Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Whoever is not against us is for us."

My youngest daughter is attending a Catholic high school. Xavier HS is an outstanding institution--spiritually, academically, and athletically. Our daughter is thriving there. Yet some people have blacklisted us for our decision--at least, passive-aggressively. They equate our sending Carly to Xavier on par with the Israelites building Ashtoreth poles. In my youth I probably would have felt the same way. But when I seriously began investigating God’s love in holiness, the outcome of which was my book, A Final Word on Love, I became increasingly suspicious of such biases.

Both a good friend and colleague of mine and my son have since joined the Catholic Church. After many discussions with them, I realize how little separates the two branches of the orthodox Christian church. Indeed, both camps stand squarely on the same essential dogmatic turf. As I have discovered while preparing to teach a history of doctrine course at church, the issue concerning the implementation of salvation and grace, the crux of the Reformation schism, was in many respects a misunderstanding. Pope Benedict has recently said the Augsburg Confession—the definitive Lutheran doctrinal statement--is completely consistent with Catholic teaching.

I admit that I am still not happy with the Catholic Church withholding communion from non-Catholic orthodox Christians. I know Pope Benedict remains adamant on this point. But I provided ample Scriptural grounds in my book to refute the Catholic position. Nevertheless, I would never force the point when attending a Mass, out of respect for their faith.

I’m also not totally comfortable with some of the Catholic traditions; but I can say the same for some protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions, as well. Besides, I have discovered in most cases my trouble is not with the founding principles of those problematic traditions but how people have extrapolated them in the course of the centuries. When given a chance, people tend to gravitate toward superstition because it gives them a modicum of control. I have spoken before in this blog of how difficult it is to walk in faith.

The Catholic Church is quite correct in teaching that God understands our need of visual/physical illustrations of His purposes and grace; such are the bases of the sacraments. But when we turn these types into idols, which I have said we are wont to do, we stray from faith. And we cannot do that because faith defines being a kingdom dweller with Christ.

You may ask: aren’t these sacraments something we do to earn our salvation? No doubt it can be interpreted that way. However, I think the whole question of merit and earning salvation has been a wrong one all along in the Western church. A true Christian is so because he/she willingly subjects him/her self to Christ as King—he/she loves Christ first and last by obeying Him.

Therefore, from one perspective, everything done in obedience to Christ could appear to be works we do to earn His favor. But that is wrong. The correct perspective is these acts of obedience—works—evidence that we dwell in Christ’s kingdom by faith. We don’t obey Christ to earn our place in His kingdom; rather, our obedience validates our membership in His kingdom because “the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God (Phil. 2:13 [NET]).” And none of this would be possible had it not been for Christ’s faithfulness—not anything we have done; on this we all agree, whether Roman, orthodox protestant, or Eastern Orthodox.

In every act of obedience we receive grace: grace to inspire our will, grace to act on that inspiration, and grace to become more like Christ. Consequently, technically speaking, all acts of obedience are, therefore, sacraments. Perhaps our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters are closer to the mark in this because they don’t limit the sacraments to seven, as does the Roman church.

Therefore, the sacraments need not be seen as works earning salvation. Instead, they are acts in keeping with our salvation. Certainly, the act of being baptized doesn’t save a person. But if a person refuses to be baptized (notice I said refuses and not prevented), then has that person truly entered into salvation? Has the person truly subjected him/her self to Christ? The question becomes: whom has that person subjected him/her self? Christ? Or is he/she clinging to his/her pride, or familial or sectarian regulations? Only God knows the person’s heart, but such stubbornness doesn't bode well for the person because Christ told us to repent and be baptized. If the person truly dwells in Christ’s kingdom, he/she will want to be baptized.

Let’s stop building walls between us and our brothers and sisters in the Roman and Eastern Orthodox arms of the Christ’s Church. Remember, we are all brothers and sisters solely because we have subjected ourselves completely to Christ and His will. And this subjection is evidenced by a continuous pattern of seeking to obey Christ, not simply a one-time statement of confessing Christ as Lord. And Christ commands us to love one another.

I will close by reminding us of an event during Christ’s ministry:

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say anything bad about me. For whoever is not against us is for us. For I tell you the truth, whoever gives you a cup of water because you bear Christ’s name will never lose his reward (Mark 9:38-41 [NET]).


Anonymous said...

Needing to be said and thanks for saying.