I find myself wishing for a really good debate with somebody, anybody, on the failings of Sola Scriptura and the inevitable logic of reunion with Rome. The recent Vatican document released on the authenticity of the Protestant churches has made a bit of conversation around this issue possible. Naturally, I find myself in complete agreement with with Vatican's statement - if I didn't I wouldn't have converted - which as ecumenical guru Cardinal Walter Kasper points out, merely states that the Catholic understanding of the word Church is definitively different from the Protestant understanding.
Free Methodists recite the same Apostles' Creed as do Catholics, meaning that they too profess belief in "the holy catholic church" but when they say it they include a silent asterisk which refers to a mental footnote distancing that profession from "the Holy Catholic Church." So this disagreement on the definition of the word is nothing new. Cardinal Kasper states that "no new situation exists and therefore there is no objective reason [for Protestants] to be resentful or to feel mistreated. All dialogue presupposes clarity about the different positions."
I couldn't agree more: one of the devil's tactics is to confuse and spread misinformation. He is called the father of lies for a reason, and it is in his best interest to keep Protestants and Catholics wrangling over the misunderstood issues while the foundational semantics remain unclear.
A classic example is the statement that we are saved by grace. Protestants frequently claim that Catholics require works for salvation, in what they say is direct contradiction with Ephesians 2:8-9 (JB)
This is presented as the argument-stopper when a Catholic states that one must perform acts of penance and charity to claim salvation, in accordance with James 2:14-17 (JB)
Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so tht nobody can claim the credit.
Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. Will that faith save him? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, "I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty," without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.
The point lost in this debate is that works do not save, and faith does not save. What saves us is grace. We are saved at God's pleasure only; he freely gives us salvation. Both faith and works are a response to that grace. If God hadn't given us his grace, no amount of faith (or works) would save us. We may not always respond to grace adequately; usually our response is weak and feeble, but even an attempt to receive his grace is sufficient for him to move in our lives and draw us to his side.
So what if we were able to receive his grace fully, without any corruption or hesitancy or holding back? How often do we retain those secret areas of our lives that we just can't quite let go of? How often is our reception of God's grace hindered by our sinful natures? I venture to say that a perfect reception of God's grace is nearly impossible, unless he gifts us with an ability to respond with a perfect YES.
Which brings me to another sticking point in the Catholic/Protestant debate: Mary. The archangel greets her and calls her "full of grace." Think about that for a moment. Mary was somehow able to take the saving grace of God upon herself fully - she was able to respond with perfect obedience to the word of God once his mission for her became clear: "Let what you have said be done to me." (Luke 1:38 - JB).
Mary then goes on to sing her beautiful canticle, in which she says, "My spirit exults in God my savior." (Luke 1: 47 - JB). Protestants - and I was one of them - use this line to indicate that Mary needed salvation, for who can claim to have a savior when no salvation is needed? The only response is that Mary's salvation has been given through grace, just like any of us. She did not earn it; it was the gift of God. The fact that she was filled with grace does not mean that God didn't provide that grace. What it does mean is that God pre-conditioned her to be able to receive that grace fully. Catholics believe that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin upon her conception - unlike the rest of mankind - which is why she was able to give that perfect YES to God.
Does it seem fair? Why would God preserve Mary and not you? Why not me? Why not Wallace Fitzgibbons of 13 Hampton Road, Chelmsford, UK?
Why is actually quite irrelevant. Take the parable of the vineyard workers, in which Jesus tells of workers who worked for the full day, a partial day, and one hour all being paid the same amount. Any labour union in the world would throw a fit if an employer did that, and in the parable the workers who had worked the longest complained, naturally. But the vineyard owner's response (Matt. 20:14,15 - JB) is:
Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?
Indeed, why? Are we so bound up in our own sin that we are unable to accept that God may choose to free somebody from that burden, especially one who would become a living Ark of the Covenant and retain the very presence of God within her? Scripture makes a point of recording that the original Ark was made out of pure gold (Ex. 37:2,6). Does it not stand to reason that the living vessel of the living God should also be purified?
When all is said and done, I hope and pray that my distant Protestant brethren may come to know these truths as I have, so that I may rejoice with them at the banquet of the Lord's supper and enjoy true communion with them. Lord, if there is any way you can use me to bring this about, I give myself to you for this task. You have given me this burning passion; give me opportunity to fulfill it, and wisdom when those times come.