At the moment, I am attending a Bible college where I am majoring in Biblical Languages, and I have been doing some deep thought and study into the various theological positions that have had an impact on the church over the years. Aside from the ever controversial subjects of predestination, election, the sovereignty of God, the responsibility of man, and the atonement of Christ, I have begun to put much thought into things like eschatology. This was a subject which I was basically forced into by my boss while working at the school over the summer. I casually commented on the fact that I saw a couple of problems with the Dispensational distinction between Israel and the Church based on one lonely passage in Galatians 3. The passage I'm referring to is located in verses 5-7 & 16 which speak of all those who are of faith are children of Abraham and the promises made to Abraham were made to Christ--which to me seemed to indicate the idea that all those who were in Christ were not only children of Abraham but heirs to the promises. This has since led to many other questions reaching into various other areas.
The question that these former topics of study and discussion have led me to ponder is: "By what do we measure what is important in determining the level of fellowship we have with others who claim the name of Christ?" I have had discussions with fellow students of the Bible who have taken a stand on music issues and declared that certain people cannot glorify God with the gifts and talents that He has given them. I don't think that it's necessary to point out how dogmatic Dispensationalists are when it comes to certain areas of Bible interpretation. I have had debates over the power and extent of the atonement with others which have ended in certain people jokingly calling me a heretic, and I even tried to point out the fact that one particular verse did not support the idea of a universal atonement based on the context in which the verse was nestled and I was called a heretic with no joking intended (although he did apologize later and gave me a hug). All these events have culminated in my ultimate questioning of whether or not one who professes to know God could possibly know Him when they deny His person, power, and purpose.
As I consider the Dispensationalist conclusions I realize that in order to come to the same conclusion that they have I need to start with certain presuppositions (Israel and the church are distinct) and rules of interpretation. Then, I must abandon one or the other of those rules in particular instances involving something that goes against my initial presuppositions (when reading Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc...).
I'd like my question to be more pointed, though, so I believe that I'll narrow it down a bit. I happened to be listening to a recent edition of the Iron Sharpens Iron broadcast (which can be accessed in my "Edification" section to the left of my blog), and the host of the show, Chris Arnzen, had a pastor's round table discussion focusing on the thoughts of these particular pastors' opinions of whether or not someone's salvation was dependent on their position regarding the Doctrines of Grace. This is one particular question that I've been wrestling with.
I realize that salvation is not based on some theological system. It is by the grace of God through faith (complete trust) in His Son Jesus Christ. This is something that most evangelicals would agree to, and as I've had interaction with many Roman Catholic priests I've come to find that they will acknowledge this as well. This being said, I hope that your ears have perked up in wondering, "How can this be?" Well, it all goes back to your definition. A Catholic's definition of grace is much different than the traditional, reformed, Biblical one. They believe (actually they hope) that they will receive the "graces" necessary to perform whatever works necessary to be saved at the end of their life, and they hope to die in that "state of grace" in order that they may go to purgatory to pay for the rest of their sins. Now, if salvation is not based on a theological system, I think that some would be able to stand with me in agreement that this particular theological system will keep them from true salvation.
Based on what we understand about the Catholic teaching, I have to reflect upon my own upbringing in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. I was taught that I am saved by grace through faith--not works. I was also taught that all someone needed to do was to believe in Christ, and I believed that this was something that anyone could do. I won't give you my testimony in this article, but I eventually came to realize that God wasn't who I had imagined Him to be--He was much more glorious, to be sure. In fact, God was so much in control of all of the events of history and the present that nothing happened apart from His sovereign direction. I began to realize this when I started studying the Bible. I would read and read and ask questions about particular passages that spoke of God's elect and the sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross and as High Priest. Then I was introduced to the Doctrines of Grace. Everything just sort of...fell into place. God's word was a coherent whole. I was taught for so long to overlook some passages of Scripture and give definitions that didn't always fit, but when I realized that there were answers to these conundrums that demonstrated God's glory in all of time and creation (yes, I know that time is a creation) I couldn't deny the validity of it--by the grace of God, I now realize.
Sorry for the prolonged prologue--now for my question: If someone is presented with these truths of God's sovereignty and grace--yet they reject this God as a repugnant philosophical or logical conclusion of the Calvinists--even though the exegesis of the texts are presented, then are they truly saved? As I've been pondering this question, I've been confronted with commandment #2. Are these people worshiping the One, True, God, or are they worshiping a god that they have created in their minds based on traditional teachings and expectations?
I realize that some people might be offended that I would ask a question like this, but please realize that I haven't come to any conclusions for myself. I am simply pondering this question that has been hounding me in many ways and wondering if anyone can give me some insight as to where I should go from here. Please try to answer in a non-emotional way in order that the exchange may be edifying.