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Works Based Salvation


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Why does works based salvation get such a bad rap in Christianity? I personally think it makes a lot more sense to me than the doctrine of being saved by faith. While I like the idea of being saved by God's grace, too many Christians abuse the doctrine of salvation by faith and end up turning faith into a work itself where you have to believe all the right beliefs, say all the right things, and have all the right answers in order to be saved. A Christian might be the most bigoted, racist, sexist, and homophobic person alive but according to the doctrine of salvation by faith, as long as they're either baptized at the last minute or invite Jesus to come into their heart depending on the denomination, they'll be saved and ultimately go to heaven. But an atheist can be the nicest person around, stand up for equal rights and fight against bigotry and be accepting of everyone, but because they don't believe in God, they're going to hell. This seems like an unjust system to me where people are judged based on beliefs which they have no control over. I don't believe you can choose your beliefs and I believe that beliefs are something that are shaped by your environment and upbringing. For example, it's not surprising for a Christian raised in Alabama who went to church three times a week and studied the bible with their family daily will grow up to be a Christian because that's the way their family and culture raised them. They knew no other way of living and had no control over the way their family and culture raised them to believe. The same is true for a Muslim raised in Saudi Arabia or some country in the middle East who only knew about Islam and was raised to believe in Muhammed by their family and culture. I just don't see why it's just for God to judge people based on their beliefs they have no control over. Besides which, I don't see faith as a value in itself.

 

Jesus himself states in the gospels that not everyone who says "Lord Lord" shall be saved. Something else is needed because you can be the most rotten person in the world but it doesn't justify your actions just because you say you're a Christian. You have to put your faith into action and make a positive difference in the world or else faith has no inherent values to me otherwise. I once got into a debate with a fundamentalist Christian who actually admitted that since Hitler was a Christian, in spite of all his immoral actions he did in the Holocaust, he's still going to heaven because he's a Christian but Anne Frank is going to hell because she's a Jew even though she did nothing immoral at all to deserve it and already went through a hell on Earth during the Holocaust. When the rich young ruler approached Jesus and asked him what he must do to be saved, Jesus didn't tell him to repent and be baptized and convert to Christianity. In fact, the rich young ruler was already keeping all of the "correct" religious beliefs and rituals. What Jesus told him to do was sell all his possessions to the poor and take up his cross and follow Jesus. What was required for him to be saved was not faith but an action that was preventing him from being all that he could be. I can see how a works based salvation can be abused by the church if they use it to control the members to commit whatever action they want them to regardless of how immoral it is and I still don't believe in hell at all, but if it's a choice between the two, a works based salvation makes more sense to me than salvation by faith. What are your thoughts on it? Which doctrine do you prefer if you had to choose? Do you think a works based salvation can be compatible with the eight points of PC? Do you think some Christians who believe in salvation by faith are turning faith into a work?

Edited by Neon Genesis
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Why does works based salvation get such a bad rap in Christianity?

 

I agree with you, the Christian talking point is one doesn’t have to do anything. I feel as we learn to love God, we learn to love His creation. Love of God doesn’t mean we love nothing, but God, I feel it means we love everything in God. For this reason, I feel any Christian who says he hates his brother and loves God is not telling the truth. We prove we love God by sacrifice and deeds. Knowing the scriptures about God, listening to gospels about God and thinking about God does not love God. We love God by loving His creation. He is a proud parent who says love me by loving my children. Service is sacrifice, which is love. The people who take this path love God in the present moment on good days, rainy days, bad days, sick days and their actions speak louder than any words.

 

I think that talking point was simplified and misinterpreted. I feel being saved by grace was to help us see that we are not the giver, the doer, but the witness. I think being saved by God’s grace was meant to remove the ego, which seems to edge God out. I think it was given to people who were getting rope burns by holding on to the rope too tightly.

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Hitler was a Christian. He was a member of the Catholic church. There are numerous pictures you can find on Google of Hitler meeting with Catholic leaders and being endorsed by the church. The Catholic church never spoke out against him during WWII and Hitler was never excommunicated from the faith. Hitler also spoke frequently about how he was inspired by Jesus who he saw as a fighter. Hitler believed it was his duty from God to slaughter the Jews to punish them because he believed the Jews murdered Jesus. Hitler was inspired by Martin Luther's On The Jews And Their Lies. Bishop Spong has pointed out in one of his lectures that the passage in the gospels where the Jews say that the blood of Jesus will be on them and their childrens' hands has been used throughout the centuries to justify antisemitism. Antisemitism appears frequently in the gospel accounts of the trial of Jesus and the further away from history the gospels get, the more antisemitic the propaganda becomes. I'm not saying Christianity caused the Holocaust or anything absurd like that but Hitler was a devout Christian who was sincere in his faith and he was a product of his time.

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I tend to ramble a bit, some might call it waffle...........others "sitting on fences", others "picking and choosing". Who knows. Anyway, perhaps Christians should take a leaf from the Hindu book and recognise that there are various paths to the Divine. They speak of the way of knowledge, the way of devotion, the way of works - and not just as ways suitable for different pyschological types, but sometimes as ways suitable for different times of life.

 

And for me, I would always distinguish between belief - defined as an identification of the "self" with particular affirmations prior to them becoming intergrated withing the heart/mind - and faith, which for me is a letting go of any such belief/s and more a surrender to trust........and all else is a by-product, not directed or overseen by the over conscious self.

 

My old favorite Thomas Merton spoke of how faith itself can become a "work".....

 

The reification of faith. Real meaning of the phrase we are saved by faith = we are saved by Christ, whom we encounter in faith. But constant disputation about faith has made Christians become obsessed with faith almost as an object, at least as an experience, a "thing" and in concentrating upon it they lose sight of Christ. Whereas faith without the encounter with Christ and without His presence is less than nothing. It is the deadest of dead works, an act elicited in a moral and existential void. To seek to believe that one believes, and arbitrarily to decree that one believes, and then to conclude that this gymnastic has been blessed by Christ - this is pathological Christianity. And a Christianity of works. One has this mental gymnastic in which to trust. One is safe, one possesses the psychic key to salvation......

 

I think this defines the false faith that Neon Genesis implies is not "salvational"?

 

My own experience of works (such as they are!) is that there is a great danger of heading for what Christians would see as the way of the Pharisee. A certain self-righteousness in the doing of them, a judgement towards others who have failed - in our eyes - to live up to our own deeds. And, for me, when "faith" is false in the Merton sense, then we have another form of Phariseeism, where those who have "chosen" to "believe" (in "Jesus") feel duty bound to condemn/judge any who chose different. For myself, I have to say that the reality of Christ goes far beyond any "narrow way" theology, or any "salvation" dependant upon such.

 

I think that when our works divide in the manner I have spoken of, they are the works that "stink in God's nostrils", while works that issue from genunine faith - and gratitude - are another type entirely.

 

Sometimes I am indeed surprised by joy.......the Buddhist writer Stephen Batchelor speaks in this way.....

 

After a few brief words concerning moral conditioning, and a mere repetition of a religious text, and acts of "morality" born of habit and imitation, he contrasts......

 

Occasionally though, we act in a way that startles us. A friend asks our advice about a tricky moral choice. yet instead of offering him consoling platitudes or the wisdom of someone else, we say something that we did not know we knew. Such gestures and words spring from body and tongue with shocking spontaneity. We cannot call them "mine" but neither have we copied them from others. And we taste, for a few exhilarating seconds, the creative freedom of awakening.

 

Or as the Good Book says........."Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom"

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I can see the danger of a works based salvation becoming very Pharisaic like but it seems like a great deal of fundamentalist Christianity is already very Pharisaic like in spite of teaching a salvation by faith doctrine. To me the ideal works based salvation would be similar to the way we handle criminals in the U.S. judicial system. We don't send people to jail because they're not a Christian or because they're gay. We send them to jail when they commit real immoral acts that are actually dangerous to society like murder and rape. We would consider it thought crime to send someone to jail because they were a Muslim or a pagan instead of a Christian even if they were otherwise good people. Our judicial system isn't perfect and sometimes it can even be unjust but for the most part it works because we only send people to jail who are actual threats to society because of their actions not because of their beliefs or sexuality. And even when we send people to jail, depending on how wicked your actions were, you can eventually get out of jail and sometimes you can even bail yourself out of jail.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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I can see the danger of a works based salvation becoming very Pharisaic like but it seems like a great deal of fundamentalist Christianity is already very Pharisaic like in spite of teaching a salvation by faith doctrine.

 

Neon,

 

Yes, I did indeed make this point......

 

And, for me, when "faith" is false in the Merton sense, then we have another form of Phariseeism, where those who have "chosen" to "believe" (in "Jesus") feel duty bound to condemn/judge any who chose different

 

All the best

Derek

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(snip)

 

Our judicial system isn't perfect and sometimes it can even be unjust but for the most part it works because we only send people to jail who are actual threats to society because of their actions not because of their beliefs or sexuality. And even when we send people to jail, depending on how wicked your actions were, you can eventually get out of jail and sometimes you can even bail yourself out of jail.

 

Basically, society as a whole puts people away that don't fit or conform or are useful to the current societies way of thinking. Our society here of course thinks different than those of other places or times. Nevertheless, it seems to me it is always society that ultimately says what is immoral and what is not. What is worthy of imprisonment and what is not. Sometimes it agrees with religion and sometimes not.

 

Oh well, sorry i got off topic reading the last post. I'm for acting out of love and compassion without regard for salvation. I won't question the others motives as long as they contribute to the well being of all. And i still haven't figured out what i need to be saved from. smile.gif I was born fine the first time thank you. biggrin.gif

 

Joseph

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Well, I for one will strive to remain On-Topic, not having the protection and privileges of a Moderator..... :D I would just like to say that my reference to the Pharisees is only within the context of the portrayal of them within the Gospels, which seem at times influenced by polemics against Judaism. Long ago I read one or two of the works of E P Sanders and his own portrayal of the historical Pharisees was rather kinder than the picture found in the Gospels. And as far as Judaism as a whole, having dipped into one of the works of Leo Baeck (The Essense of Judaism) and also many of the delightful books of the Rabbi Lionel Blue, I would just say that Judaism ( that great Faith of "works" )should not receive quite as bad a press as it often receives at the hands of "faith based" Christians.

 

Just straying off topic - if I have not already done so - I would always ask of some, given the story of Jesus and His disciples picking the ears of corn on the Sabbath, just whose side would they have been on without the precious gift of hindsight? I'll leave that thought for others to consider in the depths of their heart.

 

Anyway, Neon, there is of course the great parable of the Sheep and the Goats to consider. Words, according to the Gospels, straight from the mouth of Jesus, and to my eyes a pretty straight-forward declaration of salvation by works. I did once read a book - I think by John Stott, a Conservative Christian - who said something along the lines of......."What the meaning of the parable is we do not know, but it is not a teaching of salvation by works." One really has to wonder, then, just what it is about! No doubt we do have to relate each verse to another......yet it does seem that the mind can ping about like a pin-ball from verse to verse until it eventual surrenders to a particular reading/theology of salvation - and from thence the spirit is stifled by deadening the living Word by preconceived beliefs. No reflection on Mr Stott.....

 

All the best

Derek

 

P.S. One of Lionel Blues books worth a peep....."To Heaven with the Scribes and Pharisees"

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On the serious side,

 

I have found that works comes out of faith. Faith not in the conventional sense of the word merely meaning to believe something blindly. Faith as in "Faith is the substance of things hoped for , the evidence of things not seen" as versed in Hebrews. This faith to me is 'seeing in spirit' the evidence, the actual substance from which all things that are seen are made yet unseen by the physical eye. It is a subjective experience. This Faith to me brings on great trust in God and moves one to act in accordance with the will of the whole. So to me salvation is works by faith. Neither one in my view can work alone for any sustained period without the pride of life and the likes turning it into just another religion that will fail to accomplish that which it points to.

 

Just some thoughts from my personal experience,

Joseph

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This seems like an unjust system to me where people are judged based on beliefs which they have no control over. I don't believe you can choose your beliefs and I believe that beliefs are something that are shaped by your environment and upbringing.

 

Yes the first time you open your heart it does seem like you had no choice. And as long as nothing confronts you and forces to you to articulate your beliefs they will remain those which you have been given. However, no one who asks the questions you ask has no choice. You are aware that you do in fact have a choice. I think you are still using the language of your past and you are fighting against your own known world. There is a book called "The Known World" about ex-slaves who bought slaves. These ex-slaves had earned their freedom, but lived in a world of slavery and they imitated white slave holders. They couldn't imagine a different world.

 

My spiritual journey has been re-routed because I was stuck upside my head and forced to look at an issue of the spirit about which I was inarticulate. One example:

 

When my son was in the second grade I wondered what I would do if he had a gay teacher. Ten years later I had an answer. During those years I asked pastors, attended panel discussions, observed what happened in society when the church says that homosexuality is an abomination. My search ended when I attended Matthew Shepards memorial service. My known world had changed.

 

Every issue doesn't move that slowly.

 

The lectionary for this June 27th includes the Luke passage where Jesus says, Let the dead bury the dead if you want to follow me. Jesus has set out for Jerusalem for the final time but I don't think he means that you should walk that dusty road with him. What if one fully experienced Christ's love and then realized that the most loving action would be to go the funeral and be a witness to those who were mourning. The passage is about the urgent call to leave your known world, but the call is also to start becoming a different person in response to God's love. That new person may attend the funeral but they will be different and the known world appear different.

 

There are people who can join a group and sense where their presence is most needed. Faith. Works. Justification. Sanctification. Salvation. None of these have meaning when an act of love occurs. It is heaven come to earth. Apocalyptic.

 

 

May the known world become a mystery again.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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I can go along with the notion that works come out of faith, but I don't think that our salvation is necessarily affected by either, at least if the term refers to avoiding an unsuccessful afterlife. I think that if we do "good works" it is because we feel called upon to do them. I suppose in that sense, works are part of the faith experience.

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