Thursday, February 22, 2007

Amazing Grace

Yesterday was quite a day. I somehow managed to lock the keys in my van while at Walgreens. My father was at home watching the kids and did not have car seats for them, so he could not pick me up, plus the spare van key that was supposed to be at home was nowhere to be found. My mom and Paul both have spares, but they were both at work. So I ended up deciding to walk home. When I was at the corner of Pontiac and Hanna, my dad's friend Jonathon picked me up and drove me the rest of the way home. (Those of you who know Fort Wayne may be cringing at the location I was walking in, but I assure you that at 4:00 in the afternoon I was perfectly safe).

Fortunately, Paul thought it would be a good idea to go out to dinner last night after my ordeal. After all we had to get everybody out and around anyway. We had dinner at Casa D'angelo, a local Italian eatery. I had the eggplant parmigiano, which I share with Abigail and Isaac. It was delicious.

For those of you who were fast yesterday, I apologize for my discussions of food. If it makes you feel any better I am sorely missing coca-cola already.

I believe that my Lenten resolution will help to strengthen my faith in God, but man is it hard.

Before I start any religious discussions, please let me begin by sharing a little bit about my own faith background. My mother was raised in the Church of the Brethren, which is a conservative group stemming from the anabaptist movement. My father was raised United Methodist. When my brothers and I were born my parents attended an Episcopal church, but they left it before I was old enough to remember. Much of my childhood was spent church-hopping. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, church-hopping is when someone switches churches frequently. People do this for a variety of reasons, as a general rule, I think this is not a good thing to do. In any case, the churches which we attended for the longest were United Methodist and Missionary. When I was in high school we began attending a Dutch Reformed Church (RCA) which my mother still attends, although my father now attends the Episcopal church again. Both of them are now enrolled in RCIA and will be becoming Catholic in late March (they also attend Catholic Masses now). I am still grappling with their decision to become Catholic, and because of this I have been studying Catholicism in depth. I must admit though, that it is really hard to sit down and read the Catechism. I cannot handle more than a page or two at a time.

I seem to have gone off on a tangent though. Since being married, I have attended a Free Methodist church. Our church has gone through a great deal of struggling the past few years, but that is a whole different story which I will not share right now. Many of you may be scratching your heads and wondering what on earth are Free Methodists anyway. Methodism was a movement started by John Wesley in the eighteenth century. Wesley would speak to the working class and huge crowds would come out to hear him preach. Initially his group was a sort of club that met several times through the week. He did not have any wish to start a new church, he was more focussed on strengthening the faith of the people, who were still expected to attend to mass in the Anglican church. The term Methodist was a derisive term because the organization he designed ordered its religious societies into classes and bands which focussed on religious instruction and accountability. Although he was despised by many in the Church of England, he remained part of that body thoughout his life. It was not until later that the Methodists became a church unto themselves.

During the early nineteenth century, most churches in the Americas charged rent on pews. If you wanted a nice seat near the front of the church, you paid a higher price. Many in the Methodist-Episcopal church felt that charging rent on pews was wrong. Also, they believed that all men deserved to be free, and that slavery was wrong. Because of these issues the Free Methodist church was founded in 1860. Many of its early members were active in the Underground Railroad.

The Free Methodist Church is considered, with the Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan Church to be a Holiness church.

With that background given. I think I shall take the plunge.

Salvation is by Grace Alone

Are you
about ready to jump out of your seat and argue with me? I hope not. Please notice also, that I did not say Salvation is by faith alone (sola fide). It is my belief that these to statements are very often confused, but I would like to discuss the difference.

Imagine that someone is holding out a gift to you. You look at him and ask for the gift, he gives it to you. You say thank you. Then you say look! I have this great gift, and all I had to was ask for the gift. Therefore I earned the gift by asking. It's not a perfect analogy, I know. But this is a little bit like saying that salvation is by faith alone. It sort of implies that I earn my salvation simply by having faith. An even greater heresy that can stem from this is the belief that it does not matter what I believe, as long as I believe something. After all salvation is by faith.

Many protestant churches teach salvation by faith alone. So then people give a profession of faith and are "saved". Sometimes the profession of faith seems accompanied by a change of heart, sometimes not. Sometimes the person continues on sinning, but they have "asked Jesus into their heart" so they are ok, right? At this point people start debating Is it true that if a person is once saved they are always saved? Someone once asked me this. I was taken aback at first. I decided that yes. If a person truly receives salvation that this is something that cannot be lost. But I do not think that reciting a certain prayer is the same thing as actually being saved.

On the other hand, salvation by works, also called legalism, is a gigantic fallacy. Suppose you are handed a gift and reach out to receive it. To say that salvation is by works is like saying that you received the gift because you reached for it.

Salvation is God's gift to us. Both of the analogies are backwards because they imply that we get the gift because WE take the gift, not because God gives it to us. We cannot earn salvation, not by believing, not by doing good works.

Yes we do have to ask for the gift, yes we do have to reach out and take the gift. But it is not because of these things that the gift is given.

Child Evangelism Fellowship explains in three easy steps how we may be saved.

A. Admit you are a sinner.
B. Believe that Christ died for our sins.
C. Choose to follow him.

Faith comes in part B, works in part C. As it says in the book of James "faith without works is dead". (Presumably this is why Martin Luther did not think James should be part of the Bible). If we truly believe that Christ died for our sins, then it is only natural that we should strive to live as he would have us to live.
We must remember that it is by grace, through faith that we are saved.

"Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound!
That saved a wretch like me.
I was was lost, but now am found.
Was Blind, but now I see."
-John Newton


Kathy said...

If it makes you feel any better I've never made much headway in reading the Catechism either.

Thankfully, the Church defines "fast" as "eating less" as opposed to "eating nothing." I know I'm a difficult person to be around if I don't eat at all, so for this I am thankful.

I knew you'd mentioned your father was converting, but I don't think I'd heard your mom was as well.

At least the kids weren't with you when you locked the keys in the car. Though the whole "locking one's keys in one's car" is never what I would call "fun."

It has been kind of a long day -- meet with another recruiting company after work and then had a meeting at the parish that has a young adult group. But I will probably comment more later. (But don't worry, I was at no point about to jump out of my seat and start arguing with you.)

Dave said...

Very nice post, Shaelin. I like how you distinguish 'sola fide' from 'sola gratia'. Probably you already know from your reading that the Catholic Church also believes that salvation comes only through the grace of God. Faith and Works, I suppose, are what we do with the grace given us, not in order to merit salvation, but to express our love.

I doubt many Catholics besides the priests and scholars have read the whole Catechism. I certainly haven't! (though suddenly I feel guilty about it...)

Loree said...

My brother had the book, and I did think about reading the Catechism. Good luck with that. ^^

I've had a love-hate relationship with Lent, pretty much because I hate giving up stuff (don't we all?), but I'm really glad that the season exists, because it forces introspection. For the record, I'm working on my keeping-house habits this season.