English, Theologie

By grace alone

I ran across an article by Gary where he addresses the question of whether you are saved through works or through faith.

He points out correctly that it is faith alone, which isn’t very surprising as he is lutheran, or should I say, protestant?

Because basically, I only knew about catholics being accused of teaching that you’d have to earn entrance to heaven through good works, and that without them you could have faith as much as you wanted, but wouldn’t be let in.

I doubt the catholics really teach that, I think it’s a bit more complicated,  I think there as something with synergism or so, but really that isn’t what I’m up to dealing with now.

There are other things to the article that made me wonder. One is the „born-again experience“ of Martin Luther and whether it was one or not. Let’s recall: Luther speaks of himself reading Romans and finding out about salvation by faith alone, through grace alone. Whether it is historic, what he later said or not, there must have been this one point when he understood something he didn’t before. We have something similar in Acts (9:18), when Paul started to believe:

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales

I am not too sure what is meant with a born again experience, because here in Germany, there are not too many evangelicals, mainline protestantism is still strong. But I think that there was indeed a change in what Luther thought and understood. Now he didn’t get baptised as Paul, because actually, he had already been baptised as a child and you don’t double-baptise anybody.

And Luther was still a man of faith somehow. He cared very much for what God wanted, Luther wanted to please God perfectly, to be one of the „good guys“, as far as we know today not out of pride, but maybe rather fear of the scornful God. This experience in the tower set him free from that fear and gave him confidence. So I am not sure if you could not call this a born again experience. A new life without fear, which starts as ever life starts with a birth. But there seems to be more to the term „born-again experience“, at least for Gary.

I’ve read some of Garys articles recently, and he seems to be writing against some kind of doctrine he came from but has now left for lutheranism. He describes the opponent side as baptist, evangelical, reformed or calvinist on several occasions.

Now I have a rather reformed (calvinist) background (I am not Calvinist, but it’s within the tradition I come from, read here if you wanna know or just ask) and find Calvinists sometimes misrepresented, but I guess that’s becaue in the USA, calvinism is something different than in Europe. Here it’s one of the protestant confessions, the second next to lutheranism. In the USA it seems that „calvinist“ can also refer to Baptist churches, which sounds kinda weird to people like me, because the reformed (calvinist) christians here persecuted the (ana)baptist like the lutherans did (or the catholics). So I guess for European ears (at least mine) it sounds strange because here the two groups were opponents.

Anyhow I realise that baptists (and evangelicals generally, as far as I can see here in Germany) tend to have doctrines closer to the reformed church than to the lutheran church. I think their understanding of the eucharist is closer together than with lutherans, who are themselves closer to roman catholicism. Their difference lies in infant baptism I think, though this can differ for the USA…

Anyhow I see people who propagate these evangelical doctrines here in Germany (some comment on my blog) including a very stong idea about works.

As far as I understand, their idea is that you are saved by grace alone (they know about Luther having said that and they respect Luther to a certain degree) but then, this isn’t all. Because, I think, they are till in this fear-state I wrote about:

They claim to be saved by grace, but they also stress the good deeds very much, caring about the dos and don’ts quite a bit, sometimes it even looks like they are trying to keep up a facade just to appear being a true believer. Believing becomes a competition, with God you should not have any problems, be it personally, socially, according to health or finances. When things go wrong it is as well because of God testing you as it is because of the lack of faith, so people with severe problems are at times just being left alone by their congregation (who should be supportive as „true christians“) either becaue it’s God’s will that they suffer, or because their suffering is because of their lack of faith and „true christians“ should not have anything to o with unbelievers or both.

It is certainly not always so bad, because after all, poeple are human beings, able to love. But I’ve heard about such cases nonetheless.

It is because they don’t ambrace the saved by grace part of doctrine too much. Where being saved by grace was once the point of no more fear, so that Luther and Calvin could write about predestination that cannot be undone by human means, for those evangelical christians, it seems to have become a mere entrance ticket.

Where christians back then were tought to do good works to go to heaven (including giving money to the church) this wouldn’t suffice for evangelicals nowadays:

You have to first accept Christ as your personal saviour. This alone appears to be a work for me, because if you decide yourself, it’s not by grace, but by own will, and it’s not faith, but it’s thought. So once you are „in“ by your own thoughts though your own will, you can be accepted by God once you become really holy, at least holier than thou art now… 😉

If you do good works without accepting Christ as your saviour, you’re lost, even if you do better than any Christian ever did.

If you truely believe in God and Christ and all, but you don’t get holy enough, at least in the eyes of your congregation, they’ll still say you’re out. Because they think they know exactly what God wants you to do. Here, biblicism comes into the game, bt that’s another issue.

So to be saved in their eyes, you have to do both: Proclaim you accepted Christ as you saviour AND behave the way they think God wants you to behave, and make no mistakes, because the fires of hell are hot and painful for the sinner…

Much of what I’ve wrote might come across as a caricature, and yes, I might have exaggerated a bit, when it comes to the majority of evangelicals. But I am sure such congregations do exist, and I am sure that every congregation has one or more details of what I described. This doesn’t mean mainline protestantism has no wrongs, it has its own share. But in the central part, which effects salvation, both lutherans and (non-evangelical) Calvinists agree that it’s God who gives you faith and safes you by grace, through faith, which itself makes you do good works, but they won’t safe you. They are a consequence of faith, not the requirement. Or even shorter said:

Fear not, God loves you.