Christian theology in a Sudanese context. How God saves His people from their sin.
All Christians are agreed that salvation centres around Jesus Christ. Different church groups (denominations) state their beliefs in a variety of ways. Some mean virtually the same thing, while others are quite different concerning how a person is saved. It is a useful study to compare the statements that follow. I have taken them out of complete doctrinal statements in English supplied to me while I was in Khartoum. The paragraph or section numbers refer to their publication that was supplied to me. Any Bible references the church included in relevant paragraphs, I have also included here. The student is advised to read those Scriptures, along with the church statements. I have attempted to define some of the key ‘salvation’ words used in these statements, in chapter 45. The student may wish to refer to these definitions while reading this present chapter. Word meanings are important. (Old-fashioned English words used by the churches in their statements, are included in the definitions of my ‘One-line dictionary’, starting the Appendices at the end of this book. I quote the statements exactly in this chapter, in order to remain faithful to the church originals). I list the churches’ statements simply in alphabetical order. Students should read the following statements asking themselves the basic question: ‘How is a person saved?’ Assemblies of God (selections from an undated statement). “We believe in salvation through faith in Christ, Who died for our sins, was buried and was raised from among the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures, and through Whose blood we have redemption. (Titus 2:11; Titus 3:5-7; Romans 10:8-15; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
This experience is also known as the New Birth, and is an instantaneous and complete operation of the Holy Spirit upon initial faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (John 3:5-6; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 5:1)”. Christian Brethren (Note: There is no ‘official’ statement of Brethren beliefs, other than the Bible. These selections are from a typical Brethren statement, undated). Section (e): “Salvation is offered free – Christ paid the price of our redemption on the cross. Salvation is freely given to all who accept by faith what Christ has done on their behalf. (Ephesians 2:8-9). Through Christ we have: salvation from sin’s penalty (the wages of sin is death); salvation from sin’s power (sin shall no longer have dominion over you); and salvation from sin’s presence (when Christ returns). The New Birth brings us into God’s family and gives us new life. “You must be born again” (John3:7). The doctrine of Justification is taught especially in Romans, and puts the sinner in a position as though he had never sinned. Sanctification is a process which continues throughout the Christian’s life.By sanctification we are set apart for a holy use”. Section (f): “Christ made atonement for sin when on the cross. He bore our sin and thus became the sin bearer for us”.
Episcopal Church of Sudan (Selections from ‘The Thirty Nine Articles’ of the Church of England, A.D. 1571). Try not to be put off by the rather old fashioned English writing style! Think about the concepts being used. Use the word explanations in the next chapter, or in the appendix ‘One-line dictionary’, to help your understanding.
From Article 11: “We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine.” From Article 12: “Albeit that good works which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgement; yet they are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith”.
From Article 14: “Voluntary works, besides, over and above,God’s commandments, which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety”.
From Article 16: “Not every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after baptism”. From Article 17: “Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) He hath constantly decreed, by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by His Spirit working in due season: they through grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity”.
Gideon Theological College (Selections from the 1997 – 2002 prospectus). Section (d): “Christ Jesus the Son, is fully God and fully Man. He was born of a virgin and lived a sinless life, died an atoning death upon a cross and was bodily resurrected. He has been exalted to God’s right hand and shall bodily return in glory to judge the world. (Hebrews 1; Colossians 1:15-20; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Corinthians 15; Matthew 1:18-25; Philippians 2:10-11; Romans 3:21-26)”. Section (f): “Men and women were created in the image of God and without sin. Due to the Fall they all became lost and are unable, because of their now depraved state, to please God. (Genesis 1-3; Romans 5:12; John 3:5)”.
Section (h): “Salvation has been made possible by the grace of God in the provision of His Son offered as a sacrifice for sin. Salvation is thus by grace through faith in the shed blood and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:1-18; John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7)”. Khartoum Christian Centre – Pentecostal (selections from an undated statement). Section 4: “We believe …. The only means of Salvation is by God’s grace through the Lord Jesus Christ, effected by repentance from sin and faith towards God resulting in regeneration by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:21; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8-9)”.
Khartoum International Church (Selections from the Statement of Faith in the Constitution, dated 6th February 2001). “We believe in …. the Son, Jesus Christ; His deity, Virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, bodily resurrection, personal exaltation at God’s right hand, and personal return. (John 1:1; Isaiah 7:14; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Acts 1:11)”. “We believe in …. salvation by grace through faith in the shed blood and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. (Titus 3:4-7; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:8)”. Nile Theological College (Selections from the Doctrinal Basis with general information, December 1999). Section 2: “We acknowledge that Jesus Christ is truly God, and truly human, and He alone is the Saviour of the world”. Section 3: “We believe that humankind is totally lost in sin, and can only be saved through God’s grace. This grace is received and demonstrated by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ”.
Section 6: “The College will strive to be faithful to the Church’s tradition, particularly as contained in the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Westminster Confession of Faith”.
Orthodox Church (Selections from Timothy Ware, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, revised 1997. Note: there is a variety of belief in the various independent branches of the Orthodox Church). Page 20: “The first six Councils A.D. 325-681, were inspired by a very practical purpose: human salvation. Humanity, so the New Testament teaches, is separated from God by sin, and cannot through its own efforts break down the wall of separation, which its sinfulness has created. God has therefore taken the initiative. He has become Man, has been crucified, and has risen again from the dead, thereby delivering humanity from the bondage of sin and death. This is the central message of the Christian faith and it is this message of redemption that the Councils were concerned to safeguard”. Page 21: “St. Paul expressed this message of redemption in terms of sharing. Christ shared our poverty that we might share the riches of his divinity. 2 Corinthians 8:9; John
17:22-23.The Greek Fathers took these and similar texts in their literal sense, and dared to speak of humanity’s ‘deification’ (in Greek, ‘theosis’)”. “Now if this ‘being made god’, this ‘theosis’, is to be possible, Christ the Saviour must be both fully God and fully human. No-one less than God can save humanity; therefore if Christ is to save, He must be God. But only if He is truly human, as we are, can we humans participate in what He has done for us. A bridge is formed between God and humanity by the incarnate Christ Who is divine and human at once”. Page 236: “… In the third place, there is nothing esoteric or extraordinary about the methods which we must follow in order to be deified. If someone asks ‘How can I become god?’ the answer is very simple: go to church, receive the sacraments regularly, pray to God ‘in spirit and in truth’, read the Gospels, follow the commandments”. Page 237-238:“Finally, deification presupposes life in the Church, life in the sacraments. ‘Theosis’ according to the likeness of the Trinity involves a common life, it is only within the fellowship of the Church that this common life of coinherance can be properly realised. Church and sacraments are the means appointed by God whereby we may acquire the sanctifying Spirit and be transformed into the divine likeness”. Page 247: “… Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church”. “The Church is infallible. This again follows from the indissoluble unity between God and His Church. Christ and the Holy Spirit cannot err, and since the Church is Christ’s body, since it is a continued Pentecost, it is therefore infallible”. 1 Timothy 3:15. (Note: for me, this view raises some important questions about salvation. Am I saved from sin to be with God, or to become so like God I am deified myself? Is my salvation dependent on Jesus Christ alone, or on Jesus Christ plus the Church sacraments?)
Presbyterian Church of Sudan, (and Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church) (Selections from ‘The Shorter Catechism’ A.D. 1940, which is itself based on the Westminster Confession of A.D. 1643-1646). Note: a catechism is instruction given by a series of questions and answers.
Question 29: “How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ? Answer: We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by His Holy Spirit”.
Question 30: “How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ? Answer: The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling”.
Question 31: “What is effectual calling? Answer: Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embraceJesus Christ, freely offered to us in the Gospel”.
Question 32: “What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life? Answer: They that are effectually called do, in this life, partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them”.
Q.33: “What is justification? Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone”. Question 34: “What is adoption? Answer: Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of, the sons of God”.
Question 35: “What is sanctification? Answer: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness”.
Question 36: “What are the benefits which, in this life, do accompany or flow from justification, adoption and sanctification? Answer: The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption and sanctification, are assurances of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end”.
Question 37: “What benefit do believers receive from Christ at death? Answer: The souls of believers are at death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, still being united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection”.
Question 38: “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection? Answer: At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the Day of Judgement, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity”.
Roman Catholic Church (Selections from
‘We Believe’,the Roman Catholic Enquiry Centre, 1980). “Belief is based on Truth and Salvation. The Creed is the most fundamental expression of our faith. (Nicene Creed A.D. 325, revised A.D. 381). It starts not with what we believe but whom we believe in. We believe that Jesus is Lord. The Catholic Church claims the authority to help us understand this belief. The Creed is the result of the Church’s reflection on what we know of Jesus Christ from the Scriptures”. “We believe … in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of One being with the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven”. “We accept the fact that it is in the nature of God to be forgiving, even though we find it hard to forgive one another. To understand the wonder of God’s forgiveness, we must first realise that there is something serious to be forgiven. Sin has a social as well as a personal dimension. Sin matters to God because we matter to God, being made in His image. Confession is a meeting with Christ wherein we hear Him speak words of forgiveness. Confession has a psychological value. Meeting Christ in confession helps us to become what we are – redeemed and forgiven Christians”. “There are two stages to be considered in deciding the place of religion in life:
(1) reading, talking and thinking about it;
(2) making a judgement.
Jesus calls us to make a decision”. “There are three steps in reaching a decision:
(1) a vague inclination – somebody initially arouses our curiosity or attention;
(2) thinking about it – various aspects of the life and teachings of Catholicism begin to fit together and require us to make a judgement;
(3) an act of faith– faith is not just a rational process, but an act of worship by which we enter into a relationship of love and trust with Christ”. “We are not able to meet Christ in the flesh, but we encounter Him through the Scriptures, the life of the Church, and our brethren”.
“At every Mass, the priest asks: ‘Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father’.And we respond: ‘May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His Church’”. “In the Mass the priest says: ‘In memory of His death and resurrection, we offer you, Father, this life-giving bread, this saving cup’. Christ’s death and resurrection took place at a definite point in time. But, through the action of the Mass, the veil of time is penetrated and His saving action is applied to those present”. “A prayer for the dead: God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of your servants departed, forgiveness of all their sins, that through our pious supplication, they may obtain that pardon which they have always desired; You who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen”. Note: for me, this view raises some important questions about salvation.
Was Jesus’ sacrifice made once and for all, or is it continually offered by a priest and people in the Mass?
Can I gain salvation after my death?
Can I myself, or others, effect my salvation through acts of worship, prayers and associated good works?
Sudan Interior Church (Selections from the Constitution – doctrine section, undated).
Section 3: “Our Lord Jesus Christ is God revealed in the flesh. Being born of the Virgin Mary, He became Man, yet was without sin. (John 1:44; Matthew 1:20-21).
(a) His divine power was attested to by His godly miracles, (Matthew 9).
(b) His divine love was attested to by His sacrificial and substitutionary death, (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians5:2).
(c) His acceptance as our true mediator was attested to by His resurrection in bodily form and His ascension to the right hand of God the Father, (Romans 1:4; Romans 8:34)”.
Section 4: “All men are lost sinners, totally unable to do anything towards their salvation. They can be saved only by repentance from sin, personal faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and by regeneration of the Holy Spirit. They cannot be saved by good works. (Romans 3:10; Romans 5:12)”.
Section 5: “The evidence of regeneration is the progressive operation of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer, producing in the believer a holy life and witness. (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7; Titus 3:5; Romans 8:1-17)”.
Sudanese Church of Christ (Selections from the Constitution, undated). Section 3: “We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is God revealed in the flesh. Being born of the Virgin Mary, He became man, yet was without sin. (John 1:44; Matthew 1:20-21).
(a) His divine power was attested by His godly miracles, (Matthew 9).
(b) His divine love was attested by His sacrificial and substitutionary death, (Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 5:2).(
c) His acceptance as our true Mediator was attested by His resurrection in bodily form and His ascension to the right hand of God the Father, (Romans 1:4; Romans 8:34)”.
Section 4: “We believe that all men are lost sinners, totally unable to do anything towards their salvation. They can be saved only by repentance from sin, personal faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and by regeneration of the Holy Spirit. They cannot be saved by good works, (Romans 3:10; Romans 5:12)”.
Section 5: “We believe that all who are born again from God, are one in Christ, because they are members of His body and the body of the Church, whose Head is the crucified Jesus, not only the crucified, but also the Resurrected One Who was victorious over death. (Romans 12:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:17-19)”. Note: Throughout church history different Christian groups have taught their beliefs, creeds and doctrines by ‘catechesis’ – questions asked and answered by repetition between teacher and students. Perhaps this is still a good method to use in Sudan (and elsewhere) today – especially for people who do not, will not, or cannot read the Bible for themselves? (See ‘Asking and Answering Questions’ – in the Appendices at the back of this book – for one pastor’s idea of a Catechism for his congregation).
Thinking it through.
(a). Which of the church or college statements best expresses how a person is saved?
(b). Explain graciously why you think this one is better than the others.