I can’t find “Personal Savior” anywhere in my Bible

Salvation is deeply personal, but there is no personal salvation.

I wasn’t trying to be funny.   It just dawned on me to search for “personal savior” in my bible, both the NIV and NRSV.  And, I couldn’t find it anywhere.  It’s probably because it’s not there. 

It freaks me out that Christians boil Jesus down to “my personal savior.”  Using Jesus to get yourself into heaven just isn’t a biblical idea.  In fact, if personal salvation shows up anywhere, it shows up as something that really couldn’t be anything but self-righteous.  Consider Matthew 25:31-40.  The King doesn’t recognize those crying “Lord, Lord.”  He doesn’t know them.  Why?  It wasn’t because they didn’t “accept him as their personal savior.”  Rather, they never met feeding, clothing, or visiting someone in need.  Eternal life with Jesus just can’t be found on its own!

Also, consider Luke 18:9-14.   In this parable, the Pharisee is praying in church.  He’s praising God, grateful that he is not like that tax-collector.  Of course, the tax-collector is crying out to God.   He is a sinner.  In their world, the Pharisee is righteous while the tax collector is not.   The Pharisee keeps the law.  He’s religious.  He’s “saved.”  We can all talk all we want about how we’re all sinners.  But, it means nothing if our relationship with Jesus drifts toward self-righteousness.  Today, neo-pharisees are secure about their place in heaven, separating themselves from others who are not. 

But, what about eternal life!? 

Eternal life is the inheritance of a life of faith in Christ Jesus.  This is certainly biblical.  But, seeking eternal life for yourself – for its own sake – is misguided, at best.   At worst, it’s idolatry.  In my experience, motivation to save your own soul from hell is a sneaky motivator.   It takes the world’s self-interest and projects it into the eternal realm.  Jesus slowly disappears from the center.  Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, faith in Jesus gets distorted.  It becomes rationale for an undercover self-centered faith.

Here, reading the bible (and not just quoting from it) comes to our rescue. 

The Gospels and Paul’s letters are constantly either quoting or dealing with giant themes of the Old Testament.  Without the Old Testament, Jesus makes no sense.  (Neither does Paul.)  The Old testament provides the background to understand salvation.  Without the Old Testament, it is near impossible to understand Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ministry.   Moreover, the Old Testament is the testimony of God’s covenant walk with a people.  

So, here’s my point:  Salvation through Jesus Christ is about the salvation of the world, of people.  It is about life together, not just about individuals.  In short, salvation is deeply personal, but there is no personal salvation.

Our walk with Jesus, as personal as it is, is never separate from our walk with others.  If you read Luke 4:16-20 (Jesus’ ‘mission statement’) or Matthew 5-7 (Jesus’ sermon on the mount), it is easy to see that everything “personal” about following Christ is inevitably entangled in our lives with others.  

It’s true.  At some point, we meet Jesus on our own.  Many have a spiritual encounter.  Some desparately seek God during a moment of bad decision, guilt, or when they face death.    These are decisive moments.  They are deeply personal.  I believe God’s grace covers them all.

But, Christian faith isn’t about personal salvation.  The point of Christian faith is not getting “saved,” if getting saved means getting a little piece of heaven for myself.  If we take time to actually read the bible, a whole other story begins to unfold.  God seems on a desparate mission: to bind up the broken-hearted, to bring good news to the poor and oppressed, to release prisoners, to bring to earth what is in heaven.  This isn’t a self-centered or heaven-centered faith, but an earth-bound faith for life together. 

Faith is a movement that brings God’s grace, God’s justice, God’s peace, and God’s Kingdom into the world.  This is salvation.  Old Testament prophets call it Zion.  In the New Testament, his name is Jesus.  Either way, we’re all in it together.  No body goes it alone.

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Revelation, Ongoing

Ongoing revelation.   It’s the idea that God continues to reveal to us – to humanity and to all the world.  God’s will, God’s Word, God’s purposes – even who God is! – continues to unfold.  It’s the idea that breaks open all hopes of having a closed, fundamentalist, or unchanging faith or religion.  No matter how chosen, how special, how endowed – none of us can fully behold God and God’s ongoing purposes.   Ongoing revelation is a conviction that affects our very idea of God.  It is central to our Restoration tradition, our faith, and the idea of restoration itself.   

All of life, all human understanding, all religions, all beliefs, all churches, all ministers, prophets, and doctrines are partial.  They are incomplete.

Even if Jesus is the full revelation of God’s love and Kingdom among us, somehow, there is more.  Jesus Christ is the way, truth, and the life (John 14:6).  As such, who Jesus is unfolds into how we understand our relationships with others.  Ultimately, Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection unfold into history.  They open up new revelations to us:  new revelations of ourselves, of life, and community.  This is where we restoration-types open up our imaginations to Zion: a new community, a city, a people.   

Revelation is onging.  That is why the restoration is not over.  That is why our faith is not finished.  That is why we are a movement.  That is why we still live in scriptural times. 

Ongoing revelation.

 

God, not Church

As I woke up this morning, it was 4:30am.  I could just see the blue of the morning sky out of my east window facing Lake Michigan.  I was unable to sleep well this morning.  My mind was busy with things that need attention in Chicago Mission Center. 

I’ve been in my role as Chicago Mission Center President for three months now.  I continue to learn alot.  While I expected to have challenges, seeing the challenges the church faces from this side of things has had a real impact on me. 

I believe in the relationship between theology and practice.  One of the things that called me back to full-time ministry was the opportunity to have one foot rooted in the spiritual practice of theological study, while another foot anchored deep in realities of the church.   (…and balancing all that with the demands of fatherhood!)   I’ve remained active in church most my life, so I knew there were disconnects between belief and practice there.  But, I continue to be amazed at the gap that exists between much of what we claim as a denomination and what really motivates us as a people, especially in many of our congregations.  The problem is not just that “we talk the talk, but don’t walk the talk” thing.  Sometimes, I’m not sure I even hear “the talk.”   There’s a lot going on here, and getting a good understanding of what’s really brought us here is no insigificant challenge. 

An insight came in a Pastor’s meeting we had yesterday.  In that meeting, a number of the pastors talked openly about the responsibility they feel in their roles as Pastor.   It wasn’t just that being a pastor was a big responsibility.  It is.  Bu, what they were getting at is how much depends on them just to keep the church running.  Whether it is just keeping services going, visiting the sick, or trying to organize youth or outreach ministries, so much of the responsibility of the church falls to them.  I sensed the felt a tremendous amount of obligation and pressure.  And, I empathized with them!

Church has become “the reason” why we do so much of what we do in the church.  To take a step back, it’s fascinating what kind of spell “the church” can have on us.  And, ironically, it’s equally amazing how immune so many people outside church are to that spell!

While I know there are exceptions that prove the rule, I think one of challenges we face in Community of Christ congregations is precisely this question of the connection between theology and practice.  What do we profess?  What do you really believe?  How do we live out that belief?  What really motivates us?   Answers comes up when we take a real inventory of where our daily and weekly commitments lie, where we make our sacrifices, and where our emotional investment really is. 

What’s really at the heart of it all ?  An institution we want to see survive, a tradition, a building?  Or, the Spirit of new life, the Living movement of God-with-us?   Church, or God? 

It’s a spiritual question, and reflecting on it takes a certain amount of courage.  Why do we give our lives to the church?  Is it our congregation, our identity, the campground, or the profound experiences we had in church as an adult or young person?  Or, are we grounded in a relationship with God?  A Living God?  

For many of us in the church, I think we can give our answer too quickly.   Struggling with this question is difficult.  Honesty about it, I think, can be devastating.  It’s a question that takes us into a real and living tension.  Yet, it is crucial that we know the difference, that we can keep God and church distinct. 

Who Jesus was provides a profound insight, here.  What was Jesus’ relationship to “the church?” 

Happy Birthday

Dear Katy,

Seven years ago, you came into the world and changed everything for me.   Life is a miracle, one we now share.  Watching you grow is watching a miracle in the making. 

You’re impulsive and affectionate.   It’s obvious God created you with a big heart that is only happy when its generous.  You’re playful and assertive, sensitive and messy. 

I love the way you sing and pray and draw pictures.  I love the way you like to be in-charge and how much you’ve grown this year with your reading.

I’m proud of you, Katy.  You’re my delight, my heart, and my baby. 

Happy Birthday….Dad.

Blog Thought

So this is my first blog post for Matt Frizzell Online.  Welcome.

I’m some kind of sojourner, father, critic, and theologian.  I believe in the power of thought. 

Thinking = freedom.  Not “truth” or “reality,” but freedom.   I follow the Frankfurters on this. (If you’re familiar with Critical Theory, you’ll know what I mean…if not, no worries).   I believe critical thinking and self-expression is a powerful act of faith and indignancy.  It preserves subjectivity by putting into action, you might say, that freedom of the individual human spirit. 

Critical thought is also a discipline, an act of love.  Therein lies its connection to faith. 

As some kind of aspiring theological thinker, I think about God, life, and life-together out of a feeling of deep conviction.  Theology makes thinking an act of faith.  In the case of God-talk, critical thinking is an an act of love: loving with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.   

The life of the mind cannot live apart from the soul.  Criticism and contemplation, marinating in meditation, and reading and writing, all reach beyond themselves and express our heart’s passion for life and clarity.  To think or believe that the mind, body, and soul are separable or exist separately is bad religion, a bad fantasy, or poorly spun myth.  Minds without souls and thoughts disembodied are just abstract ideas, out of touch and incapacitated by its own detactment from life and the living. 

So, to think is to love.  To theologically think is to do so passionately.   Such thinking is always some kind of testament.  

So there you have it.  My first post.  Gotta run.