Month: May 2012

Matters of faith, part 2

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the church teaching of the differences between grace and works. It’s been a hotly debated topic for centuries between Protestant and Catholic circles, and in continuation of my discussion of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), I have come to several conclusions regarding the doctrines of the major worldwide church bodies, whether Catholic or Protestant.

Let me state right off the bat that I do hold to a Protestant understanding of the Bible. That’s how I was raised, and that’s what I believe today. But again, living and going to college in a dominantly Catholic part of America has forced me to examine the teachings and doctrine of the RCC.

Although I disagree with various parts of Catholic theology, I do greatly respect the sincerity of the majority of the RCC’s members. I definitely see where they’re coming from regarding the importance of good works. In fact, the largest provider of charity and relief efforts is not the federal government of a certain country. It’s not the Salvation Army, the YMCA, or a worldwide missions agency of your choice. It is the RCC that provides the most relief effort, aid, and compassionate caregiving to the greater world.

Granted, I don’t believe that being sincere in your beliefs will get you to heaven, but nevertheless, I respectfully admire the RCC’s intentions. There’s nothing more important to a Christian’s life than a consistent witness and testimony – after all, Jesus Himself said that you will recognize a sincere believer by his/her fruit (Matthew 7:20).

According to Scripture, no one can be justified by a good life. Salvation is a free gift from God through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and one does not need to work their way into heaven. The RCC’s teaching of salvation and justification by works is illogical in this sense, because Jesus specifically died so that we as humans wouldn’t have to get to heaven by works.

The Apostle Paul repeatedly stresses in books such as Galatians that no one is made righteous by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16). Titus 3:5 states that we are saved through God’s mercy through Christ’s death and resurrection, rather than by works.

Inarguably the most frequently cited verse in Protestant circles regarding the doctrine of sola fide is Ephesians 2:8 & 9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

However, Paul finishes this paragraph with verse 10, which says that God created humans to do good works that are pleasing to Him.

Other New Testament passages speak of the work of the law versus the work of sanctification through Christ (Romans 3:28, Romans 5:1, etc.).

However, let’s not go too far, either. The RCC teaches that faith and works go hand in hand, which I wholeheartedly agree with. The part that I disagree with is the teaching of works being necessary for salvation. Yes, the Bible says that if you believe in your heart that Jesus is the Messiah, died for the sins of man, and rose again shortly thereafter, you will be saved (Romans 10:9 & 10, Acts 16:31, etc.). Catholics, by definition, do believe in the atonement and resurrection of Christ and could therefore be considered to be Biblically saved.

However, I also believe that it’s ultimately to be judged on a case-by-case basis, although no one knows an individual’s true spiritual condition or eternal destiny.

The book of James frequently mentions the importance of faith in action through good deeds, even going as far as to say that faith without good works is dead.

In the Four Gospels, Jesus often speaks of doing good to others and the importance of faith in action. He repeatedly commanded His disciples to prove their love for Him by their good deeds – that if you’re a true disciple, you will love Christ by obeying His commands (John 14:15, John 14:23, John 15:10, Luke 11:28). In the same passage, Jesus remarks, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (verse 12).

Well, that just about wraps up my spiel for today. I hope that no matter what your convictions are regarding this divisive issue, that my blog has helped you gain a better perspective. Much love and God bless!

Matters of faith, Part 1

As someone who was raised in the Bible Belt, it’s been a broadening experience this past year at college, meeting new people and engaging with others from different cultures and belief systems. Due to the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) here in New Mexico, it’s been very different spiritually speaking.

Whether they’re practicing or lapsed, there are many, many Catholics here at NMSU. When I first got here, I was wary of that fact, and I was very unprepared.

During my first few weeks at NMSU last fall, I became acquainted with some of the people involved in the Baptist Student Union (BSU). And I was talking to some of them one Saturday morning at their weekly pancake breakfast. I was talking to about three slightly older students about faith, and I mentioned offhand about how many Catholics there are here in New Mexico. And I said that I respect Catholics and their beliefs, mentioning that lots of them are very sincere, genuine people. However, I then proceeded to say something along the lines of “it’s unfortunate that a lot of them won’t go to heaven.” One of the guys looked at me and he said, “You do realize that I’m Catholic, right bro?”

Open mouth, insert foot.

I instantly realized how wrong I was to say something like that out loud. Not only was it offensive, but it was also incredibly arrogant of me to claim to know all the souls of the almost one billion Catholics worldwide. No matter what, don’t assume that you know someone’s heart and spiritual condition by judging their denomination of Christian tradition. I learned that the hard way.

In the past few months, I’ve met more and more people who identify as Catholics. And I’m pleased to say that quite a few of them are sincere believers. If anything, it’s helped me forge my own faith and to bridge the gap between denominations of the historic Christian faith.

One time in particular stuck out to me last fall. I was talking with my friend Keith over by the campus duck pond. The subject of faith came up, and Keith, who’s originally from Hawaii, told me that he was raised Catholic. But then he added something, saying that he didn’t understand why Catholics and Protestants fight all the time. His rationale was, “I mean, we all believe in Jesus, right?”

That really stuck out to me, and it has continued to do so.

As someone who’s always trying to broaden my faith in different ways, I’ve been able to look into Catholicism on a deeper level. I figure that since I’m surrounded by so many, that I should at least know the basics of their beliefs and how they differ from traditional Protestantism.

The more I delve into the ancient faith of Rome, the more similarities I find. Granted, I disagree with many teachings that the RCC has given in the past, but I continue to marvel at why Protestants hate Catholics so much, and vice versa. We need to be more unified in the Body of Christ, and be able to show charity consistently, unity in the essentials, and freedom in Christ to where we disagree.

I will continue to blog about the relationship between faith and works, the similarities and differences of Catholicism and Protestantism, and other miscellaneous things related to the historic interpretations of the Christian faith. Stay tuned!