But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. – Romans 11:6 (ESV)
Recently, I have begun re-reading Brennan Manning’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel. While I recognize that this book and some of its ideas may be controversial in some circles, I think it makes some good points about the believer and their relationship to God through Christ. The simple fact that Brennan was formerly in the Catholic priesthood is enough to send some into a tailspin and accuse me of promoting heresy. However, from my viewpoint, his life experience cements his credentials as someone who examined the issue in detail from more than one point of view and has a more informed perspective as a result.
Let me get some things out of the way at the outset of this post. I do read some Catholic literature and refer to Catholic Bibles on occasion in my studies of God’s Word. One Bible I enjoy making use of [among others] is the New Jerusalem Bible. I even at times read the Apocrypha and can get a lot out of it. I believe in the “invisible church” — the body of believers who really ‘get it’ and whose Lord and Savior is Jesus. I think the invisible church can be found within the walls of many different types of churches… regardless of the name that may be over the door.
When I was called by God, I was dead in my trespasses and sins and needed to be made alive again by Him (regenerated). It was not because of some theology I expounded or great deeds done, nor was it the result of some magnificent penance I performed. It was simply because of God’s incomprehensible love for me and through His grace that I have been saved. Nothing more than that. I must be careful to reflect on that love and grace each and every day, so I don’t think myself too terrible to save without having to do some extra work. I have nothing to bargain with God over. I am completely dependent on His grace.
Having stated my beliefs and opinions above, let me also say this clearly: I am not Roman Catholic. I am not Baptist, Lutheran or Methodist. I am simply a Christian. In fact, even the church I attend does not have a denominational affiliation attached to it. Let me also state plainly that I suspect that many Roman Catholics are true Christians, and would say the same about many others of Protestant persuasion. It is God who sees the heart, not me. Not you. God. Many protestants like to point the finger at Catholics, accusing them of following a works-based religion and discounting the Grace of God. The reverse is also true, where many Catholics see Protestants as doomed. It is sad that so many don’t get it. Jesus is everywhere He needs to be and will meet us when we call for Him.
I think that Bible study is very, very important. From its pages, I can discover true doctrine. But I also think that we often tend (as believers) to place too much emphasis on some things that God may deem of lesser importance and allow them to divide us, therefore rendering us ineffective in spreading the message of the Kingdom: the message of love and grace. And more love, and more grace.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) The message of grace can all too easily become obscured in theology, which means we miss the whole point of the Gospel. I have spent much time mouthing the word “grace” without the slightest comprehension of what it really means -and how much God has really done for me. It is too easy to think that I have to perform some sort of ‘works’ to compensate for the extra sinful nature that I sadly possess as a human. For some of us maybe it’s some Sunday morning duty we perform at Church that we would rather not be doing -or perhaps it is tithing when we begrudge the money to the church, but fear God’s disapproval.
What shall we say, then? Should we continue to live in sin so that God’s grace will increase? Certainly not! We have died to sin—how then can we go on living in it? -Romans 6:1-2 (GNT) I write none of this as an excuse to sin in a conscience-free religious environment with an idea of a God who simply says “don’t worry about it” when I choose to indulge in sinful behavior which is clearly, if nothing else, self-destructive or harmful to those around me. Because I truly get the idea that God loves me in my broken, sinful state enough for Jesus to go to the cross for me, then it is natural for me to want to obey Him and live in a way that pleases Him — not to indulge myself even more in destructive, offensive behavior whose end is death.
Lastly, let me say a couple of words about “ecumenism.” Many fundamentalists and evangelicals cringe when they hear the word because of the connotations it often carries. Many see it as a way to erode doctrine and adapt some sort of “everything goes” way of looking at the Christian life. I know this is true for many instances. I try to boil it down to what it is supposed to mean and apply it to my life in that manner (thinking of the term when I ponder my relationship to other Christians): the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian Churches. I am not referring to liberal, “anything goes” churches that aim to change with the times and please the world at the drop of a dime. I am talking of those who preach that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to God and life everlasting. I am talking of those who take the Bible seriously as God’s inerrant word to us.
I believe firmly in doctrine. At the same time, I must allow that there are believers in other denominations [and in Catholicism] who are truly saved because they get what Jesus did for them and have placed their trust in Him. Many realize that combining faith with any form of work diminishes the true meaning of the Gospel and attempts to unseat God’s grace as the only thing that can save us. One need simply spend time reading, praying and meditating over the words in Hebrews 11 to come to a full realization of what it is that truly saves.
I am sorry to offend anyone who may be Catholic or Orthodox or any other form of religion that likes to work in some ‘tasks’ in combination with salvation, but I must speak what I know to be the truth as revealed in God’s word. That truth is GRACE.