An interesting discussion by Jeremy Pierce on Grace. Basically it delves into the historic divide between Protestantism and Catholicism that’s been around since the days of Martin Luther. (Jeremy is a Calvinist, so his take on the divide and the recent “healing” between Lutherans and Catholics under John Paul II is interesting) That divide is over Grace and the relationship between works and Grace. It’s quite interesting to a Mormon since our view is fairly close to the Catholic one. Thus seeing how Protestants and Catholics start to come to some agreement might be of help for LDS discussions with our Evangelical friends. (Where there is often a divide as great as the historic one between Catholics and Protestants, if not worse)
A select quote to perk ones interest.
For Catholics, justification has generally been thought to be a being declared righteous at the end of one’s life, on the basis of those works that were graciously bestowed on us by the work of God’s Spirit. What’s Pelagian about this is that the works do earn merit, on the basis of which God declares people righteous. What’s Augustinian about it is that the works are a product of the grace of God and not something anyone can do without God’s grace. This is something almost all Protestants fail to grasp about Catholicism. There is no such thing in Catholic teaching as salvation by works in the sense most Protestants talk about when they use that expression. It’s salvation by grace, but that grace saves through the Holy Spirit’s producing of works.
Later on Jeremy gets to a point that is apt. He says,
At the same time, I do think the official Catholic catechism is easily deceptive, and that’s its real danger. I think it’s easy to misunderstand what that catechism teaches and thus think that it really is works that save. I wonder how many thousands of Catholics believe that works will save them. I’m sure I know at least a hundred myself who believe that and are therefore not trusting in Christ but in their own works. Of course, this danger arises from the people who teach that faith saves as well. Those who believe that believing saves you run the danger of giving people the idea that they can earn their salvation by trusting in God hard enough, by having the hope with all their heart that they might have enough faith to be saved. That’s just as much salvation by works as the other, and Protestants run that danger if they don’t teach grace as the foundation of God’s declaration of our righteousness.
Now I think that some attacks on Catholic (or Mormon) conceptions of faith and works simply because some might misunderstand is rather questionable. Sure it happens, but, as Jeremy (as well as both Catholics and Mormons) point out, the simplistic description of salvation by faith in Evangelicalism seems to lead many astray. Probably far more, in my opinion. But then perhaps I’ve just had the misfortune of meeting many people who simply say they believe, have a hope God will save them, and then seem to cut off God’s grace from transforming their lives. It’s hard to take seriously the idea that these people aren’t significantly misled. Further, I think those people are far worse off than someone who is perhaps a tad conceptually muddled on what God does and what we do, but who otherwise recognizes they they ought to live a good life trusting in God.
I do wish to turn all this back to Mormonism. One critique, somewhat justified but highly exaggerated, is that Mormons have a failing of trying too hard. That is, we sometimes get caught up in a mode where we try to do everything – be the perfect Mom, the perfect homemaker, the perfect wife, the perfect person in ones church callings, have the perfect lawn, etc. etc. Now I think I can safely say that most Mormons I know don’t fit into that category. Indeed I think I can safely say that most of us probably could do with a bit more effort in many things, such as helping ones neighbors, being more social, taking care of the poor and so forth. But the fact is that some people get so caught up in “appearances” and appearing righteous that I do think they fall victim to the works fallacy. They forget that the point of the gospel is to turn us to Christ because no matter what we do, we’ll fail on our own. Further, when we are in tune with Christ, we’ll be able to properly prioritize and not be so caught up in the world.
Because that is exactly what I think people who fall into that trap are doing. They’re too caught up in the world. Maybe it isn’t being caught up in the world in the sense of being caught up in a selfish world of partying, sex, drugs, and monetary gain. But it is still viewing religion and the gospel from a worldly perspective. Instead of having ones heart set on why one is doing what one is doing, one is caught up on having things or doing things. One has taken ones focus off that “for the sake of which” that allows us to be our own true self and instead are lost in a world of things. We’ve lost the spirit of the gospel for a fallen technology of the gospel.
Now, as I said, I think this is far more rare than I think many portray. But of course to some degree or an other we all do it. After all we all are fallen people. That’s the point of needing a savior. But it is a point that I think we can agree with the Protestants on – in the sense that some misunderstand. But, on the other hand, if we don’t worry about acting in terms of what God provides us, I think we are putting a dam up against the grace of Christ working through us.
(Note this is cross-posted from my blog. I figured it was general interest enough to be worth posting here.