Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Backwards

Pope: Other Christians Not True Churches
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer

"Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches.

Benedict approved a document from his old offices at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that restates church teaching on relations with other Christians. It was the second time in a week the pope has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the church.

On Saturday, Benedict revisited another key aspect of Vatican II by reviving the old Latin Mass. Traditional Catholics cheered the move, but more liberal ones called it a step back from Vatican II.

Benedict, who attended Vatican II as a young theologian, has long complained about what he considers the erroneous interpretation of the council by liberals, saying it was not a break from the past but rather a renewal of church tradition.

In the latest document — formulated as five questions and answers — the Vatican seeks to set the record straight on Vatican II's ecumenical intent, saying some contemporary theological interpretation had been "erroneous or ambiguous" and had prompted confusion and doubt.

It restates key sections of a 2000 document the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which set off a firestorm of criticism among Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."

In the new document and an accompanying commentary, which were released as the pope vacations here in Italy's Dolomite mountains, the Vatican repeated that position.

"Christ 'established here on earth' only one church," the document said. The other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles...."

Go here to read the complete article

Excuse me for being so blunt, but

What the hell?

..."Therefore did not have the 'means of salvation.' Because we don't claim apostolic succession? Last time I checked, Christ said He loved the whole world and whoever believes in Him should have eternal life. Not whoever believes the Pope succeeds directly from Peter and that Rome holds authority over all believers.

I'm mad. I'm mad because here I am reading about Catholics, finding the faith beautiful and meaningful, attempting to understand what I don't believe, and all in the name of Christ. And now...I have no means to salvation? That makes me want to stop. That makes me want to put all my books away and quit.

So is that document considered ex cathedra? I know there are liberal Catholics who believe otherwise. Are all Catholics now required to believe what that document says? I haven't read the entire document. I should read it. I don't know where to find it, but I should read it.

Vatican II was a positive step, in my opinion, and this is backwards. I don't understand this. I apologize for the ranting and raving but.... One of the things I admired about the Catholic faith was the interpretation by the Magisterium. I feel that we as Protestants think we can interpret Scripture any way we see fit, and if it's different, we just start another church, and it's all good. I appreciate the standards of authority put in place by the Catholic church. But I can't respect this. I have a really hard time respecting this. I just don't understand.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something here, like I've misunderstood Catholics in the past. I guess I'll try to find that document....Any clarification on this would help...

53 comments:

FancyPants said...

I should add: I've heard this sentiment from Catholic friends, that other Christian denominations aren't saved, basically. But because of Vatican II, I never saw it as a sentiment held by the entire Catholic church. The more I read, the more I understand that there are disagreements among Catholics as there are between Baptists and between Episcopalians. The author I'm reading right now, Hans Kung, is very controversial according to conservative Catholics.

I guess because the Pope is saying these things, and signing off on documents, I'm discouraged.

FancyPants said...

Sorry, me again:

So is this document considered infallible? And how do you know if the Pope is speaking infallibly or not?

Amy said...

I saw this news piece this morning and thought of you, actually.

I read that this is church politics. I don't really understand and I think it's this sort of event and news story that turns people off to Catholicism.

Unfortunately, I don't have any answers to your questions.

Seth Ward said...

I just read an article that basically stated that the Pope is essentailly reaffirming things that were already there. He is not saying that we aren't Christians he is saying


The document said the Council's opening to other faiths recognized there were "many elements of sanctification and truth" in other Christian denominations, but stressed only Catholicism had all the elements to be Christ's Church fully.

The text refers to "ecclesial communities originating from the Reformation," a term used to refer to Protestants and Anglicans. Father Augustine Di Noia, under-secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the document did not alter the commitment for ecumenical dialogue, but aimed to assert Catholic identity in those talks.(taken from CNN.com quoting the pope and the document.)

"The Church is not backtracking on ecumenical commitment," Di Noia told Vatican radio.

"But, as you know, it is fundamental to any kind of dialogue that the participants are clear about their own identity. That is, dialogue cannot be an occasion to accommodate or soften what you actually understand yourself to be." (end quote from CNN)

From me:

Vatican II says the same stuff. Nothing new just sounds harsher than it should. They don't call him the bulldog for nothing I guess.

I would prefer a little bit of kindness to the tone but sometimes, you just got to say what you mean I guess. If anything it might inspire a little more dialogue. Hopefully less angst, but it doesn't look that way right now. Right now I just feel like saying,

"Dear Ratzinger. That was some statement you made there Padre. I am not but a dangling thread from the shirttail hanging on the body of Christ so my opinion is peanuts, but... Maybe "try" to use a little bit of gentleness in thine tone if you are really interesting in keeping the lines open to your Protestant Brethren, albeit, separated. P.S. nobody speaks Latin anymore. It's pretty but... So are hieroglyphics."

Thanks for listening,

Seth

Bill Hensley said...

As several have pointed out, there's really nothing new in this week's pronouncement. And the earlier statements are already regarded as infallible by most traditional (read: conservative) Catholic theologians.

It is my understanding that there is often some debate within the Catholic Church on which papal pronouncements are regarded as ex cathedra, and it often takes a while to sort out. However, once a consensus has been established, I think it's really hard for the Church to back away from it. So we can't realistically expect much "reconciliation" on this point, and Vatican II didn't really offer any. It just sort of toned down the rhetoric.

The phrase "means of salvation" is the most alarming bit, I agree. I don't fully understand Catholic doctrine of salvation, but it goes something like this: when you become a Christian, Christ's atoning sacrifice relieves you of your eternal guilt for all sins committed up to that point. This grace is conferred through the sacrament of Baptism. After that, you must "persevere to the end" to be saved. In practice, this means that you must avoid committing sins. If you do commit any sins, you must confess, do penance, and receive absolution. None of this can happen without the sacramental authority of the priest. And the priest receives his authority from a propertly consecrated bishop, who received his office by apostolic succession back to Peter himself. So the problem is if you're not within the Catholic Church in practical terms you don't have access to the "means of salvation" which allow you to persevere to the end to be saved.

I would really appreciate MamasBoy or one of our other Catholic friends explaining this to us more fully. I'm sure I'm not explaining it correctly. There's also stuff in Catholic soteriology about temporal guilt which you can eliminate by penance, going to Mass or receiving an indulgence. If you have any left over when you die you, uh, burn it off in purgatory so to speak. Then there are mortal sins and venial sins, and different rules apply to each.

Bottom line, can someone who is more familiar with Catholic doctrine speak to the question of whether Protestants can be saved and how that works (or doesn't)?

FancyPants said...

Seth, thanks for the clarification. I just read the CNN article, and is a bit easier to understand, and not so...alarming. Here's the link for anyone who wants to read..

Bill, your comment is helpful as well. I haven't studies much on abolution, types of sins, etc. But I have read some on "sanctifying grace." Catholics do not view grace as a way of saying a soul is in God's favor. Rather, it is real, supernatural life being given to us by God, a supernatural power of sorts, that allows us to see God directly, thus changing our will toward Him and our knowledge of Him. To enter heaven, a soul MUST have sanctifying grace to be fit for heaven, to see God.

Now how all of this explains "means of savation," I don't know for sure, but your comment sheds light on the subject. I'm interested in hearing from Mamasboy or anyone else as well.

I hope this post didn't scare anyone. I reacted strongly and I decided to share that reaction with you all. I hope that was the right choice. My blogging philosophy (blogosophy?) is to keep it honest and real. So, you got the knee jerk reaction to the Yahoo article, which most likely doesn't tell us the whole story....

Amy,

I think it's this sort of event and news story that turns people off to Catholicism.

Totally agree.

FancyPants said...

Ok. Ok.

The text issued today is a restatement of Cardinal Ratzinger's Dominus Iesus, which is here. I've not had the chance to read thoroughly, but from what I've read, I'm encouraged. I highly recommend anyone interested to read it, especially IV - VI of the document. I think it will clear some things up. Here's an excerpt:

"On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, (Protestants) are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.62 Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.63

“The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”.64 In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”.65 “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.66

4andcounting said...

I'll try to come back with more later, but this is just a quick comment. No, this document and teaching is not considered ex cathedra as far as I know. When something is pronounced as doctrine under the banner of infallibility they tell us. As far as I can remember, off the top of my head, in recent history only two teachings have falled under this statement and they regard Mary.
As I said, I'll try to come back with whatever else I can find later, but it may be tomorrow before I get to it.

truevyne said...

I don't think I can clarify, but I can say this kind of document is a fence maker- not a bridge builder in the Body of Christ. I have to express my disappointment, but the many deep catholic friends I've had said things like, "If it weren't for Vatican II I couldn't be a Catholic."
Don't worry. The Pope himself knows he is NOT infalliable. This is NOT a document coming out of the counsel of the Church considered infalliable. It's a man's in leadership opinion. Yes, God will hold him more accountable due to his position, but he's just a man.
The Pope can never declare something to be infalliable. It's the counsel of the
Catholic Church which the Pope is a part of(hopefully led by the Holy Spirit) who declares documents infalliable. And this is rarely done. You'd know it if was coming from this counsel.
To me the whole infalliability document issue is JUST LIKE when a church I belong to writes it's statement of faith. The people who write it think they KNOW it is all true or they wouldn't write it. The Catholics get so nailed on it, because they actually map out everything on paper, where as in protestant churches we have the little "agree to disagree" stuff going on behind the scenes on all sorts of theological issues.

4andcounting said...

I have never been taught that other Christians are not saved. Rather, as the CNN article tries to convey, the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth while other Christian churches have elements of truth, including means to salvation (grace). The Catholic Church recognizes Christian baptism when converts come into the Church, that is, they don't require a person to be "rebaptized." This document seems to be affirming that the Catholic church holds that it has the fullness of truth and is Christ's true Church on earth and that Protestant churches don't have that fullness.
I think you can expect more clarification documents to be brought forth under Pope Benedict. As a Catholic, I can see that things in the Church have gone way off track in many areas and that there is a need for some correction. I view this a renewal in the Church, a return to the authentic teachings of the Church, including Vatican II. That being said, you will also see more division in the Church, as those who have grown accustomed to a certain degree of "liberalness," for lack of a better word, will make efforts to keep some changes from happening.
This comment is already long, but I want to make one more point. Religious education and formation in the Catholic Church in the last 30 years or so has been poor, to say the least. Many Catholics today don't know what they believe, why they believe it, or if it is even true teaching. So don't be surprised if you come across as many different answers to a question as there are people to answer it. It takes time and effort to find accurate information.

Bill Hensley said...

Actually, truevyne, Vatican I declared that when an statement of the pope meets certain criteria it is infallible, even without the support of a council. The only trouble arises when there is disagreement on whether these criteria have been met.

FancyPants said...

Also, Catholics view an infallible statement from the Pope as "he that hears him, hears Christ." They believe that the exclusion of error is not a form of human virtue, but an act of God. In that respect, it is different than a church's statement of faith, although most statements of faith are taken from Scripture. Again, to reiterate what Mamsboy stated in a few posts before, the Pope is limited on what can be infallible, but once declared infallible, there it is.

4andcounting,

Thank you so much for your imput. Very helpful. A have a few questions for you, if you don't mind. =-)

I view this a renewal in the Church, a return to the authentic teachings of the Church, including Vatican II.

I'm curious as to which teaching of the Church you term authentic. Or...what are the teachings to which you feel it should return? (in your opinion...)

as those who have grown accustomed to a certain degree of "liberalness," for lack of a better word, will make efforts to keep some changes from happening.

How do you see this "liberalness" as working in the Catholic church? And how would you like them to change?

Woah! Too many questions, maybe. I don't mean to put you on the spot here. Your input is valuable and I would very much love to hear your opinions on these things. If you have not the time nor energy, I completely understand. But don't worry about long comments...comments of all sizes welcome. =-)

Chaotic Hammer said...

...comments of all sizes welcome...

Right on.

MamasBoy said...

Um, did you ever think that part of your problem might be that you are reading an AP article. Regarding the motu propio on the Tridentine Latin mass, I read an article this last week that said JPII allowed the mass only if it was the bishop who presided over it... funny how the bishop goes by two names in my diocese. Funny too how he can bilocate and look totally different. If I didn't know otherwise from the AP article, I would say they are two different people.

My own opinion is that most AP religion reporters are completely unqualified to report on the Catholic Church.

BH: "So the problem is if you're not within the Catholic Church in practical terms you don't have access to the "means of salvation" which allow you to persevere to the end to be saved."

Simply put, that's NOT Catholic teaching.

Regarding whether the statement of the pope was infallible. Clearly, no. He did not make it ex cathedra. However, it sounds to me like he was trying to reiterate the teachings of VII and earlier councils which are considered infallible. I honestly haven't read anything other than than this blog and the quoted article on this topic, but it is obvious that they took things out of context.

That's why anybody who says Vatican II was a step forward and this was a step back probably doesn't understand either VII or the pope's recent document. He was just reiterating the constant teaching of the Catholic Church. You can find *brief* commentary on the CDF document Dominus Iesus at the following link. http://www.archstl.org/commoffice/2000/columns/000908.htm

When I was in grad school I had a discussion about Jesus with a Muslim PhD candidate from Turkey. He told me that he thought Jesus was a prophet and obviously thought himself magnanimous to think so. Then he asked me if I thought Mohammad was a prophet. When I said, "No." he was rather offended and didn't want to discuss things anymore. Should he have been so offended? I don't think so. His ideas about Jesus are incompatible with the Christian concept of Jesus. In the same way, Protestants who believe that the church is merely spiritual shouldn't get their knickers in a knot because somebody else thinks it is a visible body with a visible structure whose can still say that "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:" (Acts 15:28) Nowhere in my Bible does it say that the bishops' authority/gift to speak for God ceased when the apostles died.

I can identify with people's reactions, though, because mine were very similar. I would get all pissed off at the seeming arrogance of Catholics. As any good Protestant, I didn't think ANYbody had the fullness of truth. Their theology may have been less messed up than mine in some areas, but Catholics were people too and people screw EVERYTHING up, including theology. I had drunk deeply of the skepticism of our society and asked, "Damn it, how do they know that they have the Truth any more than me?" Like Pilate, I was asking, "What is truth?" In concept, I believed in Truth. I believed that Jesus is truth and that the Bible is truth. However, Jesus is in heaven and I wasn't too sure about the Truth of most Scriptural interpretations. I'm convinced that most people who think the Bible is completely clear on Jesus divinity and the evil of abortion simply haven't read the other side's view.

This papal document should be taken in light of the various competing forces vying for the attention of the Catholic Church. On the one hand, there are traditionalists who want to say that nobody except a baptized Catholic can be saved and there are liberals who don't think that Jews need to accept Jesus as the Messiah and that the differences among Protestants and Catholics aren't really important. Neither is correct. Both extremes are in error.

Growing up Protestant, it was implicit that the only way to achieve any kind of unity was to avoid the things that divided folks. Focusing on what unites us is good, but it won't really lead to anything other than a superficial unity. We need to sincerely address the ideas that divide us.

BTW: Hans K√ľng is beyond controversial and he isn't just disregarded by "conservative Catholics". His work has officially been declared non-Catholic and he has been told to stop presenting his teachings as Catholic. Frankly, I think that he is an arrogant arse who (like many academics) is all full of himself and his own ideas. If he was honest with himself at all, he would decide to officially become Anglican or Unitarian or something else. He just flat out doesn't believe what the Catholic Church teaches. If you sincerely wanted to study Catholicism, you could hardly have picked a worse author to read.

I hope you don't mind me blowing off steam in that last paragraph. I just figured that turnabout's fair play. :-)

"They believe that the exclusion of error is not a form of human virtue, but an act of God. In that respect, it is different than a church's statement of faith, although most statements of faith are taken from Scripture."
Let me get this straight. Infallible statements by the pope aren't "taken from Scripture," but statements of faith are? Would you mind specifically naming an infallible statement and a statement of faith that illustrate your point?

MB

truevyne said...

Bill, thanks for the clarification.
And Fancy about "He who hears him, hears Christ". I certainly do not want this kind of pressure, but in some way, all believers have this responsibility as it comes with our faith. Oh, how I know I fail, but Christ should be in me and all that I say and do.

MamasBoy said...

Here is an article you might find helpful.
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html

MB

4andcounting said...

I will try to answer your questions. It will be a challenge, as some of my thoughts are vague and hard to pin down. I've been blessed to grow up in and continue to live in parishes that, as much as I can tell, have remained faithful to the Church and Her teachings. But one does not have to look far to see that that is not the case in many places.

Some quick hits: contraception, the role of the laity in the Church, the role of women in the Church, the authority of the Pope and the Holy See. I'll try to come back with more details as I gather them into complete thoughts.

MamasBoy said...

Amy,

"I think it's this sort of event and news story that turns people off to Catholicism."

I agree too, but primarily because the news media is criminally ignorant and play things up for effect. That and too many readers believe them and judge the Church based on false impressions and general misunderstanding.

MB

FancyPants said...

MB,

Let me get this straight. Infallible statements by the pope aren't "taken from Scripture," but statements of faith are? Would you mind specifically naming an infallible statement and a statement of faith that illustrate your point?

No, no, no. That's me completely bombing on trying to make a point. No. And the statement I made bombed because I used the word "although" inappropriately. Let me try again.

Truevyne said: "To me the whole infalliability document issue is JUST LIKE when a church I belong to writes its statement of faith."

I should have said this:

They believe that the exclusion of error is not a form of human virtue, but an act of God. In that respect, it is different than a church's statement of faith. Most statements of faith are taken from Scripture, so they are considered by its church to hold truth (maybe without error?), but the infallibility of the Pope would be different. It is a statement that cannot be changed, and it is as if Christ said it. It's not merely a statement of faith. Catholics already have that.

Is that more clear? My comment about the Scripture was only to validate statements of faith in light of also explaining the infallibility of the Pope. I'm sorry for the confusion.

About Hans Kung. Well, I wondered what you thought of him...and now I know...quite clearly know. =-) I understand. When I read, I think, this guy really can't be Catholic. But he still claims to be....

If you sincerely wanted to study Catholicism, you could hardly have picked a worse author to read.

Ha! Ok, I'll accept that. But! First let me stay that I do sincerely want to study Catholicism, and I am not reading him to be light-hearted or flippant, or because I want a slanted view on things. We had the book, and I can't afford a gazillion others right now, so I have to start somewhere. And really, is it so bad to start there? It's a church history book called The Catholic Church. His views definitely lean toward Reformed thinking, but I'm finding it interesting to hear it from a man who loves the Catholic church, instead of from those who misunderstand it or even hate it.

But surely, as I read, I'm constantly thinking, I'll need to get a different viewpoint on this. And at the same time I'm reading Frank Sheed for theology and basic church teaching, who couldn't be more Catholic, it seems.

More later. There's quite alot I want to address...but I wanted to make sure those points were clarified.

FancyPants said...

And thank you, MB, for the link to the brief summary of the Dominus Iesus. For anyone who hasn't been able to explore the previous link to the Dominus Iesus, or MB's link, here are a few quotes:

"With regard to those Church and ecclesial communities not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church, the Declaration reiterates Unitatis Redintegratio of Vatican II that "they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church"

"The Church rejects absolutely any claim that only Catholics can be saved. Still Dominus Iesus teaches that – with the coming of Christ – God has willed that the Church founded by Him be the instrument of salvation for all humanity."

MB:

Um, did you ever think that part of your problem might be that you are reading an AP article.

Yes, and it ticks me off. Not that it's my problem, but that it has to be a problem. The journalists use the very abrupt and blatantly incorrect language that causes misconception. I reacted quickly and strongly when I read it, and have since been able to take a step back and read documents, and as I said before, I am encouraged to find that the AP article I read was complete hogwash.

When, as a Protestant, I have heard Catholics say that Protestants do not share in eternal life, it doesn't help the situation to see the same mentality plastered in an article. And there is nothing that will stop ecumenical dialogue quicker than saying you're all damned to hell...whichever way the accusation is thrown.

At the same time, I understand the integrity with which a Catholic states his/her beliefs, and as CNN quotes Father Di Noia, "It is fundamental to any kind of dialogue that the participants are clear about their own identity. That is, dialogue cannot be an occasion to accommodate or soften what you actually understand yourself to be."

Amy said...

MB:

" agree too, but primarily because the news media is criminally ignorant and play things up for effect. That and too many readers believe them and judge the Church based on false impressions and general misunderstanding."

Yes, I agree with that, and think it's true about many subjects and many things.

Discontented Refuge said...

Was I the only one who caught on to the fact that through all this baptism, whether by the Catholic or Protestant church, is being required for salvation? Promoting works for salvation is something Catholics don't seem to be able to get away from?

2 cents.

MamasBoy said...

DR,

Did you ever think that faith itself is as much of a "work" as hope and love?

MB

FancyPants said...

MB, I understand what you're saying. Faith does seem at times to be a work, and at other times it seems a natural occurance. But doesn't the Catholic church view Faith as a virtue? Same with hope and charity...gifts given by God, products of a life of sanctifying grace? Once a soul accepts this sanctifying grace, the person receives all gifts and virtues, although they can sin against them or grow in them.

Faith a virtue of the intellect. Hope and charity of the will.

Faith allows a person to accept the truths of God. I wonder how one considers that a work? It seems more like access into true life.... Of course, every person must choose and accept salvation, and I see that as possibly being a work....

MamasBoy said...

FP:

Honestly, I haven't thought through the whole categorizing of faith as a virtue of the intellect, and hope/love as virtues of the will.

I was responding to the assertion that saying baptism is required for salvation somehow makes salvation a product of works more than salvation by faith alone. How is one defining "works". Are thoughts works? Is prayer a work? Is faith a work? Is baptism a work?

While I think there are some distinctions (as you have pointed out), when it comes to the concept of works I don't think those distinctions are as clear-cut as many people make them out to be.

I prefer to think of salvation by works in the context of grace and the work of God in one's life. If I believe, it is because of my cooperation with the grace of God. If I am baptized, it is because of my cooperation with the grace of God. We can do neither on our own apart from God's grace.

I would consider a "work" to be something that I can take credit for. In that sense, faith as a product of our own intellect and goodness could also be considered to be a work.

MB

FancyPants said...

Is that faith not given to us by God? We cannot take credit for it. Romans 13:3 says "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."

That sounds to me that God measures out faith to us. So if we consider it a work, the work is to operate in what he has already given us, which then becomes obedience instead of a work to gain rights to God. Which I think is in agreement to your statement: I prefer to think of salvation by works in the context of grace and the work of God in one's life. If I believe, it is because of my cooperation with the grace of God. So then it is not salvation by works at all. It is choosing to accept what God has initiated, what God has worked out in us.

Frank Sheed says of salvation, "God did what man cannot do (by sending His Son). What man can do, he should."

I think the main beef that Protestants have with the sacraments of the Catholic church is that we are told one must "do" them for salvation. And yes, the Catholic church does believe they must be done for salvation. But I think, and correct me if I'm wrong here, that the belief is that the sacraments are the way in which God gives his grace to us. Instead of grace being an invisible force of love, or a statement of justification, for the Catholic, grace is extended to a soul through tangible, material vessels.

Take baptism for instance. It is the initiation of grace. Which is why it is done in infancy. But Frank Sheed says that the infant has the choice once at the appropriate age, to choose God or to not choose God. I suppose that's where the sacrament of Confirmation comes into play. And Confession...

But, back to the subject at hand. I think, possibly, it is safe to say that the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is the work of God through Christ Jesus, even in the sacraments. That a soul receives the sacraments, not merely does them to earn a way to heaven.

How'm I doin' here?

Susanne said...

These comments by the pope remind me of comments made by Jerry Falwell. I agreed with most of what Falwell had to say, but everytime he said something controversial I thought, "Why the heck did he have to say that? What good did that do? How is that supposed to lead people to Christ??!" Same thing here, except people take this guy more seriously. I agree with Seth's first comment about gentleness.

FancyPants said...

After reading the document, Dominus Iesus, which is the document he was restating here, I don't think he was being harsh. The statements, by the nature of their content, are harsh to us, because of what the Catholic church believes about the church and the Reformation, but not as harsh as they could be. I can't say that his attitude or tone was harsh, though.

I would attribute that to the media.

MamasBoy said...

FP,

Sorry this has gotten so confusing (at least I'm a bit confused). I was clumsily trying to refute the idea that saying baptism is necessary for salvation means Catholics believe in salvation by works. It has always struck me that the idea of works has often been applied to actions without putting it in a big picture context. Anyway, this is just me thinking here and my thoughts and expression of them has been jumbled. Sorry about that.

Regarding your first two paragraphs on faith, I think you said it well (probably better than I could).

Regarding the fourth paragraph on Protestant beefs, grace and the sacraments... Yes, Catholics believe that the sacraments are one way that God gives us grace. It could probably be said that we believe they are the primary way God gives his children grace, but one could probably take that too far.

"the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is the work of God through Christ Jesus, even in the sacraments. That a soul receives the sacraments, not merely does them to earn a way to heaven."

I like the way you put that. If washing ourselves with water, eating bread and wine, or offering forgiveness are merely human actions and not the work of God through human instruments, then it isn't terribly useful to our souls. The sacraments are only good as far as God uses them as vehicles to deliver his grace to us.

This is one instance where the catechism would probably help this conversation move along more succinctly, clearly and accurately. Unfortunately, I don't have time to read it right now.

MB

FancyPants said...

Coming at this idea of salvation by faith/works from another side: "Abraham believed God, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness."

Keeping in mind all of Romans 4 here: "However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."(v. 5)

It goes on to talk of circumcision as part of the law, or a work. That Abraham's faith justified him before he was circumcised, his circumcision being a sign of his faith. His faith was his belief. Not his circumcision.

Could Jesus' statement to Nicodemus about being born of water and Spirit, or baptism, be likened to circumcision, in that it is a sign of our belief. Therefore grace is given because of belief and not through the act of baptism.

But then...reading Ch. 6, it's almost like Paul doesn't separate belief and baptism, that they are the same.... And so then...why are babies baptized in the Catholic Church when they can't profess a belief for themselves?

FancyPants said...

One more thing, if people are still even reading down here. About the reference to John 3 "born of water and Spirit." I understand Catholics interpret that to mean Baptism, but considering the verse right after it.

v. 6: "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."

Couldn't "born of water" mean born of the flesh? born naturally? After all, Nicodemus is confused as to how a man can be born again, how we could be inserted back into his mother's womb. When a baby is born, the woman's water breaks, and so a baby coming into the world, could be born of water, by which Jesus reiterates "Flesh gives birth to flesh."

But Jesus goes on to say that a person must not only be born of water, of the flesh, but also of the Spirit. And being born of the Spirit is being given new life through belief in God's Son: John 3:16

Chaotic Hammer said...

Fancy - I have to disagree with both interpretations of that verse. It is not talking about water baptism or being born the first time. Neither one of those makes sense in context, since Nicodemus was a scholar of the Jewish Law. The expression "water breaking" had no such meaning in their language, that is an American expression. And it would not have made any sense for Nicodemus to understand that Jesus spoke of "Christian baptism", since this was technically occurring prior to the death of Jesus, and was happening in an Old Testament context.

I've heard great teaching that the reason Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for not understanding this is because Nicodemus would have known about Ezekiel 36, and that Jesus was proclaiming that He would be the fulfillment of that verse.

In John 4 and John 7, Jesus speaks of "living waters", again making reference to this same concept. But in John 7:37-39, we actually have an explanation that is quite helpful in interpreting these constant references to "water". After Jesus declares that rivers of living water will flow out of the belly of those who believe on Him, John explains that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit, who was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.

There are also specific examples in the Book of Acts (Acts 10:44) of people receiving the Holy Spirit before being baptized with water.

I can't imagine anyone who professes faith in Christ not wanting to publicly show obedience by water baptism. But the water has no magical power, God doesn't withhold salvation if you get hit by a truck and die on your way to the lake to be baptized. I'm not trying to be facetious about it, I've heard the very best arguments people have about water baptism being absolutely mandatory to salvation, and I'm not convinced.

But again, it's more a matter of academic disagreement, since I bet that most people arguing over whether or not water baptism is mandatory for salvation have been baptized themselves, right? In other words, I've never heard anyone teach "Not only is water baptism not a legally mandatory requirement for salvation, but we suggest that you should NOT get baptized in water!" Those who teach that baptism is not a mandatory legalistic condition for salvation teach that you should be obedient to the teaching in the scriptures and be baptized.

So whether it saves you or not, baptism is a good idea. But that's not what Jesus is referring to in John 3. :-)

FancyPants said...

C-Ham:

Couple of comments, here. And I'm kind of arguing both sides of the baptism thing here, so sorry if it gets confusing....

First I should clarify. I wasn't trying to say that the phrase "born of water and Spirit" might means only a natural birth. I was proposing the idea that Jesus was saying a natural birth and a spiritual birth....just wanted to make sure I was clear on that.

The expression "water breaking" had no such meaning in their language, that is an American expression.

It's not really an expression, although other cultures may not call it the same thing. It is an actualy occurance during child birth. Before the child is born, the bags of water break when the collagen around the amniotic membrane decreases, in preparation for the delivery. It's a biological fact that should occur with every birth.

And it would not have made any sense for Nicodemus to understand that Jesus spoke of "Christian baptism", since this was technically occurring prior to the death of Jesus, and was happening in an Old Testament context.

But they would have understood the idea of Baptism because it was common among Jews, I believe, and the Phrarisees witnessed John the Baptist baptizing Jews for repentance. Also, there are many things Jesus said and did that his disciples and others did not understand at the time, that we understand now because of the Holy Spirit....

After Jesus declares that rivers of living water will flow out of the belly of those who believe on Him, John explains that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit, who was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.

If the word "water" in Jesus's statement to Nicodemus means "Spirit" then why did he differentiate between the two by stating them both? "must be born of water AND Spirit." If water meant Spirit, that would be like saying "Spirit and Spirit."

This all sounds very argumentative, but it's mostly me learning...questioning, that kind of thing.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Fancy - Your questioning is very much appreciated. I constantly ask questions, and hope that I keep a pretty high standard for what is Truth, without just believing everything I'm told.

I had a very long response all typed out here, and was doing some quick searches for various reference materials online, when I stumbled across this:

Does John 3:5 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

It's long, it covers all the same things I mentioned in MUCH greater detail, and it is very well-referenced scripturally. It's better-organized than the post I was typing, and makes the very same points, so I hope it will suffice as a response. :-)

I have to admit that I know nothing about the site, so they could potentially be loons or a cult, but their scriptural references seem solid, and follow very closely with teaching I've heard on the subject from teachers who are very solid on the fundamentals.

If you want to dig in deeply, I suggest giving the scriptures they refer to a closer look in context, just to make sure they're not weaving something together just to get an answer they want (i.e. make sure that they are using good exegesis).

Bill Hensley said...

The Jews of Jesus' day understood baptism. They practiced immersion for ritual cleansing. Every community had a mikvah, or ritual bath, for this purpose. Orthodox Jews continue this practice today.

One of the requirements for mikvaot (plural of mikvah) is that they be filled with "living water." The Jews understood this to mean water that had flowed naturally into a pool. The water could come from a spring, or from rainwater collected in a cistern. But the flow must always be by gravity, never by pumping or carrying. This is what "living water" meant to Jesus' audience. When Jesus said that out of his belly would flow rivers of living water, he meant that from him would come the true cleansing of our sins.

I am not sure how to relate ths to John 3:5. Would Nicodemus have understood the reference to water as being a reference to cleansing from sin? Or in the context of rebirth, would he have understood it as referring to physical childbirth? I don't know. The passage simply isn't clear. One basic rule of hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) is that we should always interpret an ambiguous passage in light of other, clearer passages. We should never base a doctrine on an ambiguous passage. So I don't think John 3:5 should be used to defend water baptism as being necessary for salvation.

MamasBoy said...

"But again, it's more a matter of academic disagreement, since I bet that most people arguing over whether or not water baptism is mandatory for salvation have been baptized themselves, right? In other words, I've never heard anyone teach "Not only is water baptism not a legally mandatory requirement for salvation, but we suggest that you should NOT get baptized in water!"

I agree with this, except that in practice when the subject comes up, I'm always amazed at how many people ignore Christ's injunction to be baptized. I knew a Jewish convert in college who refused to be baptized. He didn't think it was important. He believed. That was all that mattered to him. I get the feeling that it would have had family repurcussions, but he never would say that.

Mike Bishop has been talking about baptism and there is another guy over there who basically says that he won't be baptized until he feels that it has some deep community meaning that he hasn't encountered yet (and who knows if he ever will). http://www.whatischurch.com/mustardseed/2007/07/on-baptismand-stuff.html

While for most people, it is an academic discussion, there is a significant minority for whom this question really matters.

Regarding the "ambiguity" of Scripture regarding the necessity of baptism, I regard it as less ambiguous than the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Also, I don't think the early church fathers regarded it as all that ambiguous. The really believed that baptism did something and was more than a mere "symbol". Of course, they had memory of apostolic commentary on these subjects and the practice as handed down from the apostles. Others, like Ignatius whom I quote below actually knew one or more of the apostles.

"Wherefore also, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, butaccording to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order that, by believing in His death, ye may by
baptism be made partakers of His resurrection."
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 2

MB

MamasBoy said...

Regarding whether John 3:5 teaches that water baptism is necessary for salvation, one thing people will find if they study Catholicism is that Catholics are both/and people, not either/or people. So, a passage can have multiple meanings and we are comfortable with that as long as they aren't mutually exclusive.

Also, Justin Martyr refers to John 3:5 when writing to a pagan about why and how Christians baptize converts. He is also quite clear that we obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed.

That's why I love the early church fathers. They go back to an earlier time when novel interpretations such as baptism being just a symbol or optional where unknown.

MB

MamasBoy said...

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lxi.html

Oops, I forgot the link to the Justin Martyr text.

Bill Hensley said...

MB, I think the difference in our reaction to John 3:5 illustrates the difference in how Catholics and Protestants approach matters of faith and doctrine. The writings of the church fathers carry much more weight for a Catholic than a Protestant. This reflects, I believe, a Catholic presumption that God has taken care to ensure that the Church has not been led astray over the centuries. Sacred Tradition can therefore be trusted. When all the church fathers have agreed on a certain point, it seems almost inconceivable that they could be wrong.

The Protestant perspective is different. The Protestant motto is sola scriptura: Scripture Alone. We see the inspired writings of the apostles as authoritative. We expect the Bible to complete and reasonably clear. The writings of the early church fathers are instructive but not determinative. Regarding ecclesiology, we look at the New Testament church as normative. We believe that many errors crept into the church over the centuries, to the point that a large and dramatic correction was needed, i.e., the Reformation. When a Protestant wants to know what to think about a doctrine, he tends to look at what the Bible says. When a Protestant wants to know how the church should be organized, he tends to look at how the New Testament church was organized.

I don't mean to suggest that this is an either-or question. All of these points are a matter of degree. Of course Catholics want to be true to Scripture. Of course they realize that reform is sometimes needed in the church. Protestants, for their part, recognize the value of studying the writings of the church fathers, as well as the great Reformation leaders and theologians. They recognize the foolishness of every generation starting over from scratch when it comes to Biblical interpretation as well as church organization. But there is a considerable difference of emphasis between Catholics and Protestants on these points.

For my own part, this is reflected in my desire to see just what Scripture says about baptism. I'm interested to know what the church fathers thought about the question, but I want to know what Scriptures they used to support their position, how they interpreted them and why. You might convince me with their arguments from Scripture, but simply appealing to their authority carries little weight.

MamasBoy said...

Bill,

I honestly don't expect you to be convinced by the early church fathers. All I expect to show is that the Protestant position is unheard of before the Protestants came around. Given the ambiguity of Scripture, I myself find that pretty convincing, but most Protestants don't.

BH: "The writings of the early church fathers are instructive but not determinative."

MB: Same for Catholics, unless you are talking about a church council.

BH: "We believe that many errors crept into the church over the centuries, to the point that a large and dramatic correction was needed, i.e., the Reformation."

MB: My point from the earlier post was that the "errors" on subjects like baptism and ecclesiology existed from day 1. They were propogated by people who knew the apostles personally. They didn't just creep in, they appeared so suddenly, you'd almost suspect that they were the teachings of the apostles themselves... either that or Dr. Bart Ehrman is right and the surviving Church simply suppressed all the alternative Christianities and their "scriptures."

BH: "When a Protestant wants to know how the church should be organized, he tends to look at how the New Testament church was organized."

MB: The problem with this approach is that Scripture wasn't meant to answer all these questions with clarity. The people to whom it was addressed were living out the apostles teachings and had had the teachign explained to them in person. They only needed an occasional correction when something went awry, not an exposition on the topic.

Besides that, the Scriptures weren't put together for several hundred years, so people were working from incomplete canons that included some books and left out others. It wasn't a one way street regarding Scripture setting doctrine. Doctrine also was a factor that determined Scripture.

BH: "Protestants, for their part, recognize the value of studying the writings of the church fathers, as well as the great Reformation leaders and theologians."

MB: Disclaimer: This may sound harsh. It isn't meant that way.

Do they really? Not in ANY of the Protestant circles that I grew up in was a church father other than Augustine quoted in my memory, and Augustine was quoted very selectively and rarely (probably less than once per year). I'll give a little unscientific quiz to test this theory.
1) How often have you seen the church fathers consulted or studied?
2) How often have you done this yourself?
3) Have you ever heard somebody before Nicea quoted in a sermon? 4) How many times per year does this happen?
I'll save the easy ones for last.
5) How many church fathers can you name yourself?
6) Can you categorize them as pre-Nicene and post-Nicene?

Now, no cheating on those last questions!!!

FP knows more than most Protestants about the church fathers (and more than I knew after several years of college and 20+ years of intense Protestant development), yet she could only name about two who actually lived before Nicea and two that she thought lived before Nicea were actually contemporary or after Nicea (if my memory serves me correctly). I'm talking about naming names here, not saying what they believed and how they interpreted Scripture. Let that sink in a bit. Such ignorance doesn't happen by accident. It is systemic does not vary much from individual to individual, no matter the education level.

I have met dozens of Protestants who have read the Purpose Driven Life. I know dozens upon dozens of Protestants personally, and I can't name for you one who has read the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, which are much shorter than the Purpose Driven Life and not all that challenging relative to other early writings that engage heresies and Greek philosophy. I actually know a couple who moved from Portland to CA to work for free under Rick Warren and learn ministry from the guru. However, unlike Rick Warren, Ignatius actually knew the Apostle John personally, and his writing reflects that fact in many respects. You'd think that his interpretation of Scripture would be of some use on certain topics, no?

Yet it is not just relative to the Scriptures, but relative to almost any measure you can think of that the Church Fathers are *completely* ignored by well over 95% of the Protestant world. Of the 5% that don't completely ignore the Church Fathers, many (most?) engage them only superficially, being spoon fed quotes in a church history class and often from anti-Catholic Protestant works, instead of reading the books themselves.

Now perhaps I'm a bit jaded, but that has honestly been my experience. Other than Philosophy majors who encounter medieval works in their studies, I've yet to meet a Protestant who was marginally conversant regarding the writings of any ante-Nicene Church Fathers (and those are the good guys!). I've asked dozens of Protestants when the Catholic Church was corrupted. The near universal response is after Constantine, but when pressed, they cannot name *one* doctrine that changed after Constantine by quoting historical sources before and after. There are actually some decent arguments against certain aspects of Catholic ecclesiology using writings of the Church Fathers (which is quite a different thing than saying there are good arguments for Protestant ecclesiology). I've yet to a hear a Protestant that I know raise a single one.

I hope I don't sound too judgmental or cynical. To be honest, I would love to meet a Protestant who sincerely engages in learning how the early Church Fathers interpreted Scripture and viewed certain doctrines. I think it would be really cool to see where we agreed and differed on certain interpretive aspects regarding those works. I think there would be a significant amount that we actually agreed on. It would overjoy me if you could be that person. I'm thrilled that FP has shown an interest. That hasn't been my experience so far, but I would love to meet just one counter-example to the bleak picture I have painted. It would help restore quite a bit of the respect that I lost after seeing all my perceptions of the early pre-Constantine church that were fed to me as a kid dashed to smitherines by actually reading their writings.

MB

MamasBoy said...

Bill,

Your earlier comment regarding John 3:5 is fairly typical of most Protestants I know.

You give a very detailed explanation of Jewish practices in Jesus day to explain a Scriptural passage. This reaching back into ancient Jewish history is considered very applicable and is very common in most Protestant circles. In fact, I don't want to dispute the value of this approach at all, except to say that it is only once in a blue moon that I can find an actual historical reference to back up a historical claim like you've made. Many of these often have the flavor of old-wives-tales, but that's just the skeptic in me speaking. I've had too many historical ideas proven to be wrong by studying actual sources to fully embrace most historical interpretive helps without proof. That aside, I think your approach in concept is absolutely wonderful and extremely valuable to someone like me living 2000 years after the fact.

I just think that the early church fathers are equally valuable in interpreting Scripture. Yet for every hundred contemporary-with-Jesus Jewish history interpretative helps that that I've heard, I'd be lucky to have heard one church father quoted.

Historical helps like what you have laid out have the benefit of being contemporary to Jesus. However, they also have the drawback of often being ambiguous regarding their application to Jesus teaching. How much of contemperary Jewish thought did Jesus adopt and how much did he challenge? What is really applicable from these historical examples?

Similar questions could be asked of early church writings, though the strengths and weaknesses of each type of historical interpretive help are slightly different. The bottom line is that Protestants are very comfortable and familiar with one type of historical interpretive help and very unfamiliar with the other type of historical interpretive help.

MB

Bill Hensley said...

Wow! Was that a rant? :-)

I am not he whom you seek. I have not read the church fathers; even the pre-Nicene ones. I can perhaps name a few: Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Origen, Tertullian. Mostly I have encountered references to their works in modern books on apologetics. Some of their writings help support early dates and apostolic authorship (or at least content) for the New Testament, so they are often quoted in that context.

Some famous books I have not read:

Augustine's City of God
Aquinas' Summa Theologica
Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion
Gibbon's The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire
Newton's Principia Mathematica
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason
Darwin's On the Origin of Species

I freely admit that in matters historical, theological, philosophical and scientific I have rarely read the original sources. I usually read books that were written for lay audiences by professionals in these fields. They try to summarize and explain the ideas of many of the great minds in their fields. Naturally, this means I am getting at all times an interpretive gloss on the original works from the popularizers whose books I do read. But in return I am able to get an efficient return on the time I invest to learn about these things. Does that make me an intellectual lightweight? Probably. It definitely makes me an amateur!

I want to assure you I took no offense at your words. Partly that is because I know you meant none. But also it is because I am largely agreeing with you. I said Protestants don't tend to look at the writings of the church fathers. You said few of us read them at all. I don't dispute that. Among Protestants, I would say that mainly scholars read the church fathers. Hardly any of the "rank and file" do. In fact, there probably aren't a whole lot of rank and file Catholics that do, either. Come to think of it, most people don't read anything at all anymore! Harry Potter excepted... :-)

As a conservative Protestant Christian, I have confidence that God's Word, taken all together and in context, is both clear and complete in its major teachings. The New Testament especially, from which we draw our core Christian doctrines, was written to ordinary people. The most important things that God wants us to understand should have been clear to the original audience. Of course, for us to understand it today requires a knowledge of the language and the cultural context, so that we can know what the author meant to convey to his original audience. Whether I read Josh McDowell or Justin Martyr, this is what I seek. Not an understanding based on authority but one based on knowledge. Naturally I must rely on authority for the knowledge I need. I do not know Greek. I am not a historian of the first century. This is why I read Bible commentaries, and articles about first century Judaism. I hope this helps to clarify why I approach the question of baptism the way I do.

Bill Hensley said...

P.S. I have subscribed to Biblical Archaeology Review for several years. Hardly an issue goes by in which they don't talk about mikvaot. It seems that the presence of a mikvah is one of the most definitive ways that archaeologists determine whether a site from the Second Temple era (i.e., New Testament times) is Jewish or Gentile.

Bill Hensley said...

P.P.S. Now I am checking my facts and I find that I couldn't even give the correct name of one famous book I haven't read: Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Oops! Now you see how ignorant I really am. :-)

FancyPants said...

Just wanted to say...thank you for excepting Harry Potter. =-)

And...Seth's dad, Dr. Patrick Ward, (a Baptist pastor) has written at least three main articles for Biblical Arch. Review. Pretty cool!

I have more I want to address, but it'll have to happen later tonight...lots of show details to take care of. But I'm really enjoying this thread of comments.

MamasBoy said...

Bill,

Just a couple clarifications.

1) I wasn't meaning to diss your example or say that it wasn't valid. Like I said earlier, Catholics are both/and people (e.g., priesthood of the individual and ordained priesthood). I'm comfortable with both interpretations being true. I was just trying to use it as an example of the type of approach that is common among Protestants to the exclusion of other very useful interpretive helps (e.g., looking at history at the time of Scritpure or before, but never after).

2) I don't believe that any given early church father is error free, and a couple (i.e., Tertullian and Origen) are known to have held heretical views (e.g., preexistence of souls, Montanist ideas). That means that I approach the early church fathers for knowledge more than anything else. Personally, I do happen to trust the ideas of most early church fathers more than say Josh McDowell, but that is because they were closer to the source and weren't influenced by later Protestant heresies. Personally, I tend to trust people who knew the apostles Peter, Paula nd John personally regarding Scriptural interpretation more than Josh McDowell or pretty much any other modern theologian. This is because I think they had better knowledge, not because I think they their ideas are inherently binding.

3) Lastly, I really do think that there can be things added to our understanding of Scripture in the modern era, especially in the realm of textual criticism and other scholarly efforts. It's just that I think a Scriptural interpretation that is never seen from the apostolic era through the Protestant Schism is highly *unlikely* to be true.

MB

FancyPants said...

C-Ham,

I checked out the link. Thanks for posting it. I have a few issues with it.

From the article: We should also not lose sight of the fact that when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, the ordinance of Christian baptism was not yet in effect.

In my opinion, this is not a strong argument. The Passover meal before Jesus' crucifixion: an example of Jesus giving us something to do, here partaking of the bread and the wine in remembrance of him. No matter if you view it as the presence of Christ or as a symbol, at the time it wasn't a Christian ordinance. The Holy Spirit hadn't been given, the "church" not yet formed. The disciples didn't have a full understanding as to to what the significance of the bread and wine was.

From article: The Barclay Daily Study Bible describes this concept in this way: “There are two thoughts here. Water is the symbol of cleansing. When Jesus takes possession of our lives, when we love Him with all our heart, the sins of the past are forgiven and forgotten. The Spirit is the symbol of power.

The phrase "when we love Him with all our hearts"...I've got issues here. When do we know it's with all our hearts? When do we know it's enough for the forgiveness of sins? To be honest, I don't care for phrases like this. Yes, we are given the command to love the Lord with all of our hearts and minds and strength. And this is what we will strive to do our whole lives if we are sincere in our faith, and as we battle and overcome sin. But the phrase as a requirement for salvation is absurd to me. Loving God with all my heart is just as much a work, and a much harder one, if I'm doing it on my own, than being dunked! (or OK, sprinkled.)

Another thing about the above quote: Why the Barclay Study Bible? Why should I believe Barclay? Who is he? This leads me into the topic of interpretation. It's something I struggle with, I think I've said that before here. The idea that I can walk into a Christian bookstore and get three different takes on the same verse and each person believes they're right. Honestly, why not just go to seminary and trust my own self? But, that's not gonna happen.

So MB, your talk of early church fathers. I will read them. As well as many of the sources you have suggested. It will take me some time, but I will.

I agree with Bill, that it seems many Catholics, not just Protestants, have a limited knowledge of the history of the church, its leaders and their writings. Perhaps it is mostly necessary for those of us who need more proof of certain things...,

MamasBoy said...

BH: "As a conservative Protestant Christian, I have confidence that God's Word, taken all together and in context, is both clear and complete in its major teachings. The New Testament especially, from which we draw our core Christian doctrines, was written to ordinary people. The most important things that God wants us to understand should have been clear to the original audience. Of course, for us to understand it today requires a knowledge of the language and the cultural context, so that we can know what the author meant to convey to his original audience."

MB: Bill, I think there are a couple weaknesses with the idea that all we need to understand the most important aspects of Scripture like the people to whom it was written is a knowledge of the language and the cultural context. I will also try to address the idea that Scripture is complete in its major teachings.

1) While the Scriptures were written for ordinary folk, they were not the exclusive source of doctrine in the apostolic Church. Oral tradition was equal in authority and we know from writings of peers of the apostles that it was much preferred by some people for understanding Christ's teaching. The epistles were written to correct error *when an apostle was not present.* The Gospels were written to leave some sort of written record of Jesus life and teaching before the apostles all died off. The gospels admit to being only a small fraction of what Jesus taught. Bottom line, while the apostles lived, it was the oral word that was the primary source for doctrine. Jesus talked a lot and John said that he didn’t think the whole world could contain all of his teaching if written down . I’m sure that was hyperbole, but it makes the point. This means that people like you and me who are trying to get our doctrine from Scripture alone 2000 years later don’t have same context and resources that the first Christians had. Just understanding the language and cultural context doesn’t cut it, since we don’t have the primary source of doctrine, which was the oral teaching of the apostles. You will find far more references to oral teaching in the New Testament than you will to epistles or the NT written Word.

2) Scripture never claims to be the only reliable source of doctrine. It also refers to the oral teaching of the apostles as a reliable source of doctrine. Nowhere does it make itself out to be superior to this oral teaching/tradition. Protestants tend to look at tradition solely through a negative lens and look to the words of Jesus to the Pharisees to justify this. However, Scripture itself gives us a much more nuanced view of tradition in general and oral tradition in particular. Paul himself commands the church to keep the tradition of the apostles and specifically mentions both the written and oral aspects of that tradition. In other words, he says that both the oral teaching and the written teaching are part of the “tradition” of the apostles. He also says that both are to be kept (2 Thess 2:15).

3) When people say that Scripture is complete and completely reliable in its major teachings, I am always a bit puzzled where they are getting such a statement.. It’s not that I don’t think Scripture is completely reliable, because it is, but because the statement, “the Scripture is complete in its major teachings” is itself a matter of Protestant Tradition and is nowhere found in Scripture. I would think that if that were true, then surely such a foundational assumption would be clearly addressed in Scripture. 4) The very idea of what is most important is itself a matter of tradition. Scripture gives us major guidelines about love and such, but it doesn’t give us lists of the teachings that really matter and doctrines that are essential for belief vs. doctrines that are non-essential.

Well, this is pretty long already, so I’d better quit now before I completely bore you to death. I would welcome any response that you have to the above points.

MB

MamasBoy said...

If forgot about the baptism part of this discussion. Thanks FP for bringing it up again.

FP: "I agree with Bill, that it seems many Catholics, not just Protestants, have a limited knowledge of the history of the church, its leaders and their writings. Perhaps it is mostly necessary for those of us who need more proof of certain things...,"

We found something that everybody agrees on: both Protestants and Catholics are often ignorant of Church history (though I think the average understanding of Catholics is much higher than Protestants because we care about it more and talk about it more). However, many Catholics and even Catholic religious ed teachers are terribly ignorant about their faith, let alone the history of the church.

Also, many people are unequipped in education and/or intellect to read writings of past millenia and come to proper conclusions.

Regarding the necessity of looking to original sources, it is necessary unless you can find reliable sources to distill things down for you. Who/what is a reliable source is a question of much dispute. Personally, I think that one can look to modern day Catholic teaching and find the essence of what the apostles taught and never read a single piece of early church history. I would never recommend that for everybody, but it is a possibility.

MB

Chaotic Hammer said...

Wow. Good stuff, from everyone here. I'm glad a few persistent souls have found their way back to continue this interesting and helpful thread... :-)

FP: No matter if you view it as the presence of Christ or as a symbol, at the time it wasn't a Christian ordinance. The Holy Spirit hadn't been given, the "church" not yet formed. The disciples didn't have a full understanding as to to what the significance of the bread and wine was.

I still agree with the article and its approach on this one. I consider the time and context of the scene to be a valid and relevant point in reading John 3:5. I agree with you that the general concept and ritual of "baptism" was commonplace, and not at all foreign to the Jews of that time, especially a teacher of the Law. But (and the article briefly mentions this, but not in detail) when we who have the "full story" after the fact view a short scene that is a snapshot of a specific event in history, I do think it's helpful to try and understand the interpretation of Jesus' words in the same manner that Nicodemus would have understood them, and not to go back later and "enhance" them by adding additional meanings that would not have been there originally.

I don't think this is analogous to Jesus teaching the disciples about the bread and the wine, for several reasons. For one thing, He was going to be the living fulfillment of the Passover, the very One to whom it had all been pointing all along, within a few short hours. It was fresh in their minds, and bursting with relevance in the context in which He did that.

But I don't mean to belabor this one small point, either. It was only one of several "legs" upon which the argument that John 3:5 was not mandating water baptism stands.

FP: The phrase "when we love Him with all our hearts"...I've got issues here. When do we know it's with all our hearts?
Why the Barclay Study Bible? Why should I believe Barclay? Who is he?


Hey, easy there, FancyPants! I did try to disclaim that I don't automatically agree with everything they said, and I don't know who they are. I agree with your question about that whole "when we love Him with all our hearts..." thing. And I have no idea who Barclay is or why we should trust him. But at least they are being honest about the sources of their information. I find their general analysis of that section of scripture helpful and sound. Wondering "By whose authority can we rely on what we read?" would certainly seem to strengthen MB's case about a single church with authority and the need for apostolic succession at least a little, wouldn't it?

One other thing, that I thought about after my last comments here, but wanted to make sure I stated, because it is a relevant point here: The question of water baptism as mandatory for salvation is not a Catholic vs. Protestant question, really. As far as I know, there are Protestants who consider water baptism mandatory also.

MB: While for most people, it is an academic discussion, there is a significant minority for whom this question really matters.

In all fairness, you've provided me with a link to a single person who says he will not be baptized, and an anecdote about somebody you once knew who was not baptized. I'm still not aware of people in positions of trust or authority who are actively teaching such a nonchalant attitude toward water baptism. I'm disappointed to hear that anyone would embrace some sort of anti-baptism message. Even for the Sola Scriptura folks, it seems to me that it was pretty much an "automatic" act of public profession and obedience on the part of believers in the NT, so I don't know on what they are basing that attitude.

My feeling is that, if there's any doubt at all on a given doctrine or teaching, but it's nearly as little effort to comply fully as it is to argue about it, then why resist so stubbornly?

Maybe I'm being thick, so let me restate it this way: Personally, I'm not convinced that water baptism is mandatory for salvation. I'm just being honest about that, and I've heard both sides of it. But I'm open-minded about it, I don't consider it a closed matter, and I'm not "unteachable" about it. I do believe that water baptism is something that every believer should do. Period. I don't know of any exceptions, or any reason not to do it. My conscience would be bothered if somebody who trusted me said "I have decided to test your belief that water baptism is not necessary for salvation by not being baptized. So if you're wrong about this, I'm gonna be really sore at you on Judgement Day."

Bill and MB: I'm enjoying and learning from this discussion, it is very much appreciated. I don't have anything specific to add, but I do think you're both doing a great job of bringing the basic issues to the table in a very civil and helpful way.

I have no formal teaching or training on any of this stuff (which is obvious anyway, I'm sure), and though I'm trying to read some of the referenced materials and am willing to learn, I know in advance that I really have nothing "scholarly" to add to this discussion. Just opinions and attitudes shaped by people I trust, who have allegedly studied these things in much greater depth.

FancyPants said...

C-Ham,

First of all, I didn't mean for my questions to sound so pointed toward the article or to you. I see how it could have been read that way. Sorry bout that. =-) The article brought out the questions that I've asked many times. Not Barclay specifically, but other commentaries on certain verses. Or people who think that interpreting a verse in the way that most closely meets their own preconceived notions must be the right way. (not saying you're doing that...at all) I'm also not saying commentary doesn't help. It does. It's just on the more vague verses like we see here where the interpretation could go different ways.

But I thought the article was sound in its references and very thorough. I just have some disagreements on certain arguments it uses. Where I stand on baptism as required for salvation? I think that belief in Jesus Christ is required for salvation. That seems the most supported by Scripture. How baptism falls into that, I'm not sure. There are places where the writers of the epistles don't seem to separate belief from baptism. Weird to me, but nevertheless how it reads. And really, this Nicodemus example is not the best to use if someone wants to prove baptism is needed for salvation. There are others that are much less vague.

So back to the "not a Christian ordinace" idea. It's not just that Nicodemus was familiar with baptism. Sure, he probably was, but that wouldn't, in itself, mean Jesus was speaking of baptism. I only brought that up to point out the fact that it's not so far fetched to think that Jesus, a Jew speaking to a Jew, could have been speaking of baptism.

Refuting the baptism idea because it wasn't a Christian ordinance does not make sense to me. There weren't any Christian ordinances at this time. Jesus was establishing a new Covenant. He was teaching it and being it. Of course baptism wasn't a Christian ordinance. So using that as a means to refuting baptismal salvation is meaningless, in my opinion.

And about the Last Supper. I'm not sure it was really bursting with relavance until Pentacost....Was it really so very clear to the disciples the hours after when he died? Did the meal really mean to them at that specific time what it meant to them after Pentacost, and every time thereafter that they received it? I'm not so sure that it did. And I say that to propose the question, could Jesus w/ Nicodemus have been speaking about baptism in a way incomprehensible until later?

Discontented Refuge said...

Gosh, drop a comment and leave for a week and see what happens...this has been some great discussion and I'll echo CH's statement about being grateful for civility.

I agree with CH, while I don't see baptism as necessary, I sure don't see anybody not doing it, as would be expected of anyone who follows the teachings of Christ.

Can the question be answered of "What must I do to be saved?" in one sentence? Can we break it down to just a statement of faith? Faith and Baptism? Faith, Baptism and Receiving Holy Communion from the Catholic Church? Can I keep adding to this list? When does it stop? Does it stop? I think I've asked far too many questions...

MamasBoy said...

CHam: "Even for the Sola Scriptura folks, it seems to me that it was pretty much an "automatic" act of public profession and obedience on the part of believers in the NT, so I don't know on what they are basing that attitude.

My feeling is that, if there's any doubt at all on a given doctrine or teaching, but it's nearly as little effort to comply fully as it is to argue about it, then why resist so stubbornly?"

MB: I agree completely and don't understand the resistance to baptism that comes from some people. I never undestood it as a Protestant either, so I don't think that this disobedience is necessarily a Protestant Catholic theological issue as much as it is a practical problem of implementation that seems to afflict Protestants and not Catholics. That said, the practical and theological are often related. To give a parallel example on a different topic, almost no Protestant pastor will say divorce is a good thing, just like they won't say not being baptized is a good thing, yet the divorce rate of "born again" Christians is much higher than Catholics (even including nominal Catholics, according to Barna).

Regarding the weakness of the evidence I used for the percentage of people who are unbaptized, I admit that it was anecdotal and personal, but I don't know where I can get good stats on this number. I used to be a part of the visitation ministry at Calvary Chapel where I went to church for about 10 years. We basically went out and followed up with first time visitors and those who had gone forward after the service. All I have is anecdotal evidence based on my own experience, but from what I have seen the unbaptized members of those types of churches (or at least Calvary Chapel in Vancouver, WA) is not miniscule, but a significant minority among people who are not part of the core group (> 1 event/week attenders). Perhaps somebody knows of statistics that will contradict that, but it was my impression from talking to folks. It also correlated with the priority and emphasis that the church placed on baptism. People said you needed to do it, but they also said folks needed to read their Bible and pray every day, go to church weekly, etc. For several folks that I met, the message seemed to get lost in the shuffle.

MB