Thursday, January 10, 2013

Catholics and the Dance of Salvation

There is so much distrust between Catholics and Protestants, that in order to understand each other, we have to find neutral territory--a territory of neutral language using mutually understood spiritual terms where meanings are clear. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, a four-foot window and a four-foot elephant can create a “foot”confusion and though we may all think it silly to think a window has four feet like an elephant has four feet it is not so funny when it comes to terms like eucharist and purgatory.

In order to love each other as Christ commanded, a step in faith must be taken towards each other realizing that though we may never agree with each other’s interpretation of scripture, at least we will honestly understand the points on which we disagree instead of all this confusing spiritual propaganda that keeps flying between us--creating an impassible irritation of spiritual pride.

I know what many of you are thinking...

This has nothing to do with misunderstanding, but everything to do with the doctrines of demons and Catholics who are trying to make evil good. And everyone I speak to “knows a guy” who was Catholic who had all kinds of stories about wicked Catholic priests or a Catholic who was wounded by Catholic works-righteousness dogmas. 

As a convert, I am trying to figure this out. The Catholicism I was drawn to... the Catholicism that I have studied shows the opposite of what those people tell me. The Catechism, Catholic’s official documents, the Bible and Christian church history all back up the Catholicism that I was taught--a faith salvation not of works but of grace. I am working on finding and expressing an answer about American Catholics who were brought up being taught you have to earn you way to heaven. Seems to me it is a catastrophic failure of teaching Catholic truths.

I realize that this is what Adventists say to ex-SDAs. They claim that we just didn’t fully understand Adventist doctrine. So I want to run from that excuse. But if it is true, then it is true whether or not Adventists use the excuse. However, poor catechesis is not a fully satisfactory answer to me. How can so many Catholics believe in works-righteousness when it is not their doctrine? I just don’t know.... I am working on that one....

However, the Catholics I do know... the Catholics that go regularly to mass and who live the faith, have no misunderstanding and cry out in frustration when they are accused of working their way to heaven.

Cradle Catholics, or those who have never been Protestant, have a huge difficulty in explaining their faith to Protestants because the way in which Catholics and Protestants understand salvation is different. It is not just a matter of works righteousness. This is a matter of basic world views and when and where and how we receive God and are born-again.

Since I find spiritual wording to be an enormous barrier, I will attempt to use words in a way that truly communicates our Catholic faith in Protestant language. It might very well confuse Catholics if they read it... but since I have been on both sides, I think I can link together both world views. Hopefully....

Salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven

Catholics believe they, along with the Orthodox who both began with Jesus, are the Kingdom of God (Kingdom of Heaven) as Christ laid out in Matthew’s gospel chapter thirteen. Every time Christ says “the kingdom” Catholics see this as pointing to a real, visible church that Christ started. The attributes of this kingdom--filled with wheats and tares and different edible and inedible fish and seeds that dry up and die--is the kingdom, even in its earthly imperfection. This kingdom, Jesus tells us, doesn’t start out perfect but becomes perfect in order to be received by Christ at His literal Second Coming.  

[And Catholics teach this perfection is not all done while on earth, that those sins we are addicted to now are overcome in purgatory. And all sin is overcome by God’s grace; we do not earn heaven. More on that later.]

Catholics see the book of Revelation as the prophetic story of Christ’s Body in His Church. Revelation is the story of the Catholic Church.  I know many Christians see this as arrogant... “The Catholic Church the Church? Humph! Hardly!”  And I don’t blame them, it does sound very arrogant when there are around 20,000 different denominations today and all claim to be part of the church. I am not saying you have to agree, but just for a moment try and understand a Catholic worldview.

There was only one church for a thousand years. Then the Orthodox and Catholics broke from one another, but it stayed the east and western churches for another five hundred years with no real break-off churches that survived. So for 15 centuries the west had only one universal church. It had only one Bible. It had only one mind with one understanding of the gospel. Not to say the understanding of truths didn’t grow deeper, and some things were debated, but little changed in the area of basic doctrines. 

But this Catholic Church Kingdom of Heaven didn’t simply begin at Christ. The Church is the Kingdom that goes back all the way to God’s promise to David.

The Promised Everlasting Kingdom

II Sam. 7: 12-17 records God’s promise to King David:
I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever .   (see also 1 Chr. 22:10; 28:7, Dan. 2:44; 7:18)

Jesus came and fulfilled the Davidic Kingdom on earth. He brought the Eternal Kingdom, a real, true kingdom with leaders and structure and teachings and writings. An organized church--with Apostles to lead it. This kingdom is His Body, this kingdom is His Bride. The beginning of an everlasting kingdom that started with Christ’s arms stretching out wide upon the Cross and embracing the whole world. Salvation for everyone had come. It is here and now--not in the future. All those who wish salvation must only come and accept the free gift of His Kingdom.

Jesus set up a system of teachings (doctrines) that we call the gospel and His Church was to take this very good news to the whole world, not just a hit and run gospel but setting up a church wherever His disciples went. They didn’t just leave a book and then tell the new converts that they were on their own--look to a book as your authority. No, a church was established, leadership was appointed. And these new satellite communities  joined with all the others to grow in grace, to serve God and others and to live the gospel that others may join the church also. The little growing communities were not left alone to thrive independently. 

They were joined together in unity of the Spirit, in unity of scripture and doctrine and evangelists often came and brought them news from other communities. The were bound together in heart and mind and they suffered for each other, sacrificed for each other and were in unity of baptism.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4: 4-6

 From the very second Christ established his church to this very day, he promised that he would protect it and to this very second now in time, His promise still remains. He vowed to His Bride as He was ascending into heaven that He would be with her to the end of the age. He didn’t promise to protect a spiritual philosophy or theology, or the Bible or the even the gospel, though He surely did that. But what He actually said was that He would protect His Bride, His Church, His Kingdom. 

She is the pillar and foundation of truth and by protecting Her, He in turn protected scripture and truth. (I Tim. 3:15) This protection would be guaranteed by the Holy Spirit given to her as a counselor, comforter and guide, so that the very gates of hell could not prevail against her. She has sheep with true shepherds, a sheepfold and a gate. Jesus is her shepherd, Jesus is her gate and He is with her, the church. And each individual Christian would receive the Holy Spirit through her. So that all would be one in Christ.

But what about Catholic corruption? Didn’t God abandon His church when she started corrupting the gospel?

Yes, God’s church makes mistakes. Yet, God protects His church even when she makes mistakes. 

Thanks for staying with me this far, because if you are like me when I was a Protestant, I would be yelling at the computer by now and would probably close this blog down and in agitation pray for my poor, deceived Catholic writer who could write such heresy.

But, this is what Catholic believe and have always believed. And agree or disagree you must understand this in order to understand their view on Salvation.

Catholics believe that to enter the Kingdom of God, this literal church... a real church, we enter through a real way. It is not an mental or emotional experience that places you in an invisible, spiritual church. We physically enter into salvation through Baptism.

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