Confused by Catholicism, Continued

I want to respond to J. Brisbin’s comment on yesterday’s blog. As he said, it is indeed strange that a Protestant might claim a religious Jew can go to heaven, while claiming a Catholic will not.

It is unwise to say a thing like, “Catholics are not Christians.”

I am not even prepared to say anyone in particular will go to hell, much less to classify an entire segment of the human race as uniformly damned. Jesus made it clear that no one ought to claim to know the spiritual condition of someone else. We should instead focus exclusively on our own personal status before God.

The blog yesterday was meant to point out some confusion, which the Catholics have been attempting to clarify since Vatican II. It seems to me the “means of salvation” language used (see yesterday’s blog) might mislead some Catholics to assume they can earn their way into heaven. I believe many knowledgeable Catholics share this concern. It even seems the pope’s own preacher is worried that many Catholics mistake ritual for redemption. (Do click on that link.) But while the language is often confusing, and while there are many side issues—doctrinal diversions, if you will—that seem to muddy the waters, from what I know of actual Catholic dogma it would be a mistake to say the differences between Evangelical Protestant Christianity and Catholic Christianity rise (or sink) to the level of damnation.

Take the controversial “means of salvation” language used in reference to church membership by Benedict and Vatican II, for example. Most Evangelicals have a problem with the fact that Catholics also view the sacraments of communion and baptism as “means of salvation,” in the sense that the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Christ, and baptism is an absolute requirement that must be met before one can enter heaven. But this is not the same as saying the rituals are the “cause” of one’s reconciliation with God. While most Evangelicals do not agree that the Eucharist is literally Christ, we do agree that literal participation in His death is necessary for salvation. We literally die and are resurrected now in the spiritual sense; we will literally die and be resurrected later, physically. For us the “Lord’s supper” and baptism are thus inextricably bound up with our quite literal death and resurrection with Christ, therefore we can agree with Catholics that the thing at the heart of the Eucharist and of baptism is absolutely essential for salvation. These things—ordained as they were by Jesus himself—are a “means” in the same sense that the cross was a “means,” but they are not a “cause.” And so far as I know Catholic doctrine does not teach that the Eucharist and/or baptism can cause a soul to go to heaven in spite of an unbelieving heart. On the contrary, the current Catechism clearly states that only the cross has the power to accomplish salvation. And again, consider what the pope’s own preacher said: “Christianity does not start with that which man must do to save himself, but with what God has done to save him.”

We should remember that Christian doctrine explores many theological concerns, most of which do not directly apply to the question, “What causes one to enter heaven?” It is that question, above all others, that defines Christianity versus other religions. Answering it entails decisions about the nature of God, sin, morality, justice and grace. What matters, then, is whether Evangelicals and Catholics can agree upon these essentials. If so, then surely we are brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our other differences. And fortunately, to my knowledge Catholic and Evangelical doctrine does indeed agree on all of the essentials.

As I said yesterday, my sole concern with Pope Benedict’s recent “clarification” is that such language can easily mislead some into thinking membership in, or participation in things like the Eucharist, Baptism and the Catholic Church might actually cause a person to be saved. In short, I wish the pope would be at least as clear as his own preacher, who explained, “[Conversion to the fact that faith in Christ is the only means of salvation] is the conversion most needed by those who already are following Christ and have lived at the service of his church.” When Jesus warned, “No one comes to the Father except by me,” he undoubtedly meant it not only as a warning against fruitless religions, but also against the kind of superficial Christianity—Catholic or Protestant—which does not begin and end in Him alone.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 12:25 PM  


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