Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

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Grace and Works

In two previous posts, I expressed concerns I have about Catholics attending non-Catholic bible studies due to unbiblical assumptions that Catholics unwittingly incorporate into their thinking, making certain teachings from the Church difficult for them to swallow. On more than one occasion I have heard comments from Catholic adults say things like, ‘I just don’t buy the Mary thing;’ Or, ‘where is that teaching found in God’s Word;’ or ‘I don’t need to go to confession if I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior;’ etc. You can read the posts dealing with these faulty either/or suppositions on Mary here, and the Sacraments here. The point is, all of the teachings of the Catholic Church are found in God’s Word, because God’s Word is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14.) I am not at all opposed to ecumenical discussion and mutual study of the Sacred Scriptures. I am simply pointing out that, as Catholics, we need to be aware that often non-Catholic Christians assume either/or oppositions we don’t assume. In this last post in the series, I wish to briefly discuss one last either/or assumption that deals with grace and human effort. The Protestant Reformers argued that grace is a free gift from God. No problem there. However, they further taught that human effort was opposed to the gratuitous nature of this gift. In other words, if you have to do something to receive grace, it is not free. For many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, this is the issue of the Reformation. When it comes to salvation, either God is doing everything, or He requires our help, which is where the works come in. If a believer must have faith and...

The Touch of Grace

In my previous blog, I shared some concerns I have regarding Catholics who attend some non-Catholic bible studies. As I indicated, I often discover in their thinking assumptions that are un-biblical. I summarized these in a series of either/or assertions: either you go to Christ, or Mary and the saints; either you receive grace spiritually (not sensibly) or you don’t receive it at all; and grace is either a free gift, or you have to do something, which means that its not free. In this post, I wish to examine the second another either/or assumption that can be unknowingly be presupposed in the understanding of our relationship with Christ. I summarize it as follows: either grace is given spiritually, or it’s not given at all. If some Christian (here read Catholic) tells you that you must enact some ritual (i.e. the Mass, or some other Sacrament,) to receive grace instead of a pure profession in Christ, he is placing an obstacle between you and Christ. At first glance, this certainly seems correct. God is pure spirit. His life and power come from His own eternal reality as pure spirit. Grace, the gift of His life and power to human creatures, is therefore a spiritual reality, and benefits us in our spirit. Therefore, grace must be received spiritually, or it’s not received at all. If God had not become man in Christ, I would completely agree with this. However, the reality of the Incarnation reveals the mystery of God’s new relationship with creation: The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us! (Jn 1: 14.) This means that the pure, eternal Spirit–God– has now permanently and irrevocably wed Himself to His creation by taking it unto Himself as Jesus Christ, the God-man, and now acts through His material world. This...

Mary, Mother of the Both/And...

In my career as a Catholic catechist, I have noticed that one of the problems with Catholics attending some non-Catholic bible studies is that they begin to integrate assumptions that are actually non-biblical. These assumptions not only make it difficult to understand the bible in the spirit in which it was written, to paraphrase the Catechism, but also undercuts the foundation on which so many of our Catholic beliefs are based. The assumptions that undercut orthodox belief can be summed up in a series of either/ors: Either one goes directly to Christ or indirectly (here read superfluously) to another; Either Grace is given to us spiritually or it is not given to us at all (i.e. through visible/sensible means); Grace is either a free gift or we must do something to receive it, in which case it is no longer free. With these either/or assumptions, Catholic belief becomes untenable as a Christian faith system. This is why so many Protestants think that it is their duty to save us from certain damnation. But are these assumptions themselves biblical? In these next few blog entries, I intend to show how they are not only unbiblical, but that they attack an orthodox understanding of Christ. Today, I would like to examine the view that either we go to Christ, or we go to Mary. According to this view, prayers to Mary and the saints are at best superfluous, at worst, an evil distraction that get in the way of “pure” belief in Christ. The deeds and teachings of Christ and His Apostles in the New Testament offer clarity on the matter. There are so many references that show us how closely Christ identifies Himself and His mission with other men that...

Wasting Money on the Poor; Wasting Time on the Dysfunctional...

Last spring I went to a lecture by Peter Brown, an expert on “Late Antiquity” (a time period centered around the early centuries of Christianity). The lecture dealt with the massive cultural and economic changes which occurred in the Roman empire due to the distinctively Christian way of conceiving the poor. Here’s more or less how Professor Brown put it: In pagan Rome, it was seen as socially irresponsible to give your money to the poor. Why? Well because it wouldn’t do any good. You’d give to the poor, they’d spend it, and then they’d be right back where they started from. So you’d be blowing your money on something with no long-term benefits. If you want to help society, do something that would improve the social infrastructure – don’t waste it on hopeless individuals. But then Jesus came along and told his followers that if you give your money to the poor, you’ll be “laying up treasure in Heaven.” Now once this idea took off, the poor became hugely important, since, after all, Christ had basically said that they were the currency exchange people for the next life. The poor were the folks who could change your Earth-bucks into Heaven-bucks, so it was a very savvy financial move to give them your money. Which is why, according to Brown, the poor became such a major factor in the economics of Christendom. Because in the Christian system it is wise to waste your money on the poor. So I thought that was interesting. Then this fall I got to go to a lecture by Leon Kass, who’s a sort of public intellectual figure. His presentation was on the “new poverty” in America – a poverty not characterized by material...
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