Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus - Woe to you, you brood of passive, shallow learners! You bloggers!
Sep. 10th, 2003
03:11 am - Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus
mostly a reposting from old blog, comments on joining the church, i'm still working at moving stuff to LJ, so this is a good opportunity.
plus since the issue has come up, i ought to interact with the ideas to see if 6 months has modified my position.
this remains a big issue.
Phil is the only reformed pastor that preaches exegetically in tucson, afaik.
i am consciously trying to exercise the ideals i learned while writing these essays and we continue to attend church and to take the sacrament at this church.
a very good article, you ought to read it long before you look at my scribblings.
A Sixth Sola?
By John R. Muether
Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. There is no salvation outside the Church. In the good old days of American religious warfare these were perhaps fighting words for many Protestants, as they smacked of the mysterious and repressive haughtiness of Catholic sacerdotalism. Today, claims of the Church's exclusivity seem quaint and inconceivable, not least among Roman Catholics themselves, who are given to speak of even atheists being "anonymous Christians," and Eastern Orthodox and Protestant communicants as "separated brethren." Such incredulity testifies to Americans' ignorance of church history, because the statement goes back to the ancient Church. Nor are such claims the exclusive property of Rome, because they were frequently invoked by the Reformers. Beyond historical illiteracy, such claims' incoherence betrays the biases of our anti-ecclesiastical age.
Simply put, there can be no Christian life apart from the Church, according to the Reformers. No one can come to faith alone nor live by faith alone. Our faith is not from the Church, it is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). But it comes through the Church, through whom the wisdom of God is made known (Eph. 3:10).
But what did the Reformers mean by the Church? It is rightly claimed by low church Protestants that the Reformers developed the distinction between the visible and invisible Church in part to refute the sacerdotal claims of Catholics. The invisible (to us), universal Church is "the whole number of the elect" from all ages (WCF 25.1), the "church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven" (Heb 12:23). The visible Church consists of confessing Christians and their children (WCF 25.2). The latter, of course, contains sinners and hypocrites, and is thus always, in this age, an imperfect embodiment of that Church visible only to God.
This distinction is often misunderstood, and contemporary interpreters in evangelical circles make more of it than the Reformers intended. The Reformers never suggested that the visible Church was of little or no importance. As the manifestation of the invisible Church to the world in time and place, the visible Church, though imperfect, remains the true Church, because it displays the marks of the Church. And it is the only Church that we can see and with which we can have fellowship. We have no Gnostic recourse to any other church than the visible Church.
a link to follow up searches at:
here is another post on the same topic:
Monday, December 09, 2002
So what�s the big deal?
So what if once again I don�t fit? A round peg ought not to try so hard to be square.
It just confirms that sinking feeling that I really don�t belong anywhere.
The problem is that I am not cut out of a whole piece of cloth like most people seem to be. They are liberal or conservative across the board, from the marrow of their bones to the edges of their skin. Me, I�m like frankenstein�s monster, sewn and stitched together from numerous books and endless late night talks with people from all over. Most people take a system and run with it for their entire lives; if they change, it is a complete changeover to a new system. The cost of looking at each piece, to be often in internal limbo, and the high cost of inner inconsistency is too high a one for most of us to invest in. except apparently me. I was too religious for a secular university, too scientific for a seminary, too smart to sharpen lawnmowers, to dumb to stick it out in grad school. And now too intellectual to be a church member. It was one thing to tell me that I didn�t have the outer call to go into the church as a teacher but I�m never heard of the bar lowered to membership before. I must really be upsetting people. Sad thing is I don�t know how or with what.
The long term fallout will be with the kids however. After making a big deal that going to church was not optional, that all that mattered was good preaching, they now are simply amazed at the events. I wouldn�t be surprised if we can never get them to church again, this being the issue they will raise if we try. That is sad. For like Christ the church is divine and human, unlike Christ is is a mixture of the two and will make mistakes. I can only dream of what the last 25 years would have been like if the church had only encouraged us a little, rather then so bluntly closing the door. And now the door appears to be closed a little more, not on me but on the kids lives. Some how that is a little sadder then even seminary�s deep, longsuffering sadness.
Some would say just go to a liberal church, with their high tolerance principle they will tolerant a mixed bag conservative far more that a conservative church will tolerant another conservative with liberal leanings. Again back to first principles, all that matters in a church is true biblical preaching. The liberal church is not biblical. Liberals raise reason too high so it reigns over faith, while apparently conservatives can fear reason so it overrides their faith�
posted by richard 9:58 AM
yet another short thought
about church membership
clarify the issues about the local church.
distinction between the visible and invisible church.
the image of the church universal invisible through the ages, across all human cultures is that of the body of christ, or sometimes as the bride of christ. images first of solidarity and then a lead in for the discussion of the gifts of the spirit to the church.
so why join a local visible church? clearly commanded, forsake not the gathering together as some are apt to do. and the confession's neglect not the means of grace and outside of the church there is no normal salvation. so christians are not generally saved to be lone individuals but saved into a local community. why? what is this fellowship of the saints? why bother? i can read my bible, study just fine by myself, besides i can move a lot faster without having to slow down for other people who haven't spent the time learning the issues? it has to be more than just a way to control behavior, to root out heresy, to enforce community standards. it may certainly involve those things but if limited to these then the church is join another voluntary organization with normal group dynamics etc. but the images of body and bride are much higher, much more evocative than a book club discussion group. something else must be obtainable.
take another direction. as human beings, most of us need to belong, need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. certainly this need is highjacked by evil groups with their own agendas to remake human nature and to reshape the world with their organization's power. i expect more from the church then this however. i also recognize that shared goals, shared work make for lighter loads, more joyous working conditions, and getting much more accomplished.
so maybe this is the entry point for the discussion of the gifts given to the local church in order to accomplish it's task. the church has a job, a mission to do, and the local church is the immediate context for the doing of this work.
so that the image of the body is one of unity in diversity, one of purposefulness of an organization amidst the multiplicity of individual goals. so that would go a long ways to explaining why under normal circumstances christians are calling into a local body. because the exercise of various gifts feed off one another, no one is complete individually but all together have an adequate talent pool. interesting idea. one size really does fit all.
immediate issue to cause these ruminations is the denial of church membership for me, and as a result of that to alma. guess my desire not to get hurt from her errors cuts both ways sometimes. first question is if i have done something wrong? have i opened my big mouth again and said something wrong? always a possibility with me i am certain, but i dont believe so. usually practice the rule of don't speak unless spoken to. but just to make sure i will double check myself before opening mouth. watch the words more carefully. take the words spoken that the session just doesn't know me well enough to heart and just wait a few months to see how things unwind, or windup.
trouble now becomes the issue needs to be stepped up to a study question in my life to see what is going on. now that the issue is before me i will not be able to rest until i have explored the topic well enough to settle my mind. and i am sure this will take time and effort.
plus making it a big deal with the kid's command performance to attend is going to really backfire. calvin and justin are convinced that the church is some kind of cult and alesha just said, overqualified again huh. just like the years of fruitless job searching. so the long term fallout will be the drop in credibility of the church with the kids. something them will have to work out for themselves if the issues occur in their lives.
so maybe i can go to sleep now, with the ideas committed to electrons...
here is the first letter i sent to the elders:
Phil called and expressed a concern that my faith might be overly intellectual and not a true saving faith. How do we know?
To answer the question I need to know me, what am I, how do I perceive myself?
I am conscious of being two different kinds of things, hooked and tied together. Mind/soul/spirit and body. Something physical and something else, the body seems clear enough, it is the mind/soul/spirit that gives me the most difficulty. I am somehow conscious of looking outward from myself, through my eyes; the thing inside (behind those eyes, inside that looks out) appears to consist of two distinctly different types of consciousness. I call them intellect/reason/mind versus emotion/feelings. I do not know where the words come from that I think, I do not know where the anger I far too often express comes from. I am only conscious of images that give this dichotomy body. The most common image I use is of a stormy sea, with the waves breaking high into the air. My emotions are the sea, my intellect the air above it, I am suspended just above the water, often the sea engulfs me and I am filled full of emotion, but most of the time I am in the intellectual sphere, in the air, I can see the water, often feel it but am anchored in the air. I know both parts: emotion and intellect together are me, my mind. But I am also conscious of the power of that lower part, and choose to live primarily above it, in the relative safety of a more intellectual life.
This is the way I like to perceive myself, striving to be like Mr. spock, always far above the water, in the completely intellectual air, inhabited by the birds flying far above my head. But I know the emotions are me, just as the intellectual part is me. I distrust these seas; I see them as the source of most of our human troubles. Emotions are unbridled, uncontrolled, undisciplined, and free to wreak havoc. I know they are the motivators, the push, and the magma for the volcano�s eruption. It is their strength, their explosive character that I fear. Control of these emotions is important, but denial will only increase their strength and unpredictability.
Reason/intellect is the tool we are/have to do this controlling. The bridling of passion, the channeling, the sublimation, of emotion is part of the job for reason. Its other purpose is planning, forecasting the future and providing for it. I prefer to live in my world dominated by books, by reason, by intellectual discourse. I don�t like music; don�t understand art, suspicious of passions of all types but the driving passions to put it all together, to understand, to grok it all. Just a preference based on my perception of myself as an emotional being liable to get in trouble without reason�s careful continuous control.
So given these image of self, what is saving faith and the roles of intellect versus emotion?
Saving faith is not mere intellectual assent, but a wholehearted trust in God. You say you know Jesus is the Son of God; you do well, for even the daemons know his name and tremble. So ask an easier question first, how do I know I love my wife and my kids? Is love just this mushy feeling that I want to be with her? This general feeling that somehow I would rather have the kids around to watch them investigate the world? To prefer their company to that of another? If we introspect the answer, if we look inside for what is love, we are misdirecting the question. We need to look outwardly, at what our actions are, for they betray our real feelings, the real us. We are too easily deceived by our inner nature. Deceiving our actions is much harder for they take so much effort over a long sustained time. What we really believe, what we really care for will come out in the long run as a desire to see the object of affection taken care of. I know I love my wife, not because I am faithful to her, but because in the long run, day after day I am concerned with her welfare, I care about her. The faithfulness is a secondary effect that I would not wish to hurt her with unfaithfulness. Like pretty is pretty does, love is seen as outward appearance of consistency with that love. I do the love I feel.
I believe the American church is infected with a disease that can only be called easy believism. Some how the church has come to believe in a magical incantation of words that bind salvation to us. The appeal of this easy believism is to the emotions. To get people into heaven we cast an appeal to their hearts to utter the currently in vogue mantra to open the door of heaven. I don�t believe it. I understand that the power of sin is throughout our beings. I don�t believe that my intellect is any less tainted by sin than my emotional matrix, but I have tools in the reason/intellectual sphere to control sin�s effects. My emotions do not seem to have a set of controlling tools, they just are, they just bubble up. I can modify them when I can see them, but I bet it is the emotions that I am unaware of, that work under conscious level that are the most important, as well as the most potentially damaging. As a result of this thinking I base my appeal of scriptures, of God�s word primarily to the intellect.
But that doesn�t answer the question of how I know my faith is truly saving faith and not mere intellectual assent? Because of the outward way I work out my salvation with fear and trembling. My feelings of love and trust in God cause me to desire to please Him. I asked to join the church for one reason: outside of the church there is no ordinary means of salvation, neglect not the means of salvation. I intellectually know the confessions points but until I act upon them, until I do the things that demonstrate the inner man, I myself do not know what I really believe. I am not by nature very friendly, I deeply dislike hugging, and I am uncomfortable with any conversation that doesn�t begin with a quote from my latest reading. I do not desire church membership to be around people, I really am uncomfortable most of the time in company, but God said neglect not the means of grace�Hey gang, do what you�ve been told to do. If you believe then the behavior will be modified to fit what you believe.
Trust in God as revealed in Jesus His messiah, begins for me in intellectual exploration of what the two books of God: scripture and nature reveal to us about God. But it doesn�t end there; it extends downward into that vast sea of emotion, into that cauldron of lava that we call our emotional selves. It anchors itself into changed emotions that are not natural to us, emotions to love, to trust, and to rely upon God not just for provision of our physical bodies but also for hope that He will continue to fix the problems that are us. That He will show me where my ideas are wrong, and cause the motivation to explore, to investigate, to love the world He has put me into. This is not because I uttered some magical words to invite Him into my life, it is solely because He changed a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, something inside loves Him and desires to please Him. Just as I know I love my wife because I try to harness and control the anger that I express towards her, tells me that I am unsatisfied with me because she suffers. I change me to conform to her expectations. Just as I change my reasoning, that most precious to me, to conform to what I believe the scriptures teach, because I love Him I try to keep His commandments.
So how do I as an arid, overly read, pretentious, hope to be intellectual know I have a saving faith? By works, I do the things that I know are consistent with God�s expectations of me, not because they will save me, but because of the gratitude inside for what He gave me. First, life itself, second hope of life to come like Jesus arose from the grave, but mostly the hope that He will work within me to do His good pleasure to recreate me as a pleasing creature in His sight. It is the long-term desire to love God that betrays the inner man as saved, I do things to please God; just as I do things that I do not want to do to please my wife. But for me each step starts with buying a new book�
posted by richard 2:11 PM
here is the second letter i sent to the elders:
Dear Phil and Elders
It is hard to understand just how difficult the last four weeks have been since you rejected my application for church membership.I suspect it will end up being one of the most critical events in my life. I write now to you less in a defensive manner trying to justify the internal turmoil I am going through than as a means towards self explanation, self examination to try to begin to understand what is happening.
It would be simple if it were simply an issue of very thin skin, for I am aware that I have a very low tolerance for rejection. For I can remember my first job clearly and the fact that I was fired for moving too slowly. Or my next where I was terminated for trying to do too much, for moving too fast. Rejection may supply some of the motivating emotional nexus but it is not the major issue.
I was surprised and overjoyed to find your church and the biblical preaching it contains. I believe that preaching is analogous to the inspiration of scripture. How is it that the Bible is the very word of God? Somehow God breathes into scripture through the medium of its writers� minds and hearts exactly what He means to say for all of time. This is a great mystery at it�s roots, but part of the answer must be that He used the mental apparatus of the writers, the culture of the times, to relay a message not just to them but to all subsequent readers. Now I don�t underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to follow alongside the words, to give them meaning. But there is certainly something special about the process of inspiration. In such an analogous way true biblical preaching, inspired by the words of Scripture are effective to our souls. Causing us to reform and align ourselves more fully with the very word of God. Phil has such preaching and I was conscious that this was the first time since our pastor Ed left for Detroit and denominational work that I was under such biblical teaching.
My only criterion for a church is biblical preaching. That is why going to a liberal church is simply out of the question. It would be easier for a liberal church to tolerant a religious fundamentalist/conservative that apparently a conservative with a scientific attitude has in a traditional church. But I find this a poor solution because of their attitude towards the Bible. It is no understatement that the words of the confession, �outside of the church there is no ordinary salvation� echoed in my mind due to the preaching I heard there.
No rejection is not all of the answer, but it certainly enters in. For this rejection echoes the major rejection of my life in seminary. There too I was conscious of telling God here I am send me, and in response the church said no, like you have done.
I was in the last year of UCSD, applied to graduate school and during a crucial examination a very important professor told me that there was no place in the scientific community for a religious fundamentalist like me. So I looked for the window that proverbially opens when doors are shut, I found it in the foundation of Westminster West only a few miles from UCSD. So I finished my biochem studies and took Greek, Hebrew and Bible in preparation to going to seminary. While in seminary I was struck by the fact that I was again on the outside, this time my scientific background alienated me from my fellow students. I was almost too scientific for the theology I was learning. I settled the problem then as I do now by understanding that the church is a repository of knowledge and that conflicts with received doctrine bear an enormous burden of proof to show themselves consistent with the faith once received by the fathers. In this way my studies have always lead to conservative conclusions despite my often reading of �the other side�. It was asking the church for the recognization of the outer call that troubles came. It is the echo of that rejection that rings so strongly today with your rejection. So I do not have the outer call to preach nor now a faith sufficient to convince anyone that I belong. This is sad to me. For in many ways the rejection of 20 years ago only recently ended for me.
That rejection ending the seminary years lead me to concentrate of simply living. Literally getting the kids to adulthood, sacrificing my desires to study to the need for an income. Three years ago I worked 42 hours per week while attending the university fulltime. You cannot imagine the tiredness of routine 48-hour days, with only a 1-hour nap to try to keep the mind alive. I fell asleep leaning against a wall, sitting in a chair, so that I had to keep moving at work all the time. I did this for 5 years. But it was better than 8 years on the road in a school bus with 6 kids looking for a place to park safely, a place to work. So when my mom killed herself 2 years ago, the inheritance was heaven sent to free me from the economic compulsion that had driven me for so many years. I used the time to study. I worked through the issues surrounding my folks deaths, worked through many of the ideas of my own mortality, in general worked on the backlog of thoughts from seminary time onward.
Three summers in China encouraged lots of thinking in that direction, so Alma and I talked seriously of moving to China and teaching English there while learning Chinese and studying Chinese culture. Alma has a much lower tolerance for novelty than do I, she when confronted with the choice, choose to stay here, work at her university job, and eventually retire. So I this September I reluctantly closed the door on further travels to China and looked for opportunities here.
I was encouraged at finding a good church with opportunities to service inside of it. For I am conscious of things I want to share, things inside I want to discuss with like-minded people. I don�t have an outlet for this activity and it is important to me. That is why I volunteered to work on the church�s home page. I would love a need driven learning curve to sharpen my mind, to drive my creativity, to give me an outlet to write.
But your rejection stops all these thoughts. Turns everything inward once again. God knows how important these issues are to me. Why did He reject me? I don�t know. Perhaps it is because my ideas of God are wrong. So I will pursue liberal theology again, reading Bishop Sprong lately helps this wound heal, maybe it is my expectations that God would miraculously intervene, would put me into a place to express myself that might be in error.
My first desire was never to apply again for church membership, even maybe never again to enter a church. To solve the problem of the pain by denying the issues that caused it. I drove for 4 days this week through the northern mountains, with the expressed desire to settle the issue so that I could resume some resemblance of a normal life. For the inability to solve the issue is tearing up my marriage and making me impossible to live with. But like my often stated goal to fast, which never seems to extend more than a couple of days, my initial scream that if you don�t want me than I don�t need you is immature and self defeating. So how do I handle the situation?
I am going to withdraw inside again. Pull in the feelers that were bruised. Study, sell off my books, rebuild my house and build a nice kitchen, which above all else is my wife�s fondest desire. I cannot go back to the church, for the one thing of importance; the preaching is tainted now by my feelings of rejection. They act as a screen between God and me so that I cannot hear the voice of God when I see uncertainty and rejection in the face of His spokesman. They will forever color any relationship possible there. An unfortunate result indeed. It is sad that I have been condemned always to a life of looking into the window from the outside. Never belonging, never wholeheartedly accepted by those we share the deepest things with. But I guess I better get used to it.
Please accept this letter as a way to explain myself to you. Phil told me on the phone that it was necessary to get to know me better before extending the right hand of fellowship. Accept the letter in this vein, a self-exploration addressed to you all. I will post it to my blog at: http://rmwilliamsjr.blogspot.com/ where I post most of my ramblings.