Friday, January 30, 2009

Once Saved, Always Saved Again

I already addressed this topic in greater depth earlier, but there were a few important verses I didn't mention the first time, so I'll focus on those now.

The idea of a completed and unchangeable justification is one of the ideas that most separate Catholics from certain groups of Protestants. This is the difference that compels Fundamentalists to say we are not Christians, that we believe in a "works salvation," and that only Catholics who don't really believe what the Church says are saved.

But let's look at the Bible once more to see what it really says on the matter:
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." [2 Peter 2:20-22]
Now, like most things, this could be explained away, but the most obvious meaning is that Christians, the saved, who were following the way of Jesus Christ, can turn away from the faith, entering into a state that is worse than before they ever knew Christ.

Now let's look closely at one of our Lord's own teachings:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." [John 15:1-8]
First, who is a branch? Is the unbeliever joined to the body of the lord? No, we know from the scriptures that it is Christians (the saved) who are part of the body, of which Christ is the head. So this verse is addressing those who are already saved, by being "branches" of the "true vine."

Now, what does he tell us, as his branches? Does he say, "You, being branches, will remain in me, and will bear fruit?" No. He clearly requests that we do "remain" in him, and that we let his words have life within us, thus bearing fruit. He clearly does not say that we are guaranteed to remain in him. He says that branches which do not bear fruit will be cut off, and such branches will wither, and will ultimately be thrown into the fire.

This is unmistakeably the Catholic doctrine on Justification:

By God's grace we are offered salvation. By Faith we accept this gift, and become branches on the vine. Being connected to Christ in this way, his divine life flows through us, enabling us to do good works or "bear fruit." If we "remain" in him, allowing his grace to flow through us, we remain saved. If, however, we turn away, deciding to stop the flow of life from the vine, we will not bear fruit. Then we will be cut off.

This verse doesn't show it, but the Catholic Church also believes that such a cut-off branch can be re-attached to the vine by repentance, and a return to faith.

1 comment:

dbonneville said...

One of the strategies of Fundamentalists is to "Scripture bomb" their audience with a seemingly overwhelming number of apparently applicable Scripture quotes. Karl Keating shows this in his famous book about Catholicism and Bible Christians.

If you were to apply the "bomb" technique to passages that seem to suggest permanent salvation vs conditional, the conditional list would be huge in favor of conditional salvation, in simple plan "fundamental" English. "If you..." is very common phrase in the NT. Revelation has references to "rewarding each according to..." etc. The list is very long! The root of the interpretive problem them is not the list Catholics or Fundamentalists can create, but rather the interpretive paradigm: with "Sola Scriptura", anything is possible! With the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, the possibilities have constraints.

Makes me think of a Mark Twain quote I could tweak..."There are lies, damned lies, and [my change here] long lists of Scripture passages..."