Four C’s of Salvation

1 Thessalonians 1:1–10

Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica is generally considered to be the oldest document in the New Testament. It is usually dated around the year 50 CE, or 17-20 years after Jesus’ resurrection. It is the earliest written witness, then, of what the Christian faith meant for the Gentiles who first heard it preached in the Greco-Roman world.

As I looked at the text of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, the material coalesced for me around four words: comprehension, conviction, conversion and commission. Now I would not ordinarily organize the text around four alliterative points. “Points” are not generally my thing; I think a narrative approach is generally preferable. However, as a worked with the text, these four words kept coming back to me as a way to describe how the church in Thessalonica received the apostle Paul’s’ preaching of the gospel.

Comprehension

The first thing that strikes me is that Paul’s message included specific assertions about who God is and what God did.

The “living and true God” (1:9) is “the Father” (1:1, 1:3). By implication, all other deities are “idols” that Paul condemns in 1:9.

Furthermore, Jesus is the “Christ” (1:1, 1:3) [or "messiah" or "anointed one"]. He is “the Lord” (1:1, 1:3) and God’s “son” (1:10), whom God raised from the dead (1:10). In the future, Jesus will come again from heaven to save “us” [the church, whom Paul addresses] from the wrath to come [presumably on those who still cling to idols] (1:10).

So Paul proclaimed a faith that encompassed God the Father, and Jesus Christ, his Son, the Lord, who died, who rose from the dead, and who will come again when God judges the world.

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Imitators and Models

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

How does God makes a disciple? Teaching is important. There are propositional truths a Christian needs to learn. Liturgy is important, too. James K. A. Smith describes liturgy as those actions that train the heart what to desire. Importantly, word and sacrament have both a human dimension and a divine dimension. They are among the means of grace through which God has promised to act.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7, Paul shows us one more dimension of disciple making: imitation. As I wrote in this site’s invitation:

Being a Christian is not a solitary endeavor. To a large degree, you will learn how to be a Christian by being around other faithful Christians.

Learning through imitation affects every part of a Christian’s life, including how we engage the scriptures, how we conceptualize the faith and how we worship the living and true God. Moreover, the truth we believe in our heads and cherish in our hearts spills out into all our relationships, the koinonia we have with other Christians together with the actions and attitudes we take toward our neighbors.

Both consciously and unconsciously, we learn how to live as Christians by absorbing how the faithful people around us live their lives. And, in turn, we become models for others who choose to walk in the way of Christ.

One cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ apart from the church.

A Collect for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

O God our Father, you redeemed your people through the death and resurrection of your Son, and you promised that he will come again to establish your justice throughout all creation. Pour out the power of your Holy Spirit on us, so that we might receive your salvation with joy, conform our lives to your truth and accomplish your loving purposes in the world. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Based on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Epistle Reading for Proper 24, Year A

God’s Changing Mind on Means, Not Ends

Does the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32:1-14 portray a God who changes his mind. In one sense, the answer is obvious. It’s right there in verse 14:

And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. Exodus 32:14

The verb translated “changed his mind” has a range of meanings: have compassion, repent, regret, feel sorrow. Regardless, the story says that God intended to do one thing, but after Moses intervened he chose to something else. I don’t feel a need to perform mental gymnastics to make the text say something other than what it says.

The author uses the language and logic of story, not philosophy or science. Other Biblical texts make other kinds of statements about God’s eternal decrees, foreknowledge, things that existed before the beginning of time, etc. I am happy to let each text speak its own message.

The message in in Exodus 32:1-14 is this: the people whom God rescued from slavery, delivered at the sea, fed in the wilderness and claimed as his own were doing exactly what God told them not to do – worshiping an idol – thus violating the instruction which they had enthusiastically agreed to follow. God was angry with the Israelites and threatened to destroy them, but Moses intervened and God changed his mind.

There’s no hint that God was just seeing what Moses would do. There’s nothing to support any of the interpretive moves that attempt to circumvent a plain reading of the text.

This text portrays God as changing his mind. Specifically, it portrays God as changing his mind about means, not ends.

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A Christian pastor in Caesar's army