Monday, February 12, 2007

What's Really Scary

Note: This blog entry is written as a response to to Kwilson's blog entry entitled "Redeemed, How I love to proclaim it!" where he quoted the end of a conversation we had. This is my response.

Consider the following verses:
"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"
1 Corinthians 3:19

"Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."
Isaiah 6:10

"He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'"
Mark 4:11-12

I'll get to those verses in a moment.

For the sake of this entry, assume the doctrine of the 'elect' to be true. That is, assume that God has pre-ordained who would be saved, and who wouldn't, before the world began.

First let's consider the following scenario: Let's say there is Church A and Church B. Both A and B believe in the inerrancy of the original Biblical texts. Perhaps A and B translate those texts differently, or perhaps they interpret a translation differently. Perhaps the differences in their translation or interpretation is a significant salvation issue.

Each church has it's own experts that attest to their translation and interpretation. There are very very smart people in both churches (as well as not so smart people). And there is apparent fruit in the people in both churches. There are changed lives. There are people who go in living like spawn of Satan and after a while end up with patience, self control, love, etc.

Now, each church is convinced that the other is in error on their doctrine. Enough error to think the people in the other church are not saved because of that error. When a new convert in A asks an elder "How come people in B just can't see the obvious truth about this?" The elder may very well reply with a quote of a verse I quoted earlier. "Well, son, their eyes have been blinded. Unless one repents then they must not be one of the elect." But the same conversation could take place in B regarding the people in A.

Now, usually 1 Corinthians 3:19 would be used in references to those who make no claim to Christianity. For example, the wisdom of the world says "Living together before you get married makes sense. Sort of a trial-run." Christians would say "No. Better wait 'till you get married before you live together." In this particular example the statistics are on the side of the Christians. You're marriage is more likely to last if you don't first live together. (However, take note that that is correlational observation, not a statement about causation.)

A while ago I was discussing Trinitarianism with a Sabellianist. He warned me that Jesus said "Unless you believe that I am who I say I am, you will die in your sins." I said "And I have no problem with that." meaning 'Jesus claimed to be the son of God, and I believe his claim to be true.'

It would have been a whole lot easier had Jesus sat his disciples down, told them to get out some paper and pencils and write down what he was about to say, then told them "Listen, this is how it is: God is one being, but three separate, yet co-existant, persons who all share in the attributes of God (omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence). There's the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, in that hierarchical order. Yup, we're all persons. And, by the way, submission does not imply inequality." But, the fact is, he didn't do that (or at least it's not recorded). Instead throughout the Bible we get hints of that. The Old Testament was all about "There is one God!" Then during Jesus' ministry he makes the claim "The Father and I are one." Then he goes and makes distinction between him and the Father; and the Holy Spirit. Then we see more of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, where He is referred to as a person. From all these things taken together we derive the doctrine of the Trinity.

It's not an easy or intuitive doctrine. Heck, it took the church fathers around 300 years to figure it out and decide it was official doctrine. This got me to thinking "Even a lot of non Trinitarians understand that to get into a right relationship with God they need to confess their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. God sent his only son to die on the cross. It seems God is bending over backwards to make it as easy as possible for people to enter into right relationship with Him, to bring them into the kingdom. Then what does one need to know to be saved? It seems to me that the stuff that God wants us to know for sure would be laid out plain as day in the Bible, stuff you just can't miss!"

But then I see verses like Mark 4:11-12. Stuff is being hidden lest the non-elect turn and repent. Stuff might be hidden from the Baptists, stuff that seems foolish to us. Stuff that makes sense to others in Christendom. How do we know which of us is blinded lest we turn and repent, and which is actually right? If you're part of the blinded group then no matter how much you search the scriptures you won't find the answer. The only way you'll find the truth is if God changes His mind and de-blinds you. You could get 10 doctorate degrees in theology and you would still miss it! But you probably would, at some point, think you have it, totally convinced you're saved and part of the elect. And one who is part of the elect may find the answer in Sunday School when he's 5.

So, what's really scary is that you could be convinced that you're part of the elect and you're really not, and you can't know until it's too late and there's really nothing you can do about it.

Before anyone replies saying "Ahhh, but the Bible says such'n'such" remember you're seeing with the eyes God gave you. If you're part of the blinded group then you could quote the whole Bible to me and it wouldn't make a difference to me.

And if anyone (I know) says something like "yes, but you're assuming the doctrine of the elect to be true, and we know it isn't because of the following verses...." I will buy a plane ticket to wherever you are and give you the glaring of a lifetime on two counts; 1) because of what I wrote in the previous paragraph, and 2) at the very top of this post I said "assume [the doctrine] to be true." The same thing applies to anyone who argues that my logic is flawed because Christianity in any of it's forms is wrong. While not explicitly stated, it was implied for this post.

And, yes, I know that getting saved hasn't much to do with how much you know, but rather how you respond when God calls your name.

It wouldn't be nearly as scary if the doctrine of the elect wasn't true. Then to get saved all you'd have to do is put your faith in Christ, don't loose it, and you're set for eternity. You wouldn't have to worry about not being one of the elect.

Another way that wouldn't be nearly as scary is if the number of the elect is a lot larger than your typical Evangelical may think it is. The way some talk, you'd think you needed to have an MDiv to be saved.

Take the Jehovah's Witnesses. They reject the doctrine of the Trinity. It seems foolish to them. I've talked with a number of them and they ask me what it's like having a "Schizophrenic God." So, if they're right then The Trinity is a false doctrine, us Trinitarians are worshiping a false god, and are destined for the grave.

Now, we Trinitarians have our logic as to why their version of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is foolishness. But if they're right, then our eyes have been blinded, and we're just blowing a lot of hot air around.

But if we're right, and they're wrong, than they're the one blowing the hot air around. And there's not way to know until we all die and see who made it and who didn't.

But I think if you ask a Jehovah's Witness, and a Baptist, to each break it down and tell you as simply as possible, how to get saved, they'd each tell you "You can't make it on your own. Nothing you can do will be good enough. You can't buy back your way into God's favor. You must put your faith in Jesus Christ and ask forgiveness from God through Jesus." If that truly is it, as long as you do that, regardless of doctrinal beliefs, then you'll be saved, then the number of the elect is a lot larger than a lot of Evangelicals believe. That means that a lot of people believing heresies are saved. Then the non-Elect are those who have no interest in God at all, or reject Jesus as a savior. Then when Atheist Andy meets God the conversation may go something like this:

Atheist Andy: Woah! You really are real!

God: Yeah. Always have been.

Atheist Andy: How come I didn't know about you? Why didn't you ever show yourself to me?

God: You weren't interested. You never really wanted to know me anyway.

Atheist Andy: Fair enough.

Anyway, it's scary because it's a logical question with no possible logical or intellectual fool-proof answer (except the two that I mentioned: the doctrine of the elect is wrong, or the number of the elect is larger than estimated). You cannot use either scripture, nor your intellect to come to an answer. And even if an angel of the Lord were to appear to you telling you the answer, how could you be sure? Even the Devil comes disguised as an angel of light, and if you're not part of the elect then you can be deceived.


Anonymous said...

Eek, I have a headache :) An interesting quandry and all that I can offer at this late hour is possibly a non-answer, but nonetheless applicable:

“The Bible does not explain everything for our intellectual satisfaction, but it explains everything necessary for our obedience and hence for God’s satisfaction.”

Elizabeth Elliot from ‘Discipline: The Glad Surrender’

cnaphan said...

That relates to one of the sticking points of the Reformation with me: the theory that the interior testimony of the Holy Spirit confirms certain doctrine, certain interpretations of scripture or the canonicity of certain books. Of course, if the Spirit does do this, it is a good thing, but it is strictly private and nothing to base a creed on.

It leads to a lot of squabbling and disunity, whereas the work of the Spirit should be to produce unity.

Regarding Jesus's statement "Unless you believe that I am who I say I am, you will die in your sins."

Why would Jesus say "Unless you believe that I am a human teacher and nothing more, you will die in your sins." If he's a human teacher, our belief in him is irrelevant. Can you picture your physics teacher coming to the first lecture and saying "Unless you believe I am merely mortal, you will never pass this course." Absurd!