Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Magical Christian

This has nothing to do with the movie starring Ringo Starr, Peter Sellers, and Raquel Welch. Instead, it is about Roman Catholicism versus Reformed Christianity.

It has been pretty clear for millenia that Christianity renounces "salvation by works." But sinners often cry out, "What must I do to be saved?" If I *DO* something, how do I know if it's one of those works that won't save me? There is something of human nature that demands we tie specific actions to acquiring salvation or growing closer to God pursuant to salvation. That second part afflicts many of my Baptist brethren. Sure, you're saved by faith alone, but if you aren't in the church twice on sunday and wednesday night and if you don't forgoe drinking, smoking, chewing and loud rock music, you're a second-class Christian who has some growing to do.

The Reformed Christian is somewhat more Zenlike. You relax, and passively rely upon mercy and the grace that God alone can deliver. Use that thing outside yourself from God's hand to impute Christ's life to you forensically and to inhere Christ's life in you daily thereafter. Augustine expressed this when he prayed, "Grant what thou commandest and then command what thou wilt."

This prayer caused a British monk named Pelagius to offer the opposite sentiment. He was ultimately declared a heretic, because he openly taught salvation by works. The Roman Christian rejects Pelagius and his reliance on works for salvation, but Rome insists that you can lose your salvation if you do something to make shipwreck of your faith. Having committed such a mortal sin, Roman Christianity provides a mechanism for reconciliation. Roman Christianity has declared "semi-pelagianism" heretical, but it still mixes something called sacraments that are performed by the believer to unlock, or dispense God's grace.

My Baptist brethren have their own sacrament-like activities that they demand in order to dispense God's grace. I think "The Sinner's Prayer" or walking an aisle at a Revival Meeting or an Evangelistic Crusade. There are people who make money going around from church to church demanding such things of believers. Finneyism is a drug that loses potency with overexposure as the objects of such abuse develop a tolerance to psychological manipulation. This is much worse than Roman Christianity's sacraments, because at least the Catholic sacraments have more biblical warrant than "going to the prayer room."

Is walking the aisle at a Billy Graham crusade a work, or is it an act of faith? Rome claims that its sacraments and penances are not works, but the believer's response of faith. That line of reasoning applies to my brothers who recite "The Sinner's Prayer" to get saved and I can accept that.

The underlying concept is that God lets himself get entangled with some kind of religious machinery he's set up so that if you drop the right coin in the slot and push the right buttons thereon, God is obligated to dispense a dollop of grace in response.

This machinery is a form of "incantational magic," the stuff that Harry Potter does. And I don't believe in magic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Roman Christian rejects Pelagius and his reliance on works for salvation, but Rome insists that you can lose your salvation if you do something to make shipwreck of your faith.

Uh ... not quite. Or maybe - sorta? :-)

Remember the expression that "Baptism is an outward expression of an inward change?"

It could be argued that a mortal sin is an outward expression of a rejection of Christ. It's not just that you have to comitt one of the seven deadly sins - it has to be:
1) A serious matter
2) Given sufficient reflection,
3) Full consent of the will,
(Ref: Catholic Book of Prayers, pg. 255)

I submit that #3 makes mortal sin the outward expression of an inward change - rejection of faith alone.

I have another little book, called:

"Catholic and Christian: An explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs"

Chapter 1 is called:

"Salvation: God's Free Gift in Jesus Christ."

I never heard of a free gift that had to be earned. :-)

I don't have time to write up the whole chapter, but at one point it quotes the "Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity" which says:

The Church's mission is concered with the salvation of men; and men win salvation through the grace of Christ and faith in him.

But I suspect you allready knew all this; after all, you quoted Augustine as a real good thing, and my pastor is a member of the Order of Saint Augstine (OSA) - he's an Augustinian priest.

So, if you knew all this, why the roundabout? Well, the same reason you talked about Baptists who get caught up in the "works" of the sinner's prayer or the alter call.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that if the Devil can't lie to us outright, his next trick is to take something important (like works; read James!) and make it of higher importance than it deserves (elevating works over faith) - thus creating the _effect_ of a lie. And that's dangerous.

And if that's all you are worried about, then Brother, I'm with you. The Catholic Church emphasises James, and that's great - we put our lives where our mouths are. But it's easy to miss the point of "Faith Without Works is Dead" and end up with "Saved By Going To Church Every Sunday Morning and Wendesday Night and Abstaining from X, Y, and Z ..."

As someone much smarter than i once said: The Main Thing is to Keep the Main thing the Main Thing.

That said, I'll try to spend less time replying on blogs and more time growing in my relationship with Christ. (Not your blog; I'll just try to spend less time on or something. :-)