Do Catholics and Protestants have a similar understanding of “justification by faith”? Some suggest that if we combine the Protestant and Catholic understandings of justification, we would have a more complete understanding of what justification means. Is this possible? Or are these two views necessarily exclusive views?
Catholics believe that serious sin breaks the bond of charity between us and God. When one commits mortal sins one in a sense, rejects God’s supernatural grace and is no longer in a state of grace. This state of grace can be reestablished by the sacrament of reconciliation: confession of the sin, repentance, and forgiveness. Catholics use the term “infused grace” (related to “effective justification”) to emphasize that in salvation, grace comes to be present in us. One remains in a state of grace only as long as by one continues to be reconciled with Christ, then this infused grace, which makes one righteous, continues to be present. It is still viewed as a supernatural gift that comes from God alone. For Catholics, justification is a sort of a process where one cooperates in maintaining a right relationship with God after one commits serious sin. Protestants fear that this process of cooperation can lead to “works righteousness”.
Protestants of the Protestant Reformation like Luther, Calvin, and Melanchton believe that one’s relationship with God continues in full force even after mortal sins. One has an unbreakable relationship with God. Sin can never break one’s relationship with God because of our bond with Christ. Even though sin may hurt the heart of God, our relationship is never broken. Protestants use the term “imputed righteousness” to emphasize the righteousness that comes solely from Christ and is not from human works (related to “forensic justification”). For Catholics, serious sin breaks the bond of charity between us and God. Catholics fear that one could fall into a moral and spiritual laxness because one might become complacent and doesn’t feel a need to maintain a right relationship with God. (photos: top: John Calvin; middle: Martin Luther; bottom: Philipp Melanchton)
Is power in and of itself bad? Why do we as a just society try to equalize power between the haves and have-nots? In our liberal-democratic society, power in the hands of the few will inevitably cause a clash between those who “have” and those who do “not have” access to power or the leverage to power. Historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) issued epic warnings that political power is the most serious threat to liberty. Acton observed that a person’s sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases. He states: “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end…liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition…The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to to govern. Every class is unfit to govern (rich or poor)…Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton. After the “have-nots” in Russia and China gained power and put the Communist Party in power, the working class Proletariats began to abuse their power by violating the most basic human rights of even ordinary people; millions died (conservative estimates of 5-10 million in Russia, and 15-30 million in China). Whether one is the pope, religious leader, or president of a multinational corporation, one must be aware of and accept one’s own limitations. No one is free from potential corruption because of ‘original sin’ or concupiscence that resides in each person. We are so curved inward that our self-centeredness eventually gets the best of us. If we are so privileged to hold political power–whether religious, social or economic–we must recognize that people will one day fall short of the mark. Thus, true humility is a personal virtue and a virtue for one’s whole community. (photo: Lord Acton)
Why do Christians relegate justice issues to the backburner? Social justice issues like looking out for the marginalized in society as the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 82:3-4 show the importance of the environment, administering justice to the weak, the orphan, the needy, and protecting the rights of the lowly, and the destitute. God will issue judgement upon the rulers as Psalm 82:1 shows us. The word for judge “shafat” in Hebrew is in the imperative, which has connotations implying: “do it!” God seems to take it seriously. If so, will our political leaders be held accountable by God to the injustices people suffer even today? Will Christians also be held responsible? If we all start to take responsibility, individually, and corporately as churches, we can make a more just, fair, and equitable society, even without government intervention. (see thepeaceplan.com) (bottom: These lovely women in Llappa, Peru are fighting against the gold mining companies’ destructive mining practices which is destroying their farmland and drinking water with toxic chemicals. Their sole source of income and health is being jeopardized without any compensation, or acknowledgment from the Peruvian government)
How do we experience a personal reformation? By hearing the teaching, the preaching and by experiencing the sacrament of the living word who is Jesus Christ. This has been my personal experience. As one hears the living active word, the Holy Spirit awakens faith within a person’s spiritual inner being. The Holy Spirit arouses our inner spirit-being to be regenerated, bringing new life. One will never be the same again. This is what Martin Luther calls regeneration; today’s evangelicals call it being “born again”. Luther actually said: “It was like I was born again.” Though some Lutherans will deny that regeneration is not the same as being “born again”, it really is the same thing but using different words. It is all semantics; however, the evangelical definition of “born again” has connotations of evangelicalism. Thus, Lutherans seem to want to keep the definition of “regeneration” distinct–but it is actually the same thing. Evangelicals have an easier time pointing back to an experience they can remember; whereas, Lutherans are called to “remember their baptism” as a continual everyday thing. (see my posting on Dec. 28, 2006) [photo: Watchman Nee who in 1952 was imprisoned for his faith, tortured and beaten black & blue; he remained in prison until his death in 1972. His words remain an abundant source of spiritual revelation and supply to Christians throughout the world.]
The “Coming Radical Reformation” that was supposed to put Christianity on its knees has not come in this age and probably won’t in future ages either. I believe there is a personal God external to human beings as opposed to Robert Funk’s “God of the metaphysical age is dead” idea. Sure the de-literalization of the creation story might be agreeable to many…even to some evangelicals but most of Funk’s “21 Theses” are considered too radical and unorthodox biblicalto most Christians, even to liberal scholars. Does God still interfere with the order of nature from time to time? Sure. Miracles are not so unbelievable given the amount of testimonials out there by ordinary people around the world, especially from Christians in developing countries. What causes our unbelief is our lack of contact with the ordinary folks who experience the supernatural. Perhaps we should not be so quick to judge those who have experienced God in a real and tangible way. One’s subjective opinion cannot invalidate one’s personal experience of the Holy Spirit; nor can one’s lack of experience of God’s supernatural essence validate the non-existence of God. The fact that we live and move and have our being is a miracle in itself. Funk’s christology of Jesus as non-divine human being is an attempt to demote Jesus to the status of a demi-god or mere prophet. This would certainly please the Jehovah Witnesses and Muslims but the onus is still on R. Funk and the nontraditionalists to prove that Jesus is not divine. It will take much more proof to disprove the traditional beliefs of historic Christianity, which has been handed down to us through the centuries. Funk’s disbelief in the virgin birth of Jesus doesn’t cause as big of a stir to traditional Christian theology. I don’t think traditionalists should have much to fear even with a change of wording of Isa. 7:14 from “virgin” to “young woman”. Things like these are really the non-essentials of the faith. It will take a much greater pardigmatic shift in theological opinion to subvert the traditional wording of the Creed. (The Good News bible and N/RSV translations switched to “young woman” rather than “virgin”; but the NIV, TNIV, ESV, and modern translations have remained the same.)