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.

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. 

Catholics and the Dance of Salvation, Part III

The Bride Analogy

The Catholic Church sees itself as the Bride and Christ the groom. And since the early church was begun with the Hebrews, their culture affected the beliefs of the church. So the Catholic Church retains the marriage traditions of those times for itself as the Bride.

You see, the Israelite male would make a covenant with a woman’s family and he would be betrothed to his bride. (This is not an engagement period as the covenant is the legal beginning--a real “forsaking all others.” ) After the betrothal, the groom would go off for a period of time and prepare a home for her. Then when the groom’s father approved of the son’s home, the father would tell his son to go get his bride. The woman would be surprised by her groom showing up and she is to be prepared. The wedding feast lasted for seven days and after that the groom brought his bride home and the consummation and they would then be “one flesh.” 

The Catholic Church, the Bride, was legally, formally and eternally wedded to Christ at the Cross. She is preparing herself to meet her Bridegroom at the second coming and then for the wedding supper and final consummation. This is not simply a legal contract but a covenant of love. 

Catholics see the Church as His Bride already. We each enter this same covenant of love which we all enter into the Catholic Church at baptism. We are part of the Bride signed sealed and forever. Because Christ said that what God has joined together let no man tear asunder...the Catholic Church believes God can never, ever forsake His Church and hence because of these words Catholic do not believe in divorce.  That eternal marriage covenant serves as a promise to the Bride that Christ will never leave her.  

We, as Catholics, await the Second Coming and we already have a hint of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb each week at mass as we partake of the Eucharist.   In one sense, we are already with our husband, in a grand dance awaiting the consummation.

The Protestant view is one of seeing the marriage covenant in the future. When they have a born-again experience they see it as a guarantee of being the future bride, more like a promise ring. When they see Catholics struggling to be pure and holy, a Bride preparing for her husband and the wedding, they only see a slave girl dancing to keep from being sold to a worse master.

Yet Catholics see themselves as the Bride in a sealed covenant of love. We are in His arms, following His lead, trying to learn to dance a perfect dance. We are watching His eyes and His movements trying to keep in perfect rhythm... the perfect dance. There is no fear that He will take off the ring if we falter. We will not be thrown out as His wife if we do not dance well. He is teaching us as we await the door of the Bridegroom’s chamber and becoming one flesh.

My challenge is to read the New Testament through with the Catholic worldview in mind. All of a sudden everything absolutely makes so much sense you will be shocked you didn’t see it before.