Thursday, January 10, 2013

Catholics and the Dance of Salvation, Part II

Salvation Through Baptism

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit ... baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -through the resurrection of Jesus Christ... I Peter 3: 18-21

For the Catholic, at baptism you are born-again. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Christ is recorded as saying in John 3:5. Catholics have always understood this water as baptism. And along with baptism you receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit with oil.

[D]o you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.  Romans 6:3-10

Baptism is the act of faith by which we are truly born again. 

[I]n Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Colossians 2: 11-13

Some Protestants teach that Christians are born-again in a spiritual experience. They do not take this water as being literal but as symbolic. Protestants often have an altar-call which follows a person receives Jesus into the person’s heart. It is a private internal revelatory experience usually accompanied by an emotion.  The idea of a conversion experience didn’t come into the picture until the 19th century. No Christian before that deemed an emotional or spiritual experience necessary. Baptism was the act of faith in which you were born-again. 

Most Catholics were baptized as babies and never had an “experience” that Protestants require. Catholics don’t require an emotional conversion experience. If you are baptized you are a child of God, you have become a new person and are given the Holy Spirit. Spiritual experiences happen to bring you closer to God, but they are not the method, the material method, by which the Word tells us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Why an act with water? Why not just a private, internal belief?

We are material, not fully spiritual. We need to feel hugs and hear words and taste bread and drink water. Material things are good and God gave us material things in order that we might feel His presence on earth not only in a spiritual/ feelings way but also in a tangible material way. Baptism was given to us as an actual material and physical entrance into eternity and the Kingdom of God.

Catholic Baptism and the Covenant of Grace

We are adopted through baptism and enter the Kingdom of God as an organized, real church. The adoption as a child of God is not simply a legal agreement, but a family one. The Body of Christ is a family. The covenant is a family covenant. 

When you are brought up within the covenant, baptized as a baby, you retain your freewill to leave. God allows us to leave the sheepfold and reject the family. But that in no way means you are no longer His child. God remains faithful, even if we don’t. 

Think of this: The Catholic Church is so non-works oriented that they baptize babies into the covenant because of the faith of their parents and/or community. (See Matt. 9:2; also note Luke 5: 20 records, “Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend your sins are forgiven you.” Jesus saved many on the faith of parents or friends. See also Matthew 9: 18-26, 15:22-28, John 4: 48-54)

Baptizing babies into the covenant? Having born-again babies who cannot in any way do something to save themselves? Now that’s unmerited grace! That is a non-works based religion. You are saved as a baby by the faith of your parents! Doesn’t get less works-oriented than that.

Born-Again and Saved from Sin 

After we are born-again into the Kingdom, we then start the process of being saved from sin. (Basically, what Protestants say happens before we get to heaven magically at our death, Catholics say happens after we enter heaven. We just say heaven is now, Protestants say it is in the future.)

Catholics teach that Christians are imputed with Christ’s righteousness at baptism, but after becoming Children of God, we actually begin being infused with righteousness. This process of sanctification isn’t about working our way to heaven, for we are already inside the kingdom of God. 

To Catholicism the kingdom of heaven is now. While judgement does happens after death, those in the kingdom are either going to purgatory for some clean-up or directly to heaven. No one who is living in the kingdom at death have any fear of hell. The judgement is about rewards and punishment... not about heaven or hell. (Those outside the kingdom who choose hell will throw themselves in. So living inside the kingdom on earth is a guarantee of the Beatific Vision or seeing God face to face.)

Think about the Hebrew priests who did not do anything to become an Israelite. They were priests because they were from the tribe of Aaron. Catholics see salvation as a family covenant. The covenant begins at baptism just like the Hebrew covenant began with circumcision. You’re family. You are now part of God’s family. There is no fear, there is utter confidence and security.

Catholics nor Protestants (at least mainstream protestants) believe we can earn our way to heaven with good deeds. However, all of us believe there is no sin in heaven and we will be perfect when we see God.

Protestants just see perfection as a process that happens miraculously to born-again Christians at or after death. Catholics believe it is a process that begins miraculously to born-again Christians while we are here on earth.

Do Catholics believe in the Once Saved Always Saved doctrine like Calvinists? 

We believe that once we are inside the kingdom we retain our freewill. It is technically possible, but highly improbably that once inside we would choose to leave. One rarely leaves that kind of love. However, if sins become more important to us than Christ, we can with full intention and will, with a full understanding of what we are doing we can walk out on God, like Satan and the angels. However, we cannot accidentally be lost. That is impossible. We cannot be deceived out of the kingdom. Jesus will leave the flock and come to find us, for nothing can snatch us out of His hand. The only possible way we can leave the kingdom is if we, with full understanding, leave and stay out purposefully until death because we choose sin over Christ. It is an act of the will and cannot be a fall to temptation or because of a misunderstanding or an addiction.

Is Sanctification Works-Righteousness?

From what I understand from talking with both sides, the crux of this works-righteousness comes down to timing. If we are working towards perfection before we enter the kingdom, we earn Heaven. If we are working towards perfection after we enter the Kingdom, we are going through sanctification. So understanding when the Kingdom happens is crucial.

In the Protestant worldview, we look forward to the promise of salvation when Christ comes. Therefore anything we do before that time will come across as working our way to heaven, as if we can lose our salvation by what we do rather than what Christ did. This worldview bring a continual misunderstanding of the New Testament. It pits works against faith. It creates huge dances around certain texts in scripture that tell us we must now become holy and perfect and stop sinning. As if we have to do that before the Kingdom of heaven comes.

For the Catholic, at baptism, we enter the kingdom. 

This is the difference between works-righteousness and real Catholicism--when sanctification happens. If you are doing good works in order to appease an angry judge or you are married to the judge and do good works out of love. I know that Adventists say the same thing about Sabbath, “you keep sabbath because you are saved and not to be saved.” But remember when Adventists place our judgement. Our eternal salvation happens in the future at the Second Coming and we are judged by our keeping of the law then we get into heaven.

Non-Catholic Salvation

We are often criticized for teaching that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. To a Catholic the church is Christ’s Body. It is the New Covenant and the family of God. It is the Kingdom. Salvation is found inside Christ... for there is no name outside of which we can be saved.

Just like Protestants will claim there is no salvation outside Jesus Christ, we say the exact same thing. That’s what the statement means to us. It’s not like we are saying... Hey come to our church because we are the only way of salvation. We are saying come to Jesus, He is the only way of salvation. If you believe the church IS Christ’s Body, it makes sense. It’s hard to grasp, but we are not saying you cannot be saved if you are not a Catholic. It is a statement about Jesus and His salvation, not about the Catholic Church.

The pope who said it was not telling the world that the Catholic Church was the one among many churches that was the true one. It wasn’t an either or situation. At that time you could either be pagan or Christian. There wasn’t a bunch of denominations out there competing for the title of God’s church. The Church was how you learned about Jesus, it was where the scriptures were read and where you learned the gospel.

Today non-Catholic Christians (those baptized into the Trinity) are considered by our church as saved and as part of those who are within the New Covenant. And even those who have the baptism of desire... those who accept the baptism of the Holy Spirit within them and cannot for some reason be baptized by water are saved. However, water baptism into the Kingdom is the primary way salvation was set up. It is the best method by which we can unify with Christ.

Protestants and others who have accepted the Holy Spirit into their hearts are our “Separated Brethren” or  as Jesus called them “other sheep” outside the sheepfold. Though we fully accept them as Christians, we realize without the sheepfold they are more vulnerable, unprotected as independent individuals and can more easily fall prey to wolves.

The Sacraments and Salvation

This is another area easily misunderstood. Many Protestants reject Catholicism because they see the rituals of the sacraments as works of salvation. 

The Sacraments do not get us into heaven. The sacraments are what God uses for His Bride to help her become perfect for the wedding ceremony and the Wedding supper when He comes back. There is no fear she won’t become perfect. His perfection covers her all the while she is actually changing into perfection. 

The church is made up of individuals, but the church is not individualistic. The sacraments are material ways in which we enter the spiritual and receive God’s grace truly and actually. Grace is not a feeling, grace is not an experience. (It is not a high-five or an feeling of encouragement from the Lord) Grace is a power transmitted to us through a material act... it is like a powerbar that gives us real energy to go on and turn from sin.

The sacraments are material ways in which God is with us now. The Eucharist is Christ with us through bread and wine. The sacrament of reconciliation is a material way in which God gives us forgiveness and the grace empowering us to turn from sin and battle temptation. Baptism, marriage, Last Rights, these are all God coming to us through material/ physical means to show us grace.

These things are not necessary for salvation any more than prayer and bible reading are necessary for salvation. But these things keep the Kingdom of God always present for us... It is our physical reminder that God is with us as we live in the Kingdom.

Catholicism is about Unity

The Kingdom, its sacraments, its rituals, its laws are all about drawing Christ’s arms around us in unity.

Protestants separate the Church’s history... as if it was all about individual independent congregations. At Pentecost Christ established his church and sealed it forever. It is not like Pentecost came and everyone went out and established an independent little church. They all taught what Christ taught them and as they progressed they intercommunicated through the bishops so that the truth would remain pure, uncorrupted. 

Unity is prime reason for the church. All things of God are trying to fully reconcile us with Him. Drawing us into unity... a family or better yet a marriage.

It is truly here in a church and this church is awaiting the consummation of all times at the second coming. 

No comments: