Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sciptural Ping Pong

Are you saved?

This is a question that all Christians should be able to answer with an astounding, “Yes!”
Can you tell me how you are saved? This is where answers can really vary.

As an ex-Lutheran and fluent speaker of Evangeliceese I can tell you that I am saved by grace through faith. Most Protestants would add the word “alone” to the end of that sentence. I am saved by faith “alone”. In making this statement they would be both absolutely correct and absolutely wrong at the same time. How can someone be both right and wrong at the same time? The answer is actually quite easy.

First, I want to begin by defining two subjects that we will be discussing at length so that we can start with the same understanding. The first is the difference between “ordinary” and “extraordinary”. For the sake of this discussion ordinary means the regular way something is done. Extraordinary will be the exception to that rule. For example; the ordinary minister for the distribution of Holy Communion is a bishop, priest or deacon. If the ordinary ministers are not available or there is a great need an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion can be employed. An EMOC is a specially trained lay person who has been given the authority by the bishop to distribute Holy Communion. Extraordinary ministers are not to be used when there are sufficient ordinary ministers present. The Sacrament of Baptism is very similar. The ordinary minister for the Sacrament of Baptism is a bishop, priest or deacon but in an emergency, especially when there is a reasonable fear of death, an extraordinary minister can administer baptism when done in the correct form. This is the exception to the rule and an untrained lay person should never be going around baptizing people.

The Sacrament of Anointing is different. The ordinary minister of this sacrament is only a bishop or a priest (not a deacon) and there is no exception to this rule. There is no extraordinary minister for the Sacrament of Anointing. If a bishop or priest is not present anointing cannot take place.

The second subject to be defined is the word “works” for it is on this word and this word alone that the entire debate hinges.

It was a requirement for the people of Israel (commonly known as the Jews) to gather once a year in the Temple for sacrifice. Not every Israelite could make this journey. There were also times in Jewish history where they were exiled and not able to make it to the Temple. A sect of the Jews called the Pharisees, now the modern day rabbinical Jews, developed a way to be Jewish without the Temple. They called for a strict adherence to the 613 Commandments of the Law handed down to Israel by God through Moses – Mosaic Law. This Law required that certain “works” be done as part of its structure and this is where the game of scriptural ping pong between Protestants and Catholics begins.

The scriptural verse that the Protestant argument for faith alone hinges upon is Ephesians, Chapter 2, verses 8 and 9; “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In this verse Saint Paul is making reference to the “works of the law”. He is saying that we cannot save ourselves by strictly keeping the 613 commandments of Mosaic Law and performing the works it requires. Salvation is a gift, or grace, given to man by God and that there is nothing we can do to warrant this salvation. In this understanding the Protestants are absolutely correct.

The Catholic understanding of “works” is slightly different. We believe that the “works of love” are essential to our salvation and not the “works of the law”. Our definition of how we are saved is more completely stated as, “I am saved by grace through faith working through love.” How do we get to this idea?

Let’s start with John, chapter 15, verses 1 and 2; “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.

Fruit here are the works of love.

Follow this with the parable of the Talents in Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14 - 30. The servant who took his master’s talents and used them was rewarded but the one who hid them and did nothing was cast out.

Then we can read John, chapter 2, verses 14 through 26; Faith and Works

     “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

      But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

The works Saint John is speaking of in this passage are the works of love, not the works of the law.

We can then finish with Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 – 46; The Judgment

      “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

      “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

      “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

What these passages mean to a Catholic is that faith opens the door of salvation to us. We must then prove our faith by doing as commanded and performing the “works of love” for our fellow man and for Jesus by proxy. If we take our faith and do nothing with it we will be separated with the goats during the final judgment.

So who is right? As with many things with the Christian religion the answer is “both and” and not “either or”.

All throughout scripture we see many miracles take place solely based upon the faith of those involved. We see the sick healed, the blind given sight, the lame made to walk and people brought back to life who were dead. We even see one very specific instance where someone was given his salvation because of his faith alone. This is Dismiss, the good thief on the cross next to Jesus. Can God grant salvation based on faith alone? Of course, he is God and can do whatever he wishes to do. The rules were made for man and do not apply to God. The God who created all things certainly has it within his power to grant salvation based on faith alone. He also has it within his power to grant salvation to those without faith if he so wishes. These are examples of the extraordinary way God grants salvation. We are called to live by the ordinary means, not the extraordinary.

The word “faith” in Greek can also be translated as “trust”. If we trust in God we will do as he commands us to. In 1 Samuel 15 we learn that obedience is more pleasing to God than even sacrifice. God has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He has commanded us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison and bury the dead. These are the works of love that prove our faith, our trust, in God. It is these things we will be judged on at the completion of time. I suspect we will have to answer two questions when we stand before the throne of God; Do you love me? Did you follow my commandments?

If we live strictly by “faith alone” we would have to answer yes to the first question and no to the second. When we do we are left to rely on God’s mercy and extraordinary means of granting salvation. When we can honestly answer yes to both we can be absolutely assured of God’s mercy and love and salvation he promised through the ordinary means. With the eternal resting place of our soul in question shooting for the extraordinary is a gamble none of us should take.

Here is a test each of us should take every day:

Am I Saved?

1: Do you love God with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind?

2: Do you love your neighbor as yourself?

3: Have you fed the hungry?

4: Have you given drink to the thirsty?

5: Have you clothed the naked?

6: Did you give shelter to the homeless?

7: Did you care for the sick?

8: Did you visit those in prison?

9: Did you bury the dead?

10: Will you send me a dollar?

Questions 1 and 2 are nonnegotiable. If you’re not doing these start now.
Questions 3 – 9 we are not called to do all of the time. God will call upon us to do each of these when there is a need. It is our job to recognize when that need is present and answer when called. If we are the servants we are called to be we will do many of these things without even realizing it. Always be prepared to do a work of love.

Question 10 – Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying.

Works of any kind without faith are non-salvific. Faith without works of love is disobedient. Obedience is more pleasing to God than even sacrifice.

May the blessings of God be with you and may you be a blessing to all whom you meet.

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