Category Archives: Protestants and Catholics

Waiting to get into heaven

Dear hijas,

From the Catholic Encyclopedia comes this:

Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm)

And from Fisheaters.com:

Purgatory is not Hell minus a few torments and degrees Fahrenheit; it’s not Heaven minus joy. It’s not a “Third Final Destination” of souls. Purgatory is simply the place where already saved souls are cleansed of the temporal effects of sin before they are allowed to see the holy face of Almighty God. Revelation 21:27 tells us that “…nothing unclean will enter [Heaven].”(http://www.fisheaters.com/purgatory.html)

An analogy from the Fisheaters.com website is apt in how the Catholic Church views the need for purgatory:

The best way to understand the idea of already being forgiven but still having to be cleansed of the temporal effects of sin is by analogy: imagine you are the parent of a 7-year old child who steals a candy bar from the local grocery. The child is repentant, in tears, sobbing his apologies. You, being the good parent (as God, our Father is!) forgive that child and love him and show him your mercy. But being a good parent means that you are also just and will expect that child to pay back the store. Purgatory is God’s way of forgiving us, loving us, showing us His mercy and justice — and making us “pay back the store.” Can you imagine what would happen to the child of a parent who never expected that child to “pay back the store” (especially when that same parent believed also that there was nothing that child could do to become “disinherited,” as in the “once saved, always saved” doctrine)? As always, the best way to understand Catholic doctrine is to think of God as the wisest, most loving, most merciful, and most just Father that we can possibly envision.

Can you see a problem with ‘paying back the store’ in what we’ve already discussed concerning God’s forgiveness of sin and ‘repentance’, not ‘do penance’? Is the analogy of God to His children the same as the analogy of a human parent to her child?

It is because of the doctrine of penance in the Catholic Church that drives the need for purgatory. The reason is that in this life, no matter how much ‘penance’ you do, you’re never sure you’ve done enough, never sure if your good works, Hail Mary’s, fastings, and abstinences have completely paid off the balance of your sins, never sure if you still have an unpaid balance left at the moment you die. Thus, you can finish ‘paying off’ in purgatory.

What a contrast to this was the Protestant Reformed position that the death of the true believer has the assurance that he goes straight to heaven into the immediate presence of Christ (Phil. 1:23). He doesn’t need to ‘pay off’ any more sin, Christ had forgiven all past, present, and future sins at the moment of his belief.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Ps. 103:12).

He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. Yes, Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).

Keith Green’s comments in The Catholic Chronicles are appropriate at this point:

It is obvious by even this brief glimpse into the doctrines of mortal and venial sins, confession, penance, and purgatory, that the Roman Catholic Church has constructed one of the most unbiblical doctrinal systems that has ever been considered “Christian”. The fear, anguish, and religious bondage that such a system of ‘reward and punishment’ creates, has tormented millions of lives for centuries, and continues to prey on those who are ignorant of the biblical way of salvation. (http://www.theboc.com/freestuff/keithgreen/catholicchronicles/index.html)

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

Sola Fide

Dear hijas,

Continuing in our discussion of the five ‘sola’s’, we come to “Sola Fide“, by Faith Alone. What do Protestants mean when they state that salvation is by faith (man’s total trust) only (alone), without our being obliged to work for it? The key question here is “What must I do to be saved’? The answer: ‘…confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you shall be saved’ (Rom. 10:9). And how do you do that? By faith alone.

The doctrine of sola fide or “by faith alone” asserts God’s pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith, conceived as excluding all “works”, alone. All humanity, it is asserted, is fallen and sinful, under the curse of God, and incapable of saving itself from God’s wrath and curse. But God, on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus), grants sinners judicial pardon, or justification, which is received solely through faith. Faith is seen as passive, merely receiving Christ and all his benefits, among which benefits are the active and passive righteousness of Jesus Christ. Christ’s righteousness, (according to the Reformers), is imputed (or attributed) by God to the believing sinner (as opposed to infused or imparted in Roman Catholic doctrine), so that the divine verdict and pardon of the believing sinner is based not upon anything in the sinner, nor even faith itself, but upon Jesus Christ and his righteousness alone, which are received through faith alone. Justification is by faith alone and is distinguished from the other graces of salvation. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_fide)

Historic Protestantism (both Lutheran and Reformed) has held to sola-fide justification in opposition to Roman Catholicism especially, but also in opposition to significant aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy. Protestants exclude all human works (except the works of Jesus Christ, which form the basis of justification) from the legal verdict / pardon of justification. In the General Council of Trent the Catholic Church stated in canon XIV on justification that “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema (excommunicated).” Thus, “faith alone” is foundational to Protestantism, and distinguishes it from other Christian denominations (including Catholicism). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_fide)

So, where Rome had taught a piecemeal salvation, to be gained by stages through working a sacramental treadmill, the Reformers now proclaimed a unitary salvation, to be received in its entirety here and now by self-abandoning faith in God’s promise, and in the God and the Christ of that promise, as set forth in the pages of the Bible. Thus the rediscovery of the gospel brought a rediscovery of evangelism, the task of summoning non-believers to faith. Rome had said, God’s grace is great, for through Christ’s cross and his Church, salvation is possible for all who will work and suffer for it; so come to church, and toil! But the Reformers said, God’s grace is greater, for through Christ’s cross and his Spirit, salvation, full and free, with its unlimited guarantee of eternal joy, is given once and forever to all who believe; so come to Christ, and trust and take!(http://www.the-highway.com/Justification_Packer.html)

No doctrine is more important to evangelical theology than the doctrine of justification by faith alone–the Reformation principle of sola fide. Martin Luther rightly said that the church stands or falls on this one doctrine. Historic evangelicalism has therefore always treated justification by faith as a central biblical distinctive–if not the single most important doctrine to get right. This is the doctrine that makes authentic Christianity distinct from every other religion. Christianity is the religion of divine accomplishment–with the emphasis always on Christ’s finished work. All others are religions of human achievement. They become preoccupied, inevitably, with the sinner’s own efforts to be holy. Abandon the doctrine of justification by faith and you cannot honestly claim to be evangelical.  (http://www.gty.org/resources/Articles/A192/Jesus-Perspective-on-Sola-Fide?q=Jesus++Perspective+on+Sola+Fide)

Can you see where the Catholic teaching of the sinner’s need to work the Sacraments dutifully, their belief that the Church has the keys to the treasure chest of ‘merit’ for the sinner, and the sinner’s need for ‘faith’ and ‘acts of penance’ come in conflict with Scripture?

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

The Sacrament of Penance and ‘Auricular Confession’

Dear hijas,

From the Catholic Enclycopedia (http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia) comes this:

Penance is a sacrament of the New Law instituted by Christ in which forgiveness of sins committed after baptism is granted through the priest’s absolution to those who with true sorrow confess their sins and promise to satisfy for the same. It is called a “sacrament” not simply a function or ceremony, because it is an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace to the soul. As an outward sign it comprises the actions of the penitent in presenting himself to the priest and accusing himself of his sins, and the actions of the priest in pronouncing absolution and imposing satisfaction. This whole procedure is usually called, from one of its parts, “confession”, and it is said to take place in the “tribunal of penance”, because it is a judicial process in which the penitent is at once the accuser, the person accused, and the witness, while the priest pronounces judgment and sentence. The grace conferred is deliverance from the guilt of sin and, in the case of mortal sin, from its eternal punishment; hence also reconciliation with God, justification. Finally, the confession is made not in the secrecy of the penitent’s heart nor to a layman as friend and advocate, nor to a representative of human authority, but to a duly ordained priest with requisite jurisdiction and with the “power of the keys”, i.e., the power to forgive sins which Christ granted to His Church. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11618c.htm)

Notice the first sentence, ‘in which forgiveness of sins…is granted through the priest’s absolution‘. Notice the highlighted sentence in blue. The natural question from this sentence is, ‘What satisfaction, how is it imposed’? Notice the sentence in red. The grace conferred by the priest’s absolution for a mortal sin is deliverance from eternal punishment. 

Where does the idea of ‘the priest’ being able to forgive sins come from? Notice what the Council of Trent had to say about it:

The Council of Trent (1551) declares:
As a means of regaining grace and justice, penance was at all times necessary for those who had defiled their souls with any mortal sin. . . . Before the coming of Christ, penance was not a sacrament, nor is it since His coming a sacrament for those who are not baptized. But the Lord then principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance, when, being raised from the dead, he breathed upon His disciples saying: ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained’ (John 20:22-23). By which action so signal and words so clear the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the Apostles and to their lawful successors, for the reconciling of the faithful who have fallen after Baptism. (Sess. XIV, c. i)

The Catholic Church teaches that this power was transmitted to Peter and the other Apostles, by Christ Himself. To Peter He says: “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Later He says to all the Apostles: “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

But, you may ask, aren’t we supposed to confess our sins one to another? Yes, James 5:16:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16).

But notice the difference. The Catholic Church teaches that one must go to ‘confession’, as a ‘tribunal of penance’ (the priest sits as judge), whereby the priest then pronounces judgment and sentence. It’s called ‘auricular confession’, because it is spoken secretly, literally, into the ear of the priest. While a Catholic is only required to go to ‘confession’ when they are aware they have committed a mortal sin, they are encouraged to go at least once a month whether they’ve committed a mortal sin or not. It is safer to ‘confess’ your venial sins too, since only the priest is able to judge accurately which sins are mortal and which sins are venial.

A Protestant however, knows that when he confesses his sins one to another, he understands from Scripture that only God can forgive sins, not the person he’s confessing to, nor a priest or pastor. The Protestant is not seeking ‘absolution’ from this other person, he realizes this only comes from God on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross. And again, that was a one time historical event. In the Protestant’s mind, no one but God is thought worthy to hear confessions or to grant forgiveness. He understands that God demands ‘repentance’ (a turning from sin), not act’s of penance (Hail Mary’s, good works, fastings, abstinence from certain pleasures, etc.).

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

‘Saved’ from what? Sin. Mortal or venial?

Dear hijas,

‘Are you saved’? ‘When did you get saved’? These are common questions the Christian will ask of other Christians, or non-Christians. To the non-believer it’s a meaningless question in most cases. He doesn’t know what he needs to be saved ‘from’. Unless he has a Christian background or some vestige of Christian thought in his philosophical make-up, the question doesn’t make sense. As far as he’s concerned, he’s just fine the way he is, thank you very much. The non-Christian doesn’t know he has a ‘sin’ problem, doesn’t want you to necessarily point it out to him, and unless moved by the Holy Spirit would rather talk about something else. Not so with the Protestant and Catholic.

Protestants and Catholics are both taught that we need to be ‘saved’ from our sins, but that’s where the similarity ends. When a Catholic talks about sin, you must ask whether it’s a mortal sin, or venial sin, for this is what the Roman Catholic Church has separated all sins into. Then one must ask ‘how do you get rid of them’; ‘how are they canceled out’? The answer is different for a mortal sin versus a venial sin, and quite different from the Protestant view of what Scripture actually teaches.

A mortal sin is defined by Rome as ‘any great offense against the law of God’, so named because ‘it is deadly, killing the soul and subjecting it to eternal punishment’; mortal in that it destroys the life of grace and charity within a person, thus creating the threat of eternal damnation. Venial sins are ‘small and pardonable offenses against God and our neighbor’, where guilt is relatively minor. Venial sins are not thought to damn a person to hell, but increases the need for a person to have a longer stay in ‘purgatory’, a place of purifying fire (more on purgatory later).

Now, there is no ‘list’ within the Catholic Church to tell you which sins are ‘mortal’, and which are ‘venial’. There seems to be no agreement between priests, and thus any method of classification seems purely arbitrary; what is mortal according to one may be venial according to another. For example, it was once thought to be a mortal sin to attend a Protestant church, to own or read a Protestant Bible, or to eat meat on Friday! Vatican II (1963-1965) changed all this of course, but you can see the somewhat arbitrary nature of the classification of sins into mortal or venial. Yet, it’s still a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday morning without a good excuse (Saturday evening Mass can be substituted for Sunday morning Mass).  Go figure.

The focal point here however, when we come to Scripture, is that we don’t find a distinction between mortal and venial sins. It’s nowhere to be found. What we do find, on the contrary, is that all sins are MORTAL! They’re ALL deadly. ALL deserving of eternal damnation. BOTH our thoughts and actions are weighed in the scales of God’s justice and found wanting. It’s true that some sins are worse than others, but it’s also true that if not forgiven, all sins lead to death.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).

Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. THE SOUL WHO SINS WILL DIE (Ezekiel 18:4).

For the wages of sin is DEATH…(Rom. 6:23).

To classify sins into mortal and venial just isn’t found in Scripture. There are no ‘greater’ or ‘lesser’ types of sin that are classified as such in Scripture. What Roman Catholicism ‘seems’ to be saying is that, ‘these sins (mortal) are really bad! But these others (venial)? Well, you can commit those and not really suffer too much. In fact, we’ll show you how you can get rid of your sins’. In Roman Catholic teaching, this is where ‘confession’, ‘penance’, and ‘purgatory’ come in, and will be the topic of our next posts.

(Credit to The Catholic Chronicles, edited and compiled by Keith Green, http://www.theboc.com/freestuff/keithgreen/catholicchronicles/index.html)

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

Sola Gratia

Dear hijas,

In what way are we reconciled to God? How are we made righteous before Him and rescued from His wrath? Do we need to earn it, work diligently for it, offer something to God that will tip the scales in our favor? Do we need to be mostly ‘good’ people, as opposed to ‘bad’ people? How is one to compare? Is there some standard by which we can judge whether we’re ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ and therefore meet God’s approval? Perhaps it’s the good works we do; helping the poor, being kind to all, giving of our time and money to charity, sacrificing ourselves and our time to the benefit of others. This should definitely tip the scales in our favor before God, shouldn’t it? Perhaps it’s that moral lifestyle we live, being that upstanding citizen throughout our lives, so that at the end we can say, ‘I’m not a bad person, I’m a good person and have been all my life’. This would definitely put us in the ‘plus’ column; or to use a Santa Claus metaphor, put us on the ‘nice’ and not ‘naughty’ list, wouldn’t it?

Ah, but it would be worthwhile to see what the Word of God has to say about all this:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (literally, a menstrual cloth); And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Is. 64:6).

The heart is more deceitful than all else, And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE (Rom. 3:10-12).

Protestants and Catholics both take these verses as written, both camps know we have a ‘big’ problem, a big ‘sin’ problem, and both believe that ‘God’s grace’ is a key factor, but it is in the subtle differences in how this sin problem is solved and in what way ‘grace’ plays a major or minor role that is the difference.

As Protestants, we believe we are rescued from God’s wrath, reconciled and made righteous before Him, by grace alone.  Sola gratia is the teaching that salvation comes by divine grace or ‘unmerited favor’ only, not as something merited by us as sinners. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our slavery (bondage) to sin (John 8:34, Rom. 6:6) and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life (Rom. 8: 10-11). Sola gratia denies that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this change.

This means that salvation is an unearned ‘gift’ from God. The difference in doctrine between Protestants and Catholics lies mainly in two facts: 1) that of God as sole actor in grace (in other words, that grace is always efficacious without any cooperation by man), and 2) that man cannot by any action of his own, acting under the influence of grace, cooperate with grace to “merit” greater graces for himself (the latter would be the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church). Sola gratia asserts divine monergism in salvation: God acts alone to save the sinner. The responsibility for salvation does not rest on the sinner to any degree.

At this point, we must talk about the Catholic doctrine of ‘penance’, and ‘purgatory’, ‘mortal’ and ‘venial’ sins, the priest’s role in the confession box in forgiving sins, and whether the Catholic system is a system of works or not, but we’ll save that for a later post.

As always, with love,

Dear ol’ Dad

Vaya con Dios mis hijas

Jesus Dies Again and Again and Again…

Dear hijas,

In my last post we looked at the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation; that the host/bread (Latin hostia, which means ‘victim’) and cup in the Eucharist actually and really become the physical flesh and blood of Jesus during the priest’s blessing and liturgy. That before you eat of it, it has changed, even though your senses are telling you it’s just bread and wine. So the question arises, why does the Catholic Church teach this doctrine? Why do they think that Jesus wants us to physically eat Him? The answer, tragically, is how the Catholic Church views the Mass; it’s meaning and significance.

It is in the Mass, that Jesus Christ is being offered up again, physically, as a sacrifice for sin. In every Mass, in every church, all over the world, Jesus is dying again. That’s why he must be present ‘physically’ in the host and cup. The elements must become Christ’s physical body and blood so that they can be offered once again for sin. This is not a symbolic re-creation, but a literal, actual offering of the flesh and blood of our Lord to make atonement for all the sins that have been daily committed since Christ died the first time some 2,000 years ago. In Catholic teaching it’s referred to as ‘the sacrifice of the Mass’,  as ‘a renewal of the sacrifice of the cross’, and ‘a perpetuation of the sacrifice of the cross’.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Mass is a most exalted sacrifice. Indeed, it is ‘the most exalted of all sacrifices’, and is a continuation of the sacrifice Christ offered through His life and death. Jesus is priest, the offerer of the sacrifice, but not only that, He is the victim too, the very object of this sacrifice.

As Protestants, we believe that Christ died once for sins (Heb. 7:27, 1 Pet. 3:18):

…who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself (Heb. 7:27).

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Pet. 3:18).

His once for all death on the cross was complete in that one offering. His once and for all sacrifice on the cross, submitted humbly to the will of the Father, was perfect satisfaction for the penalty of sin, and His historic work on the cross constituted one historic event which never needs repeating (Rom. 6:9). Done, finis, complete. In fact, a continuous offering is not only vain, but worse than vain, it is blasphemy (Heb. 6:6). Never were there more truer words than Jesus Himself:

When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit (John 19:30).

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad