Friday, September 19, 2008

The Family of God

I've been reading through Paul's letters in the New Testament, and I've come across a passage that I guess I have read before, but not in a very long time.

1 Corinthians 7:12-14 (NRSV): To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

Paul's theology was Calvinistic (or, more accurately, Calvin's theology was Pauline). Paul believed that Christians were predestined by God for salvation. They were the chosen ones; God had set them aside before the beginning of time for salvation. Those who were condemned from the beginning of time were condemned not because God is a monster, but because he wanted to demonstrate how merciful he was to those he had chosen - after all, he could have placed THEM in the condemned camp. Paul says this very explicitly in several places, including 1 Corinthians and especially Romans.

Paul also believed that Christ's return ushering in the kingdom of God on earth was going to happen in his own generation. Later in this same passage, he urges people to simply stay in whatever social place they are in - there is no reason to change jobs, get divorced, move away, become free if you are a slave, etc., because God is coming soon. This is a common and repeated theme in Paul's writings. Later New Testament writers even addressed this issue by encouraging their followers to keep the faith, even though Jesus was taking his good easy time with returning in glory.

In the passage quoted above, Paul is making it clear that people who are predestined - chosen by God for salvation - are of a special breed. Therefore, their children cannot be condemned...a predestined person's offspring are also predestined and saved simply by virtue of being born of the loins of a predestined person. It's the same idea that says the child of a king is also royalty, simply by virtue of being born to a king. It's all one big family, for Paul. Again, this is made explicit in both 1 Corinthians and Romans.

Therefore, in order for a child to remain the holy offspring of a Christan parent, BOTH the child's parents must be part of God's kingdom. A child can't be half saved and half condemned. Therefore, if a Christian marries a non-Christian, the non-Christian partner is saved by his/her marriage to the Christian. In that way, the family of God remains intact. Paul urges Christians not to divorce their unbelieving partners because the non-believer is saved as long as they remain married to a believer. If they get divorced, then eternity in God's kingdom is lost for that person. And since God's kingdom was coming soon, as far as Paul was concerned, he was urging these sorts of mixed religion couples to stay together, for the sake of eternity for themselves and their offspring.

The ramifications of this Pauline theology are twofold. First, anyone married to a Christian is saved, whether they themselves are a Christian or not. Second, anyone who is the CHILD of Christian parents is also saved (or a Christian and a non-Christian parent, provided the parents stay together).

If we take this out to its full conclusion, pretty much everyone who is from European descent is saved because all of us can trace our family lines back to parents or grandparents who were Christians. I'd be willing to bet there's not anyone alive today of European descent that doesn't have Christians in their direct line. Even if not your own parents, then probably THEIR parents (meaning they were holy by default), or their grandparents' parents.

The "holy" gene, for Paul, is passed on from generation to generation.

The words for "holy" in that passage, by the way, are the Greek words "hagios" and "hagiazo" (the second being derived from the first). Both words essentially meant "sanctified," "holy," or "purified," and when the word is used by NT writers, it is used in the sense of being consecrated or dedicated to God. That is, it literally meant "saved."

If someone is a Bible literalist, they must accept that Paul, inspired by God, teaches that anyone married to, or descended from, a Christian is saved by default.

The first argument against this, I believe, will be Paul's phrase: "To the rest I say - I, and not the Lord - that if any believer..." Paul was speaking on his own here, not necessarily through God.

But Bible literalists already accept that the words of the Bible - ALL the words of the Bible - are inspired by God and are, literally, the words of God. Paul may have been making his own theological point here, but he was inspired by God in his writing, so what he wrote MUST, by definition, be true. If one wants to make a concession here, then where else should we be making consessions and saying that this passage or that passage isn't actually the Word of God? Bible literalists, by definition, can't make concessions. If you are a Bible literalists, you must accept that most every North and South American, and most every European - Christian or not - is saved. Not to mention many people in other continents of the world who have Christian parents or ancestors. Otherwise, you are disagreeing - not with me - but with Paul.

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