Friday, January 20, 2006

Catholic-Baptist Dialogue on "Being Good Enough" to Go to Heaven, etc. (vs. "Grubb")

By Dave Armstrong (1-20-06)

This was with "Grubb": our friendly evangelical / Baptist regular, from comment threads below. His words will be in green.


Both Dave and Ben have pleasantly surprised me with their (and apparently the RCC's) view on salvation not being from works. I don't intend any condescension with my comment; I hope no one views it that way.

Here's a practical point that I mentioned in a previous thread but didn't get any replies before the thread fell off the main page.

When I was a RC, I and just about every RC I knew would respond to the question "Why do you think you're going to heaven?" with, "Because I'm a good person." This reply is rampant among RC friends I've had from my earliest recollection until now.

(As I reread this before posting, I realized the following may seem like an accusatory question, but it's not intended to be. It's a genuine concern I have for my RC friends who say it.)

If the RCC's position isn't "You can work your way to heaven" (I'm thrilled to hear you say it isn't), then why do so many RCs reply that they think they're "saved" because they're a good person? This implies that their good works are their key to heaven.

Because, Grubb, like "so many" Protestants also, they don't know their faith nearly as good as they should (catechetics), let alone solid biblical and rational reasons for why we Catholics believe as we do (apologetics).

What does that have to do with Catholic theology itself, though? Nothing that I can see. It does, however, have a LOT to do with inadequate catechesis and the need for apologetics. It's a failure of education in the Catholic Church, not of theology or doctrine. Thus it is obvious why I do what I do. I'm trying to do my part to help Catholics better understand their faith.

That said, I do think it is at least as objectionable for an educated, fair-minded Protestant such as yourself (and former Catholic at that) to also be so uninformed about Catholic theology, that you repeat the same old tired saw that the Catholic Church supposedly teaches "salvation by works", and are "thrilled" to hear that we teach otherwise.

I can't help being thrilled. :-) But even here, an apologetic website, someone conveyed that baptism was a part of salvation and that without it (barring extenuating circumstances) one isn't saved. That can be taken as salvation by the work of baptism, can't it? I'm just giving one example, not trying to start another discussion.

I know PCs have tons of members on the roll who aren't saved . . . of that I have no doubt. But those lost souls have at least been taught salvation by grace. The RCC teaches well the Trinity, Resurrection, and Virgin birth, but many RCs haven't been adequately taught salvation by grace.

Ezekiel 33 warns against watchmen who don't warn the rest of danger, and James 3 warns that teachers (including pastors and priests) will be judged more strictly. It seems to me that a pastor or priest would hammer home this core belief until no one in his congregation says, "I'm going to heaven, because I'm a good person." No pastor or priest can make someone be a true believer, but he must at least remove theological ignorance.

You condemn your own past ignorance in your very condemnation of ignorant Catholics. Many don't understand these things today, but you apparently didn't, either, in all those years as a Catholic, or else you would have simply consulted Trent or Vatican II or a catechism, to be disabused of it. You are just as responsible to better understand the beliefs of fellow Christians, as Catholics are to understand their own beliefs. So you practically cut off the rhetorical limb that you are sitting on.

I'm working on that. :-) Thanks again for hosting this website.

In the end, when discussing anyone's theology, it is senseless to go by the "man on the street," no matter how numerous.

If you ask the average Protestant why he's going to heaven, he won't say, "Because I'm a good person." He'll say something close to "Because Jesus is my Lord and Savior." The average Protestant knows the right answer even if he isn't genuine in his faith. My point was that the average RC that I knew/know doesn't even have the right answer (I exclude the commenters of this website in light of recent conversations) after a lifetime of going to church and Sunday School. And if they don't know the right answer, isn't the RCC failing to teach some of it's core beliefs adequately?

Exactly. Didn't I say that? That's not in dispute.


You determine Catholic theology by going to its official sources, just as you would any particular brand of Protestant theology.

Is that really arguable? If not, why does it continually come up in discussions with Protestants? I've heard about "ignorant Catholics" so often that I could spit. It's perfectly irrelevant to the discussion. All that proves is that there are, well, lots of ignorant Catholics (which everyone already knew, anyway). But there are also plenty of Protestants who are ignorant of what the Catholic Church teaches, as well (and ignorant about their own denominational beliefs). There is plenty of ignorance to go around. So why bother talking about it? We all fight it by better learning our faith and that of others, with some concentrated study.

I confess wholeheartedly I was a semi-ignorant RC. But the reasons I left the RCC are still issues I have to this day even after discussing them extensively on this site, so I wasn't completely ignorant when I left.

Martin Luther believed in baptismal regeneration, and last time I checked, he was the founder of Protestantism. So it's not exactly a "Catholic" notion.

As for Protestants understanding grace alone; that is largely true, yes. But they simply have problems of ignorance in the other direction: they tend to emphasize grace so much that they neglect the fundamental importance of works in exhibiting the presence of that grace. They often don't comprehend that faith and works are inextricably linked. St. Paul repeatedly stresses this, as does, of course, James.

Calvin and Luther understood this very well, but many of today's Protestants don't. The great, hopeful thing is that Catholics and Protestants are quite close in these matters, as recent papers have shown. Even Ken Temple [Baptist regular on my blog] recognized that. Would that both sides could figure this out.

In any event, in EVERY passage in the Bible where Jesus talks about judgment, He always mentions people being saved or lost based on their doing works. NOT ONCE did He ever mention faith or grace. If that doesn't prove that works are supremely important (rightly understood in relation to grace), what will?

So you keep saying that your average Catholic is ignorant about grace, and I'll keep pointing out that your average Protestant is ignorant about the importance of good works in the Christian life. We need each other, because of the distressing human tendency of "either/or" dichotomizing and taking things to extremes, rather than holding them in a proper balance.

Just because Martin Luther didn't abandon it, doesn't mean it isn't a RC notion. He learned that theology as a RC priest before the Reformation. I don't think any PCs currently hold that baptism is a requirement for salvation. It certainly is an act of obedience, but to require it for salvation insinuates salvation by grace and works rather than salvation by grace alone, doesn't it?

Some Presbyterians indeed believe in baptismal regeneration, or something awful close. I believe Alastair Roberts would be an example. But I have observed them discussing it, and even claiming that John Calvin himself agreed with them. It is a tiny minority view in that denomination, though, to be sure.

Oh, if you meant "Protestants" by "PC", there are many Protestants who accept baptismal regeneration: Lutherans, many Anglicans (e.g., C.S. Lewis), many Methodists (including John Wesley himself), Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ . . .

You didn't know that? That's a sorry state of affairs when a Catholic has to educate a Protestant about the beliefs of his own Protestant brothers. Teasing a bit :-) . . .

Yes, I mean Protestant churches by "PC". I figure if I can shorten Roman Catholic church to RCC, then I can shorten Protestant Church to PC. I didn't think about the Presbyterian Church . . . my bad.

Since I left the RCC, I've been in two Bible churches (non-denominational) and one Southern Baptist Church, so I don't know all the finer points of other denominations. I don't mind the teasing; I'm sure I'll have the chance to repay it someday. :-)

The United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church of America, the Church of God, the United Church of God, and all the Baptist denominations I know of all believe that salvation is not a result of baptism. The Church of Christ's website seemed contradictory, so I don't disagree that they think baptism is part of salvation.

Regardless of who supports Baptism as a part of salvation, doesn't it appear that salvation becomes (at least in part) a result of works rather than purely God's gift when something is required?

If "something" is required for salvation, then it becomes a gift that was not freely given but a gift that was given with a condition attached. This seems to contradict Eph 1:4-6.

It is a gift because God performs all the miracles in it. We can pour water on heads or immerse all we like but if God ain't doin' the miracle all that happens is wetness. we don't cause the miracle to take place.

Salvation is a gift that we must accept, like the prisoner accepts a pardon from the governor. It is unavoidable that we have to do SOMETHING (which was the point of my post). To deny that is to deny reality and play unnecessary word games. It's all by grace, Grubb. That doesn't mean we do absolutely nothing, because that is impossible. It's impossible to not do anything, no matter how you look at it, and that includes appropriating the salvation which comes by grace alone.

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