Harmonious living is the highest and most difficult of Arts

It is possible that we learn the Art of harmonious living

through our mistakes, if we are taught by them.

In this long, and often painful, learning process,

cultivating virtues in our character is a must.

Applying common sense in every situation always helps.

This ultimate ART is our mission in this life!

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Tragicomic Story of Instant “Salvation”

The following incident took place in 1985, soon after my return to Greece from England, where I had lived and worked for 10 years. In the beginning I had made some connections with the Greek Evangelical community, albeit with an investigative and skeptical spirit. The story I shall relate here is true, and this experience was a determining factor for my openly denouncing the Evangelical doctrine of instant salvation by faith.
One day, in the beginning of January 1985, I had a phone-call from Manos, a Greek-American missionary, and a member of the so-called “Four Square Gospel” Pentecostal church in Athens. He asked me if I could go with him to the island of Kefalonia to “minister” to a few people there. He said that he had visited that island during the summer of 1984, distributing evangelistic leaflets published by the “Christian Literature Crusade”, and that several people who read them were interested and had invited him to go back and answer their questions. “Kefalonia? Yes, I would very much like to go there!” I answered. Visiting that “high place” of idolatry, and finding out more about the 400-year-old embalmed mummy of St. Gerasimos that is worshipped there, was...
among my top priorities. I thanked Manos for his invitation and, as his car wasn’t in a working order, we arranged to travel there by my car. We would drive to Patras and then take the ferry to the island. Nikos, a young and enthusiastic “born again” Christian, would extend hospitality to us in his house in Argostoli, the capital of Kefalonia, and from there we would make daily excursions to the villages, in order to meet the people who had responded to the Christian Literature Crusade’s leaflets.

We left for Kefalonia on Tuesday morning, January 22, 1985. It was a sunny and mild winter’s day and we both enjoyed the trip while sharing the driving. During the journey, I asked Manos to explain to me how he would “evangelize” the people waiting for him. I wanted to know if there was any common ground on this and if I could take part in his mission. Seeing that we totally disagreed on fundamental Christian issues, I concluded that I shouldn’t get involved at all. I would simply accompany him around the villages, watching, listening, but not saying a word. I just did not like to have any meaningless quarrels with him. After all, it was he who had been invited to talk to people and not I.

We spent the first day after our arrival in Argostoli meeting a few “born again” Christians there, and Manos exchanged some ideas with them about the ways the island of Kefalonia could be “won to Christ.” The following day, we visited the village from which Manos had received the larger number of letters. We were welcomed into the beautiful house of Kostas, an ex seaman. Several people had been gathered there, mostly relatives, but also some neighbors, looking forward to listening to the important missionary from Athens. The people were friendly and hospitable and, as soon as we arrived, the housewife started preparing for lunch. Having decided not to take part in the “evangelization” of the people there, and since I wanted to avoid any embarrassment, I offered to help the hostess in the kitchen. She didn’t accept my offer, though, so I stayed in the living room and took a notebook from my handbag in order to take some notes. I didn’t want to sit there idly. Manos was in a hurry to get on with the job and couldn’t wait to get the people “saved.”
The conversation went on like this:
-“Well, here we are! Do you want to be sure that you go to heaven after you die?”
-“Hmmm...well...but no one knows. You can never be sure,”
said the sensible seaman on behalf of everyone else.
-“Oh, yes! You can certainly be sure. We have no doubt that we will go to heaven; we are saved! Do you also want to be saved?”
-“Well, yes, but I mean, how?”
-“Easy! It’s all written here!”
-“What is there?”
-“It’s the Word of God! You know, the Bible.”
-“Oh, really? I’ve heard of it. What does it say?”
-“Let me show you. Here we are, read, ‘If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (Romans 10:9).”
-“Yeah, but we always believed that Jesus was risen from the dead. We are Christian Orthodox, aren’t you?”
-“Of course we are. We teach the Bible the Orthodox way. But we came here to let you know that you are not saved yet, although you believe in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. You see, you have not been ‘born again’ yet.”
-“Born again? I’ve never heard of this before. What’s all this ‘born again’ business about?”
-“I am glad you asked! That’s what we are here for, to explain all this to you. You see, salvation is by faith; it is a gift from God. You don’t have to do anything in order to earn it. This is what it says in Ephesians 2: 8-9. Your problem is that you have been trying to earn it by good works. ”
-“Problem? Do you mean that I don’t need to do any good works in order to be saved?”
-“Exactly! This is what God’s Word says. That’s why God died for you.”
-“We know that Jesus (not God) died on the cross,” protested several of them.
-“This is what I meant,”
said Manos.
-“It sounds good! Yeah, we do want to be ‘born again’ and be sure that we are saved from now on and we shall go to heaven. Show us, then. How?”
-“All right, good! Now, repeat this prayer out loud after me, please.”

Then, Manos started praying the “prayer of salvation” and the people repeated it after him, as they were instucted to do. It was the same conventional prayer heard at the end of every evangelistic preaching all over the world. Throughout this time I kept taking notes on everything that was said, while keeping my sunglasses on to hide the occasional tears in my eyes. Why tears? Was I moved that so many people were instantly “saved”? Of course I wasn’t. I was grieved, however, by the fact that Evangelical Christianity had been deceived into believing that salvation was such an easy game... When the obedient villagers had finished repeating the dictated prayer, Manos said to them triumphantly, “That’s it. You are saved now! Write down the time, 11:15 a.m., and the date, 25th of January, 1985. It is a historical day for you all! Today you have been born again! You are going to heaven! There is no doubt about it. We are brothers and sisters in Christ now. Praise the Lord!”

The people, somewhat bewildered, made an effort to show an artificial elation, as if they were trying to convince themselves that the greatest thing in their lives had just happened to them. As for myself, I ran into the kitchen to give a helping hand to the hostess. It was the only way to avoid answering any questions the people might have asked me regarding their instant “salvation”. I hated being a hypocrite... After the delicious meal, we all agreed to go for a walk down to the beach. There, Manos took some photographs of all of them. While at the beach, the hostess, who was also “saved”, related to me some of the dreams and visitations of St. Gerasimos that she had experienced. I heard her stories without making any comments. I saw no point in arguing with her. After all, she had just reserved a seat in heaven, hadn’t she?

Late in the afternoon, we all returned to the seaman’s house for coffee and free chat. In the evening, as Manos and I were getting ready to leave for Argostoli, we were asked to come back the next day. Kostas and the other newly “born again” Christians wanted to invite some more people, relatives and neighbors, in order for them to be “saved” too. You see, this instant “salvation” didn’t cost them anything. It was a “free gift”! As we drove away from the village, Manos exclaimed, “Praise the Lord! What a day today! So many souls have been saved!” Then he turned to me saying, “Aren’t you glad? You don’t seem very excited about this. Why?” I looked at him with underlying sadness, and I said I didn’t believe anyone was saved. But I chose not to justify my point. He wouldn’t understand anyway, and I wasn’t in a mood for endless arguments...

The next day, first thing in the morning, we set off for the same village, as it had been arranged. This time, Nikos, the young man in whose house we stayed, came with us. We arrived at the same place around 10:00 a.m. and, while I was trying to park my car, we saw an angry crowd coming up against us, threatening us with sticks or tight fists and shouting, “Don’t you dare to get out of the car! We found out all about you. You deceived us yesterday! You have hidden your real identity. You are not Orthodox Christians! You are the devil’s heretics taking orders from someone in America. Give us back the film with the photographs you took yesterday and get out of our village immediately! Don’t you dare to ever come back here. You are liars, you are swindlers, and you cheated us!”

My God! I was terrified! We were nearly stoned by the very people who, supposedly, “had received Jesus in their heart” just the day before! We were insulted and threatened by the very people who, only yesterday, had been “born again” - according to Manos and his “evangelical” theology - and had secured a seat in heaven! What a day! What an unexpected outcome! I just realized that this instant “salvation”, apart from being a fraud, could also become dangerous. I drove away as fast as I could while the crowd was still running after the car demanding that the photographic film be given to them. Manos, however, had no intention of giving it to them. Most probably, as is the custom of missionaries, the photos would be sent to the Pentecostal Church in California that had sponsored him. Naturally, to keep the money coming, one ought to show some work…

Deep in my heart, I felt justified that I had not endorsed this childish doctrine of instant salvation by faith, or, rather, by suggestion and coercion. I said nothing to Manos and Nikos, though. I only hoped that this ridiculous and embarrassing incident would wake then up and cause them to re-examine their approach to salvation. Unfortunately, as far as I know, to this day they have not changed anything in their belief system... Why should they? Where on earth, in which religion, which denomination, which heresy, which cult, could they have found an easier way of “salvation”? Nowhere, indeed... “Christ had done it all on the cross,” hadn’t he? Besides, ‘common sense’ is not so common among human beings…