, but she chose to be with me. And believe me, it's so much better when they don't struggle. I can't believe that God, who above anyone or anything is totally deserving of our attention, respect, honor, praise and love, would be satisfied with love that isn't freely given at all times. I just read or heard something regarding God being a jealous God, that for Him, jealousy is a virtue because He's so totally and completely worthy of our love and the only One who is.
Now, Geoffrey I think it was, made noise on one occasion with the statement that nothing can separate us from God (is this a correct replay, Geoffrey?). If I've got his meaning correct, my response is that WE can separate ourselves from Him by our rebellion. He might still love us, and in that we have no control, but that He might love us doesn't mean we're spending eternity with Him.
So anyway, I agree that nothing we do is good enough. We need to accept Christ. Faith is paramount. Grace is free, but we need to accept it. Our actions from that point are an indication (not THE indication) that we truly have accepted. For Him, the indication is our heart. For US, the indication is our actions. Howzzat?
And so we've come full circle. Either Jesus saves, or MA saves. It's not a partnership. It's not a quid pro quo. Not a bargain.
Indeed, clarity is better than agreement.
I think we understand each other now, but simply disagree. Were I to re-write the paragraph I quoted above, I would write this:
I wish to be regarded by Him as a disciple, a believer, a member of the saved, because He works in me to instill this wish. Hardships or temptations may here and there distract, but my overall attitude is as stated above, because He inspires that attitude in me. I have given myself to Him and, at least in my case, it's a constant struggle insofar as the darker side of my nature still beckons, but I made the choice because He first chose me.
I should also clarify once again, that our choices are not forced. However, once God chooses us, our choices are limited. He doesn't force us to love him, but we're able to love him because He first loves us. Otherwise we wouldn't even know how to love (Him or anyone else, for that matter.)