A Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

Catechism ClipsA Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

 James R. Aist

I was a Roman Catholic for 20 years of my adult life. There are a number of things about the Roman Catholic Church with which I agree, and admire and appreciate. And I know several Roman Catholics who, by all indications, are born-again Christians, as I am. But I do have one concern in particular that I feel compelled to share with you.

To the best of my knowledge, the most important single doctrine of the Christian church is the doctrine of salvation, for it is what you believe (or, more precisely, in whom you believe!) about salvation that will ultimately determine your eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell. I developed the case (click HERE) for the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not by either works alone or faith plus works. In the official Roman Catholic Catechism posted on the Vatican website, under the heading “Merit” (click HERE), the following paragraph speaks about the roles of “merit” (the particular term used in this Catechism to mean “good works” or “good deeds”) in the life and eternal destiny of the believer:

“2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” (italics mine).

Here is the (italicized) excerpt to which I want to draw your attention: “…we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces neededfor the attainment of eternal life.” Now, with the understanding that “merit” is taken to mean “good works” or “good deeds” in this Catechism, what this paragraph is saying is that, once we are saved, our good works will earn for us the grace needed for eternal life.  Thus, it appears that the Roman Catholic Church clearly teaches a salvation doctrine of faith (in Jesus Christ) plus good works (merit), rather than the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, and not by works.

Now, you may have the impression that this is probably a trivial and meaningless distinction, but let me bring to your attention the following words of the apostle Paul in this regard:

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28);

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3);

and now, the clinchers…

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). In other words, if you are trying to justify yourself by your good works, then you are alienated from Christ and have fallen away from the very grace that is necessary to attain eternal life, rather than having earned that grace by your good works!

AND

For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:13-15). That is to say, if you depend on your good works to qualify you for heaven, then your faith (in Jesus) is nullified and the promise (of eternal life) through that faith is worthless.

AND

“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5). In other words, if your salvation is wages for your good works, then it is not by grace (a free gift) that you are saved. But if your salvation is a result of your faith in Jesus, then you are saved by grace, not by works.

AND, in Jesus’ own words…

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29). No “works” at all are required, in the usual sense of the word, for one to be saved; only faith is required (belief).

How, then can we understand James 2:14-26, which seems to imply that works play a necessary role in our salvation? When one takes this passage in its entirety, it becomes evident that James is talking about two kinds of “faith” here. One kind is the same as the demons have, is dead, does not lead to salvation and does not produce good works. It is merely “mental ascent” to certain facts about the things of God.  The other kind of faith is alive, leads to salvation (i.e., it is “saving faith”) and produces good works. The good works are a result of, and evidence of, the kind of faith that saves, but they are not what brings about salvation; only saving faith does that.

One might reasonably summarize the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James on faith and works as they relate to salvation with this paraphrase: “A special kind of faith is required for salvation. It is a faith that leads to good works. The good works are evidence that one has “saving faith”, but they do not help one earn a place in heaven. God requires only that we have saving faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for heaven; the good works will follow naturally after one is saved.”

It would seem to me that the distinction I am making here is neither trivial nor meaningless; rather, it is vital and necessary for the attainment of eternal life, according the Bible, that is. For this reason, I sincerely hope that you will weigh my concern carefully, and then make any necessary adjustments, if any, to your professed doctrinal belief regarding salvation. After all, this is the doctrinal belief upon which your very eternal destiny hinges!

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

The Mass Deposit

English: The Louvre museum as seen from the ri...The Mass Deposit

 James R. Aist

 This cute little story took place in June of 1972. I had just completed a postdoctoral research study in Zurich and had the unique opportunity to travel around Europe for about three months before starting my new job as an Assistant Professor at Cornell University. My wife and I had an eleven-month-old daughter, Beverly, who was our first-born and our pride and joy. After a brief stay in the Swiss Alps, we headed for Paris to begin our tour of Europe. Being the faithful Roman Catholics that we were, we were determined to attend Mass on the coming Sunday morning. Since we also planned to take a guided tour of the prestigious Louvre Museum after lunch, we found a church just across the river Seine from the Louvre and attended Mass there. This was a very old, smallish, rather ornate Catholic church that, from the outside, gave the impression of a mini-cathedral. Everything about that Mass was done in the high-church tradition, if you know what I mean. The Sanctuary was only about one-third full, and most of the worshipers seemed to be very devout, and very serious, little old ladies. Both the Sanctuary and the proceedings were quite formal and dignified, and we stood out as obviously being American tourists. Or so it seemed to us, anyway. We were determined to be just as formal and dignified as the others, so as not to draw attention to ourselves and distract from the very somber and serious tone of the Mass. We knew that would be a tall order, what with our baby daughter and all, but we were hoping that her generous breakfast of mother’s milk would keep her satisfied, at least until the Mass had ended. But we were definitely not prepared for what happened next.

Everything was fine until about mid-way through the Mass. Beverly began to get fidgety, as one might expect of a young baby, and we had no other way of keeping her from “crying out loud” (literally) than to let her down to the floor so that she could crawl around a bit. We were reluctant to put her down, however, because that floor was visibly dusty and dirty as one might expect in such an ancient church with limited finances for upkeep. We were afraid that she would get dirty crawling around on the floor, and we didn’t want to have to take her through the Louvre looking like that. Besides, what would those dear little old ladies think of us if Beverly would happen to get away from us for even a moment and begin to crawl up the center aisle, creating a spectacle? But we had no choice really, so down she went. I was sitting next to the center aisle, so it fell to me to keep her corralled. Everything seemed to be going just fine at first, so I began to pay more attention to the Priest than to Beverly. Next time I checked on her, she wasn’t there! So I wheeled around in the pew, and there she was in the middle aisle on her hands and knees about half-way back to the front door of the church. When she saw me looking at her, she turned around and began crawling back to me. So, as inconspicuously as possible (relevant factoid: I’m six feet-five inches tall and weigh well over 200 pounds!) I crouched down,  got slowly out of the pew, quietly made my way back to her and picked her up. And that’s when I saw it. There was a trail on the floor behind her consisting of five or six little brown balls that had bailed out of her diaper while she was crawling back to me! Needless to say, I had a mixed reaction to this development. On the one hand, the scenario – all things considered – was hilarious beyond belief. But on the other hand, I didn’t dare even crack a smile, much less laugh out loud, for fear of creating a scene that would seriously compromise the solemnity and dignity of the Mass. So, as quickly and as quietly as possible, I returned the little darling to her mother, secured a couple of facial tissues from the “baby bag”, and retraced my steps to the scene of the “crime” and retrieved the “mass deposit” that Beverly had innocently left in the center aisle for all to see. Little did I know that it would be Beverly who would make the floor “dirty” and not the other way around!  And, I could see from the looks on the faces of all those devout  little old ladies that it was all they could do to keep from bursting into laughter themselves.

I have to admit that we were eager for the Mass to end, so that we could get out of there and give vent to our pent-up laughter; it really was a hoot! And God still laughs to this day every time I tell this story. If you listen carefully, you can hear Him now. He’s the one with the deep-pitched, booming laughter.

(For more articles on TRUE TALES, click HERE)