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[Start] Caleb Taylor following up from a previous reply wrote:

John,

I have studied a bit of Luther and although I not about to become Catholic, I would like to offer a summary. First, I would like again to quote your most excellent reply to my first e-mail:

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.

That is so good I could hardly say it better myself! In this respect, Luther was most definitely wrong but your next statement is not correct at all. I know a lot of what many Protestant denominations believe. I am also a Theology master's student doing a thesis paper on Evangelical Theology.

You said:
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.

That is not true! It may have been true for Luther and many Calvinists who followed in his footsteps but it is absolutely not true for the rest of us Protestants. You can't theologically put us all in the same boat. Actually, Arminians and most Pentecostals have the exact same belief as you have stated above. That is why I was actually very surprised to find that Catholics, who I have regarded as largely theologically and spiritually dead, actually believe the same as myself and those in my denomination.

You said
It is always God's grace inside of us, working in us, that requires our free will cooperation by grace.

Absolutely correct!

I'd like to quote you again because you put a whole lot of other things very nicely, clearly portraying the error of Luther. You said:
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.>

This is wonderfully written and I have to admit, I could not agree with you more! Again, I was so surprised to hear it from a Catholic. I thought largely only we Arminians and Pentecostals, (not the excessive prosperity types mind you, as they go overboard into an excessive blessing focus), believed what you just said.

I am amazed at it!

You said:
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.

No, you are absolutely wrong here! We don't all believe those lies as I have stated earlier.

You said:
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.

Agreed!

  • By the way, have you ever studied the theology brought about though the Great Awakenings in evangelicalism in America and around the world, through Edwards, Whitefield, and especially Wesley and Finney who were Arminians?

Their theology is very similar to what you just mentioned but now I came to part of your reply that I disagreed with a bit.

You said:
By faith, and normally Baptism, we are immediately made righteous as well as declared righteous . . .

No, no, no! You just contradicted all the beautiful words you formerly said. : (

  • Listen, how can God make us so righteous that we can be reconciled with Him through an outward sacrament?

It just makes no sense.

  • If God has changed us inwardly so that we desire him and act righteously, then why the need for water, beyond a mere symbolism of what has already taken place by faith?
  • Are you so foolish?

After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3)

That is getting back into the sacramental works that the Apostle Paul was so much against!

  • Why baptize infants who cannot be made righteous in deeds and heart, until they themselves allow the Holy Spirit to change them?

Any other washing of sins or of original sin must surely be similar to Luther's idea of a covering over the sin of infants rather than their true sanctification.

You said:
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.

Good again.

You said:
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.

John, this is simply not true. The sacraments are not encounters with God. Only the Holy Spirit is an encounter with God as you mentioned earlier. The sacraments, if anything, are only symbolic. They do not bring the presence of God. The presence of God is brought by faith, from ourselves or others, but not by any outward sacrament. This is heresy John.

  • Don't you see it?

You said:
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 . . .

Well, if by this you meant we can pray to the saints, e.g. Mary, I believe you are wrong.

  • The Apostles never needed such prayers so why should we?
  • Are you better than they?

Although the witness of the saints continues, their ministry does not! Think about why it is so important for us to love right now on the Earth. We are limited to just a few years. It is important because we can not longer do it when we get to Heaven (i.e. We cannot minister to those on Earth.) We are not suddenly omnipresent everywhere to help those in need (and hear their prayers) when we get to Heaven. Jesus is our sole Intercessor in Heaven. Catholics are making far to much of just a few verses, very similar to what Luther did — focusing on a few verses, rather than the whole context of the verse.

You said:
. . . 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 agree, Luther was wrong here but do you also realize, to his credit, he at least believed it is one thing to be tempted by the flesh, and another thing to yield to the flesh, to do its bidding without fear or remorse, and to continue in sin. . . (which he condemned). Check out his commentary on Galatians 5:19. Nevertheless, you are right, he did not place much emphasis at all upon truly getting rid of sin.

You said:
I hope this helps and please stay in touch.

John,

We have not stayed in touch for some time. I hope you have enjoyed my frankness about the good things you have said but also about, what I still see as, some very bad and distracting theology within Catholicism.

You are right about Luther and Calvin but wrong about parts of evangelicalism.

People are not saved by joining an organization such as the Catholic Church. Jesus works through all His Churches which have the correct doctrine. Catholics have really gone wrong in focusing so much upon the sacraments. For many Catholics I have met, this surpasses even doctrine in importance. The intercession of Mary, rather than going directly through Christ is wrong and their is absolutely no such thing as any one being infallible on any occasion.

These things keep me out of your Church however your initial doctrine appears to be correct and it was great to hear it!

Caleb

  { How do I reconcile the Catholic and Protestant views on justification and salvation? — Follow-up }

John replied:

Well Caleb,

I'm encouraged that unlike most Protestants you're close to the Fullness of the Gospel and the Truth. I would encourage you to start reading the Early Church Fathers. Start with the Apostolic Fathers, then work your way through the anti-Nicene, Nicene, and post Nicene time periods.

The stumbling block for you seems to be the sacraments. That is because you are separating the Body of Christ, the Church, from the Head, the Person of Jesus Christ but that is impossible.

Christ gave authority to His Church. When you share the Gospel, your mouth is moving, you vocal chords are working but the Holy Spirit is doing the talking.

So too, when the Church performs a sacrament, it is Christ who acts. It is a covenant and is indeed an encounter with Christ. This is the historic doctrine of all the ancient Churches going back to 33 A.D. The only Christian communities that haven't retained all seven sacraments are the post-Reformation, ecclesial communities — commonly known today as Protestants.

Belief in the Eucharist is taught in the Scriptures but you will also find it in the Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch who wrote between 90 A.D. and 110 A.D. As I recall, he was a disciple of John and in one of his epistles we read that he was still the contemporary of Onesimus, who succeeded Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus.

There are also second generation writers. Justin Martyr, makes it clear what the Church's belief was about Eucharist. He wrote circa 140 A.D. to 150 A.D. He was disciple by Polycarp, who was a disciple of John during his latter years.

All of these authors, while not inspired, certainly were closer to the facts that the theologians that came around after the Reformation. Just as important, were those who protected and handed down the Scriptures, which weren't canonized until 382 A.D. I'll take their insight over Whitfield any day. . . . not that I discount the good that Whitfield and many other Protestants have had to say but, for the most part, they ignore the historic beliefs of the Church.

At any rate, I'm currently need to back to work, as I'm writing this e-mail while on the clock.
We certainly have found that we have some important things in common, and hopefully can respect one another as believers.

Under His Mercy,

John

Caleb replied:

John,

You said:
The stumbling block for you seems to be Sacraments.

There are a number of concerns I have:

  • The status of the sacraments in the Catholic Church is a major concern.
  • So also is prayer to the saints, which none of the original Apostles found need for.
  • Last but not least, there is the experience I have had of Catholics and their general living of life without Christ between going to Mass, the majority of whom do not even attend Mass and the testimony of those who have come out of the Catholic faith and come over to say Pentecostalism, or Charismatic Protestantism and proclaimed to us that they (and others in your Church) had no real relationship with Jesus before coming over to their new Church.

You said:
That is because you are separating the Body of Christ, the Church, from the Head, the Person of Jesus Christ but that is impossible.

Christ gave authority to His Church.

The Body of Christ is mystical, and invisible John. Even many Protestants who visibly going to church each week are not truly saved or Christian. The same goes for Catholics . . . possibly even more so. Only those truly connected to Christ in an active, and inner way, through the Holy Spirit, have the ability to minister to others through Jesus. It is not merely enough to simply affirm the correct doctrines and go to church. We need to experience them, including pastors, and priests.
If a pastor or priest is not connected to Christ then he has no authority to administer Christ and everything he does is in vain.

You said:
When you share the Gospel, your mouth is moving, you vocal chords are working but the Holy Spirit is doing the talking.

But John, that's only if we, ourselves, have truly experienced the Gospel in our hearts.

  • What if a priest hasn't?

It's not something that happens automatically.

You said:
So too, when the Church performs a sacrament, it is Christ who acts. It is a covenant and is indeed an encounter with Christ. This is the historic doctrine of all the ancient Churches going back to 33 A.D.

In the first place, you are far too focused on the action of the priest as opposed to his heart. Actions are not the primary thing, but the secondary thing. Even those who have a measure of Jesus in their hearts, can only minister up to that limited measure and no more, so the effectiveness of each minister is determined by [his/her] direct connection to Christ.

It's not like we all have the fullness of Christ all at once . . . and your are acting as if we do. You are contradicting your former doctrine that you mentioned about having a progressive relationship with Jesus. It doesn't all happen at once as the Lutherans say. You are actually being more Lutheran than you realize when you think that priests have all the fullness of Christ, all at once at all time, and therefore all the authority.

You said:
. . . but, for the most part, they ignore the historic beliefs of the Church.

  • Are you not ignoring the historic beliefs of the Church when you pray to the saints?

They never needed or did this in the Early Church in the days of the Apostle Paul. He didn't need it or speak about it. I would rather take his word about it before anyone after him or Peter.

The Kingdom of God always works in the present tense because it is by faith. I will give you a secret:

  • We must sow to the Spirit to reap from the Spirit
  • We must sow to Jesus to reap Jesus in our hearts (in increasing measure)
  • We must sow to love, in order to develop love.

We don't sow to the saints or Mary in order to reap something else. We can't sow to Mary and expect Jesus to come to us. It doesn't work.

  • Jesus is always immediately available to us so why would we need to pray to her?
  • If it's so important why is there never a prayer to her in the whole Bible?

When we focus on her, it takes away from the glory of Christ, as the only Unique Son of God.

Caleb

John replied:

Look Caleb,

I'm not here to debate or defend the faith. I'm hear to explain what the Church established by Jesus Christ professes and believes so I'm not going to engage in a tit for tat debate here which is what this is evolving into to.

You're assertions, at least most of them, are based on Protestant presuppositions which have no basis in historic Christianity . . . including the nature of the Catholic Church.

If you want a real dialogue in which you can come to understand what the Church teaches (not that I expect you to accept it . . . but simply understand it) then I'll happily engage you.

I'm hear to foster understanding through dialogue and teach people what we believe and why — not to debate the merits of Catholic doctrine. I know the merits of Catholic doctrines and I have heard all the arguments against them over the years . . . and they are simply wrong in my opinion so don't waste time with debates.

I'll gladly explain and try to answer all questions, resolving any difficulties you may have, but without debate.

Warmly,

John

Caleb replied:

Dear John,

I'm sorry but I am genuinely trying to get a clear answer on what the Catholic Church believes when making the statements related to works and faith.

If your doctrine alone, which you mentioned earlier, was all I had to go on, I would regard the works as being inward righteousness (i.e. a changed heart from faith outwardly expressed as a result.) However, from your later statements, I would conclude that the works are also outward acts in the sacraments and faith in doing such actions.

  • Am I correct?
  • Which of the two categories of works is the most important from the Catholic view?
  • Can righteousness be gained without the sacraments by simply having faith in the doctrines? and,
  • Does faith in the sacraments always leads to inward righteousness automatically?

I would be genuinely interested in these answers, as my original question was on the Catholic idea of works.

Many thanks!

Caleb

John replied:

Caleb,

What I keep telling you is the Catholic belief is the sacraments are the works of God through the Church which is His Body. They aren't human works. You can disagree with that position but it is, what it is.

I'm not going to argue with you over what sacraments are. Our understand of sacraments goes back to the very beginning and is shared by every historic Church that has Apostolic succession.

Your understanding of the sacraments is rooted in post-Reformation of tradition that completely ignores 1,500 years of historical belief by Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Like I said, start reading the Early Church Fathers . . . starting from the Apostolic Fathers that wrote almost immediately after the Apostles died. Then continue on to the Nicene, and post Nicene time periods.

St. Ignatius of Antioch writing around 107 A.D. said:

    "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church."

    Letter to Smyrnaeans 8, 2.

    “[Heretics] abstain from Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”

    Letter to Smyrnaeans 6, 2.

Ignatius was a disciple of John, between 90 A.D. and 110 A.D.

St. Justin Martyr, writing around 150 A.D. said:

"Not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh."

First Apology, LXVI

Writing to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 A.D.) around the year 155 A.D., St. Justin explaining what Christians did:

On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.

When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

Then we all rise together and offer prayers* for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.

When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.

He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.'

When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.

St. Justin, Apology 1, 65-67.

This is Christ acting through the ministry of the Church.

This is the historic understanding of sacraments, supported by both Scripture and Tradition.

That is our position Caleb. Sacraments are not human works. They are God's works. It is only because the Holy Spirit works in and through the ministry of the Church that the Sacraments are realities, not symbols.

I can't make it any clearer than that.

John

Mike replied:

Dear Caleb,

I am having a hard time understanding where you are coming from.

Based on the first line of your recent e-mail to John, you appear to have no real interest in the faith, yet John has patiently answered your questions, ones you appear not to be satisfied with.

  • If you have no interest in our faith, why are you asking us questions?

In addition, all of your theology is based on unbiblical principles.

Nowhere in the Bible does it state that the Bible is the sole rule of faith nor is there an inspired table of contents given that tells you that you have the right books in your Bible.

Every time a Protestant opens a Bible they are implicating saying:

I trust the decision Catholic bishops made guided by the Holy Spirit that was made at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D. as to which book are inspired and which books are not.

There is no place in the Bible where it states that faith from the heart is sufficient for salvation. Paul rather talks about an obedience of faith. (Romans 1:5, Romans 16:26) and, along with Jesus, about the false teachers that would come after them. (Matthew 24:24, Galatians 1:6-10, 2 Peter 2:1-3)

Although Catholics do not base their faith on the Bible, I would encourage you to check out the Biblical support for Catholic teachings from my Scripture Passages page:

http://www.AskACatholic.com/ScripturePassages

as well as my web site on the Early Church Fathers:

BibleBeltCatholics.com

Hope this helps,

Mike

John replied:

Mike,

In Caleb's defense, when he is talking about faith, he is not talking about mental assent. A real faith, from the heart, is by definition obedient so that discussion is all about semantics.

Paul doesn't ever use the words faith alone, rather he says faith apart from works of the law. Works of the Law mean the Temple Sacrifices, the Dietary Laws, and Circumcision and that was his point in Romans.

The stumbling block for Caleb is that he separates the Christ from His Body and therefore can't properly understand what a Sacrament is. Sacrament literally means Oath. Not our oath, God's Oath. His Oath to act in and through the sacraments by His Very Presence. Again, in Caleb's defense, he is laden with years of Evangelical tradition and sees the Scriptures wearing Protestant glasses from his particular tradition.

I don't expect him to agree with us. That's why I'm not going to debate with him but will explain the issues for him. I'm not going to argue about the explanation. This is what the Church and Christianity has believed from the beginning. All the Ancient Churches, even those that went into Schism as early as 431 A.D. at the Council of Ephesus, the Nestorians, today called Chaldean Christians, recognize all seven sacraments and understand the sacraments substantially the same way as we do. They are realities, not symbols, through which Christ Himself acts, is present, and encounters the faithful.

Caleb, coming from a Pentecostal background, should believe that believers should lay hands on the sick and that the Holy Spirit will act to heal them, or baptize them in the Holy Spirit.

  • Well who is acting there?

Isn't it the Holy Spirit acting through the believer. Now God can heal or give the same gifts, without the laying on of hands, but as a Pentecostal, he recognizes when the believer lays hands on someone, the Holy Spirit acts. Well, it's the same principle.

  • Didn't Paul, tell Timothy, to stir up the gift conveyed on him by the Laying on of hands?

In this case most Catholic scholars, would say Paul is talking about sacrament of Holy Orders.

OK, so it's the same principle with the sacraments. The priest is powerless to do anything on his own. It's the Holy Spirit working through him.

That's not to say that God doesn't extend grace in a variety of ways to whomever He pleases but we objectively know that God acts through the sacraments, because He said so:

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:21-23

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

16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.”

Matthew 16:15-19

15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.

Matthew 18:15-18

Christ clearly gave His Church authority and sacraments. Again, God doesn't limit Himself but He does establish a Covenant and in that Covenant, He binds Himself to act when the Church, His Body acts, in His Name, according to His Will.

If we discuss anything that could be fruitful to our readers at AskACatholic, I'll forward any future discussions.

John

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