An Unnecessary Salvation
One of the oddest thoughts to have crept its way into the Christian mind is the notion of what is “necessary to salvation.” The simple questions within the New Testament, “What must we do to be saved?” quickly become the stuff of bumper-stickers and a reduced version of Christianity unable to sustain a genuine spiritual life.
In my seminary years (Anglican), I had a professor who stated that he did not believe in angels. I was puzzled and asked him why. “Because they are not necessary. Anything an angel can do can be done by the Holy Spirit.” And there you have it. Only things that are necessary need to be posited as existing. It explains the apparent disappearance of the unicorn.
Here in Appalachia it is not unusual to be told, “All I need is Jesus and the King James Bible.” Of course the least-common-denominator version of Christianity is not only handy and compact, it also leaves untouched the entire remainder of a secular existence. My pickup truck, my gun, the fifth of liquor under the seat, my anger and love of reality TV have nothing to do with Jesus and my Bible. It is a very convenient version of the Two-Storey Universe.
Anglicanism (as did many other versions of Protestantism) enshrined some of this sentiment in the Oath of Ordination required of its clergy. In this they swore that they believed the “Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to contain all things necessary to salvation.” In the hands of more extreme Reformers, this notion became a slogan with which to eliminate everything from Christianity other than those things that could be found in the Scriptures. A white-washed (literally) Christianity, devoid of ceremony and with only a hint of sacrament was the result. It is easily the primary culprit in the creation of secularism. All the “unnecessary stuff” is removed from Christianity, leaving the world with huge collections of unchristian, “neutral” things. This instinct and principle is both contrary to the Scriptures themselves as well as destructive of the very nature of the Christian faith.
A contrary principle can be seen in the affirmation: “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” The same thought can be found in 1 Corinthians:
For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come– all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1Co 3:21-23)
What is this “all things”? It is precisely what it sounds like – everything that is. Our salvation won’t fit on a bumper-sticker inasmuch as it includes everything that is: everything is working together towards the restoration of our communion with God. God has created nothing that is excluded from this work. Our own efforts to narrow the scope of our salvation to a few verses of Scripture, snatched from here and there, are exercises in gross misunderstanding.
That Christianity in its classical form has always had an instinct for “all things,” is evidenced in the use of “all things” within its services and sacraments. And when those uses are examined, what is uncovered is a “seamless garment” of salvation. Nothing is “by the way.” I have made the statement from time to time with catechumens in my parish that we could begin with the smallest thing, a simple blade of grass, and go from there to give a full account of the entirety of the gospel. It could also be said that if an account of the gospel excludes even so much as a blade of grass, then it has been seriously misunderstood.
There is no imagined version of Christianity within the New Testament that exists outside the Church. Anyone who says that they have a “relationship with Jesus” and do not need the Church is in deep delusion. There is no such Jesus.
A not inaccurate polemic against this reductionist form of Christianity is to describe it as an increasing Islamification of the faith. I have written before of the influence of Islam on the notion of Sola Scriptura. Christianity, viewed as essentially an act of submission to God through Christ, is not Christianity. It is a Christianized Islam. It’s useful. It need have none of the problems concomitant with a genuine historical Church. It is quite portable and can be kept entirely private, offering no disturbance to the structures and agreements of the secular world. Individual Christians are never a problem for the world. It’s only when two or three of them gather together that they become dangerous.
The Church is the beginning and foretaste of the “all things” that are our salvation. Salvation, when understood properly, cannot be tied to an isolated verse. For example:
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; (Mar 16:16)
This in no way is meant to say that simply belief and baptism are sufficient unto themselves for salvation. “As many as are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death,” St. Paul says, “and raised in the likeness of His resurrection.” Additionally, “…by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1Co 12:13) Baptism is not an isolated event, or an act of magic. It is the gateway into the death and resurrection of Christ, while the Church is nothing other than the death and resurrection of Christ through time. And, in time, we shall see that everything was always the Church, from the first pronouncement, “Let there be light.”
And so we are told that God:
[has] made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, (Eph 1:9-11)
Salvation is “all things.” And in this good life, all things are necessary. He has made nothing without purpose.