Monday, September 28, 2009

The Insufficient Salvation of Catholicism, Part I

This was originally posted last week on my new blog, Cutting It Straight.
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There is a trend nowadays, an ecumenical trend, among evangelical Protestants to look at the Roman Catholic Church as “just another denomination” – one with a pope and a bunch of funny rituals and odd outfits, but another Christian body nonetheless.

This attitude arises from a lack of familiarity either with the true Gospel, or with the real nature of Catholic teaching. I came across a quote on James White’s blog recently and thought it worth reproducing in its entirety for everyone’s benefit:

When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.
Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man, not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest's command.
Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ.
(John O'Brien, The Faith of Millions, 255-256)

I will be dealing with this text over the next several days in a series of posts. Let’s compare this with Scripture, issue by issue:

1) he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man.

The Bible, on the other hand, says:

1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
(Hebrews 10:1-13)

Hebrews speaks for itself. The essential difference between the sacrifices of the Old Covenant and the sacrifice of Christ is that Christ’s was once for all. It is precisely because the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin that those sacrifices had to be offered again and again. Because Christ’s sacrifice can take away sins, it need only be offered once.

Catholic theology holds that Christ’s sacrifice is not sufficient in and of itself; rather, like the Old Covenant sacrifices, it needs to be offered repeatedly.

So no Catholic can say, with Paul:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


Paul speaks of this justification and this reconciliation as being complete. Only if Christ’s sacrifice is complete and once for all is this even possible.