Sunday, February 07, 2010

When Grace Strikes, People Fall

This week our rector delivered a fairly straightforward sermon on grace and used an example one of today's hymns, "Amazing Grace." This did mesh with the Gospel reading where Simon was struck by that grace and fell to his knees in Luke 5:1-11.
Once while Jesus* was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Part of the effect of the recognition of God's grace is that we become aware of how wretched we have been, and we see ourselves as the sinners we are. We also meet the only thing powerful enough to overcome our sin, and we give thanks for His amazing grace to do this for us.

Towards the end of his sermon, our rector emphasized the personal salvation we experience in these moments. I am afraid that our rector is distancing himself from our Presiding Bishop who, at the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal church emphasized corporate salvation over personal salvation when she said,
"... the great Western heresy -- that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It's caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention."

One of the many problems with the P.B.'s theology is that if we are saved as a corporate body, then we are also damned as a corporate body as well. The sins of the Episcopal church in supporting abortion, no fault divorce, biblical revisionism, lawsuits, and in particular the heretical theme of support for same sex blessings and homosexual bishops that was presented at the 2009 General Convention are huge corporate sins that might condemn us all. Until the Episcopal church gets knocked to its knees and repents of its sins, grace will not be bestowed on this body. In the Episcopal church of 2010 there is no corporate salvation, we should stick to the proven power (Acts 8:26-40, Acts 9:3-9, among others) of individual salvation first.

I would like to send a little advice to the P.B. so that she reconsider the value of those who feel a strong sense of personal salvation.

Our Saviour = my Saviour + your Saviour.


  1. Of course, I'm a Baptist and therefore one of those "individualist" heretical idolaters, but, I find numerous references to individual salvation in the New Testament, not the least of which is the injunction to "be born again." Upon what precisely does your presiding bishop base the assertion that the belief in individual salvation is heresy?


  2. R.,

    The PB had to issue a follow up statement. Here is a sample:

    "In my opening address at General Convention, I spoke about the 'great Western heresy' of individualism (see the full text here). There have been varied reactions from people who weren't there, who heard or read an isolated comment without the context. Apparently I wasn't clear!

    Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian.

    The spiritual journey, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is about holy living in community. When Jesus was asked to summarize the Torah, he said, 'love God and love your neighbor as yourself.' That means our task is to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors. If salvation is understood only as 'getting right with God' without considering 'getting right with (all) our neighbors,' then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands."

    1. She does not understand individualism. If she believes her own words, then she ignores her own heresy of leading the Episcopal church's individualistic walk apart from the rest of the Anglican communion on the subject of same sex marriage and ordinations of any and all persons (with the exception of conservatives of course).

    2. The "you were not there" argument does not fly with this pewsitter.

    3. Someone in that position should make themselves clear the first time around. The reason she was not clear is obvious. She was digging a hole for herself about a subject that she is not clear about in her own heart.

    I personally think she started with a prejudice that "American individualism" is bad and misapplied this to salvation theology.

  3. There's a lot to fisk in the follow-up, not the least of which is the equating of following the commandments equals salvation. Further, the idea that salvation is contingent upon "getting right" with our neighbors ignores the "grace" part of the equation. Finally, it would appear that TEC is more concerned about loving neighbors than God inasmuch as God's commandments are tossed at every opportunity, non?

    Snark aside, your last paragraph nails it. Your PB wouldn't be the first religious person to try to use religion for political leverage. Of course, when conservative evangelicals do so, it's an abomination; when liberals do it, it's good theology.