Liturgical Gangstas 5: “When Were You Saved?”

Welcome to IM’s popular regular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different liturgical traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Peter Vance Matthews is an Anglican priest and founding pastor of an AMIA congregation.
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction. (Alan’s not a priest. If he is, his wife and kids need to know.)
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.

Here’s this week’s question: Someone comes to your office and asks you, “When were you saved?” What do you say? And wow….do we have a variety of answers for you!

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: When someone asks when I was saved, I respond in a pastoral fashion. I know that if they are using that language, they want to know whether I have an active relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. So, I do not respond theologically; I let them know that I do know Our Lord in an active fashion, and I use their language. So, I say that I am saved, and I mention how at 19 the Lord became an regularly active presence in my life. My answer is theologically wrong, but I am more interested in beginning a conversation. I can always explain better later.

But, when was I saved? Well, the answer is not as simple as the “once saved always saved” folk would like to make it. That is a stance that requires people to not only ignore a significant number of Scriptures, but to even ignore Martin Luther and John Calvin in their writings. In one sense, I was saved when I was baptized as a baby. St. Peter says in Acts 2 to repent and be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It then says that he pleaded with the people to “save themselves from this perverse generation.” In other words, he equated repentance and baptism and the Holy Spirit with being saved. But, a baby receives baptism and the Holy Spirit before he/she can even repent. So is that baby saved? Yes! I realize the contrary arguments, but St. Paul’s equating baptism and circumcision, as well as the lack of argument over infant baptism in the Bible point to infant baptism having the same place in God’s economy as circumcision. I say that lack of argument because of the serious arguments by Jewish-Christians that all believers must be circumcised. Yet, no Scripture records arguments about children not being baptized. Do you think that Judaizers, who were so keen to keep the Old Testament Law that they argued for adult circumcision, would stand idly by and say nothing if children of believers were not included in the covenant within 8 days as the Law required? No, precisely because of the Judaizers, and the lack of argument over infant baptism [and other Scriptures having to do with families in the New Testament], it appears that children were included in the New Covenant in the same way as children were included in the Old Covenant. Not baptizing/circumcising infants would have been an incredibly major change in practice. Yet, there is not one argument about it while there are serious arguments about replacing circumcision with baptism. So, I was saved when I was baptized.

But, we are also being saved. St. Paul says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. That clearly implies that the failure to do so could be lethal. In fact, it pictures a dynamic view of salvation as something that is a process. In fact, for the Eastern Orthodox, that process is called theosis, or becoming like God. Our aim in life is to be united with God, to be “God-like.” St. Paul also says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” So, I am in the process of salvation. I am being saved. The process is not finished, but I am clearly in the running living stream of salvation. But, I cannot use the past tense, as it is yet an ongoing process.

But, salvation is something that we shall receive at our Lord’s glorious appearing. St. Peter says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” According to this verse by St. Peter, our salvation has yet to be revealed and it is something that we will finally receive at His glorious appearing. It is our inheritance, if we remain faithful, but it is an inheritance that awaits its final execution until His glorious appearing. So, I am yet to be saved; it is my hope and future. It is my faith in what is not yet seen.

An Orthodox article that I like says, “Salvation is past tense in that, through the death and Resurrection of Christ, we have been saved. It is present tense, for we are “being saved” by our active participation through faith in our union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is also future, for we must yet be saved at His glorious Second Coming.”

So, am I saved? Yes, I was saved through the death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ when I was baptized as an infant. So, am I saved? I am in the process of being renewed day by day, of growing from glory to glory, by the power of the Holy Spirit, but the process of salvation is not yet finished. So, I must use the present perfect tense. I am being saved. So, am I saved? Not yet, I await the day when our Lord will gloriously reveal His salvation and I shall truly be saved, and God shall be all and in all.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: Since I tell more personal stories than anyone I know (yes, I’ll bring that up at the next counseling session), I’d probably tell them about the time an ex-con turned Baptist evangelist rode into the Methodist youth camp I was attending on a Harley and preached the Gospel. I did NOT want to go to prison.

Also, since I am a United Methodist pastor, I’d use that story to make a couple of points, one of which I keep coming back to since I heard it on one of William Willimon’s podcasts – the miracle isn’t that I asked Jesus into my heart or made a decision for Christ, but that God made a decision for me in Christ. The “when” of my salvation occurred over a three day period in the outskirts of the Roman Empire about 2000 years ago when Jesus was crucified for my sins and then rose again on the third day. Ever since I was born the grace of God was evident and was drawing me to him – what we call “prevenient grace” – until I recognized that God loved me, a sinner, and wanted to make me right with him by grace through faith.

Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican: The current rumor is that Peter is on has been on vacation, but I consider it quite likely that he simply isn’t saved, couldn’t tell you when he was saved, and may not even know what “saved” means. So let’s all join hands….

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: Shortest question yet, and perhaps the most complex – interesting how that works. First of all, it’s sort of a bizarre scenario, that someone would just randomly come into your office and ask a question like that – “hey man, when were you saved?” I’d be inclined to say something funny, honestly. “Oh, I’m not saved yet – the whole God, Jesus thing kinda weirds me out still.” ha! How about that for an answer. Not quite worthy of the studied seriousness of the now infamous Liturgical Gangstas. Therefore, let us try again.

A question like that, to me, would be answered, first of all (well, after the joke) by a few other questions – or at least one: “Come in and have a seat there Johnny, this is ‘gonna take a while. What, precisely, do you mean when you say ‘saved’?” I can’t possibly answer the question without knowing what the question really is, and that requires a definition of what “saved” means – really – seriously.

Do you mean “justified?” Do you mean “entirely sanctified?” Do you mean “fully and completely swallowed up in the Life Essence of God such that I am now transformed into the New Person I was created to be?” Or perhaps, do you mean when I prayed a particular kind of prayer, or when I was first drawn into a recognition of God and of Jesus, into some kind of relationship with Him. Maybe you just want to know when I was Baptized – is that it? And the questioner may answer one of a number of these things. I would then have to go on explaining what I understand it means to be “saved.”

I’d have to answer the question like this: When? Well, sometime in 1979, when I still 12, I remember sort of “waking up” to God, to Jesus, and saying to myself, “OK, I think I believe this, what do I do about it?” So, after going to church with different people, I ended up going through instructions with a Catholic Priest I knew and formally becoming a Christian (and a Catholic) in August of 1980. I was Baptized, Confirmed, and received First Communion that day, when I was 13 years old. Was my inner-man somehow already mingled with the Spirit of God during the process at some point? I don’t really know – that’s probably beyond our kind of knowing. But I know I became a member of His Body, the Church, and received Grace to be Who I was to then become, on that particular day. Sacraments are tangible. God did that on purpose because He knows our inability to know these things. So, I was integrated into the Life of God in 1980, for sure. I was saved.

But – let’s not get carried away here – I am still being saved. What? Yeah – I both am and am being saved. The process of salvation is just that, a process. We may be initially justified at the outset, but that’s not the end of the journey. It has only begun. We are now given the Grace necessary to walk the path toward the fullness of our salvation. When this is complete, when the job is done, I will then be fully “saved.” Salvation is about our complete restoration as fully Human Beings, and because of our deep brokenness, that takes a while.

When I talk about my salvation, I’m not just talking about having a forgiveness stamp in order to get into the heavenly gates. I always think about the Canticle of Zechariah, which we pray in Morning Prayer – there’s a line that says, “…for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” – from Luke 1. “Knowledge of salvation” — by the forgiveness of their sins. Forgiveness is the beginning and leads to the transformation of our very being. It’s not the end.

So, “when was I saved?” A while back and sometime in the future. I was initiated and justified several years ago. I’ve been walking toward the completion of my salvation, by the Grace of God, since then. I trust that He will eventually complete the work He started in me at some point in the future, very likely after I die.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: When I was a boy (7 or 8 years old), my parents came into my room and said they wanted to talk to me. They shared the gospel with me: the good news of Christ’s life, atoning death, and resurrection. They shared with me that every human being must make a personal decision about Christ: whether to trust in and follow Him or to reject and turn away from Him. They shared with me that they could not make this decision for me, and that I must make it for myself, but that they were praying I would receive Christ. I had been raised in church and I knew the story, but I remember the conviction that gripped my heart that night and the sudden awareness of my own sinfulness and need for Christ. I also felt an overwhelming sense of the beauty of the cross and of my need to cling to it. That night, I called upon the name of Christ and gave Him my life. (As an aside, I continued to call out to God for salvation through the blood of Christ every night thereafter. My Dad, realizing this, then began to help me grow in my understanding of what it meant to be in Christ and to walk with Christ.)

I would point to this moment as the moment I was “saved.” I believe, for others, it is more of a process. Indeed, this event began a process that I am still in the midst of. Along the way I’ve had powerful moments of epiphany and further understanding, some so overwhelming that I would say, “I now know what it is to be saved!”, but this does not keep me from seeing that night in my bedroom as the night when my heart was awakened to the gospel.

William Cwirla/Lutheran: When were you saved?”

My pastoral modus operandi is never to answer the first question posed but instead to ask, “Why are you asking?” Not having that luxury here, let me attempt to summarize succinctly my Lutheran take on it.

The best way to approach the “when” question is to note the distinction between the two modes of time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos, or chronological time, is time as we experience it – evening and morning, clocks and calendars, one event followed by another in sequence. This is the way of history. Kairos is eternal moment, all time compressed into a single point, what some might call “eternity.” Kairos is God’s time, where every moment embraces all of chronological time so that God says “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are chronologically dead. Only as we understand kairos, can we understand Christ’s sacrifice as being “once for all” (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:12,26; 10:10; 1 Peter 3:10) meaning that this atoning death on a Friday afternoon embraces all people and all times.

As a sacramental aside, worship is a kairotic moment in chronos, an eternal moment in historical time and place. “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Every act of God, whether the preaching of the good news of salvation or the application of salvation in Baptism or the Holy Supper is a kairotic moment of salvation in chronological time and place. The eternal breaks in to the temporal, the infinite resides in the finite, and all that God has done for us and for our salvation is brought to bear on us in our own here and now.

Back to the question “When were you saved?” Answer: It depends how you look at it and why you are asking. Kairotically speaking, I was saved in Christ “from before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Don’t leave out the “in Christ” or you’ll get it wrong. There is no “election” apart from the Elect One, the Lamb who was slain “before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). This is the doctrine of election, which can only be understood properly “in Christ” (see Ephesians 1:3-14) and in kairos, outside of chronological time.

Played out in the chronos of salvation history, salvation is past, present, and future. Chronologically and objectively speaking, I was saved in Christ, am being saved in Christ, and will be saved in Christ. I was saved at 3 PM on that Good Friday some two thousand years ago when the incarnate Son of God hung dead on the cross from the forgiveness of my sins, embracing me in His death. “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32).

I was saved when I was baptized, having been buried with Christ in His death (Rom 6:4) and clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27). Through the work of the Holy Spirit’s washing of water with the Word by which He rebirths and renews us daily, I received the gift of faith by which I am able to enjoy and put to use the objective and forensic gift of salvation every breathing moment of my life. I would also note here that because salvation is a forensic act of God in that God declares the sinner to be righteous, it is also a sacramental act of God in that God baptizes the sinner declaring him to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Again, don’t forget the “in Christ” or you will get it wrong.

I am being saved whenever I hear the spoken Word of Christ forgiving my sin and receive that Word of Christ as being for me through trust (ie faith). “Now is the time (kairos) of your salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). This is the ongoing work of Baptism, daily drowning the sinner to death and raising the saint in Christ to life.

I will be saved at the coming judgment according to the promise of Christ, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

I’m sure this raises more questions that it answers, but that is the way of “when” questions when they are viewed from the perspective of God’s kairos and our chronos.

57 thoughts on “Liturgical Gangstas 5: “When Were You Saved?”

  1. Thanks to all for this but especially Pastor Cwirla. This former Baptist youth minister turned LCMS Lutheran appreciates about everything I read by you or have heard on the God Whisperers.

    I would love to see a question read, “What is the Gospel?” This one question and Lutheran (actually Biblical) distinction between Law and Gospel has been one of the most freeing discoveries of my wife and I since even before we were confirmed together back in 1995. Thanks again for your great witness and explanations.
    Blessings,
    Randy

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  2. Very informative. Thanks. Well done Fr. Ernesto (I’m biassed of course).
    in Christ,
    Fr. John D’Alton (Antiochian Orthodox)

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  3. Well, of course it’s a package deal. I could say “March 25, 4 BC” or “December 25, 4 BC” or “February 2, 3 BC” or “When to Jordan came our Lord the Christ, to do God’s pleasure willing, and there was by St. John baptized, all righteousness fulfilling” or “in supreme nocte caene” or “when the water flowed from his pierced side” or “A thursday, forty days after Easter Sunday, 33 AD” or “A Sunday, a week and a half after that” or even “when I saw Christ as He is” (for surely the Eschaton is prior to now).

    (Though that last is perhaps a bit presumptions. Perhaps “I sure hope I was saved when I shall see Christ as He is.” is better.)

    But unless you were trying to make a point about the Incarnation and said “Lady Day, 4 BC” none of those have the ring of “Easter Sunday, 33 AD.” Maybe your Good Friday, but:

    “now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

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  4. Patrick and Cindy,
    No, sorry, you both mis-read the intent and purpose of my response to Ernesto. Perhaps it would been best to e-mail Ernesto and discuss it privately with him………….. btw, he didn’t express any cocern or made any attempt to “regulate” my converstion with him…..

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  5. Afterthought: I agree completely with the little summary by J. Jenkins above. He is speaking chronologically. The reason I introduced the concept of kairos (time as eternal moment) into the discussion was to ensure that we do not make salvation a process but always keep it whole and entire. You cannot fraction a kairotic moment.

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  6. Salvation is not a process but quite the opposite. It is always presented, applied, and received whole and entire, no matter when it happens. This is where the distinction of kairos and chronos is so important, otherwise you can’t make any sense of out Christ being slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) and yet slain at 3 PM on a Friday. Or the doctrine of election for that matter.

    The question posed was “When were you saved?” which demands that we take time and the interface between time and eternity seriously. Salvation is always a crisis of the present moment. “Now is the time of your salvation.” And what Christ does in the “now,” whether baptizing you, preaching to you, giving you His Body and Blood, is a moment of salvation that brings everything He has done to bear on you in the present moment. For example, in Holy Absolution, your sins, which are always forgiven in Christ, are forgiven you in the present moment, and they are forgiven whole and entire, even though your confession may be partial and incomplete.

    Equally profitable would be the question “How are you saved?” but we’ll save that for another round with my fellow Gangstas.

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  7. Michael asked a simple question (in my judgment) and I answered it how I lived it.

    I like that you did. As a lifelong, evangelical Protestant, it was good to read it an answer the evangelical lingua franca. I like though, that it was answered differently by each participant.

    I don’t think Pastor Cwirla meant to suggest salvation was a process, but am left a little confused by it.

    J. Jenkins, I’m sorry if I muddled things or put words in anyone’s mouth. What I love best about Rev. Cwirla’s answer is the care he takes in discussing our finite nature in relation to (and with) the eternal.

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  8. I don’t think Pastor Cwirla meant to suggest salvation was a process, but am left a little confused by it. We are either saved (reconciled) or damned.

    My confirmation recollection is that Christ saved the whole world on Good Friday, and that we each individually receive it when we hear the Word and receive his Sacraments. For those baptized as infants, they first received salvation at baptism, and have been saved since then (been reconciled to God, perfect in his eyes), unless they have repudiated his saving grace. There is no process: we can’t become more perfect in his eyes, or somehow get closer to receiving salvation. It’s ours, and we have absolute assurance that it is ours because because Christ tells us it is ours, and Christ does not lie. The more we recognize and appreciate this, the more alive our faith becomes. A dead, or nonexistent, faith uses Christ’s assurance as an excuse to continue in sin.

    Nevertheless, we must tremble as our sin daily reminds that the old Adam remains in us and the devil is on the prowl, and we might someday be led to reject Christ’s saving grace. So, we receive Word and Sacrament at every opportunity and continually pray for the Holy Spirit to give us faith and remind us of Christ’s promises.

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  9. No wonder so few evangelicals are able to accurately articulate the gospel. So many perspectives! I have always leaned HEAVILY toward the Baptist answer here, but this post has gave me great cause for rethinking. I can’t say that any one view is absolutely correct. But I do think that they all contain elements of truth. Having considered them all I do feel like my understanding of salvation has greatly deepened! Thanks all for an awesomely great post. This needs to be published somewhere.

    I suppose a lot of the view of salvation is tied so closely to how the sacraments are viewed. On one extreme you say the prayer and at that exact point you are saved and the sacraments serve as only symbols to remind. On the other extreme the sacraments are deeply spiritual experience where destiny altering transactions occur between God and man. Even at the Baptist baptism class I went through the teaching deacon admitted that he didn’t fully understand it and it was a great mystery!

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  10. Cindy,

    You are correct: I do feel myself close to the Gangstas in “philosophy” on this matter, and, I suspect, on many others. I actually deplore the codification of conversion experiences and reject the idea that it must happen in this or that precise way. I think, at the end of the day, that “Jesus is Lord” is the true heartcry of all who have been “converted”, however they reached that conclusion.

    Michael asked a simple question (in my judgment) and I answered it how I lived it. I have, on reading the other responses, felt a bit out of place in all of this. Perhaps I should have been a bit more reflective on the whole matter! 🙂 But just when I think that I stop and remember that that night in my bedroom as a little boy has remained with me as the moment when my own heart and mind were opened to the wonders of the cross and when I felt my great need before it and responded. So, on second thought, I rather like my answer…precisely because it is the road I have travelled.

    Blessings.

    Wyman

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  11. Every once in a while it hits me that I might be a covert and unwitting Eastern Orthodox.

    Fr. Ernesto – I am blown away just about everytime you write something or comment at Internet Monk. I have learned more about Eastern Orthodoxy in the last six months than I have learned the other 45 years of my life. I’m not likely to become a convert, but I certainly have gained a new and significant appreciation of the Orthodox.

    I would like to point out that the Bible does say a lot about the important of perseverance, something that a number of these gentleman have pointed out here, but something on which my evangelical brothers are largely silent.

    Seriously, Michael Bell speaks for me (above; except I’m 41). Thank you so much, Father Ernesto. (I don’t suppose you’re at a Church somewhere in the North Shore area of Boston.)

    Why doesn’t anyone ask the question: When were you lost?

    Good point, Dr. Beckwith. Maybe though, it’s because we’d all answer the same way: I once was lost, but now am found… I imagine it doesn’t get asked much, because the answer is more or less the same for all of us. We died in Adam. We live in Christ. Your tradition answer would it thusly: we are born lost (i.e. original sin; http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p7.htm), yes?

    Centorian, speaking as someone who was baptized (immersion) at age 12; 8 years after I had a voluntary, unprompted conversion/born-again experience, I read your comment on baptism the same way Patrick did, and had the same sort of response prepared in my mind before I read his comment, and IMonk’s amen. Please both of you (all of us), let’s act as brothers; let’s have more light here and less heat. Father Ernesto has a great post about paedo-baptism and dedication on his site.

    Baptists, and I’m one, believe that baptism is a picture of the Gospel, confessed in water.

    IMonk, I’m pulling your comment above out of context, but I won’t abuse it. I went to my brother-in-law’s mother’s (RC) funeral mass, a few months back. I was struck by the liturgy. At the beginning of the mass, the liturgy focused on the deceased’s dying with Christ in baptism, and sharing in his resurrection. I think this is one of Christendom’s baptismal commonalities. What unites us is so much bigger than what divides us.

    I mention this in this thread, because the similarities in the Gangstas’ answers are so much more striking to me than are the differences. Dr. Richardson’s contribution to the main entry is (to my eyes) the least like the others, and yet the similarities still shine bright — because in his “moment of decision” he gave Christ is life, not just a moment, and he too speaks of it being a process. (And while I was composing, Dr. Richardson went and quoted Father Neuhaus, which likely puts him even closer to the other Gangstas in philosophy, if not personal experience.)

    Thank you IMonk and Gangstas. I love this series, so much.

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  12. + Alan wrote:

    See there, Fr. Ernesto was bein’ all mature and waving people off of possible controversy and I stepped in it. Please, everybody, do not read my last comment as any reason at ALL to get into an off-topic discussion of the validity of infant baptism. Wasn’t really talking about that…. I wish Peter wasn’t playing hooky, I mean at the AMiA Winter Conference.

    For what it’s worth, I thik it was one of Peter’s podcasts that Michael linked here a few months ago that got me reconsidering my taking credo-baptism for granted.

    At any rate, I like the fact that everyone’s salvation experience isn’t always a specific date with a specific prayer, etc. I like that the above has shown that whether it’s a single event turning point, or a gradual drawing in, Jesus makes us His. At the risk of sounding too CCM-schmaltzy, I guess it’s like falling in love with someone. Sometimes you can point to a specific event when you realized you’re in love with a person. Othertimes it just kinda happens. You know that you once weren’t in love and now you are… but when that change happened is impossible to tell.

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  13. Michael,
    I hope you won’t mind me doing this, but this exchange has reminded me of something Neuhaus wrote in First Things in 2000. I think it’s worth posting and I’ll paste it here. Thanks! Wyman

    “A seriously Catholic friend whose line of work has him hanging out with equally serious evangelical Protestants has a problem. “I’m not very good,” he says, “at giving the kind of formulaic ‘personal testimony’ that they seem to expect.” I know what he means. For many years I’ve been responding to evangelical friends who want to know when I was born again or, as it is commonly put, when I became a Christian. “I don’t remember it at all,” I say, “but I know precisely the time and place. It was at 357 Miller St., Pembroke, Ontario, on Sunday, June 2, 1936, when twelve days after my birth I was born again in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.” (I was baptized at home because the chicken pox was going around.) That usually elicits a wry smile, and then the question, “Yes, but when did you really become a Christian?” In sober truth, there have been not one but several moments in my life that would no doubt qualify as what most evangelicals mean by a conversion experience. In circumstances appropriate to the disclosure of intensely personal experiences, I have told others about these moments. And some day, in pathetically pale imitation of Augustine and other greats, I might write about them in detail. My public testimony, however, is not to my experience but to Christ. It is not upon my experience but upon Christ that I rest my confidence that I am a child of God. The same set of questions is addressed from a Calvinist viewpoint in a recent issue of that mordant publication, Nicotine Theological Journal. The article includes this from the 1902 Heidelberg Catechism, Twentieth–Century Edition: “Nor need you doubt your conversion, your change of heart, because you cannot tell the day when it took place, as many profess to do. It did not take place in a day, or you might tell it. It is the growth of years (Mark 4:26–28), and therefore all the more reliable. You cannot tell when you learned to walk, talk, think, and work. You do not know when you learned to love your earthly father, much less the heavenly.” The editors add, “This is the Reformed doctrine of ‘getting religion.’ We get religion, not in bulk but little by little. Just as we get natural life and strength, so spiritual life and strength, day by day.” Of course, some do get it in bulk, and with a bang. One thinks, for instance, of the zealot from Tarsus on his way to Damascus.”

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  14. Centorian,

    You said “So, don’t interject something or attempt to ascribe a motive into my question that wasn’t there.”

    I’m not-I took your comment for what it was:a clear shot at infant baptism. So don’t throw blows like that, then retreat behind the (you)”interject something or attempt to ascribe a motive into my question that wasn’t there.”

    If we are going to have an honest discussion, these tactics are counter productive.

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  15. Patrick Kyle,
    I wasn’t comparing “baptismal fruitfulness”.

    The topic of discussion that I was having with Ernesto and Alan was in regards to infant baptism. I did not feel like I had to bring the full orb of experience into the question I asked them. I’m well aware of those in evangelical churches who make the profession of faith, get baptized and never return. I’ve been around the block a few times. So, don’t interject something or attempt to ascribe a motive into my question that wasn’t there.

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  16. “Why doesn’t anyone ask the question: When were you lost?”

    Really good question, Francis. This question makes me examine some much more memorable periods of my life, and I would suspect many common experiences in the life of anyone raised Christian. The answers to this one, for me, would definitely sound less scripted.

    A Christian being lost and found and lost and found, etc. is a trajectory that is biblical, but not talked about much these days – except in the news. For example, when was Jim Bakker saved?

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  17. As long as we’re on the Baptism tangent, and rightly so since Baptism is intimately connected to salvation (Mk 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21), we also need to remember that our Lord’s baptismal mandate is also a teaching mandate. To “disciple the nations” involves baptizing in the Name and teaching the baptized to keep (ie cling to) all that Christ has commanded. Our discipling failure is usually in the teaching more than in the baptizing, since Baptism (on our end of things) is rather easy.

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  18. Amazing. Most evangelicals are preaching mystical personal experiences and not Gospel, and teaching that “you must have a specific experience of walking the aisle or you’re not really saved” (and I have friends who believe that). Fr. Ernesto, Alan’s, and Pastor Cwirla’s comments show a theological depth that just blows me away. Although not everyone would agree with the infant baptism thing, Fr. Ernesto explains it better than I have ever read. And the contrast and tension between “saved” (past tense) and “being saved” (present and future) is so well put. Another example of how the catechised understand doctrine and can actually explain it, much better than many evangelicals.
    Thanks so much for this posting.

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  19. Amen. Baptists, and I’m one, believe that baptism is a picture of the Gospel, confessed in water. Our confessions should require us to be cautious about Baptism without understanding and experience. Yet we have millions who neither know nor understand the Gospel, show no fruit, and trust in baptism as if they held to opposite views of baptismal efficacy. We have plenty to explain.

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  20. Centorian,

    You said “I’ve known too many in my life that were baptized as babies and yet really do not display the fruit of repentance…… I’ve looked… I’ve haven’t yet seen the faith that Abraham had and it was accounted to him as righteousness. I have to believe they need to be born again….. ”

    Lets not go comparing Baptismal “fruitfulness.” How many are baptized in Baptist or Evangelical churches as “believers” and either never darken the door again or fade out of the church and the ‘Christian Life” altogether after a while? Neither of our traditions has much to brag about on that account, much less using it to score points in a doctrinal debate.

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  21. I think people should pay attention to the liturgies they say, particularly at baptism. After baptizing a baby, we Anglicans say:

    Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this Child (or this Person) is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits; and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this Child (or this Person) may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning.

    I’d also recommend Prebys reading Joel Garver on baptism:

    http://www.joelgarver.com/writ/sacr/wcf.htm

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  22. Fr. Ernesto: In reading the comments of all…I recognized how intermingled much of our religious practices are. I grew up in a Missionary Baptist church and married a Methodist. During all of my youth circumcision of male infants on the eighth day was common practice. As a United Methodist, my own son was circumcised on the eighth day. As an infant, my husband was not circumcised but received infant baptism. He chose to be ‘sprinkled’ at 16 when he was confirmed into the church. In his late twenties after hearing much Baptist doctrine (not from me) he was imersed. He sometimes laughs and says, “one of those baptisms is surely accurate. In our late 30s, we lost a newborn son minutes after his birth. We chose to have an infant baptism at the funeral home. Many people were wide-eyed at what we were doing. We explained to the minister, family, and friends that the ceremony, though our little one, we believed, was already with God…in some way was a public affirmation of our willingness to ‘give him back to God.” In our area, it had never been done before nor since. But afterwards…everyone sensed the presence of Holiness. It was a precious ceremony.

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  23. Josh: I think in Catholic doctrine the emphasis is not laid on the talk about escathological “places” but in what means to be in one of those places, and I think that’s what every religion is about. What distinguishes Christianity from other forms of religion is Revelation, and the theme of “where” one goes and what that means is definitely a part of Revelation.

    And about the relational part missing in my post… well, when a Catholic says justifying-grace precisely what he means is that justification is not just a forensic declaration about his status before God; it means that God dwells in him, that the purpose of justifying-grace is to endow the creature with a gift so he can have real-inner-comm-union with God.

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  24. When was I saved? When Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. When did I accept my salvation – probably from the day of my Baptism when I was but a month old. I was raised by devout Catholic parents, and I cannot say I ever had a dramatic conversion experience, but like the prophet Jeremiah, I have been seduced by God every day for nearly 65 years.

    People have often asked me when I was saved – I still don’t understand what they mean. I think Christ’s saving act and my acceptance of Him are acts of grace that when analyzed can appear so convoluted that the very simplicity of what God does in our lives is obscured.

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  25. Josh, the term “in a state of grace” does describe a relationship in Catholic terminology. We are in a state of grace when we are in relationship with the Trinity.

    For me, as a Catholic, the destination is important. It is in purgatory/heaven that the saved fully take on the full image of Christ and live in fullest unity with the Trinity. The best part of the process begins in purgatory and heaven.

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  26. @ Gabaon: You seem to tie salvation to a lot of ontological and locational terms – “infused grace”, “state of grace”, “barely making it to purgatory”, “going to heaven”. The relational aspect isn’t mentioned at all. I don’t want to bash standard RC doctrine but I’m a bit weary of definitions that place their major emphasis on where we go after we die. Do you really think that’s helpful?

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  27. Nice piece this one.

    Well, I am a catholic and I know this is not a poll but if I had to vote I’d give it to pastor William Cwirla’s answer. I think his answer better reflects what I think; I’d only scratch out this part: “I would also note here that because salvation is a forensic act of God in that God declares the sinner to be righteous, it is also a sacramental act of God in that God baptizes the sinner declaring him to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus”. I’d keep the “Again, don’t forget the “in Christ” or you will get it wrong.”-part though.

    It’s correct to think of salvation as a process, but one aspect of the Protestant/Catholic theological conflict I find not dealt enough with is the infused character of grace and its consequences. What the Council of Trent defended against the Reformers is that in (again, “in”) a justified person there is nothing left that holds him guilty of condemnation, God not only declares us “justs” he makes us holy-just. And a holy-just person is a saved person. Right there when you are justified you don’t need anything else to be saved, you are saved. You don’t need to grow in holiness to be saved, you are already saved, even if you barealy make it to purgatory that means you are saved. Some times it amazes me how the formula “simul iustus et peccator” seems to be of no concern when this topic is discussed. Catholicism rejected this formula because as long as it means that ontologically one can be a wicked and a just person at the same time it is simply wrong. Catholicism defends that once you are justified you are already a saint who will go to heaven, you are either in a state of original/mortal sin or in a state of grace, and when you are in grace it means you are saved.

    The problem is when a catholic has to defend (with Trent and the Whole Tradition) 1. that justifying grace can be lost and 2.the natural-un-knowability of one’s state of grace, and that’s when the reality of one’s salvation is expressed in terms of “a process”. But the fact that one can lost sanctifying grace, the fact that God has called us to be perfect and to grow in holiness, the fact that unless one receives a special revelation one can not know if one is “in grace” does not mean that God saves us by parts or in a successive series of moments or as in “a process”. You can lost the gift of justification, but when you receive it, right there you are saved.

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  28. As you have so eloquently pointed out, Most Venerated iMonk, here we stand at the evangelical precipice, lemmings on line, waiting our turn, and we still manage to answer the question straight out of our denominational handbooks. Perhaps the intellect is the last to wise up! Wonderful post.

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  29. Ernesto,
    Thanks for your response. lol! I’ve seen more of my long time friends (I grew up baptist) become orthodox. It still puzzles me and I have read plenty of Orthodox books [Ware, for one] that do a good job defining their belief. I’m sure it would be a joy to hang with you, thanks for your gracious response. BTW, I don’t think you sent the thread off track, as isn’t baptism a vital starting point of salvation in some traditions? Therefore it is an important piece of your story, no doubt.

    Let me briefly respond to Alan. I’ve known too many in my life that were baptized as babies and yet really do not display the fruit of repentance…… I’ve looked… I’ve haven’t yet seen the faith that Abraham had and it was accounted to him as righteousness. I have to believe they need to be born again….. and yes, I am fully aware that I cannot see their hearts, but the manifestations are there for all to see….. not looking for an arguement either, but I do think this is a important discussion.
    How do you know that you are of the faith? I think austin touched on it rather well in his 10:29 thanks……….

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  30. Willoh: My heart ‘hears’ your truth. And it sounds ‘humble as a child.’ I know God is guiding your paths.

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  31. See there, Fr. Ernesto was bein’ all mature and waving people off of possible controversy and I stepped in it. Please, everybody, do not read my last comment as any reason at ALL to get into an off-topic discussion of the validity of infant baptism. Wasn’t really talking about that.

    When was I saved? When were you “saved?” That’s it – that question. 🙂

    Oh, Dr. Beckwith – on your question – my thought immediately goes to some notion of Original Sin – or our collective inherent state of ontological brokenness, if you will. We just were. Of course that may steer us in a funky direction too. oops.

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  32. Was that variety statement sarcastic, Michael? There is variety in our answers to a point. I also see a good bit of similarity. Fr. Ernesto and I have very similar answers – not surprising. I wish Peter wasn’t playing hooky, I mean at the AMiA Winter Conference.

    I want to react to centorian’s statement, “A Jew would be circumcised [eight days] after birth, a Christian would be baptized after their spiritual birth.” – This is definitely a statement coming from a certain tradition inside Christianity. There are likely more Christian baptisms of babies on or around the 8th day than those of us who were baptized after a spark of faith had been set alight. I certainly don’t want to get into a debate about infant baptism here – we all have our different ways of looking at that. I just wanted to point out that there is indeed a great Tradition of Christians being initiated into the process of salvation, into the Church, through the Sacrament of baptism as babies. Peace.

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  33. When I read the ‘Gangstas’ posts, I always feel a deep kinship with them all. We are, indeed, brethren in Christ. I agree with all…that salvation is both an instantaneous and ongoing process. Salvation is ‘alive.’ It is all the things mentioned by all the Ganstas. So…why all the divisions amongst us believers? No good reasons I,m sure. I met Christ in a small rural Baptist church. On the Friday of a week of Bible School, I saw a man standing at the end of the pew where I sat. I turned to see a manifestation of Christ. I didn’t know I was the only one seeing Him. His mouth didn’t move but His thoughts said to me, “Carolyn, you haven’t sinned yet. You need me to fight ‘him’ for you.” Then He looked down to the ‘him’ on the worn hardwood floor near my feet. I looked down to see who ‘him’ was. I looked down to see a four-inch tall ugly little man…Satan…. naked,skinny,bumby,trembling,both arms raised over his eyes trying to shield them from the blinding light of Christ’s glance. As Adam ‘knew’ his wife and she conceived, I ‘knew’ the powerless Satan was no more than a pitiful damned creature with incredible illusions of grandiosity. I ‘knew’ the war was not against flesh and blood…but against spiritual wickedness in high places. I also knew that without Christ to ‘battle’ on my behalf, I was powerless against Satan. There, that day, I ‘knew’ “Greater is He within me, than he that is within the world.” I ‘knew’ why David went before Goliath with no sword…only His God. All of you are right. It’s a relationship process. It is too HUGE to fit into any one person’s small ‘saved box.’ My heart’s desire is for God’s will to be done in each of your lives. I love all of you. Especially you…Imonk.

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  34. Hey Centorian. I probably should not have posted that mini-defense of paedo-baptism since it will tend to lead people off-topic. How about if I simply say “when I was baptized” whether paedo or credo? I suspect there is enough controversy there. GRIN. And, I will then not feel guilty about having led iMonk’s discussion off-topic.

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  35. Good question.

    I think one evangelicals do not really address enough.

    It is surprising though how well I feel the BF&M answers this one.

    You have justificatin, santification, and glorification all invloved in what most genericaly call “being saved.”.

    And while I do not feel that every conversion has to be a crisis conversion, in fact as a young person brought up in the church, i felt for a long time that my salvation was somehow lacking b/c of a lack of a crisis coversion, I do believe that there are adequate examples and scriptural support for an assertion that every person should have a place and time where they publicaly confess Christ as Lord and Savior. Credo-baptism seems to me to be that perfect place. Does the justification take place much sooner? Obvioulsy yes to me. But I like what Bro. Richarson said that there have been many times when I have had those aha’s and got a fresh epiphany about what my salvation means.

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  36. I also want to thank Pastor Wm. Cwirla for a very well explained clearly thought through answer. This single question multiple answer format is really illuminating.

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  37. Thanks everyone. As someone who has recently moved from a Baptistic to an Anglican-Episcopal tradition and gotten all five of my kids baptized, this is a question I find myself answering on their behalf.

    The piece about chronological and kairological time and the three temporal approaches within the chronological framework are most helpful.

    With the most fundamentalist of the Baptists I have found citing (chapter and verse) Paul’s “are being saved” is the most helpful (II Corinthians 2:15).

    Sometimes this opens up new categories on biblically ‘secure’ grounds for the person I’m talking with.

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  38. This forum gives hope for a Christian community. thanks M.S.
    In the spirit of Fr. Ernesto’s “So, I do not respond theologically; I let them know that I do know Our Lord in an active fashion, and I use their language. So, I say that I am saved,…”
    In 1978, during a light snow fall, where snow was in the air but not sticking to the ground, I asked a question, my mind open for a moment, Why are there so many different patterns of snowflake, so many that they are almost unique? God answered the question quite unexpectedly, not in language, I do not think, but in Knowledge,” Because I am.”
    This was very disconcerting, as my family did not attend church, I had not been to any kind of church service in ten years or more, I had not one Christian friend, abhorred anything Christian, and had threatened, several times in all seriousness to beat the pulp out of Bible Thumpers who would approach me.
    The timing was a bit odd, I had a gallon of wine[screw top, not cork] a case of beer, and the best full ounce of weed i had scored in a long time. In my hand was my “black book” as I was setting up the nights hot date [or two].
    My life has never been the same, I flushed the weed, gave the booze to the neighbor and spent over a day in my room repenting for the fool I had been. I wish I could express the horror in my heart as I tore down my pictures on the wall of Rama and Vishnu. I was mad at god for interfering, all I wanted was to grow up to be like Jim Jones, you know have a bunch of people in a commune that would blindly follow me. Really, that is what I wanted a commune, free love lotsa dope.
    I love my life with Jesus. forgive me if I get a bit Calvinistic, but wouldn’t you if you were me?
    I wish I could say I followed faithfully after that, I wish I could, but…..Anyway Here I am.
    I do not often tell this story in my office, but I will meet you in Heaven and you will know it is true.

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  39. I think most of the arguments I have seen between catholic/orthodox and evangelicals have been about “being saved”. To me it’s one of the most difficult things to simply nail down as a catholic because our our “saved, being saved, shall be saved” mentality contrasted with salvation as a single point in time that many evangelicals hold to. What I will say is that in my younger days as an ex catholic evangelical… oh probably about 3 or 4 years after becoming a born again christian, I suddenly began to question the day I “got saved” because growing up catholic I always had a relationship with God, maybe not as intense or obsessively as I did as a bac, but it was true and genuine. To me it opened up doors to sacraments, especially infant baptism as that was really the only avenue of grace I could point to for god holding me all those years. Anyway, thanks to all the gangstas… I really enjoy these blogs when they come.

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  40. A profound question: – God knew, I was one of His children before time began. A difficult statement, at the best of times – love, Luke 24:25-26, it has all been planned. Is the question, when did I know, I was saved? The answer for me, is around 9:30 pm, 27 March 1991. God created time, and all the physical laws regarding time and relativity (E=mc2 and all that). ‘When’, is a relative question, that’s even difficult to define and agree upon, in physical science. So – maybe the question, is ‘why do you think, you have been saved, or are being saved (the process)?’, the timeframe, or the process, perhaps flows from that question? Just a thought …

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  41. Ernesto,
    Not following your logic on infant baptism. Paul may very well have equated circumcision and baptism knowing that the structure of the Old and New Covenants had some differences. Also important to note that circumcision is a sign of the covenant (Gen 17:10,11; Rom 4:11). A Jew would be circumcised [eight days] after birth, a Christian would be baptized after their spiritual birth.

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  42. iMonk,

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I will add it to my Birthday wish list.

    If you think it is relevant, and you have time, could you quickly summarize the difference between the calvinist and reform position when it comes to salvation? I am from more of an Arminian tradition, so am not sure I know or understand the differences.

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  43. How fascninating this meeting of many streams was! In my evangelical upbringing I was often asked this exact queetion. An automatic answer was the moment in time when , like Wyman Richardson, at the age of 7, I found out that I had to accept Christ for myself. But as I got older I realized, as those on this panel have so beautifully stated, that salvation is a working out process. When I made that decision to become a follower of Christ I let God in as my ultimate guide and source of life/ It was a first step. It was not the be all and end all. Thank you for this forum. I loved it!

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  44. I don’t think I would be able to give any meaningful or understandable answer to this question without asking back first: “What do you mean when you use the word ‘saved’? Saved from what and towards what new reality?”

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  45. Great topic and responses! Fr. Ernesto and Wm. Cwirla – love what you both have to say on this; very thought-provoking.

    Big up for this series!

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  46. I think we would have gotten more interesting answers if the question was simply “are you saved?” as I think the differences in how one epistomologically approaches that question presents some of the most serious divisions in Christianity.

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  47. iMonk,

    This is a wonderful forum you have going here.

    Fr. Ernesto – I am blown away just about everytime you write something or comment at Internet Monk. I have learned more about Eastern Orthodoxy in the last six months than I have learned the other 45 years of my life. I’m not likely to become a convert, but I certainly have gained a new and significant appreciation of the Orthodox.

    I would like to point out that the Bible does say a lot about the important of perseverance, something that a number of these gentleman have pointed out here, but something on which my evangelical brothers are largely silent.

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