Formerly the Thinking Catholic Strategic Center
Vic Biorseth, Thursday, September 02, 2010
“Are you saved” is the popular question, and “I know I am saved” is the popular joyful answer when faith-filled Protestants get together. But they view Catholics with a combination of fear, sorrow and puzzlement. When they ask the question of a Catholic, what they get in response, most times, is the deer in the headlights response – Catholics either don’t know how to respond to that, or, they just say yes, all Catholics are saved, or something similar. (Catholics are on shaky ground here, because this is an alien doctrine to them; it is a Protestant doctrine, not a Catholic one.)
A Protestant friend, who shall remain unnamed, always puzzles over how I never miss Mass on any Sunday or Holy Day, go to confession and extra devotions, my reading material is predominantly religious, I try to live a good Christian life, I argue doggedly for the faith of our fathers, and yet, I don’t even know whether I am saved or not. How can this be, he wonders. To him, it is so important to have this knowledge, this reassurance, this confidence in eternal life, that it is unimaginable how anyone with half a brain could not want to seek it and get it. And so, among the many topics we discuss, this one keeps somehow quietly coming back up, one way or another.
The question is “Are you saved?”, and my stock answer, which has become a knee-jerk, automatic response, is “I don’t know, because I’m not dead yet, I am not the judge of salvation, and neither are you.” I do try to make it not sound as brutal as the words look in print. But the fact remains that there is but one Judge of salvation, and none of us have anything to say about it. As much as I would like to just declare myself “saved” I don’t have the nerve to do it. It would take a lot of gall, because the True Judge is always listening. I await the Word and I pray for His mercy.
In the Protestant services my friend attends, the liturgy is quite simple and very moving and soul-stirring. It opens with some “gathering” hymns, followed by some Scripture reading that is almost participatory – people bring their Bibles, highlighters and take notes. The Scripture lessons evolve into Bible-based preaching of a high quality, which may go on for multiple hours. There are musical interludes here and there, and at some point toward the end there is an “Altar Call” in which the congregants are invited to come forward for special individual prayer with the minister or other “prayer partners.” It is here, most usually, that someone publicly “confesses Jesus” and is “saved.” It is here, it is in coming forward, and in the honest act of inviting and accepting Jesus as Master into one’s life, that one is “saved.” The service ends with some “going forth” hymns, through which the congregation is inspired and sent forth to spread the Gospel.
That’s the usual course of the salvation event; however, one can accept Jesus and be “saved” at any time, and there are many and varied stories of how various people came to recognize their own salvation. As a “life changing event” it is remembered in great detail, and Protestants enjoy taking turns telling their salvation story and listening to each other.
I ain’t buying it. Now, when I say that, it is not to say that these are not fully Christian, believing, decent people, who are devout worshipers of the one and only God upon Whom eternal life depends. They are on a different faith trail than we Catholics are on, but that faith trail may lead to the same eternal life we all pray for; our Lord knows for sure, and we know that He is a Lord of Mercy. To say that Protestants have been misguided is not to say that they have been damned. They honestly seek the Lord by the light they have been given, handed on to them by their faith tradition. Remember that the Samaritan woman at the well was also outside the traditional faith, and yet she was called to receive living waters of life.
Catholics who are properly catechized in their faith know that men are born anew through the Sacrament of Baptism, and they know this from the Baptismal discourse between Nicodemus and Jesus, in John 3. The main verses:
The key verse is, of course, verse 5, which says:
Look closely at that verse, and tell me what that word “water” is doing in there. Our Lord was referring to the Sacrament of Baptism. Protestants like to gloss over that word, or take it out and not even quote it; but it is there, and has been from the beginning. It cannot be ignored.
My friend has made the rather feeble attempt to explain that born of water means born of the earth, with reference to the amniotic fluid that surrounds the unborn baby, while born of spirit means some other event like the Altar call discussed above. It’s a weak argument, because of all the Scriptural references to water as spiritually cleansing, purifying and transforming. Jesus offered His “living water” to the Samaritan woman at the well; water flowed from His side on Calvary; His own Baptism was a transformational event in the eyes of witnesses, who heard the voice of God and saw His Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
Every Baptismal event in Scripture was a transformational event. Every new Christian in the primitive Church entered by being born again through Baptism. The Ethiopian Eunuch was, spiritually speaking, born anew through his Baptism. And yet my friend insists that no Baptism, and no other Sacrament or liturgy or official event is needed for human salvation. It’s a do-it-yourself project.
What does the Catholic Church say, and what does Scripture, properly interpreted, say about it? Well, it seems we are “saved” in three senses:
So in a sense, we are already saved, we are in the process of being saved, and we are to be saved in the future. All three.
And yet, we can have no assurance of salvation until we stand for judgment.
Salvation from the past:
Salvation in our future:
So it’s a process, begun by the unmerited Grace of God, cooperated with by our own free will, subject to test and perseverance. Nowhere in Scripture do I find any single thing a man can do to absolutely confirm and seal his own salvation, of which he may be certain. Not even Baptism does that; one can fall away into sin and corruption after Baptism. How could anyone possibly describe a salvation event in his life of which he is certain that he has obtained positive final judgment from the Lord? Even Paul couldn’t do that, and he didn’t do it.
Now, Paul was knocked off his high horse and into the dust on the road to Damascus, and struck blind, by the Presence of the Lord. It had to be the awakening of all awakenings, the humbling of all humblings, and the altar-call of all altar-calls. It certainly got his attention. Was his salvation assured from that time on? No. Absolutely not. We see in Acts, after this event, after he changed his tune, believed and had faith, he still had to be baptized –
And again –
Now, why would Paul need to be baptized and have his sins washed away if he was already saved? We have his warnings about over-confidence in being justified, as in:
and elsewhere. He was even concerned that he might lose his own salvation, as he said here:
Long story made short, I can state categorically that the Lord has given me salvation, that I am assured of my current state of salvation, but I cannot pronounce myself saved. There is only One Who can do that.
What I can say with certainty is that I am redeemed, that is purchased at a great price, by the blood of Christ shed for me at Calvary. I fully intend to cooperate with that redemption until the final call, but I am tempted every single day, and I cannot make any final statements about my own final judgment. My bags are packed, and I stand ready to go.
Right now, that is. I strive to always keep my spiritual bags packed and ready.
Where do you stand?
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Respond to This Article Below The Last Comment
Date: Sat Dec 18 11:38:11 2010
Location: Rockledge, FL USA
I find it amazing and also sad that one with as many obvious "smarts" as you [more than I have] has not seriously examined the bible and what it does say about salvation. You demonstrate a cavalier attitude toward scripture that I can only suppose comes from being taught that Catholic traditions are as important or more so than the bible.
The verses you do use in your attempt to "back up" false ideas of Christ and His meaning for us are taken out of context and are self-contradictory as are your arguments.
Your eternal destiny is a serious thing, and it is serious for us all. Go take another look at the bible and don't be fettered by the traditions of men who seek to lead you away from what the bible calls "the Word of Truth."
Date: Sun Dec 19 13:09:06 2010
From: Vic Biorseth
I thought that I had examined the Bible and what it does say about salvation. Traditions are indeed important, as Scripture says they are. (See the Is the Bible the Sole Authority? page.)
Please elaborate on my false ideas of Christ and His meaning for us; what are they? If I have quoted anything out of context, please put it into proper context for me so that I may learn and improve. What does self-contradictory mean?
I am not fettered by small-t traditions of men. No one will ever lead me away from the Word of Truth.
Your criticisms are too vague and indeterminate for me to respond in a comprehensive way. My guess is that you have a vague feeling that I’m wrong in what I say, but you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is. Please read it again more slowly, and then come back with a bit more precision.
Date: Mon Mar 21 19:57:26 2011
From: Brother Kevin
Vic, nice site! You've posted YEARS worth of reading material here! I'm a religious Brother and I'm always on the lookout for good reading material to pass along to the others in my community as well as to my students.
Keep up the good work!
Date: Tue Mar 22 05:54:35 2011
From: Vic Biorseth
Thank you so much; I thoroughly enjoy writing it.
Date: Sun Mar 11 20:18:52 2012
Regarding the previous entry by Gerald – I think you missed his main point. He was arguing against the value Catholics give to tradition, which is almost a bad word to many Protestants. “Traditions of man” are condemned in many places in Scripture, and Gerald, in the Protestant spirit, lumps it together with all tradition, no exceptions, and calls it bad. Maybe you could elaborate on it.
Date: Tue Mar 13 06:48:12 2012
From: Vic Biorseth
Thank you; I believe you’re right. Thank you for pointing it out; we can hope that Gerald reads this.
For the most part, the “condemned” traditions involved the old laws of purification, dietary restrictions and so forth. Even the stringent rules of the Sabbath were called into question and even violated by our Lord, which is what got Him into hot water with the authorities in the first place. It was often the “old law” and stringent outward appearances of piety, rather than real, internal piety, decency, charity and quiet goodness that was being condemned.
“Tradition” is of two types in Catholic understanding: tradition, and Tradition. Small-t tradition is the traditions of man, spoken of in these lines picked out of Matthew and Mark:
Large-T Tradition comes from the oral teaching of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, regarding the most fundamental truths of the Gospel message, as spoken of in these lines picked out of 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians:
Our Lord taught in the oral tradition; he taught by speaking, not by writing. His Apostles carried on that oral tradition. The four Gospels were not written until long after His death, resurrection and ascension; many Epistles were being written, but not yet considered to be Scripture or even gathered together.
The best examples of large-T Tradition might come out of the Creed; if I’m not mistaken, every element of the Creed is dogma, which is to say, the strongest and most certain doctrines held by the Church. Many parts of the Mass are large-T Tradition, such as the actual words spoken at the Consecration of the Bread and the Wine. However, many other parts of the Mass, such as the various vestments and some of the lesser prayers might be small-t traditions of man, and subject to change. Basically, if a tradition did not come out of the sacred deposit of faith, laid down by our Lord and His Apostles, then it is a tradition of man; if it came out of the deposit, it is a sacred Tradition and a required teaching, or a doctrine.
Serious questions on matters of faith have long been argued and settled by great Councils, with the aid of the Holy Ghost. John 21:25 tells us that Jesus taught the Apostles many things, so many that all the books in the world could not contain them. And, He told them not to worry about it; in John 14:26 He promised to send them the Holy Ghost, who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that He had told them. We have the model for all following Ecumenical Councils in Acts 15:28, on the question of the requirement of gentiles so follow the circumcision and dietary law, settled with the words:
It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us …
The Apostles were gathered together in council, with the Holy Ghost, and the matter was settled.
So Catholicism stands on all three pillars of Truth:
If our Lord did not intend for us to recognize the teaching authority of His Church, then, why did He establish it?
It appears to me that Protestantism has only one leg to stand on: Scripture. The more ways they find to interpret it, the more denominations pop into being.
Date: Wed Sep 18 10:43:31 2013
This is all very formal and very formulaic but there is no real personal relationship with Jesus in all of this. Until you completely surrender your whole self and call upon His name and ask Him to come into your life, you will walk alone. You are not saved. You must repent, confess with your tongue and call on His name, and believe on Him who saves. Then you will be a new man, under new management, and you will never walk alone again. What a friend we have in Jesus!
Date: Wed Sep 18 19:36:10 2013
From: Vic Biorseth
The relationship I enjoy with Jesus Christ is Sacramental, and deeply involved in mystery. The relationship you describe is more like a party, where Jesus is just one of the guests.
My personal relationship with Jesus is not as a pal or a buddy. Jesus no mere companion; He is my Lord and my God, with Whom I am not fit to walk. The personal relationship you describe is worldly; the personal relationship I know is Divine.
I experience it at every Catholic Eucharist, where I dare to approach the actual, physical, body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ,the Lord thy God. And when I dare to eat His Flesh, and to drink His Blood, I become, for a time, an actual Tabernacle of God Himself. I contain Him; He is within me; as He was in the Ark of the Covenant long ago, and as He was in the Blessed Virgin when she carried the baby Jesus. At each Eucharist, I become what I eat, which is, the Body of Christ.
He is our Emanuel, which means, God Is With Us.
Who else can say it?
Thanks to His gift of Holy Eucharist, He is actually, physically present, in every Tabernacle in every Catholic Church on earth.
From your words I conjecture that your denomination, whatever it is, has rejected Sacrament in favor of a sort of communal feel-good-ism. What a shame. You don't even begin to know what you are missing.
I wish you would come and see.
Date: Wed Jul 23 2014
From: Vic Biorseth
Changes pursuant to changing the website URL
and name from
Thinking Catholic Strategic Center to
Catholic American Thinker.
Pulled the trigger on the 301 MOVE IT option June 1, 2014. Working my way through all the webpages. .
Never be lukewarm.
Life itself demands passion.
He who is indifferent to God has already forfeited his soul.
He who is indifferent to politics has already forfeited his liberty.
In America, religion is not mere window dressing and citizenship is not a spectator sport.
Do not allow our common destiny as a whole people to just happen without your input.
Seek the Truth; find the Way; live the Life; please God, and live forever.
Catholic American Thinker
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