Monday, November 30, 2009

Interesting fragment of a discussion I caught think it was Moody Radio, that's the religious station that comes in most consistently when I'm driving around town, but I don't recall for sure. I wish I'd heard more.

They were going on about how Christ alone saves, not our works, not our works alongside Christ's completed atoning work on the cross, and how all we have to do is believe in Him.

I presume they meant "believe in" in the sense of "have faith in," not "think is factually true," because everyone on the other side of the veil knows the truth of that and they're not all in heaven.

So they were quoting and paraphrasing Paul a lot, making some good points about how if we had to rely on our own works we could never be assured of our salvation, which is true enough--actually, it's half true. If we're honest and have a little spiritual maturity, we should have a pretty good idea that our own works don't suffice. But they were making a good point: we can't save ourselves.

I felt they started leaning off the rails a bit when they mentioned good works coming along after we're justified barely as an afterthought. While someone living a grace-infused life can reasonably be expected to do more to bring grace into the world for others, I think it really does a disservice to James to say "'faith without works is dead' just means 'if I don't do good works, I probably don't have faith, but I have no obligation per se.'" They didn't explicitly go that far, but they thoroughly conflated sola fide with sola gratia. Christ wants more than intellectual assent or resignation to the fact of His saving work.

Jesus did not say to the sheep "You believed in me. Enter into the Kingdom," nor to the goats, "You did not put your trust in me, begone from My sight."

The segment I heard on the radio came shortly after a Catholic had called or e-mailed, quoted a few passages that were not identified after I tuned in, and then encouraged them to come to Mass. The host of the show said the Mass wasn't something he couldn't abide by, because each celebration of the Eucharist, he said, was a resacrifice of Christ, and His one crucifixion was done and finished and He is now resurrected. "Am I right?" he asked his guest.

The guest (A Doctor...I forget his last name, but I imagine his doctorate was in something like theology or scripture rather than medicine) went on about how we was an altar boy at daily mass every morning at 6:15 from grades 5 to 8, or thereabouts, and how he used to stare at that crucifix every day, that Catholics had to remind us of the sacrifice, but that's in the past and constantly being reminded of the Passion is a horrible thing to live under.

Well, no it isn't. It prevents one from developing a theology of cheap grace. How many stories of Easter have you seen where the Crucifixion is portrayed as little more than mildly inconvenient? If I had to scrimp and save and work time and a half to get nice Christmas presents for my children, let alone keep them housed and clothed and fed, I'd know they'd have some measure of gratitude if they really like the gifts that they got and the time I spent playing with them, but I'd know they wouldn't possess a mature gratitude if they didn't understand or care much about the labor I endured and the sacrifices I made to bring them those things. Not that I would expect it, necessarily; such things are often only appreciated in retrospect, from the perspective of their own adulthood. That they are children with childlike perspectives is no slight, but childlike is what they are and immature is what they should not remain.

Further, the good guest doctor didn't answer the question. He should have known well enough; even if he left the faith right after that eighth grade year, if he'd been paying attention to the rest of the Mass, like the homilies, instead of staring at the crucifix and nurturing an aesthetic rationalization against it, he would have been able to say "Actually, sir, you are mistaken; the Mass is a representation of the one sacrifice, the making of us present at the Last Supper and at Calvary." But then he wouldn't have had time to come up with a new excuse for not looking at how Scripture-laden the Mass is.

He did talk briefly about discussions he had with a priest friend of his, how the priest would push the Bible aside (which sounds scarier to sola scripturists, I would expect, than to Catholics) and say he can't trust the Bible on his own interpretation and so he needed the Magisterium. I would have put it differently, that he can't trust his own interpretation; "Can't trust the Bible" followed by anything else just sounds a little pat. Then he would pull the Bible back in front of the priest and ask how he can rely on the Magisterium to interpret a book that predates it by four thousand years.

I would have liked to hear the priest's answer. Mine might have gone something like the following.

The Bible does not, in its entirety, predate the Magisterium. It is this selfsame Magisterium that decided what would constitute the Bible everyone would be using. It included the Septuagint, for which I can understand your disapproval, and it also included the epistles of Paul and James. You seem content to believe the Church knew what she was doing then; why would the Holy Spirit guide the formalization of the canon but not its interpretation? Why would He leave Christians to flounder over the meaning and means of sanctification and justification for over a thousand years? What were they supposed to do until the printing press and mercantilism made viable a literate middle class that had the means to learn without being watched by a teacher? Can you explain why we have Mark and Luke but not the gospels of Thomas or Peter, why we have Acts and Revelation but not the Shepherd of Hermas or the Didache, why we have James as well as Paul but not Clement's letter to the Corinthians?

"There was a reason for the Reformation!" Yes, and the legitimate abuses that Luther pointed out have been corrected. Everything that has developed outside of Rome since then? I'm not so sure.

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