Monday, December 29, 2008

Do Catholics Believe in Faith Alone?

I am a convert so if I make a mistake in the following article, please do not hesitate to correct me.

A few evangelicals accuse Catholics of having a works based faith. It is assumed that because Catholics put emphasis on obedience to God that we must therefore believe that it is our own efforts that save us. If we Catholics really thought that our own actions could get us to heaven then other Christians would have a right to criticize us.

Catholics take Eph 2:8-10 seriously. 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. It is grace alone that justifies us, and that Grace gets applied to us when we have faith.

A search in the Catholic Catechism for the word justification will yield evidence that Catholics do not believe that our own human works can save us. From the Cathecisim 1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ"... and 1996 Our Justification comes from the grace of God, Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God....

Yet, I still occasionally have Protestant friends argue that I, as a Catholic, believe that my works alone save me Why such confusion when every Catholic source I have ever read puts emphasis on the fact that it is Grace which saves us?

It's my opinion that the real problem is how the word, "faith", is defined. Faith is more then simple belief. James 2:19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

Faith is not just belief, it isn't just a strong, emotional reaction. Yes, I realize that some people define the word, faith to mean feeling really positive that God exists and that Jesus is his son. The problem with this definition of faith is that it leaves people confused when they have times of doubt or spiritual dry spells. It also leaves some people feeling as if they should always be at the top of an emotional high in order to have real faith.

When we read the New Testament as a whole, an entire book, instead of taking verses out of context to discover tortured theological truths(How is that for an Alliteration?)we discover that
the Bible speaks a lot about what we have to do as Christians not just how much belief that we should place in Christ. This is because active faith is not just believing, its also a combination of works. Belief and works make up faith.

Once, a man I knew told me in touching detail how much he adored his wife. He informed me that she was the most beautiful woman that he had ever met, she was perfect in every way. I am sure that he felt some intense emotion for his wife, but I also learned later, from several sources, that he was physically abusing her. So, did her love her? Certainly he felt something for his wife but in order for us to call his feelings love he would have had to acted differently toward her. Most people understand that the individual's personal feelings have to be combined with actions in order to be termed love.

The same is true of faith. Can you really say that an individual has faith if he doesn't obey God? Jesus said, He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.

I am sure that many of us have had the experience of listening to a fellow Christian defend their actions with the words, "But God knows my heart." Whether it be adultery or having sex before marriage, certain Christians will put more emphasis on the importance of their feelings toward God and not the obedience that he expects. And no, I am not judging these people, because I am pretty certain that there have been moments in my life when I assumed that God just wanted me to feel his presence without the bother of following his commandments. But can such a person-and I am including my past self- be said to have real faith if they ignore what they must know God wishes them to do?

So, do Catholics believe in faith alone? Do Catholics believe that their faith saves them?

Actually, I don't think that any Christian should say that their faith saves them because that is not what the Bible says. It is God's Grace that saves us. As I wrote before, Grace gets applied to us when we have faith.

I think that instead of the words 'faith alone', Catholics(and many Protestants, by the way) should say that they believe in Grace Alone.

Friday, December 26, 2008

First Time, Cheerful Obedience Rant

Despite homeschooling and being an exfundamentalists, I was unaware of the concept of either first time obedience or cheerful obedience. It wasn't until some, intrusive older lady tried to 'correct' my parenting that I began to research different "Christian" parenting methods. Apparently some of my former Independent Baptist Church Members were concerned because I counted to three when my younger two girls disobeyed. They wanted my kids to immediately obey with big smiles on their face.

To be honest, their advice creeped me out. I had always got compliments on my kids behavior without expecting them to 'ask how high when I told them to jump". So, I was confused as to why anyone would complain about my parenting methods when they obviously considered my kids polite and well mannered.

What I discovered was that the 'ideal' fundamentalist parent had children who could sit perfectly still and quiet through a hour service, never disturbed talking grownups and obeyed quickly with a big, wide, happy grin. No, my kids are not 'ideal'. Yes, they whine and get grumpy sometimes. We've had issues with them that we have to work on as a family together. But we manage to deal with these problems without breaking our children's spirits down.

Several aspects of my childhood influenced me to strongly disagree with 'cheerful' obedience. (although I think kids and adults should be polite)First, my mother was abusive and she expected quick obedience and for us to hide our emotions. We had to be outwardly happy when we were actually very upset. Startlingly enough, I can understand the motives behind children who kill their parents. At one point, I was very, very angry with my mom, no matter how much I smiled. If my mother had used religion as a basis for her actions, I have no doubt that I would have hated God instead. Emotionally, it is easier for a child to hate an unseen entity then a parent. I wonder how many atheists and pagans were brought up to fear that any expression of anger toward their Christian parents equalled disloyalty to God. What a burden to place on a young child's shoulders.

I've always valued the ability to think for one self and not follow the crowd. My goal as a parent is to teach my kids that rebelling against the societal norm for what one considers morally right is the correct thing to do. Ultimately, I want my children to not just be good but to be noble. Part of being noble is learning to balance respect for authority with the ability to question and perhaps stand against the same authority.

My youngest son went through a period when he felt angry often. We worked with him, discussing the best way to handle anger and how to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle his temper. It took some time but I am grateful that I was able to see that he had a problem. What if he had been trained that the only legitimate emotion for a Christian to feel was happiness? Would he have swallowed down his anger only to have it reemerge when he had power over someone else?

I believe that God gives us warnings by allowing us to feel negative emotions. From a human vantage a situation or person can seem wonderful, but our emotions, instinct-God- is nudging us and trying to warn us. How does an adult brought up to believe that they should deny their emotions and only be cheerful handle situations in which they come under the authority of a evil person masquerading as a Christian? They won't know that they can trust their own instincts or that the icky feelings that they are experiencing might actually be God warning them.

My main problem, though, with cheerful, first time obedience is spiritual. I have trouble asking kids to do something that we as Christian adults do not do. I do not always obey God without whining. When it is cold out, I whine about attending church, I whine about saying my prayers, I whine about a lot of my obedience. God wants our hearts so even if I smile outside, he wants my inner smile and I don't always give it to him. Often the changes that have occurred in me as a Christian were accompanied by a lot of inner tantrums on my part. Learning to forgive my mom was something that I complained, whined and moaned about. I am probably one of God's 'difficult' children. LOL

God understands that we are a work in progress. In first time, cheerful obedience, the parent is expecting more perfection on the part of the child toward a fallible human then the parent is likely giving to God. That really bothers me.