Comments for Sola Gratia

Mar 31st, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Please comment on Sean Patrick’s “Sola Gratia” article here.

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  1. Good article. One thing that might give Protestants pause is the notion of meriting grace in sanctification:
    2010 “Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”

    Of course “moved by the HS and charity” implies such merit is itself an effect of grace and 2011 reinforces that. But I don’t know if Reformed/Lutherans really characterize sanctifying grace as something you can progressively “earn” or “grow” in proportion to your cooperation with it. It would seem reasonable that progressive sanctification/holiness would be similar to such a view or feedback loop (or spiral), but not sure if they would be comfortable characterizing it in that manner?

  2. Interlocutor,

    I don’t mean to brush aside serious differences between the two, but I think much of this has to do with semantics. Protestants certainly do, as you said, understand a progressive sanctification. I don’t think many of them would be comfortable with CCC 2010 or 2011. Calvin certainly wouldn’t. I’m not sure about Lutherans though.

  3. Let’s see if I have this right. Reformed theology teaches that we are saved by grace alone, without any effort or assistance from ourselves. It teaches that our faith allows the spirit of Jesus to be infused into us, which makes us more holy, and that holiness is demonstrated by our works. Catholic theology also teaches that we are brought to salvation by the grace of God, that it is a gift, and that we cannot do anything to actually earn it. Catholic theology teaches that our saving faith imparts the spirit of Jesus Christ into our own spirits, which leads to acts of holiness and, eventually, death to sin.

    The difference, if there is one, is that Protestants would say we are justified first, but our justification leads us to good works. Catholics might say that we are justified at least in part by the works that we could not do except as a fruit of the spirit as a result of salvation by grace.

    Hmmm. So both sides agree on the sequence of events in our lives. Both sides agree that God is the agent of our salvation. Is the disagreement really an argument about how the mind of God operates? Is there a practical difference between the two viewpoints? In other words, is the way we work out our discipleship affected by which side in this argument we adopt?

    And . . . can we even have a meaningful discussion about the sequence of causality when God is the agent? Cause and effect are temporal constructs. Effect follows from cause and, temporally, after cause. But God exists outside time. Time does not elapse for God as it does for us temporally-bound creatures. I’m not sure that “cause and effect” has the same meaning for him as for us.

    Thank you all for this fascinating site. My good friend Tom Riello pointed me here.

    May God richly bless you this Holy Week.

  4. Rick,

    Thanks for popping in.

    “Let’s see if I have this right. Reformed theology teaches that we are saved by grace alone, without any effort or assistance from ourselves.”

    I would argue that Reformed theology affirms that we are sanctified, in part, by our effort (cooperation with grace) and since sanctification is part of our salvation it would follow that Reformed theology teaches that our efforts do work towards our salvation.

    I would also argue that the bigger difference here is the understanding of what ‘grace’ actually entails. Is it merely looking upon us with favor (Reformed) or an infused substance (Catholic)?

  5. Sean, I don’t disagree with what you say. What interests me, though, it what it all means to me or you or the Protestant living next door– how does this impact the way we work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Whether grace is something infused or simply the way God looks at me, it seems to me I am going to walk my discipleship road pretty much the same way. Even in terms of my own sensibilities, is it really possible for me to perceive whether I am being looked on by God with favor, or whether I am having grace poured into me?

    I know this wasn’t the question you signed up to discuss. And I agree with your general premise that Reformed theology and Catholic theology are not so far apart as either side usually says they are. But is there any disagreement at all (apart from matters concerning order of worship) about how we live our lives as Christians?

  6. Interesting article. At the (“reformed”) Baptist seminary I attend, it is clear that there is misunderstanding, as well as disagreement with the Catholic position on salvation by grace. Off the top of my head, here are a few stalwart reasons Protestants will continue to have problems:

    1. That salvation can be lost due to failure to properly maintain it indicates that Catholic salvation may be begun in grace poured out on an undeserving sinner, but it is completed by ones own effort (seen in contrast to Gal. 3:1-7; Rom. 4:2-5 and following, etc.). Thus salvation for the Catholic is a fragile, tenuous thing. You’re going to be late for work, and you’re getting angry with the slower of the driver in front of you, when suddenly you hit an icy spot on the road, careen into a tree and die. Or maybe you look on a woman with lust while on the crosswalk, get hit by a car and die. It doesn’t matter that you have trusted in Christ (or for the Catholic, even how faithful you were the rest of your life), you are on your way to hell. Why? Because you didn’t remit that mortal sin before you died. [Biblically, every sin is mortal to the soul. Only some are so serious they appear to bring mortal judgment upon the physical body, as we see in James.]

    2. For the Catholic, sanctification is integrated into salvation such that failure in it can lead to hell. One strives for sanctification so that they die in a state of grace, and make it to heaven directly, or after purgatory. For the Protestant, sanctification is a subdivision of salvation. One is saved (a settled event/fact), and then sanctified by continuing to cooperate with the grace of God, working out (the salvation that God already placed within you – when he placed himself in you, and you in him) your (you now possess that gift God gave you) salvation with fear and trembling. So, while Protestants do believe they contribute to the “working out” of their salvation (the daily, lived, practical purification ASPECT of salvation known as sanctification), failure to make much progress in that area will cause one’s works to be burned up like straw, but the person will still be saved (much like the individual in 1 Cor. 6:12-20 who sinned gravely, yet his body was STILL a temple of the Holy Spirit – vv. 16-19). It is fallacious to attempt to equate the Reformed view of cooperation that attends sanctification within a secure salvation is the same as, or parallel to a Catholic view of cooperative sanctification that attends the entire salvation which is without salvific security until one might reach death at a moment they happen to be free from mortal sin.

    3. Catholic soteriology holds that one can merit grace by various good works, including doing particular acts to gain an indulgence which remits time in purgatory. Other than again seeming contrary to scripture (Romans 11:6, for instance). One wonders why a gracious loving God who remits so easily for an indulgence to a saint (instead of to Christ, mind you), would not remit purgation altogether for his repentant children. After all, he will have to do so at the end of time, anyway. Protestants may be graciously rewarded in heaven (merited by good works), but they do not merit God’s mercy and grace by good works.

    4. And for most Protestants, there is a recognition that a person is both immediately saved and sanctified in Christ (1 Cor. 6:10), which takes us back to the whole issue of Christ’s righteousness being attributed to us, though we continue to fail, falling to sin.

    5. Of course, for non-sacramentalists, there is the issue of grace through sacraments, as well as the idea that only priests (though we are now God’s kingdom of priests) have the power to effect that.

    6. Beyond this, there are the obvious issues of authority, not only of the Pope over all of Christendom, but of Popes and magisterial bodies (both of which historically not to be infallible in their decrees) over the teaching of scripture. So, for instance, there is no room for a “I follow the Pope, and his “western tradition” club that generally only allows celibate men to be priests.” Not to mention, the forbidding of bishops to be married (thank you, Elvira). These, in spite of the fact that the scriptures (which “cannot be broken” according to Christ), at least permit all deacons and presbyters to be married, if not require it, and demonstrate that some of the Apostles were married (1 Cor. 9:5 – it would have been most improper to bring along some else’s believing wife). That, in turn, means they are required to be fulfilling their marital sexual obligations to their wives. And while we are on that marriage issue, there is the fact that scripture forbids believers to marry unbelievers (though if already married when they convert, they are not to break it off unless the unbeliever sends them away). Not only is it forbidden in the Old Testament (remember, the Church is now the Israel of God), but in the New (2 Cor. 6:12-18 – and read it remembering what it meant for the Jews regarding marital relationships coming into the Holy Land from the wilderness, as well as from out of the Babylonian Captivity). But Rome officially allows Catholics to marry unbelievers, including pagans (see the CCC on marriage: disparity of cult), and yet merely amend her permission with a warning similar to what God gave regarding their hearts being turned away (which is exactly why God forbids it!). Need a more explicit statement from scripture? The Catholic Church permits widows to marry any man, Catholic or pagan, just as every other Catholic woman can. Yet God, when he says widows are permitted to marry again, specifically and categorically states that it must be “only in the Lord.” And as one checks early church history, that is what one finds practiced and taught. So, what changed it? Rome began trying to convert pagan emperors by marrying beautiful, committed Christian virgins to them. [And let us not forget that Christ stipulates there is a valid cause for divorce (Mt. 5:32; 19:9), but the CCC says there is no divorce in the church, merely annulment of what God supposedly did not join together in the first place. Yet biblical use of the phrase “joined together” regarding marriage in scripture clearly is hallmarking the securing of marriage before God by virtue of the act of act of consummation. [This fits right in with the legal right of protest, accusation, and refusal that could be brought if the supposed virgin bride was found not to be a virgin. It is also why Joseph had the right to put Mary away (and worse, if he had decided to bring her before the priests). ] It is annulment that is anti-biblical, not divorce on biblical grounds.
    Which leads us to one final issue worth mentioning…

    7. Rome engages in official teaching that uses large amounts of eisegesis, and even occasional scripture twisting to substantiate their unique teachings. Her apologists follow suit, as they must. Again, taking the example of 1 Cor. 7:12-15: their interpretation requires ignoring clarifying texts in the immediate context (on widows remarrying); ignoring the somewhat broader context of Paul’s letters to Corinthians (spec. 2 Cor. 6:12-18) with the call Old Testament call to be separate; ignoring the related broader context of the Old Testament commands to be a pure and separate people prohibiting intermarriage with non-believers; ignoring reason for that prohibition (found in the Old Testament) being that they are to be holy to the Lord, protect their faith from being weakened, and from the people sliding into idolatry; and ignoring early church tradition/history, which also runs contrary to Christians intermarrying with unbelievers.

    Thus we still have a problems. Maybe it’s why many “good” Catholics are “cafeteria Catholics” who neither fully believe the Church, nor the scriptures. How can one take seriously a Church that has the Bible, but quotes as its primary authority the CCC and Councils since it only takes the Bible seriously insofar as it doesn’t disagree with Church decrees? Even if we give you early traditions as handed down from the Apostles, in some cases subsequent traditions developed by men leading the Church have clearly supplanted the Word of the Holy and Living God, His teachings, and His authority.

    Why do Catholics (finally) seem to read or learn the Bible? Well, sometimes its because the Pope told them to. [Popes should have been told to do that 500 years ago. And long before that they should have been wise enough to hold Mass in the vernacular, as was the tradition of the Apostles and their immediate successors.] Other times, it seems to be because the guys on EWTN tell them that they are going to have to learn it to defend their faith from non-Catholics, and evangelize their Protestant friends.

    Here is just a little of why most “Bible believing” Protestants, Reformed and otherwise, revere and learn the Bible…….
    “It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which [the prophet] shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.”
    “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
    “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
    “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,…”
    “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”
    “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
    “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of god.”
    “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”
    “Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.“
    “I will bow down toward Your holy temple And give thanks to Your name for Your loving kindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.”

  7. Malcolm,

    Hope you are having a blessed Good Friday.

    1.
    but it is completed by ones own effort

    Not apart from grace.

    Thus salvation for the Catholic is a fragile, tenuous thing.

    Malcom, you might enjoy Dr. Judisch’s recent post on assurance of salvation demonstrating the contrary.

    Biblically, every sin is mortal to the soul.

    1 John 5:16-17 makes it abundantly clear that there is a biblical distinction between mortal sin and venial sin. Can you explain why you think it doesn’t and what verse you think backs up your claim?

    2. Our cooperation does not ‘attend the entire process of salvation’. Initial grace is unmerited and you can only cooperate with initial grace in that you can reject it and so its not the same sort of cooperation as the ongoing grace throughout the salvation process. (If you disagree then you must disagree either in terms of a) whether the ability to reject initial grace entails cooperation or b) whether man has the ability to reject. Please make it clear which one it is if you disagree.)

    There is certainly a ‘finished and done sense’ of salvation (initially Baptism), and there is a present sense of salvation – living in Christ, and the indisputable eschatological sense – the Beatific Vision. Salvation is the Beatific Vision. Christ became Man so that man might be lifted up to share in the life of the Trinity. We must keep in mind these three senses of how we might be discussing the issue of salvation; otherwise we end up talking past each other and disagreeing based on semantics.

    3.
    seeming contrary to scripture

    Something may seem contrary to an individual and not actually be contrary. As Sean pointed out, the word “works” as we use it, entails “faith” since faith is a “work”. Replace the word “works” in Romans 11:6 with “faith” and you can see how quickly this argument breaks down. We cannot drive a wedge between faith and grace – why is it only this one particular work that cannot be set in contrast?

    One wonders why a gracious loving God who remits so easily for an indulgence to a saint (instead of to Christ, mind you), would not remit purgation altogether for his repentant children.

    Again, in the article Sean made the point – just because something seems easier doesn’t mean that it’s better. This argument doesn’t show that God wouldn’t do such a thing, it just shows that it doesn’t seem to be the easiest thing for Him to do. But this could be said of many other things. It doesn’t seem like, when One is omnipotent, sending your Son to die on a cross and giving people the opportunity to disbelieve and suffer eternally in Hell is the best way to remit sins. It seems like you could a) not place the tree in the garden b) snap your fingers and ‘save’ everyone (especially when they have no real part in salvation anyway). But this is, of course, a fallacy.

    When David sinned with Bathsheba, he repented and the prophet Nathan told him, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that his sins were forgiven. But if you keep reading, you’ll notice that David is still severely punished for the sin. Now why would God do that? We might not know the answer – but here is an answer we can be sure of: He does do it.

    4. The Catholic Church insists that we are made righteous by Christ. We reject Luther’s dung-hill soteriology. There are no dung-hills in heaven.

    6 – 7. This post started out seeming to have fair questions but it seems to have become very emotionally involved in the end. You’re bringing up all the traditional pebbles thrown at the Church and all of us here are quite familiar with these issues. Don’t you think we have some non-trivial reasons for becoming Catholic in spite of these objections? Do you think we didn’t have these same objections (and more) before becoming Catholic?

    There are easy answers to these objections. If you want to learn the answers, then I’ll be happy to answer one at a time provided we don’t mud sling. i.e. don’t talk about how ridiculous the Catholic Church is because she accepts doctrine x. That is not conducive to charitable discussion.

    I hope we can have some profitable exchange. Let’s keep the topic more narrow though.

  8. Dear Malcolm,

    Its good to see a Reformed Southern Baptist on the blog. I’m in the process of finishing my degree at RTS in D.C. Let me challenge you with something from left field in response to what you wrote. Are you positive that the Bible teaches Sola scriptura? This doctrine was such a no brainer to me that I never thought to see where the Bible teaches it.
    I have sat down with countless pastors and seminary professors to discuss this matter and at the end of the day they will always say, “don’t you know that the Catholic Church rejects sola fide?” In other words, “who cares if sola scriptura is a made up doctrine (solely responsible for tearing the Church into 40,000 sects)…the Catholic Church cannot be right.” Everybody has a magisterium. Nobody trusts the Scriptures alone, but their interpretation of the Scriptures. Your own interpretation is your own magisterium. Does the Bible teach that you, at the end of the day, are the final authority in the interpretation of Scripture? Whose interpretation do you trust more than your own? I’m still at a point where I disagree with a great deal of what Rome teaches, but I am beginning to assume that maybe the problem is me, not the Catholic Church. Have a blessed Easter.

    – Jeremy Tate

  9. Malcom,

    Thanks for posting. I’ll try to answer a few items that I caught my eye knowing that Tim may have already covered this ground.

    For the Catholic, sanctification is integrated into salvation such that failure in it can lead to hell.

    Let me ask you a question: Can one be justified but not sanctified and taste salvation?

    One wonders why a gracious loving God who remits so easily for an indulgence to a saint (instead of to Christ, mind you), would not remit purgation altogether for his repentant children. After all, he will have to do so at the end of time, anyway. Protestants may be graciously rewarded in heaven (merited by good works), but they do not merit God’s mercy and grace by good works.

    Grace is unmerited. I covered that in the article.

    And for most Protestants, there is a recognition that a person is both immediately saved and sanctified in Christ (1 Cor. 6:10)

    What do you mean by ‘saved’ here? Do you mean ‘justified?’ Because earlier you called sanctification a ‘subset’ of salvation but now you are saying that it the same thing as justification? Or at least something that happens at the same time and is inseparable from justification?

    Beyond this, there are the obvious issues of authority, not only of the Pope over all of Christendom, but of Popes and magisterial bodies (both of which historically not to be infallible in their decrees) over the teaching of scripture

    On what authority do you know that the Church’s teaching on doctrine and morals is fallible?

    Not to mention, the forbidding of bishops to be married (thank you, Elvira)

    Nobody is forbidden to married. Those that are bishops and most Western priests have the spiritual gift of celibacy (that Paul talked about…another celibate man “its better not to marry…”). The church doesn’t force men to become priests and then force them not to marry.

    Rome began trying to convert pagan emperors by marrying beautiful, committed Christian virgins to them.

    Really?

    I agree with Tim that we would love to continue to dialog here but better to have a narrower focus so we can adequately address each issue in turn. Sola Scriptura is coming up soon. It might be better to have most of this conversation at that point since most of your comments presuppose that doctrine.

  10. And another quick one:

    The early Church didn’t use the vernacular. The early Church used Greek. Even Romans is written in Greek, not Latin.

  11. Sea…..that is a super and thoughtful analysis! I admire your faith and intellect!

    God Bless!

  12. This article mentions the “no longer dead in trespasses” for those who have been baptized and that makes sense in terms of an infant, however does the church teach a prevenient grace to all men prior to salvation? It seems the catholic church teaches original sin in all men so how does grace as understood in this article intersect with the non Christian ? Thanks!

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