Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Strait Gates and Broadways

Driving back from Camp yesterday I blew through a rural area where some religious organization had posted this portion of a Bible verse:

Matthew 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Since I've been under the influence of ecumenism, I got to wondering how the above applied to my context. I don't know which little country church put up that sign, but I can imagine it's vastly different from the mega-suburban Blythefield Hills Baptist Church that I attend. What exactly constitutes "strait gates" versus "broad ways?" In my separatist days, I would have answered that "strait" means rejecting the world and all its wisdom. But now I don't think that's the answer.

What I like most about Camp and what brings me back every year is theological conversations around the campfire. Usually these conversations involve something interesting and philosophical. This year I was surprised when a friend's daughter mentioned "Lordship salvation." I hadn't heard that term in decades. It's funny how some problems just don't get solved but the confusion remains over decades.

If you don't know what "Lorship salvation" means, let me refresh. Some teach that there is a distinction between asking Christ to be one's Saviour and asking Christ to be your Lord. If such a distinction is possible, then those who ask Christ to be Saviour but not Lord, can be termed "Carnal Christians." Carnal Christians who wish to improve their spiritual lives can do so by upgrading their Saviour relationship to a Lordship relationship. Others teach that Salvation means more than just a fire insurance policy, but conversion of the whole person and that Salvation means rescue from one's current life of sin. This second group would term the "Carnal Christian" a "non-Christian."

The first group claims that the second group makes "Lordship" a work that must be added to one's faith in order to be a Christian. The second group asserts salvation by "faith alone" but it is a "faith that is not alone." Surely, everybody in both camps claim that one is justified before God by "faith alone." (This is a Protestant argument.) This leads to a two-tier Christianity with mere fire-insurance policy holders looking up to their spiritual betters who have "rededicated their lives" to the Lord Jesus.

Coversely, the second group claims a causal relationship between good faith and good works. Good faith will cause good works and thereby I justify my good faith before myself and before other Christians by my good works. This is how the Protestant interprets James 2:24. (The Protestant distinguishes between Paul's use of Justification before God, and James use of Justification before Man. Luther failed to make this distinction and thus sought to remove James from the canon of scripture. Catholicism defers Justification in order to bring James and Paul together.)

I happen to be a Reformed Christian who asserts this causal relationship between good faith and good works. I think that identification with Christ as Saviour in true saving faith alone suffices to justify a man before God. Causally, faith alone causes justification before God. This is how I read Romans 5. Moreover, I think that true saving faith has its root in the supernatural creative act of God within the believer's heart. God causes a change of heart and that changed heart starts functioning by believing. At this point, logically, the believer is Justified. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer at this point. This changed heart that believes then obeys. This obedience is the way in which the righteousness of Christ inheres within the believer and this is termed Sanctification. Thus one is saved by faith alone, but it is a faith that is not alone.

You'll note that there is no room for ├╝ber-Christians or Saints in this second way of looking at things. Every Christian is identified with Christ to the same extent.

Good faith causes good works. You can distinguish between them, but you cannot separate them. If you belong to a "cannibalistic church" that doesn't quite get around to keeping Christ's double-love command, you've good reason to doubt the bona fides of that church.

Christ is in the forgiveness business. He does so by means of putting his righteousness into the lives of his followers. The WWJD bracelets are nice if we keep in mind what exactly it was that Jesus actually did. I suppose the broad way that leads to destruction is to try to "do what Jesus did" and latch onto this bit of his life or that and copy it. Jesus said "woe" to evil doers. and Jesus fed the five thousand. and Jesus did the all the stations of the Cross. The strait gate is to ignore all that and rest in Christ alone by faith.

Periodically, we should test our faith asking whether our lives fit what Christ taught. We need to periodically revisit the Law that Moses revealed and that Jesus interpreted on the Sermon on the Mount. The Law is a mirror that should point out the dirt on our face and metaphorically drive us to the soap of Christ's righteousness claimed by faith. This self-critical introspection and this utter dependence upon Christ doesn't come naturally. I hope this is what Christ called a "strait gate."


Seven Star Hand said...

Hello Steve and all,

Two Ways, Paths, and the Narrow Gate

Be aware that what I say is intended to make people uncomfortable with the status quo so we can finally forge that long promised new path to the future. Here is the chance to truly understand the Creator's expectations. The truth will be a bitter pill to many, so remember that patience and humility are wise virtues and scoffing causes blindness.

Many Christians speak of the straight and narrow gates, doors, or paths without comprehending the true meaning of this symbolism. Thanks to historical and doctrinal errors resulting in confusing language in the New Testament and other sources, the true meaning of these verses and other philosophical discussions of dualism are so poorly and vaguely presented that people have been forced to rely on the interpretations of religious leaders, that have unfortunately been the primary sources and perpetuators of confusion.

Read more....

Doctrine of Two Spirits

steve poling said...

Understanding Christ's words at this point doesn't seem like rocket science, requiring the "interpretations of religious leaders." I haven't been elected pope, or anything else and I think the symbology of "gates" and "ways" are accessible to most Americans. A gate is a place in a wall where people go through. A way is a route or highway. If you want to get metaphorical, speak like C.S. Lewis of the tao, but I'm not going there.

Had you cited a different metaphor of Christ's, that of the camel getting through the eye of a needle, I would have agreed with you. That metaphor takes on a completely different significance when you possess knowledge of ancient middle eastern culture.

I don't think there's anything like this going on with the metaphor of strait gates and narrow ways. (Though the Elizabethan english word strait does require a dictionary.) Note that the word is "strait" and not "straight."

The plain meaning of the passage is a warning by Christ to word hard at examining what you think is right.

How is one to do that? By comparing personal opinions against the words of scripture. Someone more Catholic would suggest church tradition and I'm not allergic to that notion.

You clearly have religious opinions you've articulated that you'd like others to follow. Your profile lists your profession as "messiah" and this job title entails leadership responsibilities. Ergo, you're a religious leader.

Presumably, your reference to historical and doctrinal errors indicate your feelings that other religious leaders are false in some sense.

The Bible speaks of false prophets but a religious leader is not necessarily a false prophet. What we need is a standard against which to gauge the orthodoxy of religious leaders. I hold to the Reformation notion of sola scriptura.

I can understand the Torah, Gospels and Epistles without expert assistance. But I generally find interpretation of prophetic passages & symbols error-prone and uncertain. In fact, my distrust of a religious leader increases with the number of prophetic references he cites, as I've written elsewhere.