Monday, January 09, 2006

Dialogue: "Doing Something" for Salvation (vs. Craig Kott)

[Craig Kott is a friend of mine who used to attend the same non-denominational, evangelical Arminian church that I did. His words will be in green. This exchange took place in 1996]

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I agree that there must be some fundamental philosophical difference between us which is causing us to see things so differently . . .

Good. On that, at least, we are in full agreement.

Let me make this plain: the requirement that I must DO ANYTHING (whether it's lighting candles before St. Dionysus, or eating Jesus' flesh, or walking through a door) to contribute to my own salvation takes away from the very reason that Jesus came to earth and died on the cross.

Does it follow, then, that if you can't "DO ANYTHING" whatsoever to attain salvation, that you likewise can't "DO" anything to lose it? So then, do you believe in eternal security (I don't know)? You're not a Calvinist, that I'm aware of.........

I do believe in eternal security, but I can't actually admit it, because then I'd be committing the sin of pride, and I'd be in jeopardy of losing my salvation.

EXCELLENT Christian humor! Worthy of the Wittenberg Door [a satirical evangelical magazine]. And there is a profound truth to be had underneath it all, too. Amidst all the esoteric, technical, theoretical, hair-splitting, abstract arguments about this stuff, the simply-ascertained fact remains that every Christian must follow Jesus with all their "heart, soul, strength, and mind," and perform good works and be righteous. Let the theologians grapple with the proper place of these things in the schema of salvation. They get paid for it. As for us common folk, we are commanded to love Jesus and our fellow man (as Jesus loved us), and that should be sufficient. We are to be disciples, not philosophers.

And does this absolute prohibition of "DO ANYTHING" include such things as the altar call, sinner's prayer, joining of a fellowship, public confession of repentance, renunciation of former sinful activities, etc.?

I've known people who thought that these things were salvation (they depended on that act, rather than Jesus), so I'd have to say they were deeds that I would exclude.

Ah, but you can't argue from exceptions to the rule. That is not very compelling logic. Assuming they fully know in Whom they utterly depend, then what? These things are still free acts of the will, thus DOING something.

I was referring to any case where one person could tell another exactly what they had to DO. You could tell someone what to confess (the words), but that wouldn't really be confession, would it?

Repentance and a heartfelt commitment to Christ and Christianity involves many acts. One must stop having immoral sex, and that is doing something. Or ditch drugs, and that is doing something. Or stop cheating on income tax returns, and that is doing something, etc.

It seems you would have a deuce of a time proving to me that such activities are not "doing" anything (after all, even changing one's mind or will is "DOING" something, unless we be automatons, even if God causes it, as we Catholics agree). They certainly ARE "DOING" something, thank you. And baptism is included in that, whether one adopts the non-sacramental Baptist position or not. Regardless of what one believes takes place with the water, you still DID something. You went up into the warm hot tub (if yours was like mine in 1982) and DID get submerged in it (I DID even give a little speech, too). And you were commanded to DO so by Jesus. And communion (whatever one believes) is included as well. Jesus commanded it, and we DO it.

We do it, but our "doing it" doesn't improve our faith, it merely proves it.

I understand the position, but it is a distinction without a difference, in my opinion. Both Catholics and Protestants of all stripes agree that baptism is necessary (except the Salvation Army). So the practical result is the same, in the lives of committed Christians: faith is present, and also the act of baptism, whether of the individual of the age of reason, or else by the parents acting in the infants' stead.

Am I missing something? Do you not get trapped by your own logic at some point here? Not trying to be contentious.....I'm sincerely curious and hope you will elaborate so that I can really understand this. Protestants can make all the abstractions they want about all these "DO's" not being part of salvation / justification, but only sanctification, etc., but the fact remains that we are commanded to DO these things, and most Christians DO them. If you want to take away absolutely all human action and participation in personal salvation, I think your position can only logically reduce to Calvinism, so that there is a distinct tension in your system if you are Arminian.

Christians are told to do them, the lost do not become Christians by doing them; that is my point.

But this agrees with Catholic theology, as it describes Pelagianism, which we condemned more than 1450 years ago. Our point is that faith and works go hand in hand, and ought not to be separated, NOT that one is saved by any work. Again, there is no practical difference between this and "orthodox" evangelical Protestantism, which holds that good works will inevitably follow in the life of any person who is "saved" or of the Elect (whichever paradigm is preferred). So I can't see how the end result is any different. Christians of all types are far more concerned with orthodoxy than they are with orthopraxis, but the biblical view places equal emphasis on both, in my opinion.

It was because I COULD NOT save myself that I found that I must trust that God would save me himself; Christ fulfilled the obligation that I could not keep. To say that I must now do something (again, we are speaking in terms of salvation here) is to say that somehow Jesus didn't do enough.

No, not at all. It is saying that the work which only He could do needs to be appropriated to you by means of your freely given consent (even though he initiates that as well - e.g., Phil 2:13). Otherwise God becomes the author of evil, since there is no human free will to assent to follow God and accept His work for us, thus the ones who end up in hell are there because of God's express decree, and it couldn't have been otherwise. As soon as free will is accepted, the "DO" comes in with it. There is no way out of this, as far as I can see.

And I know that YOU know that this is the Protestant position. Didn't you argue with Catholics many years ago and say the same things as I am now? Maybe you should get out some of your old apologetics papers to help you remember the Protestant arguments.

Cute! :-) I did say a lot of this, but when I started becoming acquainted with the counter-arguments, I had to give them up as inadequate. But on free will, at least, I haven't changed. And that's what I'm saying requires you to admit that you do indeed have to DO something in order to appropriate God's freely-given, gratuitous salvific grace to yourself.

Now, if you find that the above places me among some OTHER heresy, then I proudly don that hat.

Calvinism? :-)

Repentance, submission and faith are all inward, not external acts; so I disagree.

So what! They are still doing something. And they are doing it irregardless of whether God is the cause of those actions or not (which He is). The whole point is that we cooperate with God's grace, because the "do" resides in the will, not mere externality or "physicality." When one decides within himself to give up a particular sin, that is one of the most consequential acts he could do. I fail to understand how you could deny this is doing something. Reducing "acts" to the external is an almost Pharisaical way of looking at the human will and human responsibility.

Mark 6:5-6 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief.

Non sequitur; the point being that He used His hands.......[sacramentalism and physicality].

....and what they received was dependent on their FAITH.

Which is beside the point. I am affirming both faith AND sacramentalism. There is no dichotomy or contradiction inherent in my position at all. You are denying sacramentalism and grace conveyed by matter, and you can't do that simply by pointing out that faith happened to be present in any given instance.


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