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Thursday, July 23, 2015

There's No Salvation Here (or is there)

The Church of the Nazarene is not really evangelical.  Stay with me.  Maybe this is why we get to article #9 before we talk about the crisis moment that so many people understand as conversion.  But read carefully, because the language in this article is not the language we use in everyday encounters.  There's something so much more.  There are some things I would like to expand, but even as it is written; justification, regeneration, and adoption are not about "getting saved".  In fact, salvation is not even mentioned in this article.

IX. Justification, Regeneration, and Adoption

9. We believe that justification is the gracious and judicial act of God by which He grants full pardon of all guilt and complete release from the penalty of sins committed, and acceptance as righteous, to all who believe on Jesus Christ and receive Him as Lord and Savior.

9.1. We believe that regeneration, or the new birth, is that gracious work of God whereby the moral nature of the repentant believer is spiritually quickened and given a distinctively spiritual life, capable of faith, love, and obedience.

9.2. We believe that adoption is that gracious act of God by which the justified and regenerated believer is constituted a son of God.

9.3. We believe that justification, regeneration, and adoption are simultaneous in the experience of seekers after God and are obtained upon the condition of faith, preceded by repentance; and that to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness.

(Luke 18:14; John 1:12-13; 3:3-8; 5:24; Acts 13:39; Romans 1:17; 3:21-26, 28; 4:5-9, 17-25; 5:1, 16-19; 6:4; 7:6; 8:1, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 2:16-21; 3:1-14, 26; 4:4-7; Ephesians 1:6- 7; 2:1, 4-5; Philippians 3:3-9; Colossians 2:13; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 1:9; 3:1-2, 9; 4:7; 5:1, 9-13, 18)

In an earlier post about atonement, I considered skipping ahead and combining these two articles but thought better of it because of the sometimes ignored material in-between.  And yet, here we are, now discussing not what atonement is but what it does.

Justification - What a funny word to use.  I can remember hearing this described, in a clever play on syllables, as "just... as... if... I'd" never sinned.  What does that really mean?  Because we're human, and I think our understanding is, perhaps, a bit limited, we return to this concept of guilt and punishment.  If we are justified, we escape the consequences of our sin.  Don't misunderstand, please.  If "the wages of sin is death" (see Romans 6:23), and I think it is since that's Scripture, then we clearly need atonement.  No one wants to pay those wages.  No one can afford to pay those wages.  But, in light of all of my recent work on confession, penance, and repentance; I'm not sure that atonement really makes things as though the sin had never happened.  If I stop to think about our definition of original sin, it seems to follow that there is no moment at which we had never sinned.  This would essentially mean that justification is actually "just... as... if... I" never was, and I'm not sure we really want to go there.   

Of course, if we want to take another step and consider the common, non-theological definition of justification, it is "the action of showing something to be right or reasonable."  Why did we choose this word in connection with sin?  In many ways, I think that using this terminology actually makes sin much more palatable.  Who wants that?  I completely understand the desire to make sin and all of its consequences magically disappear.  Believe me, I get it.  I understand it from the perspective of one who has sinned... grievously.  I understand it from the perspective of one who has been sinned against... also grievously.  I understand it from the perspective of one who desperately longs for corporate confession and systemic change, and I understand that I am a part of the problem.  Justification, for me, is just too easy.  Making things right with God, through Jesus, is essential, but we are way too comfortable with this, "just... as... if..." the only thing that matters after that is what happens to us.  Perhaps, even more than justification, what we need is the ability to both give and receive forgiveness, because sin has happened, sin does happen, and calling it what it is and dealing with it is much more redemptive than pretending it doesn't exist or ignoring its effects. 

Regeneration -  I like this word, because it fits so nicely with renewal, restoration, and redemption.  After doing some very quick research, I found that in the world of science, regeneration also carries with it the property of resilience, and I love that for more reasons than I currently have time to get into.  But what we say here, in the article, sounds a little at odds with itself.  I continue to struggle with the idea that we are completely incapable of faith, love, or obedience, in any way, pre-regeneration.  The prefix, "re," means again, or even again and again, or sometimes to go back or to return to something that once was.  To be regenerated, then, is not so much to be made new but to be restored or made right.  I think we get wrapped up in original sin and we forget that there was a time when God looked at us, created Imago Dei, and called us good.  Regeneration, then, is to be returned to what we were created to be.  How can we accept this, however, without some capacity for faith or love?  My inclination would be to tie this, tightly, to prevenient grace.  The grace that goes before and draws us close is, then, the beginning of the salvific process.  But we have such a difficult time framing salvation in anything more or less than a crisis moment.  This is problematic in many ways, but perhaps especially so regarding regeneration which both requires and imparts faith.   

Adoption - I'm pushing back against this definition, because I have quite a few friends who became parents, through adoption, and I can't think of a single one who required something like justification or regeneration before their children were fully accepted and declared a part of their families.  Of course, I also have difficulty dealing with images of a loving parent God who would readily accept eternal separation from children, sending them into a state of eternal, conscious torment.  I'm a mom.  I'm a loving mom.  I can't think of anything in all the world that one of my children could do that would cause me to inflict that kind of punishment, and I know I'm not a more loving parent than God.  Just think that through for a moment.  Is our adoption as children definitively contingent on justification and regeneration?  Maybe, but if we want to accept this language, then I think we absolutely must acknowledge prevenient grace as the beginning of justification and regeneration.  This is much more about what God does than what we do.  After all, what child chooses his or her parents?  It's just not the way family is created.

"Justification, regeneration, and adoption are simultaneous."  That's a little bit hard to swallow, given the strong preceding language that seems to make justification and regeneration prerequisites to adoption.  But what if we began to look at these concepts through a slightly different lens and accepted them as simultaneous but not instantaneous.  Perhaps this is not as linear as we have imagined.  Perhaps this is a process that goes on and on, without end, as we continue to be those who seek God.



  1. As is no surprise, I'm especially grateful that you are helping us to think about "salvation" as more than mere crisis experience as contemporary evangelicalism has been so prone to do. When we narrow salvation to conversion, we miss the broader strokes of the world being made new, the Kingdom breaking into the world, and things being made new, all in expectation of the eschaton.

    Much worse, our Nazarene parlance has drifted toward "saved and sanctified" language to refer to 2 crisis experiences, when this is really not the biblical vision at all, and draws us further into parochialism and further away from the biblical language and narratives.

    1. "When we narrow salvation to conversion, we miss the broader strokes of the world being made new, the Kingdom breaking into the world, and things being made new, all in expectation of the eschaton." Yes! This is really important.

      I'll be touching on sanctification and its relationship to holiness next week...