Saturday, January 06, 2007

Saved?

Epiphany


When I was 16, I started attending a Southern Baptist church in my hometown. I had been invited by some friends at school, and it seemed like a nice thing to do, this "going to church." My grandparents had taken me to religious services periodically when I was younger, and I always liked to read their Bible Story books. I think I'd gone to a couple of different churches previously - perhaps for a month at a time with friends who weren't nearly as interested as I was in the whole deal.

I attended Sunday morning worship for perhaps six months, and decided I wanted to be a Christian and follow Jesus. I knew that it would mean a particularly different ethos for how I would spend my teen years and live my adult life. I'd thought about that, and I was willing to open myself up to that because I wanted to be Jesus' disciple. At no point (by the way), did I think about hell and how I wanted to avoid it, and how if I didn't submit to a 'sinner's prayer' and baptism, I would surely suffer it. Nobody had ever explained the Christian faith to me in that way before, and it would be many months before I met anyone who did. I eventually met some other Christians in my high school who talked about being afraid of going to hell, and how all these classmates were going to hell, and I just thought it was the strangest, and perhaps the meanest thing, I'd ever heard. What denomination were they, I wondered? I was glad that we baptists weren't that way.

But this is beside the point.

I decided that I wanted to follow Jesus. As many of you will know, many evangelical churches practice the tradition of the "altar call" or "invitation," at which point non-Christians or nominal believers are invited to come and tell the preacher for the first time that they believe in Jesus, or wish to "re-dedicate" their lives to Jesus and resume regular church attendance. When I decided to partipate in this tradition, I had no clear notion of what one did, exactly. I walked down the aisle, and I think I told the minister something like, "I want to be a Christian."

He asked me if I'd accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I didn't hear him properly, and for some reason felt strange asking him to repeat it, so I just said "yes." I think I only heard the last words, and thought something like, "well, of course he's the Lord and Savior, and if I didn't think so, I wouldn't still be hanging around. I had not, in any way that I was aware of, "accepted" Jesus to be "my" personal Lord and Savior, but had come to trust him and wanted to act upon that trust by committing my life to him and his Christian way. Nor did I pray any 'sinner's prayer': a common practice in American evangelical or fundamentalist churches that involves verbally acknowledging to God one's sorry and condemned state as a sinner, affirming propositionally that Jesus can in some fashion "save" me from said condemnation, and then informing other Christians that this transaction has occurred.

I was baptized by immersion three days later, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

About three weeks after this, it occurred to me in a conversation with a friend that perhaps I should have prayed this 'sinner's prayer.' That night, I retired to my room and directed my attention to the ceiling and said, "God, I probably should have said this before, but I do know that I'm a sinner, and I do think that you save sinners. So, um, would you save me from my sin? I mean, not that I think you haven't already, but just in case you hadn't, and I'm supposed to ask first, would you please? Okay, so I think we're cool now. I mean, I hope so."

Amen.

I have never told anyone that I prayed a 'sinner's prayer' at any point in time, whether at the time of, or three week's after my public profession and baptism.

So here's the thorny pastoral issue: if I were in your church and part of your life (maybe I am, after all) and I asked you,
1. When was I saved / When did I become a Christian?
2. Why?

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16 comments:

Chad Toney said...

You were saved when you were baptized and you made a personal, extempore act of contrition in your room.

Jared Cramer said...

Kyle, good story and good question.

The trick, as I imagine you know, is in your first question.

I do not believe that there is a point when one "becomes saved." That is sort of a funny way to look at it, I think. You have been in the process of salvation since you were a young child in those bible classes, and that process reached a sort of culmination when you decided to enter the church as a disciple of Christ. The "when was I saved" question implies that Christianity is about not going to hell and that "not going to hell" is as simple as engaging in a change of status, all of which is far adrift from Christianity.

You became a Christian when you were baptized in the name of the trinity.

Why? Because God, working through the church, has said that baptism is a good way to join up, furthermore, he has so blessed and sanctified the act of baptism that it puts you in touch with his grace in a very real and sacramental way.

Antony said...

I think the whole question of "are you saved?" "when were you saved" etc. is the wrong one. It puts the empahasis on a point in time at which certain motions (as valuable as those motions may be) were went through, and does not put the emphasis on how to live as a disciple. If people worried half as much about whether they were more of a disciple this month than last, they wouldn't have to think twice about if they are "saved" and when it happened!

Anonymous said...

We're asking the wrong question, I think. It is a process, not a one point in time thing.

Anonymous said...

When saved? Before the foundation of the world when you were chosen in Christ; at the coming of Emmanuel, at his atoning death, at his glorious resurrection, at your baptism in the Spirit at Pentecost, at your profession of faith and baptism, at his coming again to restore all things. Why be stingy and pick one?

Anonymous said...

Well well, how very interesting. Good story. Stories like these are helpful for others to hear I think.

And of course, it depends on what one means by "saved" how one answers the questions you've asked. Definitions are important. I'll start with a couple more questions...

Is there a hell and is it only for fallen angels? I'll give you my answer - Yes, and no. Plenty of people will get to join in their party.

Our salvation isn't primarily about avoiding some punishment. It is about our being recreated as the originally intended "Divine Humanity." BUT, an unfortunate result of not being in union with God is not being able to live with (and in) Him in the realm of reality where He exists without measure (heaven) or in any realm that eventually is swallowed up by that and by Him (earth eventually). The lack of all that is hell, a dimension where one lives out their logical conclusion. If one is separate from God, one will remain separate from God. So partly, we are being "saved" from this separation, but more as a matter of course than as a primary purpose.

Sorry for the verbosity on that point. Another question: What does it mean to be saved? My answer on this is generally a metaphysical one since what happens in and to a person in this process is initially, at least, beyond the physical. It's internal, spiritual, and very difficult to measure. As I've just gone on about on my blog, being "as Christian" is a real thing, not just a choice to follow a way. Our insides are substantively changed. Our spirits are resuscitated - brought back to life.

I believe there really is a point where this happens, although we may never concretely know when this is. So, when were you saved? Whenever God "saw" your trust in Jesus on your insides, He inhabited you and made you alive by His Holy Spirit. Maybe we'll call that your "implicit salvation." For some (adults) this comes before Sacramental baptism, at which time it is activated and when you are placed inside the vehicle of your complete transformation, the Church - that's explicit and measurable.

You knew not to get me into all this business - Teachers with mystical theology tendencies are dangerous in this territory. :)

Of course there are some for whom Sacramental baptism comes first, bearing Grace for a journey to come (children, babies). That's not your case though.

So, whenever the deep moment of your eternal metaphysical reunion with God's Spirit happened, it happened, and it was sealed in beptism which made you a concrete part of the Church. It could be compared to conception as followed by birth - and life begins, technically, at conception.

As for the "sinner's prayer" - for you, I say for YOU, I see that part of your story at nothing more than a heart already inside of and looking toward God, saying words to make sure (in your mind at the time) He knew you loved Him. I don't think it made any mystical difference in your case. It was what it was.

Wheeew, dang. Sorry for the long post, but this stuff is deeper than we have often given it credit for being. Hope that wasn't confusing at all. Peace.

Anonymous said...

1. You became a Christian at Baptism.

2. You were saved:
2.1 When the Father chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world (don't worry, I'm not going Calvinistic here).
2.2 When Jesus acheived redemption through his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
2.3 When Hoyl Spirit enabled you to began to believe the gospel.
2.4 You are being saved as a continous process of transformation by the Holy Spirit.
2.5 If you persevere you will be fully and finally saved as participate in the Triune God's work that will make all things/creation new in Christ.

3. 'Cause.

alan said...

My Bishop was once asked two similar questions by some 6th grade confirmation students.

His response was "I was 'saved' when Jesus died on the cross. I became a Christian when I was baptized."

Something about the way he said it let me know that he didn't think of 'becoming a Christian' and 'being saved' as two different things. I think part of what he was saying was "It is a whole hell of a lot more complicated than people might think. But that's OK."

Kyle said...

Gee, this was less a discussion and more a chorus - and I have to say that I agree. And yah, I look for opportunities to have Fr Alan go on about this stuff, as I think he does a good job explaining the theological reality of what we are saved from and what we are saved for.

Our problem as collective humanity is our separation from god on a metaphysical, spiritual level, not that as individuals we have "violated the ten commandments." I keep seeing that nonsense on the evangelistic tracts I find at work (which I promptly throw in the bin).

Bet you didn't expect me to use this language, but the whole thing begins and ends with (gasp!) our relationship with the triune God.

alan said...

Well, first, I must say that I am humbled that you refer to me as "Fr. Alan", but, alas, I am not a priest. I want to be, but that hasn't happened yet.

I really like what you have to say about our separation being more than simply violating the 10 commandments. I used to be part of a campus ministry that emphasized only this individualistic view of God plan for salvation in the world. One of the things that I dislike most about that sole emphasis is that it makes it hard to see the neighbor next to me.

Anyway, I'm not qualified to write about the difference between what we're saved from and what we're saved for without thinking about it for a while. But, I'll do that and post some thoughts later.

bria_elaine said...

I do not think baptism equals salvation. I think it is an important step in your faith, but not "the point". I think we (that believe) have all had a point that things became clear and we made a strong commitment to God in our hearts to follow him. Learning confession, bible stories and being baptised are all begining steps in a person's faith. I also believe that once we are "sealed" we know it. We usually don't doubt it until others give us a to-do list. Saying that faith begins through a desire for knowledge in the bible is a little too gnostic for me.

Kyle said...

Hey, alan, maybe it's a word of prophecy. ;-) However, in this case, the original meaning was a reference to the above commenter by the same name, Abbot Alan Creech, the pastor of my church.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and I appreciate your word about just how individualistic such a view of salvation can be. I agree that it's important to follow up these versions of the gospel with "What about my neighbor?"

Hiya, Brianna, thanks for reading and commenting, as always. I think most of us do try to take a "broad" view of salvation, maybe we'd say that baptism is the mark or seal of justification. I think a lot of it comes down to the difference between sacramental and non-sacramental Christians.

God bless.

Tonya said...

Hey Kyle...I enjoyed this post, don't have time to comment, but wanted you to know I was here! Peace.

Kyle said...

Ha, thanks, Tonya!

bria_elaine said...

Darn us non-sacremental fundamentalists! ; )

Anonymous said...

good topic.

unfortunately, any discussion of "saved" means that there are others who are "unsaved". and then the point has to turn to, "what is my role in seeing that they are moved from the 'unsaved' camp into mine?"

the responsiblity becomes even greater if one places the "unsaved" in a fiery hell for all eternity. it's further compounded by the clear statement of romans 10:14, that people cannot believe if they don't hear (thus, some people will not hear and cannot believe and... well, it would seem, are in a lot of trouble...), that they cannot hear if they are not told (not sure what that means if a deaf guy's only friend is mute...), and that they cannot be told unless we go tell them. so the "saved" person sees few people "going" and "telling" and comes to the logical conclusion, "everyone's escape from a fiery, eternal hell depends on ME."

wow. that's the easy yoke - the light burden - that jesus talked about?

because of the absurdity of that obvious track through Scripture, i had to come to the conclusion that ALL were saved when jesus died. and that my role now as a "saved" person is to become more Christlike, and encourage others to do the same. now, you may call them "unsaved", but it's only because they haven't started the process of being conformed to Christ's image, so the salvation from sin IN THIS LIFE isn't happening. and, with this line of thinking, a person is never fully "saved", but is being saved again and again until we are glorified in the kingdom.

john the baptist's friend, mike the ex-baptist
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