Monday, November 13, 2006

Another Bad Reason Not to Become Catholic

Since I began commenting on Alvin Kimels Reason #1 not to become Catholic, I decided that I will follow and comment on this blog his Bad Reason #2 and what appears to be a series.

The #2 Bad reason is: "The Catholic Church formally teaches that sinners must earn their way into heaven through good works."

I have long seen this as one of the long standing misunderstandings that emerged out of the Reformation. So, again I do not take issue with the idea that this is a bad reason not to become Roman Catholic. Alvin also picks up on what is the liguistic problem around this issue and it is arround the language of "merit". My own gut responce to his discussion of merit I think give some creedence to his assertion that on the issue of the human role in salvation is the point at which the Reformation and Roman Catholicism part ways.

Yet, as many of my readers know (and as I have argued with Alvin in the past) I assert along with Braaten and Jensen that the Reformation properly understood is catholic and orthodox. My claim though (and this needs to be understood to follow my argument) is not that Reformation theology needs to judge the tradition but that there is continuity with the tradition. Also, I will refrain from attempting to speak for the Reformed (if any Reformed readers whish to jump in here feel free), and it is my sense that for Calvinists when Alvin claims that the Reformantion wants to keep any human factor out of the equation of our salvation and that certainty in these matters is the goal of Reformation thinking. From a Lutheran Pietist perspective both miss the point of the Reformation, while we must admit (since we have resisted this line of thinking) that it is true that both of these accusations are true of some or many Lutherans.

Existentially it is true that the underlying imputus of Luther's quest and then suggested reforms and eventual break with Rome had to do with Luther's obssession with his lack of certainty surounding his salvation. Luther's "discovery" of justification of faith by grace alone freed him from this uncertainty and lead him first to object to the sale of indulgences. Let us be clear and fair, at the time of Luther 'merit' had taken on the crass transactionalims Alvin stresses is a misconstrual. "Merit" in fact for some had taken on a monetary significance, and in some sense was something one could purchase and earn. This is not to say that this is Catholic teaching but if my memory serves me correctly it was an understanding not only tollerated but encouraged by some officials of the church. All of this certainly has made its mark on those church's that emerge out of the Reformation. And for some Lutherans it is true to guard the certianty that Luther won for us and to guard against the abuses of the Late Middle ages around the concept of "merit" this language even the idea was abandoned.

However, this emphasis emerged as problematic and as ultimately betraying the Reformation (again I am telling this from a Lutheran Pietist perspective) in that by removing all human participation in our salvation, all there was for the Christians was to go through empty motions and ascent to empty doctrines. One was batpised and memorized the catechism but nothing happened everything remained the same, there was no life. The deadness that Luther's search was struggling against had retruned with a vengence.

So, Lutheran Pietists asserted that all of this was pointless unless passing through the watters of baptism and faith actually and truely changed us, made us different gave us new life. Thus when von Balthasar as quated in the post suggests replacing "merit" with "fruitfulness", this Lutheran Pietist thinks, oh why of course that makes sense. After all it was the lack of "fruitfulness" that lead us to object to the Lutheran orthodoxy that set itself to guard against uncertainty and to guard against human sharing in our own salvation.

A difference still remains Lutheran Pietism would never say we 'merit' our final salvation, and yet that is in fact how we live and how my parents raised me to live my faith. We may not have the language but we have the life of faith of 'merit'. We are after all called to live as though we merit salvation even though our salvation is by grace through faith. We live it though always through grace and out of our baptism. We are called to run the race and finish, though we only began it because of Christ and God's grace, we would not have begun it on our own.

Thus while I would not have used these exact words I find myself able to affirm the concluding sentences of the post: "But the gospel does not guarantee me my final salvation apart from my repentance, cooperation, and faithfulness. It only guarantees me the absolute love and mercy of the hound of heaven who will chase me relentlessly unto glory. The gospel promises me that God has given me and will give me sufficient and abundant grace to appropriate the freely-offered gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. But he will not take away my freedom. He loves me too much to do so."

We Lutheran Pietist though I think wish to affirm the "sufficiency and abundance" which is all the certainty we need. In some sense if Lutheran Pietism does represent the life of the Refomation I think then that Reformational understandings of salvation properly understood show their catholicity just as the theological language of 'merit' properly understood does not mean that we earn our salvation.

powered by performancing firefox