Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Reception of Salvation

As noted in an earlier post I recently participated in the eighth Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue of the United States. The session met October 1-4, 2009 at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

We produced an Agreed Statement of Convergence on the topic The Reception of Salvation. While the statement is a little awkward in form it represents a strong consensus on the gift of salvation.

By our common faith in Jesus Christ we acknowledge and hold as essential to the gospel these life-giving truths:

In the mercy of God, salvation is offered and received in Jesus Christ. While Evangelicals teach that justification is the imputation of Christ’s alien righteousness and Catholics teach that justification entails the infusion of sanctifying grace by which divine righteousness inheres in Christians, both traditions believe that all those who are in Christ are righteous on the basis of Christ’s work for us and that their natures are transformed through the regeneration and sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Thus while our particular doctrinal heritages regarding justification, regeneration, and sanctification differ considerably, the comprehensive picture of these expressions of divine grace, taken collectively, allows us to join together in the following affirmations:

We affirm that due to Adam’s sin, the image of God in human beings has been marred, resulting in estrangement from God.

We affirm that through faith in the saving death and resurrection of Christ, God graciously justifies the ungodly and regenerates them, imparting to them new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

We affirm that this new life includes participation in the divine nature, growing conformity to the image of Christ, love which is the bond of perfection, and
freedom from sin’s enslaving power.

We affirm our hope of Christ’s return in power and glory, the resurrection of the body, and the ultimate glorification of those who are in Christ.

We affirm that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the inheritance of all Christians empowering them to bear witness to Christ in service and mission to the greater glory of God.

We affirm that the Holy Spirit, the Master of the interior life, both bears witness to those who are in Christ that they are children of the Father and graciously guides them in spiritual practices so that they may come to the full measure of the stature of Christ.
These spiritual practices include those enjoined by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6): Prayer—those practices that nurture our communion with God; Fasting—those practices that discipline the self in the following of Christ; and Almsgiving—those practices that direct us in love to our neighbor.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Conversation with Wade H. Horton

Wade Horton was one of those larger-than-life figures in the Church of God. He was prominent in World Missions, served as a State Overseer, and as General Overseer from 1962 to 66 and again from 1974 to76. He actually spent a total of 14 years on the Executive Committee of the Church. When I entered the ministry (1973) he was the champion of holiness, the leading “conservative” in the rising battle over the “practical” teachings of the church. I admired him for the passion and clarity with which he preached. Later, my respect increased when he returned to a local church pastorate after his tenure on the Executive Committee ended in 1976 rather than maneuver into a plush political appointment.

In 1984 I moved to Cleveland to serve as Minister of Education at the Westmore Church of God where Brother Horton’s son David was serving as Minister of Music. Shortly thereafter Brother Horton entered full retirement and moved back to Cleveland. A brief time later his other son, Wade, died suddenly. It was during that period of grief I made a couple of pastoral visits to his home and had my only conversations with the giant of our faith.

We were sitting in his living room the day before his son’s funeral when Brother Horton began to speak of his concerns for the Church of God. “They’re going to destroy us. They’re after three things: holiness, the tithe, and our government. They’re after holiness now, watering down the teachings. If they get that they will go after the tithe of tithes next and cripple the church. Then they will go after our centralized government. They won’t stop until they have destroyed the Church.” I didn’t ask who “they” were and he didn’t say. My impression was that he viewed them as misguided rather than malevolent, misguided but destructive none-the-less.

I have thought often about that brief conversation. The General Assembly did re-write the Practical Commitments in a way that maintained their essence but ultimately diminished their influence. Most Church of God members have no idea what we teach about the Christian life. Holiness is no longer central to our shared identity. Last year, the General Assembly set in motion the reduction of local church support for the denomination by one third, forcing major restructuring and redirection in coming years. And, as he predicted, centralized government is now openly being challenged by some.

As Wade Horton sat on his couch grieving the death of his namesake he also grieved the pending death of the church he had loved and served for decades, the church that had been for him the church of God. In his convictions the church of God could not exist without holiness, church order, and shared mission. While I may not agree with him on the particulars, I am convinced Wade H. Horton understood well the patterns and pitfalls set before our movement. His question remains, will the Church of God be the church of God or will we disintegrate into some lose affiliation of congregations void of a passion for world evangelization? To this I add another, has the desire to be the church of God already died and if so have we not already ceased to be the church?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Evangelical/Catholic Dialogue

I was in Minneapolis Thursday through Sunday for the Catholic/Evangelical Dialogues (USA only). I enjoy the fellowship and theological discourse.

This dialogue was interesting and frustrating. The topic was “salvation.” The Evangelical paper was presented by Glen Menzies (Assemblies of God) and the Catholic was presented by Ralph Del Colle. We focused on the central point of division during the reformation, “justification.” The frustrating part is that the evangelical team (there were seven of us) was trying to dialogue out of very diverse traditions while the Catholic team has a well established script of doctrines from which to speak. The 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification issued by Lutherans and the Catholic Church was a starting point but it was the declarations of the Council of Trent that governed the Catholic positions.

The main sticking point is that out of the reformed traditions Evangelicals understand justification as a forensic (legal) act of grace whereby God declares the sinner righteous, i.e., imputes righteousness to the unrighteous. It is a gift from God (grace) and is received by faith alone. Justification is the bases for regeneration and sanctification. For the Catholics justification embraces all of life in Christ and focuses on the transformation of the believer rather than the declaration by God. There is also a sticky point on the concept of “merit,” i.e., in what sense are the saved made worthy of life in the presence of God.

We came up with a brief and I think insightful statement of points of divergence and convergence. I will post it when I get the final copy. However, as a Pentecostal I find the Reformed forensic position somewhat stilted.