Letters to a Roman Catholic religious ed. teacher

This series of letters gave me an opportunity to testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and point to the root of the problem in the Roman Catholic faith that keeps it from the blessings of the true Gospel.


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The following letter, which eventually prompted a written response, ultimately gave me a chance to share the Gospel with a Roman Catholic religious education teacher.

My son had talked to this teacher about certain required-for-belief teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The teacher had sent my son home with verses that the teacher had used in support of the Roman Catholic doctrine which insists that faith plus good works are required for salvation as opposed to faith alone in Christ.

This first letter is my response to the teacher to refute the church's interpretation of the verses the teacher had given my son. --Bro. Jim

 

Dear Roman Catholic religious education teacher

First, I would like to sincerely thank you for telling my son what it is that the Roman Catholic Church truly teaches regarding salvation, namely, that both faith and works are necessary for attaining salvation. While I couldn’t disagree more with that teaching, it is indeed refreshing to know that some people actually teach others what the church tells them to teach.

As for the verses you gave my son to prove certain points, I am glad that you are directing him to God’s word for answers. However, concerning the exact verses you gave my son to prove particular points, again we would be at odds.

Clearly the verse from 2 Peter (offered again below) is no proof that a Christian can lose their faith. It describes instead false teachers and their destructive effect on the church. These verses describe those who have no faith just a “knowledge” of the faith. Thus they are described in the proverb as “dogs.” It is worse for them that they pretended to have faith and worse for them because they may have led even true believers astray—for a time. Christ tells us that even the Antichrists of the world, as deceptive as they are, will not be able to lead true Christians away from him: “For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” (Matthew 24:24)

(“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit.’”)

Speaking of the “elect” that Christ himself eluded to in the verse from Matthew, you reportedly put forth the verse 1 John 2:2 to maintain that Christ died for all. If that were true, why is it that Christ himself would pray to the Father: “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:9)  He specifically does not pray for the world but for his disciples. Later he tells the Father that his prayer is not for the disciples alone but for all those who come to believe in him: “for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one..” (17:20)  If Christ refuses to even pray for the world, how is it that the church has come to believe that he died for the world?  As Christ explains a few verses later, he simply wants the Father to let the world know by the unity of these believers that they are loved by God.

I understand your discussion with my son also involved the concept that it is we who choose Christ and not Christ who chooses us. Your explanation was that in John 15:16 that Christ was specifically talking to the apostles and no one else. But returning you again to John 17, (verse 24) we read of Jesus praying: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory….”

In addition, Christ tells us in John 6:37, 6:44 and 6:64 that no one can come to him unless the Father either grants it or draws him to Christ. In Luke 10:22, Christ insists “…no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”  In Ephesians 1, Paul tells us believers were chosen in him (God) before the creation of the world and predestined to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ—also see Romans 9.  We are told that he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will—not ours. St. Augustine warned us about our so-called “free-wills.”

Finally, you offered my son the verses in Matthew 25 about Christ at the end time separating the sheep and the goats to indicate that works are necessary, along with faith, to attain heaven. I can certainly see how these verses could be easy misinterpreted without a close reading. That close reading would include the verse (25:34) “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Here again, Christ clearly indicates that these “sheep” are those the Father has blessed to inherit the kingdom—a  kingdom that was specifically prepared for them from the foundation of the world. If we read the remaining verses in this light—in context—the meaning is made much clearer. These were those given the gift of faith, thus they produced works not “for” their salvation but “because” of their salvation. “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) As a former Roman Catholic, this has become the most comforting of promises.

Again, while I appreciate you pointing my son to the scriptures for all of this, the problem is that you apparently believe that some verses say one thing and other verses say quite the opposite. Yet, I am very much convinced that God’s word does not conflict with God’s word. Instead, it explains it in very reasonable terms for all who believe.

Again, I appreciate the fact that you are doing exactly what you are assigned to do in your position with the church. My son would like for me to meet with you someday. While I don’t know that that is necessary, I would be glad to do so.

Sincerely,

Jim Mitchell

 

Much to my surprise, about eight months later, the religious education teacher responded to my letter . Having decided that I was a Calvinist, he provided the the following and ended with Bible verses he felt refuted my position (My response follows this letter):

 

Dear Mr. Mitchell,

I appreciate the cordial tone of your letter first off, but I would also like to address a couple of misconceptions that I left by the short list of proof texts, First, I do NOT want to leave the impression that the Catholic Church teaches “works” righteousness as a grounds for salvation. The Catholic Church teaches salvation by “Grace Alone,” but NEVER by “Faith Alone.” For it is “God who works in us both to will and to do” His good pleasure (good works which ARE necessary for salvation are ALSO a product of God's free Grace.)  It is GOD alone who begins the work of faith in men. Only a pelagian (of whom some Protestants groups are) would say that mankind is in good enough shape “post fall” to be able to choose God and be saved. It ain't happenin’.... However, I will address a few of the points you make to me in your letter just so you'll have a better idea of what we do teach.

First, the paradigm of faith versus works as being needed for salvation is both/and NOT either/or. God didn't set up His plan of salvation throughout the Old Covenant (commonly referred to as the covenant of works), both in its requirements, rewards, prophecies and types, just to all of the sudden say, “Okay now that Christ is here ALL is fulfilled, so all you need is faith, your lifestyle, keeping of My law and NOTHING else maters, just your faith.” It's both....Faith is the beginning of the journey. Life is a path of discipleship and how you follow the Master has eternal consequences. Christ fulfilled the law, atoned for sin, and fulfilled the Divine plan of redemption in every way, but that NEVER changes or mitigates our need for a response. 

It's not either/or in most of these issues you bring up. Did God choose us in Christ before the world began? Yes. The Catholic Church teaches predestination. It didn't somehow "miss her attention." Is that All that there is to that question??? NO! The Church teaches that in addition to the mystery which WE cannot know (whether or not we are elect), we have ALSO the True Truth that WE are wholly responsible for our CHOICE and our continued CHOICES. It's not a "once I chose to give my heart to Jesus i have NO more eternal choices to make, it's more like EVERY DAY “pick up your cross and follow Him.”

God has, unfortunately for some, created man with free will to choose whether or not he will follow God's plan of salvation. God's grace precedes that choice. God gives that grace equally to all, but, unfortunately, not all choose Him. The Bible is replete with verses which say this. The Catholic Church didn't somehow wake up after 2000 years and say, “Hey do you mean I need faith to be saved?” But the protesters, (Luther and then many others riding his coattails), DID invent a doctrine that was not a fulfillment of the Old Covenant, nor of the teaching of the New Covenant; “faith alone.” The Church also doesn't buy into “Proof Text Theology.” In other words, she doesn't go to maybe 10 different Bible verses and build an entire system of doctrine based on those verses. She looks at ALL the verses and weighs them together. The Bible, though inerrant and “God-breathed” is NOT a manual that can be followed like a “how to book.” It wasn’t completely put together in its final form until 385 AD at a church council. Many different books of the Bible and some non-canonical books were being used by all of the different churches at the time. Truly the faith was “delivered to the Apostles.” They gave it to us then through the apostolic teaching found in Scripture and also tradition. St. Paul says this himself several times when he for instance tells the Corinthians (speaking of Holy Communion) the “rest I will set in order when I see you.” And “Take heed to what you learned from us whether by word of face to face.” And further “the Church is the pillar and foundation of the Truth.” Interestingly the NT speaks of God’s Word (which at the time was the OT only) as being God-breathed and able to correct ETC.., but never refers to it as the “pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Here are a list of scriptures that refute Calvinism. (A system based, as all protestant sects are, on one overarching idea “God foreordaining EVERYthing that comes to pass” and then setting out to find Scriptures that back that idea up and ignoring the MANY Scriptures that show a different angle. This phenomena is the same for the Baptists, the Wesleyans, Pentecostals, Methodists, or any other denomination. ONE man gets a wild hair from reading his Bible and builds a doctrinal system around his BIG idea. For Wesley it was holiness, for Calvin it was predestination, for Luther it was an “objective” means of grace, but NONE of them account for ALL the Scriptures and seeming contradictions without going to, it seems to me, ABSURD apologetic lengths. Twisting (or torturing) scriptures that disprove their manmade doctrinal “SYSTEM” to try to maintain the reasonableness of their system. I will list them point by point. I must tell you that I was mired in the “us against them” mentality that being a hard core Calvinist breeds. I then became more intrigued by what the Church was like in the previous 15 centuries (before the Westminster Confession) and set out to find what kind of Church we had in the beginning. Eventually, I “swam the Tiber.” (Only a part of this last sentence was deleted to protect the identity of the writer.)

Scriptures that refute total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always saved) and instead teach that the will and being of mankind is “damaged by sin: but that man can still, with the prevenient grace of God, choose whom to serve are as follows: 

Dt. 30:19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing, therefore CHOOSE life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for HE is your life and the length of your days.

Joshua 24:15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, CHOOSE for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which you fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Acts 13:46 It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since YOU reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, …

Isaiah 56:4  For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and CHOOSE what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant,…

We can lose the gift of salvation through mortal sin:

1 Timothy 1:15  This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

1 Corinthians 9:27  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjections, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Christ paid the price for the sins of everyone:

Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.

2 Peter 2:20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

The Church gave us the Bible and is in charge:

1 Timothy 3:15 the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Christ died for the sins of ALL the world:

1 John 2:2 And He himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

1 John 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.

1 Timothy 2:3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Salvation is a process, not a “one time faith decision:”

Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work our your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already attainted, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.

Sincerely,

Roman Catholic religious ed. teacher

 

I was glad that the religious ed. teacher wrote me because it motivated me to get to the root of Roman Catholic theology, which is grounded in the heretical proposition that both faith plus works are necessary for salvation.

 

Dear Religious ed. teacher,

It was good to hear from you, even after eight months. You’re obviously a busy man.

I reply to you not on the basis of any “us against them” mentality, as you say you experienced as a Protestant, but on the basis of the biblical command to be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in me (1 Peter 3:5).

I certainly uphold the doctrines that point to the sovereign grace of God. Even as a Roman Catholic for more than 40 years, I didn’t have much difficulty acknowledging that God is in complete control of his creation—everything—even our “strong” wills! It is God’s sovereignty which is the simple basis for what you call Calvinism—not predestination. Predestination is held by many Christians who do not consider themselves Calvinists, such as Lutherans and even some Baptists. Nevertheless, I am truly amazed at how many Protestants and Roman Catholics alike reject God’s sovereignty in their lives. This is all the more puzzling when you consider that some of the greatest doctors of the church, such as Augustine and Aquinas, reveled in the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace.

Were it not for God’s sovereign grace, his complete control over his creation, who could trust any of his promises? How could we be sure that God could keep them if he didn’t have total control?  Promises such as this one from Christ himself: “He who believes in me has everlasting life.” What a wonderful promise and certainly central to the Gospel I embrace, the one that few Roman Catholics have even heard. It’s such a shame that many have never heard how really GOOD the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all who believe in him—those he has given the gift of faith.

The Bible makes the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ very clear:

SIN - All human beings are sinners who disobey God's law. They are born in sin, and because of their sin all are condemned to God's eternal punishment—hell. They are totally helpless to do anything to change their situation. (As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. Eph. 2:1. Dead is helpless.)

SALVATION - God sent his only Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life (without sin) and suffer the full punishment for sinners by dying on the cross for all who would come to believe in him as their Lord and Savior, as God in the flesh. He chooses them and gives them the gift to believe in him—the gift of faith—and assures them through his word, the Bible, that they will live with him forever in his heavenly kingdom! (All who were destined for eternal life came to believe. Acts 13:48)

SERVICE - All who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior thank him for rescuing or "saving" them from eternal punishment and winning for them a place with him in his heavenly kingdom by seeking to obey his commands and living lives of love and service to God. (“…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16)

How simple this Gospel is! Yet, how far-removed it is from the pulpits of Roman Catholic and several Protestant churches of our day. Just as St. Paul prophesied: “Let no man deceive you by any means; for the day shall not come, except there come a “falling away” first…” (2 Thes. 2:3) This was given in reference to the coming of Christ, which Paul tells us will be preceded by the falling away of many “professed” Christians and the coming of the Antichrist. (See also Matt. 24)

Some misconceptions I found in your letter

Though the Gospel is indeed based on Christ’s gift of faith to the individual, there is certainly no conflict with it and such verses as “For it is God who works in us both to will and to do,” as you seem to imply. In fact, that verse is very representative of God’s sovereign grace. However, your charge that, somehow, “faith alone” means that lifestyle and keeping the commandments, etc…does not matter to those who believe such a Gospel is ridiculous, since those who are true believers seek to glorify God in all they say and do. Yes, to take up the cross daily and follow him.  They seek to thank him for the salvation he has won for them by being obedient to all Christ’s commands and by embracing all his promises. They hope to be used of God to draw others to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel and their lives.

What they don’t do is accept any credit or “merit” for their salvation, because they know, from the Bible, that Christ alone won everlasting life for them and all who come to believe in him as Lord and Savior. And perhaps that’s what you were trying to get at, the fact that they don’t believe that their own works, although given them by the Holy Spirit, contribute in anyway to their salvation.

About faith plus works. So let’s start with that point, the Roman Catholic teaching of salvation through faith and works. As you noted in your letter, while the church teaches you are saved by “grace alone” but not by “faith alone” it also teaches that both works and faith are necessary for our salvation. But the Bible, which the church says it accepts as God’s word, teaches us that God’s grace and an individual’s works cannot, collectively, be called grace. The Bible teaches us that being saved by “grace alone” is not the same thing as being saved through faith mixed with works. In fact, we are told there is no mixing faith and our own works, if you’re truly speaking of God’s grace.

“So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, than it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:5.6.

This verse is interesting, not only because it is a fully apostolic teaching that the Roman Catholic Church contradicts, but also because it illustrates God’s grace in choosing us (or in this specific case, a remnant of Jews who believe in Christ) for everlasting life. In the above verse, Paul clearly tells us that the grace which God imparts in choosing us for everlasting life has nothing to do with our works. And he insists that if it did, we could not call it grace because it would no longer be grace. And the works that are not included in God’s grace for salvation are also clear since Paul specifically made reference to one of the Ten Commandments in Romans 7:7 to tell us that the best use of the commandments are not to help us get to heaven but to show us that we sin!

The Roman Catholic Church claims to adhere to apostolic teaching yet Romans 11:5-6 is a biblical example of such an apostolic teaching that the church clearly chooses to reject. Instead, of following this apostolic teaching, the church insists that works are part of its “grace alone” salvation scenario. It teaches that, along with the grace of the Holy Spirit, our works still play a very real role in meriting or attaining our sanctification and ultimate salvation: “Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life…” (Catechism, paragraph 2010) But again, Paul tells us clearly that this cannot be. Why? Because grace, which is the unmerited or undeserved favor of God, cannot be joined in anyway with our meritorious works and still be called grace. So, though the Roman Catholic Church claims salvation by grace alone, its teaching on the matter and even on the meaning of the word “grace” contradicts God’s own word. (The Church’s contradictory definition of grace was formalized in Canon 11 on Justification at the Council of Trent.)

This is one example of several church teachings that keep its ministers from preaching the true biblical Gospel to the faithful. That’s why most Roman Catholics have not yet heard that Christ himself has fully accomplished their salvation and the salvation of all who come to believe in him as Lord and Savior, as God in the flesh!  Even if this core truth of the Gospel were preached, the church insists the faithful cannot believe it. For instance, you note that, according to the church, you cannot know that you are among the elect—and I am well aware the church teaches such uncertainty. On the other hand, Christ himself does not! As mentioned before, he plainly states:

He who believes in me has everlasting life! (John 6:47)

And elsewhere Christ says:

John 3:14,15  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 5:24 Truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.

John 11:25-26 I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

John 6:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

John 10:28-30 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; NO ONE can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.  

John 14:1-4 Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am you may be also. And where I god you know, and the way you know.

Despite these repeated promises from Christ to believers, you say you cannot know if you are elect? Can you know if you believe in Christ? If you know that you believe in Christ, Christ tells us you know that you are elect to eternal life! Please read it again: “He who believes in me has eternal life.” One of his apostles repeats that as well in a very direct way: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

Yet again, by your own admission, the Roman Catholic Church rejects Christ’s clear teaching and the apostolic teaching that follows! As you put it in you letter, “NO! The Church teaches that… WE cannot know, whether or not we are elect…”  Clearly, this church teaching is in dire error!

Though you may have doubts about certain verses in the Bible, surely you believe Christ’s own words?  Surely all the verses above qualify as something more than “proof text theology” as you put it?

And yet the Roman Catholic Church seems to insist that Christ left something out!  He forgot our works! Again and again they tell Jesus: “You forgot something—it’s faith and works, faith and works”—it is, as you put it in your letter, “both/and” NOT “either/or." Quick, let us inform the Son of God about that, for he obviously has not yet learned! Otherwise, he would surely not go around telling people that all who believe or trust in him, have everlasting life! Surely he is not lying to us intentionally? And if, as you and I would both suspect, Christ is not spreading a lie or a half-truth, who is?

The above verses don't belong on any ridiculous modernist list of “confused and conflicting sayings of Christ.”  Sadly, the only time we find confusion and conflict is when we compare these biblical verses to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet even though it denies such core Gospel doctrines as we’ve covered, you insist your church qualifies as the “pillar and ground of truth?” And, in your letter, you even use that phrase as a veiled “dig” against the truthfulness of the New Testament? My, what a teacher.

In the same Gospel of John, the Jews come running to Jesus asking him point blank: "What works must we do to do the works God requires? Christ's answer is again plain and to the point: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 5:28,29) Now, there he goes again, our Lord and Savior, forgetting to mention our works, even though he was directly asked about them! He redirected the question to emphasize what was important—God’s work, God’s grace—not our works!

But there are places in the Bible where Christ mentions works and really puts them in perspective: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Jesus tells us here that our good works are to glorify God before men, not to help attain our salvation (though the church has done its best to read something else into Matthew 25). The above verse also helps put James 2:24 in proper perspective. James is saying good works justify or prove to others that we are God’s children. If James is not saying that then he too is in conflict with Christ himself: “He who believes in me has everlasting life.” Christ adds to our perspective on works by telling us we are to do such works humbly. “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do you should say, we are but unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:10)

So where is the true “grace alone” theology that the Roman Catholic Church apparently wishes it taught? Here it is: “For by grace you are saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8) It is in the Bible, God’s word, which tells us that our faith is a gift from God and not a matter of our works (Ephesians 2:8-9) and in Romans 5:17 where we are told that righteousness is a gift from God,  Romans 6:23 where we are told that our salvation is a gift from God. It is found in Christ choosing us for salvation, based on no merit of our own, but on his gracious will for us, as noted in Ephesians 1:11: “In him, we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

As for the doctrine of “faith alone” being, as you wrote: “an invention of Luther,” you must be kidding. The word that comes to mind is, as you put it, ABSURD. From Christ who said “He who believes in me has everlasting life” to Paul who spends an enormous amount of his writings linking faith to our being made righteous in Christ, without the slightest mention of works, the Bible is full of faith alone doctrine (the examples are so lengthy that I have attached them separately for your further study). Here’s a good “sampler:” “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)  And again, “He who believes in me has everlasting life.” An invention of Luther, you say?  I’d accuse Christ and his apostles if I were you.

What you’re doing, is what the church would have you do; restricting the word of God to the meaning the church’s teachings require. You imply that unless these two words “faith” and “alone” appear together, you will not believe you are saved through faith alone and the church tells you that you should not. I recommend instead, that you count the many times that the word “faith” is used all by its lonesome “alone” in God’s word and even more, how often this word stands alone and is tied directly to the righteousness that we have in Christ. (Again, examples attached.)

By the way, no one is accusing the Roman Catholic Church of being Pelagian. The word is “semi-Pelagian.” Why? Because the church insists on giving our own works the least bit of credit or merit for our salvation—as opposed to the heretic Pelagius who was willing to give such works full credit for salvation. When the church gives the least bit of credit to our works, it insists that Christ did not do it all, that instead, not only Christ but we too play a part in “attaining” our salvation!  As Paul told us earlier, we just can’t have it both ways. There is no such thing as grace that includes our works.

This is why the Roman Catholic proof texts from Christ’s parable of the sheep and goats are misused to fit the church’s teaching, they are taken out of the clear context intended in Matthew 25:34: “Come, you who are bless of my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world...” Somehow, that particular verse is often left out of the explanation of the supposed importance of our works toward salvation, which usually follows.

As for the Roman Catholic Church’s acknowledgment that predestination exists, that’s one thing, but it is quite another to totally avoid its practical application in the Gospel. Yet, you must avoid any such application because, again, as you put it in your letter: “NO! The Church teaches that… WE cannot know, whether or not we are elect…”  This despite Christ’s own words to the contrary!

Your “take” on the transition from the Old to New Testaments

Your model from the “covenant of works” compared to the New (and everlasting) Covenant we live under today is interesting. You apparently attribute to the Protestant mindset the phrase “Okay now that Christ is here ALL is fulfilled, so all you need is faith, your lifestyle, keeping of My law and NOTHING else matters, just your faith.” My, how you short-change the Old Testament and faith!

Please recall that, for hundreds of years before God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, God led Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses BY FAITH, FAITH ALONE—for there was no law (see Hebrews 11). As St. Paul puts it: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Romans 4:13)

The law, that God gave Moses, pointed expressly to the One who alone would be able to keep that law perfectly, the One—Jesus who is the fulfillment of that law or the Ten Commandments. No one else ever will perfectly fulfill them (not even Mary)! As Paul described earlier, the chief purpose of the law in these days is to show everyone that they are serious sinners and only those who have the gift of faith, that only Christ can give, will acknowledge that they are indeed sinners and repent. Christ himself explained that the “sum” of the law and all the teachings of the prophets was for us to understand that we are to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-40).

Christ expressly told us: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14) Did he link the commandments to salvation? No. Instead, he connected them to our love for him—a love that he alone can give us through his own gift of faith to the believer. As Christ himself told us: “…apart from me, you can do nothing! (John 5:15)

God gave the law to the nation of Israel not because he expected that any would be able to keep it perfectly but to point that nation to the One who would. As you know from your denominational background, he also gave the law as a practical means of restraining those who did not have faith and because our own laws today are based upon the commandments, they still serve the same purpose. They restrain those who have no faith, those who would otherwise kill, steal, rape and maim if it were not for the punishment they face.  As for those who have been given the gift of faith, this law is written on our hearts, as Jeremiah prophesied of this New Covenant. (Jeremiah 31:33)  We love Christ, therefore we seek always to keep his commandments, not to attain heaven but to glorify his name among men. No one who believes the biblically-based “faith alone” doctrine of salvation throws out any of the commandments. Those who do are known as heretics called Antinomians (lawless ones). (Romans 6:1-2)

By the way, if you really believe the verses you supplied in your letter come even close to refuting the fully biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign grace, I’ve got news for you.  For instance you offer Deuteronomy 30:19, Joshua 24:15, Acts 13:46 and Isaiah 56:4 as proof that people do indeed choose as well as reject God. I don’t know a Calvinist in this world that would argue against that. All Calvinists believe that individuals do indeed make choices everyday. The issue is whether God has given them the gift of faith, for only then can they make choices for him.

“Choosing” and freewill

In other words, it’s not strictly about our ability to “choose,” which you seem to indicate proves that we have “free-wills.”  I’d have to disagree. If it were simply about our natural ability to make choices or choose anything we most desire at a particular moment, then indeed, we all have free-wills—we choose our haircuts, food, etc... If however, it is about our ability to choose those things that are right and pleasing to God, we must re-examine that concept. For instance, individuals without faith in Christ are able to make choices but the Bible tells us they are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2) and fully unable to choose what is right and pleasing to God. "... without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:5-6) (Although indeed, the Council of Trent decreed contrary to this by teaching us that we could do works pleasing to God even before we have faith, see Canon 7 on Justification). 

These individuals (without faith) may do things that are pleasing to others, but they can do nothing that is pleasing to God. Without his gift of faith, they cannot choose God and they certainly have no desire to do so, to that extent, they have no free-will to make a choice to serve him. They cannot do anything that is pleasing to him, so of what worth is such a “freewill?”—even if you could find a general explanation of it in Scripture—which you cannot.  As noted before: “Apart from me, you can do nothing…”(John 15:5)

On the other hand, if we truly have faith, it is not our will but God’s will that we seek: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” Likewise, as to your reference of Acts 13:46, there are those who reject God’s free offer of the Gospel. These rejecters have obviously not been given the gift of faith. They cannot choose anything pleasing to God, despite their so-called free-wills, their natural ability to choose or make choices. None of the choices they make will include making a choice for God. So they will obviously reject him.

All this ultimately gets to our concept of God. If he truly is, as I certainly find in Scripture, an all-sovereign God, there is nothing beyond his control—including our wills. That’s why St. Augustine and those who followed after him wanted nothing to do with their so-called free-wills—they didn’t trust those things for a second. I realize free-will is used in Roman Catholic and some Protestant circles to indicate that God will not “force” anything upon us. But those who believe in Christ have no problem whatsoever with God forcing anything upon us for we know that whatever it is that he wants, it is best for us.

So you see, we’re really not talking here about our free-will, even if there were such a thing. We are ultimately talking about God’s sovereignty. Where does his sovereignty end and where does “my” free-will begin? All this begs the question: if God is not all sovereign and does not have complete control over his creation, than how can we be sure that he can keep the many promises he makes to us in his word and through his Son? The answer is that we cannot. However, the reality is that he has proved his total sovereign rule over all his creation time and again, as best reflected in the fulfillment of the many prophecies from Old Testament to the New Testament. Most importantly, in the fulfillment of the promise to send us a Savior!

Yes indeed, as you put it in your letter “God’s grace precedes any choice” and I might add, “for those whom he has given the gift of faith.” But I would love to see your proof texts for your next declaration that “God gives that grace equally to all…” You say the Bible is replete with such verses, please let me see! I also want you to explain to me how that squares with Christ’s own words: NO ONE can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)  NO ONE…there is the “equality” that you seek. As humans, our equality is in the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! (Romans 3:23) “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of (God’s) wrath. (Ephesians 2:13)

Verses you referenced in your letter:

As for your insistence that we can lose the gift of salvation through mortal sin, you reference 1 Tim. 1:18.  This verse simply shows that Paul has excommunicated these two characters in hopes they have the faith to repent and return to the fold “learn not to blaspheme.” (Paul is simply completing the process of excommunication that Christ outlined starting with Matthew 18:15). If these two are true believers, they will repent.

Next on your list of proof texts is 1 Corinthians 9:27, where you maintain that Paul’s expressed concerned about being “disqualified” means that he believes it is possible to lose his salvation. Please be reminded of something you must have learned as a seminary-trained former pastor. We are to read God’s word as a whole, that is, in light of other Scripture that serves to illuminate the meaning of verses that are less clear or seem to conflict. We are also to take into account the particular genre being used. In this case, Paul is using an analogy by comparing himself to an athlete running a race.

Paul is telling us he does not take lightly the gift that he has been given and remains eternally vigilant. In fact, in Hebrews 12:12 he again uses the analogy of a runner and reminds us that it is Christ who is not only the “author” of our faith but also the “finisher” of our faith. Additionally, 1 Cor. 9:27 cannot be interpreted as Paul saying he is worried he will lose his salvation because Paul expresses elsewhere that those whom God has brought to himself are his forever, example: Romans 8:28-30 – “And we know that all good things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn of many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestine, them he also called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”

Elsewhere Paul tells us what God has done he will bring to completion: “being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 1:6)

And that we can never be separated from the love of Christ: Romans 8:38-39.

On the other hand, we should always be aware of our sins, repentant and never take our salvation for granted. Paul tells us to “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith…” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

I would readily admit on this point that we all have our doubts and that Satan just loves to get the ball rolling on such doubts. We look at our weak selves and say, there’s no way such a sinner can be saved! That’s why the true Gospel points us instead not only to continual repentance but to Christ and his completed work on our behalf and his righteousness which he credits to us. As Paul puts it“…and being found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)

Romans 4:22-25  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him (Abraham) alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised for our justification.

Romans 4:7-8 Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.

Romans 5:9 Since we have now been justified through his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!. 

Romans 5:17  For if, by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous.

Romans 9:30 …the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith.

The point is that we never take our salvation lightly and it is only by the righteousness of Christ and no righteousness of our own that we will one day be in heaven. We should thank God for salvation each day. We should also repent of our sins all the time.

Next you say Christ paid the price for the sins of everyone.

And you reference 1 Peter 2:1 and 2 Peter 2:20, both of which refer to false prophets and false teachers who bring on themselves quick destruction and like dogs return to their own vomit. In both instances, these “false prophets and teachers” are obviously “false” and therefore do not have the gift of faith. They had “head” knowledge of the Gospel but never the faith to accept it. “…For all men have not faith.” (2 Thess. 3:2)

The Bible clearly indicates God died for a particular, elect or chosen people (see Isaiah 53:8, Galatians 3:13, Hebrews 9:12 and Revelation 5:9). If Christ also died for those who perish and go to hell as well as those who are saved—how can the blood of Christ make any difference? That’s why the gospel you preach insists that man’s actions and not Christ makes the real difference.

Then you say Christ die for the sins of ALL the world (essentially, same as above):

This is the teaching that Lutherans have somewhat in common with Roman Catholics. Lutherans call it “objective justification” so they can avoid talk of “free-will” which Luther, like Augustine, wanted no part of. The Lutherans say all were justified by Christ’s death and all that is needed is that we accept Christ in order to be saved. They teach this because, like Roman Catholics, they do not wish to believe that God sends anyone into the world destined for damnation (known as double-predestination). And as hard as that is for us to believe and as unfair as it seems to our human minds, God tells us in Isaiah 55:9 that his ways are far above our understanding, so too we reckon his fairness, his justice. We must come to understand that we were all under a death sentence for our sins and that’s why we so desperately needed a Savior to rescue us.   

Even before Judas betrayed Christ and took his own life, Christ knew Judas would do so: “I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘he who eats bread with me has lifted up his heel against me.’ (John 13:18)

Jesus tells us he knows whom he has chosen and Judas is not among them.  Later, as Christ prays to the Father, he says: “Those whom you gave me I have kept and none of them is lost except the son of perdition (hell), that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12) Clearly Judas was destined for hell by the sovereign will of God to fulfill his sovereign prophecies.

Again, this is very hard for us to accept, no two ways about it. Yet Paul tries to put this in the perspective of the sovereign God we serve: “What if God, wanting to show his wrath and make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea: ‘I will call them my people, who were not my people and her beloved, who was not beloved.’” (Romans 9:22-25)

The illustration often use here is that of a burning house with a certain number of individuals in it. The house will indeed burn to the ground and destroy all those within it and all within it have no doubt of that. Suddenly God reaches down and pulls some of the individuals out. Do they get up and question the fairness of God for saving them and letting the others perish? Or do they instead rejoice that God has indeed spared them?

This is why you will be hard pressed to find any Calvinist, Lutheran or sovereign grace Baptist who would purposely use the phrase “once saved always saved.” That is why they instead call it “perseverance of the saints” and also why many prefer instead “preservation” of the saints, because they have come to realize that their salvation has been won for them through absolutely no work of their own but only through the great mercy of God! They know they cannot boast in themselves a minute but only in the God who saved them through his only begotten Son!

It is in this light that they seek, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to obey Christ’s every command with great rejoicing in the God who has so freely delivered them from hell itself. The Holy Spirit has given their hearts “eyes to see” that whatever they might dare call their freewill is of no account compared to the work of the awesome God who has saved them!

As  for your references to 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:14 which refers to Christ first as “the propitiation of our sins, and not only ours but also the “whole world” and as the “Savior of the world,” we must refer to Scripture that more clearly applies the meaning of these verses.. These include several verses from Christ himself: John 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  This clearly indicates that the reference to the “world” are those in the world who believe in Christ. In John 17:9, Christ himself, in praying to the Father, personally refused to pray for the world, saying: “I pray not for the world but for them that thou has given me.” He not only refuses to pray for the world but clearly indicates that he is specifically praying for those that God has chosen to give him for salvation. Surely you cannot believe that Christ would die for the world if he even refused to pray for it. Then there is this from Christ: “Even the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive because it seeth him not…” (John 14:17) Finally, of course, the verse we have used repeatedly “He who believes in me has everlasting life” which tells us specifically who Paul was talking about in his reference to all men in 1 Timothy 2:3.

As for salvation being a process as opposed to a “one time faith decision” you referenced Philippians 2:12 “work out your own salvation…” and  Phil. 3:12 “not that I have already attained.” First, Calvinists don’t believe faith is a decision at all—it’s a gift. As covered earlier, you can’t do anything for Christ without the gift of faith—you can’t. By grace you are saved through faith and this is not from you—it is a gift from God, not from works so no man may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9) So too salvation or eternal life is a gift: “…but the gift of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6:23)

The Phil. 2:12 reference is easy enough if we take the time to read the verse that follows, which makes it obvious he is not saying that we literally work out our own salvation. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Phil. 2:13)  So why would you float me Phil. 2:12 without 2:13? Verse 2:12, on its own, the way you sent it, is a clear example of a verse taken out of context to try to make it say something that it does not say.

While we know we’re saved, we’re not in heaven yet, are we? Though Christ has indeed “apprehended” us or “taken hold of us” for that reason (Phil.3:12), to be with him one day in his heavenly kingdom. Day by day, we draw closer to the prize he alone has won for us. Calvinists do not view this gift as something that Christ gives, only to take it away, as in Roman Catholicism where one moment you are justified, made “right with God” and the next you are headed for hell unless you consult a priest for absolution. We repent because Christ tells us that’s what he wants and he has put that on our hearts. “If we acknowledge our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) They most certainly view salvation as a process of perseverance and all due vigilance.

So, as for your attempt to refute Calvinism, better go look for some different verses. The sovereign grace of God is a tough thing to try to explain away, especially among those who tend to believe they are the ones who choose, despite tremendous evidence to the contrary:

The “saved” are all those who Christ has chosen for everlasting life:

John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.

John 15:16 It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…

John 6:64 No one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by my Father.

Luke 10:22 ...no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 

John 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

Acts 13:48 All who were destined for eternal life came to believe.

John 14:6 I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 17:2 Thou has given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou has given him.  

John 17:9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou has given me; for they are thine.

So what does all this say? It says, after many, many years, it is very much time for us to give the full credit for our salvation to the only one who deserves it—Christ. We are to reserve no credit or merit for ourselves and our works—none whatsoever. We must begin preaching his true catholic or universal Gospel, that he alone did all the work that was necessary for the salvation of all who come to believe in him.

“…who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose wounds we have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24.

Admittedly, this Gospel is very different from the one taught in Roman Catholicism. The differences are very clear, here’s a few of the most glaring:

  • The Roman Catholic gospel says: Christ died to offer the “possibility” of salvation to everyone. The biblical gospel says, Christ died to absolutely secure the salvation of those who come to believe in him.
  • The Roman Catholic gospel teaches, each individual is given an opportunity to either accept or reject him. The biblical gospel tell us Christ chooses and has chosen those who will believe in him since before the beginning of time.
  • The Roman Catholic gospel teaches, as you aptly illustrate, that an individual cannot know whether or not they are among Christ’s chosen or “elect” and therefore they have no certainty of their salvation. In the biblical gospel, Christ offers repeated assurances of eternal life to all who come to believe in him.
  • The Roman Catholic gospel tells individuals that, because they cannot trust in themselves or their own actions, they can lose their salvation at any moment by committing a serious sin. The biblical gospel urges us to put no trust in ourselves but in Christ and his righteousness to ensure our salvation.
  • The Roman Catholic gospel teaches that individuals may contribute to their “potential salvation” by doing good works, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. In the biblical gospel, our good works, which the Spirit gives us to walk in, are performed in thanksgiving, seeking to glorify the Christ who alone has already won our salvation on the cross.

Strictly speaking, the Gospel is not about us, instead, the Gospel is for us. The Gospel is fully about Christ, who he is and what he did for us. We are but the grateful recipients. And how very grateful we should be.

Again, the two gospels illustrated above are very different gospels, and sadly, there are still many more “variations” out there for popular consumption, usually involving in someway economics, politics or the culture. But, surely, you and I can at least agree that there is truly only one Gospel. Surely we would agree that it does make a difference which Gospel we preach or teach. In fact, Paul, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us it makes an eternal difference, especially to those who preach and teach it.

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed (anathema, condemned to hell, unless they repent). As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8-9

And what Gospel did Paul preach? He and Silas spoke plainly with their jailer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:31

Paul also tells us we are not to be ashamed of the gospel because it is: “…the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.” (Romans 1:16)

Good to hear from you.

Sincerely,

 

Jim Mitchell

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