Purity of Doctrine

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Gentle Reader,

As I touched on in Friday’s post, I have been confronted with the need to, once again, examine some of the things I believe and to reconsider some of my stances on those beliefs. This is always an uncomfortable place to be, but it’s not a bad thing. After all, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

The wording isn’t past tense; he does not say, “you did your best and presented yourself.” The sentence carries with it the sense of a present, ongoing action. This verse couples well with the sentiment expressed in Deuteronomy 11:16:

Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them.  (NASB)

Again, it is not, “you were aware and so you were not deceived.” We must be aware now and continue to be aware.

Here, my friend, is where I am. Listening to a single webcast at work last week brought to my attention a place of blindness. A place where I was not aware.

For the past few months I’ve been listening to Dr. James White’s webcast, the Dividing Line. Dr. White is a stanch Calvinist, and so there are definitely things I disagree with him on. (To balance out the listening time, I went on the hunt for a non-Calvinist who was as good a presenter as Dr. White. I came across Dr. Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew. I haven’t listened to as much of his stuff yet, but what I have, I’ve enjoyed). Despite these disagreements, I really enjoy Dr. White’s teaching, which is primarily focused in the realm of apologetics and, currently, dialoguing with Muslims. He is knowledgeable about the subjects he addresses, does not engage in bashing those on the “other side” of whatever it is he’s talking about and has a sarcastic sense of humor, which I always appreciate.

I haven’t gone through the Dividing Line episodes in chronological order, so the topics have been wide-ranging, to say the least. Last Thursday I found this floating around the YouTubeness. If you have the opportunity right now, take an hour and listen. For those of you who don’t have the time, the webcast was aired the day that Pope Francis was elected. Dr. White delves into his own view of that event while remarking on his surprise that many Christians (honestly, myself included) failed to understand the issues.

Let me make something very clear: I am not about to get into Catholic-bashing. I absolutely, one-hundred percent believe that there are true, sincere Christians within the Catholic Church. If someone were to ask me, “Are Catholics Christian?,” I would have to respond with, “Let’s go talk to some and see what they say.” And with that we have the other thing I need to make clear: While I truly believe that there are real Christians within the Catholic Church, I do not believe that the Catholic Church teaches the true Gospel.

And I just lost some readers.

I considered not writing this, but I can’t be so cowardly. The seed for this post was planted when Dr. White went through some of the Pope’s titles in the webcast. I was brought up short when he illuminated the implications of calling him “Holy Father,” two words used in Scripture to describe God Himself. (Before you object, yes, Christ calls His people to holiness. Yet we would be real idiots to think that our daily striving for set-apartness and cleanness comes anywhere near the perfect purity of the Lord). Are Catholics actually calling the Pope God? I don’t think so. I don’t think they mean it that way. Nevertheless, it makes me squirm.

I’ve never met Pope Francis. I have no idea who he truly is. Like much of the rest of the world, I was interested when he came to power. I tracked the proceedings that day and I prayed for him. There have been moments when I’ve said, “I like that he said ___________” or “I like that he did _____________.” I’m not trying to pass some sort of judgment on the man. Yet he stands in a position with accompanying titles that take my breath away.

It’s not just the “Holy Father” thing, either. How about “Vicarious Iesu Christi,” or Vicar of Christ? The term vicarious means “acting or done for another.” Tertullian, writing in the third century, applied to the term to the Holy Spirit, in Prescriptions Against Heretics, Chapter 28. And rightly so, for Jesus said that the Father would send the Spirit “in My name” (John 14:26).

But this was not the big problem for me.

“Alter Christus.”

That’s the big problem for me.

I have been to Mass before. There were things about it that I liked: the sense of sacred space, the beauty of the architecture. But I had no idea just what it was the people in attendance believed about the priest. In paragraph 1548 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “Now the minister comes by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the High Priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of Christ himself.” The priest is an alter Christus, meaning “another Christ.” I can feel the heat rushing to my cheeks as I think about that. Another Christ.

No.

In paragraph 1549: “The bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father.”

The living image of God the Father?

We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyedus into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwelland by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. – Colossians 1:3-20 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Pretty sure all of that refers to Jesus, not a bishop.

In brief, consider:

* Transubstantiation, the dogma that declares the bread and wine to become the literal body and blood of Christ, which one must ingest in order to be saved. Thus Communion becomes a “re-sacrifice” of Jesus Christ for our sins, or as a “re-offering” of His sacrifice. This defies several passages of Scripture, most notably Hebrews 7:27, which states:

Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins for all when He offered Himself. (NKJV)

And Hebrews 10:10:

…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (NKJV, emphasis mine)

– John 6, particularly verses 53-57, is interpreted in an extremely literal way in order to arrive at the conclusion that the bread and wine must become the body and blood, because Jesus appears to be saying that we must literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. Yet verse 63 has Jesus declaring:

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (NKJV)

Jesus uses physical concepts to teach spiritual truth.

* The Marian dogmas, particularly the teaching that Mary is a mediator between God and mankind. Catholicism also asserts that she intercedes for people. Both deny the truth of 1 Timothy 2:5 & Hebrews 7:25:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…He always lives to intercede for them. (NKJV)

– Mary is often referred to as “the advocate,” a title given to the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

– Mary is seen as the “co-redemptrix,” meaning that she “uniquely shared in the work of Jesus to redeem the human family, both by giving Jesus His body, the very instrument of redemption, and by suffering with Him at Calvary in a way unparalleled by another other creature.” Reading that sentence actually makes me angry. Nobody – NOBODY – but Christ engaged in the work of redemption.

* Oral and written tradition. Catholicism heartily rejects sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, and instead insists upon the existence of an oral tradition that is just as authoritative as Scripture. This means that the source of authority can (and does) come from somewhere other than the substantiated Word of God that anyone can access. This may not directly cross into Gnostic territory, but it certainly flirts with the line.

What truly baffles me is just how little Catholicism considers Judaism, the very roots from which the Christian faith grew. All of the Apostles were Jewish. Every single one of the concepts discussed here would have been absolutely blasphemous to them. There is no way they taught any of that.

There are many other points of deep concern, but this post is already nearing the 1900 word mark.

I am not a trained apologist. I don’t know the original languages. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the sophisticated, philosophical arguments. But I can read the teaching of the Catholic Church and assess it next to the teaching of the Bible. Doing so leads me to this conclusion:

There are true Christians in the Catholic Church, but they became Christians by reading Scripture and through the grace and mercy of God, not through anything the church teaches. Rome preaches a false gospel. 

I just lost some more readers.

Due to this conclusion, I will be going back over the Sola What? series I wrote two years ago and doing extensive editing. My thoughts on the subject have definitely changed. However, the direction of this blog is not taking a big turn or leap. I don’t intend to focus exclusively on Catholicism. I’m not out to “stick it to” anyone. I simply want everyone and anyone who comes across my writing to be presented with the true message of the Gospel: Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

My journey to faith. (15)

Sola What?: Conclusion

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This post was edited September 26, 2014. Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

We have barely scratched the surface of the history and theology surrounding the solae and the various issues associated with each. Scores of books have been written on these subjects; it is an impossible thing indeed to do them justice on a blog.

So, how to conclude? I quote Jonathan Edwards:

He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.

As there is one theology but many who examine it, there are bound to be disagreements. There are bound to be differences in view and opinion. Does this mean that we Christians cannot live in love? Must I breathe hate toward my Calvinist brother or sister? Must sweeping and ignorant judgments be passed by Protestants upon the Catholic Church? I say no.

I also say that we must not sugar-coat truth in order to make it more palatable. Extra-Biblical doctrines have no place in the life of a Christian. We must cling to that which is found in Scripture, that which is spelled out clearly for us. In this clinging, we must pursue unity. Not uniformity, but unity.  

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.  I have given them the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as We are one — I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.

“Father, I want those you have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent Me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I Myself may be in them.” – John 17:20-25 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

Sola What?: Sola Gratia & Sola Fide

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This post was edited August 4, 2014, Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

We look at two of the solae today, for I think it is important to consider them together. They truly go hand-in-hand. Also, the relationship between grace and faith, so beautifully intertwined, creates a product: works, or what we do. Works do play a role, though up front I say that role is the giving witness to the internal realities of grace and faith. We are to live out what we believe. Stopping short of discussing works, of emphasizing holy living, creates a cheap grace that inspires no response, no life-change.

That cheap grace? It is not the grace of God.

Sola gratia: grace alone

Sola fide: faith alone

Grace comes from God. Faith is our response to that God and His grace.

The clearest verse in Scripture that discusses these linked concepts is found in one of Paul’s letters: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2:8) As we talked about before, a woman on her own is incapable of choosing God. Her will is bent inward, toward herself, in a selfish position. The prevenient grace of God, the grace that goes before, draws the woman to Himself, calling on that piece of her, however slight and marred, that still reflects His image.

Christ came to earth because of God’s grace (favor). “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We have done nothing to earn or deserve this grace, this favor of God. He extends it to us because He is love (1 Jn. 4:8) and He is also just (2 Thess. 1:6). Though He has every right to, God chooses not to turn His back on humanity. He knows that we cannot and will not save ourselves, and so lovingly paid the price of redemption. His just nature is shown in this act for anyone may come to Him; race, gender, class or past erect no barrier. He is completely fair in His offer. All may walk the road paved with Christ’s blood.

Since we cannot choose God on our own, it is the Lord Himself who stirs up the desire for salvation within us, and it is He who amazingly grants the faith to take the first step on the Way. He presents us with opportunities, singular moments when the chaos is pushed away and we hear His voice clearly. In that crystalline fragility, we are enabled to respond positively and come to salvation, but we can still choose to reject Him. When we respond positively, we begin the life of faith. This faith is defined as complete confidence or trust. To have faith in God requires a recognition of the fundamentally flawed nature of humanity. Taking this beautiful gift from God leads the man to repentance and then to regeneration. He is made a new creature.

Many would stop here, insisting that the mere declaration of Christ’s Lordship is enough. But to do so is to ignore huge portions of Scripture, most notably the idea that those who love Christ will obey Him (Jn. 14:21). I can find nothing in the Bible that allows for an empty faith. This appears to be a fairly modern notion. Just sign the commitment card or pray a little prayer, and you’re good. No mention of holiness, no stressing the importance of knowing and doing God’s will.

Yet consider this:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.- James. 2:14-26 (NKJV)

It is quite clear that James is not saying that doing good things will put you in right standing with God. When Christ said, “It is finished,” (Jn. 19:30), He meant that. The sacrificial system was done. There has never been and will never be no striving to obtain favor with God. The only way righteousness comes is to repent of sin and believe that Jesus, the God-Man, died and rose again three days later, thus conquering death and sin in one glorious blow. We can neither add nor subtract from this; we contribute nothing to the work salvation. What James is doing is pointing out the ridiculousness of the mouth claiming faith in God while the life declares something altogether different.

We might think of it this way: If you are going to say that you are a Christian, you had darn well better act like one.

Now, thankfully, God is merciful! We do not become perfect all at once. We struggle with sin. We stumble, fall and create terrible messes. He gives us the strength and space to stand up and walk again. And that, I think, is the crux: Do we even want to get up? The pattern of our lives reveals what we really believe to be true. A faith that is mere words, a life that is marked by a lack of consistent growth and desire to know and love God… Well, James says it best. That kind of faith, and by extension that kind of life, is dead.

With all of this in mind, we may conclude that these two solae need to be combined and extended to best explain the concept:

“Gratia per fidem expressa opera.”

By grace, through faith, expressed in works.

Faith does not exist apart from grace, nor apart from works. Works are meaningless without grace and without faith. Grace that is not accessed through faith and lived out is grace left on the shelf. Ultimately, it is grace, and therefore God Himself, upon which our salvation rests entirely, but God does call us to responsibility. We must think, feel, speak and act out of faith.

Only those who have a very shallow understanding of the Cross will feel confident in being “covered” no matter how they live. What happened on the Cross was costly. My Savior endured significant agony on my behalf. His precious blood was spilled. Thorns were shoved into His head and nails pierced His skin. He hung, suspended by three nails, on a rough wooden cross. He could barely breathe. His skin hung in tatters from the ferocious flogging. To speak of this as being truth and then to live as if it doesn’t really matter is to mock God. He did everything to save me and to show me just how terrible my sin is.

I say this with great love: If you do not understand how horrific and significant the Cross was, and how glorious the Resurrection. if these facts of history do not move you, then I encourage you to consider whether or not you have came to salvation at all. If you think that it’s “enough” to say a few words when you’re a kid and then live however you want to, then…well, that speaks for itself. People who are in true relationship with God want to please Him, want to obey Him. He has loved us so we love Him. 

God does care what we do. Why else would Jesus have spent so much time teaching His followers how to live? Why else did the Spirit inspire the authors of the New Testament?  What we do doesn’t gain us salvation, nor does it maintain our standing of rightness before God, which is entirely based on the gracious action of Christ, but it does show where we are in our understanding and appreciation of that salvation. Do we love those who set our teeth on edge? Do we seek to provide for the needs of the destitute? Do we stand up for the orphan, the widow, the downtrodden? Do we watch what we say and are we quick to apologize when we aren’t watching?

We need to understand that our talk and walk must line up. We must be submitted to Him and willing to obey His leading, wherever it goes. Sometimes that’s a big thing, like going into the mission field. Other times it’s a seemingly small thing, like keeping silent when we’d like to scream obscenities.

Jesus did so much for us. What we will do for Him?

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

 

Sola What?: Solus Christus

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This post was edited July 21, 2014, Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

We continue in our journey through the hallmark doctrines of Protestantism, focusing today on the position and role of Jesus Messiah.

Solus Christus: Christ alone (sometimes rendered Solo Christo)

In our earlier discussion on Soli Deo Gloria, we looked at the necessity of honoring God. Living in such a way that brings Him glory is a mark of the true believer. Knowing the love and grace of God moves the Christian to obedience. We should seek to submit to His will in all things. He is the Lord, the Master, of every aspect of our lives.

It is my opinion that turning our eyes to gaze steadily on the beautiful countenance of God leads us to grapple with the Incarnation; whoever has seen Him (whether by common or spiritual vision) has seen the Father (Jn. 14:8-9). Jesus is God revealed. If we wish to know the Lord, we need only look to Him.

How, then, does the Messiah, the God-Man, tell us that we are saved?

Jesus said to Him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6 (NKJV)

Jesus intimately connects His own Person to the process of salvation. In the Gospel of John alone, He refers to Himself as the water (Jn. 4:10-14), the bread (Jn. 6:35), the light (Jn. 8:12), the gate (Jn. 10:7-9) and the shepherd (Jn. 10:11-18). These are just a few examples of how integral Jesus is in mediating between God and humankind. Water is essential for survival. Bread quiets hunger pangs. Light dispels the darkness. Gates let in those allowed and keep out those not. The shepherd knows His sheep – and He sheep know Him, following no other.

Protestants and Catholics agree on this, but there is sharp divergence on whether or not the redemptive work of Christ is enough to bring about salvation for each of us. Here we arrive at the role and meaning of the sacraments, meritorious works and the role of Mary and the saints (who, to my understanding, form a sort of repository or treasury of faith and works the Christian today can access and benefit from). Let us consider each separately.

The word “sacrament” is defined as a sacred act or ceremony. Most Protestant denominations engage in only two sacraments, Baptism and Communion/Eucharist, neither of which are understood to confer grace in and of themselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, by contrast, defines the sacraments as:

efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions. (1131)

In other words, to a Protestant, grace already exists in the life of the Christian by virtue of His belief and the sacraments are the outward signs or rites of that inward reality. The Catholic Church teaches that the sacraments (of which there are seven – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony) are avenues (instituted by Christ) through which grace is deposited into the Christian.

The contrasting ideas of the sacraments flow directly into the role and place of meritorious works in the believer’s life, a bone of deep contention between the two sides. The role of works is inextricably linked to the doctrine of justification (right standing before God); is the righteousness of Christ imputed (assigning a value, possessed by one, to another), imparted (bestowing a quality) or infused (fill and instill) into the life of the Christian?

In Romans 3:21-4:25, Paul goes into great detail about the imputed aspect of justification. Christ’s righteousness, His life of perfect and complete sinless obedience, is “charged” to or against the sinful account of the one who cries out in sincere repentance. Thus, while the sinful nature is not immediately eradicated, God may still look upon the Christian as if she is complete and pure.

Imparted righteousness may be more closely identified with sanctification (the process by which God, with the submission of the believer, works to remake her). The more we come to know and love God, the more we want to be like Him and do what He wants us to do. Sin becomes abhorrent as we submit to God and He heals our blindness, our deafness and melts our hearts of stone.

Infused righteousness must be maintained by meritorious works. We cannot be filled with the Spirit, or, really, filled with salvation if we are not doing what God wants us to do. Here we see that there is less distinction in Catholicism between justification and sanctification than in Protestant theology, which sees justification as a “moment” and sanctification as “life.” Catholicism, to my understanding, lumps the two together. We are both justified and sanctified over the course of our years. And yet it goes further; the emphasis on this infusing means that works become inextricably linked to maintaining one’s position in Christ. Instead of righteousness coming by faith and works being an expression of that faith, righteousness comes by what one does. There is a heightened sense in which man plays a role in his own salvation, a sense not found in even the most ardently Arminian Protestant theology.

It would be easy to spend the rest of our time in the discussion of works, but I would like to conclude this section by saying that I see ample evidence in Scripture and experience for justification as imputed (seen in the Romans passage above), imparted (2 Pt. 1:4, 1 Jn. 3:9) and infused (Jn. 14:15). God declares us righteous, remakes our natures and then expects us to live accordingly. But it is important to note that we are immediately made right before God the moment that we confess Christ and that our works, while showing evidence of imparted righteousness, are not what makes us pure before God. It is only the death and resurrection of Christ, and our faith in Him, that accomplishes such a thing.

Now it seems that we come back to Mary, and, frankly, that annoys me. I do not want to consider Mary, for she was only a human being. And yet it is impossible to escape the place of importance she occupies in Catholic theology. Mary is given the title “Co-Redemptrix” for her free cooperation with God in the plan of redemption, something that seems plainly offensive to me. Without her obedience, the Incarnation would not have happened, and so I am thankful that she chose to submit to God. Yet I cannot make the leap that Catholic thinking requires in asserting that, because of her obedience, Mary is thus a mediator, though of lesser value, between God and man. This blatantly flies in the face of everything Scripture teaches. For confirmation, we need only to consider the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Finally, the faith and works of the saints are available for additional “goodness” in the life of the Christian. While I am thankful for and inspired by the lives of Christians who have gone before me, neither their sins or their righteousness have anything to do with me. I am judged solely on whether or not I am in Christ, not on whether or not I “dipped” into some pool of obedience.

I do not believe that it is a stretch to say that Catholicism teaches that the death and resurrection of Christ is not enough to secure salvation for each person. We must have faith, but we must also work. And the work, when it becomes a means to salvation rather than an outflow of it, cheapens the faith.

Salvation is by Christ alone. He was the perfect sacrifice (again, read all of Hebrews). He did all the work. Our only role in the process is to respond to His offer. It is to take the complete and perfect package. We don’t do good things in the hope that they will save us. We don’t “start” with Jesus and then “add” to Him by doing good things. We don’t need to “add” to Jesus at all. We do good things because we are already saved. We do good things out of love and adoration.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.