Did the Reformation’s focus on righteousness and individual salvation help or hinder?
Matthew 5:20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
Herman Waetjen (The Letter to the Romans) suggests that Augustine, Luther, and Calvin have led us on a merry chase down a blind alley by their improper use of words such as righteousness, forgiveness, faith, and salvation. They have fostered a crazed rush for “me and God” to the detriment of “us and the world.” Personal salvation has outmaneuvered the concern for others and has fostered, as current political “debate” has shown, an intolerance for anyone who is different – in terms of race political ideology, gender, sexual-orientation, nationality. Personal salvation has become the Reformation’s negative contribution to church history.
Recently John Oliver made fun of a statement of Donald Trump’s: “I’m very highly educated. I know words; I have the best words…” When I graduated from seminary, I knew words. I had the right words, but I had the right words wrong. I was a product of Reformation thinking.
He hamartia is properly translated as “sin” but the framing of sin as primarily a personal reality misses the target. When sin is the natural consequence of my being conceived and born through sexual intimacy, I have to rely on an external God to save me. If sin is just a personal reality, a result of the actions of my proto-parents, my parents, and ultimately me, then I am doomed to a life conceived and lived out in sin. While the church continues to proclaim that “anyone in Christ is a new creation,” the church’s worship insists that I must regularly (weekly) confess my sins. So, being a new creation seems to be only an evanescent dream, a hoped-for outcome, not a day-by-day reality.
What if the church has it all wrong? What if my primary theological identity is not “original sin” – or perhaps not even “original blessing” (as Matthew Fox proclaims)? What if my primary theological identity is simply that of a human being, with all the potential for both good and evil? What if I live simply because I am alive? What if my salvation is not dependent on what I believe? Nor on what religion I profess or what church I attend? What is my salvation is dependent on how we work together for the well-being of all in society? What if salvation is not about one’s ultimate destiny, but about the quality of one’s life in community? What if the abundant life that Yeshua promised is not about some future afterlife reward, but about the possibility of meaning, integrity, and wholeness here and now?
I am willing to invest my life in the “what ifs.” How about you?