Saturday, June 22, 2013

Death's on Your Doorstop

This afternoon, my front doorbell rang multiple times, insistently. Liberty mumbled, "That's annoying" and went to answer the door. The man on the front steps asked him, "Do you speak Spanish?" "No," Liberty said. The visitor handed him the following pamphlet and left without saying anything.

Cover of the pamphlet

When Liberty showed this picture to me, he wondered what would have happened if he had replied yes, he does speak Spanish. He quipped that the visitor then would have revealed himself as the Mexican grim reaper and would have taken a scythe to his head.

All joking aside, it is true that Death can appear on any of our doorsteps at any moment, as this quote from my friend Evangeline's email signature says: "Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?"

Is living a holy life the way to get to heaven and avoid hell? The little pamphlet with the grim reaper on the cover claims that all you need to do for salvation is to believe in Jesus and accept Jesus as your personal savior. The pamphlet quotes Ephesians 2:8-10: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." And it quotes number of other verses that are frequently used to try to prove only faith is needed. In Latin, that belief is referred to as sola fide. Protestants sometimes refer to the related notion that we cannot lose our salvation as "blessed assurance" or "once saved always saved (OSAS)." OSAS is not a Catholic doctrine. During my sojourn as a fundamentalist Christian when I was (unknowningly) on my way back to the Catholic Church, I scoffed at the Catholic teachings and accused the Church of teaching Eternal Jeopardy.

Catholics don't usually memorize Bible verses the way Protestants do, and so they can easily get led astray by someone who appears at the front door with a string of Bible verses ready to support whatever interpretation their denomination believe in.

You should know that taking a verse or a number of verses out of context from the Bible to prove a point is called proof texting. Catholics have to keep in mind that the teachings of the Catholic Church are based on the entire revelation of Christ, including both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, not on isolated verses cherry picked from books of the Bible and strung together. The Church teaches we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and the Sacrament of Baptism is necessary, but that we also need to "work out our salvation in fear and trembling." A person who lapses into sin after Baptism and does not repent is in as much danger of eternal damnation as if he never believed.

People that believe in OSAS have trouble with the actual doctrine taught by Christ's Church. My friend, Rita, told me a few days ago about a now-fervent Catholic who almost walked out of classes that she was taking to prepare for being received into the Catholic Church when she first discovered that Catholic church does not teach "once saved always saved."

The truth is what St. James wrote in his second letter, verses 14-24. Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

"Being saved" is a Protestant formulation anyway. Christ died to redeem us from sin and death. But we need to become like Him. We are going to be judged and deemed worthy or not of heaven by works, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. These are the actual words of Christ [Matthew 25:31-46]

No matter what the pamphlets may say, we do not get an automatic pass into heaven if we merely accept Jesus as our personal savior. "Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 7:23

My reading of some of the writings of Luther gave me to understand that Luther struggled unsuccessfully with sins of impurity. To me it seems obvious that his doctrine that Christ's sacrifice hides our sinfulness from God the Father was formulated from his losing battle. Luther rejected books of the Bible that contradicted his formulations. Because St. James's 2nd letter denied OSAS, Luther dismissed it as "the epistle of straw."

This is a good discussion of the issue on Catholic Forum

This link hasthe entire 2nd letter of St. James

St. James also quotes Jesus as saying even the devils believe. And they certainly aren't saved.

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