Do You Have a Relationship with Christ?

Our relationship with Christ is all important. But what does having a “relationship with Christ” actually mean? Stephen H. Travis in the conclusion to his book “Christ and the Judgement of God” notes that he does not want to fall into the trap of using “relationship with Christ” as “a vague slogan without any precise content” and then goes on and gives a quick survey of New Testament passages that describe having a relationship with Christ. I think it is a nice,  non sectarian listing of what the NT says about relationship with Christ. I’ll just quote Travis with some formatting changes for readability.

…In all four groups of [New Testament] literature faith and deeds are connected in the closest possible way.

“Relation to Christ, then, is the criterion of judgement. Women and men are judged according to whether they respond to Christ in faith and obedience or not. Readers of this book may sometimes have wondered whether the word ‘relationship’ was being used too vaguely, as a slogan without any precise content. But it does have a defined content in all the literature we have looked at. A positive relationship to Christ is defined as:

Synoptic Gospels: ‘believing’, ‘following’, ‘becoming a child’, ‘hearing my words and doing them’, ‘saying Abba’;

John: ‘believing’, ‘knowing God’, ‘loving’, ‘abiding’, ‘you in me and I in you’;

Apostle Paul’s writings: ‘believing’, ‘being in Christ’, ‘faith working through love’;

Revelation: ‘hearing my voice and opening the door’, ‘keeping his word and not denying his name’, ‘faithfulness until death’, ‘conquering’.

And in all four groups of literature faith and deeds are connected in the closest possible way.

Hence judgement is passed not according to a rather arbitrary intellectual assent, but according to a person’s total direction of life and relation to God.”

Confessions of Faith Indicate Influences & Shifts in Anabaptist Thinking About Salvation

Anabaptists have always had a view of salvation that differed sharply with Reform traditions in that it emphasized repentance and transformation of life into conformity with Jesus Christ. This is a quick look at Protestant and Anabaptist views of salvation based on confessions of faith down through the years.

In my view the “1921 Christian Fundamentals Mennonite Church” (Garden City) is the low water mark in that it seemingly copied and articulated the Reform view of salvation almost to a word.

In my view the “1921 Garden City Christian Fundamentals Mennonite” is the low water mark in that in it Mennonites seemingly copied and articulated the Reform view of salvation almost word for word. This is of continuing concern since many conservative Anabaptist groups still based their confessions of faith on the 1921 Garden City Confession.

Now, note the progression, influence and shifts.

1527 (Anabaptist) The Schleitheim Confession

This Schleitheim Confession was not an attempt to be a complete confession but it just addressed areas that were of immediate concern so it does not specifically have a section on salvation. The first article on Baptism does indirectly cover repentance, new life and faith so I have included it below.

First. Observe concerning baptism: Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with Him in death, so that they may be resurrected with Him, and to all those who with this significance request it [baptism] of us and demand it for themselves. This excludes all infant baptism, the highest and chief abomination of the pope. In this you have the foundation and testimony of the apostles. Mt. 28, Mk. 16, Acts 2, 8, 16, 19. This we wish to hold simply, yet firmly and with assurance.

1530 (Lutheran) Augsburg Confession

IV. Justification by Faith: Man cannot be justified before God through our own abilities; we are wholly reliant on Jesus Christ for reconciliation with God.
VI. Of the New Obedience:  Lutherans believe that good deeds of Christians are the fruits of faith and salvation, not a price paid for them.
XII. Of Repentence: Repentance comes in two parts: in contrition for sins committed according to the Law and through faith offered through the Gospel. A believer can never be free from sin, nor live outside of the grace of God.
XX. Of Good Works:  The Lutheran notion of justification by faith does not somehow condemn good works; faith causes them to do good works as a sign of our justification (or salvation), not a requirement for salvation.

1632 (Mennonite) The Dordrecht Confession of Faith: VI. Of Repentence

We believe and confess, that, since the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and, therefore, prone to all unrighteousness, sin, and wickedness, the first lesson of the precious New Testament of the Son of God is repentance and reformation of life, and that, therefore, those who have ears to hear, and hearts to understand, must bring forth genuine fruits of repentance, reform their lives, believe the Gospel, eschew evil and do good, desist from unrighteousness, forsake sin, put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness: for, neither baptism, supper, church [membership], nor any other outward ceremony, can without faith, regeneration, change or renewing of life, avail anything to please God or to obtain of Him any consolation or promise of salvation; but we must go to God with an upright heart, and in perfect faith, and believe in Jesus Christ, as the Scripture says, and testifies of Him; through which faith we obtain forgiveness of sins, are sanctified, justified, and made children of God, yea, partake of His mind, nature, and image, as being born again of God from above, through incorruptible seed. Gen. 8:21; Mark 1:15; Ezek. 12:2; Col. 3:9, 10; Eph. 4:22, 24; Heb. 10:22, 23; John 7:38.

1915 (Protestant) The Fundamentals: 4. Salvation

It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

1921 (Mennonite) Christian Fundamentals Mennonite Church: VI. Of Salvation

We believe that man is saved alone by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ; that he is justified from all things on the ground of his shed blood; that through the new birth he becomes a child of God, partaker of eternal life and blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:20-26; Acts 13:38, 39; John 1:12, 13; John 3:4, 8, 16; John 5:24; Ephesians 1:3.,_1921)

1963 (Mennonite) Mennonite General Conference: Article 6. Salvation by Grace Through Faith

(short) 6. We believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, a free gift bestowed by God on those who repent and believe

We believe that men are saved, not by character, law, good works, or ceremonies, but by the grace of God. The merits of the death and resurrection of Christ are adequate for the salvation of all men, are offered to all, and are intended for all. Salvation is appropriated by faith in Christ. From all eternity God knew who would be the believers in Christ, and these persons foreknown as believers are elect according to the foreknowledge of God. Those who repent and believe in Christ as Saviour and Lord receive the gift of righteousness, are born again, and are adopted into the family of God. Saving faith involves the giving of the self to Christ, a full surrender of the will, a confident trust in Him, a joyful obedience to His Word as a faithful disciple, and an attitude of love to all men. It is the privilege of every believer to have the assurance of salvation. The God who saves is also able to keep each believer unto a happy end in Christ. As long as the believer lives, he stands in need of the forgiveness, cleansing, and grace of Christ. John 3:16; John 10:27-29; Romans 4; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 1:8-10; 1 John 5:13; Jude 24. Short,_1963 Long

Anabaptist, Protestant & Catholic Beliefs Compared

Conservative Anabaptists have deep and abiding differences with both Protestant and Catholic conceptions of what authentic Christianity looks like.

The question has been raised about how Protestant and Catholic beliefs compare to conservative Anabaptists and this caught my interest enough that I decided to try to plot differences. I thought this could be helpful for several reasons:

  • Think more carefully about Protestant/Catholic differences myself
  • Note more precisely how Anabaptist/Protestant/Catholics actually compare
  • Temper uncritical reading of Protestant & Catholic writing & help us not to unquestioningly accept theology (especially Reform axioms) conveyed in  unquestioned assumptions

[Note: The chart below is a guide and a work in progress and I would really welcome your input & corrections. (One thing that would really help is any glaringly missing major Protestant theological points that would be in agreement with conservative Anabaptists) It is has obvious generalizations for simplicity’s sake and some are judgment calls. Also, at the moment the list is a quite a will nilly order.]


Note: A bit more nuance on “Faith Alone”: Anabaptists believe in salvation through faith in Christ and maintain the NT emphasis of both Jesus, Paul & others on the importance of repentence and walking in newness of life. A classic formulation of Anabaptist thinking on faith & salvation is found in the Dordrecht Confession article IV on “Of Repentence & Newness of Life“.

Hopefully this is helpful in living in the truth.