Friday Forum: The Economy of Salvation
The Friday Forum on the blog is my attempt to answer any question, however ridiculous, that readers of the blog pose. It is my attempt to make this space a little bit different. I blog on topics related to the big ideas of culture, education, engineering and theology. Feel free to ask your questions!
Once again, I’m looking at a Friday Forum that invites my perspective across divergent Christian traditions in a way that makes me shudder. Disclosing one’s theological thoughts often invites disclosure of personal perspective that you do not typically volunteer in polite company. Incidentally, today the question invites considerations that highlight some of the understandings present in various Protestant traditions. I think it is only fair to spread the ecumenical love, and my good friend Aideen asked this particular question.
So, much like last week, we’ll start with an official disclaimer: In no way, shape or form am I trying to represent the mind of the Orthodox Church on this topic. I will offer exclusively my thoughts from my own observations that have been undoubtedly shaped by authors I have read and my own experience. People who have a better handle on the official sources on this question are welcome to offer their perspectives in the comments. I invite correction.
This week’s question is “Is salvation a one-time event where someone is permanently saved?” I think this version serves as a starting point of the question “What about once-saved, always-saved?”
Now, incidentally, this theological tenant emerges in a range of variant contexts that color the issue. One place this belief surfaces regards assurance of God’s mercy around sin. Someone is obviously beside themselves over something they have done that they believe separates them from God’s mercy. A well-meaning friend assures them that they do not need to seek salvation again, because once they have received salvation for the first time, then they never need to receive salvation again. The core issues actually present in this issue regard forgiveness and sin. Being distressed over one’s sinful condition is hardly something possible capable of separating us from God. Most commonly, this distress causes us to fling ourselves in God’s general direction. Not a bad reflex. And indeed, in the Creed we confess one baptism for the remission of sins. We do not get baptized over and over and over again each time we become increasingly aware of our sinful state.
Another place I see the concept of “once-saved, always-saved” invoked is in the context of a funeral. Generally, people are distressed over the untimely death of a loved one. They assert that they know that someone is in heaven because the person received Christ to be their Lord and Savior at a rally years before. The questions here concern love and grief. When confronting death, people often say things that otherwise have limited space in their theology. I encounter so many people grieving the death of a loved one who say things like “We know Grandma is with Jesus.” This concept has limited manifestation elsewhere in their doctrine as many of my friends are mortified over the possibility that Saints are resting in Jesus. But I think this statement actually points us to some helpful ideas when considering the economy of salvation.
Most people assert that they know Grandma is with Jesus because they know their grandmother to be a person who absolutely, positively loved the Lord with everything she possibly had. Stories of her commitment to Christ abound and fill the family with a joyful memory of her life that they can truly regard as eternal. Whatever the agony existed at the end of life, a clear commitment to Christ remains where it simply makes sense to assert that Grandma departed this life in friendship with Christ.
Consider a marriage. When a person enters a marriage, there usually is a definite beginning to that relationship. Most of the time, people recall many beginnings: the first meeting, the first date, the first “I love you,” the first kiss, the engagement, the ceremony, the first moment they “felt married.” to name but a few. Yet, there do exist things in this world that can tear down a marriage. It is possible to for a marriage to end; Christ Himself even permits divorce in the case of marital unfaithfulness.
But again, considering a marriage, there are a lot of intermediate steps that happen before someone is sleeping with another person. There are even things that are honest mistakes. Sometimes a spouse does need to apologize. Sometimes a spouse is not quite himself or herself because of illness. Love and forgiveness are part and parcel of a loving human marriage, to say nothing of the demands placed on Christians who are married. Marriage, while it has a beginning, definitely speaks to the idea of continuance if it continues to be a marriage.
Against this backdrop, it does not strike me as odd in the slightest that a person desiring baptism in the Orthodox Church is asked quite pointedly three times, Do you unite yourself to Christ? And when we consider ourselves as marrying the Heavenly Bridegroom, we do have the assurance that He is not going to be the one to leave.