Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church October 11, 2009 Sunday Evening Service

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

This service was unusual in that it featured a video skit/diary (that I could not see as I was listening only to the audio), two testimonies, and a sermon by the youth pastor, Jerry Factor.

While I may (or may not) have the time later to comment on more details of the service, Brother Jerry made a comment toward the end of his sermon that is worth a closer look.

Brother Jerry was using the story of the Prodigal Son to demonstrate the love God shows us when we get saved.  And while it is certainly true that God welcomes each of us with open arms when we are born again--when we become children of Abba, daddy, father--I find it odd that Brother Jerry would use the story of the Prodigal Son to illustrate this.

After all, the son in the story was already a child of the father.  He was the prodigal SON, was he not?  The prodigal son asked for his inheritance (which is basically an act of disowning the father), blew it all on a life of sin, and ended up feeding the very animals that Jews couldn't even eat (pig).  Finally, he decided to return home, knowing that even the father's servants had it better than he did.  Yet, when he returned home, his father ran out to meet him!  Read the passage from Luke 15:20-32, to which I have added emphases.  This is one of the most moving passages in the entire Bible:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.  Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'   "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'  'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'
The story of the Prodigal son has long been read as an allegory about salvation.  But notice that the story this allegory tells is not the same as the spiritual story Brother Jerry is using it to describe.

The story of the Prodigal Son does not show us a person who is becoming a son (by being born again, so to speak).  Rather, it is the story of someone who is already a son, but has become "lost" and "died" through sin and through the rejection of the father, but has then repented, become "alive again," and is now "found."  Notice, while in sin, the son was still a son, and the father was still his father, but the son was still thought of as dead.

Similarly, a Christian can choose to reject God through serious, deadly sins.  Though he or she will remain a new creation, this creation will be lacking the sanctifying grace that is necessary to enter heaven.  Such prodigal Christians must return to the father, just like the prodigal son did.  They must receive the forgiveness of the father, for they are dead in sin and lost but must be found.

Sadly, the doctrine of eternal security claims that you can be a prodigal son but that you do not die.  People who hold to eternal security believe that once you are born again, no amount of sin could possibly cause you to lose your salvation (what Catholics call being in a state of grace).  No amount of sin could cause you to die spiritually.

Ironically, people who hold this doctrine always frame the idea in terms of God remaining faithful.  They also point out that no one or no thing can rip us out of God's hand.  The fact is, they are right.  Just like we see in the story of the prodigal son, the father remains faithful, as is shown by his watchful eye for his son's return.  Just like we see in the story of the prodigal son, the father allows no one to come in and steal his son from his house.

What proponents of eternal security never address is the possibility of the son, by an act of his own will, deciding to leave the father's house!  Yet, this is exactly what happens in a parable that Jesus Christ himself gives us.  In the story of the prodigal son, which Brother Jerry himself uses to illustrate a truth about salvation, we see someone who is "saved" become dead in sin and lost, and then through repentance return to his fathers house.

All the other verses cited by supporters of eternal security never deny the possibility of Christians pulling themselves out of God's hands.  No verse in scripture says that Christians can't later reject their salvation and thereby lose it.  Many verses of the New Testament warn Christians about presuming that once they have received the grace of initial salvation they will necessarily make it to heaven.  The story of the prodigal son is only one of many such verses that show it is possible to lose your salvation.  Over seventy more verses can be found on my tract: Salvation in the Bible.

But the story of the prodigal son also shows that it is possible to enter back into a state of grace through repentance.  This is a point that Pastor Carlo seems to really struggle with.  Remember how he said a few weeks back that if we could lose our salvation and then get saved again, that Jesus would have to die on the cross all over again?  (This argument is a red herring, since we all know that there is no need for Jesus to ever have to die on the cross again.  As Hebrews tells us, his sacrifice was "once and for all."  Does Pastor really think that people who hold a different view from him have no other explanation for how the grace of God works in the lives of people who repent?)

Does Pastor's explanation really make sense to you?  I've asked Baptist pastors to explain why Jesus would have to be re-crucified, and no one has ever given me an answer.  Any answer at all.

I think this is because there is no answer.  Just think: did Jesus have to die on the cross each time a new person gets saved? Of course not!  Rather, the grace Christ merited for us on the cross is applied over time (even many centuries later) when people get saved.  Likewise, when Christians reject God through sin but later repent, it is that same merciful grace that gets applied again to those Christians' souls, such that the blood of Jesus washes away their sin and its eternal debt.  Pastor Carlo likes to quote 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  Notice that the verb tense is future.  He purifies us again, even after we have been saved, and he does so without having to die on the cross.  Even though we are saved, we each commit future sins that need to be forgiven.  Ironically, Baptist theology usually claims that Christ forgives all of our sins--past, present, and future--when we are saved.  Why, then, does St. John speak of needing to confess sins if those sins have already been forgiven?

Note well: not all sin leads to death.  Not all sins completely sever the relationship we have with our father.  After all, even the non-prodigal-son in the story likely sinned, but never in the radical way that the prodigal son did.  That is why we see St. John make the distinction in 1 John 5:16-17 between sins that lead to death and sins that do not.  The Catholic church did not make up these two categories; they are found right in Scripture:
If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.  All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
And what are those sins that lead to death, sins that cause those who commit them to not inherit the kingdom of God (unless they repent)?  See 1 Cor. 6:9-11:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  (See also Gal 5:21, Eph. 5:5)
This is where I am confused by Pastor Carlo's distinction between "unsaved sinners" and "saved sinners."  Is he saying that "saved idolaters" will inherit the kingdom of God?  Is he saying that "saved prostitutes" will inherit the kingdom of God?  Is he saying that "saved theives, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers" will inherit the kingdom of God?  If so, where does Paul ever make the distinction that Pastor Carlo often makes between "saved idolaters, etc." and "unsaved idolaters, etc."?

(By the way, the early church often referred to baptism as the washing of regeneration (see Titus 3:5).  St. Paul's connection of being washed with being justified and sanctified is one of the many verses in the Bible that support the ancient, orthodox view of Baptismal Regeneration, the view that was held by everyone in the first centuries of Christianity and even many of the first Reformers themselves.)

Pastor Carlo's rhetorical flare of "saved sinners" vs. "unsaved sinners," motivated as it seems to be by the strong Protestant impulse to deny the relevance of works--even sinful works--to salvation, seems to contradict his more recent emphasis that you know you are saved because your life changes and you become a new creation.  I'm confused.  I thought that the whole idea of a "saved sinner" puts the rhetorical emphasis on the fact that your life hasn't changed.  You are still a sinner.  You still fall under the condemning description of Romans 3:11-12:
There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands,
      no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
      they have together become worthless;
   there is no one who does good,
      not even one.
So which is it?  Do born-again Christians "have" (not just "should," as Pastor Carlo usually puts it) to show a change of life and a turn from sin?  Or, can we simply accept the mercy of God, let him forgive all of our sins (past, present, and future) and then continue sinning?  What happens if I accept Christ as my Lord and Savior, turn from sin, but then a week later take up my life of sin?  What if it is a month later?  A year later?  Can I ever lose my salvation?  Can I ever leave my father's house?

We have to remember something about the story of the prodigal son that often goes unmentioned: the father lets the son leave.  This is the same Father of mercy and grace that we serve.  He loves us so much that he gives us the free will to love him back!  He loves us so much that he lets us leave him if we choose, yet he waits there for us to return.  This is an unspeakable love.  We are given the gift of free will so that we can freely and truly love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength, and God is willing to give us this gift even if it means that some people will choose by an act of their will to turn from Him who loved us first.

Eternal security paints the picture of a father that either will never let us leave (even if we will to), or one that pretends that we don't leave, since none of our works are good anyway (Romans 3:12), and simply accepts Christ's righteousness in place of our lack thereof.  Neither picture of God the Father is as beautiful as the one that Jesus himself gives to us in the story of the prodigal son.  Because we can fall away, we must "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Phillipians 2:12).  We never fear that God will renege on His promises, or that he will allow the evil one to snatch us away.  We should, however, tremble at the possibility that we will renege on our promises and fall into a state of deadly sin.

Let us take confidence in the fact of God's mercy.  The story of the prodigal son paints a picture of the mercy of God, who is ready at the first sign of repentance to accept a fallen-away Christian back into his loving arms.  And, please Lord, let us never presume that we can't fall away.  Let us never turn lukewarm, or else we know by your Word that you will spit us out of your mouth (Rev. 3:16).  Let us never neglect the gift of salvation, or else we know of no escape (Hebrews 2:3).  Let us never fall into deadly sin, for we know that those who commit these sins and die unrepentant shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).  Let us not only cry "Lord, lord" with our lips but with our lives and actions, lest on the Day of judgment you say to us, "I never knew you, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23).

Now is the time to explore that ancient Church of the living God: the Roman Catholic Church.  In her, all Christians will find the the fullness of truth, the absolute assurance of truth, and the fullness of Christ who is the Truth.  The Church is the household of God, the pillar and foundation of Truth (1 Tim. 3:15).  It is not the pillar and foundation of the interpretations that happen to be preached at one particular building or in one particular denomination.  The true church is the pillar and foundation of the objective truths once left with the saints (Jude 3).  These truths will never change, and they have been passed down faithfully from generation to generation through the Roman Catholic Church, the only church that even dates back to Jesus, who founded her (Matt. 16).  Since the doctrine of eternal security is not one of these truths once left with the saints but is rather a rather new and novel (mis-)interpretation of only a handful of texts, we must, in obedience to He who is Truth, let go of this false doctrine.

It is this Truth that is drawing so many faithful, God-loving Protestants to become fulfilled-evangelicals by becoming Roman Catholic.  And, praise the Lord, the Catholic Church could use as many of these evangelicals as possible! 

I invite you to take a closer look at the Catholic Church.   I invite you to come home.

Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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