Monday, November 18, 2013

The Vine and the Branches: Once Saved Always Saved?

I recently read an article by Mr. John MacArthur about salvation (“The Vine and the Branches”)at the request of a friend. I’ve read several Christians’ explanations of salvation (Catholics as well as non-Catholics) that quote the Scriptures and conclude the opposite of MacArthur. A big question that comes to my mind is, “who is right and how do we know?” But before we get to that question, let’s explore Mr. MacArthur’s view. His article should be easy enough to find by the title I provided. He preaches a doctrine of “once saved always saved” and his article is primarily in regards to John 15:1-8.

Among a couple good points he makes, I think there are places where he makes assumptions that aren’t supported by Scripture and he makes a couple contradictions. I like what he says about Christians being pruned to bear more fruit, and the fact that it can be a painful process, yet worthwhile. But, I don’t see how he concludes that fruitless branches were never “truly attached” branches. How can a branch be a branch if it’s not truly attached in the first place? MacArthur’s reasoning is not convincing for me.

For example, he suggests that branches on Christ the Vine might not really be Christians. But if a person is not truly a Christian, how can that person be attached to the Vine which is Christ? Scripture says they are “cut off”. You can’t be cut off from something that you weren’t “truly” attached to, can you? It makes no sense.

He says “the fruitless branches represent Judas and all those who never were true disciples”. But Scripture doesn’t make any claim that they were never “true disciples”. There is no indication in Scripture that Judas wasn’t a “true disciple” of Christ prior to the betrayal. We only know that he betrayed Christ. But don’t we ALL betray Christ when we choose to sin? Or is sinning something we can do as Christians? In other words, does Scripture ANYWHERE say it’s okay to sin, or that in sinning we retain our life with Christ?

MacArthur also says that once we are forgiven by God, we are clean and do not need “the bathing of forgiveness again”. Where is that in the Bible? If we don’t need that forgiveness again, then why does Paul rebuke Christian believers in every one of his Epistles about sin and the need to avoid it? If they are “once saved always saved”, then why all the preaching about avoiding sin?
Why does James tell us to confess our sins to each other and that the prayers of the presbyters forgives sin in James 5:13-16? If we don’t need that forgiveness after being initially forgiven, then didn’t the Holy Spirit inspire James to make a moot point and a false teaching? Where in Scripture does it say “…once a person is forgiven by God…he does not need…forgiveness again”?

Scripture DOES tell us that one of Christ’s children cannot be snatched out of His Hand. But it NEVER says that we can’t CHOOSE to walk from His Hand by our own choice to sin. There is nothing in Scripture that says we can’t throw away God’s Gift of salvation. And in fact, we are warned not to take it for granted, lest we fall away. Read Hb 6:4-6. Paul writes of “partakers of the Holy Spirit” who have tasted of God’s Power, only to “have fallen away”. He doesn’t make any indication here that they weren’t “true” believers, rather they were believers who “tasted the heavenly gift” [they were saved] and now are not saved. Paul shows us again in Galatians 5:4 that in seeking to be justified by the law, the Christians he is writing to can be “severed from Christ” and those Galatians have “fallen from grace”. These were Christians who received the Word and the Spirit (Gal 3:1; 4:4-9)) and were “running well the race” (Gal 5:7) and THEN were tempted away from truth and toward going back to circumcision. They were Christians on the Vine of Christ, and then “severed” themselves from the Vine that they were truly attached to. MacArthur’s explanation contradicts Paul’s message here, so who is right?

MacArthur contradicts himself by using Is 5:1-7 to explain the branches, and then expects us to accept his understanding of Scripture as the “true” one. Israel is described as being God’s chosen vineyard that bore worthless fruit. But nowhere does that passage say that these Israelites were not his true branches, as MacArthur alludes to. Rather, it says they were THE branches. Paul even calls them the “natural branches” (Rom 11:21). And what happened? They were “cut off” because they, as THE true/natural branches did not bear fruit, and so God grafted us in (Rom 11:20-23). MacArthur says that they were cut off because of their unbelief. But he’s drawing an incomplete conclusion here. The Israelites were initially allowed to be consumed, why? Is 5:1-7 tells us because they bore bad fruit. Their fruit was “worthless”. They subsequently did not believe, as Paul points out in Rom 11:20. But what ELSE does Paul say here that MacArthur conveniently forgets to mention? “19 You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.” (Rom 11:19-23)

What did Scripture say there? Once we are grafted in, can we never be cut off? Does verse 22 say we can never be cut off, or that we CAN be cut off unless we DO something? And what about the ones that had been cut off, which were initially attached? Does it say they were never “truly” attached, or that they had been “cut off” AND can be RE-attached…grafted in AGAIN (v.23)? Rom 11:19-23 makes no sense with a “once saved always saved” belief.

MacArthur says that those who do not abide in Christ “were never saved”. Where does Scripture say that?

MacArthur says that all Christians bear some fruit, but that some may have bad fruit. So, every Christian bears fruit, whether good or bad. So, what happens to Christians who bear bad fruit? Are they saved for their bad fruit? (Chapter and verse?) What examples do we have from the Scriptures about bearers of bad fruit (Is 5:1-7; Mt 7:16-27)?

MacArthur says that we can be a branch without abiding in the true Vine, citing Rom 9:6 that “not all are Israel who descend from Israel”. I believe he’s making a false correlation here. Paul is talking about those who are saved. Not all who are from Israel are saved because they reject Christ. It never suggests they were not part of a true Vine, rather Paul tells us plainly they were “the natural branches” and now have been “cut off”. MacArthur’s view is contradicting Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired writings here. So who is right?

There are over 40 instances* in Scripture where Paul talks of the “hope” of salvation, and NOT any “certainty”. (Cff. Rom 5:2,5, 8:24, 10:1; Gal 5:5; Eph 1:18, 4:4; Col 1:5, 23, 27; 1Thess 1:3, 2:19, 5:8; 2Thess 2:16; 1Tim 1:1, 4:10, etc...ad nauseum.) In fact, even Paul says he buffets himself for fear of being “disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27), which makes no sense in a “once saved always saved” belief, unless you want to believe that Paul was never a “true disciple”. Was Paul a “true disciple of Christ”? Did Paul EVER mention being ASSURED of his salvation?

Nowhere does Scripture tell us that salvation is a one-time step of asking the Lord into our hearts and making a one-time profession of faith in Him. Scripture tells us that salvation is a process. The Christian can rightly say, “I have been saved (Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5,8; 2Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5), I am being saved (Phil 2:12; 1Pet1:9) and I will be saved IF I endure to the end (Mt 7:21; Mt 10:22; Mt 19:16-17; Mt 24:13; 1Cor 9:27; 1Cor 10:11-12, etc…).

Ultimately, I think it boils down to authority. MacArthur wants us to accept his interpretation/understanding of Scripture, even though Scripture does not actually say what he tries to make it say, and he has to ignore and contradict several verses in Scripture to conclude “once saved always saved”. So the real question might be, by what authority does MacArthur (or anyone else) presume to be able to interpret and teach the Scriptures that I (or anyone else) don’t also have? Does Scripture give us any clues on whom to turn to when there are disagreements? Is there a “pillar and bulwark of Truth” (1Tim 3:15) that we can turn to when there are disagreements on matters of doctrine, and who is it, and where do you find them?




*For more Scriptural references on salvation, visit the Scripture Catholic website HERE :
http://www.scripturecatholic.com/salvation.html

Friday, November 8, 2013

Responding to Steve Finnell's Definition of Prayer

In response to THIS post on how praying to Mary brings our focus to Christ, Steve responded with a series of off-topic questions and some claims. Since he jumped off topic right off the bat, I decided to make his reply a separate post and will respond to it point-by-point here. His words will be in italics, mine will be in bold.


IS PRAYING TO DEAD PEOPLE A SIN?

-This question is irrelevant to the topic, Steve [see link above to original post]. Catholics don’t pray to the dead, we pray to the living. Don’t you remember what Christ said when correcting the Scribes in Mk 12:26-27? He said "God is God of the LIVING, not of the dead". If you are trying to suggest that praying to saints is the same as praying to the dead, you are making the same mistake as the Scribes. Or perhaps you are purposefully trying to mislead the readers to believe something false about the Catholic Church? You aren’t trying to do that are you Steve?

Is it a sin to pray to the Virgin Mary and other dead saints?

-Steve, this question makes the same mistake as the one above. Here you are assuming that those who passed on before us are “dead”. The problem here is that this line of thinking is contrary to Scripture. Christ corrected the Scribes in Mk 12:26-27, but Paul also tells us that those witnesses who have gone before us are like “a cloud of witnesses” for us as we run our race (Hb 12:1). In Mk 9:4, we see Jesus conversing with Elijah and Moses who are both fully alive, yet have passed from this world. In Lk 23:43, the good thief is assured by Christ Himself that he will be with Christ “this day”. Well, we know the thief died on the cross. Is the thief “dead” with Christ? Or is he “alive” with Christ in Paradise? If he is with Christ, who is God, then we must believe he is "alive" because God is God of the "living". And what about the martyrs under the altar in Rev 6:9-11? Does John describe them as being “dead”? No, he records them as appealing for earthly vindication. We also have Lk 16:19-30 where the departed rich man intercedes for his brothers, and Rev 20:4 where the souls of the beheaded are seen alive, and Wisdom 3:1-6 where the souls of the just are in the hand of God…alive because God is God of the living, not of the dead. Steve, why do you portray the saints in Heaven in a way that contradicts God’s Word?

Matthew 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, "Go Satan! For it is written,' "You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "
Praying to any person or anything is worship.


-Steve, why do you believe that “praying” is equal to “worship”? The Bible does not say that, so why do you believe it? The definition of “pray” is “to request or plea”, or “to implore or exhort”. Well, Paul “implores” and “exhorts” his audience in his Epistles to pray for him. Is Paul worshiping the Romans, Colossians, Ephesians or the Thessalonicans when he “requests” that they pray for him (cf. Rom 15:30, Col 4:3, 1Thess 5:25, 2Thess 1:11, Eph 6:18-19, etc…)?

WORSHIP DEFINED: To revere, stressing the feeling of awe or devotion. Adoring reverence or regard.
Any worship of anyone or anything other than God is sin.


-We’ll agree that worship of anyone/thing other than God is a sin. But you should know that the word “worship” did not always mean what it does in modern English. The “worship” that was shown in Scriptures to be for God alone, that “adoration”, is call “latria”. This is distinguished from the type of “worship” or “honor” that people give to their peers when they say “yes, Sir”, or “I beg your pardon”, or “Your Honor [speaking to a Judge or member of Office]”, or when they bow before a King, etc… That form of worship, which today is known as “respect” and “reverence” was called “dulia”. In our modern tongue, we tend to not distinguish between the definitions anymore, but such was not always the case. So, if you want to use the modern sense, then no, Catholics do not worship anyone other than God. Is it your intention, Steve, to be intellectually honest and recognize this? Or do you intend to falsely portray Catholics as “worshiping” others because we pray to them as Paul did, even though you have no Biblical basis upon which to claim that prayer = worship?

The Virgin Mary is not God…

-No one claimed she was, so I’m not sure what your point is. Are you suggesting that asking Mary to intercede for us is like calling her God? Again, to condemn Catholics for this, you also have to condemn Paul who asked for prayers from others. Is it your intention to condemn Paul for petitioning others for prayers and intercessions? If not, why would you condemn a Catholic for doing the exact same thing as what is modelded for us in Scripture?

…nor does she have the power to grant petitions of prayer.

-Steve, what do you mean by that? Do you mean that Mary cannot answer prayer by her own power? If so, Catholics will agree heartily with you. If you mean that God cannot work through Mary and answer prayers through her, I'm going to have to disagree. I believe that God is able to use all of us in ways that He chooses; I believe that He allows us to pray for one another, ask prayers of one another, and that He grants petitions through our prayer for one another. This is what Scripture shows us, so I believe it. Your statement carries the message that God does not listen to our prayers for one another. Steve, do you believe that God does not listen to our intercessory prayers for each other? Or do you believe that our prayers for each other are rendered useless after we have passed on from this life and are with God in Heaven, as though being with God after our earthy death makes us less alive than we are now, and less able to pray for each other? (Remember to provide the pertinent Scriptural evidence for your assertions, Steve.)

If men could pray to dead saints and get them answered, then why not pray to saint Moses, saint John The Baptist, saint Abraham, saint Job, saint Enoch, saint The Thief on The Cross or any other dead saint?

-What makes you think they are “dead” when Christ has said they are “living”? Why do you continue to contradict Christ’s Words? And what makes you think Catholics don’t ask for the intercessions of any of the above?

Dead people cannot hear your prayers and if they could they would not have the power to answer them.

-Dead people might not, but alive people can, just as we see in Revelation and the other references I showed above. As to the power to answer them, well, that’s up to God to decide isn’t it? Do you suppose, Steve, that you can determine what God can and cannot allow or to whom God can give power to? God gave power to Elisha’s bones to restore life (2Kgs 13:20-21). Do you think God can’t grant that a person can answer a simple prayer request? Do you think it’s more miraculous for a saint in Heaven to answer a prayer for healing [by God’s Power] than it was for Peter’s shadow to grant healing (Acts 5:15-16)? Do you think it’s more unlikely to have a prayer [to any given saint] answered than it was to be cured by one of Paul’s facecloths (Acts 19:11-12)?

Prayer is worship and only God deserves our worship.

-Again, Steve, you’ll need to provide some Scriptural evidence to back that up. Your statement here contradicts a great deal of the NT writings that act as prayers in themselves. Why should anyone accept your personal definition of prayer which is not reflected in Scripture?

God knows our every thought. God is aware of every sin we commit. God knows our every move.

-Amen, Steve! We have some common ground between us! Did you know that God also uses us to help each other and allows us to be active participants in his Gospel message?

God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. Those are the attributes of God and what you would need in order to answer prayer.

-Why would a person need all those attributes in order to answer a prayer? I have none of those attributes and I’ve answered prayer before. One time someone prayed of me to help them with the dishes. I did so and didn’t need any of those attribute to do it. You are also limiting God, by this statement of yours, by saying that God cannot allow anyone to answer a prayer because only God has these attribute. Are you saying that God is not able to allow answered prayer through those who don’t have these attributes? Are you limiting God in what God can do, Steve? Was that you intention?

Neither the Virgin Mary, Moses, John The Baptist nor any other dead saint has the attributes of God.

-No one said any of those people had such attributes. But again, why do you keep calling them “dead” when Christ calls them “living”? Why are you contradicting Christ and the Scriptures?

They cannot hear you nor can they answer YOUR PRAYERS.

-Why not? What I am asking here is for some ACTUAL reason instead of the fallacious reasoning you have already given that, because a person doesn’t have certain attributes, they therefore can’t answer prayer. You have yet to establish that a person requires certain attributes in order to answer prayer. You’re going to have to explain away a lot of Scripture to attempt that, however. Do you suppose Paul’s facecloth has the attributes of God when it cured people of their ailments? Did Elisha’s bones have these attributes? Did Peter’s shadow?

YES, TO PRAY TO ANYONE OTHER THAN GOD IS A SIN!

-That’s not what God’s Word says. Why should anyone reading this accept Steve’s words over God’s Word? Why should anyone reading this accept Steve's personal definition of prayer, even though it conflicts with the prayer we see in Scripture?

Steve,, I hope you will take the time to answer each question. I want you to know that I sincerely am seeking answers to each question I asked. I also want you to know that if you come here just to post off-topic rants about things that mis-represent the Church and her teachings, I'm probably just going to delete them instead of taking the time to post them and answer them as I have the last 2 times. If you are actually interested in Christian dialog, I expect you to address everything I posted above with clear distinct answers to each question I asked, just like I provided for each of yours. Thank you for taking interest in my Christian blog, Steve. It means alot to me. :)

In Christ,
Dave

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Does the Church Teach About Confirmation? (No Commentary, Just the Facts)

Regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

THE SACRAMENT OF CONFIRMATION

1285 Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the "sacraments of Christian initiation," whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace [cf. Roman Ritual, Rite of Confirmation (OC), Introduction 1]. For "by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed" [LG 11; Cf. OC, Introduction 2].

I. Confirmation in the Economy of Salvation

1286 In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission [cf. Isa 11:2, 61:1; Lk 4:16-22]. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God [cf. Mt 3:13-17; Jn 1:33-34]. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him "without measure" [Jn 3:34].

1287 This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah's, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people [cf. Ezek 36:25-27; Joel 3:1-2]. On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit,[ cf. Lk 12:12; Jn 3:5-8, 7:37-39, 16:7-15; Acts 1:8] a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost [cf. Jn 20:22; Acts 2:1-14]. Filled with the Holy Spirit the apostles began to proclaim "the mighty works of God," and Peter declared this outpouring of the Spirit to be the sign of the messianic age [Acts 2:11, cf. 2:17-18]. Those who believed in the apostolic preaching and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their turn [cf. Acts 2:38].


1288 "From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ's will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church" [Paul VI, Divinae consortium naturae, 659; cf. Acts 8:15-17, 19:5-6; Heb 6:2].

1289 Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name "Christian," which means "anointed" and derives from that of Christ himself whom God "anointed with the Holy Spirit" [Acts 10:38]. This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or myron which means "chrism." In the West, Confirmation suggests both the ratification of Baptism, thus completing Christian initiation, and the strengthening of baptismal grace - both fruits of the Holy Spirit.

II. The Signs and the Rite of Confirmation

1293 In treating the rite of Confirmation, it is fitting to consider the sign of anointing and what it signifies and imprints: a spiritual seal.
Anointing, in Biblical and other ancient symbolism, is rich in meaning: oil is a sign of abundance and joy [cf. Deut 11:14; Pss 23:5; 104:15]; it cleanses (anointing before and after a bath) and limbers (the anointing of athletes and wrestlers); oil is a sign of healing, since it is soothing to bruises and wounds [cf. Isa 1:6; Lk 10:34]; and it makes radiant with beauty, health, and strength.

1294 Anointing with oil has all these meanings in the sacramental life. the pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of catechumens signifies cleansing and strengthening; the anointing of the sick expresses healing and comfort. The post-baptismal anointing with sacred chrism in Confirmation and ordination is the sign of consecration. By Confirmation Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which he is filled, so that their lives may give off "the aroma of Christ" [2 Cor 2:15].

1295 By this anointing the confirmand receives the "mark," the seal of the Holy Spirit. A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object [cf. Gen 38:18; 41:42; Deut 32:34; CT 8:6]. Hence soldiers were marked with their leader's seal and slaves with their master's. A seal authenticates a juridical act or document and occasionally makes it secret [cf. 1 Kings 21:8; Jer 32:10; Isa 29:11].

1296 Christ himself declared that he was marked with his Father's seal [cf. Jn 6:27]. Christians are also marked with a seal: "It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" [2 Cor 1:21-22; cf. Eph 1:13, 4, 30]. This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial [cf. Rev 7:2-3, 9:4; Ezek 9:4-6].


III. The Effects of Confirmation

1302 It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

1303 From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
- it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, "Abba! Father!" [Rom 8:15];
- it unites us more firmly to Christ;
- it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
- it renders our bond with the Church more perfect [cf. LG 11];
- it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross [cf. Council of Florence (1439) DS 1319; LG 11; 12]:

Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts [St. Ambrose, De myst. 7, 42 PL 16, 402-403].

1304 Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the "character," which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness [cf. Council of Trent (1547) DS 1609; Lk 24:48-49].

1305 This "character" perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and "the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio)" [St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 72, 5, ad 2].”

To learn more about the Church’s teaching on Confirmation and its celebration and participants, refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1285-1321.