Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A dialogue: "Is Jesus the Way?"

The Los Ranchos Presbytery has a discernment page for their people as they face the changes in the denomination.  It is both unique and a great example for other presbyteries. Recently they provided a dialogue between Laird Stuart, Teaching Elder and  member of the Covenant Network, Jack Haberer, Editor of the Presbyterian Outlook and Dana Allin a Teaching Elder who has recently left the PC (U.S.A.). 

There are several videos and perhaps it is not fair to present just one video since they are talking about three issues, the authority of Scripture, LGBTQ issues and Jesus as the only way of salvation. To me the Christological question is the most important, although the other two issues feed into that one. But I am profoundly interested in the opinions of others including my readers on this issue. Andrew Purves is quoted as the person who refers to  "the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ,"  and if you listen to the whole video you will know why I refer to him. (I believe that is an important term-it covers all we need to say)

I would suggest going to the You-Tube site and listening to all of the videos, but in particular the three videos that feature each guest separately. They are all kind, polite and informative.  

I do want to make several comments about the dialogue. Haberer insists that Old Testament saints were saved without knowing Jesus Christ as savior. In a sense he is right, but I think that is too simplistic a way of putting it. Their faith was not just in God but in his promises. Haberer refers to chapter 11 of Hebrews the great faith chapter and speaks of those who waited for the fulfillment of the promise, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. (Heb. 11:39-40). But we need to look at another place in Scripture where this is clarified.

As Calvin points out when he is writing of the Sacraments:

Since the apostle speaks in no higher terms of the one than of the other [the sacraments of the Old & New Testament], when he says the fathers ate of the same spiritual food, and explains that that food was Christ (1 Cor. x.3.) who will presume to regard it as an empty sign that which gave a manifestation to the Jews of true communion with Christ?[1]

Calvin also insists that in either Testament there is no true sacrament that does not either “shadow a promised Christ” or bears “testimony to him as already come and manifested.”[2] It is Christ who saves, and his sacrificial death whether by promise or event is the reality of the Old and New Testament.

The writer of Hebrews explains that Moses chose to suffer with the people of God, rather “than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” The author writes:

All these died in faith without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb 11:13)

This issue is the ultimate issue—if you comment here do it politely and kindly.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, reprint, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1989) Book iv. Chapter xiv., 23.
[2]Ibid, 20.


Anonymous said...

Jack makes a point I have heard many orthodox believing members of the PCUSA make---that if the PCUSA ever does deny the unique saving Lordship of Jesus or denies the authority of scripture they would leave. I have made similar comments in the past.

But then I read a blog by Dr. Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, that clearly shows such a time has come.

Instead of my trying to further summarize an already short (3 page) blog I will simply link to it here and encourage all who hold the view Jack makes in the above video to go and read Dr. Trueman's blog.


Matt Ferguson
Hillsboro, IL

Viola Larson said...

Thank you for the article, I just read it. It is good but I have some problems with it--some stay because God has told us we must for now. I could go on, I don't want to because that was not why I posted the video and wrote. I hope for some discussion on the topic of Jesus as the unique savior. And I think that is a topic we all must consider. I will write more on it later.

Kevin T. Smith said...

As one of the speakers so well stated in responding to Haberer, the Old Testament saints were saved through faith in Christ, the Messiah who was to come, just as we are saved by faith in the Christ who came.

As Jesus said in John 8:56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." Abraham was justified by that faith, as Paul so adequately describes in Romans 4.

Related to Haberer's discussion of the end of Hebrews 11, I will let Calvin respond with his commentary on those:

...the context clearly shows, that what is intended here is the difference in the grace which God bestowed on the faithful under the Law, and that which he bestows on us now. For since a more abundant grace is poured on us, it would be very strange that we should have less faith in us. He then says that those fathers who were endued with so remarkable a faith, had not yet so strong reasons for believing as we have. Immediately after he states the reason, because God intended to unite us all into one body, and that he distributed a small portion of grace to them, that he might defer its full perfection to our time, even to the coming of Christ.

And it is a singular evidence of God’s benevolence towards us, that though he has shown himself bountifully to his children from the beginning of the world, he yet has so distributed his grace as to provide for the well­being of the whole body. What more could any of us desire, than that in all the blessings which God bestowed on Abraham, Moses, David, and all the Patriarchs, on the Prophets and godly kings, he should have a regard for us, so that we might be united together with them in the body of Christ? Let us then know that we are doubly and treble ungrateful to God, if less faith appears in us under the kingdom of Christ than the fathers had under the Law, as proved by so many remarkable examples of patience. By the words, that they received not the promise, is to be understood its ultimate fulfillment, which took place in Christ, on which subject something has been said already.

Viola Larson said...

Thanks Kevin,
Excellent quotes and thoughts.

Jack Haberer said...

Thank you, Viola, for highlighting my address along with those of Dana and Laird. It was great working with them -- both of whom I've counted as friends for nearly two decades, and to be moderated by Jerry Tankersley -- one of the greatest evangelical statespersons in the PC(USA) (one many tall steeple pastors consider a key mentor).

As for the points mentioned, I'm a Calvinist, to be sure, but first and foremost, I'm a Bible man. I'm no more willing to read into a text ideas of my own imagining than I am willing to cut out unwanted verses (a la Jefferson). While we Jesus-only evangelicals love to spout that Old Testament saints believed in the atonement of Christ before the fact, the Bible itself does not support that, except in a few rare individuals -- maybe. I dare say that Isaiah might have gotten it -- chapter 53 suggests so. Moses possibly, given his teachings on the tabernacle sacrifices. Maybe Abraham, given his willingness to sacrifice his son. But Enoch? Noah? Isaac? Jacob? Joseph? The exodus Israelites -- who subsequently were condemned to die in the wilderness for their lack of faith (Heb. 11:29)? Rahab? Yeah, Rahab the prostitute whose supposed act of faith was that of welcoming the spies? That's what she did for a living, wasn't it? And Gideon, and Samson?

Folks, give me chapter and verse to substantiate your claim that they believed in the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ, and I'll defer.

What's more, nobody has mentioned my reference to 2Sam. 12:23 -- David's affirmation of salvation for his deceased firstborn son via Bathsheba, namely, "I will go to be with him, but he will not return to me." Fact is, while his theology of eternal salvation probably wasn't fully developed, given that most of our theology of the same comes from the New Testament, nevertheless, the "Man after God's own heart", the author of so many Psalms, believed he was going to join his deceased son in eternity. And, by the way, the boy died on his 7th day, and so was not even able to be circumcised -- he lacked Israel's ordinance equivalent to our Christian baptism.

Also, I don't hear anybody referencing our pastoral experience of performing funerals for infants. If one must confess Jesus to be Savior and Lord in order to be saved then there can be no exceptions -- not for infants, not even for aborted pre-born children. Absolute prerequisites are absolute prerequisites. Even one exception means that they are not absolute prerequisites. There can by no exceptions to absolutes.

If we're going to say, instead, that the need to confess Jesus as Savior is the NORM, the standard -- but that, as in the case of most norms, there can be exceptions, as in the case of persons dying without having the intelligence with which to believe or disbelieve -- that would not eliminate the norm as a norm, but in the matter of salvation that, ultimately and finally, we're saved not by our own confession but by God's grace as made available by Christ Jesus -- who indeed is the only way of salvation. -- which, by the way, methinks Calvin would attest.

It is not my faith but Christ's grace that saved me.

All that to say, when a Presbyterian Panel survey asks church leaders if they believe that only believers in Jesus can be saved, that's not equivalent to asking if Jesus is the only way.

Ask me if Jesus is the only way of salvation, I shout YES!

Ask me if people can be saved apart without believing in Jesus, I shout YES again.

And so to interpret the Presbyterian Panel question about "belief" into be a claim that so many Presbyterians do not believe Jesus to be the "only way" of salvation is not an accurate or responsible way to interpret the survey.

Kevin T. Smith said...

Dr. Haberer, Thanks for responding. You have made two assertions of your beliefs at the end of your post in your "Ask me" section.

(1) Jesus is the only way to salvation

(2) People can be saved apart from believing in Jesus.


I hope that most of us agree with (1) - there are clear, straightforward verses in the Bible such as Acts 4:11-12 and John 14:6 that support this clearly and succinctly.


1. In support of your second assertion (2) that people can be saved apart from Jesus, Can you provide clear Biblical evidence that anyone saved in the Old Testament did not believe in God's promise of the coming Messiah? Can you explain who was saved and who wasn't?

2. In your support of (2), you reference 2 Samuel 12:23 - "I will go to be with him, but he will not return to me". I admit that I am puzzled by how this proves his son's salvation.. But if David indeed meant this, is there any Biblical evidence that David had the gift of knowing who is saved and who isn't?

My concern is that without clear, Biblical evidence that anyone is saved apart from belief in Christ, the strong Biblical evidence for your assertion (1) would put your assertion (2) in doubt..



Viola Larson said...

Jack, thanks for responding. First of all I understand that you believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation. I did not deny that.

But I was concerned that with your answer to the question you were putting too much distance between the saving work of Jesus and Old Testament saints. No I don’t believe that they were confessing Jesus either, how could they possibly understand the incarnation. But your answer implied—I don’t think you meant it to—but it did imply that their salvation happened without the work of Christ.

And I want to add two thoughts here. Given that the denomination is in a debate about the uniqueness of Jesus I think the answers we give need to cover the questions that are in the minds of most. If the Old Testament saints were not saved because of Christ then what about the other peoples of the times? I believe you made your answer to simplistic so that others could hang their false assumptions on your thoughts. The salvation of the Israelites before the coming of Jesus was nonetheless full of Christ, would be empty without meaning if Christ wasn’t the fulfiller of the promises. They could not be saved without trust in the promises of God which were filled with and about Christ whether they understood that or not. I was bothered because you did not make that distinction.

But now to clarify a little more, neither they nor New Testament saints, which includes us, can come to Jesus in faith unless we are led there by God. And yet it is confessing Jesus that places us in him. (Romans 10)You are right it isn’t our confession that saves us it is Christ, but if we have not and do not confess him we are not in Christ.

And then I just have to say something about Rahab-because you did-and the way you put it: ) Rahab’s act of faith was hiding the spies. But her confession of faith was the important part of the text. Richard Hess in the Tyndale Commentary even puts it into a chiastic structure, something I will not go into but her ultimate confession grounded in her knowledge of the history of God’s work on behalf of the Israelites, is “for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Coming from the mouth of a heathen that is a mighty confession. She had heard of the work God had done on behalf of the Israelites and that is really what Christ is about, he has worked (lived, suffered and died) on our behalf)
But back to the point, I simply believe that Christ should be more clearly linked to the salvation of the Old Testament saints. And I also believe it should be more clearly stated that, and if you want qualifiers I will put them here, adults must have faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved-although the confession is there because Christ has saved them. The paradox must be expressed carefully.