Thursday, January 16, 2014

R.C. Sproul, Roman Catholicism Series, Part 3 "The Church and Salvation": A Commentary by Teresa Beem

(I'm skipping the pictures for sake of space.)

I was asked to listen to and comment on a series of lectures on Roman Catholicism by Calvinist Dr. R.C. Sproul. I have already commented on the first two in the series of lectures, and now I am going to comment on the third entitled, “The Church and Salvation.” 

Lies and Fear
There are two types of lies. One is taking the facts and presenting them in a way that gives a false impression. The other is presenting errors as facts. Dr. Sproul, in the first two lectures, I believed was a sincere man who was involuntarily giving a false impression with facts. In this lecture, I am still giving him the benefit as to his culpability but it is a little bit worse because he is presenting errors as facts.

There are people who genuinely and fairly looked into Catholic doctrine and simply do not believe Catholicism is of God. I have zero problem with them. God bless you and we will love and respect one another. However, there are Christians who look only into Catholic doctrine via Protestant scholars who do not genuinely look at Catholic doctrines except to condemn and expose. They will take history and Catholic writings out of context and weave together such as false impression of Catholicism that it pains a Catholic to hear it, it so smacks of ignorance. 

For the first couple lectures I very much thought R.C. Sproul was in the first group. After listening to this last lecture on the Church and Salvation it is clear that he either has done extremely limited and poor research, or he is deliberately portraying the doctrines of Catholicism wrongly. I just pray that he is sincerely misunderstanding Catholicism or else he needs to repent for bearing false witness against his Catholic neighbor.

Because I do not have the time to do a thorough refutation of all the errors I heard the professor state in this lecture, I will pick a few and at least give as short explanation of why he is wrong. (However this will be very long because I will have to deal with several points.)

The Priests and the Priesthood of Believers 
Dr. Sproul stated that Roman Catholicism is based upon a sacerdotal system in which salvation is mediated through the functions of the priesthood. His exact wording gave the impression that Catholics teach that salvation can only be attained through the sacraments given by the Roman Catholic priests. Not true.

The sacerdotalism that Catholics claim for themselves is that the priests is the minister of Divine worship. He exercises “sacerdotal” functions in behalf of and in unity with the entire priesthood of believers (all Christians are priests) when he offers the sacrifice of the mass.  This is based upon Hebrews 5: 1, “for every high priest is taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

But Catholicism does not believe that this is the only means of salvation, but the system Christ Himself set up as the ordinary, most effective and efficient means of becoming holy. 

The Preaching of the Word
Dr. Sproul emphasizes that the Protestant worship service is focused on the preaching of the word. The center of attention is the pulpit. Then he states that Catholic worship is centered on the altar, giving the impression that the Catholic worship is lacking in attention to God’s Word. Emphatically false.

Enormous emphasis is placed upon the understanding of sacred scripture in Catholic church. The Catholic service is divided into the Word and the Eucharist. The first half is dedicated to reading scripture, singing scripture and the homily when the priest explains the scriptures we read. I have been to great hour-long Protestant expositions of one bible text that included story after story, a continual repetition of the point. The ten minute homily in Catholic mass is based on a 2000-year-old understanding of human nature. It condenses the words, but not the information.
Then the second half is dedicated to the heart of Catholic worship--receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. 

The Sacraments Save Us?
Dr. Sproul claims that Catholics teach that, “The sacraments impart saving grace to people.” 
Protestants read that statement as: “The doing of the rituals of the sacraments are the way you earn eternal life.”
The proper Catholic understanding of Dr. Sproul’s statement is: “As the Bride prepares to meet Her Husband face to face (the Beatific Vision) you follow God’s disciplines (sacraments) in order to receive the grace to overcome sin and become holy.” 

But the sacraments are not the only way one can become holy. It is the “ordinary” way Christ established. As sovereign God, He has many extraordinary ways to give graces to those who wish to be holy. Catholics teach that saving graces are given in prayer! Anyone can receive those.

Theological terms can trip up understanding. Let me show you how. The term “being saved” and “born-again” are synonymous to Protestants. To a Catholic they are two very separate things. The phrase “born-again” means you have entered the kingdom of heaven on earth and indelibly marked as a child of God. For Catholics “being saved” happens much later after you are born-again, after you have run the race and finished it. Salvation is a state where you can see God face to face. You are perfect, without sin. 

The sacraments are given to us by Christ to develop holiness. But they themselves do not give us salvation. They give Christians within the New Covenant grace (God’s power) to overcome sin. 

Grace and Salvation Outside the Catholic Church
Dr. Sproul asks, “If redemption comes by the means of grace dispensed by the priest and controlled by the church...what happens when a person is not a member of [this type] of community?”

If Dr. Sproul had simply picked up a Catechism, the answer would easily be found. 

1260    “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved...

Salvation Through Grace Alone
Several comments about this statement of the professor's that Catholics believe “redemption comes by the means of grace.” Yes that statement is true. A Catholic believes sola gratia, not sola fide. We are redeemed through the grace of Christ. Yet grace is not exclusively the church’s. 

The rest of the sentence is, “dispensed by the priest and controlled by the church.” That assessment by the doctor is wrong. The Church doesn’t control grace. To say we believe the church “controls’ grace is a statement Dr. Sproul knows to be untrue for later in the lecture he admits the church acknowledges saving grace outside the church.

The Gospel Economy of the Kingdom 
We are born-again at baptism and become children of God. Then we prepare to meet God face to face by becoming holy. Christ set up the sacraments to guide us into holiness. You are still a child of God and remain within the kingdom if you don’t receive the sacraments. But you will not become as holy as you could receiving the sacraments and will not be prepared to see God face to face at death. So then, you must be prepared to spend a lot more time in purgatory. For you must be holy to enter the presence of an Almighty God. 

The Catholic Church has always understood that God is sovereign and can save anyone He wants. The Catholic Church teaches that God set up a system by which the gospel can not only be spread but be lived. It is through His church, His bishops, His teachers, etc the gospel is to go forth and people be saved from their sins. I think the New Testament absolutely supports this idea. Through the organized church we can learn about the kingdom of Heaven, enter the kingdom of Heaven and live the Kingdom of Heaven until Christ comes again.

The church also tells us that since we are a nation of priests, a royal priesthood, we too can administer the sacraments. It is the ordinary way for the priests to do it but the extraordinary way allows for other believers. That is why in Catholicism a baptism is considered valid if done, “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” by a layman. That is why you see lay people giving out the Eucharist. A priest isn’t necessary for a wedding to be valid. So, Dr. Sproul places a stricter definition of sacerdotal than Catholics do. 

History of the Catholic Church and Salvation
Dr. Sproul claims that the church has changed positions on if you can be saved outside of the church over time, becoming progressive and inclusive. Again, he doesn’t understand Catholic history.

Many issues are debated over and over, in cycles. What the early church believed about Sabbath was argued for seven hundred years by different theologians in different areas (including impassioned writings by popes who disagrees). All this was unknown to 99% of Catholics who just followed the rules and lived peaceful, productive Christian lives. Then it was dropped and picked up again in the 16th century when the Puritans insisted on a Sunday Sabbath. When sabbatarianism  began to make inroads in Catholic Africa, Pope John Paul II again addressed the situation in his encyclical, Dies Domini. The theology of all those years of debate was fleshed out and made clear. Nothing changed. But the theology of the Sabbath was then codified for the church because of a heresy afflicting the people, not because a few handfuls of theologians were infighting.

When an Adventists looks at the centuries of Catholic debate, they can certainly piece together popes’ and theologians’ statements to support the SDA position on the Sabbath, but they must understand that Catholic theologians are free to, and even encouraged to debate theology in case a new light be shed upon an old doctrine. Theology has layers of truth and the Catholics are always encouraging us to see layers of truth and perhaps even discover a layer of truth that no one has yet seen. Never to change the official dogma or doctrine only add to the understanding of it. So today, like in the times of the Apostles, the Sabbath is the seventh-day of the week, but fulfilled in Christ. Catholic doctrine stayed the same even with a paper trail of Catholic debate.

This example is how to understand the historic and present view of salvation. Catholics have always understood that those who followed God before Christ came would be in heaven. The debate was always about fine details--babies of non-Christians who died, unbaptized Christian babies? People who haven’t heard the gospel but were born into a Christian world? (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 846-7; Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 14). 

Dr. Sproul quotes third-century church father St. Cyprian as saying there is no salvation outside the church correctly. “..[T]here is no salvation outside the Church.” (Letters 72[73]:2). But he was directly talking to heretics who had martyred themselves for their heretical views. Look at the whole quote:
"[T]he baptism of public witness and of blood cannot profit a heretic unto salvation, because there is no salvation outside the Church." But even St. Cyprian of Carthage qualified that with saying immediately after that unbaptized people who are love Christ and want to join His Church and are martyred (ie. who cannot be baptized) are saved. 

Even though St. Cyprian’s beliefs were strict, they were not official church doctrine as Dr. Sproul suggested. A hundred years earlier, Justin Martyr explained how most of the church thought on Salvation outside the church:
"We have been taught that Christ is the first-begotten of God, and we have declared him to be the Logos of which all mankind partakes [John 1:9]. Those, therefore, who lived according to reason [Greek, logos] were really Christians, even though they were thought to be atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus, and others like them. . . . Those who lived before Christ but did not live according to reason [logos] were wicked men, and enemies of Christ, and murderers of those who did live according to reason [logos], whereas those who lived then or who live now according to reason [logos] are Christians. Such as these can be confident and unafraid" (First Apology 46 [A.D. 151]). 

Bishop Clement of Alexandria, within fifty years of St. Cyprian wrote something similar to Justin Martyr: 

"Before the coming of the Lord, philosophy was necessary for justification to the Greeks; now it is useful for piety . . . for it brought the Greeks to Christ as the law did the Hebrews" (Miscellanies1:5 [A.D. 208]). 

And then Origen a prominent theologian who was a contemporary of St. Cyprian wrote the following: 
"[T]here was never a time when God did not want men to be just; he was always concerned about that. Indeed, he always provided beings endowed with reason with occasions for practicing virtue and doing what is right. In every generation the wisdom of God descended into those souls which he found holy and made them to be prophets and friends of God" (Against Celsus 4:7 [A.D. 248]). 

 Ambrose of Milan
"But I hear you lamenting because he [the Emperor Valentinian] had not received the sacraments of baptism. Tell me, what else could we have, except the will to it, the asking for it? He too had just now this desire, and after he came into Italy it was begun, and a short time ago he signified that he wished to be baptized by me. Did he, then, not have the grace which he desired? Did he not have what he eagerly sought? Certainly, because he sought it, he received it. What else does it mean: ‘Whatever just man shall be overtaken by death, his soul shall be at rest [Wis. 4:7]’?" (Sympathy at the Death of Valentinian [A.D. 392]). 

St. Augustine only a hundred years after St. Cyprian had an opinion that the church officially adopted that includes the idea that no one can be saved outside the church and at the same time there is a possibility of being saved and not being formally attached to the church. You will see how this works in a moment, but first St. Augustine’s quotes: 

"Whoever is separated from this Catholic Church, by this single sin of being separated from the unity of Christ, no matter how estimable a life he may imagine he is living, shall not have life, but the wrath of God rests upon him" (ibid., 141:5). 
"[According to] apostolic tradition . . . the churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture too" (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:24:34 [A.D. 412]).  

"I do not hesitate to put the Catholic catechumen, burning with divine love, before a baptized heretic. Even within the Catholic Church herself we put the good catechumen ahead of the wicked baptized person. . . . For Cornelius, even before his baptism, was filled up with the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:44–48], while Simon [Magus], even after his baptism, was puffed up with an unclean spirit [Acts 8:13–19]" (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:21:28 [A.D. 400]). 

"That the place of baptism is sometimes supplied by suffering is supported by a substantial argument which the same blessed Cyprian draws from the circumstance of the thief, to whom, although not baptized, it was said, ‘Today you shall be with me in paradise’ [Luke 23:43]. Considering this over and over again, I find that not only suffering for the name of Christ can supply for that which is lacking by way of baptism, but even faith and conversion of heart [i.e., baptism of desire] if, perhaps, because of the circumstances of the time, recourse cannot be had to the celebration of the mystery of baptism" (ibid., 4:22:29). 
So how can we understand the Churches doctrines that she has always taught, that there is both no salvation outside the Church and yet, there is a possibility of non-Catholics in heaven?

With one sentence I can wrap it all up, but it will still need further explanation: Christ and His Bride are one flesh. That is the basis of all Catholic doctrine. You must see all Catholic doctrine through those eyes.

Christ’s physical body through His life and death bought our salvation and Christ set up a physical church to be His Body and Bride. The Catholic Church has always seen marriage as a shadow of the relationship between Christ and the Bride. The Bride is one church that all belong to.

[Side note: Dr. Sproul made a big deal about Catholics saying there is only one true church. Correct. It is because there is only one Bride. To say there are many churches is to describe a God of polygamy. The church cannot do that. The Catholic Church simply annexes in Christians of other faiths into the true church and calls them “separated brethren” because they cannot be held accountable for the sins of those who were Catholics and broke the Body of Christ and started new congregations. They are fully Christian brothers because they truly love and obey Christ.]
Back to the theme of the Church as the Body of Christ.
All who are saved, are saved through the Body of Christ. Just as Protestants insist that there is no other way of salvation but through Jesus Christ, Catholics will say the exact same thing. Since the Church is Christ’s Body now while He is in heaven, it is through the Church all mankind is saved, for we are His Body. 
Then in the middle ages the doctrine was further explained by St. Thomas Aquinas, who spoke of being in the Church in voto (in desire) rather than in re (in reality) And then after the Reformation a new class of Christians arrived, those who truly loved Christ and had been raised in heresy for several generations. Therefore, the Catholic Church clarified again at the Council of Trent, which taught that we can be justified and consequently saved by water baptism or a desire for it. 
In the last few centuries has come a refinement of the Church's understanding of what constitutes the votum (desire) needed for in voto membership. An implicit desire is sufficient. A person who seeks and tries to conform himself to the truth has an implicit desire or votum for Christ and for the Catholic faith because, by seeking to conform himself to the truth, he is seeking to conform himself to Christ (who calls himself "the way, the truth, and the life") and his Church, even if he doesn't know it. 
The Church must proclaim that sinners are to enter the fold of the true shepherd to protect them from wolves in order not to endanger their souls. But the church cannot say that all sheep outside the fold is automatically going to hell. (“There are other sheep outside this fold.” And the mystery of their salvation is kept secret that we accept the total sovereignty of God.) So we know some outside the fold are God’s. However the security of the Church and her sacraments are the normative way of knowing you are in the Kingdom of Heaven now. It is through the church you know you have eternal security.

The Priest as Mediator
Dr. Sproul brought up the 5th century Donatist heresy. (Some Catholics believed if a priest or bishop had caved to pressure and failed to stand up for Christ and then repented, they could no longer be priests and bishops. They showed a lack of commitment for God and shouldn’t offer the Christian sacrifice at mass. Yet, the church responded that Israel priests didn’t have to be good in order to present the offerings and sacrifices to God.)
The whole point of the Donatist conclusion should prove to the Protestants that we do not believe a priest stands between us and God. God uses the priest but it is He who dispenses grace, not the priest. God uses the material, often faulty as it is, as a means of giving truth and grace.

Is the Catholic Church Changing its Doctrines Over Time?
Dr. Sproul in these three lectures seems to have an agenda to show that the Catholic doctrines gradually change over the centuries (and with papal infallibility is gets progressively more strident, but with salvation more liberal.) While Catholics absolutely believe there is room for doctrinal development and better understanding the basis of the doctrine never changes.

Just like new translations of scripture are written based upon words changing, just like the Bible developed and the Trinity doctrine and the full divinity of Christ developed over time. Sometimes things need to be clarified and developed, but not changed. The seed of truth was always there and a cherry seed didn’t produce an oak tree. Like the Protestants seem to try to make Catholic doctrine do go from one doctrine to a different one. Yet, the truth is that the seed of doctrine develops into a tree of that kind!

If you go back into Catholic Church history you will see this. The mustard seed became a huge mustard tree as Christ prophesied--not only in a physical sense but also in an understanding of the Kingdom. 

God always presents revelation slowly! The Bride, the Church is coming into perfection before Christ comes both as individual Christians and also as the Bride herself as a corporate group. This is very Biblical. Many allusions to God’s people in the OT are as a group, not as individuals. And the development of the corporate Israel as a going to idolatry or as becoming more righteous. So, this idea is not unbiblical. 

Done for this post. I will write another one about America and its anti-Catholicism to explain what Dr. Sproul was talking about when related stories of his childhood in a community that was polarized by religion. But for now, I will begin part four of the series.

Blessings to all who took the time to read this. You are very patient!

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