You might think from the title of this blog that I’m about to tackle my views on particular (limited) atonement. Not really. See, most evangelicals either simply believe that Christ died specifically for His sheep while others believe that Christ died for everyone (whether or not He died for everyone in the same way is another discussion). All of these discussions are worth having and should not (ever) produce argument. But this post is about another angle that faces the American religious landscape on an increasing level
In a recent ARTICLE locally, the Rev. Lowell Grisham (an Episcopal priest), gave his reflections on a recent quote by the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, where she said this:
The overarching connectionin all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.
In reflecting, Grisham goes on to point out…
Many of us grew up being told that our fundamental identity as human beings is as “sinners,” condemned by a holy God to a well-deserved punishment of eternal damnation and torment. The only way out is to believe that Jesus died for your sins, paying your debt to God. If you confess Jesus as your lord and savior, you are saved, which means you go to heaven when you die.
Religion reduced to a transaction. A very self-serving, individualistic transaction at that. I got my ticket. Too bad for you if you don’t get yours.
So, Christ did not die for us individually, He died for us corporately for world peace? That seems to be the point as Grisham concludes his article…
Very few of the biblical metaphors for salvation are exclusively Christian. Jesus fed, healed, and loved all, regardless of religion or culture. Borg notes, “All of the early Christian communities of which we know were communities of bread as well as Spirit. Food and Spirit, bread and breath: The sharing of the necessities of life in a new community…”
Borg is right when he says, “The Bible is not about the saving of individuals for heaven, but about a new social and personal reality in the midst of this life … Salvation is about life with God, life in the presence of God, now and forever.”
I agree that we are not saved for heaven, we are saved for God. But that salvation is in Christ as He died for sins, for each one of us, one time for all time. This is an increasing argument in the liberal theological circles of Western culture. However, it’s also very old. To claim that Christ died only to redeem societal ills is the heresy. To say that Christ’s death really did not accomplish anything REALLY, only provide a good example of sacrifice and inclusivity is the heresy. The fact that Jesus Christ died to redeem those who believe because they were (each one) sinners in need of grace, and God loves being glorified in that redemption, is the TRUTH!
We absolutely will not be isolated and need to battle the over-individualization of how we view heaven and the church. Too often this thinking is what produces consumerism and selfishness among church-goers. But make no mistake, the only thing that makes us a church at all is that we are (each one) drawn together to be made into a community of God in Christ Jesus. It is ONLY IN CHRIST JESUS!
18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
And just what draws us into that community? What is the access point?
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We were dead in our trespasses and sins and made alive through the substitutionary atoning work of Christ on the cross…each one of us – sinners…saved…by GRACE! To deny personal sinfulness is to have no personal savior (1 John 1:8-10). This “heresy” that Schori refers to is right there in the text.
Sure, let’s understand that we are saved for God and for the joy of being with Him. Let’s assert that heaven is being in His presence together with Him. But we must also clearly proclaim that the only access to Him is by the blood of Christ and none of us would be with Him apart from that blood applied to us individually for the praise and glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ!
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.