02 – Nagging questions
I’m a preacher’s kid. Church was a 24/7 proposition for us. And I’ve worked for churches and church organizations most of my adult life. For those two reasons, I’ve had the privilege of knowing some of the finest Christians ever to walk the face of the earth.
I had grandparents who laid a foundation of faith. My own parents are two of the most genuine, most selfless servants of Christ I will ever know. I’ve had godly friends and co-workers – too many to list. There were Christian teachers in my various (public) schools who were the only caring influence some of my classmates knew. There were long-suffering teachers at church who put up with way too much nonsense from a smart-alecky preacher’s kid. (All of whom need to know that “what goes around” did indeed come around, just like you said it would!)
As a preacher’s kid and, later, a deacon, I also was in a position to see the less-ideal aspects of church life – ranging from curious sights, like the organist who made a point of balancing her checkbook during the sermon, to appalling glimpses of the seamy underbelly of the Christian religion. You know the stories: a lay leader who cheats customers at his store, a member who loudly mutters a racial slur in the hearing of little children as they get off the church bus, a treasurer who skims the offerings, a church pianist with a barely secret drinking problem, a boys’ Sunday school teacher who takes members of his class on “camping trips,” a youth pastor who takes sexual advantage of a moonstruck teenage girl, a pastor who corners women in a basement storage room, the deacon chairman who for years had been the epitome of warm-hearted Christian servanthood until he suddenly became obstinate, controlling, harshly critical, and habitually unlike Christ.
The good news, of course, is that Christ died for all our sins – past, present, and future. I grew up trusting – and still trust – the promise that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 KJV)
I treasure the assurance that “my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29 NAS)
I grew up in churches that believed, in the words of the great reformer, John Calvin: “Once saved, a person is always saved.” We always talked about salvation in the past tense: “I was saved when I was 6.”
While some church members sniffed at the waywardness of others, I understood no one can say for certain that any other sinner is beyond God’s grace. I can’t see into the depths of another heart – sometimes I don’t even understand my own. I don’t know what future revival of spirit God may have in store for anyone. I certainly can’t see what happens to anyone beyond the grave.
When I finally got around to really reading the Bible for myself, however, I was struck by the way God spoke to the Israelites when they became obstinate. I was stunned by all the things Jesus had to say about disobedient sons and trees that didn’t bear fruit. And I trembled at the thought of what happens to willful sinners who “fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31 NAS)
The more I read, the more Scripture I discovered that was ignored in both pulpit and classroom.
And I was left with nagging questions:
What sort of person is it who “drinks the rain” and is “tilled” for God’s sake, yet “is worthless and close to being cursed, and ends up being burned” because he yields only “thorns and thistles”? (Hebrews 6:7-8 KJV)
What does it mean that “the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers”? (Luke 12:46 NAS)
What is the difference between those “who shrink back to destruction” and those “who have faith to the preserving of the soul”? (Hebrews 10:39 NAS)
If a Christian is “once saved, always saved,” why are there dire warnings in the Gospels that are directed to the disciples – and in the epistles that are addressed to the congregation?
If I was saved at 6 and want nothing more today than to faithfully serve Christ, why am I also keenly aware that it is easy for me to betray him – and why does God’s Word seem to tell me that such a betrayal could be an irretrievable insult to the one who died to set me free?
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