Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 22nd, 2014 by Joel Watts

What if Jesus didn’t come to be your savior?

savior good willDuring this time of year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. Christian tradition believes that this singular birth is God Incarnate, the one who came to deliver all both Jews and Gentiles from the clutches of evil unto the hand of God, from whence they cannot depart. But, this is where we start to differ.

And by “we,” I mean Christians of orthodox doctrines (please note how I phrased this).

The Trinity is an orthodox doctrine. The Incarnation is an orthodox doctrine. The Atonement is an orthodox doctrine. Strains of understanding God’s foreknowledge and covenantalism is sectarian.

I am an Arminian, with a strong lean to an absolute sovereignty of God. I would attempt to explain that, but this is not a post on that.

Rather, I want to ask you a question. What if Jesus didn’t come to be your savior?

There is no real concept of “individual savior” in the New Testament. Rather, Christ delivered the Church, a corporate body of believers.

But in Acts 2.47, the Church exists before the individual who is “being saved.” The Church exists as the destination of the person who has in some way come to Christ. This fits theologically with Matthew 16 when Christ establishes the Church (we can get into the Greek later).

But, then there is the verse in the Lukan natal announcement:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14 ESV

Or, “…peace on earth to men of God’s good will.” In other words, God’s blessing is not to sum total of humanity, but to a select few.

I am not one given to “supersessionism,” usually defined as a discontinuity between the Church and Israel. Rather, the Elect, Israel, was renewed and expanded to include Gentiles. The (Re)New(ed) Covenant had new features, but was fundamentally the same. It was a treaty of sorts between God and His people, with expectations of both parties to one another, as well as to those outside the new Kingdom. Again, not the post for that.

So, the question is… what if Jesus did not come to be your savior?

Two ways to digest this. One, Jesus came to establish the Church as the covenanting symbol (not the New Israel, but the All Israel). This corporate election stands apart from individual choices so that the Church exists in all times and places regardless of membership. The Church, just as Israel was, is the elect. Or, we can see this as an individual election, so that some are elected into God’s good will while others are condemned by virtue of non-election.

If number one is the correct option, then Jesus is the savior of His body, the Church. Meaning, we must belong to that Church (as it says in Acts among other places). Belonging, by the way, does not mean membership, but as we are reminded through the Donatist controversy, it requires something of us. Wesley knew this. Membership meant nothing to Wesley, but rather it is the acts of sanctification — growing in holiness — defining “belonging.” This is why he had no issue removing people out of the societies. St. Paul had no issue removing people from his groups. Belonging is not membership.

 What do you think? And, if you disagree with me, be prepared to give your answer in well-sourced theological citations drawn from the entire corpus of Church History, as approved by the Holy Spirit — usually before 20 August 1884.

Merry Christmas.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

8 Responses to “What if Jesus didn’t come to be your savior?”
  1. johndavidbassett says

    Could you explain the importance of that date?

    I take great comfort in knowing that God assumed human nature to save a people, not a collection of individuals. When I take part in the Eucharist, I know that I am part of something so, so much more important than me. It is what Christians have done for hundreds of years before I was born, and will probably do for many, many years after I am gone. Knowing that, I feel like I have already passed from death to eternal life.

  2. American Evangelical Christianity loves to work the story line of a “personal” savior and a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I could write a book about all the ways that we’ve, how do I want to phrase this? Blown the idea of personal righteousness out of proportion. Yes, there is a thread in the whole corpus of scripture that emphasizes a responsibility for personal righteousness; however, God seems to be much more concerned with the corporate righteousness. More specifically, God is concerned with the corporate righteousness of his elect, whether that’s Israel or the Renewed Elect that includes both Jews and Gentiles because of Jesus’ inauguration of the Messianic Age. I’m trying to limit my comments because I could write another post spinning off of ideas in your post. It’s up to the community of the elect to deal with individual behaviors inside of the community.

  3. Scott Fritzsche says

    The quotes I use will be taken from Philip Schaff’s ten-volume series The Ante-Nicene Fathers. While not published before 1884, the fathers were of course long before then and I humbly submit that they were Spirit inspired 😛
    “A man cannot otherwise enter into the kingdom of God than by the name of His beloved Son. Hermas (c. 150), 2.48.”
    “But there is no other [way] than this: to become acquainted with this Christ. . . Justin Martyr (c. 160), 1.217.”
    “It is impossible to reach the Father except by His Son Jesus Christ. Cyprian (c. 250), 5.508.”
    While these three quotes are only a small example of what was written by the fathers, they do illustrate the absolute necessity for Jesus while interestingly enough making no mention of ‘the church’.
    To try to keep things short, there seemed to be 5 very basic things that the early fathers viewed as essential to salvation they are as follows: 1.Salvation is to be found in Jesus alone.
    2. We are saved by grace through faith.
    3. Works matter—faith without works is dead. However, we do not earn our salvation through our deeds.
    4. Our sins are forgiven when the believer is immersed in water.
    5. After baptism, we must remain faithful to GOD or, by returning to a life of sin, we will lose our salvation.
    Note none of these core beliefs refer to ‘the church’. While the church plays a vital role in the education of believers, establishing a community of faith where believers may flourish and many other things, there is little, if anything, that the early fathers wrote that would require ‘the church’ as we understand it today. Now if we are talking about the church as an entire body of believers then it still hinges upon personal choice and salvation as there can be no believer without the decision to follow Christ. I would submit that yes, Christ is indeed my, and all other believer’s personal savior. My obligation in this is to continue on in a Christ like manner which is difficult, and quite possibly impossible, without the church and it’s support. In summation of this rambling, the initial choice of accepted salvation is mine and between Christ and I, but the continuation of working out my salvation with fear and trembling is corporate. So I disagree…and agree…sort of. 🙂

    • i dunno… there is not only the didache, but also St. Cyprian who says “there is no salvation outside the church!”

      • Scott Fritzsche says

        I have not managed to read the Didache yet so can not comment on that, but as to St. Cyprian, to put his famous phrase into context, he was writing about those excommunicated if I remember correctly,so his context is about those officially removed from the church (excommunicated) not about initial salvation, so I wonder if taking that context into account if this is really relevant here?

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