Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury

This past week, it seems that the only news story in the UK was the Pope’s visit. One of the things that particularly caught my eye was the Pontiffs meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently the outcome of their meeting was to forge closer ties between Catholicism and the Church of England. Whilst unity might sound like a noble course of action I would contend that there are two many differences between the beliefs of Catholics and Protestants for either faith to fully endorse the other.

Many of these differences go back as far as the Protestant Reformation which started when Martin Luther nailed his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ to a church door in 1517. Over the years the main differences between the theological beliefs of the two ‘churches’ were summed up by five sayings, known as the five solas. They are thus called because all of them contain the Latin word solas, which means ‘alone’ or ‘only’. They are: ‘Sola scriptura’, ‘Sola fide’, ‘Sola gratia’, ‘Solo Christo’ and ‘Soli Deo gloria’.

By Scripture alone (Sola scriptura)

This phrase relates to the belief that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God. That church tradition can not introduce doctrine that is not found in the Bible. Catholicism however holds that the Roman Catholic traditions are equally as binding as anything found in scripture (for instance; the idea of purgatory, praying to the saints and the practice of indulgences) and that when the Pope speaks on matters of faith his words are infallible.

By Faith alone (Sola fide)

Sola fide relates to the core doctrine that justification is by faith alone. The distinction has been summed up as; Protestants believe “Faith yields justification and good works” and Catholics believe “Faith and good works yield justification”.

By Grace alone (Sola gratia)

This teaching simply says that there is nothing that we can do to merit salvation. The distinction between the two camps comes from the Protestant belief that after we have been saved we can not “co-operate with grace to merit greater graces”.

Through Christ alone (Solo Christo)

This sums up the fact that Christ is the only mediator between God and man and the only saviour. It contradicts with the Catholic practice of praying to saints and also with the belief (known as sacerdotalism for those of you who really wanted to know) that sacraments in the church only have ‘value’ if presided over by a priest ordained by the Pope.

Glory to God alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

This is the last of the solas, and simply states that all glory should be God’s. That we should not seek glory in our status, or positions of authority, but boast solely of the cross.

These are just some of the main doctrines that would have to be unified between the two ‘churches’ if they are actually to become one. Some think the differences are small and that we should ignore them for the sake of unity but I don’t think that can work. If we truly believe what we profess, then if something is diametrically opposed to that, one of the two views must be false and we are warned not to be “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” in Hebrews.

So whilst I believe unity is good, I also think that what we believe is important and that we should not erode our own witness by ‘watering down’ our beliefs simply to conform. There are many small issues that we will all hold slightly different views on, but when it comes to core doctrines we should have the courage to stand firm and not be associated with those who say they are wrong.



    Abide in Me, and I in You...

    Jesus said:
    "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

    You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

    I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

    If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you."
    (John 15:1-7)

    Wow! In those seven verses, the word ABIDE is mentioned seven times. The context of those verses provides us with a lot of light as to what is required of us by GOD for our eternal salvation.

    Jesus said:
    "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14)

    So we must not only ABIDE in Him but we must also strive to enter by the narrow gate. If we do not ABIDE in Him, then it is obvious that we are not on the path to the narrow gate of salvation, but on the path to the wide gate and to eternal destruction.

    So Jesus said that if we do not ABIDE in Him (the Vine) then we will be taken away from the Vine by the Father, and will be cast off only to wither, to be gathered, and then to be thrown into the fire and burned.

    Now that I have your attention, shouldn't we now find the meaning of the word ABIDE?

    The theological meaning of ABIDE is to dwell within. Jesus would come and dwell in us and we likewise in Him. So as long as we do what Jesus requests of us then we are on the path to the narrow gate to salvation.

    So to assure that we are on right path, Jesus has commanded that we must ABIDE in Him.

    What is required in order to have Jesus ABIDE in us and we in Him?

    Can we do it:

    1. By accepting Him as our our own personal Lord and Savior ?
    No. Where does the Bible say that?

    2. By the grace of GOD only? Sola Gracias?
    No. Where does the Bible say that?

    3. By faith in GOD alone? Sola Fides?
    No. Where does the Bible say that?

    It is simple common sense that since He commanded that we must do something, then doesn't it stand to reason that He would also tell us how to do it?

    Jesus was very clear in what we must do in order to have Him ABIDE in us and we in Him.

    Jesus left this command for us in John 6:53-57:

    53 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (the taken away branch);

    54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.


    57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me."

  2. Thanks for your comment Michael, it has made me think how I justify what I believe in light of the passage you have highlighted. I do agree that we must abide in Christ but I don’t believe that our acts (as long as we repent of them) can affect this salvation. Here are my thoughts.

    A branch that ‘abides’ in the vine will bear fruit. That does not mean that it is down to the branch whether or not it bears fruit. To extend the analogy all of the goodness (the nutrients) that allows the fruit to grow comes up from the vine.

    We must also remember that the Vine is used as an analogy for Israel. Many of whom believed that their ethnic descent and observation of rituals guarantied their salvation. Jesus here points out that Salvation will change our nature (from being dead wood, to being alive) and that because of this new nature good fruit will result. This is how we are to know if someone is saved. If we do not abide in the vine than we are already (by your own definition) separating our self from Christ, at this point Jesus casts us out and will say, on that future day, ‘I never knew him’.

    Note that we have no choice about being in the vine at the start of the quote. We are there, with Christ, our sins are cleansed and we are washed clean. This is salvation. By Christ’s blood we have already entered through the narrow gate of salvation. No work we can do can affect this. Consider for instance these quotes from Ephesians and Romans:

    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph 2:8-9

    “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Rom 4:2-5

    Our salvation is entirely reliant on God’s grace. Even the small part that we play (having faith) is not really our part at all for God has caused this faith to be.

    You seem to be saying (and I apologise if I’ve got this wrong) that the only way to salvation is via the sacrament of communion. In which case the priest (instead of God) is judging each person’s heart as they can refuse to allow some one to take communion. Similarly a serial killer could take communion whilst not repenting and by this standard be saved (and there’s nothing God can do about it). When I read this verse I do not read it literally (after all even in the Catholic church it is not actually God’s blood and body that is consumed but rather a symbol of them) rather I believe that it means we must rely fully on Jesus. That he provides all that we need to abide in him.

    After all, you had no problem with Jesus saying ‘I am the true vine’ so unless you believe that Jesus was a walking talking vine rather than man, you will have accepted that Jesus taught using metaphors. I contest that this is simply another metaphor.