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My Grandmother, 3 Friends, and a Faith I Am Having a Hard Time Understanding Anymore

Posted by Joseph Beckley , 06 April 2016 · 1646 views

Because of illness, I now use a chair lift to negotiate beautiful hardwood steps that take me from the main floor of our home to bed at night and then from the 2nd floor back again to begin my day each morning. Recently my son-in-law [who lovingly helps me with this task every day and every evening] was away at a conference. So a wonderful and caring friend selflessly came over every morning and every evening to make certain I was able to get into, and out of, bed safely and to also negotiate the steps “lest I dash my foot and head against a hardwood floor.” Thinking about his and his wife’s kindness caused deep reflection.
In one sense my reflection has caused sadness and a broken heart…in another sense, I feel a sense of anticipation and hope at the possibility of sincere dialogue. The following essay is part of the “process” and I hope you will not mind walking this path with me.

 

Back in 1977 my grandmother [Grammer I used to call her] passed away. I was in the final months of my first “real” job—a position as youth pastor at a church in southwestern Ohio. It paid $100 per week. The news of her death was related to me in an insensitive way that still hurts after all these years. However that is another story for another day.

 

She died in Gary, Indiana however I drove to attend the funeral in Somerset, Kentucky [the ancestral home of my mother’s side of the family.] As a recently converted conservative evangelical Christian I was worried about my grandmother’s “eternity.”
In my mother’s adolescence she and my grandmother attended the Baptist church in Somerset. Apparently they ran afoul of the church authorities when my mother and her friends went roller skating in an adjacent town. She and my grandmother were called upfront during a public service and chastized for “worldly behaviour.” Strong-willed women both, they turned and walked out of the church never to return----until, ironically, my grandmother’s funeral.

 

I had never seen my grandmother attend any church or really give expression of a faith of any kind, other than perhaps a prayer [every so often] before a meal. So as I say I was worried. I had prayed for her since my own conversion a few years earlier. As we all gathered in Somerset I found an occasion to speak privately to the minister conducting the funeral service. I asked if he had any assurance of her salvation. He nodded understandingly and agreed to get back to me. The next day we spoke again quietly and he discreetly let me know that he found records of my grandmother’s baptism. And of course, he related to me, to be baptized she would have had to have professed some evidence of faith in Jesus. Ergo we could both rest assured in her eternal destiny. His words and assurances helped and my sense of foreboding lessened.
[[Note: You see, in the realm of conservative evangelical and fundamentalists, among whom I dwell, while there is certainly debate regarding “being saved” and one’s “eternal security,” still “inviting Jesus into one’s heart” at any point in one’s life makes the tension we feel at death and at funerals “easier,” and helps “cover over a multitude of sins.”]]

 

**Note #2…following from the first note above I really cannot stress enough how important “hearing the name of Jesus” and then “personally accepting Jesus” or “inviting him into one’s heart” is for conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists.
In the denomination I have served for over 3 decades of my life, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, hearing the Name of Jesus and accepting him into one’s heart is critical to our philosophy of missions and personal ministry as well as a guiding impetus to our missionary zeal. And I would add that this is true of many other conservative evangelical, fundamentalist, and non-sacramental groups. In our denomination we want to take Jesus to “as many as possible.” They must hear the name of Jesus and have the opportunity to personally respond. That is their ONLY chance to go to heaven. If they never hear the name of Jesus—we call them the “unevangelized” or “those who have never heard”—then their eternal destiny in hell is assured. We even have “teaching statement” to reinforce this belief. Personally I think the statement is largely indefensible which is why IMHO it was adopted in violation of our own Constitution & Bylaws, parliamentary rules, and contains only one general Scriptural reference within the entire statement. However here is a small portion:


-->We continue to adhere to what we believe to be the clear witness of Scripture that those who do not hear the gospel are lost as surely as those who hear the gospel and reject it. <--

 

The fact that nearly one-half of the population of this planet—over 3 billion people—will NEVER hear the name of Jesus makes this statement not only stunning in its exclusivity but heart-breaking in its starkness and judgment. And to not list one Scripture passage in its defense is incomprehensible from a denomination who claims Scripture as our ultimate authority, not to mention a denomination I love and cherish and have served most of my adult life.

 

So, let’s come forward in time almost 40 years and return to where we were in the essay. I wanted to share with you thoughts about 3 of my friends. Two of these 3 are husband and wife. And the husband is the kind gentleman I referred to at the beginning of the essay—the one who took my son-in-law’s place for the weekend. If you could meet him and his wife you would instantly love them. They are kind, caring, thoughtful, loving servants, wonderful parents, they are faithful to each other, soft-spoken, humble, giving, accomplished, and I could go on and on. They are more like “disciples of Jesus” than most disciples of Jesus that I know. However there is a problem—they have not made a personal commitment to Jesus. They have no animosity toward Jesus—in fact they would embrace many of the teachings of Jesus. However they embrace the beauty and truths of other faiths. And their view of “God” is neither systematic nor of a personal, anthropomorphic entity.

 

In the universe in which I live, while we conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists may admire such people, they are clearly not “saved” and thus they will go to hell. We dismiss them by misusing such passages as Isaiah 64:6—all of our righteousness [and their righteousness] is as filthy rags…or Acts 4:12—that there is salvation in no one else…that there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

 

Please do not misunderstand my point. I do not doubt the truth and veracity of such passages. And I might add neither would my two friends, especially regarding the passage in Isaiah. In their humility they understand how “fallen” they are and that all of their “good deeds and efforts” still fall far short of a “heavenly” or universal ideal. My struggle is in the ungracious way we quote and apply these passages. For me, my two friends are like the Canaanite Woman and the Roman Centurion of whom Jesus said, “I have not found such faith, not even in Israel.” If I may adapt his words, “I have seldom found such expression of faith—of what Jesus calls us to, not even in the Christian church.” However, in our exclusivity—unless they accept Jesus into their hearts and are “saved”—their eternal destiny is settled—conscious, eternal torment in hell.

 

Not so, however, of my third friend. I encountered this friend recently via a Facebook post. Apparently this person had experienced a situation that upset them…and they shared their dismay in a post. Their language was full of expletives, was crude, ungracious, unforgiving, and vulgar. Please understand I really am not offended by swearing/expletives. My wife would want you to know I do not use that kind of language, however I am telling you the words, in and of themselves, do not offend me.
I just think as followers of Jesus that perhaps we should try and reflect kinder and gentler language. And I should hasten to add that crudeness, vulgarity, ungraciousness, and lack of forgiveness does wound my conscience, and I think it does not best reflect our Lord. However, in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist circles, if my third friend were to die tonight my friend’s eternal destiny in heaven is secure. Several years ago there was a public commitment of their life to Christ. And this person ministered for Jesus in the church. Since that time there have been “issues,” disagreements, and a type of “falling away.” Worship services are seldom attended. And “fruits of the faith” are not as clearly seen these days. However my friend clearly “accepted Jesus” … my grandmother “accepted Jesus” … my other two friends, who clearly evidence “fruits of the Kingdom,” have not. Heaven awaits the first two individuals…hell will be the domain of the final two.
And I have to tell you that my heart, my conscience, my sensibilities, and my soul cry out in this vacuum of exclusivity and narrow understanding of what salvation and being a follower of Jesus means. Certainly the Kurie Elaison [Christ have mercy] must be more gracious, more forgiving, more inclusive, and more engendering of kindness and trust and invitation than we as Christian movements have communicated and reflected. I am personally finding it harder to recognize the faith that changed my life decades ago. And the merciful Lamb of God “who taketh away the sins of the world”…the one who “giveth light to every person”… and the one who “leaveth the ninety and nine and findeth the one lost sheep” is being obscured in exclusive language and pious “litmus tests.”

 

It is interesting to me that our denominational teaching statement regarding the Eternal Destiny of the Lost sits 2 sub-sections above our statement on Human Sexuality [which was originally written to give Biblical guidance regarding the issue of abortion but has been expanded recently to deal with birth control and to clearly exclude practicing gays and transgender persons from the kingdom. It also forms the foundation to clearly prohibit our ministers from officiating same-sex and transgender weddings or civil unions. The Human Sexuality sub-section will be the topic of an essay in the near future…as will be yet another sub-section that excludes Masons and other members of Secret Societies…and another section denying eldership and ordination to women.]

 

It deeply concerns me when we as a group legislate out of fear and when our Biblical interpretations are largely censuring and proscriptive in nature. Such language and ideals place us on sorrowful and discouraging journey that is largely different from that of Barnabas when he journeyed to Antioch in Acts 11. His task was to instruct new believers in the faith. And rather than censuring and proscribing he rejoiced and encouraged the new believers to remain true to Christ.
I have kept you long enough…if you have read this far, thank you for your kindness and grace……may your evenings be kind.



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Debbi Meyer
Apr 26 2016 12:25 PM

Dear Mr. Beckley,  Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for the opportunity to think through these issues out loud together.  So much could be said in reply, but if you’ll bear with me again, I have a few thoughts…. J

 

The reason we conservative evangelicals (if that’s what I call myself) have a sense of relief when find out that someone we know dies had made a profession of faith in Christ at some time in their life is because we believe that putting our faith in Christ is the only means of justification leading to salvation.  It gives us hope that they are in heaven and that we will see them again.

 

It is important to hear the name of Jesus and personally put our faith in Him because Scripture teaches that it is, again, the only means for salvation.  No amount of good works that we accomplish contribute in any way to our salvation.

 

Romans 3

20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified [declared righteous] in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;

 

            Galatians 2:16

We “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

 

Romans 4

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.

5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

 

John 3:36

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

 

John 14:6

“’I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”   

 

You describe a couple you obviously care deeply about and whose lives reflect many virtuous deeds and qualities.  According to the Scriptures above, all of their deeds cannot save them.  Isaiah 64:6 (“All our righteousness is as filthy rags”) supports this truth.  To reference this verse is not a misuse of this passage but an application of it.  And this Scripture is true for all of humanity.  None of us have kept God’s law perfectly.  Our failure to keep the law is cause for  just punishment from God. "The wages of sin are death."

 

The interesting thing about your friends is that although “they understand how ‘fallen’ they are and that all their ‘good deeds and efforts’ still fall far short of a ‘heavenly’ or universal ideal”, they have not trusted Christ for salvation.  The truth that they have fallen short should be the impetus that drives them to the cross where Jesus paid for the sins of any who will put their trust in Him.

 

Rather than it being ungracious to tell them this truth, wouldn’t it be a crime not to tell them that if they are trusting in their good works or in anything besides the redemption wrought by Jesus on the cross, they will be found guilty before a holy God and are awaiting an eternity separated from Him and all that is good?  That would be like withholding the cure of cancer from someone who is dying of cancer and deluding them to think they are okay when they are not.

 

Since a person is not saved by works but by trusting in Christ, do you see how it could be true that the third friend you presented might be saved?   Belief in Christ is the only requirement God asks of us for salvation and this friend (and your grandmother) seems to have trusted in Christ at least at one point in his life.  Whether his faith is genuine and the type that leads to salvation, only God knows.  Jesus talked about the need for “fruit” in a person’s life to evidence their faith and that those who appear to be saved may not be in the end.  (See Matt 7:16-23.)  The point is, he and your grandmother at least at one time professed faith in Christ, whereas the first couple you described never have.   In fact, it sounds like this couple has created their own religion by picking and choosing aspects from various religions to create their own and thereby have rejected the God of the Bible and His Son.

Romans 1:

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

 

(The Roman Centurion you mentioned had put his faith in Jesus, which was evidenced by his coming to Jesus for the healing of his servant.  Jesus knew this and found it marvelous for he was not even an Israelite.  The story you reference in Acts 11 says that the good news of the Lord Jesus had been told to the Greeks in Antioch and that a great number of people had believed and had turned to the Lord.  Barnabas went and saw the evidence of the grace of God upon them and he was glad and encouraged the believers. This is very different than working with folks who have not yet heard the good news of the gospel or who have rejected it.  I’m not sure I understand the point you were trying to make with these examples.)

 

It is very difficult for us to think that anyone we love or that the millions of people who have never heard the gospel will go to hell.  I wonder if Jesus is giving us a prescription for this problem in Matthew 9:

“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.

37 Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.

38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

 

The prescription to us for this dilemma is:  PRAY.

Then, God will work to reach the lost as He sends workers into His harvest.

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Joseph Beckley
Apr 26 2016 12:49 PM

Good afternoon Debbi.......i cannot tell you how much I have appreciated your thoughts and reminders.  You have been most thoughtful and kind.  

I am in the process of posting a new blog [[it is already written--i just need to post it]] and then i plan on responding to your thoughtful posts.

 

May your day be kind...........joseph

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Joseph Beckley
Apr 28 2016 07:06 PM

Again Debbi............i have reproduced your response and have written my thoughts in red letters..........jb

 

A Response to My Blog
My Grandmother, 3 Friends…

Debbi Meyer

 

Dear Mr. Beckley,  Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for the opportunity to think through these issues out loud together.  So much could be said in reply, but if you’ll bear with me again, I have a few thoughts…. :-)

The reason we conservative evangelicals (if that’s what I call myself) have a sense of relief when we find out that someone we know dies had made a profession of faith in Christ at some time in their life is because we believe that putting our faith in Christ is the only means of justification leading to salvation.  It gives us hope that they are in heaven and that we will see them again.

It is important to hear the name of Jesus and personally put our faith in Him because Scripture teaches that it is, again, the only means for salvation.  No amount of good works that we accomplish contribute in any way to our salvation.

 

Debbi…I could place this paragraph here, in the middle, or at the end of your excellent post.  Clearly almost ½ of the world’s population [nearly 3 billion souls] will never even HEAR the name of Jesus…even in spite of our most ardent and zealous missionary efforts.
It isn’t that they will hear and reject.   They will never HEAR.

One of the concerns I have is that the CMA confines all of these souls to hell [and in our denominational belief hell is a place of “eternal, conscious torment] without so much as one Scriptural reference.  To me that seems cruel.

 

Romans 3
20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified [declared righteous] in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;

            Galatians 2:16
We “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

Romans 4
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

John 3:36
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John 14:6
“’I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”  

You describe a couple you obviously care deeply about and whose lives reflect many virtuous deeds and qualities.  According to the Scriptures above, all of their deeds cannot save them.  Isaiah 64:6 (“All our righteousness is as filthy rags”) supports this truth.  To reference this verse is not a misuse of this passage but an application of it.  And this Scripture is true for all of humanity.  None of us have kept God’s law perfectly.  Our failure to keep the law is cause for  just punishment from God. "The wages of sin are death."

 

First Debbi, I do not agree that referencing this passage is an appropriate application of the Isaiah passage.  Please consider the context:

64  Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!
    How the mountains would quake in your presence!
2  As fire causes wood to burn
    and water to boil,
your coming would make the nations tremble.
    Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame!
3 When you came down long ago,
    you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations.
    And oh, how the mountains quaked!
4 For since the world began,
    no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him!
5 You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
    how can people like us be saved?
6 We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
    and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
7 Yet no one calls on your name
    or pleads with you for mercy.
Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins.

My difficulty is that we take one line from verse 6 and quote it as an apologetic for justification by faith and not works [even though James has some thoughts about that and even though Yahweh commends sincere works in verse 5a.]  The problem here was not that works were not pleasing to Yahweh [who would certainly have saved His people had their works been sincere].  Rather they were presenting their sinful works as “righteousness.”  That kind of righteousness “is as filthy rags” Yahweh replies

The interesting thing about your friends is that although “they understand how ‘fallen’ they are and that all their ‘good deeds and efforts’ still fall far short of a ‘heavenly’ or universal ideal”, they have not trusted Christ for salvation.  The truth that they have fallen short should be the impetus that drives them to the cross where Jesus paid for the sins of any who will put their trust in Him.

 

Actually they have never “rejected” Jesus.  In fact they embrace his teachings.  They were godparents at my grandson’s baptism.  They simply embrace and respect others’ teachings also.

Rather than it being ungracious to tell them this truth, wouldn’t it be a crime not to tell them that if they are trusting in their good works or in anything besides the redemption wrought by Jesus on the cross, they will be found guilty before a holy God and are awaiting an eternity separated from Him and all that is good?  That would be like withholding the cure of cancer from someone who is dying of cancer and deluding them to think they are okay when they are not.

I would ask:
a] What did Jesus do with the rich, young ruler whom he loved?
b] And what of Elisha and Naaman in 2 Kings 5;15—19?

 

Since a person is not saved by works but by trusting in Christ, do you see how it could be true that the third friend you presented might be saved? 

 

I can “see” that however it seems that Matthew 5:48... and 1 John 2:3-6 ...and James 1:22-27 ask higher demands” of us…

 

Belief in Christ is the only requirement God asks of us for salvation and this friend (and your grandmother) seems to have trusted in Christ at least at one point in his life.  Whether his faith is genuine and the type that leads to salvation, only God knows.  Jesus talked about the need for “fruit” in a person’s life to evidence their faith and that those who appear to be saved may not be in the end.  (See Matt 7:16-23.)  The point is, he and your grandmother at least at one time professed faith in Christ, whereas the first couple you described never have.   In fact, it sounds like this couple has created their own religion by picking and choosing aspects from various religions to create their own and thereby have rejected the God of the Bible and His Son.
Romans 1:
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

(The Roman Centurion you mentioned had put his faith in Jesus, which was evidenced by his coming to Jesus for the healing of his servant.  Jesus knew this and found it marvelous for he was not even an Israelite. 

 

Debbi, that is NOT what Jesus found marvelous.

 

The story you reference in Acts 11 says that the good news of the Lord Jesus had been told to the Greeks in Antioch and that a great number of people had believed and had turned to the Lord.  Barnabas went and saw the evidence of the grace of God upon them and he was glad and encouraged the believers. This is very different than working with folks who have not yet heard the good news of the gospel or who have rejected it.  I’m not sure I understand the point you were trying to make with these examples.)

 

Debbi, I wrote:  It deeply concerns me when we as a group legislate out of fear and when our Biblical interpretations are largely censuring and proscriptive in nature.  Such language and ideals place us on sorrowful and discouraging journey that is largely different from that of Barnabas when he journeyed to Antioch in Acts 11. His task was to instruct new believers in the faith.  And rather than censuring and proscribing he rejoiced and encouraged the new believers to remain true to Christ.

The Antiochean believers had certainly not surrendered all of their “old ways” but Barnabas chose not focus on that but rather welcomed them.  We seem to censure those from membership [ie, gays, transgender, masons, etc], no matter their commitment to Jesus [which you said is all that God requires of us].

It is very difficult for us to think that anyone we love or that the millions of people who have never heard the gospel will go to hell.  I wonder if Jesus is giving us a prescription for this problem in Matthew 9:
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.
37 Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

The prescription to us for this dilemma is:  PRAY.
Then, God will work to reach the lost as He sends workers into His harvest.

 

Debbi, I say again, ½ of the population of this planet will perish without hearing…3 billion souls…they will never hear……they will never know anything other than what they have been taught.
An infinite and loving God is going to consign them to eternal, conscious torment?……..not for rejecting Jesus, but for never hearing?
Why would God pass them by?

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Debbi Meyer
May 05 2016 01:41 PM

Dear Mr. Beckley,  Thank you for your kind reply.  I tried inserting additional comments into the whole text again like you did, but it was getting very long and complicated, so I simplified things and only replied in blue to your first comment in red.

Debbi…I could place this paragraph here, in the middle, or at the end of your excellent post.  Clearly almost ½ of the world’s population [nearly 3 billion souls] will never even HEAR the name of Jesus…even in spite of our most ardent and zealous missionary efforts.
It isn’t that they will hear and reject.   They will never HEAR.

One of the concerns I have is that the CMA confines all of these souls to hell [and in our denominational belief hell is a place of “eternal, conscious torment] without so much as one Scriptural reference.  To me that seems cruel.

I believe that Scripture teaches that those who never hear and/or believe will go to hell (why I quoted so many verses) and that the CMA only adheres to this truth found in Scripture.  Scripture is also clear that we are called to go and tell the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:12-15, Matt 28:18) and, again, is also the reason why Jesus told us to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into the harvest field.  God is concerned about the lost too and the means God has designed to reach them is for us to go and tell them.  All we can do is trust His plan and obey.

I concur with you that God is infinite and loving, but He is also holy and just.  It would not be just for God to overlook sin.  Again, God is not obligated to save anyone.  That He has devised a means to save any at the cost of His own Son is pure love and grace (underserved and unmerited favor).  We live in an entitlement culture, but no one is entitled to forgiveness from God.  What we deserve is His wrath for we have all sinned against Him.

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Joseph Beckley
May 11 2016 01:50 PM

Good day Debbi,
I appreciate your taking the time to reply in these discussions.  It is thoughtful of you.
[[I have also replied even more fully to your thoughts in the Theological Forum on Those Who Have Never Heard]]

 

You are correct.  Reproducing conversations only works for a couple responses before it becomes difficult to manage.  Perhaps I can simplify some of what we are talking about by outlining some important issues:

 

A]  first I wrote:  One of the concerns I have is that the CMA confines all of these souls to hell [and in our denominational belief hell is a place of “eternal, conscious torment] without so much as one Scriptural reference.  To me that seems cruel.

 

I still think it is cruel however perhaps another word is better…”inappropriate” perhaps?…”lazy” seems harsh to me…I think “inappropriate” may be good.  I just do not know how a denomination, in their concise writing, can consign billions of souls to hell without any Scriptural citations.  It is unconscionable—THAT is the word I was looking for.  We write and say the words with such “exacting precision.”  And we assure people that such “clarity” is Scripturally supported.  And then we offer no Scriptural support…other than, “trust us—it’s there.”

 

B]  you responded:
I believe that Scripture teaches that those who never hear and/or believe will go to hell (why I quoted so many verses) and that the CMA only adheres to this truth found in Scripture.

 

1]  I appreciated the Scriptures you cited.  I truly think the CMA should hire you to write the Scriptural citations for all of their documents [I am sincere]

 

2]  While you cite many passages, I do not believe any of them speak to the issues of those who have never heard.  The CMA’s position in part 2 of their statement reads:
We continue to adhere to what we believe to be the clear witness of Scripture that those who do not hear the gospel are lost as surely as those who hear the gospel and reject it.

 

3]  the CMA writes this and their position is clear….EXCEPT however they provide NO “clear witness of Scripture.”  Why do you think this is?

 

4]  They write lengthy defenses on women being denied ordination and elder authority.  And they provide lengthy defenses regarding human sexuality and sanctity of life.  However consigning billions of souls to “eternal, conscious torment” in hell??...one brief statement and one very general Scriptural reference.  It is unconscionable.

 

5]  However I believe this paucity of citation is also because there is no clear passage and none of your citations speak clearly to this issue…IMHO.

 

C]  Third, as I have tried to communicate in my blogs and theological posts, my denomination is very good at stating what they believe but very poor at making that position consistent with Scripture or with understanding of the complexities of particular issues.  For instance regarding the issue of “those who have never heard” I have written [and thus far received no reply from anyone…which is why I have appreciated your thoughtful replies]:

 

1]  The CMA has historically believed that we must reach as many as possible with the Gospel of Christ so that they may “hear” His Name and be given an opportunity to make a commitment to Him.  Historically and theologically the CMA has chosen to bypass the Biblical discussion as to how that is done.

 

2]  Very simply, Reformed thinkers take seriously the doctrine of “original sin” and believe humankind to be lost and unable to respond to God’s invitation to follow His Son…Romans 3: “No one does good, no not one” and Ephesians 2:1ff, “We all are dead in our trespasses and sins…” just to cite 2 passages.  Thus, “hearing alone” and being “given an opportunity” to respond is not sufficient…we CANNOT respond…we are dead.  Therefore God must Regenerate the unbeliever thus enabling that person to respond—thus Regeneration (Rebirth) precedes Justification.

 

3]  Arminians, especially Wesleyan Arminians, also take seriously the doctrine of “original sin” and believe humankind to be lost and unable to respond to God’s invitation to follow His Son.  However they believe that through Prevenient Grace (a general grace given by God to all people through Christ’s work and sacrifice and atonement), those lost sinners are given the ability to respond to His invitation.
As I have said, the CMA does not take a doctrinal position as to “how” an unrepentant unbeliever is “able” to respond to the Good News they are preaching.

 

4]  I guess my concern is that my denomination’s theology is a “chosen naivete.”  We wish to preach the gospel to everyone so they are clearly presented with a personal choice however seem to have no appreciation whether or not our Biblical theology on the “spiritual condition of humankind” renders those individuals capable or incapable of making a free choice.

 

--Further we believe that God “wishes everyone to be saved”—2 Peter 3, however that He also seems to “pass over” 3 billion souls who will never even hear his name.

 

--We believe practicing homosexuality to be a sin and cite Leviticus in support, however we seem perfectly free to “practice” other behaviours clearly censured in the same chapters.

 

--We believe in the doctrine of immanency regarding Jesus’ return however have no comment when 2 Thessalonians 2, regarding the Man of Sin seems to render that position untenable.

 

--We believe in the premillennial return of Jesus and make our ministers support it Scripturally however in our statement of faith the only Scriptural support for the premillennial return of Jesus has nothing to do with premillennialism.

 

--We seem to believe and preach Matthew 7: 13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[f] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

And yet Revelation is just as clear that John saw a “vast multitude” that could not be counted under the throne of God.

 

I could go on but why?

 

D]  Finally, and i think this very important...regarding passages that you and others would cite in support of the lost’s eternal destiny please allow me to comment on 2 passages and then finally ask some questions I truly wish someone would respond to:

 

Acts 4;12
8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, 9 are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,
‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’
12 There is salvation in no one else!  God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

 

What is Peter’s purpose in speaking these words?
In the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries Conservative Evangelicals (among whom is the CMA) and Fundamentalists (a minority in the CMA) have co-opted and used this passage as a “proof-text” that salvation can be found in no other person, way, or Name than Jesus the Christ and through a personal commitment to that Person/Saviour.  This belief provides a genius and motivation for Missions work.  The CMA has historically believed that we must reach as many as possible with the Gospel of Christ so that they may “hear” His Name and be given an opportunity to make a commitment to Him.

 

This commitment to reaching people with Good News is one of the values I have always admired about the CMA and why I wanted to be part of the CMA.  Jesus saved my life and I have wanted to share that hope with people.

 

What troubles me is that this heartfelt desire does not seem to be “enough” for our denomination and for many ministers and leaders within our group.  We seem bound to declare and define not only the destiny of those who reject Jesus but also those who never even hear his name.  And we seem bound to do so in relative secrecy and without benefit of concerted and public Biblical study, discussion, and debate.

 

Personal Commentary

-->When Peter spoke these words, there were people in China dying at that very moment.  No matter how much missionary zeal the early church could muster it would be decades before outer regions could be reached.  Do we really think one of the main applications of Peter’s words would be to declare that those people, who could not possibly hear the name of Jesus, would be lost and consigned to conscious, eternal torment in hell?
[[At the very best “historical tradition” suggests that Thomas may have reached India with the Gospel before the end of the 1st century AD.]]

 

Similar questions could be asked, and comments made, regarding 1 Timothy 2:5:
1 Timothy 2:5
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.
This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. 7 And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.

    
It seems to me that far from pronouncing judgment upon, or defining the eternal destiny of, the lost this passage is rather stating the heart’s desire of God to include as many as possible in His kingdom.  Just re-read verses 3-6…God “wants everyone to be saved” and Jesus “gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.”  It is “this message that God gave to the world at just the right time,”

 

-->Some other important questions I would ask of those who disagree with me and are convinced exclusivists…
if salvation is only possible by hearing the name of Jesus and making a personal commitment to him:

 

**What of babies, or children, who die in infancy?  How can they possibly be saved?
And what Scriptural support would you cite?
[[We believe in “original sin”—that all are born in sin and are separated from God—however most CMA pastors and leaders I talk with believe children who die in infancy are in heaven.  However I wonder, how can that possibly be so if “original sin” is also true?  We believe that “lost people” go to hell however we seem to give that bereft spiritual state “a pass” when it comes to the unpleasantness of applying it to babies and infants]]

 

**What of those with mental illness who, even if they “hear” the name of Jesus, would not understand the commitment they are being asked to make?

 

**And I could open up many other scenarios I have not listed here.  I have heard stories of missionaries who share the gospel and an adult will come to Christ.  And then they have shared, “my grandfather who died last month was waiting for this Good News…I KNOW he would have given his heart to Jesus but he did not have the opportunity.”

 

Is that “grandfather” in hell now?  Is that honestly the message we think these passages are conveying?

 

Do we really believe that an infinite God would invoke eternal, conscious torment upon people committing temporal sins…especially when finite beings cannot truly comprehend eternity?

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Debbi Meyer
Jul 19 2016 04:59 PM

Hi again, Mr. Beckley,

It has been a little while since your last post, but I still thought I would try to respond to some of your questions and comments – in red.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts and should say again, these are purely my thoughts.  As I said once before, I also do not intend to represent The Alliance in any way.  I'm reluctant to write, but issues about salvation are important. 

 

You said, in part (in grey):

 

 

4]  I guess my concern is that my denomination’s theology is a “chosen naivete.”  We wish to preach the gospel to everyone so they are clearly presented with a personal choice however seem to have no appreciation whether or not our Biblical theology on the “spiritual condition of humankind” renders those individuals capable or incapable of making a free choice.

Jesus has sent us into the world to be His witnesses.  Our part is to obey what He has called us to do.  Our theology regarding a person’s ability to respond to the Gospel is secondary.  We proclaim the Gospel.  The results are up to Him (See Acts 13:48). 

 

--We believe practicing homosexuality to be a sin and cite Leviticus in support, however we seem perfectly free to “practice” other behaviours clearly censured in the same chapters.

Some folks who call themselves “Christians” indeed do not act according to Scriptural principals.  That doesn’t make what they do right before God, although I don’t know specifically what you are talking about. 

 

--We believe in the doctrine of immanency regarding Jesus’ return however have no comment when 2 Thessalonians 2, regarding the Man of Sin seems to render that position untenable.

With regard to Jesus’ return, we are told to “keep watch”, “be ready” (Matt 24:42, 44), “The end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7), and “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2).  Waiting for Christ’s immediate return is a posture Scripture calls us to take even in view of the man of lawlessness/sin.  We are to be ready, but also watching as these events unfold (Matt 24:32-33).

 

--We seem to believe and preach Matthew 7: 13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[f] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

And yet Revelation is just as clear that John saw a “vast multitude” that could not be counted under the throne of God.

These passages are not inconsistent.  In view of the incalculable (to man) number of people who have lived on earth, relatively “few” enter the narrow gate.  These are relative terms, but in the end, heaven is full!  In addition, part of the myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands include angels and living creatures (Rev. 5:11).

 

I could go on but why?

 

D]  Finally, and i think this very important...regarding passages that you and others would cite in support of the lost’s eternal destiny please allow me to comment on 2 passages and then finally ask some questions I truly wish someone would respond to:

 

Acts 4;12
8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, 9 are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,
‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’

12 There is salvation in no one else!  God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

 

What is Peter’s purpose in speaking these words?
In the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries Conservative Evangelicals (among whom is the CMA) and Fundamentalists (a minority in the CMA) have co-opted and used this passage as a “proof-text” that salvation can be found in no other person, way, or Name than Jesus the Christ and through a personal commitment to that Person/Saviour.  This belief provides a genius and motivation for Missions work.  The CMA has historically believed that we must reach as many as possible with the Gospel of Christ so that they may “hear” His Name and be given an opportunity to make a commitment to Him.

 

This commitment to reaching people with Good News is one of the values I have always admired about the CMA and why I wanted to be part of the CMA.  Jesus saved my life and I have wanted to share that hope with people.

 

What troubles me is that this heartfelt desire does not seem to be “enough” for our denomination and for many ministers and leaders within our group.  We seem bound to declare and define not only the destiny of those who reject Jesus but also those who never even hear his name.  And we seem bound to do so in relative secrecy and without benefit of concerted and public Biblical study, discussion, and debate.

 

My guess is that most people, myself included, think that Scripture is clear about this and do not think that a debate is necessary.  God’s word tells us:

(Romans 10:14-17 New American Standard Bible)

14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

 

We don’t try to push our interpretation or desires or viewpoints upon Scripture.  We are to take God at His Word.  It is truth.  We can’t always understand it, but our response is to trust and “bow the knee.”  We are finite.  He is infinite.  He’s got all of these things figured out and is just and holy.  We can trust Him.

Isaiah 55:8-9  (NASB)

8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.

9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are My ways higher than your ways

And My thoughts than your thoughts.

 

 I do not believe that Acts 4:12 is a “proof text” but a “truth text” that is supported throughout the New Testament, some verses I have already referenced in previous posts.  This is God’s Son whom we are talking about.  Salvation is found in Him alone.  He is the only one who qualifies to pay the price for our sin. 

 

Below, rather than reposting your words again, I will try to summarize what I think your concern is regarding the lost who never have the chance to even hear the gospel in view of 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:5.

 

1 Timothy 2:5
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. 7 And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.
 

The NASB of verse 4 reads, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 

  1. I understand the “all” to mean all sorts of men (and women) from every nation, tribe and tongue, etc. without discrimination.  Francis Turretin in the Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume One, pgs 408-409 explains it this way, in part:

…the particle ‘all’ is taken here not distributively (for the individuals of classes), but collectively (for classes of individuals), i.e., as Beza renders it “for all sorts” (Annotationum maiorum in Vovum Testamentum [1594], Pars Altera, p. 444 on 1 Tim. 2:4) from every nation, condition, age and sex.  In this sense, God wills not that all men individually, but some from every class or order of men should be saved.  As Augustine explains it, “All the human race distributed through whatever differences, kinds, primates, noble, ignoble, lofty, humble, learned, unlearned… in all languages, in all manners, in all ages, in all professions, established in an innumerable variety of wills and consciences, and whatever other differences there may be among men” (Enchriidion 27 [103][FC 3:457; PL 40.280]).  This exposition is confirmed first by the fact that such a syncategoreme is most frequently used in Scripture in this sense: as when “all animals” are said to have been “in the ark,” the Pharisees to have tithed “all herbs,” Christ to have healed “all diseases” in the people, “all Jerusalem and Judea” to have gone out to John, that “all flesh” shall see the salvation of God, “all beasts” were in the great sheet of Peter, that God will pour out his Spirit upon “all flesh” and the like.  Everyone sees these pertain not to individuals of classes, but to classes of individuals…”

 

  1. The subject of this passage is the exhortation for God’s people to pray for those in leadership so that we can live peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity because when society is characterized by these things, the Gospel is more freely proclaimed.  The more freely the Gospel is proclaimed, the more people hear and are saved, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”  This pleases God.
  1. As an aside, more proof is given in this passage in verses 5 and 6 that salvation is found in Christ alone.  There are not multiple mediators between God and man.  Only one qualifies: Jesus Christ.

 

You also bring up 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 

 

God is not here saying that every single person in the world will be saved.  We know this to be true because not all people are saved.  The previous chapter in 2 Peter makes this crystal clear.  I believe the “all” here refer to the elect who are, as noted above, from every tribe, tongue, nation, etc..   

 

You say:

 -->Some other important questions I would ask of those who disagree with me and are convinced exclusivists…
 

Do we really believe that an infinite God would invoke eternal, conscious torment upon people committing temporal sins…especially when finite beings cannot truly comprehend eternity?

 

Yes.  He said He will.  “For the wages of sin is death…”  It is not a small thing to sin against God.  God is holy, righteous, pure, and just.  Shouldn’t our sympathy and trust lie with the Sovereign LORD who loved us enough to send HIs Son to die to take upon Himself our sin rather than with sinful and rebellious people?  We can err BIG TIME in thinking too low of God and too high of man. 

 

And if you try to make a case that it’s not fair for God to send to hell those who have never heard the Gospel because they never even had a chance to believe or reject the Gospel, and that therefore, based on passages like 2 Peter and 1 Timothy above, those who have never heard are automatically saved b/c it is God’s heart to save everyone, then you simultaneously make a case that we should not spread the Gospel anywhere.  You would be saying that if people never hear the Gospel, they are automatically saved, so it would be better not to tell them about Jesus in case they reject the Gospel.  This would be to say the exact opposite of what Jesus told us to do.  He said “Go!”  This argument would say, “Don’t go” because once they hear they are accountable, but if they don’t hear, they are automatically saved.  I’m not sure if this is the case you are trying to make, but this is clearly not a Biblical view.

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