Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ephesians 1:22-23 part two

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23).

Last time we looked briefly at what it means to be part of Christ’s body – the Church. We shouldn't move on in our study of Ephesians without, at the very least, investigating what some Christians mean when they talk about the Church.

In this lesson we will take a look at what the Church means to Protestants and Roman Catholics. By “Protestants” I mean specifically the fellowships my wife and I worshiped and served in for more than 30 years, groups who call themselves (and by practice, are) evangelical Protestants, such as Assemblies of God, Baptist, Church of God, and non-denominational Protestant groups that spun off from those type of churches. Evangelical theology is best illustrated by the works of Protestant leaders such as Billy Graham, A. W. Tozer, Dwight L. Moody, J. Vernon McGee, Oswald Chambers, Bill Bright, and Chuck Swindoll. (A helpful resource that further defines what these groups believe and practice is found here).

It is beyond the scope of this study to present more than an overview of Protestant and Catholic understanding of important doctrinal subjects such as salvation, the Church, and the Scriptures. My intent, however, is to present as accurate as possible a picture of each church's beliefs.

Roman Catholic View of Salvation --

Salvation has to do with one's relationship with God . . . a "friendship" with Him that results from being in a state of Grace. A basic explanation of the Catholic view of salvation might be summed up in the statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (para 830): [In the Church] subsists the fullness of Christ's body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him "the fullness of the means of salvation."

In other words, salvation resides in the Church through the fullness of the faith given by Christ to His Church (through the Apostolic Teaching), and (perhaps especially) through the seven Sacraments (see here, for example).

are external expressions of an internal work of the Holy Spirit. They consist of words and actions that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, unite the person to the Risen Christ in a way that enables him or her to experience and share God’s life-giving love with others. And finally (if we can really say, "finally"), Sacraments are encounters with the Risen Christ through which a person can experience by faith God’s life-giving presence and transformative love.

Thus, by participating through faith in the Sacraments, a person participates in the saving work of God. For example:

The Sacrament of Baptism frees the person from the mastery of sin, in much the same way as the Hebrew people were freed from slavery to Pharaoh. At baptism the Holy Spirit indwells the baptized and brings that person into a familial relationship with God so that, with Jesus, the baptized can now call God, "Abba" (daddy). Some of the many Biblical texts cited in support of the salvific effect of Baptism are found here, here, here and here.

The Sacrament of Confirmation “confirms” that relationship and the salvific work of the Holy Spirit in that person’s life. Confirmation marks an 'adult' commitment to follow Christ in obedience to His commandments (Catholics are often confirmed in their teen years). Some of the Biblical texts to support an adult commitment are found here and here.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist unites the person with Christ in a substantive way, and nourishes him or her for the spiritual journey toward (and in) eternal life by consuming in faith the flesh and blood of Jesus (called “transubstantiation”). Some of the Biblical passages cited in support of this view are found here, here and here.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders (received by deacons, priests or Bishops) confers the privileges of representing Christ to our world in a way reserved only to those called by Christ to this sacrament. Some New Testament passages in support of this view are found here and here. These same texts also are used to support the Sacrament of Penance (Confession). This sacrament is sometimes called the second baptism because it enables a person to confess his or her sins, turn from the wrong way and walk again with Christ. Through this sacrament, the penitent receives forgiveness of his or her sins when confessing to the priest (who is appointed by God to stand "in the place of Christ").

Through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, a man and woman reflect the relationship Jesus has with His Church (His Bride) on earth. For example, see here.

The Sacrament of the Sick (Last Rites) is celebrated with those who are seriously ill or dying so they may experience God's strength and peace. Through this Sacrament, the person is also offered a final opportunity to confess his or her sins and receive absolution (forgiveness). See texts such as here, here and here.

Each Sacrament is rooted in New Testament Scriptures, and can be traced to Christian faith as early as the first and second centuries. For more information, see here. Or, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church and search "sacraments."

For Catholics, salvation is an ongoing process rooted in continuing in the faith and evidenced by works appropriate to salvation. For example, see here, here , here and here. Now let's take a look at how evangelical Protestants view salvation.

The Catholic Church (post-Vatican II) recognizes baptized non-Catholics to be Christians. For example, see here, and here.

Evangelical Protestant View of Salvation --

The evangelical Protestant view of Salvation can be summed up in Biblical texts such as Ephesians 2, or Romans 10, Romans 3, or Galatians 2 -- and many others which link faith (and associated repentance before God) with salvation. For a broadly applicable example of an evangelical "Statement of Faith," see here for the Assemblies of God, or here for a Baptist statement.

Please note the similarities in the Assemblies of God and the Baptist views of salvation – that being, salvation is conferred by Christ on the basis of a personal confession of sins to God, in which a person asks God's forgiveness on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Evangelical Protestants also make it clear to the penitent that he or she must also live a holy lifestyle by obeying Christ. Having made this confession, by faith the person is immediately “born again” into the kingdom of God.

For many evangelicals, salvation is recognized as a one-time event. A person is saved immediately upon confession of sins to God through Christ. When that person dies -- whether a minute later, or fifty years later, evangelicals believe that person enters immediately into God's presence (assuming the person has lived a faithful life). There is no concept of Purgatory in evangelical thought because his or her confession -- and subsequent confessions of sins committed after the initial prayer of salvation -- completely erased all sins for which the person was guilty. See here and here, for examples.

In many evangelical Protestant churches, Baptism is an “ordinance” of the Church and is considered a symbolic “dying to self” and being raised to new life in Christ -- for example, here and here.

Holy Communion is a symbol of Christ’s death and atonement, and through partaking of Holy Communion, the participants rededicate themselves repeatedly to obedience to Christ in all things.

Confirmation, likewise, occurs repeatedly in the evangelical Protestant’s Christian life as he or she rededicates himself or herself to Christ -- most often done through personal prayer.

Confession of sin occurs when the penitents confess their sins directly to God and repent. Confession and repentance have very deep significance to evangelicals who want to serve Christ and please Him above all things.

Marriage is a solemn occasion and, as in Catholic faith, is understood to represent Christ and His Church on earth.

What Catholics call Holy Orders, Protestants regard as a singular call of God on a person’s life to devote himself or herself to full-time Christian ministry (for example, as a pastor or missionary). And, finally, what Catholics call the Sacrament of the Sick, evangelical Protestants recognize as a prayer for the sick. Because evangelical Protestants believe in the "priesthood" of all believers (for example, see 1 Peter 2), they believe all Christians -- laity or pastor -- have the privilege and duty to share the gospel message of salvation and forgiveness with everyone they meet . . . including and especially those near death.

So, there you have it: A brief (but reasonably accurate) comparison of the theological views of evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics related to salvation. Next time we will look at the differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs with regard to the Pope, Mary and the Scriptures. I hope you will find it valuable.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What do you think are the similarities of doctrine/theology between evangelical Protestants and Catholics? What are the differences?

2. What might be the common ground for each group to discuss the concept of unity among all baptized believers?

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