Salvation and The Glory of God's Grace

“What must I do to be saved” asked the Philippian jailor when he saw the deliverance of Paul and Silas. [Acts 16:30] Proud, but curious Nicodemus pondered our Lord’s instruction, that he "must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God." [John 3:3]

The Older Testament, as well, speaks to this theme throughout. The prophet Isaiah faithfully reports God’s call and command, “Look unto me and be saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none else.” [Isa.45:22] Our Creator, at the dawn of history, stated the antithesis, declaring that He would thrust enmity between the seed of the woman and the serpent’s seed. [Gen.3:16] He promptly gave direction in the approved manner in which He could be sought by men.

It is an absolute necessity for all Christians to measure and monitor their personal response to this obligation. Only modernists and liberals console themselves with the busywork of environmentalism, psychology and social projects. Indeed, if owls and whales need saving, how much more the likes of sinful men?

Salvation, the spirited theme of all men everywhere, inevitably assumes bizarre form and adaptation. It is the hoop and cry of rogue and politician, as well as academic or man-in-the-street. Religion frequently is practiced in twisted ways and with a diversionary liturgy. It typically features social or environmental consciousness as a faith. Industrialization or wealth are portrayed as the work of the devil, while the thinking man is the called, the anointed one who must confront, save and preserve.

The natural man much prefers his own concerns, a do-good mentality, saving the world, rescuing everything, living the fantasy of himself a liberator and not needing God. Thus, the idea of salvation is all around us. We must be clear about its meaning.

Mechanics
In Church history, how a person becomes saved has been seen primarily in two ways. Churches usually are found in either the Sacramentalist or the Evangelical camp.

Sacramentalist Practice
Sacramentalists receive the sacraments as the transmission of a measure of God’s grace portrayed. Baptism is regeneration, not merely a hopeful representation. The Holy Spirit actually works in the administration of the rite. Salvation is celebrated as being fed by God when the communion meal is eaten. Divine mercy comes primarily through the sacraments as the means of grace. An individual conversion experience is not really sought or expected because the sacramentalist sees this as a work of God, not primarily the act of the will of man. Membership in the church is somewhat automatic or based on mere assent.

Roman Catholics, high Lutherans, Episcopalians and Eastern Orthodox believers make up the bulk of this camp. They say that a person’s faith is lived mainly within the boundaries of the church. Application of biblical doctrine is not pressed as a life-changing concept. Evangelization of others is not a key goal. If the second coming of Christ is believed, it is not a subject of great concern. The details of this event are left rather vague.

There is regard for the Holy Scriptures, but one that accompanies a great respect for tradition and church practice. Here, the liturgies remind us of ancient Hebrew practice, with beautiful vestments to appear in God’s presence, repeating of sacred words from the Bible, the fire and smoke of incense that signifies the prayers of saints ascending to heaven.

We also perceive in manner, architecture, and music an overarching reverential concept of God upon His throne. Veneration of the things of the Lord is also suggested by the outward stability of these denominations. The inner fruits of the souls of men are not as easily seen.

Evangelical Practice
Evangelicals believe that one’s faith should shape behavior. Worship on the Lord’s Day is more of an instructional experience, not quite so focused on the sacrament. This preaching is a tutoring for holy living day by day, in all phases of life, as Saint James has said, that we must “prove ourselves doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” [Ja.1:22] James also admonished us that “just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” [Ja.2:26]

The sacraments are received as a memorial of the Savior’s death and as the sign and seal of His presence. Reformed Christians usually profess a greater dependence on the sacraments as a means of grace, although wide differences of understanding of the sacraments may exist among evangelicals as a group.

The second birth is seen as essential for salvation. This means that some kind of experiential phase or spiritual encounter needs to happen. To this end, evangelicals have a lot of concern for evangelism and missions. The Great Commission, proclaimed in Matt.28:18-20 is central to the preaching of the gospel.

Evangelicals believe in Sola Scriptura, and try to base all doctrinal understanding on this presupposition. The Word of God is complete and absolute. Custom and tradition play a lesser role than with the Sacramentalists, although personal likes and dislikes may be cherished with iron-clad tenacity.

Church membership is reserved for professed believers and is founded on a confession of personal faith. This key requirement may be more or less strict in the various churches. Those who are covenantal receive children born within covenant bounds into the church, but still look carefully for a living confession as the family grows to maturity.

Evangelicals are made up mostly of Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and other Protestant groups.

Application
Are these camps absolutely exclusive? Do they enjoy no agreement whatsoever, or might there be something each can learn from the other? We think that much can be learned from both and that the Lord has maintained His truth throughout the ages.

Reformation Church and the Salvation of God’s Elect.

  1. It is essential that we begin with Sola Scriptura. There can be no other and no greater source for knowledge and understanding. God has spoken with absolute authority. We must bow to that Word and Command.
  2. It is our understanding that in the Word of God alone is found the genesis of personal faith. For example, the Word tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” [Rom.10:17] God is pleased to make primary use of Holy Scripture in the matter of saving His people.
  3. We believe that the second birth is essential. Having said this, we acknowledge the inherently personal nature of this matter and that the Bible gives no particular pattern as to how it happens. While a few spectacular conversions are recorded in the Word, most are not noted or came about gradually with little dramatics. It remains obvious to us that the gospel of Christ possesses such a potency and the change within our hearts is so significant that the event cannot go by unnoticed.
  4. Our participation in the sacraments is much in line with the sacramentalists. We are fed weekly by our Lord. We thankfully and joyfully take our places at his table. We are completely dependent on the nourishment and blessing that is imparted to us in the Supper.
  5. Church membership is required for participation in the sacraments. This represents our commitment to Christ as a part of His Holy Bride. Under the Covenant of Grace we include our children and suckling infants at the table, just as in Israel of old, little ones were not excluded, but were given the Passover meal.
  6. Evangelism is important to us because our Lord made it plain that it was and is His chief means of reaching and calling the elect to Himself. God is able to save in many ways, but is especially pleased to make use of the preached Word. [Rom.10:14-15]
  7. As saving faith brings immediate justification and peace with God, [Rom.4:24-5:2] so the Scriptures, in company with the work of God’s Spirit, bring about actual change in our lives. We expect God to sanctify us through the preaching and reading of His Word. In practical terms this means that our tastes and desires begin to lean more toward Christ and find a lessening interest in sin and disobedience. Our thoughts and pursuits also are put on a new footing, one that finds pleasure in God instead of in the things of self and the world.

Statement
The Church, with all its astonishing vastness and diversity, does have it right. There is truth in both the Sacramentalist and the Evangelical views of how to be saved. People must look to God in personal faith, which is His gift. [Eph.2:8-10] There are steps we can take to seek and find the One with whom we have to do. God’s Spirit is not idle, but moves constantly in the hearts of His elect to cause them to seek the face of Christ.

It is our job as a church to help in any way we are able. Our preaching and teaching ministries are commissioned by God to present His Word. Our careful administration of the sacraments is intended for the glory of Christ and for the discipline of the church. The mission efforts we support through tithing and giving are in obedience to Christ’s command.

Your Questions Are Welcome
You are most welcome in our midst. Your questions and inquiries will be valued and appreciated. We count your interest and presence as a blessing of God’s providence. Clarifying, with certainty, our place in the sight of God is the most important matter in life. It is our prayer that we can seek His face in fellowship together.

Joining in Membership
We heartily invite you to join with us in membership. This can be accomplished by means of transferring membership from the church in which it presently resides or by profession of faith in Christ in supportive conference with our congregation’s ruling body, the session.

A transfer is usually accomplished by asking the pastor to write a letter of request. This initiates an orderly process by which the watch care of one church is officially conveyed to the other. Making a profession of faith is a more personal process and one that makes for the special delight and encouragement of our pastor and session. It is begun by speaking to the pastor about a visit. The main points that form the basis of our confessional membership are listed below.1

  1. Do you believe the Bible, the Older and Newer Testaments, to be the very Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?
  2. Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you scorn and humble yourself before God, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself, but in Jesus Christ alone?
  3. Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord and do you promise, in reliance on the grace of God, to serve Him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to mortify your sinful nature and to lead a godly life?
  4. Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church and, in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to receive and heed its discipline?

Endnotes:

  1. Trinity Hymnal, Great Commission Pub., Form for public profession of faith in the church.
 
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