When I brought fingers to keyboard to write the last post, I only expected our subject to require one post. But it now appears two or three are in order.
This is because I did not appreciate two things: One, that the subject could explode into a thesis at any moment, and probably would. Two, that a large share of readers might not fall into the “familiar” crowd, and so there’s a lot of background one must state explicitly, rather than simply allude to.
Fortunately, I do not want this to go on any longer than is truly necessary, and so my efforts here will be tempered.
The conflict, writ small: Protestants say Justification is by grace, through faith (full stop). Catholics – so it goes – say Justification is by grace, faith, and works. And some Protestants would emphasize the works, because doing so seems easily contradicted in Scripture.
But I have to say, as a virtually life-long Catholic, that I have never imagined I could earn my own salvation. It has always been presented to me as an impossible task, akin to taking flight on my own power, or jumping up and landing on the Moon. Something else would have to come to my aid to make these things possible.
At the same time, I have always understood that good works are vitally important. It really matters, to God, that I feed the hungry and clothe the naked. One could not simply go to church and think that was enough. In fact, it seemed to me, that might be the worst place anyone could be.
Think of it – if works do matter, if they are critically important in some way to salvation, then the worst thing a person could do is assume he was saved, and not take any further action to produce good works.
So what is going on here? If we’re going to work around the edge of Scripture, and just deal with this practically – how do we address the problem? I propose we do so with a dialogue I have imagined from time to time…
Me: I would like to convert to your church.
Protestant, let’s say Baptist: Great! Simply declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe it with all of your heart, and you will be saved.
Me: Jesus Christ is Lord! Done.
Baptist: Alleluia! Now, here is when we have worship, and here is your small group, and here are the ministries-
Me: I’m sorry, what? I said I was done.
Me: Yes. Am I not saved?
Baptist: Oh, you are! But-
Me: Then what is all of this? Why should I bother with church or small groups or ministries?
Baptist: Well, now comes the process of growing in the Lord, what we call “Sanctification.”
Me: Ok, but if I die right now, I’m going to Heaven, right?
Me: And if I die in 30 years, without ever participating in a church, I’ll still go to Heaven, right?
Baptist: Of course – once saved, always saved.
Me: Then I’d say I’m done.
Naturally, this is a bit of a parody, and I’m actually sympathetic to the Baptist here. I think he is fundamentally right – a believer should be involved in her church, especially a new believer. But this conviction is motivated by a premise contrary to the Baptist’s: A person is not once-saved, always saved. We ought to see some authentication of this salvation…
To this point, I’ve been rather abstract, and the unfamiliar among us might feel lost; they may already have clicked away from the page. (I’m sure they really will find true love/weight loss secrets/how to impress their boss on that other site.) In the next post I propose my analogy, which is about as down-to-earth as I can imagine.