Friday, August 23, 2002

Dead Faith

I am generating a post from a comment by Peter Sean Bradley to an earlier post. Peter wrote :
I realized that I was a Catholic when I was riding around in Tenth Grade during some Youth For Christ event and the YFC types could never stop talking about "faith." It seemed to me that talking about "faith" should end about ten seconds after it started, and the real focus should be on what you do thereafter. It didn't seem likely to me that God was going to base his decision on salvation entirely on what people said or thought, or thought they thought, but that what people actually did probably had something to do with who was saved or not saved.

This comment strikes at the core of one of the most pervasive problems in Protestantism (and one of my favorite stump issues): easy-believism. Say the words at a rally or an alter call and you are in. As you might expect, the recidivism rate for such people is very high.

I agree with what I infer to be the gist of Peter’s comment. I don’t think he was aiming for theological precision so I will skip a thorough analysis from a Calvinistic position in favor of a quick time-line clarification: The things you do that are meritorious (works) necessarily occur after salvation.

Necessarily in the preceding sentence has an important double application: meritorious works must follow conversion (whatever was done before, in the absence of Christ's righteousness, are but filthy rags - Isaiah 64:6) and they must happen if the faith is genuine. Most Protestants strongly agree that you cannot be a true believer in Christ without also being a disciple.

There is a minority position that there can be an indefinite delay-- that you can believe and remain carnal. Most Protestants rightly reject such a view. A new (true) believer’s faith will simultaneously result in discipleship, albeit (usually) immature and undeveloped.

Peter also wrote:
I do believe in the importance of man being freely able - and actually required to exercise his freedom - to respond to the grace that God undeservedly gives man.

Those in support of altar calls and similar mass-market methods for “getting” people to accept Christ acknowledge that many of the partakers are not genuine. They counter the criticism by saying it is worth it to reach the few genuine believers. (And if many go their entire lives with a false sense of assurance, well that may be cruel but in the larger view of eternity what does it matter?) And, they say, if you tell them the whole story, that accepting Christ brings along with it a requirement of discipleship, well you might scare them away.

Peter’s testimony counters this argument. He was turned off not because he was offered a too difficult faith, but one that was too simple.

Peter, Peter, Peter, if you only stopped there! But you go on to write:
Now, to a Calvinist this probably means that I'm predestined to Hell because I have been foredained from the beginning not to have the right kind of faith. I don't know. Down the road someone might be saying show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.
I think you might be mistaking Calvinism with Fundamentalism. First of all, the easy-believism is not an issue among Calvinists. If you attend a Reformed Church you won’t get a chance to come up to the altar and say the Sinner’s Prayer and be given the secret handshake. Your comments, until this last passage, were directed at practices of non-Calvinistic Protestants (which is why it was so easy for me to agree!) So why the sucker punch thown our way?!

I don’t know of any Calvinist who would say you are predestined to hell because you are a Catholic. (Again, are you thinking of Fundamentalists?) They would say you are in a church with serious errors in its teachings, but that without question there are saved Catholics. Likewise there are professing Calvinists, who should recognize from their dead faith, that they have no assurance of salvation.

Calvinists love the book of James.

Hmm… sounds like that has bumper-sticker possibilities.

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