Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Actual and Its Decoration

At a wedding, we used to decorate a woman's virginity with a white dress. Such is no longer the case. Women who have lived with their boyfriend for years opt for a white dress because it has become the traditional women's wear for the occasion. It is often the case that that which we valued enough to decorate is replaced by the decoration itself. At least the decoration become as important and folks need to do hard thinking to merely see the thing and its decoration discretely and separately. Do we need a Christmas tree to value the Incarnation? So it is with the Gospel. What is the message that saves and what is its decoration?

"What must I do to be saved?" asked the jailer in Philippi. What would you answer? St. Paul suggested that the jailer "believe in the Lord Jesus". That is the sufficient and necessary condition for salvation but what does this "belief" contain? Does it contain baptism? Does it contain repentance from sin? Does it contain calling on God? Does it contain church membership? The list goes on and many brands of Christian adherents would be happy to suggest additions to that list. Some decorate with the patina of age, some with art, some with new ideas hatched by evangelicals.

Saint Paul in Romans 10 makes it clear:
4 For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified. 5 Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or "Who will descend into the abyss?" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); 9 because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. 13 For, "every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." 14 But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? 15 And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.

The Oracle sez: A propositional agreement to the claims of Christ's person and atonement with the response of turning from your sins and calling on God for forgiveness will bring to you the grace of God unto eternal life. Nothing less will work and nothing more is needful. All the rest is decoration. In some cases we decorate as authoritatively instructed and in some our decoration is ripe with our own artistic developments, now or in the past. Don't confuse the decorations with Faith Alone or it will not be Faith Alone for long.


Matthew N. Petersen said...

"What must I do to be saved?"

So...If I answer "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." You'd tell me I'm making two additions to the Gospel?

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Oh...and leaving one essential out. There's no propositional agreement there.

NeonKnight said...

"Take your keys and coat and start the car."

Are both necessary for the engine to breathe life into the vehicle?

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Come on. Either "for the remission of sins" modifies "be baptized" or "repent and be baptized" it doesn't modify just "repent".

Thomas Banks said...

Matt has a point in his second post. The phrase "A propositional agreement" dresses The Faith in more contractual garb than becomes it. Contractual religion ("Dono ut Doneas,"- "I give that you might give" etc.) is a thing we would have done well to leave with the Caesars.

Might I recommend "Submission" as a substitute?

Evan B. Wilson said...

Would you agree that there are some things which can be brought in, even Biblical things, which decorate the Gospel but which could not occur and still God would save?
Do you think that God would save someone who believed and cried out to him but was not baptised?
And Thomas,
"Propositional agreement" is not something that we give to God but it is the convinced faith in the message of Christ's person and act. We give Him nothing but our cries for His mercy and grace.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Would you agree that there are some things which can be brought in, even Biblical things, which decorate the Gospel but which could not occur and still God would save?

I'm not sure what you mean. The gospel is Christ. So Christ was circumcised. That was biblical. If he hadn't been, would we still be saved? Is it even sensible to talk that way?

Evan B. Wilson said...

Look back at my post. An "actual" thing is ofttimes decorated with things that draw attention to or refer to the thing actual. Baptism is one of these. The Scripture teaches that it refers to one's salvation. It is a Biblical decoration of my faith. If one confuses the decoration with the thing decorated it is understandable that that one will start replacing the faith with baptism. It is suggested by some that I err by leaving out baptism when I define the Gospel. These same think they have put the Gospel into effect by grabbing an infant and baptizing it into "the church". I only suggest that they make personal faith the decoration. Can someone be saved by faith without baptism? Can someone be saved by baptism without faith? Whatever you can leave out and still be efficacious in the offer, is, however desirable its presence, the decoration.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I think the whole question is misinformed. The gospel is not justification by faith, the Gospel, the proclamation of, the Word of the Emperor, is Christ.

So the question isn't "is baptism a decoration or faith a decoration" (though even if it were, this would be an oversimplification) but "is Baptism intimately connected with Christ?"

And the answer is, of course, "yes" "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Just to be clear: I'm not denying justification by faith alone I'm just disputing that it is the gospel. It may be true. It may be an article of the standing and falling Church (or an article of the standing and falling of the Church). But it is not the gospel.

I would even be so bold to say that if we stand on "faith alone" and by virtue of that exclude the fact that by the resurrection of Christ, Baptism saves you--not by merely washing us with water, but by cleansing our conscience--we have replaced Scripture with a tradition of men. For "faith alone" is nowhere found in the Bible, where as I Peter 3:21 is.

That is again, not to say that there is any quibble between faith alone and baptism--at least not if we want to be able to claim Luther and Wesley on our side. Faith is not opposed to sacraments, but to good deeds. Faith is, for men like Luther and Wesley, intimately connected with the sacraments, and if we wish to be honest and wish to condemn the sacraments, we ought to condemn them, rather than parading them in the interest of party politics based on a merely verbal agreement.

Evan B. Wilson said...

Baptism, in the passage you reference (I Peter 3:21), is an act I do toward God, not, as you suggest, God or His church does to me. The RSV reads "as an appeal to God for a clear conscience". You suggest that baptism somehow, to some degree, cleanses us. For Peter it functions as a prayer and for you as a magical rite.

And your comment regarding the faith alone aspect of the saving message. I use "Gospel" to refer to that "saving message" as it is the good news for damned man. I can understand how you may not. Is conversion much of a deal in your understanding? You know, that evangelical point in time where one moves between unsaved and the saved. Does God look down graciously on person A expressing a pleading contrition to Him on the basis of the Christ's death, to forgive, without proffering, or at least depending on any magic ritual or good deed as part of the bargain, and does God then change that person on their metaphysical condition, both now and into eternity?

And lastly, you are wrong, (you and the Lutheran horse you rode in on) trying to keep your petty ritual safe from the onslaught of Faith. The faith of the Gospel is far more damning to ritual observance than it is "good deeds". Circumcision is no moral good deed but Hebrew ritual. The observation of special days is tantamount to worshiping "beggarly elemental spirits" (see Galatians 4:10). Keeping the sabbath, or a festival or a new moon is but a shadow (see Colossians 2:16-17) and even the rituals established by God for the Hebrews served only as a pattern of the heavenly service of the New Covenant (see Hebrews 8 and 9, esp 9:23-28). Those that wish to have new covenant meaning with their old covenant patterns of religious behavior, have stepped into the flaw of Hebrews 10. Our sacrifice was accomplished "once for all" by Christ, never to be offered again. To offer it again is to fly in the face of this truth and needs to circumspectly read Hebrews 6:4-6. Ritual, ironically while it makes pretense of lauding Jesus, holds the work of Christ up to contempt.

Matthew N. Petersen said...


Your last comment begins with silly statements about what I believe, and concludes with a flat out inability to even comprehend the issues.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

To flesh out that last comment a little:

Next time you see someone circumcising their children to make them children of Abraham, or observing Yom Kippur or Passover, you can pull out those arguments. And please do so.

But if the question is whether the reality foreshadowed is Baptism (like I Peter says) and the Lord's Supper, or rather something aetherial, appealing to those verses is just silly.

Evan B. Wilson said...

The transition from flesh to spirit is central, not silly.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Do you believe Isaac was physically Abraham's son?

Matthew N. Petersen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew N. Petersen said...

Do you believe the Blood that speaks better things than the blood of Abel is physical?

Do you believe the flesh of Christ through which we have access to the Holy of Holies is physical?

Do you believe the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from all sins is physical?

Do you believe the Spirit has been poured forth on all flesh?

Do you believe the Spiritual Body which was raised is physical?

Do you believe in the Incarnation?

Do you believe in Pentecost?

Do you believe in the Resurrection?

Evan B. Wilson said...

Perhaps you missed the point. The physicality of the atonement is certain. Incarnate, lived, died, raised, assumed bodily, is here affirmed but also "ONCE FOR ALL" for the precise reason that "there is no longer and offering for sins." The RC Eucharist (for one example of how this appears) is perpetually offering the "victim".

Rituals are not bad because they are repeated. In fact I think a beautiful service in a church is a nice thing and ought, for beauty's sake, be repeated. But too many folk "think" that Beauty is magical. "Do not trust in these deceptive words: `This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'" (Jer. 7:4) Rituals become bad when they claim to provide a magic which faith alone, in Christ alone, in work He accomplished and finished a long time ago provided.

Matthew N. Petersen said...


You started out by posing a dilemma: either the gospel is faith alone, and baptism is a decoration, or the gospel is baptism and faith is a decoration.

Now there are many problems with this—things can be related in ways other than decoration and thing—but, in my opinion, the most fundamental is that however important they may be, neither faith alone, nor baptism is the gospel. Christ is the gospel. Faith and baptism are both important, but their importance comes from the gospel, from Christ. Both are important parts of the gospel, but neither is the gospel. So the question isn’t “is faith the gospel and baptism a decoration” but “how are faith and baptism related to Christ.” Baptism may be a means of celebrating Christ, it may be a means of establishing a union between Christ and us, or it may have any of a host of other connections with Christ. And indeed most Christians have seen baptism and faith both working together as one in our relation with Christ.

You replied that faith and baptism must be opposed because the Bible condemns circumcision and Jewishness. Therefore, the Christian ordinance of baptism should not be put front and center. That would be Jewish.

Now this argument is obviously spurious, unless you include the additional premise that what makes something Jewish isn’t being according to the Law, but being physical. Now that premise doesn’t seem to have any scriptural support to me, and indeed is very counter-intuitive: “What do you mean by according to Moses?” “Well, I don’t mean ‘related to the Mosaic ordinances like circumcision Aaronic the corresponding rites’ but ‘physical’.”

But it has an even more fatal flaw in this discussion. It is blatantly circular. If you presuppose that the fundamental difference between the Old Covenant and the New is not the priesthood and corresponding rites, but the physicality, it is quite easy to prove the New Covenant isn’t physical.

You replied that the New Covenant cannot be physical because the New Covenant is Spiritual not fleshly. But again, this utterly fails Biblically. If the New Covenant isn’t physical, then we are not saved by physical things—like the Blood of Christ. If the New Covenant isn’t physical then our access to the Holy of Holies isn’t through the physical flesh of Christ. Or the flesh of Christ isn’t physical. Joel says that the Spirit has been poured forth on all flesh, so by the grace of Pentecost, the physical is Spiritual. And most strongly, St. Paul clearly states in I Corinthians 15 that Christ’s resurrected body is not fleshly, but Spiritual. Which is to say, if Spiritual means not physical, I Corinthians 15 is a direct denial of the resurrection of the body.

Hence my questions. You have already said the New Covenant is not physical, indeed that precisely what makes it different from the Old is that it isn’t physical.

So: Do you believe in the Incarnation? Do we have access to the Father through the veil of the physical Flesh of Christ, or is the Flesh of Christ not physical? Are sins cleansed by the Blood of Christ, or is the Blood of not physical? Does the Blood which sprinkles us speak better things than the Blood of Abel, or is the Blood not physical?

Do you believe in Pentecost? Is all flesh now Spiritual?

Do you believe in the Resurrection? Does Christ have a physical body, or is it spiritual.


Jeff Moss said...

Evan, great post.

There's more that could be said in addition to this, of course, but what you did say is true and important to emphasize.