Of Being Saved

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Just yesterday I received an inquiry via this blog site posted as a comment on the piece entitled “Of the Proverbial Fall.”(Feb. 14, 2012) This person said she had been a member of All Saints many years ago. The question was whether the Episcopal Church believed in the inerrancy/infallibility of scripture. You, gentle readers, know me well enough to know how I might have answered the question, but if you are curious you can look up this post in the archives; just click on the month cited above on the blog site.

Then the questioner followed up thanking me for answering her first question and then posed a few others. Chief among them was the question, “What does the Episcopal Church believe about salvation,” and “what is required to be saved,” and “when does that happen.” My mind raced towards my memories of my days in high school, a time in which there were a number of teenage evangelical groups whose sole purpose was to make sure their classmates got “saved” (as if it were something one got) and therefore their/our souls would be destined for heaven in the next life; I used to get asked from time to time growing up, “are you saved?” My mother’s snide answer for me was to say to them…. “of course I am, I’m an Episcopalian!”…. and even today we still speak in many denominational and nondenominational churches about salvation being an intimate and intensely personal enterprise. Living in the South we still see such theologies of salvation in the revival culture. Indeed our culture as a whole still prizes above all things self-interest. 

So here is my reply to the questioner who only identified herself as Ms. M (perhaps she is reading this): First and foremost we must look and see what scripture has to say about salvation. For the Gospel writers and for Paul the word salvation is synonymous with the state of “well being”. Salvation then is principally about living in the present; how we live together justly, sharing the abundance that God provides. The word salvation in scripture rarely speaks of an afterlife. So the term salvation, particularly in the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, has decided social, economic, and political implications (not partisan political, but political meaning how we live together as the human family) Implications for the present day, for a people oppressed by a totalitarian regime. Salvation then is not a possession but a way of  life for the good of the whole up and against the tragedy and injustices of our world…It is a communal term and not a personal term in scripture. Through Jesus’ preaching and teaching we learn that salvation means loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Salvation is something we don’t hold on to, or claim as our own, but something we give away, something we bear to our world, a way of life.

And at least according to Paul, the gospel of John and in Hebrew scripture salvation is intended by God for all, it is universal, not just for a chosen few. We still suffer in our culture from the theologies of Augustine and Calvin which hold that only an elite few will receive salvation…how this doctrine has survived and the damage it has done is beyond me….perhaps it evolved and survived due to a collective self loathing that centuries of violence have brought upon us…that’s my amateur psychologist’s guess. So salvation is intended by God for all of us since before time….Baptism a symbol of a reality that already is…. Salvation is for all, and all means all…. the human community entire around the planet. I don’t believe “religious” affiliation as a thing to do with it, because salvation is not principally about belief, but it is about the practice of the faith, the practice of the good….the principal goal, the principal tenet being the well being of the people God loves and the creation in which they live…well being meaning living in freedom, and non-violence, and in good health , fed and clothed …cloaked with dignity, living justly with one’s neighbor….and the means of salvation, what is required of us quite simply has been expressed by the prophet Micah (6:8): “He has told you O mortal what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” What more than that can there be?

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Rob Gray
May 1st, 2012

Amen! The idea that salvation is something you have, rather than something you live, has always befuddled me.

As for our cultural (mis)understanding and corruption of the concept, I have tended to contribute that to the simultaneous development of capitalism and Protestantism in the wake of Columbus and Luther. These inter-tangled forces, over about 300 years, grew into the simultaneous outbreaks of industrial and democratic revolutions in the late 18th century. These forces also contributed to the development of our modern sense of the “self,” most commonly depicted/represented in (what I would call misreadings of) American romantic writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, who were central in the development of our uniquely American sense of individualism.

The current state of that development is so heavily evident in the political discourses of the present election cycle, even to the point where one is tempted to consider how the co-optation of contemporary Christianity by the republican party 30 years ago has transformed it into something unrecognizable to Christ, doing irreparable harm to the mission of the Church.

I’m afraid we are left with a what’s-in-it-for-me version of Christianity that sells well at the mega-churches and polling places, but our world will be the worser for it.

Joseph Rolison
May 1st, 2012

Dear Sir,

In terms of salvation being the restoration of *shalom*, I would be curious to know your thoughts as to why *shalom* in the world was ever disturbed in the first place. Why, ultimately, do humans at times work against *shalom* in our world (as, for example, in cases of murder and slander and theft and plain old meanness)?

I’d also be curious to hear more of your exposition of Augustinian and Calvinistic anthropology and soteriology. From what I have read of them, “elite” strikes me as a misrepresentation of their assessment of biblical teaching on the nature of man — even of the regenerate. And whatever Calvin might have thought about the “few” being saved, it is right interesting that he also trained numbers of missionaries. (Jesus, incidentally, did address the issue of the “few” versus the “many” in St Matthew 7:13-14.)

Finally, you quoted Micah 6:8 in reference to what is “required of us.” Is it legitimate to espouse the view of the Bible posted on this blog and then to write of something “required” of humans using a Bible verse to undergird this “requirement?”

Thank you for your consideration.

Cary Clark
May 1st, 2012

Pastor,
Please allow me to express the Baptist (and I guess I thought, Prostestant) view of salvation. We are saved by grace, not works, but if we have obtained this grace which is a gift from God and must be asked for, and is not automatically given (or there would be no Hell), then our WORKS will show that we are saved. It’s not vice-versa.
If one has indeed made an informed and adult decision to ask Jesus into his/her heart, and RECEIVE the gift of salvation described in John 3:16-17, THEN they have it, and their lives will show it.
It may be that we agree and I just don’t realize it.

Dorothy Gill
May 1st, 2012

Jim, I was your sacristan when you were at Trinity a few weeks ago. You have once again nailed my feelings. Thank you for your insight.

Peter Wilson
May 2nd, 2012

Great post, Jim. It’s generated more comments than most of your previous posts which means that the issue of salvation or “being saved” continues to touch a nerve in the Christian and indeed the human psyche. Within Christianity, there are many views – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant – on salvation, reflecting a rich diversity of interpretation and understanding within the same religious tradition. The Anglican/Episcopal tradition has an interpretation of salvation that makes sense to some people, while the Baptist tradition has an interpretation of salvation that makes sense to others. Each can point to Scripture and church tradition to support their interpretations. Christians have never and probably will never agree on the meaning of salvation. Living by that assertion may itself be salvific. However, certainly most Christians can agree or at least understand that Christianity is not about living for oneself above all others. It is about living with others and for others while maintaining one’s individual personality and identity, much as Jesus did.

I spent time in India five years ago and met many devout Hindus and Muslims. One thing that became clear to me is that gentle people of faith share the same understandings: the world is full of goodness, life is a gift, gifts are to be shared, welcome the stranger, help people in need, do no harm. Gentle people of no particular faith also share these same understandings. These understandings create good relationships among people. They promote peace, spread goodwill, and relieve suffering. If a Hindu or a Baptist or an atheist hands a thirsty person a glass of cold water on a hot day, what does it matter what ideas or beliefs motivated him or her to do that?

Arguments over salvation caused much tragedy throughout human history as people of all faiths have gone to war physically or verbally over the meaning of the term. Maybe the key to salvation is to live “as if it were true” and to stop trying to enforce unanimity of belief. This may be the underlying wisdom of that well-known verse from Micah.

Rob Gray
May 2nd, 2012

Great response, Pete! There are hundreds of denominational and nondenominational variations on what Christians are supposed to believe, and the only thing I can conclude with any certainty is the extent to which any one of them believes its interpretation is the only “true” interpretation is pretty much the same extent to which it is likely wrong…

It’s probably worth evoking the old saw “the devil’s in the details” here, since that is where the disagreement lies. As you so ably point out, virtually all faiths agree on the big picture, and I would argue that where we differ on details moves out of the theological and into the political realm.

LaVada Raouf
May 9th, 2012

Growing up, we Episcopalians always asked, “Saved from what?” I never understoond the concept of being “saved”. When I went to Dauphin Way Baptist with my friend, I was always filled with panic at the thought of being asked, “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?” Mama always told us that we were already saved at baptism so the point of being saved again was redundant. My mother always delivered this with just the slightest sniff as if being Episcopalian was a slightly higher order where we did not have to worry about such mundane things. It had already been taken care of. Maybe I am becoming my mother! Egad! It just seems to me that we waste a lot of time worrying about whether or not we are worthy or saved or whether (probably the most time) someone else is saved. Couldn’t we as a community be using our time more wisely? I think there is a Seinfeld episode plot hiding in this discussion.

Faith Campbell
May 12th, 2013

One sure thing in my life since age 13 was that I am saved, recieved Christ as my Savior and started a new life. I never want to lose that simple and absolutely fulfilling surity. I learned in later years that because I was saved my life should show it by caring for the world God made and God’s creations, expecially those I live with. As a life long Presbyterian, currently feeling gently pushed by the Hol Spirit into becoming an Episcopalian, I would not want to lose that surity. Also the knowledge that the Holy Spirit has lived and energized me since the 1970’s. I see in the Episcopal Church more symbolism, far more hands on mission and struggling to deal life as it is and as God would have it be. Maybe I would feel as out of step with the Episcopal Church as I do with the Presbyterian Church but that is what I am praying and thinking about at this time.

Mike
April 11th, 2016

Lifelong Baptist here, but have been attending an Episcopal church for about nine months. I have found much that I love about the church, but (no doubt because of being a lifelong Baptist) I struggle with a couple of things. I don’t believe in Universalism, and I don’t know if that is an Episcopal belief. I also struggle with infant baptism.

I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments. I also look forward to growing in my faith.

William Hoelzel
December 23rd, 2016

Having grown up in the evangelical church (Plymouth Brethren), I have often considered that group’s idea of salvation and being “saved” to be equivalent to an insurance policy. Simply by affirming this one truth — that Christ died for my sins — you gain eternal “protection” from the punishment that you rightly deserve. No matter what you do from that point forward, your “policy” cannot be rescinded. One simple affirmation, and you’re home free!

This kind of thinking, I suspect, keeps us from seeing the continuing wrongs we commit, the continuing wrongs that we LIVE. Evangelicals who I know accept can poverty and racism and inequality of all kinds because they don’t see salvation as a way of living, as a way of following Christ, as a way of living in service to others. Instead, they see it as a benefits plan they have acquired because they somehow were wise enough to accept this offer from God.

Salvation requires nothing from me, they say, because it’s a free gift. It cannot be not earned. It’s an end in itself.

Thank you for helping me see anew that Christ’s death was not an ending, the completing of an offer God was making to us. It’s not a marketing proposal for us to take or leave. Instead, it’s a beginning for us of a new life and a new creation as we follow Jesus as his disciples.

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