The Five Fingers of Salvation: Forgiveness

Not long before she died in 1988, in a moment of surprising candor in television, Marghanita Laski, a well-known British secular humanist and novelist, said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”  (John Stott in The Contemporary Christian.)

Forgiveness. It seems so desirable, yet sort of old-fashioned.

Isn’t it better to be “unforgiven?” Doesn’t this make us stronger?

In Walter Scott’s five fingers of salvation, the first three were “Faith,” “Repentance,” and “Baptism.”

The fourth finger for Scott was “Remission of Sins.” He was using a old English word from the KJV, “remission,” which means “release.” It was a term used in the business world to describe the release from debt or obligation. It is ironic that the word has now migrated to the medical world, and means “release” from an illness as in, “My cancer is in remission.”

A better translation for us today is “Forgiveness.”

What is Forgiveness?

Psalm 32 is sometimes called a “Penitential Psalm,” meaning a cry of repentance. This psalm was the favorite of St. Augustine, whose ideas of sin, repentance, and forgiveness have influenced the church since the fourth century:

 Psalm 32:1-2 A psalm of David,
Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

St. Augustine, who loved Psalm 32 so much, was always conscious of his status as one who had been forgiven by God. He was once asked why he loved the psalm so much and answered, “The beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner.” We begin by acknowledging that before God, we are sinners. This is a move of faith (finger one). We respond to this knowledge by asking for God to forgive us. This is the move of repentance (finger two). When our hearts have repented, we are washed in the waters of baptism (finger three). Then we may truly experience God’s pardon, divine forgiveness.

David gives three ways of describing the blessing of divine forgiveness:

  1. Forgiven has the sense of released. It is like taking a bird out of a cage and tossing it into the air, allowing it to be free.
  2. Covered has the sense of being hidden. Both the sin and its effects are no longer on display. The cause for embarrassment is put away. God no longer sees us as sinners. We are freed from even the reminder of our sin.
  3. “Whose sin the Lord does not count against them.” This has the sense of a debt forgiven, a bill cancelled. It would be like your credit card company calling and saying that someone else had paid your bill.
  4. And the result is “no deceit,” NLT: a “life lived in complete honesty:” a new, clean slate, a fresh start, a record wiped clean.

Forgiveness in the Bible

Jeremiah 31 is one of the most startling prophecies concerning the New Testament, the era of the church. It speaks of this in terms of a “New Covenant,” a fresh start for God’s people.

Jeremiah 31:34 

No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Jeremiah foresaw that this would be a time when God’s people have knowledge of him in their hearts, each and every one of them. And here’s why: they will know they are forgiven people. The New Covenant is the Covenant of Forgiveness. The New People of God are the Forgiven Ones.

We, the church, the New Testament people of God, are transferred from the darkness of sin to the Kingdom of the Beloved Son, for we have been forgiven.

Walter Scott Revisited

On Walter Scott’s “Hand of Salvation,” all five things are essential. But none of them is more key than this one, the ring finger.  Unless I am forgiven, I am not saved! Faith alone will not save me. Repentance by itself will not save me. And certainly, Baptism as a merely ritual act has no saving power. I am saved when I am forgiven. I am free from the penalty of my sins only when God releases me from that penalty. I am free because he has set me free. That is the new covenant, the promise of forgiveness.

We can be freed from the bondage of sin, the sin that separates us from God. We can we washed clean, have a new start in our relationship with God. Forgiveness means we are no longer enslaved by sin! We are free. We have been released! We have been given a new life! We are saved!

A Step further: We can forgive others

In the world without Christ, there is a huge need to experience forgiveness, not just from God, but from each other. Remember Marghanita Laski: “I have nobody to forgive me.” Oh yes, you do! This is what the church is all about! Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer that if we ask God to forgive our sins, we must be willing to forgive others.

If you are unwilling to forgive others, you will never feel completely forgiven.

Do you have remembered injustices, times when your heart was hurt?

Have people wronged you and never apologized or even hinted they were sorry? They don’t have to apologize for you to forgive!

Forgiveness is “letting go.” Let go of those things that have haunted you, that have embittered you, that have disabled you emotionally, that have even paralyzed you. Accept God’s forgiveness, freely offered to you, and give it to others. Let the church be the “Fellowship of the Forgiven.”

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being willing to forgive us, rebellious sinners who have disobeyed and ignored you. Help us to feel released from sin, forgiven from its horrors, and then forgive others. Fill our hearts with forgiveness. We pray in the name of the one who forgave sins while among us, Jesus the Savior, Amen.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

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The Five Fingers of Salvation: Baptism

Large Question: When do we become a Christian?  If a Christian is one who is fully committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when do we go from being non-committed to being committed?

For some, this is a problem of growing up in the Christian faith: We have no conversion experience to give a testimony about. We don’t remember ever not being Christian. We might be the most desperate asking, when do we become a Christian? How do we know for sure we are Christian?

Modern Solutions

  • Sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus into your heart. Problem: this is not what Peter says when asked, “What must we do?” Acts 2:37-38.
  • Gift of tongues: when received, you are a Christian. Problem: this is not a supported by the New Testament in any conclusive way. The New Testament gives evidence of Christians who did not speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30).
  • Some type of dramatic spiritual experience. Problem: the only real example in the New Testament is Paul.
  • Join a church. The problem seems to be the medieval belief that the bishop was the church and there no salvation outside the church, therefore the bishop/clergy controlled both who was a member of a church and who was saved.

Biblical Pattern

The New Testament pattern is Very Simple. It is BAPTISM

Baptism is the Church’s rite of commitment to Christ.
(Jack Dean Kingsbury)

There are lots of misunderstandings about baptism in the Christian world today. In the 2,000 years of church history, baptism has been distorted in many ways:

  • Misunderstanding #1: That proper baptism is something other than full immersion in water. In changing this, the primary significance of baptism is lost and the baptismal experience is diluted. The early church understood the importance of going under the water fully, the symbolic bathing of every part of the body. It also likened this to a burial, of being buried with Christ. The symbolism is rich and deep and is watered down when we sprinkle or pour water on the head.
  • Misunderstanding #2: That babies should be baptized as a remedy for their sin. This misses the most important finger in Walter Scott’s hand of salvation, the thumb: FAITH. Baptism is a response of faith. The New Testament knows nothing of proxy baptism based on the faith of the parents. The New Testament knows nothing of baptism as a magic bath that washes away the curse of original sin.
  • Misunderstanding #13 That baptism is a way of joining the church and has nothing to do with my relationship to the Lord. In this, baptism is like taking the pledge to become a Rotarian or undergoing hazing to be part of a football team. I never baptize anyone saying, “I baptize you so that you can now be a member of our church (as long as you tithe).” I say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of your sins.”

And despite these distortions, let us not throw out the baby with the bath water. Baptism is a watery act with deep symbolism. Baptism is closely related to the forgiveness of sins. And baptism does open the doors for becoming part of the body of Christ, a member of his church.

If baptism is such a great thing, why do people resist being baptized? Why are people unwilling to be baptized by immersion as adults, the pattern of the New Testament? Here are reasons I have encountered in ministry:

  1. No one has ever asked them. Are we embarrassed about our teaching on baptism?
  2. Pride (baptism is a humiliating act). The older you get, the more humiliating it seems!
  3. Concern about family members who have not been immersed. What about my Lutheran grandmother, my Catholic mother?
  4. They have come to a position the makes baptism theologically unnecessary. If I don’t understand completely why baptism is necessary, it must be unnecessary. My need to understand trumps the teaching of the Bible and the practices of the early church. If your theology tells you not to be baptized and the Bible tells you to be baptized, to whom should you listen?
  5. They realize what baptism symbolizes: a complete submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They reject this commitment. Which is, perhaps, the only valid reason: You don’t want to be a Christian.

There are many texts in the New Testament about baptism, but let me focus on one from Paul from the neglected book of Titus:

Titus 3:4-7 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Very important phrases:

  • Goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared: Christ came in the flesh, God in flesh, as a human.  Christ’s work on the cross was a work of unspeakable kindness and love.
  • He saved us: Christ came to “seek and to save.”  His atoning death on the cross yields salvation for us.
  • Not because of any works of righteousness we had done: We cannot possibly earn our salvation.  What we have earned is death
  • According to his mercy: Our salvation is always dependent upon the mercy and grace of God our Savior
  • He saved us through the water of rebirth: Our baptism shows us and all who witness it that we are forgiven people, saved, that we are part of the people of God
  • He saved us through the renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior: God’s Spirit gives us the spiritual strength to change our evil lives in ways we could never do through our own efforts.
  • Having been justified by his grace: We are counted whole and clean and righteous by the grace of God.
  • We become heirs: and this is what we inherit:  eternal life.

When do you become a Christian? When do you know you are a Christian? Paul neither lifts up baptism as the most important thing nor does he toss it aside as of little importance. In his description of the salvation journey for any believer, it is right in the middle.

Walter Scott reduced the necessary elements of salvation to five points, and used the hand to illustrate them, the five fingers. For Scott, Baptism was the middle. The first two fingers, Faith & Repentance, were largely our actions. We make a decision for faith. We develop a heart of repentance. The last two, Forgiveness & the Gift of the Holy Spirit, were God’s actions, things we receive through his grace. The middle finger was baptism, which included both our action and God’s action. Scott was convinced (and so am I) the Bible taught that baptism was the place where God meets us. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the voice of God came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son, and I am very pleased.” He is present with us in baptism, and it is here that he pronounces, “You are my Child, and I am pleased, I am delighted that you have come to me.”

God has designed a way for you to show your commitment, and it is more than mental commitment. It is even more than heart commitment, emotional commitment. It is to make your faith known to others and to be buried with Christ in the waters of baptism. It is to be raised from that watery grave and walk in newness of life.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 3

thefutureIn my earlier posts on this topic, I pointed out two trends I see for the future of the Restoration Movement. My observations were:

First: the institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing massive shifts and changes.

Second: the Restoration Movement is becoming less about principles and more about people. 

My third observation is: the people of the Restoration Movement will be important players in the new movement for a unified church.

What, you say, there is a new movement for a unified church? You hadn’t heard about it?

Let me offer you a parallel from my field, biblical studies. In 1906, a great German scholar, Albert Schweitzer, published a book entitled The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Briefly, this was the culmination of 19th century efforts to sort through the theological formulations about Jesus and recover the story of the man who lived in Galilee in the first century. Schweitzer was a brilliant mind, having the equivalent of doctoral degrees in music, philosophy, theology, and medicine. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. However, many believed that his “Quest” book left many questions unanswered. He lost interest in biblical studies soon after the publication of this important and controversial book. Schweitzer’s work spurred many other books, but little consensus. It marked the end of the first “quest.”

In 1959, James Robinson published A New Quest for the Historical Jesus. Robinson noted that the “quest” had been revived and had shifted from a rigorous historical investigation to one based on the philosophical driver of the day, existentialism. This is not the place to trace the developments of this second quest, but simply to say it quickly reached dead ends (or drove over cliffs, depending on your chosen metaphor).

In 1993, an evangelical British scholar, N.T. Wright, announced that a “Third Quest” had begun, what I remember hearing described as the “New New Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This time, conservative and not-so-conservative scholars plunged headlong into analyzing and debating every piece of evidence about Jesus and his world, both from the Bible and other ancient sources. The results were things like Wright’s colossal series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, now at four volumes out of a projected six. The second volume, Jesus and the Victory of God is a hefty 700 pages and is the epitome of this third quest, exploring every possible avenue to recover the best and most accurate picture of the man, Jesus.

Three quests pursuing the historical Jesus, all having the same goal but different presuppositions and results. Each was a product of its historical context.

The Restoration Movement as envisaged by the Campbells and Barton Stone was a quest for Christian unity. They saw this as possible if Christians would abandon divisive creedalism and look to the Bible as the sole source of doctrine. However, even among the ranks of their immediate followers, complete consensus concerning the doctrines of the Bible was never reached. Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone themselves disagreed over something as central as the nature of God, Stone being semi-Arian and Campbell being clearly Trinitarian. Yet they agreed in principle to cooperate and have their churches be united. After their passing, the movement was split over things that seem almost comic in retrospect. Using pianos in worship? Paying ministers? Observers of the Restoration Movement in the first half of the twentieth century must have been amazed the a unity movement had so many hard-line sectarians.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a second quest for unity. This seemed to be motivated partly out of the dismay that the Restoration Movement had splintered so badly and needed to restore its own unity if it had any hope of being an example to the church at large. Several things happened, including the founding of the Stone Campbell Journal, a publication that had writers from all three branches of the movement. But while on a scholarly level the SCJ was a success, the churches were still separated. Perhaps they had lived apart for too long, a little like childhood friends reunited in old age who have little in common but distant memories.

I think there is now a third quest for Christian unity underway and it has little to do with the Restoration Movement. The sectarianism that has so permeated the church in America for 300 years makes little sense to many today. The megachurch phenomenon has congregated Christians of many backgrounds served by pastors with equally diverse educations and experiences. As I have said for twenty years, it is not about doctrine anymore and certainly not about doctrinal warfare. There are a few essentials: the authority and value of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, and the necessity of faith for a saving relationship with God. But no one wants to fight over premillennialism anymore.

There is a growing sense that Christians should be active agents for good in their communities, far beyond just inviting people to Sunday services. If the church is to matter to the next generation, it must do things that matter. Social justice is high on the agenda of the millennial generation, and this will not go away.

I believe the churches and the leaders of the Restoration Movement are poised and able to make a substantial contribution to this new quest for unity. Can we truly be Christians only again? Can we quit drawing lines that divide and find reasons to unite with other Christians?

There are some big issues here, and they are found throughout the evangelical community. Can we quit treating Catholics as sub-Christian enemies? Can we leave our right-wing or left-wing politics at home and no longer let our churches be political tools? Can we finally banish racism from our churches and accept people of all skin colors and ethnicities as brothers and sisters, even as church leaders?

The result of this may be that the Restoration Movement becomes a footnote in church history books. But it may be that its influence will be evident in a more unified church for the next century. That would be a good outcome, I think.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 2

In my last blog I wrote about the new day for the Restoration Movement and began to give observations about the current state of such. I promised to give three observations. The first one was that the institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing massive shifts and changes. The things that seemed rock-solid thirty years ago are reorganizing, teetering, and disappearing. The landscape is changing and the pace of change is accelerating.

My second observation is that the Restoration Movement is becoming less about principles and more about people. 

In the twentieth century, there seemed to be consensus concerning the doctrinal positions of the “Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ,” the third wave of the Restoration Movement (sometimes shorthanded as the 4Cs). This group broke from the Disciples of Christ in a semi-official way in 1927 with the beginning of the North American Christian Convention. One of the leaders of this new direction was P.H. Welshimer, the preacher of the First Christian Church in Canton OH. This church was considered by some to be the largest church in American at the time, surely the largest Christian Church.Facts concerning NT Church Welshimer served as the first president of the NACC in 1927 and also was the president in 1929 and 1940, the only person to serve as president of the NACC more than once. His leadership and voice were unquestioned. But perhaps more significant was the tract-writing career of Welshimer. He produced a 20-page tract entitled Facts Concerning the New Testament Church that once was ubiquitous in Christian Church literature racks in a yellow cover version produced by Standard Publishing. Welshimer laid out his case for what many believed to be the necessity of baptism by immersion for salvation, saying, “… we believe baptism is an act of obedience commanded by Christ in order to receive salvation.” The tract also pointed to the scriptural pattern of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. These two things, baptism for salvation and weekly Lord’s Supper, were the distinctives of the 4Cs, and woe to anyone within the ranks who deviated from Welshimer’s clear and logical presentation.

Yet I’m not so sure that the Restoration Movement has ever simply been a movement of ideas. I think it has always been a movement of people, of strong leaders who left their marks in many ways. Welshimer is one example, a man who cast a giant shadow for fifty years. The leaders of the late twentieth century also had their impact. Many of them were my friends: LeRoy Lawson, Allan Dunbar, Sam Stone, Don Wilson, Gene Appel and many others. Yet I don’t know if you got all of them in a room and asked for doctrinal consensus, you would find it. Not even on baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The Bible is surely the touchstone for Restoration Movement and for the larger Evangelical Community. But we should admit that sincere students of the Bible have read the same texts and disagreed over their meaning, importance, and application. This has been going on for years. The Naive Realism (Scottish Common Sense Philosophy) of the Campbells did not give us consensus on doctrine.

We have always been followers of people, not doctrinal warriors. We have wanted leaders who upheld our cherished past, but also ones who would lead us to new locations. This will become even more important in the future with the many venues for opinions and critics. We need strong and courageous leaders.

This is also why some of you have heard me say, “I am the Restoration Movement.” This is not because I think I am the king-emperor of the 4Cs (or would ever want to be). It is because a movement is about people and leaders as much or more than it is about ideas.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 1

The Restoration Movement Marker (Side A)

The Restoration Movement Marker (Side A)

The beginning of a new year is always an optimistic time for me. Let’s put the past behind us as much as possible and look ahead! The poet of Lamentations, having lived through the most horrific events imaginable with the destruction of Jerusalem, was still able to say:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

For me, each year is like a new morning, a fresh start in many ways. The solar eclipse, the nadir of short days, is now past and hours of increasing sunshine await us.

Having said that, what is the future of my Restoration Movement as I look ahead? For my readers who do not know what I am talking about, the Restoration Movement began in early 19th century America as an attempt to break down denominational barriers in the Christian world. The central idea was that Christian unity could be achieved if the church was “restored” to patterns of the first century church as taught in the New Testament. The movement was, therefore, concerned with both biblical truth and Christian unity. The result, however, was not the uniting of various Christian factions, but the establishment of a new tradition, the churches of the Restoration Movement.  Even these churches divided into three major streams: the non-instrumental churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church), and the independent Churches of Christ and Christian Churches (my group), leaving the goal of unity unfulfilled in many ways.

What is the future of this tradition? Will it be dissolved into the larger stew of evangelicalism. Or, as with the Disciples of Christ, will it continue to decline along with most mainline denominations and focus on local congregations rather than national organization?

Let me offer three observations that end with predictions about the Restoration Movement as we move into 2016 and are now ankle-deep in the 21st century.

  1. The institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing dramatic change. 2015 saw the Standard Publishing group reorganized in ways no one would have expected a few years ago. Standard Publishing, including the highly successful Standard Lesson Commentary (the best-selling adult Bible school curriculum in the world) was sold to David C. Cook and is in the process of moving operations from Cincinnati to Colorado Springs. The Christian Standard magazine (recently changed from a weekly to a monthly) was spun off with the Lookout and the VBS curriculum to become Christian Standard Media. Cincinnati Christian University has slashed staff repeatedly and is no longer the powerhouse voice it once was in the Restoration Movement. The idea of the city of Cincinnati as a de facto headquarters for the Christian Churches seems to be imperiled.My own school, Nebraska Christian College, is merging to become a branch campus of Hope International University, something that may be replicated with other schools in the next couple of years. Many of the Christian Church colleges are having a difficult time and may not survive another downturn in the economy. At the same time, churches seem no longer to look to the regional Christian college or Bible college they once supported as a place to send their children to be trained for ministry and missionary work.This is just the beginning, I think. Higher education is changing rapidly and there is no end in sight that will produce anything like the stability of the past. The presidents of the Christian Church colleges, once considered important voices in the Restoration Movement, have become increasingly irrelevant on the national scene.Prediction: The next five years will see massive reordering of institutions that have been seen as the foundation of the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The millennial generation has little loyalty to these decades-old entities, and all colleges/universities, publishing houses, para-church ministries, church-planting organizations, and missionary societies will find themselves increasingly fighting for survival. Old-timers like me will be shocked and saddened at some long-time organizations that will cease to exist.
  2. To be continued …

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College