God’s Secret Handshake
Salvation, as preached from Christian Pulpits seems very simple to the faithful. Most Christians insist that there is but one Name by which we all must be saved. Pastors generally have it down pat – and it makes sense if you follow the logic of Christian Evangelists and not think too hard about it. The laity trusts the authority of the Church. But if we put away our Four Spiritual Laws pamphlets and Chick Tracts and see what the Bible actually says about Salvation, it gets hairy. It is no wonder theologians have struggled with these issues for centuries.
Here are a few passages that come off the top of my head. Mind you, there are plenty more:
- John 3:16 says if we believe in him (the only begotten Son) we will have eternal life. Simple enough.
- Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by God’s grace and not by works. Cool.
- Matthew 19:16-22 has Jesus telling a young rich man that he will attain eternal life by following the commandments (presumably the Mosaic Law), selling all his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor. No mention of grace, or God’s favor. OK, now it is getting confusing. Are we saved by God’s grace or not?
- Romans 6:3-5 says that we will be united with Christ Jesus in the resurrection if we are baptized into Christ Jesus. This is said in the context of dying to sin. No selling of your possessions here. Again, what does baptism mean in this context?
- Romans 10:9 requires only two things for salvation – that we believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised from the dead, and confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus. Paul, do we need baptism or not?
- Titus 3:4-8 says that we are saved by the mercy of God through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. God gives his mercy when we trust in him. Do we trust in God that he will save us? That he is merciful? Trusting that God raised Jesus from the dead?
- 1 Corinthians 15 defines the Gospel (The News) by which we are saved. Hold firmly or believe on this word: That Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day and that he appeared to Peter, the Twelve, more to 500 people simultaneously, James, all the apostles, then lastly to Paul. So we simply believe these things – no word of giving to the poor or baptism for our salvation. Which is it?
- Romans 4:3 says that Abraham had righteousness counted to him on account of his faith. James 2:21 says that Abraham was justified by works. So do we attain salvation by faith or works via faith? Remember that not even Martin Luther, of all people, could reconcile those two passages.
These instructions are difficult to harmonize, but it gets worse. For instance, when baptism is mentioned, what does baptism even mean? Is baptism necessary for salvation or isn’t it? Different biblical authors have different opinions. If so, is it by Immersion? Sprinkling? As an infant? As a cognizant believer? As repentance? As witness? Is it a physical act or a metaphor for spiritual death and rebirth?
It gets even worse than that! It is not enough to believe in Jesus, we have to make sure it is the right Jesus. Is Jesus the sole atonement for our sins? If baptism is a requirement for salvation did Jesus die for all sins up until the time of baptism or also after? Do we have to believe that Jesus was God Incarnate? Or is it enough to believe that Jesus was the only the Son of God? Am I wrong to believe that Jesus is a god outside of the Father? No, that is clearly heresy. Or is it? OK, then can I believe that Jesus is another personality of The Father, like a schizophrenic God? No? Is Jesus a separate entity from the Father all together to form a united GodHead, much like a father and son form a single united family? That is heresy too? But what else is Three Persons in One Godhead supposed to mean? Then is Jesus the same as the Father but in a different form, like liquid and ice are both forms of water? Is that the Jesus we are to believe? Is modalism a heresy or isn’t it? I don’t know, you tell me. Are we to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, or does that not matter? What if I believe that Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane was enough to atone for our sins, as the Mormons do? What if I believe the Word became, not just God, but a god the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do? Is that the right or the wrong Jesus? Are we to believe in Jesus as Savior? Or are we to believe in Jesus as Savior and LORD?
All this may seem over the top, but it is really not. Over the years, brilliant theologians wrestled with all these issues and countless more to ensure that they understood God’s Plan of Salvation. And they are still arguing. How many denominations are we up to now?This is just a smattering of the issues concerning Salvation that comes off the top of my head. Most Christians attempt to harmonize all these Salvation passages into a coherent unit, like putting together a Divine jigsaw puzzle. But there are yet more passages which mention works, baptism, repentance, the old Mosaic Law, etc, etc.
As a doubting Christian, I looked at all these Biblical passages and how various churches interpreted them. I realized that I could probably justify each of these positions Biblically, given enough study time and creativity. I got so confused that I could not even figure out what Salvation even meant anymore.
Here is an example to consider: Mark 16:16, says that we have to believe the Gospel and be baptized to be saved. Period. What is this Gospel that we are to believe? The resurrection? The crucifixion? That Jesus is the Son of God? Do we believe a person? An event? A teaching? Almost as troublesome – How are you baptized? With water? With the spirit? Both? When are you baptized? As an infant? On the deathbed? As a literal confession of sins? As a symbolic witness? Not to mention that I know of NO Christian who shows the signs of belief as described in Mark 16:17ff (casting out demons, drinking deadly things, etc), so what are these signs that nobody exhibits witnesses of? There is no mention of these thorny issues in this passage of Mark. It is left open for us mere mortals to interpret for ourselves. The fact is that the typical Christian believes whatever their denomination, or doctrinal statement, or church creed says they are to believe. From there, all Scripture is harmonized by the believer to fit those church-feed creeds.
Here is another example to consider: God spent the better part of 20 chapters in Exodus giving Moses and the Israelites very detailed instructions on how to communicate with him by means of a portable structure: The Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was to be where the Glory of God lived, where the High Priest would atone for the sins of the people, and where God would meet with his people. God went through great effort to give Moses unambiguous direction on how the Tabernacle was to be built. He gave specific size dimensions. He gave encampment instructions for the twelve tribes. He gave the materials to be used in the Tabernacle. He described the rooms, the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. He gave great detail to the implements and ornaments to be used in the Tabernacle. The colors, the metals, the types of skins, the curtains, the braids, the hooks, the pins were all specified. The shewbread, the laver, the branched lampstand, and the alter were all detailed. In the Holy of Holies was the very focus of the Tabernacle – The Ark of the Covenant, the construction of which was detailed in every way. The lid was actually a separate item, the Mercy Seat. The materials were specified, along with the cherubim engraved on top, which protected the Holiness of God in his meeting place. The uniforms or vestments of the priests were also detailed. The aprons, the breastplates, the helmets, the robes, the tunics, the …
You get the idea. I have not even commented on the ceremonial feasts, cleansings or offering instructions as given by God. If God gave Moses this much detail on his Tabernacle to Moses, written like a bulleted list that even a caveman could understand, then why are we, the Saints of the Church Age given such ambiguity as to our eternal salvation? If Jesus’ atonement by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection is the culmination God’s Plan for the Justification of humanity, the event the Old Testament prophets dreamt and wrote of, the event where Christ humbled himself to obedience to death and God exalted him to the highest place, the absolute Apex of the History of the Universe, if all that were true you think God would at least give us Clear, Consistent, Unambiguous, Non-Contradictory instructions on how to take advantage of that Plan of Salvation.
But it is not simple. It is very difficult. God’s plan for Salvation is not a clear list like he made for Moses when the Tabernacle was built. God took that effort for the ancient Israelites, but not for modern Christians. I have to wonder why God never made that effort for those whom he loves so much. Unfortunately, we have no clear instructions and that is why we have countless Christian denominations, which all interpret the Bible, and in many cases, God’s plan of Salvation very differently. He lets us put together a jigsaw puzzle of seemingly random passages by different authors who say very different things about salvation. And if you are a follower of Jesus, you better make that puzzle fit and interpret these salvation passages correctly. But which interpretation shall you select?
Your eternity depends on if you have selected the correct decoder ring to decipher these passages. Salvation is nothing more than knowing God’s Secret Handshake.
**sigh** Hand me that simple Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet, will you?
Entry filed under: HeIsSailing. Tags: agnostic, apologetics, apostasy, atheism, Bible, christianity, Church, faith, freethinking, heretic, inerrancy, Jesus, religion, resurrection, skepticism, spirituality, theology.