Salvation

Protestant Theologians Reconsider Purgatory

A painting from “Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry." Photo via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

This Nov. 2, on what is known as All Souls’ Day, Roman Catholics around the world will be praying for loved ones who have died and for all those who have passed from this life to the next. They will be joined by Jerry Walls.

“I got no problem praying for the dead,” Walls says without hesitation — which is unusual for a United Methodist who attends an Anglican church and teaches Christian philosophy at Houston Baptist University.

Most Protestant traditions forcefully rejected the “Romish doctrine” of purgatory after the Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The Protestant discomfort with purgatory hasn’t eased much since: You still can’t find the word in the Bible, critics say, and the idea that you can pray anyone who has died into paradise smacks of salvation by good works.

The dead are either in heaven or hell, they say. There’s no middle ground, and certainly nothing the living can do to change it.

Many Catholics don’t seem to take purgatory as seriously as they once did, either, viewing it as fodder for jokes or as the “anteroom of heaven,” an unpleasant way station that is only marginally more appealing than hell.

But Walls is a leading exponent of an effort to convince Protestants — and maybe a few Catholics — that purgatory is a teaching they can, and should, embrace. And he’s having a degree of success, even among some evangelicals, that hasn’t been seen in, well, centuries.

You’re Wearing a Cape. Really.

Girl dressed up like a superhero, Sunny studio / Shutterstock.com

Girl dressed up like a superhero, Sunny studio / Shutterstock.com

Do you have a favorite superhero? I’ve always liked Batman. As a boy, I read all the Batman comic books. I like the cape and the cowl, the bat logo, the cool car with the flames coming out the back, the interesting villains.

What I like especially is that Batman is a regular person. Other superheroes fly or run at supersonic speeds or stretch their body parts in ways that are very strange and make you wonder. Batman has none of those powers. He’s like us — well, regular except for the part about being ultra-rich and living in a mansion above a bat cave …

The bottom line is that Batman fights for a better world using the things available to all of us: Creativity. Commitment. Courage. A passion to make a difference someone else’s life.

He reminds me of the super hero in each of us.

Part II: Semblances of Hope

Next to a glass casing displaying neatly stacked skulls, Rwamasirabo flipped through the pages of a dusty notebook holding the church’s paperwork. He pulled out a church program. On it, was a photo of his former friend, Father Athanase Seromba, a 31 year-old Roman Catholic priest who was responsible for killing 3,000 of his Tutsi congregation members. The priest wore a black oxford with a white clerical collar accessorized with a distrusting mustache and a toothy smile seething betrayal. Rwamasirabo stuffed the program back into the notebook.

Rwamasirabo’s thin stature commands respect and the lines in his face convey tragic sorrow. His careful, soft-spoken voice expressed feelings of loss. With worn hands, Rwamasirabo searched through a pile of salvaged rubbish to find the chalice from which communion was served.

It reminded him of his daughter.

All of Life is Repentance, But Especially Today

Photo by Andrew Stutesman / CreationSwap.com

Photo by Andrew Stutesman / CreationSwap.com

Seven years ago this week, I had my “come to Jesus” moment.

That’s not to say that over the past few years I haven’t had many experiences in which I’ve come away wondering “did I ever really believe up until now?” Many of those moments were far more profound and life-changing. It’s just that for me, it’s where a certain chapter of my life began.

I was raised in a Christian tradition that prized altar calls and bowing your heads, closing your eyes, and raising your hands to be saved. There was a clear delineator of when you were “born again” and when you were not. It was a moment in history, not just a spiritual exercise.

I don’t totally disagree. I think that there is something significant about the moment you first say yes, the same way I can remember the first time my best friend and I stopped just being colleagues. Our friendship has had many more important moments, but going to see Alice in Wonderland after work on a rainy Monday evening in March was where it started.

But as I have persisted (persevered for you Calvinists) in this faith I’ve discovered more and more what a relationship with God is like. In order for it to work, as Martin Luther famously said, all of life must be repentance. Every day the choice to say “yes” and not “no, I’m so done with this” is just as significant, if not more because coming to Jesus is often easier than staying.

Salvation: All Is Grace

Abstract smoke image, grace illustration, Amnartk / Shutterstock.com

Abstract smoke image, grace illustration, Amnartk / Shutterstock.com

One sort of Christian believes taking Eucharist weekly saves her. Another Christian believes his confession of Jesus Christ as Lord saves him. Still another looks to his Baptism. Another to her participation in the body of Christ. One to his repentance. And another to her care for the sick, the hungry, the prisoner, and the poor.

We elevate one belief or practice over another, then divide ourselves as Christ followers by the priority we set when, in fact, all of these are taught as saving by Christ, who alone is our salvation.

Christ saves me, not the accuracy and purity of my beliefs. Christ saves me, not my works. Christ saves me, not the measure of my adherence to a doctrine or practice.

When all is said and done, many Christians tend to look to their habits, their faith, and their perseverance when it comes to salvation rather than to the work, belief, and faithfulness of Christ in us, over us, under us, and through us.

Can You Really Tell the Difference Between Christians and Non-Christians?

Religion survey box, alexmillos / Shutterstock.com

Religion survey box, alexmillos / Shutterstock.com

There is an old Christian hymn that has the lyrics "They'll know we are Christians by our love." It was written in the late 60s and was inspired by the Bible verse John 13:35, where Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV) 

Really? We're supposed to be able to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians? And the difference is love?! 

In reality, it's not nearly that simple, and the fact is, there’s no visible difference. 

If you were to go to the grocery store, a football game, the gym, a school, or your work, there would be no obvious way of identifying — through actions — who is a Christian and who isn't, and we should be careful not to judge. 

Some of the kindest, nicest, authentic, and wonderful people I know don't believe in Jesus. Contrarily, there are some horrible, mean, and downright disgusting Christians.

Pope Francis’ Outreach to Atheists Not as Controversial as it Seems

Portrait of Pope Francis by Debby Bird, Reston, Va. Via RNS

Pope Francis’ friendly letter to atheists, published this week by Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, has been cheered by Catholics who welcomed another sign of the pontiff’s new openness to the world beyond the Vatican walls.

But it has also prompted some gnashing of teeth among others, who are reacting to headlines about the pope’s letter like this one in the British newspaper The Independent:

“Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven.”

I’ll Take my Salvation Without the Snakes, Please

If there were such a thing as “spiritual hazard pay” for columnists, I would be filing a claim after watching the first two episodes of the new series “Snake Salvation,” which debuts Tuesday, Sept. 10, on the National Geographic Channel.

God, I hate snakes. I find them utterly repellent; always have. When I was a toddler, my parents had to carry me out of the snake house at the zoo so I would stop screaming as if someone were trying to kill me.

Were it not for professional obligation — you’re welcome, by the way — you would sooner have found me shaving my head with a straight razor than watching a couple of hours of television dedicated to snake handling and its (alleged) spiritual import.

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