Friday, August 28, 2009

Response to REW on Eternal Security

Thanks to REW for her excellent question and comment on my eternal security post. My response is in line with her comments.

I just have one question and one comment. How can "eternal life" be temporary? To follow up, if it is not temporary, then isn't it forever? (That really counts as one question, right?)

Let me say once again what a good question this is! It gets directly at a fascinating theological issue: the relationship between God’s experience of time and our own. One of the most profound mysteries of the incarnation is that an eternal being—to whom all “time” is a single present, or “now” (for more on this, read Augustine’s City of God)—entered into history. It would be like one of us going from our three-dimensional space into the two-dimensional space of comic strip, except that God somehow entered into our temporal dimension. It has been said that God writes history the way we write novels (or perhaps comic strips)—yet God himself entered into history to save us. We, with our darkened intelligences, can only stand at this reality in wonder and awe.

I think this is pertinent to your question because the mystery of the incarnation—that perplexing intertwining of eternity and time—seems to occur in each of us when we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). There is a sense that, when the very life of God that we call “grace” is infused in our souls, we carry with us a seed of eternity. (Funny how metaphors leap in when reason fails us…of course, these truths do not contradict reason but go beyond it.)

The Catholic Mass helps shed some light on how this mixing of time and eternity caused by the incarnation plays itself out in our day-to-day lives and worship. In the Mass, we worship both on Mt. Zion AND in the New Jerusalem (Heb. 12:12 and Rev. chapters 19-21)! In the Mass, time and eternity, earth and heaven, meet, and we lift our hearts of to the lord and join our voices with the angels who are forever singing "Holy, Holy, Holy!" (Rev. 4:8). In the Mass, we both enter into eternity itself, though we do so as a kind of anticipation of the glories that will one day belong to all who persevere to the end. The Mass and specifically the Eucharist, then, is the consummation, high point, and source of our Christian life. The Mass is purely incarnational Christian worship, where Christ's Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are made present through the Most Blessed Sacrament. Christian worship simply doesn't get any better than this!

So, if we have one foot in heaven (there’s another metaphor!), we still have one foot on earth. Which is why, as St. Paul reminds us, we must “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Our salvation involves the reception of “eternal life,” but that reception is, in a sense, a life-long reception—one that can be planted in a soul (if I start borrowing from Jesus’s own seed analogy from Luke 8) but also one that can wither and die due to sin, rejection, and even neglect, as the book of Hebrews warns us (Heb. 2:3).

One more clarification is needed, which is to distinguish between the life of God, which is “eternal,” and the life of man, which is “everlasting.” Technically, “eternal” implies a lack of beginning or end. Thus, the only eternal being that exists (according to Christianity) is the Trinity. We say in the Nicene creed (written in 325, the year the Trinity was formally defined by the Church) that Jesus is “eternally begotten of the father.” By contrast, human beings, and even the universe itself, have some definite beginning. Further, human beings have a soul that will never pass out of existence. Thus, all human souls have everlasting life by their very nature. Even unsaved people have everlasting souls that will ultimately end up in either heaven (if they become saved) or hell (if they do not…and this is according to Jesus himself).

So, what did John mean when he wrote that his listeners may “know that they have eternal life”? Considering the above discussion, I doubt that John was using the words “eternal life” in the sense that would mean that whoever “knew they had eternal life” was guaranteed that they would make it to heaven. In fact, part of the above discussion is to point out that, technically speaking, John’s use of “eternal life” couldn’t mean that humans are given an attribute that only God possesses (and can possess).

The entire context of 1 John--one that all scholars agree on but is never mentioned by Pastor Carlo--is the Gnostic attack on Christians, whom John is defending. The Gnostics were teaching that one required a special, secret knowledge to be saved. John spends his letter attacking the teachings of the Gnostics and reassuring his listeners that no special knowledge is required; rather, the Christians can know they have eternal life. The context makes this passage exceedingly clear, in my mind at least.

There are many mysteries in Christianity about which Christians can only clarify what can not be said about them. In the case of understanding what John meant in 1 John 5:13, we know from reading this verse in light of all of Scripture that John could not have meant that Christians who received “eternal life” were guaranteed to go to heaven, or that those who received “eternal life” could not, at a later point in time, lose or reject it.

The good news is that as long as one doesn’t cross the boundaries of what can not be said about a passage, there is a wide open playing field to interpret what the passage does mean. The Catholic Church, by setting the interpretive boundaries that it does, allows us lay folk to have true freedom. We can frolic in the playground of scripture knowing that we are safe as long as we don’t cross the fence that protects us from error. Famous convert G.K. Chesterton put it like this. Jesus established the living authority that we call the Catholic Church (the term coined by St. John's student Ignatius) because, after all, what good is it for God to inspire a clearly defined inerrant text if he does not also offer us a clearly defined authority to interpret that text through the protection of the Holy Spirit? If the truth is important, than so is this living authority, for it is only through the Catholic Church that we can know the fullness of the truth, who is Christ himself. (Key word: know.) But you don't have to take my word for it. I invite everyone to read the primary historical sources--the early fathers of the church--and test my claim that the one Church that has existed for 2,000 years is Catholic through and through. (For one resource, check out New Advent's website, and begin by reading St. Justin Martyr, the Didache, St. Igantius of Antioch, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, etc.)

Getting back to the issue of eternal security: Unfortunately, many Christians accept the erroneous suggestion that people who receive the gift of initial salvation are automatically guaranteed the gift of final salvation. But is everyone who is predestined to grace also predestined to glory (to borrow two phrases from the Bible)? The clear answer from scripture as a whole is “no,” despite how Pastor Carlo and others try to read 1 John.

Now the comment: Most non-Catholics I know understand two aspects of salvation as well. Your "I.S." is viewed by Protestants as dying to sin and being raised with Christ.

Catholics agree 100% Remember though: I’m talking about salvation and justification as temporal processes—things that unfolds over time. Most Protestants understand justification as a one-time event (because that's the way the doctrine is formulated by many Protestant theologians), such that “Christ forgives all of our sins, past, present, and future”…thus, eternal security.

In other words an acceptance of Christ as Lord & Savior *as well as* the beginning of a relationship with Christ.

Again, Catholics would agree, except perhaps to note with St. Peter that “Baptism now saves us” (1 Peter 3:21). As the Church puts it, Baptism is the sacrament of our justification (CCC 1992). As Jesus puts it, we must be born [again, or from above] of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5).

But indeed, the moment of our justification is the beginning of our relationship with Christ (as well as his mystical body, the Church). The problem in Pastor Carlo’s theology is that he seems to imply that one need not follow through with that relationship to the end in order to attain final salvation. One might be saved one day (that is, begin a relationship with Christ), end that relationship the next, but then—according to Pastor Carlo—still go to heaven. After all, Christ forgave the future sin of ending the relationship, right?

As it would be difficult to have a personal relationship with God and not know it, this is why your Baptist preacher emphasises knowledge.

In most cases I think you are right. What troubles me about the theology preached at Fairwinds Baptist Church is the very real possibility of people thinking they have a personal relationship with God yet in fact are living very far from Him. In other words, having a true knowledge is fine; having a false knowledge is deadly.

The problematic and ambiguous term here is “God.” Many people believe in a God that they make up in their imaginations (or accept from someone else’s). [Update 09/03/09: I do not mean "imagination" in a pejorative sense. Here, I'm trying to distinguish between ideas about God that originate in the imagination of man verses ideas about God that originate with the true God himself.] This is clearly the case, for instance, with Mormons. So problem number one is: how do I receive my knowledge of who God is, how God wants me to relate to Him, and what God wants me to know about Him? This comes back, once again, to the issue of authority. It was only a few years after the Protestant Reformation began that Martin Luther was complaining that there are as many new and contradictory doctrines as there are heads. Left to our own devices, we can create as many “Gods” as we have heads. But there is only one true God, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one hope of us all (see Eph. 4:1-6). How we come to know this one true God, one true faith, etc. is one of the most important questions we will ever have to answer. And according to St. Paul, it is the very oneness of God, faith, baptism, etc. that is the grounds for the perfect unity that he commands of us as Christians.

Also note: the entire thrust of my short essay was to question the knowledge that Pastor Carlo claims we can have of a FUTURE state, not a present one. I have no problem when someone emphasizes knowledge. And I have (almost) no problem accepting someone saying they know they are saved right now (it is funny how slow St. Paul was to make similar proclomations…he usually focused on reaching the end of the race, not on having begun it). It is the very specific piece of knowledge regarding eternal security proclaimed by Pastor Carlo that I am scrutinizing, for it is this piece of knowledge that Pastor Carlo uses to snatch Catholics out of the true Church, further dividing the Body of Christ. I also suggested that the doctrine of eternal security, being untenable, ends up requiring its proponents to emphasize knowledge of being saved over the reality of salvation itself. What gets lost is any discussion of what could happen to these dear Baptist should they choose to turn their back on God. They are taught, rather, that nothing they could do can effect their salvation. My post tries to unpack the (il)logic behind this theology.

But non-Catholics do usually recognize that the "goal" of Christianity is not to get your ticket to Heaven, and forget about it. Rather we "being renewed to a true knowledge" according to the image of Christ. See Col. 3

I think I see what you mean, and I agree…though I would suggest that Heaven is a true and proper goal of Christianity, one that can only be achieved by persevering to the end (Matt. 10:22 and elsewhere). Heaven is a goal that is intimately tied up with knowing and being obedient to Christ as the spouse of our souls, entering the mystical body of Christ, and joining together with both at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What is 30 x 19?

Answer: the number of conversion stories to the Catholic Church that can be downloaded from the Coming Home Network off of EWTN's website. Click here and be amazed at the powerful work of God in bring his family back home.

Have you considered coming home to the Catholic Church? It may be time to take a closer look at what you've been missing...

10 Episcopalian Nuns Convert to Catholicism!

Read the story here.

Here's an interesting snippet from the story:
Orthodoxy and unity were key reasons the sisters were attracted to the Catholic faith. Many of them were troubled by the Episcopal Church’s approval of women’s ordination, the ordination of a gay bishop and what they regarded as lax stances on moral issues.

“We kept thinking we could help by being a witness for orthodoxy,” said Sister Mary Joan Walker, the community’s archivist.

Mother Christina said that effort “was not as helpful as we had hoped it would be.”

“People who did not know us looked at us as if we were in agreement with what had been going on (in the Episcopal Church),” she said. “By staying put and not doing anything, we were sending a message which was not correct.”

Before deciding to enter the Catholic Church, the sisters had explored Episcopal splinter groups and other Christian denominations. Mother Christina noted that the sisters had independently contemplated joining the Catholic Church without the others knowing. When they found out that most of them were considering the same move, they took it as a sign from God and reached out to Archbishop O’Brien.

“This is very much the work of the Holy Spirit,” Mother Christina said.
May Jesus's prayer in John 17 be perfectly fulfilled. These nuns could only find the unity Christ prayed for in one place...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church and the Doctrine of Eternal Security, Part 2: Knowing, Certainty, and Eternal Security

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

Pastor Carlo DeStefano at Fairwinds Baptist Church offers the same message three times a week at the end of every sermon: you can know this morning where you will spend eternity. You can be sure that when you die, you will go immediately to heaven. If you think you will not go to heaven or you are not sure, then you are probably not saved, you probably have not heard the true Gospel, and you probably do not know Christ as savior. You have probably been trusting something else (church attendance, good works, baptism, etc.) to get you into heaven. No! By trusting Christ as your savior, you can seal your eternal destiny. You will one day be in heaven. No matter what.

This is the doctrine of Eternal Security [ES], also known as Once-Saved-Always-Saved [OSAS], and it is preached service after service, week after week, at Fairwinds Baptist Church.

The basic facets of the doctrine are summarized in the following diagram, which shows that once a person has "been saved" (initial salvation), this person--according to OSAS--will without a doubt go to heaven. Their eternal destiny is sealed the moment they become saved. We will be referring back to this diagram throughout this post, so take a close look at it:

In 1 Thess. 5:21, St. Paul urges his readers to "test everything, retaining what is good." The purpose of this post is to test the doctrine of ES to see if it holds up to the demands of common-sense and logic. An earlier post offers a tract that teems with Biblical evidence against the doctrine. However, it is possible to show that ES contains so many internal flaws that it could not possibly offer the "eternal assurance" that so many people claim to receive from it. Since eternal security makes a claim regarding the (final) salvation of souls, there are few doctrines more important than this one. If it is wrong, it is truly one of the most dangerous false doctrines to be hoisted upon Christendom in the last five centuries. The stakes could not be higher.

I'd like to start by asking: What does it mean to know our future? What does it mean to be certain or to be sure of a future event? What does eternal security propose about the kind of knowledge we can have about our future after death?

1. Think about how few things we can be certain of that occur in the future--we can not be certain of anything. We can not be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. We can not be certain that we will live through the night. We can not even be certain of death (second coming, anyone?) and taxes, contrary to the popular saying. Thus, it is VERY RADICAL for the doctrine of eternal security to say that we CAN KNOW FOR CERTAIN that in the future we will be in heaven.

(Not to get side-tracked, but notice that 1 John 5:13 does not specify that we can know we have "eternal life" in the future, although Pastor Carlo reads this idea into this verse. Only because Pastor Carlo believes in OSAS does he equate "eternal life" with "guaranteed to go to heaven." 1 John 5:13 doesn't actually make this equivocation. I would suggest that anyone who has Christ living in them has eternal life at that moment, but this is no guarantee that they will always and forever have Christ alive in their hearts. We can always choose to reject the gift of his grace and reject the gift of salvation.)

2. How does ES get around the RADICAL CLAIM it makes on our FUTURES? The only way it can do so is by tying a knowledge of the FUTURE to a knowledge of the PRESENT. We tie our future certainty to something that we can be certain of: our knowledge of the present.

Although none of us can know for certain that we will be staring at our computer screen (or a printout from it) five minutes from now, we CAN know for certain that we are looking at it in the present moment. Similarly, you CAN be certain (so it is suggested) of the fact that at THIS PARTICULAR MOMENT, you are inviting Christ into your heart as savior. The OSAS theology takes over from there--it turns a PRESENT certainty into a FUTURE certainty. At this moment, you know Christ. Thus, at this same moment, you know that, no matter what happens, you will one day be in heaven. Simple as that.

3. The all-important implication here is that if the time-point "I.S." (the moment of your "initial salvation") and the time-point "F.S." (the moment of your "final salvation") are necessary and absolutely connected, then NOTHING that happens in between IS and FS can possibly have ANY effect on your future salvation. After all, the only way one can KNOW right now IN THE PRESENT MOMENT that one will be in heaven IN THE FUTURE is if heaven is guaranteed.

One result of tying I.S. so closely to F.S. is that the very term "salvation" is reduced down to a single meaning. Being "saved" is both a past event and one which automatically causes an absolutely certain future eternal destiny.Yet, because the future dimension is taken for granted (though certainly not unappreciated by good Baptists!), "salvation" is basically seen as a past event. Thus, the question, "are you saved?" means, "have you been saved sometime in the past?"

Catholics, on the other hand, tend to think of salvation as having three different temporal qualities: past, present, and future. We were saved. We are being saved. And we await with joyful hope to be finally saved in heaven. Turns out, the Bible also uses the word salvation in these three different ways as well, and Catholics are just picking up in their theology the use of "salvation" that we find in Scripture. (I'll update this post soon with references that show this.) Since most evangelicals, Baptists included, tend to think of salvation only as a past event, they should not be surprised when Catholics feel uncomfortable when asked, "are you saved?" The question, to Catholic ears, is ambiguous. Of course, I pray that my Catholic readers will do a better job understanding where their evangelical friends are coming from, and answer with a resounding "Yes! I have been saved in the past when I was baptized. Also, I am being saved right now, and yes, I hope to be saved one day in heaven!"

4. As I mentioned, OSAS teaches you can know that you will be in heaven one day. Let me pause to reiterate that the people who propose this doctrine for belief are NOT using "know" in a kind of feel-good metaphorical way. "Know" isn't a way of saying "I hope so" with extra confidence. In fact, Pastor Carlo specifically points out that "I hope so" is NOT a suitable answer to the question "if you you died tonight, would you go to heaven?" In fact, according to OSAS theology, Know means Know! And, they mean KNOW. Pastor Carlo emphasizes the certainty of this knowledge with the words "be sure," as in "you can BE SURE that when you die you will go to heaven."

5. Because heaven is tied to a present event that one could be certain of, there becomes a chain of certain knowledge that often becomes emphasized. After all, the PRESENT event quickly becomes a PAST event, such that you enter a stage where you "know that you know" that you are saved. One could say that I know I am saved because I "know that I know" that I am saved. In other words, I know that PAST event really happened, it was true, I really meant it, and it wasn't a dream, etc. This type of knowledge logically begets other categories of knowledge, such that one can claim that I "know that I know that I know that I know..." that I am saved.

6. While proponents of eternal security (such as Bill Rice, whose sermon at Fairwinds will be the subject of another post on ES) claim these expressions are silly, they do claim that being unsure whether you are saved likely means that you are not saved. Thus, while "knowing that you know" is a silly expression, NOT knowing that you know (and we might presume, not knowing that you know that you know...) is tantamount to not being saved.

7. Or is it? Does salvation depend on knowing you are saved, or does it depend on truly being saved? Proponents of eternal security seem to place an undue emphasis on knowing you are saved, rather than just being saved. The "selling point" seems to be the certain knowledge that your future in heaven is guaranteed, not that at the moment of initial salvation you are literally becoming a new creation in Christ by the greatest miracle that will ever occur in your life. ES seems to put the emphasis on the knowledge rather than on the grace itself.

8. Side track question: if BEING saved is more important and more miraculous than KNOWING THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED, then why eternal security proponents seem to focus so much on the knowledge? What might happen if these proponents actually focused on the miracle of initial justification/salvation itself?

9. One problem with eternal security is that once it occurs to people that the moment of initial justification/salvation is as huge (a bigger event than the creation of the universe) and miraculous (more miraculous than raising Lazarus) as it is, they can begin to question whether or not they were truly aware of, were ready for, and truly intended the magnificence of this moment. They can begin to question whether that moment when they were initially saved was actually a genuine, pure act of conversion. After all, the more people know themselves, the more they realize that our actions so often result from mixed motives. Were you "saved" partially due to pressure from parents or peers? Was your act of faith truly full and open, or were there implicit contingencies (such as, I give my life to you Lord, as long as that doesn't require me to give up my favorite sin).

10. Another problem is that we know at some level that being saved means following Christ, but what if someone's life takes a wrong turn and they begin making a series of bad decisions. Surprisingly, proponents of eternal security will occasionally admit that it is possible for people who "think" they are saved to not really be saved. (See how the certain verb "knowing" has turned into a much more uncertain, subjective term "thinking".) So, if it is possible for someone to be mistaken in their knowledge that they are saved, it is certainly possible that someone who has turned to a life of serious ("mortal") sin could question whether they truly were saved way back when. (According to Bill Rice, a person who falls into such sins loses the assurance of their salvation, but not their salvation itself. Hmmm... If you know you are saved, then there is no reason ever to lose your assurance, according to the doctrine itself...unless of course you are one of those people who think you are saved but really are not. But in that case, such a person, before committing serious sins, would have had a false assurance of a final salvation of which they had no inheritance. Ah, but more on Bill Rice's presentation of the doctrine later...)

11. Even further, since the focus of OSAS theology is that PAST moment of salvation, there becomes a need to continually come back to that moment, to reemphasize it as often as one can, almost in a kind of intellectual sacrament. We talk about eternal security EVERY SINGLE SERMON so as to "do this in rememberance of" that act of faith. Everything--one's entire eternity, in fact--hinges on that "once saved" act of faith. That is a (potentially) shaky thing on which to hang one's eternal life. Thus, it gets shored up as often as possible, so that the reenacting of the act of faith (through weekly alter calls) becomes central to the communal worship of all who believe this doctrine. The "sacrament" of the alter call becomes the true high point of the worship--the summit--of the liturgy of people who believe this doctrine. (The true Christian Church has always understood this to be the source and summit of our faith and worship.)

12. Two more important ideas have arisen from our discussion so far. The first is that there are two distinct layers wrapped up in the doctrine of eternal security: being saved and knowing that you are saved. These two layers are tightly bound up within each other, since being saved is the object of your knowledge, yet knowing you are saved seems to be the sign of being saved. Thus, according to Pastor Carlo, not knowing you are saved means you probably aren't. (Yet, according to Bill Rice a few weeks before, you can not know you are saved because of sin, yet you in fact remain saved. Here, we begin to wet our toes in an ocean of contradictions.)

The second idea is that, as much as we would like to think that "knowing I am saved" and "being saved" form a true correspondence, the fact is, it is possible for people's knowledge to be mistaken, and good Baptists throughout the world readily admit when they see people fall into sin that "this or that person must not have been saved to begin with." Yet, the obvious implication here is that there are people out there who go through some post-initial-salvation period thinking they are saved ("knowing they are saved") who are really not saved.

13. Thus, we suddenly find ourselves stuck with TWO post-initial-salvation categories of people: those who correctly know they are saved (and really are) and those who incorrectly know they are saved (but really aren't). Of course, the second category only appears to us to be a post-initial-salvation group, even though ES assumes that no initial salvation actually occurred. Here, we wade even deeper into the cloudy ocean...

14. Thus, if we are TRULY to KNOW that we ARE saved and will thus be in heaven in the FUTURE, we MUST have a way of being able to distinguish between the two categories described above. There MUST be a way of being able to distinguish AT THE MOMENT you supposedly invite Christ into your heart that you actually are saved.

15. This is where we run into a BIG problem. After all, who can tell the difference between a saved person and a still-unsaved person during an alter call? Don't both people approach the alter with the same intention of being saved, the same prayer on their lips, and the same heart open to Christ? Don't they live a perfect, sinless life for at least some stretch of time after being saved, even if for only a few seconds or minutes? Pastor Carlo almost constantly makes the distinction between "saved sinners" and "unsaved sinners." But the problem is, how do we make this distinction between two people who both appeared to be saved? How can we tell if our post-initial-salvation sins are those of a "saved sinner" or those of an "unsaved sinner" who thinks they are saved but really are not.

These questions are critical, because practically every person who attends Fairwinds Baptist Church is in the post-initial-salvation period. Everyone at Fairwinds Baptist, then, could potentially be mistaken in their assurance of salvation...and not even know it! Pastor Carlo himself might not actually make it to heaven one day (though I certainly pray that he does!) The question is, how do we know? ES says that you can know, but we have seen that this assertion presupposes that one can tell the difference between someone who is truly saved and one who merely thinks they are saved. Unfortunately, since it is impossible to be able to tell the difference, people who believe ES end up hanging their eternal security on an act of faith...but not faith in God. Rather, people who claim to know that they will one day be in heaven can only do so by making an act of faith IN THEIR OWN ACT OF FAITH. In other words, ES requires us ultimately to have faith in the saving quality of our own one-time saving act of faith. But the quality of our own act of faith is not something that should necessarily garner the trust given it by an act of faith, so we are left asking, how do we KNOW we are saved?

At this point, the doctrine of ES begins to be swept out into a sea of its own epistemological murkiness. Can anyone throw it a life preserver?

16. Ironically, the very people who admit that some people think they are saved but are not--thus destroying the original attraction of OSAS since it offers no real assurance--try to save OSAS by sticking to their guns and insisting that if one TRULY is saved, there is nothing that person could do to lose their salvation. In this case, it doesn't matter if a person has an affair, takes drugs, and commits murder one day or one decade after being "saved," that person will never lose their salvation. Nothing we can do can make us lose our salvation. After all, according to Pastor Carlo, there are "saved sinners" and "unsaved sinners," right? The difference is whether or not you are saved, not in whether or not you sin. Just think of all those verses in which St. Paul writes to the Christian churches claiming, "9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,a]">[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Paul could only have been speaking to non-saved people, right? After all, the doctrine of ES teaches that "saved" fornicators DO inherit the kingdom of God. "Saved" idolaters DO inherit the kingdom of God. "Saved" adulterers DO inherit the kingdom of God.

Or do they?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a mountain of Biblical evidence for the fact that one can lose one's salvation. I realize that there are a small handful of Bible verses that, when read in English, seem to support OSAS (the Greek verb tenses of these passages often suggest the opposite), but I can guarantee you that the vast majority of Christian Bible scholars (including famous Baptists) throughout the world and throughout time have understood and agreed that Christians can lose their salvation through serious sins (like the one St. Paul listed in 1 Cor. 6). The doctrine of OSAS is actually a very recent invention in the history of Christianity, and it is one that percolates at only a handful of Bible colleges, some of which have produced some of the most vocal Bible teachers of the day. Even though this doctrine receives a lot of attention, and even though many Bible teachers sincerely believe it, these things do not make it true.

Many of you were probably drawn out of the Catholic Church because you were offered the "simple Gospel" of OSAS which seemed so much easier and more promising than the message of salvation taught at the local Catholic Church. Sadly, you are now being taught a false Gospel, one that the early Church never taught, and one that flatly contradicts the Bible. In a later post, I will spend much more time looking at the Biblical evidence against OSAS as well as the verses offered in defense of it. A list of these verses, as well as a short analysis of some of the verses used by proponents of OSAS, can be found on the following tract.

I invite you to revisit and rediscover the glorious truth of the Catholic faith, including the true message of salvation that she has faithfully passed down since she received it from Jesus almost two-thousand years ago. The Catholic faith guides us to put our faith not in our own faith, but rather in the sacramental, life-giving promises (oaths) that Christ has sworn for the salvation of his Bride, the church. As Catholics, we put our faith and hope in Christ's faithfulness, not our own. As Christ pours his life into us through the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Most Holy Eucharist, we come to share in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity, and we share His love with everyone whom we meet. Our hope of future salvation is not to be scoffed at, as Pastor Carlo so often seems to do. Our hope of future salvation is as rock-solid as the faithfulness of Christ, who forgives us all our sins if we confess them. But, ultimately, our faith must work in love (Gal. 5:6), for the greatest of these is love...(1 Cor. 13:13)

Sin is the rejection of God's life and love. Sin tells God that we wish he didn't exist, at least at the moment we choose to sin. While all sin damages our relationship with God, St. Paul clearly lists sins that destroy our relationship with God, making it impossible for us to inherit eternal life unless we repent. St. John the Apostle literally delineates between sins that lead to death and sins that do not (see 1 John 5:16-17) This is clear, solid Biblical teaching, and it is also the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church.

We invite you to come home...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Today's Finds

While taking a break from an exhausting amount of school work, I discovered two more interesting links:

1. The first link is to Taylor Marshall's blog, where he asks Does N.T. Wright's theology lead to Catholicism? Contained within this post is a link to the Council of Trent's sixth session, in which the decree on Justification was promulgated. Any one who has ever been told anything about what the Catholic Church teaches about justification ought to read this document (and who hasn't been told something?) According to Catholic convert T. Marshall, most Protestants have been "hoodwinked" about what the Catholic Church really teaches.

2. The second post involves a new report on the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. This image appeared on the tilma of St. Juan Diego almost five centuries ago, and it remains enshrined and miraculously preserved in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadeloupe to this day. The entire story of our Lady's appearance to Juan Diego can be read here. Our Lady is a powerful advocate before the throne of Christ for the unborn, and it is due to her miraculous intervention that over 6 million Aztecs converted to Catholicism, and in doing so, left behind the bloodbath of child sacrifice. How we need her intercession today! Our Lady of Guadeloupe, pray for us!

Interestingly, six million Aztecs were converting to Catholicism in Central America at the same time that six million Catholics were leaving the Catholic Church in Europe. It has been said that God writes history the way we write novels. What timing!

Friday, August 7, 2009

On the Sacrament of Baptism

I just discovered the first two articles of a continuing series on the Sacrament of Baptism written by Mark Shea, another recent convert to the Catholic Church. They provide a nice counterpoint to John Piper's sermons, which I am in the middle of critiquing. Further, Shea writes with Piper's perspective in mind, since it is the perspective he once held as an Evangelical. Shea's essays are worth reading, and I'll update this post as further installments are published.

Part 1 Baptism: Fountain of Youth

Part 2 Baptismal Complexes


Monday, August 3, 2009

Today's Finds

1. A beautiful post about a seemingly beautiful man: Cardinal Peter Turkson. Welcome, new springtime of evangelization!

2. An insightful post about the loaves and the fishes...appropriate for a series of readings out of John 6 that Catholics around the world are hearing at Mass. See especially the readings selected for today (Aug. 2, 2009), which connect the Exodus story about manna in the desert with the Bread-of-life discourse in John 6.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Response to Fairwinds Baptist Church August 2, 2009 11:00 A.M. Service

[Welcome new readers.  Before you go, please don't forget to check out the links to thirteen other Fairwinds responses listed on the right side of this page.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all!]

This morning was a special morning at Fairwinds Baptist Church: a new baby was "dedicated." "Baby dedication" is the most common term employed by Baptists for the short ritual of prayer over an infant. As a Catholic, I find baby dedications absolutely fascinating, since Baptists are perhaps the most vocal denomination against the ancient practice of baptizing infants. Yet, they can't seem to escape the impulse to include babies as part of the church family, an impulse that I also have and strongly support.

This post is not meant to discourage Baptists from dedicating their babies to God, but rather to help them look more closely at this impulse and to think carefully about the implications of the theology presented in the short ritual.

One of the most interesting things said occurs right at the beginning, though I'll begin a bit before the beginning as Pastor Carlo holds an (absolutely adorable) little infant and says to her:

"We're going to dedicate you this morning. Isn't that good? Huh? We're going to dedicate you this morning. Yes, we are. [To the congregation:] Well, you've heard me say this two million times, because we do this so often around here, and that's a good thing. We have a growing church, [to the baby:] and you're part of our growing church."

On the surface, nothing seems wrong with this. In fact, it seems so right! It seems right that infants should be considered part of our church.

Now, most likely, Pastor Carlo wasn't using the word "church" in the theological sense, as in "you're part of the mystical body of Christ." Most likely, he was using it in the sociological sense, such as "you are part of this community of people that meet in this building."

From a Catholic perspective, there should be little to no difference between those two perspectives, except perhaps that the church is a single unified body that includes many localized organizations on earth, the entire communion of saints in heaven, and the church suffering who are being purged of any final attachments to sin before they enter heaven (see 1 Cor. 3:15).

So, the first big question I would have as a Catholic is: does this baby truly become incorporated into the mystical body of Christ during this dedication? I would agree with Pastor Carlo's often stated fact that being part of a church in the sociological sense does not get one into heaven, and I assume he would agree that being part of the mystical body of Christ does get one into heaven.

If Pastor Carlo believes that this baby truly IS part of the mystical body of Christ, then I would simply ask how that has occurred, especially since this pronouncement is occurring before the ritual. (Did the baby join the mystical body of Christ at conception? During the first prayer the parents likely prayed over her? When did it occur, if not during the dedication?)

Like I said, Pastor Carlo's brief comment was not likely intended in a theologically precise manner. However, it is often in these toss-off moments where tensions and fissures can be felt in a person's thinking and theology. Up for grabs seems to be the answer to the all-important question: is this baby saved or not saved?

He continues: "Raising children in the day we are living today is not easy to do. It is probably more difficult today than it ever has been. I guess [inaudible]. Of course, the Bible says to train a child in the ways he should go, and when they grow old, they will not depart from me. Children need training, but at the same time they need parents who are going to do the training. Left to themselves, they can't train themselves. But God gives couples--parents--children, and our responsibility as parents is to raise our children in a nurture and admonishen of the Lord. And of course I've known [mom and dad] ever since they were young. And I've watched them grow, marry, and now they have their own family. And she's number five...five, I just wanted to make sure I had the number correct. They have a very growing family, praise the Lord. And they have just been a blessing, involved in our church, in our ministry here, faithful, and I thank the Lord for [dad] and I thank the Lord for [mom]. But with that, you both need to understand--you've heard me say this a million times--the responsibility that you have--and have had--in a nurture and admonishen of the Lord. It is a difficult thing. But as you two stay close to the Lord, stay close to the Word of God, stay in the Word of God, teach them the Word of God, and let them see in you the example, biblically, showing them how we are to live and be faithful to His house, to His Word, they'll follow that example. They'll follow that example up into their teenage years, their adult years, and eventually, when they get married and have their own children, they'll follow the same precepts that you've followed, and those precepts of course come from the Word of God. So I'm thankful for [mom and dad], for the blessing they are for this little one who God has so graciously given to them. Baby, you are just such a doll baby! Yes, you are."

These comments are directed mainly at the parents. Pastor Carlo rightly notes how difficult it is to raise godly children in this age of ours. Just like in a Catholic baptism, the parents are encouraged to raise their children in the Christian faith, which means constantly growing in God's Word so that they can pass it on to their children.

I would point out the emphasis on the faith of the parents in this part. From the Catholic perspective, it is that faith commitment of the family (not only the parents but the entire faith community) that God honors in accepting the infant into the mystical body of Christ. If God honors this faith, then it makes sense to not only point out the faith of the parents and encourage them, but also to ask the parents if they commit this day to their duty as Christian parents. At Catholic baptisms, the parents are directly asked if they will fulfill these duties. But Baptists teach that God does not honor the parents' faith in this way, such that infants do not receive the saving grace of justification during the dedication (or baptism, for that matter), since the infants are not able to make a faith commitment on their own. Here, I begin to get a bit confused... Should we not then call this a "parent dedication?" Doesn't the baby, through its own act of faith, need to dedicate itself to God?

The next part is the most interesting from a theological perspective. (And I don't mean theological in an abstract, heady sense. Rather, we are dealing with the most concrete of all questions: where do infants go when they die?)

"[To the baby:] So, is it okay if we pray over you this morning? We're going to have a word of prayer over you, because I think your mom is going to be chasing you all over the place. [To congregation:] Let's bow our heads in a word of prayer. Let's ask the Lord to bless us this morning. Father, this morning, we thank you for our blessed savior Jesus Christ. I thank you for [mom and dad] and this sweet little gift that you have given to them. I pray your hand of blessing upon them as mom and dad, as they raise this little one in nurture and admonishen of the Lord. I pray, Father, that you give them the wisdom that they need--the spiritual wisdom and understanding they need daily to raise the children they have and especially this little one in your nurture and in your admonishen. So, Lord, I just play that you bless them and have your hand upon them."

So far, this has been the prayer of a parents dedication. Next, the prayer turns to the infant:

"And our prayer is that [baby] will come to know Christ as savior at an early age. So we hold her up to you this morning, we hold the family up to you this morning, we thank you for the faithfulness, we thank you for the salvation, we thank you for the love we share in Christ, we thank you Lord for this little one that you have so graciously given to them. We love the Lord, we thank you for what you are going to do and have done. For it is in Jesus's name we pray, and everyone said, Amen."

There it is. When I listen to this ritual, my heart burns with love for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, because it is so clear how much love they and their church family feels for this baby. Having children of my own, I can relate to this, and I celebrate with this family in my heart. This is a love that comes from our Lord and reflects the deep love He has for children. Our Lord himself said,
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matt. 19:14) "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." (Mark 9:37) Let them come, Jesus says. And we bring them, no matter what our denomination.

At the same time, my heart aches for my separated brothers and sisters, who did not receive in this baby dedication the assurance given to Catholic parents during infant baptisms: that their babies are now saved.

Pastor Carlo teaches in every sermon that I have heard him give that one must come to a personal knowledge of Christ as Savior to be saved. When Pastor Carlo prays for the baby that she will come to know Christ as Savior at an early age, this raises the question: is this baby not saved right now? If this baby was to die tonight (Lord forbid!), would it go to heaven? (How strange it is to hear myself, a Catholic, honestly posing this question to Baptists!)

Most Baptists that I know would answer with a resounding "Yes!" But I answer with a resounding, "How?" Did not through one man (Adam), all men fall? Here is Romans 5:12-21 in full:

12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
15But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
18Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

These verses give strong support to the universal, ancient teaching regarding original sin: that even though no infant has contracted any personal sins, all are born in a dis-graced state as members of the family of Adam. It is only by receiving Christ's righteousness through justification that we may enter eternal life.

Pastor Carlo teaches that human beings (including the baby) are justified when they first accept Christ into their hearts as personal Lord and Savior. But this baby can not yet do that, and thus remains dead in original sin as Romans 5 indicates.

Yet, many Baptists seem to assume that babies (and persons with severe mental handicaps as well) go to heaven when they die.

Why is this? Two possibilities (though there may be more...but I can't think of 'em...)

1. Babies haven't sinned yet.
2. God makes an exception for babies.

(Note well: these are two distinct possibilities that answer to two different sets of assumptions. Assumption #1 (found in possibility #1)--no damning sin is present, the baby is perfect and not in need of Jesus as savior. Assumption #2--God saves despite the damning nature of original sin, such that the child is somehow saved it despite its ability to make a personal faith commitment. Sorry to use such a strong word, but I hope to have recovered its original theological definition here. Pastor Carlo agrees that without being saved, we would all go to hell. I am thankful that "hell" is very much a part of Pastor Carlo's this, he is a model to many of today's "feel good" pastors.)

Possibility #1, I'm afraid to say, constitutes a denial of original sin and Romans 5, which states that death and condemnation came to all men through Adam.

Possibility #2 is actually feasible, yet it is the very thing that Baptists seem to deny in their historic denial of the possibility of infant baptism!

In other words, let's assume that a Baptist believes their baby would go to heaven if he or she were to die prematurely. Next, we could ask, is there any way to get to heaven but by the blood of Jesus? Any good Baptist would say that there is not.

Thus, we would have to conclude that a baby who goes to heaven does so by the blood of Jesus, which would mean that Jesus sees no problem with saving babies by his blood!

But if this is true, then why are all of those Christians for two thousand years that have been baptizing their babies, believing that Christ is saving them by his blood, wrong?

THE GLORIOUS NEWS HERE is that Baptists in their practical, common sense thinking are actually very Catholic in their theology. Let all of God's people say Amen! that Jesus would save our babies...and wash away the stain of original sin...and regenerate their souls making them a new creation...and draw them deep into His mystical body. "Let the children come."

Going back to the quote from Romans 5, the question likely came up in the mind of Paul's readers: how do I go from a state of death and condemnation to a state of righteousness and life? Pastor Carlo's response has always been that we make this shift by accepting Christ as our personal Lord and savior.

But notice how Paul answers this very question in Romans 6 (which flows right out of the discussion in Romans 5):

3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Paul's "Roman's Road" (how I wish people would read his letter more than the tract!) states that we are BAPTIZED into his death. As many of us who were BAPTIZED have been raised in Christ. As Peter states, " saves us" (1 Peter 3:21)--a verse that is strangely absent from all of Fairwinds Baptist's tracts on baptism.

The earliest Christians--including the students of the apostles themselves--all believed in baptismal regeneration, and not more than a century and a half after Christ's death do we get historical documentation that infant baptism was already a well-established Tradition--hardly a new invention, even around the turn of the third century when Irenaeus and Tertullian speak of infant baptism as matter-of-fact.

So, if Baptists can admit that they believe that Christ's blood can save infants who have not personally accepted Christ as savior, what stands in the way of simply accepting the explicit biblical doctrine of baptismal regeneration and the implicit biblical doctrine (and explicit teaching of the early church) that infants are proper recipients of baptism?

Further, if we are not going to trust our Lord to impart justifying grace through the sacrament of baptism to our infant children, when do we think that He will? Where does the Bible say that infants are excluded from the condemnation described in Romans 5? What alternative to baptism does the Bible offer for the salvation of infants?

Again, I ask, what will happen to our babies? How will they be saved? Are we presuming of God something he never tells us in his Word? Are we presuming of God's infinite and perfect mercy by ignoring his infinite and perfect justice?

My dear brothers and sisters, the Catholic Church teaches the gospel in its fullness. It has guarded the sacred deposit of faith left once for all with the apostles (Jude 3) ever since she received it almost two-thousand years ago. The Catholic Church has the answer to these difficult questions, and it has not compromised this answer since she began teaching it.

And although Christians can not have the absolute assurance of future salvation offered every week at Fairwinds Baptist (though not offered by the Bible...see this tract), the gospel tells us that we can know that our infants are saved--not by some "work" or "empty ritual" but by the "washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5) and the "circumcision made without hands" (Col. 2:11) that Jesus works on us and our children (Acts 2:39): baptism. We can have the assurance that God has saved us in the past through baptism (as long as our hearts did not hold any impediments to the grace of the sacrament), and we can have the assurance of truth that the Church built on the Rock offers, so that in knowing Christ-the-Truth, we have full moral confidence that we will one day be with Him in heaven.

And this Church--the Catholic Church, built on the Rock--teaches with her Savior: let the children come!

I'd like to close with a call to all fallen-away Catholics and all of you who have heard about the Catholic Church but not looked closely at Her teachings:

1. Read and really study about baptism from the Catholic Catechism (see the links on the right sidebar). Learn who St. Justin Martyr and St. Gregory of Nazianzus are and when they wrote. (Can you find their citations in the footnotes?)
2. Study church history so you can learn what the students of the apostles taught about baptism.
3. Read the Bible with your concordance in hand, and study what the Bible has to say about baptism through the lens of the early church fathers who learned their faith from the apostles.
4. Open your hearts, minds, and wills to God so that you can discern if He is calling you home to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church--the Catholic Church.

May the Holy Spirit guide you every step of the way, and may you be filled with the Peace of God as you search for the Truth of God. Praise be Jesus, now and forever!


If I have some time, I'll update this post to include some more comments on the sermon, which continues the "Knowing God" series.