Recently I had a discussion with my staff about some theological issues. We struggled with the divide between predestination and free will, Calvinism and Arminianism. We were in agreement but it stirred within me an ongoing struggle. Where do I take my stand?
Ever since the Protestant Reformation the Church has struggled with theological division. Groups that fought to gain the freedom to worship as they pleased denied other groups the same privilege. Lines were drawn based on how people interpreted Scripture and which leader they followed. Complicated theological systems were devised and then vehemently defended. These divides remain strong today.
This is not a new problem for the church. It has been a part of the fabric of the church from the very beginning. Paul addressed it in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12. I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Paul returned to the issue of division in chapter 3. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NIV)
Paul’s point is clear. God has chosen to use individuals to help guide us on the path of faith. These individuals are servants of Christ entrusted with the responsibility to point the way. But they are not to be the focal point of our faith. Our faith is in Christ Jesus alone.
In 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, made a bold statement about the corruption in the Church when he nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to the door of the Wittenburg Church. Several years later, in 1521, he stood before the Diet of Worms Council and refused to recant what he had written. It is reputed that he ended his defense with this now famous quote. “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
Today I want to take my stand as a follower of Jesus Christ. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who have gone before me and paved the path of faith. There are many who dedicated their lives to the study of Scripture so that we might have a better understanding. But none of them got it completely right. No path, paved by man, is the final word on the sovereignty and grace of God. Ever since I was awakened in seminary to the struggle between the different theological camps, I have struggled to find my place. I am not comfortable on either end of the spectrum; agreeing with some tenants and disagreeing with others at both ends. So here I am. I take my stand in the theological no-man’s-land in the middle.
I believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ and what He did for all people on the cross. I hold to the truth of John 3:16-17 that Jesus came for the salvation of all the world. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
I believe that people must choose to follow Jesus as an act of their will. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. John 3:18 (NIV)
I believe that our salvation is a free gift from God that we do not deserve, that we cannot earn, yet we must receive by faith. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
I believe that once a person has received this gift from God they are sealed in Him for eternity. They cannot lose their salvation. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV)
I believe that God is sovereign and has the right and the power to do as he wishes in all circumstances. His sovereignty does not restrict Him to act along certain lines or to respond always in the same way. He has the right to interact with individuals, people groups and nations in different ways as He determines. His sovereignty is in no way diminished by allowing some people to freely choose to follow Him, while he specifically chooses others to be His servants independent of their will.
I believe that people are responsible for the decisions that they make and how they live their lives. God will hold us responsible and reward or punish accordingly. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (NIV)
What I have written will not end the debate over which theological system is the best. That is not my intent. I confess that there is much about the mystery of the Gospel that I do not comprehend. I believe there is room for a diversity of ideas within the unity we have in Christ Jesus. In no way do I want to add one more theological system to the mix. What I want to do is take my stand, not as a Calvinist, or an Arminian, but was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.