Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Us and them

I was raised with a very polarised view of salvation. You were either (a) a Christian and were saved, or (b) a non-Christian and were not. There was a clearly defined line which you had to cross to pass from one state to the other. Kind of like in this picture:Each black dot with a letter on it represents a person. If a person is to the right of the line, in the green zone (i.e. B, F and C), they are a Christian and are saved. If a person is to the left of the line, in the red zone (i.e. D, E and A), then they are not. The church I grew up in would try to reach out to those who were not saved, but were close, i.e. 'A', but would have little or nothing to do with those who were further away, i.e. D and E.

Over the years I've cone to a very different understanding of Salvation which is a lot more fuzzy in some regards. The line has become blurred. Indeed I'm not sure the line exists, as such.

Suppose person 'A' is slowly drifing right. At current rate of travel they will cross the line on Wednesday of next week. If they die on Tuesday they go to hell, if they die on Thursday they go to heaven. It can't work like that! I'm pretty sure God isn't like that.

And what about person 'B', in the green but slowly drifting left? In order to ensure their salvation, the best thing to do would be to kill them before they cross the line...? Nonsense! It doesn't work like that.

There is no line.

Steve Chalke's 'controversial' book 'The Lost Message of Jesus' touches on this issue. While he may not have expressed it in these terms, this is the gist of one of his points. It doesn't so much matter which side of the line somone is on, but rather their direction of travel is what is important. More like this:
Here the differnce between 'A' and 'B' is more apparent. Even though they are quite close, they are travelling in opposite directions. To use new testament teminology, I'd go as far as to say that 'A' is 'being saved' (1 Cor 1v18, 2 Cor 2v15). Indeed, despite being much further into the red, 'D' is also heading in the right direction and I wouldn't be too surprised if folk who died in a state like that - apparently far away from the Kingdom - will be found in glory.

'B' on the other hand is heading the other way. He is losing his salvation. And what about 'F'? There are a great many folk in the church who are neither growing in righteousness or apparently backsliding. They just pootle along. I wouldn't be surpriesd if it was to people such as these who Jesus said "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." (Matthew 21v32)

What is the point of saying all this? To prompt us to widen our sights - we should not just direct our energies to 'evangelising' those just outside the church, but we should be aware that others, further out, may be more receptive to the gospel than we think. And also to note that we shouldn't let people be once they are 'saved'. We need to encourage all to be heading in the right direction.

The Samaritan's donkey

Luke 10v30-35
In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
I listened to a downloaded sermon from Mars Hill Bible Church the other day. It wasn't a Rob Bell one, it was preached by a guy called Matthew Sleeth (author of 'Serve God, Save the Planet'). Interesting guy, I've added his book to my 'books to read eventually' list. Anyhow, in the middle of other interesting stuff he spoke about the parable of the Good Samaritan and raised a couple of good points about it. One was that we know what resources the Samaritan had because he used them. He had a donkey, wine, oil, bandages and cash - the priest and the Levite might have had such things too but we don't know because they never used them. But the best point he got out of this passage was:
"If you want to help your neighbour you have to get off your ass..."
Sorry, I just thought it was a good observation on that story :o)