Published Aug. 29, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
Full Salvation is a term that was coined back in the seventeen hundreds by the Methodist movement in Britain. It fit in well with the idea of Christian perfection. The early Methodists believed that the Holy Spirit was active in a person recreating their life in the image of Jesus Christ in such a way that a person could expect that their every motivation would be based in the love of God. It is not that any of the early Methodists claimed to have arrived at that point but it was their expectation that God was working and moving in their lives in such a way that God would make that happen. This was what they meant by Christian perfection; that everything they did could be motivated by the love of God shed abroad in their hearts. To the early Methodists full salvation or entire sanctification was this perfection of God’s love within their souls.
With the advent of the Second Great Awakening in the United States came the camp meeting movement. To think about what this really looked like remember that in the early eighteen hundreds it was a day’s ride into town for most people. These great camp meetings were just that. People would come from all around and camp for a week or more in these large gatherings whose main event was the revival preaching on the frontier. Everyone looked forward to these great events because there was no telephone, no television, no telegraphs, and other forms of social interaction. These camp meetings were the great social event of the year for many people. People from every social strata came into these camp meetings including African slaves who brought with them a more ancient world view than was common in the descendants of the European settlers. It was within this great swirl of ideas and fervor that a new movement began to be formed.
The term “sanctification” is a large word for “being set aside as holy.” Entire sanctification began as a term to express the hope that every part of our being was being made holy by God. In the Methodists movements in which the term was born this was a lifelong process of walking with God. But for African slaves the spiritual world was an ever-present immediate reality. If the spiritual world is immediate then so are its effects. People in these camp meetings began to have experiences that brought them far closer to God. And out of these experiences the idea that entire sanctification could be instantaneous as well began to grow. This issued in the holiness movment that took as its starting point a second experience of salvation that made the adherent “entirely sanctified” before God.
There was more to these experiences people were having in the camp meetings than just a feeling that they were more holy. Especially in Appalachia you can still attend churches where people will seemingly be inhabited by spirits that make them cluck like chickens and other things. But along with this there began to be experiences that looked a lot like the scenes that were described in the book of Acts.
As the twentieth century approached there began to be a general fervor regarding the works of the Holy Spirit. Much of this grew out of Camp Meeting movement, Methodism and the holiness movements. With Charles Parham as possibly its most influential proponent a brand of Christianity began to arise where the primary sign of the Holy Spirit was the ability to speak in tongues. All the elements came together with the Welch revival in Britain and the Azuza street revival in Los Angeles. A movement began at whose center was the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. There were five main doctrinal points of this movement: Salvation by faith, sanctification of the believer, tongues as the evidence of the Holy Spirit, divine healing as the sign of the Kingdom of God, and the soon return of Jesus Christ. For many adherents of this movement Full Salvation became Salvation by faith and the receiving of the baptism of the Holy Spirit with tongues.
As a United Methodist Pastor I know the profound effect of these ideas on my own denomination. I don’t know that there is a church in the world that has been left unaffected by these movements in Christianity. Indeed, the meeting at Azusa Street seemed to have far more in common with the teachings of the apostles in Acts than the high church celebrations of western denominations. In some ways, the reestablishment of an ancient world view that came through African slaves provided a correction for the overly legalized and rationalized theology of the Western Church. And in a church tradition that largely remained at the cross and never made it to the empty grave it has been a refreshing change to see the glory of God’s Holy Spirit being recognized and received as it was in the beginning. While it is great to be forgiven we in the West seemed to have forgotten that having been forgiven was a means to the end of being made newly alive in Jesus Christ.
It is in this new life of Jesus Christ that I think a new definition of “Full Salvation” must be formulated. We have put such great emphasis on the experience of the individual that we have forgotten that God’s vision is not just “me” for God but a whole people of God. Throughout the New Testament individuals are being redeemed as well as entire families and regions. But we have sometimes focused so much on the individual’s experience that we have not paid attention to what God is really doing according to the whole of scripture.
One of the places that this emphasis on the individual shows itself the most is in our interpretation of the book of Romans. For years we have read Romans chapters 1-8 and then we hit a few passages after chapter 8. Admittedly, for an individual reader the beauty of Chapter 8 of Romans is beyond compare. But it is not the climax of Romans at least in the view of Paul. Paul was a good writer. Much of what he wrote followed good rhetorical convention of the time. Paul would have never put the climax of his letter in the middle. Rather, the climax of the letter comes in chapter 15 where he writes, “Receive each other, then, for the glory of God, as Christ has received you.” (Romans 15:7) Paul goes on to say once again that Jesus is the hope of the Gentiles just as Jesus is the hope of the Jewish believers. Together, we are all born together to a new hope in Jesus Christ. Paul’s point is the unity of the Church.
And indeed, throughout Romans this has been Paul’s point. The picture of the body of Christ painted in Romans 12 is not a metaphor but a real description of the Body of Christ. We are not individuals but we really are members of one another with Christ as our head. We are no longer our own. We have been bought with a price and the love of God within our beings draws us together in the Holy Spirit to be one body with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to the whole world. When we fight and bicker, look down on one another’s opinions and proclaim ourselves saved vis-à-vis everyone else we are dividing the body of Christ and we are doing the work of the accuser not the Redeemer. We cannot say that the Holy Spirit told us we are right. The Holy Spirit does not divide but joins.
It's nice if you have been forgiven. It is even better if you are filled with the Holy Spirit. It is great if you have experienced the love of God shed abroad in your heart. But if you are standing aloof from God’s people then all of that means very little. God brought you salvation to join you with all God’s people in the great feast of victory for our God. If you are standing outside looking down on everyone else how can you possibly join in? How can you say know the love of God if you don’t love your brother enough to worship with him (or her)? How can you say “I am forgiven” if you are not allowing God to rule in your hearts? And how can you say “I am filled with the Holy Spirit” when you are keeping yourself apart from the body of Christ? No, you cannot worship God as much by yourself on the golf course or alone in your boat fishing on the lake as you can in church. At least in church there are two or three others there focused on worshipping God and the body of Christ is present. You by yourself can never be more than one. Let God work God’s full work in your life! Full salvation includes being joined to a manifestation of the Body of Christ.