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The Fast Food Version of Christianity vs. the Gospel

November 27, 2011 1 comment

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    In our modern American culture, we have everything at our fingertips. We can go online on the internet and pay our bills without ever leaving our homes. We have microwave ovens that can cook our meals in a couple of minutes or even less. There are fast food restaurants that can provide us with a hot sandwich, French fries, and a drink almost immediately after we have paid for them. We live in a fast food culture. Our need to have everything at once has influenced theology and evangelism.
   What has developed over the past two or three hundred years in America and Canada is a fast food version of Christianity. This version of Christianity has become very popular with the vast majority of church-goers. It is so popular that most of its adherents know which verses in the Bible to use to prove this doctrine. Whenever they are confronted with the true teaching of Christ, they immediately quote one of their pet Bible verses which they believe teaches instant salvation.
   “We are saved by grace,” one will immediately say and then quote Ephesians 2:8,9. Another will quote St. John 3:16 thinking that having faith is all that Jesus ever really taught pertaining to salvation. The rest that He taught, according to many such instant-salvationists, was to make us more aware of our sins so that we can just only believe and then “get saved.” Romans 10:13 is often quoted by many thinking that calling on God for salvation is all that one needs to do. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” they quote, not knowing anything about how this verse has been historically interpreted since ancient times. These are a few of the pet Bible verses that are often used by the instant-salvationists.
   What about St. Matthew 5:20? “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” One interpretation that I have heard from the instant-salvationists is that our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees when we are justified by faith. Historically, however, this verse has been interpreted to mean that unless we live our lives better than the scribes and Pharisees we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
   What about St. Matthew 7:21? “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.” One interpretation of the instant-salvationists is that believing in Christ is the will of God and the only thing we really need to do. However, there are plenty of passages of Scripture that indicate that the will of God is more than merely having faith in Christ. Jesus Christ claimed that He did the will of the Father. (St. John 4:34; 6:38; 8:29) He told us to follow Him. (St. Matt. 8:22; St. Mark 8:34; St. Luke 9:23; St. John 8:12; 12:26, etc.) So then, whenever we live our lives the way Jesus lived His, we are doing the will of God. In the Epistles of St. Paul, the apostle mentions two things that are specifically God’s will: abstaining from sexual immorality (I Thess. 4:3-5) and thanking God in all circumstances (I Thess. 5:18). Every commandment of God expresses God’s will, too. So, believing a few things Christ taught to be true or trusting Christ to save us from our sins are only a couple of things that we must do in order to be doing God’s will, but they are not the only things we should do.
   The Pelagian heresy says that we can save ourselves without any help at all from God. Pelagius taught salvation without grace. He said that a man can keep all of God’s commandments without ever having received the grace of God. The antinomian heresy says that keeping God’s commandments are optional and unnecessary for salvation. “Only believe,” says the antinomian. “If you fall into sin after having believed, you will lose your reward but not your soul,” he also says. The antinomian teaches justification by dead faith alone. (Read James 2:14-26 to see what our Lord’s brother says about this kind of faith.) In contrast to these two heresies, the Orthodox faith teaches us that we are saved by the mercy of God, but we must still keep God’s commandments. The Orthodox faith is neither Pelagian nor antinomian.
   St. Paul taught us to have a faith that works by love. (Gal. 5:6) He said that love is obedience to God, “the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 13:10) He cautioned the Corinthian Christians about being deceived into thinking that they have a license to sin.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (I Cor. 6:9,10, KJV)

He cautioned the Galatian Christians about sowing to the flesh, that is, doing the works of the flesh mentioned in Gal. 5:19-21.

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Gal. 6:7,8, KJV)

He even told the Galatian Christians that if they practice the works of the flesh, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:21)
   One of the things that man lost in the Fall is the likeness of God. We regain the likeness of God as we continue to strive to keep His commandments, not by merely believing certain things to be true. We, of course, need God’s help in order to keep His commandments. (St. John 15:5) God helps us through prayer (St. Matt. 7:7-11; Heb. 4:16; James 4:2) and the Sacraments (Rom. 6:3-7; Titus 3:3-8; St. John 15:4,5 along with St. John 6:56, NKJV).
  Historically, people became Christians by first being catechized and then they were admitted into the Church by giving them the Sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist. What has happened in our modern American society is that some other version of Christianity has developed without having any contact with the traditional apostolic faith that has been handed down in the Orthodox East. The need for pastors to show their followers results has led to a watered down gospel which is not the Gospel of Christ at all. It is a convenient gospel to which many will flock. It is the fast food version of Christianity. “Get your salvation in five minutes. Read these five Bible verses. Believe them as I have just interpreted them to you. Pray this prayer. On the authority of God’s Word, I now pronounce you eternally saved.” That is what the instant-salvationists say.
    Jesus said a lot of things about salvation. The error in all of this is thinking that one verse like St. John 3:16 or Rom. 10:13 summarizes the Gospel message. Jesus taught us a way of life. Having faith in Him is part of that way of life. Receiving the Sacraments is also part of that way of life. Prayer is part of that way of life. Repentance of sins and obedience to God are part of that way of life, too. The whole Gospel is not expressed in one or two verses of Scripture.
   In the same chapter where St. John 3:16 occurs, there is also a discourse about the need for baptism by our Lord with Nicodemus. (St. John 3:1-8) In the same chapter where our Lord says, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent” (St. John 6:29, KJV), our Lord talks about the need of “eating His flesh and drinking His blood,” that is, receiving the Eucharist. (St. John 6:53-58) Whenever we believe in Christ, we believe what He taught. If He said that we must be baptized and we are not baptized, then we should seek to be baptized. If He said that we need to receive the Eucharist and we have not received the Eucharist, then we should seek to get the Eucharist. If He said that we should not lay up treasures on earth but in Heaven (St. Matt. 6:19-21), then we should start doing things for which God will one day reward us. If He said that those who do God’s will shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven and those who only pray but live unrepentant sinful lives shall not (St. Matt. 7:21-23), then we should strive to obey God’s commandments and please Him. Having faith in Christ means believing what He taught and living our lives as if we really do believe what He said. Faith without works is dead. (James 2:26)
   I have looked through the Church Fathers to see how they interpreted Romans 10:13. They interpreted it as meaning that we should be keeping a daily rule of prayer. Those who pray daily and frequently are those who will be saved, not those who have prayed only once and believed a few Bible verses.
   Whenever we Orthodox talk about salvation, we are talking about more than just having our sins forgiven. We are also talking about acquiring the likeness of God through union with His energies. We are talking about cooperating with God by obeying Him.
   We are not saved by faith. We are not saved by works either. Both faith and works are important for our salvation though. We are saved by the mercy of God. However, we must still follow Christ’s teachings and example. We must still believe certain things about Him to be true. We must still trust Him to save us from our sins. We must trust God to forgive our sins at our baptisms and also whenever we repent after having sinned after our baptisms. (Acts. 22:16; I John 1:9; Rev. 2:5) Salvation is a paradox. We cannot earn it, but we must still work for it.