Sunday, January 02, 2005

Bloggers' exchange on Romans 10:9

Recently, I was discussing Romans 10:9 with a reader of Bunnie Diehl's blog. The discussion followed a post from a Beggars All post on the apparently volatile, but very intriguing subject of Lutheranism versus Pietism. The original piece was written by Chaplain Dean Kavouras who serves Cleveland's Fire Division, Police Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He is also assitant pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Cleveland. Pietism has been a pet subject of mine for a few months now, so I read the article, post and comments with interest. The author of the article on pietism seemed to question the salvation of pietists. I, personally, wouldn't have taken the article that far, but he did. He wrote,

Will Pietists be saved? Will they go to heaven? If they are baptized (which they may not be) and if they don’t believe what their churches teach them, they will be saved (Mark 16:15). Lutheran theologians have noted that there is often a ‘happy inconsistency’ in that men don’t always believe what their churches teach, and that having been exposed to the Word of God they somehow manage to find Christ (Christ finds them). Does this justify the false doctrine and practice which Pietists teach? Does this ‘happy inconsistency’ justify the robbing souls of comfort that takes place in Pietistic circles? No. Does this ‘happy inconsistency’ mean that Lutherans should be indifferent to doctrine and preach a ‘sub’, Pietistic, Gospel? Not at all. Rather we should, and by God’s grace do, continue in our Lord’s Word because we have been made His disciples, indeed.

Before you react to the chaplain's statement, consider the comment made by a reader on Bunnie's blog:

Bunnie,

...The fellow who wrote the article questions whether these Pietists will be saved. If they have met the requirements of Romans 10:9, I believe they will be saved. Don't you?

Bugs

That is the point of the discussion that I chose to join in. I try not to judge the salvation of other Christians because 1. I can't possibly do so and 2. I hate to do the very thing I was taught as a generic evangelical: to judge another's Christian's salvation by subjecting their faith to the "decision" test. I wrote a response to Bugs,

Bugs,

I re-read the whole chapter of Romans 10 and I don't think it is accurate to summarize Romans 10:9 by saying it is a requirement to be met. I believe it says the opposite: You can only profess with your mouth and believe with your heart if you have faith. And since the bible also makes it clear that faith is a gift from God that we cannot possible give or attain for ourselves, then it wouldn't be accurate to say that Romans 10:9 is a requirement to be met.

Romans 10: 5-13 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Theresa

Bugs, as all good bloggers do, had a reply:

Theresa,

You're probably right, "requirement" may be the wrong word. I agree with your statement, that you must have (God given) faith before you can sincerely "profess with your mouth and believe with your heart", but it says if you do those things you will be saved. It does not say, be baptised, take sacraments, go to church, etc. I expect those things will follow if you are saved.
I can understand that Lutherans and others may differ with that viewpoint. That's fine. I certainly don't question their salvation because of it. But the chaplain in this article questions the salvation of those who don't see this his way. I think he's out of line to do so. Do you see my point?

Bugs

So, my reply to Bugs is that I wouldn't do what the chaplain has done in questioning the salvation of pietists, although I see the point he is making. I do believe that pietism has the potential to destroy or harm one's faith, as much as other false teachings. I also was reminded again that it is often very inaccurate to quote one verse out of God's Word and try to make doctrine out of it. That is one of the best lessons I've learned since joining a confessional Lutheran church - to let scripture interpret scripture and don't just single out a verse and apply your own logic to it. My exchange with Bugs did cause me to further study Romans 10 to firm up my position on it. It is a great chapter and I'm glad Bugs' comments chased me to God Word. Here are some comments by Confessional Lutheran theologians on Romans 10:9, in the format of question and answer:

Question A: This morning, I was speaking with a person who is a member of a Christian church. I was sharing with him that Scripture teaches that God works faith into the heart of the believer and, therefore, God is completely responsible for our salvation. I then told him that, because of this fundamental teaching, we regard "decision theology" or the call to "accept Jesus into your heart" as flawed ways of communicating the Scriptural truth of how sinners are saved. My friend then asked how Lutherans would interpret Romans 10:9-13. This passage, taken on its own, seems to support my friends view. What would be a proper response to his question?

Answer: There are probably two things that you might share with your friend. One is to point out that the context of Ro10:9-13 shows that this passage is not talking about how a person comes to faith. Instead, it is emphasizing over and over again that we are not saved by what we do (v2, v3b, v5, v6b, v7), but by putting our whole trust in what God did for us in Christ (v3a, v4, v6a, v8, vv10-13). The other thing to share would be those passages that tell us that faith is not a decision we make, but a miracle worked in us by the Holy Spirit whom God gives to us as a gift of his grace: 1 Co 2:14, Ro 5:5, 1 Co 12:3, Eph 2:8.

Question B: HELP! I am very distressed. I have been raised in the WELS, however my boyfriend comes from basically a non-denominational background. We're trying to find agreement on Baptism. ( and it just so happens that my pastor is out of town) I am all for infant baptism, but he has several issues with it: His arguments are: Don't you have to repent before you can be forgiven, and how do you receive forgiveness you aren't asking for? And how can we receive gifts if we don't know what they are? He is constantly referring to Romans 10:9 that you must confess Christ to receive salvation. We also differ in our views of how we come to faith. He tells me we have to "ask" or "accept" Christ. I know that just because I decide I am forgiven that doesn't make it true (its been true since Easter). I know that my only power is to reject God. Is it accurate to say, then, that you come to faith when you stop rejecting God? and that to stop rejecting isn't the same as accepting (as in just because I stop walking forwards it doesn't mean I'm walking backwards?)

Answer: It would be good for you to talk with your pastor about this because in a face-to-face conversation there can be more give and take so that all of your questions can be answered.Your question is not answered in a scriptural way by any statement that says or implies that we have some personal worth or responsibility for salvation. It is not that believing or accepting Jesus is not rejecting him.It is rather that Jesus is the one who has done it all. You refer to that in your statement about the resurrection. God gets all the glory and responsibility and praise for our salvation. There are no conditions that we must fulfill for God to convert us or to save us. Conditions would mean that we have done something to save ourselves -- like repenting or believing or not rejecting or not as strongly as we used to.Please consider: I Cor. 12:3 "no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." Whether it is repentance or believing or accepting or whatever, the Lord works through his word to accomplish his ends. That is the message of Romans 10. It is the power of the word of God to work salvation. (10:17) The word of God is the Holy Spirit's tool -- we call it a means of grace.The Bible also refers to Baptism as a means of grace -- a means by which or through which God the Holy Spirit gives us grace. Infant Baptism is a pure gift of God's grace -- the child does not even ask for it. God simply gives it.It is always a miracle that God brings any of us sinners to faith in Jesus and to salvation. It is a miracle of God's grace. Repentance is a part of that miracle. Faith is a part of that miracle. When adults are baptized they can confess their sins and their faith and even request baptism for themselves. Children cannot speak to confess sins or faith or request baptism. Yet we have the words of God in Acts 2:38-39. "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off -- for all whom the Lord our God will call." Therefore, we baptize little children. They are a part of the everyone -- "you and your children and for all who are far off." We trust that God will work his miracle of repentance and faith in the "everyone", which includes infants, as he has promised. "The promise is for you and your children."

This last question and answer is my favorite.

Question C: Please explain Romans 10:9 to me. It has been used to support decision theology and a better understanding of it will help me greatly.

Romans 10 begins with Paul's heartfelt prayer that his fellow Israelites might be saved (v1). However, since they reject the free gift of salvation that God provides them and want to earn their own salvation by what they do, they lose salvation (vv2-3). In v4, Paul summarizes the only way of salvation: Christ gives us righteousness (God's acquittal of our sins) and everyone who accepts this free gift by faith is saved. In vv5-8, Paul emphasizes that salvation is not ours by some heroic deeds we must perform like ascending to heaven. Instead, it is the simple message of forgiveness that is accepted by faith. Then verses 9 and 10 remind the Romans and us that faith is confessing Jesus with our mouths and believing on him with our hearts, not deeds we perform to earn God's forgiveness.




4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not just the questioning of pietists' salvation goes too far, but so too, I would submit, the wholesale associating in this post (above) of pietism with "other false teachings." Pietism and evangelicalism, for all the admitted shortcomings of their practitioners, seem to me either the wrong enemy to attack or at least the wrong labels for the enemy.

I'm a visitor from Rob's Beggars All blog, which linked to this post today. I'm glad to see Chaplain Kavouras's piece brought back to the bar of scripture, especially Rom 10. For a defense of my comment here about pietism, my comments on this text from Romans are posted on the comment page of Beggars All, for any readers who may be interested.

"For when I am weak, then I am strong (in the grace)" (2Cor 12:10),
--Don Westblade

Bugs said...

Hi, it's Bugs again.

I'll probably go off the deep end here, and get slapped down by somebody who knows what they're talking about, but if I learn something, I guess that's OK.

We evangelicals, ("Pietist" sounds really offensive to me), don't regard a decision as "works". Jesus did it all, we know that. But Jesus gives commands in the Bible(I'm paraphrasing) to "follow me". Some do, some don't. That implies a decision. I agree that we can't decide "for" Jesus unless God gives us that ability. The decision is a recognition or sign of that God given ability.

We don't think baptism "saves" anyone. Do you really believe that a person, baptised as an infant, who never shows outward signs of being a believer, is saved? Isn't it possible to pour/dunk/sprinkle a baby who hasn't been called by God? I'm sure you don't think that baptising a baby causes it to be called by God!That would be manipulating God.

We believe that baptism is important. Jesus told us to do it. But we see it as a kind of public confession. If a person (adult) decides to be baptised, you believe that "saves" him or her? Isn't that more works than just the decision - which you already object to? If I understand Lutheranism, it isn't adding up. Someone help me out here.

Bugs

PS: I don't see that Lutherans "own" the term evangelical either. It applies to those with the Good News. Could even be a Catholic!

Anonymous said...

Bugs: Maybe I can help unpack some of your questions. I may make it even more confusing!

Let me quote from a book you might want to obtain, by Gene Edward Veith, Culture Editor for World Magazine, called "The Spirituality of the Cross":

"Other Christians, including those who call themselves evangelicals, consider that they were saved when they made a "decision for Christ" or were converted or experienced an encounter with the Holy Spirit or the like. Lutheran evangelicals, while certainly believing in conversion, do not talk that way. Looking at salvation in terms of decisions and experiences shifts the focus away from what Christ has done to what I have done. We are back to the unevangelical dilemma of having to save ourselves -- by what we decide or what we experience or what we do..." (p. 33)

"If faith is not a decision nor an experience nor some inner work, and if salvation is totally the work of God, it would seem that faith too must be the work of God." (p.33)

"So how do we obtain a saving, life-changing faith? The answer, in Lutheran spirituality, has to do with the so-called means of grace. We are connected to Christ, and the Holy Spirit works both faith and good works in our lives by the means of the Word and the Sacraments."

Now, your query about baptism -- one of two Sacraments recognized by Lutherans -- allow me to quote from Veith again:

"Certainly, Lutherans believe in conversion, in the necessity of a personal faith. They also reject the rather magical view of Baptism, the view that it saves by virtue of the act itself.

"'How can water do such great things?' is the obvious question in Luther's Small Catechism. 'It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water.'..." In the Large Catechism, Luther explains that, "To be baptized in God's name is to be baptized not by men but by God Himself. Although it is performed by men's hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own act." (Scriptures include I Peter 3:21 and Rom. 6:3-5.)

One more passage from Veith: "In justification, the human being is purely passive, purely receptive. Salvation...is not by works...salvation is simply receiving a free gift from God. A baby receiving baptism models that passive reception...This is why when Jesus Himself was describing faith, conversion and the Christian life, He offered a little child as the model (Matt. 18:2-4)

There's a lot more to baptism. Veith's book would be a good start. Remember, too, that in Lutheran belief,the emphasis is always on the fact that it is God who acts.

Cheesehed

Anonymous said...

Bugs: Maybe I can help unpack some of your questions. I may make it even more confusing!

Let me quote from a book you might want to obtain, by Gene Edward Veith, Culture Editor for World Magazine, called "The Spirituality of the Cross":

"Other Christians, including those who call themselves evangelicals, consider that they were saved when they made a "decision for Christ" or were converted or experienced an encounter with the Holy Spirit or the like. Lutheran evangelicals, while certainly believing in conversion, do not talk that way. Looking at salvation in terms of decisions and experiences shifts the focus away from what Christ has done to what I have done. We are back to the unevangelical dilemma of having to save ourselves -- by what we decide or what we experience or what we do..." (p. 33)

"If faith is not a decision nor an experience nor some inner work, and if salvation is totally the work of God, it would seem that faith too must be the work of God." (p.33)

"So how do we obtain a saving, life-changing faith? The answer, in Lutheran spirituality, has to do with the so-called means of grace. We are connected to Christ, and the Holy Spirit works both faith and good works in our lives by the means of the Word and the Sacraments."

Now, your query about baptism -- one of two Sacraments recognized by Lutherans -- allow me to quote from Veith again:

"Certainly, Lutherans believe in conversion, in the necessity of a personal faith. They also reject the rather magical view of Baptism, the view that it saves by virtue of the act itself.

"'How can water do such great things?' is the obvious question in Luther's Small Catechism. 'It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water.'..." In the Large Catechism, Luther explains that, "To be baptized in God's name is to be baptized not by men but by God Himself. Although it is performed by men's hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own act." (Scriptures include I Peter 3:21 and Rom. 6:3-5.)

One more passage from Veith: "In justification, the human being is purely passive, purely receptive. Salvation...is not by works...salvation is simply receiving a free gift from God. A baby receiving baptism models that passive reception...This is why when Jesus Himself was describing faith, conversion and the Christian life, He offered a little child as the model (Matt. 18:2-4)

There's a lot more to baptism. Veith's book would be a good start. Remember, too, that in Lutheran belief,the emphasis is always on the fact that it is God who acts.

Cheesehed