Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Don't "Phllip out" over faith vs. works

From today's Evening Prayer, the reading is Phillipians 2:12. It's the single best verse for the faith vs. works issue that comes up between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics who read their Bibles and listen at mass (and especially, pray the Office) have far more scripture memorized than we give ourselves credit for. Thing is, we don't much bother with the little numbers. Or even the part of the Bible that the verses we know by heart came from. So our conversations with our Protestant friends go like this:

Protestant: Why do Catholics have statues when Exodus 20 verse 4 clearly  states, "you shall not make to thyself a graven image, not the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth."

Catholic: Yes, but that means if you make them for the purpose of worshipping them. Later on, God actually commands Moses to make golden cherubim to decorate the ark of the covenant.

Protestant: where does it say that?

Catholic: Um....Exodus?  Numbers?  Somewhere around there...  And then there's the decorations that Solomon makes for the temple...grapes and some other stuff....guess that would be one of the books of Kings maybe...

This probably sounds very sloppy and unprofessional to your protestant friend.

So, just this once, memorize  "Phillipian 2:12".Here's a mnemonic device: "Don't "Phllip out" over the faith vs works controversy. There are 2 sides to it" That will at least get you to Phillipians 2. You can then read down to find verse 12)  So next time the conversation will go like this:

Protestant: Catholics seem to think they have to say all kinds of prayers, never miss mass on Sunday, do good deeds and follow the commandments in order to "work their way into heaven".  My works and prayers flow from my faith in Jesus, but I don't think I'll go to hell if I don't do enough of them. Romans 3: 28 says we are justified by grace through redemption in Christ Jesus, independently of works of the law." So you see, Christ has done everything to save me. I don't do anything to save myself.

Catholic: Faith versus works is a bit of a paradox, isn't it? Phillipian 2:12 sums up that both are necessary: "work out your salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who begets in you  both the will and the performance."  There wouldn't be any fear and trembling if we are guaranteed salvation because of having believed in Jesus, would there? Although this same verse also attests that God's work in our salvation is greater, and primary. I think  C.S. Lewis says that the main thing is not to overanlyze it, trying to determine "God did this" and "I did that", since when we are members of His body, the Church, our good actions are in a sense one with His.