Once saved, always saved??

So I am kinda wrestling with this issue. I grew up Baptist and had told to me and personally endorsed the idea that simply praying the sinner's prayer once was all that was necessary for eternal life in heaven. It didn't matter if one completely turned away from the Lord. My youth pastor argued that there is nothing that I could do that is greater than what God can do.

But it is interesting. I am interning at this African church and the Sunday School teacher argued that one of the main downfalls (errors) of the American church that causes such problems is the idea of "once saved, always saved." The pastor's wife recently came to the place that she doesn't think that a man would lose his salvation for having long hair provided that was the only thing wrong with his life (I guess I took the 1 Cor. verse on long hair being a disgrace to a man as being written to that culture for that time period, not a universal mandate- which they took it as - but that's besides the point). My point is that the level of devotion I see in the African church and the emphasis on holiness in the African church is not even in the ballpark to what I see in the American church. Of course, the idea of burning in hell for any little thing would probably prompt more than the complacency that seems to abound in much of the American church.

So what does constitute salvation? I hear so many different things in different evangelism methods (many that I have used). Is it simply belief (Acts 16:31)? Does baptism play a part (Acts 3:22 if I remember right?)? Is it simply calling on Jesus such that all one has to do is say Jesus as a cuss word and because they called on the name of the Lord they are saved (Rom. 10:13 - yep, I actually heard evangelists endorse this)? Is repentance a fundemental aspect of salvation? Can one be saved without repentance? Or without surrender? And is this an ongoing surrender? Or just a one time shot and then one can feel free to take back control? Is one saved only while they are living in conscious surrender but as they walk back in control facing damnation? My goodness, the Good Lord must spend a LOT of time writing and erasing names if this is true... I don't know that I have an answer that I like. I DO have a hard time seeing that salvation can occur without repentance (and that would include every area of life and not just picking and choosing - which is what we Americans seem to like to do - esp. with "small things" that "aren't that big of a deal" - at least to us, maybe not God. I know that the disciples asked and Jesus implied that not many would be saved. It seems right now in America virtually everyone over the age of 30 that isn't a recent immigrant has said a sinner's prayer before regardless of what their life looks like now. So why do any evangelism that simply consists of having people making a decision for Christ when they probably have already done this? And if the Africans are right (and don't let your idea of American pride think that we know more than them on this, because I think they know FAR, FAR more about devotion and walking with the Lord than the average American. Also, if signs and wonders authenticate the true Gospel, then the amount that the Africans see in comparison to the Americans should cause one to defaultly choose the Africans as being more in tune to the Lord than the Americans) than perhaps the Americans need to figure out how to save the church from the pastors (the majority, statistics say, are addicted to pornography) on down.

Yeah, I know all of the debates on Calvinism and Arminianism. This isn't really meant to be a theological argument. I guess my goal in writing this is that one should feel just a touch less confident on the opinion they hold to and allow a healthy fear of the Lord and hatred towards sin to sink in. We WILL stand before Him one day to give an account... Perhaps this might be why salvation gets worked out with fear and trembling.

I responded to the Sunday School teacher that I thought the major lie that holds the church captive is that holiness or devotion or obedience is called legalism. True, there is legalism. And it is very ugly. But in the backlash that ensued, EVERYTHING is fair game in the name of not being legalistic. For example, I can watch anything on tv, because, after all, I don't want to be legalistic. I don't need to go to church regularly because I don't want to be legalistic about it. I don't need to pick up my Bible except when I really, really want to because I don't want to be legalistic. I can have any perverted, crass thing come out of my mouth because I don't want to be legalistic. And so on... I could give a verse for each one of those (and if you want I will) of why each of those things is wrong. But it doesn't matter. Americans like to make up their own rules and then call someone else legalistic if there is any challenge to holliness. And so we live in an empty, unsatisfied culture because righteousness has been all but been eliminated in the desire to build big "seeker-sensitive" churches. Because it is only those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that will be filled. And so people come empty to church and leave empty because they got what they wanted... but not what they needed.

Wow, well I guess I rambled for a bit. I started salvation and then moved off topic. Oh well. And I am VERY HEAVILY stereotyping, and have not been to very many African churches... Anyway, God bless you guys (whoever reads this).