The math does not make sense, but the truth of the equation is essential: when you add to Jesus, you actually subtract from Him.
This curious fact burned bright as I read the article. It came from a small local church’s magazine. The author explained that salvation is by faith alone.
However, right after that theological gem, the core of the Christian faith, came that dreaded three-letter word…. “BUT.” The point the author was trying to make was that Jesus saves BUT if you take a different moral position from himself on the stated issue then you are flatly denying the Bible and therefore not saved.
In essence, he is saying, yes, Jesus saves but you also have to add the right knowledge. It changes the equation from Jesus saves to Jesus plus [insert the hobbyhorse] brings salvation.
Topics that divide
If you have been around churches any length of time you would have seen the issues that divide: styles of worship (e.g. Psalms only, contemporary, Hymns), types of baptism (e.g. full immersion, infant, covenant), Bible translation (e.g. KJV, NIV), your position on current moral and ethical issues… and the list goes on.
While I have seen people change their minds on these types of issues, the fact these debates have lasted 2,000 years is a sign they generally won’t find resolution through your next argument.
However, despite the many important differences that divide opinion across churches, all these communities agree in the saving grace of Jesus alone.
In his classic book “The Justification Reader,” Thomas Oden, explains that all the denominations, from Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed, to Charismatic see salvation as a gift given through Jesus’ sacrificial death for His people. To err from this core is, by definition, to remove the Good News.
To add is to subtract
To add to this Good News and claim Jesus plus a certain knowledge is required is to add to Jesus. This ironically takes away from the magnitude of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
So when this church leader acknowledges that Jesus is all you need… but you also need to take the same position he takes on an issue or you are not really saved, that is wrong. It cheapens the gospel and lacks pastoral wisdom. If you want a great historical example look at what happened in the “Marrow Controversy” from Scotland.
How do we deal with issues that divide?
Pastoral wisdom requires a higher peace that acknowledges that not everyone over the past 2,000 years will agree with your position. It also means that there is always room to learn and grow in our knowledge of God’s love and grace.
Look at the confession Simon Peter makes of Jesus as the Messiah. The context (Mark Chapter 8) shows he really has no idea what he is saying. He goes from being a rock to a stumbling block in a few verses. He acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah yet tries to stop Jesus from completing His mission.
Would my church magazine friend call him unsaved or would Peter be seen as needing to grow in his faith guided by a patient Jesus?
Salvation is from God alone. That is secure in Jesus. Yet we are all on a learning curve in our faith. Sometimes we need to show grace and mercy to guide the immature brother or sister rather than dogmatic judgement. Other times we need an understanding that many issues are complex. God desires for us to display humility in working through difficult topics.
The secret is to have the wisdom to see which side of this equation we are on.