Monday, February 27, 2012

A Catholic Reply to a Baptist Response. . .

Pastor Calvert,

My apologies for taking this long to reply. 

I would like to start this response where I ended my initial letter:
Philippians 2:12 says, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." This is not the language of self-confident eternal assurance. Our salvation is something that remains to be worked out with the grace of God.

I think you may misunderstand what I, as a Catholic, believe about my salvation. Maybe I was somehow unclear, for I don't believe that it is "magic" at all. The Catholic Church teaches that we are all sinners in need of a savior (Romans 5:12-21). We have inherited original sin and all its consequences, and by actual sin we distance ourselves from God. We can't save ourselves, but we don't need to: Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins. The Catholic Church teaches that salvation comes through Jesus alone (Acts 4:12), since he is the "one mediator between God and man" (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

The saving grace won by Jesus is given as a free gift, accessible to us through repentance, faith, and baptism; should we turn away from our sins, are penitent for them, and believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I think you have acknowledged in your sermons that even Christians sin and must be remorseful and confess those sins to God. Our repentance shows the willingness to turn from things that keep us from God, and baptism renews, i.e. washes, us (John 3:22, Acts 22:16), filling us with the grace necessary to have faith and to live it. This belief is more than just intellectual assent, even the demons have that (James 2:19). It's more than just believing you're saved, even the Pharisees had that (John 5:39). True, saving faith is one lived and exhibited daily: It is "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6,  James 2:1-26).

Catholics have been accused of teaching "salvation by works," but this is an empty accusation. Much as you have in your sermons, this idea has also been consistently condemned by the Church. Good works are required by God because He requires obedience to His commands (Matthew 6:1-21, 1 Corinthians 3:8, 13-15) and promises to reward us with eternal life if we obey (Matthew 25:34-40, Romans 2:6-7, Galatians 6:6-10, James 1:12), i.e., "continue in His kindness" (Romans 11:22). But even our obedience is impossible without God's grace; even our good works are God's gift (Romans 5:5, Philippians 2:13). This is the real biblical plan of salvation.

The Council of Trent brings together the necessity of grace and works:
"If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or by the teaching of the Law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema" (Session 6; Canon 1).
The Council Fathers continued by saying:
"If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema" (Session 6: Canon 9).
With respect to your comment regarding my statement about dying in a "state of grace". Do you not admit that when we sin, we are by definition, rejecting the grace given to us; and subsequently if we repent we are again given God's grace? This is to what I was referring. To be an adopted son of God IS to live in His grace. I would therefore be hard pressed to say that it has "no biblical backing".

In your analysis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son you overlooked what I see as its main point. The son confessed his sin to his father, as was forgiven and was accepted back into the family. In his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia Blessed Pope John Paul II used the parable of the Prodigal Son to explain the process of conversion (I would hope you would recognize our life as Christians on this earth as a continual conversion in our love of Christ) and reconciliation, and that God the Father is "rich in mercy" (as illustrated in the parable) and is always ready to forgive and that reconciliation is a gift on His part. In concluding your comments on this parable you said,

"When he comes to senses and returns to God he will not be able to relive the missed opportunities, but neither will he have to enter God’s house as a hired hand—he is still God’s child."

I would agree with that statement with one not so minor caveat. I would instead say, "—he is once again God’s child." I think this fits the entirety of the New Testament message more completely. I agree God gives “eternal life” to all who believe in Christ (John 3:16; 5:24, etc.). I agree “no one can snatch followers of Christ out of Jesus’ hand” (John 10:29-30). And I agree we are kept by the power of Christ who is “able to keep [us] from falling and to present [us] without blemish before the presence of his glory…” (Jude 24; cf. Ephesians 1:14).  However, no biblical text (despite your assertion that, "There is no thing or no person (most definitely, including our own selves) that can cause us to be plucked from His hand.") denies that followers of Christ can walk away from Him. To assert such a thing would be a denial of our God-given Free Will and therefore have God contradicting Himself, wouldn't it Pastor Calvert?

Moreover, the New Testament repeatedly sets conditions upon our salvation:
1. We must be baptized (Mark 16:16; Romans 6:3-4).
2. We must continue to abide in Christ in order to receive the promise of eternal life (1 John 2:23-25).
3. We must be obedient (Matthew 19:16; Romans 6:16; Hebrews 5:8-9; Acts 5:29-32)
4. We must endure until the end to be saved (Matthew 10:22; Revelation 2:10). 
If we refuse to obey, we will be lost (cf. Matthew 24:45-51). My Church teaches we can “know we have eternal life” if we understand “knowledge” as St. John does in 1 John 5:13. In verse 14 the Blessed Apostle refers to this “knowledge” as a “confidence” analogous to the “knowledge” we have of our receiving what we petition God for in prayer. We use the term similarly in English: “I know I am going to get an A on that exam tomorrow.” Contrary to your assertion, I most certainly did not discount this verse. I simply don't discount the conditions St. John also enumerates for our attaining eternal life in this same epistle (1 John 1:7-9; 2:23-25; 3:15). By these and others we know this confident assurance is not absolute. The main point is this: The eternal life we can “know” we possess and that is promised to us can be lost
“Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.” (Romans 11:22-23 KJV; cf. John 15:1-6, Hebrews 12:14-15, 2 Peter 2:20-22).
If Christians cannot lose their salvation, as you claim, then why would St. Paul warn his audience about a "danger" that couldn't happen to them? St. Paul's warning here is most definitely to a Christian audience (the Church in Rome). He warns them that they could lose their salvation if they do not remain in God's grace. St. Paul's clear teaching here applies to all Christians, most especially US. Additionally I think the conclusion you draw about Hebrews 10 "not talking about saved people" is incorrect. The only people who had "received the knowledge of the truth" and had thereby been "sanctified by the covenant blood" were Christians. So it's clear to whom the warning in verses 26-29 applies. Simply put, the Christian who turns away from God and returns to a life of sin suffers worse punishment than the person who never was sanctified by the "covenant blood" of Christ.

In conclusion, I think you tend to emphasize the texts that speak of God's power and protection and the blessed assurance that the faithful possess that are rooted in hope to the exclusion of the texts that plainly say that Christians can fall away from the living God or walk way from God's protection (Hebrews 3:12; cf. Matthew 5:32-33; Ephesians 5:3-6). This is never more evident than your use of St. Paul's "confidence" in his own salvation in chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians as an example, while simultaneously ignoring him when he blatantly states that even he could be lost in chapter 9. In doing so, I believe you fail to declare, as St. Paul does, the "whole counsel of God" that is necessary for salvation.

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my letter, you are a gentleman and I consider you a brother in Christ. I will make it a point to introduce myself should I have an occasion to attend one of your services. However, if you are available this Saturday, I'd like to extend an invitation to the Arlington Diocese's 2012 Men's Conference that is being held at St. Joseph's Parish Hall in Herndon. This years topic is, ironically enough, Sharing Our Faith with Others: Evangelization and Apologetics. Let me know if you are interested, I believe I can get you free admission.

Lastly, I appreciate your concern and would like to assure you that everything I believe as a Christian is most assuredly resting 100% on the saving work of Christ on the Cross and the power of His resurrection as taught by the Church He himself founded. My prayer for you is for an open heart and a desire, drawn by the Holy Spirit, to know the fullness of the Christian faith that is found in the Catholic Church. God Bless.

In the Love of Christ,

Craig Pryor

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, Excellent, Excellent, Craig! I will cover his cost to the retreat, should he decide to go. Thank you for taking the time and effort to defend and reach out to this brother! Keep me posted of any further developments.


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