Thursday, August 18, 2011

Assurance and Stuff

Forgive the sloppiness of yesterday's post - blog posts are often written hurriedly or in the heat of the moment, which is not so much an excuse as a sad statement of fact. I realize the disagreement between Protestants and Catholics that I touched on concerning justification is a complicated one. But it saddens me how many intelligent, thoughtful, and good people are simply unaware of Catholic teaching - or only have a cursory understanding of it.

So I was telling my wife about the Sproul lecture I had listened to and she interrupted me, with just the proper bit of chide in her voice, saying, "Why are you listening to him?" Which is actually a question I've been pondering for some time on the heels of the controversy this year in Protestantism over hell that was precipitated by Rob Bell. Frankly, Protestant controversy is Protestant controversy and I have no business sticking in my nose. Often I do, reasoning that I have friends and family who are Protestant, and I'd like to be able to engage them if it ever comes up in conversation. But I'm Catholic, and it's really no business of mine. The Catholic Church has her own issues and problems and I would better spend my time praying about difficulties that I am dealing with in my own family, parish, and community. There is a hell in my heart that St Paul calls the love of controversy.

Now what drew me to listening to him yesterday, which I haven't done in years, is that I saw an intriguing tweet, which I can't seem to find now, that said something about how Assurance of Salvation Leads to Sanctification. Intriguing because I have recently been talking to some friends about assurance (Catholics don't believe in assurance of salvation). And intriguing because I wondered how something I no longer believe in could lead me or others to holiness. Sproul pushed against Catholic teaching quite a bit in his bit, and I just grabbed a moment of it and reacted. (Reaction, by the way, is never a great starting point for great thought. Note to self.) I didn't find anything instructive in his belief about holiness and assurance, and was disappointed by how convoluted and silly the argument was. But I live in an alternate universe and I imagine people are just as perplexed when I open my mouth.

Whether my salvation is secure, in my thinking, is entirely the wrong focus (and it needs to be gotten out of the way - this is actually Sproul's contention as well). I'm in the Church. I receive the sacraments. I belong to the Body of Christ. God loves me and shows mercy to me - every day. What do I need a contract for? He's my Father. (I don't need to be constantly checking my birth certificate to confirm that my dad is my dad.) And though I daily stray from him, he is still my Father and it is only in his house that I ever truly feel peace and rest. Now certainly we may have doubts about things - sometimes we may even wonder whether we're saved (one of the elect). Some of these fears are natural to us. Some of them are the work of the Holy Spirit to draw us back to God, to renew our baptismal vows*, to drive us to his grace and mercy in Confession/Reconciliation. But the fear is from the pit. And if you struggle with always thinking that God is dangling you over said pit, or you fear that you think you are saved but may be one of those with a false sense of assurance to whom God says, "Depart from me, I never knew you," then your answer is not found in some fanciful promise. Your answer is Christ, and in the forgiveness and mercy that he continually extends to us. We love him imperfectly and so we fear. Trust him. He is good. He is the Lover of Mankind. Trust him.

*Our baptismal vows are mostly an affirmation of the Apostles' Creed. We renew them, re-affirm them, remind ourselves of them within our Liturgy, but also even as we enter our parish and cross ourselves with holy water - a sign/symbol that it is through our baptism that we enter the church:

V. Do you reject Satan?

R. I do.

V. And all his works?

R. I do.

V. And all his empty promises?

R. I do.

V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

R. I do.

V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

R. I do.

V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

R. I do.

V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

"I surrender myself to thee, O Christ, to be ruled by thy precepts."


Fred said...

"Why are you listening to him?"

Now this is a great question, and I'm an aficionado of great questions.

Protestants are the separated brethren of Western Christianity. Their questions follow the Western trajectory, and many of their answers have Catholic antecedents or analogues. In America, especially, it has been said that even the Catholics have Protestant tendencies. So, for me interest in Jonathan Edwards, Reinhold Niebuhr, or even Jerry Falwell, is an interest in my culture, my traditions. And it's essential that I test everything - because otherwise I may absorb it unconsciously OR I may miss the good in my own backyard.

Case in point: sola fides. For Aquinas, this was a perfectly valid phrase but for us: we've lost touch with the experience expressed in this phrase (which is not the same as its current usage).... may have to blog on this one myself as I've been mulling it lately.

Scott Lyons said...

Thanks, Fred. This is all very true. (Btw, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Aquinas's sola fides.) But a couple of things: the question from my wife probably has to do more with what I do with some of these interactions with Protestant thought more than any disdain for their thoughts. She's more concerned with how riled I sometimes gets in the interaction. It's different, in some ways, of course, since most of my adult faith has been Protestant. As a convert/revert I have a psychological, emotional attachment to or push back against some of this stuff, whereas I would imagine your interest is far healthier intellectually and theologically. You would be far more objective.

I react. My blood starts pumping. It often seems so personal. In the immortal words of Pee Wee Herman: "I don't need to watch it, I lived it." Or something of that sort. These are awfully familiar views for me that are rendered oddly unfamiliar in my reversion to Catholicism (over and over, at times). It's such a strange perspective.

So there is this wrestling in my heart over much of this. And I still so easily offend.

"And it's essential that I test everything - because otherwise I may absorb it unconsciously OR I may miss the good in my own backyard." - What to say to this? Amen. Good thoughts.

Laura's question is one I've been thinking about lately as well, so I appreciate your comments.

Fred said...

Here's my old post on sola fides:
I need to do a new one though, that addresses "we walk by faith and not by sight" in a way that makes clear that faith is not opposed to sight but beyond sight (seeing the invisible dimension in everyday things).

These things are real and deeply personal for me also (several years back I was arguing many hours a day online, and Karen could tell you how concerned she was for me!). Giussani says that emotion is a factor we can't and shouldn't attempt to limit in a utopian quest for objectivity. It's a lens that must be focused to avoid distortion.

kkollwitz said...

I listen to Protestant stuff all the time just to get a sense of that worldview.

"Reaction, by the way, is never a great starting point for great thought."

I tell my wife: Men don't think, they react.