Monday, June 7, 2010

Angelina Jolie and Sacraments

There is a post on CtC about Angelina Jolie. I don't follow her as much as the author assumes but I thought I would add my $0.02 anyway. The point is a person's certainty of salvation. Are we sure we are really and truly in the family of God and that we will be there when we die? In the reformed view people can be sure they are in the family of God if their lives have been transformed by God's saving grace. But how transformed do their lives have to be? There is no way to know. Real people can feel transformed some of the time and still feel pathetically untransformed at other times. So which do they listen to? Certainly they know if they are in God's family they are in forever. But if they are out they are out forever. So their is no urgency. So Calvinists tend to assume they are in most of the time. But they have their doubts. This is a good thing. If they didn't it would be the sin of presumption.

Catholics can be sure they are in God's family because they are in sacramental union with the visible church. The sacraments are very important here. Nobody wonders whether they were baptized or not. If you were you are in. Now Catholics don't believe that guarantees you will die in a state of grace. But there can be no doubt whether you are holy enough when you are baptized. You are holy enough by grace alone.

But then what? There is the possibility of mortal sin. OK, but that is much more precisely defined than any Calvinist notion of being transformed by God's grace. They explicitly deny any correlation with actual acts. Acts that look holy can be done by those headed for hell. Acts that are sinful can be done by the elect. So the connection between holy living and assurance of salvation is quite vague. Catholics have it much easier. Mortal sins are pretty well defined. So assurance based on having not committed a mortal sin is pretty solid.

The sacrament are the key difference. When a Calvinist repents he never really knows if his repentance has been good enough. Especially when it is a serious sin or he continues to struggle with that same sin. They brag that they don't have to go to confession. The truth is confession is a grace. It give us something we can do to show we are serious about repenting. If we do it God gives us that assurance by having His priest speak words of absolution. We can distinguish the insincere "sorry" that does not involve true repentance from the truly repentant heart.

The biggest thing about Catholic assurance is they believe people can lose their salvation. It is a paradox but it is true. What scares a Calvinist? When someone who seemed very holy and sincere about their faith falls away. They have to believe that person either was never a Christian or continues to be a Christian. They can't base their assurance on a simple choice not to commit apostasy like this person did because they can't believe he committed apostasy. They have to believe that somebody that seemed so solid was really a false Christian. Then how can they be sure their own commitment is solid? They can't. They could believe it was a case of temporary backsliding but that is often hard. Either way they have to accept this huge gap between a persons actions and his spiritual state.

Catholics keep it simple. If people seem to go from saved to unsaved it is probably because they did. If we participate in the sacraments and avoid mortal sin we don't need to worry about whether we are saved or not. Does that mean we don't need grace. Not at all. It just means we know what our life looks like when we are receiving saving grace though faith. That gives us assurance.

No comments:

Post a Comment