Bringing you the "Good News" of Jesus Christ and His Church While PROMOTING CATHOLIC Apologetic Support groups loyal to the Holy Father and Church's magisterium
Home About
AskACatholic.com
What's New? Resources The Church Family Life Mass and
Adoration
Ask A Catholic
Knowledge base
AskACatholic Disclaimer
Search the
AskACatholic Database
Donate and
Support our work
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
New Questions
Cool Catholic Videos
About Saints
Disciplines and Practices
Purgatory and Indulgences
About the Holy Mass
About Mary
Searching and Confused
Homosexual Issues
Life and Family
No Salvation Outside the Church
Sacred Scripture
non-Catholic Cults
Justification and Salvation
back
The Pope and Papacy
The Sacraments
Relationships and Marriage situations
Specific people, organizations and events
Doctrine and Teachings
Specific Practices
Church Internals
Church History

Caleb Taylor wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a Protestant and I have done some web searching on the Catholic idea of Faith and Works for salvation. The results seem ambiguous.

Some Catholics seem to define works as simply avoiding serious sin and keeping the Ten Commandments. Obviously there is room for repentance if one may fall into them.

Others focus on the sheep and goats parable. These are acts of love toward others beyond just avoiding serious sin.

From reading around, what I think Catholics don't seem to realize is that although some Protestants may proclaim Faith alone as Luther did, in reality what they really mean is that:

Works do in fact follow true faith, but will flow from a heart that is changed inwardly through faith.

  • Is this really different from the Catholic idea?
  • Do Catholics also believe that faith changes the heart and therefore actions will follow from that?
  • What I am concerned about is that with all the emphasis on works that I have read about, do the common Catholics — non-clergy, etc. — at large really have works?

What I have personally seen of regular Catholics is that they swear, and can get drunk, and generally live their lives like non-Christians, such as having pre-marital sex (e.g. a school teacher I worked with), with the exception that some do go to church, partake of the sacraments, thinking they will save them, though many don't even do that!

Perhaps common Catholics actually define works as partaking of the sacraments. I would be interested to know:

  • Are such people really saved in the Church's view?
  • Do you realize that you have an an epidemic in your Church of scandalous Catholic behavior as I have described above?

Caleb Taylor

  { How do I reconcile the Catholic and Protestant views on justification and salvation? }

Mike replied:

Hi Caleb,

This is a common question; it's even in our searchable knowledge base.

There are a lot of quick answers there, so give it a try.

I searched the knowledge base for you and found a portion of these answers that should help answer your question:

Hope this helps,

Mike

John replied:

Hi Caleb,

First of all, let's not worry about what individual Catholics say and deal with what the Church says.

We are saved by Grace and Grace alone! That Grace includes the gift of faith which we must use in order to receive salvation.

It is by Faith and Good Works — works done by grace in and through faith — that we are justified. These good works include putting to death the flesh, meaning selfish acts, not just the flesh, as in sexual immorality. In Romans 8:13 Saint Paul writes that those who by the Spirit, in other words, by grace through faith, put to death the deeds of the flesh are the sons of God.

This means that as a Christian walks his Christian walk, he allows the Holy Spirit to sanctify his soul so that he overcomes sin and when he does sin he repents. Again, this is all an action of God by grace, that cooperates within and through faith.

Protestants believe that Justification is one time event. That it is static and it is forensic — strictly an external declaration. This is based on Luther's misreading of Romans.

First, let's deal with where Luther initially goes off track. Romans 3:28 says that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law but Luther inserted a the alone into the sentence when he translated the text into German from the Greek although the word is not there in the Greek.

  • So what is Paul arguing against in Romans 3 when he says Works of the law?

Well, we know from reading elsewhere throughout the New Testament that Paul wasn't talking about the Ten Commandments. He makes it clear, that adulterers, murders, thieves, etc. will not enter Heaven and of course he meant those who don't repent. So when we look at the context of Romans we see that Paul is talking about the ceremonial law of Temple worship — the Temple sacrifices, and most importantly, circumcision.

Now later in Romans 4, Paul writes Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. So Luther says, Ah ha, you see that's the point in time Abraham got justified.

Well, Paul is quoting Genesis 15 but James tells us that Abraham was justified when in faith he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. Well heck, that's not until Genesis 17, then you go to Hebrews and the author there tells us in Chapter 11 that Abraham acted in faith when he left Ur of the Chaldees way back in Genesis 12.

So the only explanation here is that justification is not a static or one time event but is a dynamic ongoing process along with sanctification and since we know it must be by Grace, we must then conclude that it is not simply a legal declaration, as Luther argued, but an intrinsic action of the Holy Spirit in the soul and life of the believer that grows in quality as we respond to grace through faith.

It is always God's grace inside of us, working in us, that requires our free will cooperation by grace. St. Paul says as much in Philippians.

  • "He who began a good work in you shall be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)
  • ". . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling as it is God who works in you both to do and to will for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)

Now that we have established a foundation, let's deal with the specific question:

  • What do we mean by Good Works?

Well, works or sins fall into two categories:

  1. commission and
  2. omission so:
  • to do something good acting in faith motivated by grace and love, or
  • avoiding evil, again acting in faith motivated by grace and love,

are both good works.

Yes, we must do our best to avoid all sin, mortal or not mortal but again:

  • it is by the Spirit that put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13)
  • For by grace are we saved, through faith, not of works [meaning done in your own strength and self-righteous spirit] lest any man boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9),

The fact is we are all going to sin but when we repent — by grace through faith — we allow God's grace to work in us to continue the process of justification, sanctification, and so on.

So as Christians, we need to get beyond the score card mentality at least as mature Christians. Yes, some things are obvious. You don't do certain things and when you fall, be fast to repent. (See 1 John 1:9.)

And Yes, there are some obvious things we should do. When you help someone in need, the Holy Spirit quickens you to help them. The early Apostolic Fathers put it very simply:

Do good; avoid evil.

Instead of worrying about keeping score, we need to view life as pilgrimage in which we draw closer to God. Everything in our lives is meant to sanctify us. Every circumstance is an opportunity for grace to work in us as a dynamic force to transform us. St. Paul writes later in Romans 12:

"I beseech ye therefore brethren by the mercy of God to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service [or worship] . . . depending on how you translated the Greek — one is the same as the other. Do not be conformed by this world but be transformed by the renewing of you mind."

Romans 12:1-2

So we need to undergo an internal transformation and the battle place is our mind. We do this:

  • through worship
  • through reading Sacred Scripture
  • prayer, and
  • by acting on what we know to be true by faith.

Every time we obey God in faith, our faith is strengthened. We prove God right to ourselves hence our faith and therefore justification is improved and grows in quality.

It's like working out. You burn off calories (or sin nature) and build muscles. Again, it is all God's grace working in you but the mind is where the battle is. That is where our free will must agree with God, and even that ability: to agree, is also a grace.

How exactly free will and grace work together is again a mystery because as it is says in Revelation, Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne (Revelation 7:10) and it is Jesus Christ who is the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2) as the author of Hebrews tells us.

You see, salvation isn't just a court case where we are declared not guilty because of Christ's atonement. Yes, that's certainly part of the picture but it's only one paradigm that explains the issues in a limited way. It is one of the aspects of a mystery called salvation. Salvation is more than a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. That would reduce Jesus to a Personal Lord and Bail Bondsman.

Salvation is much more. It is covenantal relationship, compared to Marriage, and in this process we are being prepared to be the Bride of Christ . . . and Husband and Wife must give themselves to each other completely selflessly so we must learn to die to self, just as Christ died for us.

That means allowing the the Holy Spirit to work in us so that we overcome our selfish desires to sin and, on the flip side, grown in the virtues of love and charity towards God and all his creatures.

  • So what is it going to take for us to enter Heaven?
    <Well, we need to become Christ-like.>

Now Luther argued, and it is the Protestant view, that God simply covers us with the Righteousness of Christ.

He said we must be like Christ but that righteousness is simply imputed. We are piles of dung and we remain so but Christ covers us with snow and that's all He sees. Once we are dead, we are transformed into His likeness.

Now there is some truth in this but it is radically incomplete.

Yes, Christ declares us righteous, but what Christ says, Christ does. Isaiah 55 says the Word of God does not return void but shall go forth and accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. (Isaiah 55:11) So when God declares us righteous, He also makes us righteous too.

By faith, and normally Baptism, we are immediately made righteous as well as declared righteous however the desire to sin, concupiscence or sin nature, remains. For this reason, we continue to sin and we wound our soul. By grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith, we walk our Christian life trying put to death the deeds of the flesh, by the Spirit, confident that God will complete the work He started in us!!!

That's the more holistic way of looking at it. There is obviously more to it because, quite frankly, Salvation is a great mystery but it is nothing short of being united to Christ and the Holy Trinity.

As Catholics, we believe that this process may continue after death, again only for those who, to begin with, believe. There is not second chance to repent but a process of purification, of healing, that continues for most of the Faithful Departed beyond this Earthly life.

It's best, as mature Christians, to get beyond the list of do's and don'ts and embrace Jesus, allowing Him to work in us.

As Catholics, we also have the Sacraments which Christ gave us. These are tangible means and encounters with Christ that give us grace and strengthen our faith when received in faith.

When we worship and pray, we know that as the author of Hebrews tell us in Chapter 12 that we are not alone our worship or even as we live our lives. We have all of Christ with us, and that includes all the members of His Mystical Body, the Church on Earth and in Heaven.

12 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us

Hebrews 12:1

Later in Chapter 12, it talks about being with Church of the First Born, the angels, the spirits of just men made perfect together with the One Mediator Christ Jesus. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

So we are connected in:

  • prayer
  • worship, and
  • the living of our lives with those who have gone before us.

We are saved individually, by being grafted into the Body of Christ — His Church.

The two actions are separable. Salvation is both individual and corporate and it is Oh so much more than a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. It is the process whereby we partake and participate in the Divine Nature of our Lord Jesus Christ through the covenant relationship which God's Word compares to marriage.

I hope this helps and please stay in touch.

John

Caleb replied:

Wow!

Your response has shown me that (at least some) Catholics do have the truth and a relationship with Jesus!

The problem is I have heard, time and time again, testimonies of those coming out of the dead rituals of Catholicism, which appeared to not help them at all, into a living and active relationship with Jesus through (for example) Pentecostalism or Arminian evangelicalism.

  • Does what you say really match the experience of the average Catholic?

I have to say that as a Protestant I could hardly disagree with anything you have said until you came to the sacraments.

  • Do you realize, that the main point Luther had was not his faith alone as a one-time event view but rather that the Catholic Church had gone into error in abuse of the sacraments, especially in the area of Indulgences?

. . . and you guys took the initiative to kick him out of the Church.

No one should ever claim that on any occasion a Pope can speak without error, as if he were God himself, at times incapable of being in error. Luther at least recognized this and wanted a debate on his insights rather than accepting the absolute authority of the Pope!

Protestant Christianity, at least in some of its forms, has come a really long way since Luther. There have been many great leaders bringing back a focus on sanctification, such as Wesley and Charles G. Finney! In fact many new movements were by godly men who saw a deadness coming into Protestant Christianity, e.g. Moody and Booth!

Take, for example, the lively Christianity found at Bethel Church (led by Bill Johnson) or have you heard of Heidi Baker who has a very deep relationship with Jesus? I feel this kind of Christianity has no need for the outward sacraments since it focuses on the inward life!

We do not really need the sacraments since all have access to Jesus directly. I am not personally a part of that church, but live in New Zealand. I just offer it as an example of real Christianity that does not overemphasize the sacraments.

What you said about doctrine is absolutely great and I am frankly very surprised to hear it coming from a Catholic.

  • Does what you said about doctrine apply to most Catholics?
  • Do they really believe it or practice it?

Certainly the Catholics I have seen, seem to have a dead religion — living life like the world during the week and going to church on Sundays . . thinking that rituals will save them.

Along with the overemphasis on the sacraments, I also have a major, major problem with the Catholic veneration of Mary. Catholic tradition seems to have, at some point, gone off the point of the Gospel which focuses on prayer to God and Jesus.

  • Yes, we do ask others to pray for us, if they are alive on Earth, since they can mediate Christ to us, in leading us to deeper faith in Christ but what is the point in asking Mary anything if we have access to a much, much Better Invisible Intercessor in Jesus?

Your Church seems to be putting her on the same level as Jesus. Even those we ask to pray for us on earth, do so to lead us to Jesus. I would never really enter a Catholic Church (on my own will) for this reason alone!

Being once a High School teacher who has taught in a Catholic school, one year we had to take the boys to Mass and I found it was really a set of completely dead rituals bringing no feeling or presence of God at all. I actually felt quite sick after attending.

Nevertheless, I am really quite surprised that the doctrine in you e-mail seems quite sound!

One divergent point I would make is that I personally don't see any mystery in grace and free will. God draws us by his Arminian will not Calvinist one — which is a heresy by the way. I have had many discussions with the Calvinists.

Nevertheless, we don't need the sacraments for this — Jesus is enough. As I said, there have been many great insights in Protestantism since Luther.

I personally see Luther's contribution as being just his exposure of the evil focus of the Church on the sacraments, especially giving money to purchase salvation — a frankly quite shocking doctrine of the Catholic Church at the time.

That said, reading your e-mail was very interesting. I hope to hear back from you.

Stay in touch.

Caleb Taylor

John replied:

Hi Caleb,

Good morning! So everyone on the team can follow in on the conversation and we don't repeat ourselves, Reply to All rather than just replying to me. It can also be more productive and fruitful. Sometimes I might miss point that one of colleagues might be able to answer better or be able to explain in your language.

Which brings me to another point. Catholics and Evangelicals speak different languages. They start with different questions and there, our explanations often fit into each other's theological paradigms. I know this because I spend six years as Baptist/Pentecostal Minister before leaving the pulpit . . . and much study to become a lay Catholic.

This was about some 19 years ago, when alas, I was much younger. Because of my journey, I can relate to your criticisms and speak your language. God has also given me an ability to translate . . . LOL

We have begun a fruitful dialogue and I hope we can continue it, so that as Christian brothers, we can respectfully build a good understanding of the other's views. What I often find is Catholics and Protestants talk past each other. They never really figure out what the other believes.

Some of your criticism is legitimate. There are many lukewarm Catholics who don't have clue what the Church teaches. They have not been properly evangelized or taught the faith. The Church knows this and is endeavoring on a mission to evangelize the baptized. By the same token, you probably also ran into some good Catholics that probably didn't have a clue how to explain what we believe in a language you can understand.

The problem with (lukewarm Christianity or even backslidden Christianity) is not any worse in the Catholic Church worldwide than it is in any other Christian community worldwide.

It really depends on where you are and, no offense, but the Catholic Church is not Joe's Bible Fellowship with 115 people which meets on Sundays for one service and then on Wednesday nights for Bible Service. We have way over 1.1 billion members by the numbers alone and we are growing, so depending where you live, it could appear that a disproportionate number of Catholics are either:

  • lukewarm
  • backslidden, or
  • non-believers going through the motions.

The fact is, we need to pray for those who call themselves Christian of any kind, whether they be ardent or lukewarm. We need to redouble our efforts to share Jesus in Word and in Deed with everyone.

As we continue to dialogue, we'll get to some of your other concerns . . . about the sacraments, indulgences, and the way they have been abused in the past and, to some extent, by some today.

We'll spend some time talking about Luther as well. He is too much revered by one side and too much maligned by the other. Suffice to say for now, that he was man seeking the truth and seeking an experience as he was plagued with scrupulosity. For a while he was indeed prophetic until he allowed pride to get to get the better of him and he went into the rebellion. As a result, he threw the baby out with the bath water. Calvin followed as did many others.

The Church clerics of the time probably didn't handle the situation altogether in the best possible way either. You can't blame Jesus for cheap labor . . . sins on both sides were committed.

I'm happy that you contacted us. I usually don't jump into most conversations on the web site anymore as I have other duties that keep me from these efforts.

Over the years we've answered a lot of these questions before and they are in our database but everyone once and while Mike will send me a question and the Holy Spirit will lead me to jump in.

I believe this is one of those occasions so I look forward to an ongoing fellowship.

Warmly Under His Mercy,

John DiMascio

Caleb replied:

Well,

What I hear constantly from those in the Protestant community on a mission to evangelize those of the Catholic faith is that the Catholics they constantly converse with do not have a relationship or experience with Jesus Christ in their hearts. They simply attend Mass and go through the rituals each week but live their lives away from God during the week . . . having no impact on their daily lives. (e.g. They swear, drink, or talk about worldly things throughout the week thus showing that Jesus is not in them.) This appears that this is case for most Catholics they meet and try to evangelize. Once again, by the way, I am from New Zealand.

Yes, I would admit, that many Protestants are the same, even most Protestants, and perhaps those are the ones you initially experienced yourself but what I feel we have an ongoing legacy for is the renewal in the Church as a whole, with God often working through or sending great men of God throughout Protestant history who see what is lacking in our Churches, (even a lack of the fundamentals of salvation in many cases), and bringing back the truth into the Churches.

True, many chose not to accept such preachers who brought these revivals, but revival is always persecuted, even by the Protestants. God continues to send people to bring back truth to the Protestant community and I believe it is a little more flexible and open for this kind of renewal due to its open platform for discussion, rather than having an absolute authority such as the Pope. Such people who did this in the past, were Wesley, Finney, Moody, and others.

Despite Luther's faults and errors and even his weak doctrine, he was still an instrument in the hands of God: In bringing:

  1. a voice against ritualistic Christianity, and
  2. a voice against the presumption of infallibility (as if any man were at some time beyond the possibility of fallibility, such as the pope at times.)

No one but God is beyond fallibility. Man is not God except for Jesus. The Pope is not at any time God. The Pope, at the time, was not even willing to discuss with Luther his views (doctrines) beyond his simple rebellion against this idea of supreme authority. This was an error on the part of the Catholic Church: to throw him out simply because he did not accept the absolute authority of the pope in doctrinal matters.

Nevertheless, it is great to be having this discussion.

Many thanks, and God bless you in Jesus.

Caleb

John replied:

Hi Caleb,

Happy to hear from you again. Two of my Bible School Professors were Kiwi as they put it.
Let's just say that for sake of our discussion that there are nominal Christians in all communities.

That said, we need to be careful about making assumptions as to who knows Christ and who does not.

  • We aren't saved by a personal experience.
  • We are saved by Grace and that is, according to our Catholic belief, an ongoing process.

Yes, we are objectively and initially justified by faith at Baptism. Baptism is not an empty ritual, rather it is a work of God through His instrument the Church — at least that's the normative means to becoming a Christian. It doesn't mean that those who express faith but aren't baptized can't be justified but we know objectively, based on God's promise or rather Oath, that when the Church acts in His Name in response to some ones expression faith, that He acts in the Sacrament. In fact the word Sacrament comes from the Latin word which means oath and an oath is the essential and primary element in the establishment of a covenant.

Now this is going to seem very different to you. In fact I suspect the paragraph above doesn't make a lot of sense and sounds, quite possibly, totally nuts to you but please bear with me.

Evangelical Theology takes a very individual approach to Salvation. In fact the soteriology (Salvation Theology) is the Primary Evangelical doctrine and all other Protestants doctrines flow from its Soteriology.

This is because the first and fundamental question for Protestants is the question asked by the Philippian Jailer in Acts 16:27-30.

  • 30 Men, what must I do to be saved?

And certainly it is an important question but it is an anthropocentric — or a man-centered question. It is a What about me? question.

Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, start from a different question. It is a question asked by Jesus of Peter in Matthew 16:

15 He said to them, But who do you say that I am?, or

Matthew 16:15

Who is Jesus Christ? . . . or on deeper level it is, Who is God? . . . and who is the Trinity?

Indeed for the first several centuries of the Church, from the very beginning, that was the central question:

  • Who is Jesus Christ?

A study of the Early Church Councils will show this and indeed if you carefully read the Epistles of St. John, and even some of Paul's latter epistles, you'll see that they were dealing with Gnostics who denied the Humanity of Christ and that aspect of His Incarnation.

So the Church starts from the Incarnation — actually She first starts with the Trinity then quickly moves back to the Incarnation: that Jesus is both God and Man.

  • He is the Eternal Word
  • always existing with the Father and the Holy Spirit
  • the Creator of all things but from the moment of conception in Mary's womb
  • He was both God and Man
  • one Divine Person with two wills and two natures, One being Human and the other being Divine and
  • these two natures cannot be divided.

Then as we further contemplate this Mystery we see that the Incarnation includes Christ's entire Body meaning the Mystical Body, the Church, which is Christ Himself on Earth and from this flows the question:

  • What is Salvation?

Salvation is being grafted into the Body Christ . . . being One with Him and therefore with each other member of His Body. A very careful read of Ephesians will show you the seeds of this doctrine especially Ephesians 3 as Paul truly develops this paradigm and again in Ephesians 5 where the relationship between the Church and Christ is compared to human Marriage so much so that Paul quotes Genesis 2 and when Paul quotes an Old Testament text, it is best to go back and read the entire text. So when Paul talks about a man leaving his mother and father to cleave to his own wife and the two become one, we also must consider the rest of Genesis 2 where the author says Adam said to Eve: You are flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.

So we see an awesome picture of a truly organic unity in the Body amongst ourselves and with Christ the Head.

Of course there are many passages where Paul also talks about unity. Of particular note is 1 Corinthians, where he is admonishing believers who reject other believers or treating them as less than themselves.

Then look at the Gospels where Christ tells the Apostles whoever hears you hears me (Luke 10:16) or what every you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18) or whatsoever you ask in my name . . . (John 14:13)

  • Well, what does this last one really saying?
  • Does it mean we just end every prayer with in Jesus Name we pray?

No, when we invoke the Lord's Name, we are acting with the power of attorney. We are acting with the Authority of Christ Himself so long as it is according to His Will.

Based on this, and many other passages, we see that the Church has been given authority.
That authority is based on the Covenant Relationship we have Him. We are one flesh in a mystical sense with the Lord. It is Christ therefore that speaks, when the Gospel is proclaimed through the mouth of a Christian. It is Christ that acts in the sacraments. It is Christ who is present in the Sacraments.

So the Sacraments aren't:

  • rituals
  • witchcraft, or
  • magic.

They are intimate encounters with Jesus.

Every Catholic who actually prays at Mass professes his or her faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior at every single Sunday Mass so we affirm our faith repeatedly. We begin the Mass with a Penitential rite, in which we admit that we are sinners and ask for forgiveness.

After the Gospel is read and the Homily or Sermon is over, we profess our faith by reciting the Nicene Creed which includes an expression in faith of the Trinity and Christ's atonement for our sins.

Here is the text we pray it every Sunday.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of Heaven and Earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial
with the Father;
Through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from Heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate
of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.

He ascended into Heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in One, Holy, Catholic,
and Apostolic Church.

I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the Resurrection
of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

During the various prayers said during the Liturgy — all the elements that Evangelicals might express in a sinner's prayer — When one accepts Christ into their hearts as Personal Lord and Savior — are professed.

It is much the same during the various prayers of consecration of the Eucharist except they are even more in depth and rich with expressions of our faith in various aspects of the mystery of Salvation.

Right before we receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament — Communion, the priest will says to the congregation:

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the World, happy are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

We respond by again, expressing our faith as we pray,

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof . . . but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

That is the more recent translation from the Latin but we used to pray it this way:

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.

It's the same thought but has sentiments very similar to the sinner's prayer:

Lord I'm sinner. I'm not worthy but I believe you can save me. I want to receive you as Lord and Saviour.

. . . but then, we actually do receive Him in the Sacrament because we believe that what appears to Bread and Wine are now Jesus Christ sacramentally present in the Eucharist. So by the very act (one in faith, of course) of receiving Communion we profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

So yes, there is ritual but it isn't an empty ritual. The ritual is a reality. In fact our understanding is that at the Liturgy, we are present at Calvary in a Mystical way. We are also present at the Resurrection and we are present at the Liturgy and Worship taking place in Heaven, as described in Revelation Chapters 4 and 5 and Hebrews 12.

Again this probably sounds strange to you but for 1,500 years it was the unquestioned belief of the entire Church. All the ancient Orthodox churches that split from Rome at different points in the Middle Ages, all profess this same faith.

  • So how can this be?
  • Well consider this, God is the author of time . . . is He not?

If so, He therefore stands outside of time.

  • In Revelation when does it say that Jesus died for our sins?

Doesn't it say He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world or time. (Revelation 13:8) Depending on your translation; it means the same thing so God sees everything in the Eternal NOW. Calvary and the Resurrection are eternally present to Him and in the Mass or Liturgy, He makes these events present to us. In fact, most priests will actually take their watches off, if they are wearing one, before celebrating Mass. Because when daily Mass is celebrated tomorrow morning in my local Parish, it won't be February 25th 2015 and those in attendance won't be at St. Patrick's Parish in Watertown, Massachusetts. They will be on Mount Calvary, Jerusalem, on Good Friday and Easter Morning outside the Lord's tomb as well in 33 A.D. They will also be caught up in Heaven with all the Angels and those who have gone before us, in the Eternal NOW, as Jesus our High Priest perpetually offers Himself to the Father on our behalf.

Moreover, as Christians, and part of His Body, we unite ourselves to His Offering and offer ourselves. As I said, we are one with Him in the Mystical Body and it is not possible to sever Christ, the Head, from His Body.

  • Now are there Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who simply going through the motions?

Sure, all of us get distracted and unfortunately aren't always all there or focused at every Mass or Liturgy we celebrate. While in a Mystical sense we are united to Christ in covenant, we are still human beings living in the here and now. We aren't perfect or perfected; we still have our sin nature and then there are those who:

  • don't understand, or
  • have not been properly taught or
  • have not been properly evangelized, who perhaps we baptized out of tradition so they go to Church out of tradition or a legalistic obligation.

Members of the Body (those who actually believe with various degrees of faith) are at various points in their spiritual journey but Catholics don't go around trying figure out who is saved or who is not. In fact, since we see salvation as dynamic, it is more correct to say,

Are we being saved?

The fact is, since Salvation is a whole lot more than a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card, and it also includes having a resurrected and glorified body. No one is truly completely saved yet, including those in Heaven. Salvation won't be a completed action in our experience of time, until the resurrection of our body.

Then there are those in all Christian communities that aren't really believers or at least they aren't yet and we can't judge that because we don't know the real condition in every man's heart — only God knows. But we do know that Jesus said that the weeds grow next to the wheat and at harvest time, they will be sorted out.

Now I've given you a whole lot to swallow and chew on. Some of it might make sense to you, some of might not, at least not yet, but I want to talk a bit more about the whole idea of ritual because you've expressed concerns about it and in the Evangelical, Charismatic, and Pentecostal traditions, there is disdain for ritual.

We could go to any faith community and find ritual. You're typical Baptist Sunday Service:

  • starts off with 3 or 4 hymns
  • some announcements
  • the offering
  • maybe another hymn or two followed by sermon that lasts 30 minutes to hour, and
  • then there is the perfunctory Altar Call.

And by the way, we have Altar Calls too. We call it Communion, where we all profess and reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and then we receive Him in the Eucharist.

Even if you don't agree with us, that He is truly present In This Sacrament, you need to at least understand that in our action of receiving or partaking in Communion, we are stating our faith in His Atonement for our sins.

Now, returning to my point . . . Every denomination, every faith community has tradition, traditions, and ritual. There is a reason for this. While vain repetition is wrong and condemned, repetition of pray, song, or ritual expressed in faith is different. Repetition reinforces what we believe.

Further, you have to remember that until the 1500's there were no printing presses. You couldn't just go buy a Bible, not to mention, most people couldn't read so through repetition of prayer, which was laced with Scripture and Doctrine, those worshiping internalized what, as believers, we espoused.

The great art work found in the European Churches built in the Middle Ages again was also meant to be a teaching tool. Much, if not most, are depictions or representations of the Scripture passages. Signs and symbols are there to teach and to facilitate worship.

Catholics don't worship statues, as we are accused of, rather the statues, paintings, or icons are present to remind us that we are united in our worship with the entire Church in Heaven. They are physical reminders and points of contact for our faith. We are, after all, supposed to worship with our whole being. That includes the fives senses so at the Mass, you will have sensory stimulation of all the senses to remind you of where you are.

Everything seen in the Book of Revelation is found in the Liturgy.

  • There is singing
  • there are gestures
  • there is often incense and pictures
  • the Word is read
  • a sermon is given

We sit, we stand, we kneel, we bow, we make the sign of the Cross. When we enter the Church we cross ourselves with holy water to remind ourselves of our Baptism and make the sign of the Cross to remind us of our dying with Christ to ourselves.

We live in the physical world. We have physical bodies with senses and therefore all these actions and all this sensory input is meant for us to enter into the worship. Christianity is not just meant for the mind. Faith is of the Spirit and should be given from our whole being, not just meant for the intellect. You previously had asked about having an experience. Yes, we indeed do have experiences at every Liturgy.

You see for Catholics, it isn't just about:

  • me
  • my Bible, and
  • Jesus.

It is family affair. Yes, we worship and pray on our own too. We have that personal time when it's just me and the Lord but that is really an extension of our time with Him together.

In fact, we never pray or worship alone, as we believe our prayers are always united with and to the prayer of the entire Church on Earth and in Heaven. When we come together to worship and pray it must be done decently and in order as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:26-40) so that means it is ritualized, meaning there is an order to it and since the prayers of the Liturgy are also a means of teaching and reinforcing doctrine (or what we believe.)
The prayers are ordered — they aren't extemporaneous.

Again I've given you a lot to chew on. I understand you concerns as an outside observer used to the Evangelical way of doing things. It is natural for you have doubts and concerns.

The fact is there is a time an place for the Evangelical approach, just as there is time and place for the Catholic approach. Unfortunately, since we're plagued with divisions, we often don't get the benefit of each other's traditions.

I hope to continue our dialogue further.

God Bless You my brother,

John

Caleb replied:

Hi John,

You said:
Yes, we are objectively and initially justified by faith at Baptism. Baptism is not an empty ritual, rather it is a work of God through His instrument the Church — at least that's the normative means to becoming a Christian. It doesn't mean that those who express faith but aren't baptized can't be justified but we know objectively, based on God's promise or rather Oath, that when the Church acts in His Name in response to some ones expression faith, that He acts in the Sacrament.

In terms of salvation in the Catholic Church, this is what I wanted clarification for.

Listen, this really contradicts all the previous beautiful doctrine that you espoused about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

  • Do you really believe it or understand it?

Belief in, and obedience to the doctrines you mentioned (in your first e-mail), are what we need for salvation (going to Heaven) but then you contradict it all by going on to say that a physical act, as opposed to an inward change of heart, results in justification.

This is absolute non-sense!

A change is needed in the heart to start the process of salvation. Yes, original sin needs to be wiped away. Original sin is just our selfish nature which acts against the Holy Spirit but this should also be evident in our outward conduct as Jesus said, Cleanse inwardly first then the outward acts (good deeds) will follow.

  • How can this be so for a little child?

Your sacrament of Baptism completely contradicts your own doctrine!

When Paul in the Bible speaks of Baptism he must mean baptism in the Spirit, not an outward act since he was so much against dependence on circumcision and other outward acts. Physical baptism is just an outward act like circumcision. Again, when you affirm the Trinity as part of salvation, I do not have a problem with that doctrine.

You said:
Then as we further contemplate this Mystery we see that the Incarnation includes Christ's entire Body meaning the Mystical Body, the Church, which is Christ Himself on Earth . . .

  • Do you mean the physical Church, i.e. made up of all (or most) Catholics?

Listen, there is a real problem with this, and it contradicts your former doctrine that focused on the Spirit of God changing our hearts.

Salvation is not through joining any particular organization, whether it be Catholic or whatever, but rather an action of the heart and it is affirmation of, and obedience to, doctrinal truths. You are contradicting this if you think it is through being joined to your organization. This is actually rather cult-like.

Yes, you affirm the doctrines of the Mass, yet you also affirm salvation through being a part of a particular organizational structure, which contradicts the primary importance of belief and obedience to the doctrines. Thus, countless of millions of Catholics are given false hope by putting their primary trust in joining this organization. In many cases, they take their focus away from Jesus, as they may go to church but don't really have the revelation of the doctrines, meaning an understanding of them where they can apply them to their own hearts and in their own lives.

You said:
. . . but then, we actually do receive Him in the Sacrament because we believe that what appears to Bread and Wine are now Jesus Christ sacramentally present in the Eucharist. So by the very act (one in faith, of course) of receiving Communion we profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

  • Catholic priests perform an elaborate ceremony over the bread an wine, right?

Now this is what I mean by ritual: something beyond just the preaching of faith and asking for a response from the congregation. In fact, there is so much emphasis upon it in your Church that one would think you are preaching ongoing salvation through this act.

Outward actions are not a part of salvation unless they are good deeds done out of a pure heart transformed by the Holy Spirit. Again, you are contradicting your former doctrine (in your first
e-mail
), and also contradicting all the great affirmations your churches make during Mass!

The bread and wine simply cannot be Jesus.

  • Are you saying by the way, that the actual physical atoms, chemical elements that make up the bread and wine are changed into the elements of Jesus?

Jesus is not material anyway so surely you must just mean His Presence.

  • Do you know what the Real Presence of Jesus is?

I have experienced it many times. The only way to get the Presence of Jesus is through faith or being in a church (place) where people are focused on Him. Jesus Himself said,

Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.

Matthew 18:20

Clearly, He did not mean His Presence was in the bread and wine.

Caleb

John replied:

Hi Caleb,

Actually I'm not at all contradicting what I said in my prior e-mail. Read what I have said in both e-mails carefully.

Salvation is by Grace and God can save anyone He wants by whatever means He chooses but, objectively speaking, we know that we are Born Again in Baptism. See Roman's Chapter 6 and various other Scriptures. That is an objective reality. Now if one does not know our understanding for the need for Baptism but expresses faith in Christ, it is assumed that they would be baptized if they knew the need therefore there would be a Baptism of desire, so it is still Baptism.

God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism but He himself is not bound by His sacraments. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

Baptism is not a human work. It is a work of the Holy Spirit who acts through the Body of Christ.

You see, you are trying to sever Christ, the Head of the Church, from His Mystical Body but when the Church acts in the Name of Jesus Christ, according to, and in obedience to, His Will then it is Christ Himself that acts. Therefore all Sacraments are Acts of God, not men.

Now while sacraments are normal means of receiving Grace because they are intimate encounters with Jesus Christ, God is not limited to the Sacraments in extending Grace so the two e-mails are completely compatible.

Baptism of some kind:

  • whether it be by water (the normative way) or
  • by simple expression of faith, not knowing or understanding the need for water Baptism

    — is needed.

We must be Born Again.

But as I said before, that's the beginning of process or journey of salvation which ultimately is a work of Grace and work of the Holy Spirit with which we consent to.

Using the paradigm of marriage as an example: . . . When a couple exchanges vows, they are said to be married but in actuality, they are only betrothed. They really aren't married until the consummate the marriage by the marital act of love otherwise the marriage can be annulled.

An expression of faith is akin to exchanging vows. Consummation of the marriage is akin to consummating the vows and every the time the couple embrace in marital love it is a renewal, an intimate encounter, a sacramental consummation of the marriage vow. Now there are other things involved in a marriage besides the marital act . . . communication, companionship, and so forth.

In the same way, the Sacraments are intimate encounters that renew our faith in our relationship with the Lord but they aren't the only thing involved.

  • There is prayer.
  • There is Scripture reading.
  • There is walking the Christian walk

. . . all of which increase our faith, add to the quality of our justification, increase our sanctification, and purge us from sin.

What is confusing for Evangelicals is that they have not fully developed the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Church, you, and I, are part of the Body of Christ by Baptism. We are part of the Incarnation.

  • When you or I walk into a room, Jesus Christ walks into the room.
  • When you or I preach the Gospel, Christ is speak through us, because the Holy Spirit indwells us.

We are indeed priests by our Baptism through faith so when the Church baptizes, it is the Body of Christ collectively, with Christ Himself, the Head of the Church, baptizing. It is not a human work or an empty ritual. Again, don't get hung up on the term Baptism. It normally means water baptism but it is not limited to water baptism. If someone expresses faith in Jesus Christ but doesn't get baptized for whatever reason they aren't condemned in their sin.

You see, we can't stick God in box here and come up with algebraic formula. Salvation is Mystery, which flows from the Mystery of God, the Trinity, and the Incarnation. What is the norm or what we know is objectively true is that God works and performs all Sacraments because they are covenant acts.

So Yes, in Baptism God justifies men by faith — absolutely. We know this is true. He is present in the action and He is The One Acting.

  • Can God act in other ways?

Yes, the thief on the cross was not baptized. We also have obvious examples in Scripture so don't hung up on this. Remember our view is that salvation is dynamic, not static.

More later.

God Bless,

John

Caleb replied:

Hi again John.

I hope you didn't get the wrong impression of my words against being objective.

Yes, we can have an objective discussion but what I meant was in terms of salvation, justification, and sanctification.

These are things evident in us by an inner change of heart that will also show in some ways outwardly (deeds). I hold to a doctrine very similar to Charles Finney. I also highly regard your own Catholic, St. Teresa of Avila, as well others such as:

  • St. John of the Cross, and
  • Brother Lawrence of the Discalced Carmelites.

St. Teresa, being around at the same time as Luther, was light-years ahead of him in doctrine. Although blinded to the way God was using Luther against nominal Catholicism and dependence on the Sacraments, St Teresa actually enjoyed a much deeper relationship with God than he did but she too was human and not God, hence not unable to have some errors.

Earlier, in a private e-mail I sent to you, I say I am against forensic justification. I meant that it is not real unless it is evident and outworked in one's life.

Correct me if I am wrong but it seems that if Catholic baptism supposedly does something to a person, it is objective, not in the sense of changing a person's life inwardly and outwardly. For this reason, it appears to me to be similar to Calvinistic forensic justification, like a covering, or position in Christ rather than a real change.

That is what Finney, and others, were against as being hypocritical: having a Gospel that does not change you.

I will still like to continue discussion, to clear up any misunderstandings I have about Catholicism.

Many thanks.

Caleb

John replied:

Hi Caleb,

If you are really interested in learning about the Church and what She teaches, we're going to have to lay down some foundation work.

Besides the doctrines of Salvation — which for us are secondary to doctrines and flow from the doctrines of the Incarnation, we really need to deal with the issue of authority, especially as regards to the use of the Scriptures.

Luther proposed Sola Scriptura. Scripture Alone as the sole rule of faith. We reject that as heresy. Yes, Scripture is the Inspired Word of God and was preserved and canonized by the Catholic Church. While all of Scripture was written by the end of the first century, exactly what was and wasn't Scripture wasn't decided until 382 A.D. at the Council of Rome. A decade or so later the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, affirmed the same 73-book canon but the first, Church-wide Ecumenical Council to affirm the Canon was the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D.

Prior to 382 A.D., you had different local Churches, with different Canons. For instance Revelation, and John's three Epistles weren't found in quite few local canons especial in East Churches like Assyria and Armenia. Other Churches included books that were ultimately rejected, like:

  • the Shepard of Hermes
  • the Epistles of Clement, and
  • the Epistle of Barnabas.

So it was the Church, using the Teaching Authority given to Her by Christ, with the Guarantee to protect Her from teaching error in these matters, that finally discerned by the Holy Spirit, what the canon of Scriptures actually was in Church Councils. Before they even dealt with canonizing Scripture, the Church established a Creed at the Councils of Nicaea (in 325 A.D.) and some decades later at the Council of Constantinople (in 381A.D.)

The Trinity needed to be defined and that was done prior to the canonization of the Scriptures.

Hence the Church since 33 A.D., has relied on:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition, and
  3. the Teaching Authority of Church.

When an epistle or Gospel arrived in a particular city or Church, before it could be read from pulpit, it would go before the local Bishop. The Bishop would read and study it and would make sure that what was written aligned itself with what he had be taught by the Bishop that ordained him. That's what Tradition or Sacred Tradition is. There are also traditions with a small t, that aren't official teaching. They are just things we do for particular reasons but they can change.

My point is the Church was up and running for nearly 350 years from 33 A.D. to 382 A.D. without an official Bible.

Sure there were writings but as I explained, not all Churches had access to everything. Let's not forget, there were no printing presses. Communication and travel took months and years.
In fact, the Gospels themselves were localized.

  • Alexandria and Rome relied primarily on Mark
  • the Church in Jerusalem, relied primarily on Matthew
  • the Greek Churches relied mostly on John and Paul's letter

Different schools and approaches started to take root in different local Churches but the doctrines were passed down by Oral Tradition, by Apostolic Tradition from the First Apostles to the subsequent generations of Bishops. Many of their writings still exist and when you begin to read the works of:

  • Clement of Rome
  • Ignatius of Antioch
  • Polycarp
  • Justin Martyr
  • and so forth

all of whom wrote in late first and early to mid second century, you begin to see a very different understanding of Sacred Scripture than what came out of the Reformation.

  • Polycarp for instance was a disciple of the Apostle John.
  • Ignatius I believe was as well or he may have been a disciple of Onisemus, who Paul mentions in his letter Philomen.
  • Indeed Onisemus became Bishop of Ephesus, sometime after Timothy.

In any event Ignatius refers to him in his epistles.

These guys were all extremely close to original writers of Sacred Scripture. Certainly I would take their view on the Scriptures and doctrine, before Finny and before any of the Reformers who ignored 1,500 years of historical Christian beliefs.

Every Ancient Church, that has an Apostolic lineage — that is, their Bishops can trace their ordination back to the Apostles — all hold to the same Seven Sacraments and have substantially identical beliefs about the nature of them.

For instance, the Armenian Apostolic and Egyptian Coptic Christians, split from the Catholic Church in 451 A.D. at the Council of Chalcedon all over a linguistic misunderstanding with respect to a Christological definition. They rejected that Jesus has two wills and natures, one Divine and one Human, but remains One Person. They argued that Jesus, only had one Divine Will. Well, if that's the case, then He couldn't really have experienced temptation right? but returning to my point: These Christians who left the Catholic Church, 70 years after the Bible was canonized:

  • all have the same Seven Sacraments.
  • all have the same Priesthood.
  • all believe the same things in substance as we do about the Sacraments and have from the very beginning!!
  • So what makes Luther, Calvin, Wesley, or Finny more authoritative than people who were much closer to the human authors?

Polycarp was taught by the Apostle John.

  • Do you think he might have a better understanding of John's Gospel and Epistles then some guy writing 15, 16, or 17 centuries later?

So think on that for while and let's talk in a few days.

John
[Dialogue continued here.]

Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
Suggestions for this web page and the web site can be sent to Mike Humphrey
© 2012 Panoramic Sites
The Early Church Fathers Church Fathers on the Primacy of Peter. The Early Church Fathers on the Catholic Church and the term Catholic. The Early Church Fathers on the importance of the Roman Catholic Church centered in Rome.