Common Misunderstanding: The Fundamentalist Position. The problem: When fundamentalists ask the question, "Have you been saved?" they also mean, "Don't you wish you had an assurance of salvation?" By this they mean that they have an absolute assurance of salvation. They gained this by "accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior" For them it makes no difference how they live or end their lives after this.
Response: CCC 161. The Catholic knows that belief in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation but that one must also endure unto the end. See Mt 10:22, 24; 13; Heb 3:7-19; 4:1-13; 6:4-12; Mk 13:13; Lk 21:19; Rev 2:2-7. This understanding is necessary for St. Paul's warnings concerning serious sin and the loss of salvation to make sense (see Gal 5:16-21 and parallels).
Primary source: Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Ch. 13, "Salvation."
For the fundamentalist, an important underlying concept is that "accepting Jesus" has nothing to do with turning a spiritually dead soul into a soul alive with sanctifying grace. The soul remains depraved, worthless, a bottomless pit of sin. God covers man's sinfulness. It is like hiding the soul under a cloak, or in Luther's words, "The dung heap of our soul is covered with the whiteness of snow" (in spite of Isa. 1:18).
Dr. David L. Hocking in his audio, “Can You Lose Your Salvation?” identifies the following Bible passages in support of “eternal security.”
John 6:37 “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me… Compare to KJV – “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (True, Jesus will not, but we can ourselves reject Him.)
John 10: 27-29 “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.” (What if a sheep chooses not to hear His voice? If a sheep remains close to the shepherd he is safe, but if he runs away he can be eaten up. See I Peter 5:8. How can this make sense in Hocking’s line of reasoning?)
Rom 8:38,39 “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (These assurances are for those who have set their minds on Christ, as long as they remain faithful to Him. Only thus are we safe. Does this passage say that in spite of who we are or what we’ve done that God’s love secures us? How about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, or Simon Magus, Acts 8?)
The argument from the unchangeable character of God. This is not even rational. If it is God’s plan that His people be responsible and holy, then His character and His will never changes, but we will be saved or lost according to our own actions, our faith or lack of it (see Mal. 3:6ff, Js1:17ff).
Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:30 – the sealing of the Holy Spirit being the guarantee of our inheritance until we possess it. If this is an unconditional guarantee, why does St. Paul give the warnings of Eph 5 3-20 (in the same letter!)?
Phil 1:6 – the argument of the infallibility of God’s work in believers. “I am confident that… the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Have we no part in the completion? Rather, His doing this work is dependent on our response to Him in obedience, Phil 2:12 – compare Living Bible to JB to NAB to see theological presuppositions at work. Note that Hocking quotes Phil 2:13 without making reference to the preceding verse.
2 Tim 2:13 – “If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. (This must also be consistent with the preceding verse, “But if we deny him he will deny us.”)
Critiques of the Fundamentalist Position
Keating points out the convenience of this assurance of salvation, being one of the most enticing tenets of fundamentalism, especially for those people caught up in the guilt up in the guilt of their former lives. There is no need for reformation of character, no embarrassing confession of faults either to a priest, to a congregation or to oneself. One can avoid all particularities, admitting transgressions in general, forgetting them in particular. There is no need for a true examination of conscience nor for the rigor of the Ignatian spiritual exercises.
After being saved Wilson Ewin says that “no wrong or sinful deed can ever affect the believer’s salvation. Since the sinner did nothing to merit God’s grace, neither can he do anything to merit grace. Some fundamentalists will go so far as to affirm that one who is saved will not, in fact, commit any serious sin. Does this match with empirical investigation?
A problem for the fundamentalist is knowing whether his calling and election are sure or genuine (see 2 Peter 1:10, 11 and the note in the St. Joseph’s Edition Bible.) “Leading a good life immediately after being born again proves nothing, since one might sin grievously at a later time. Leading a bad life right after apparently being saved does not disprove it, since one’s sins are immaterial. Either way, the doctrine seems nearly useless because, when reflected upon seriously, it seems to make impossible the very assurance it is supposed to give.” (Keating, p. 173)
The Catholic Position and Response
For Catholics our salvation depends on the state of our soul at the time of our death. Christ has already redeemed us. He has done his part, and now we have to cooperate by doing ours. If we are to pass through those gates, we have to be in the right spiritual state. A good response to “Are you saved?” is “Yes, I have been redeemed by Christ; I have been saved by my faith and my baptism, and I am working to make my salvation sure.”
A number of passages of Scripture explicitly call the whole notion of the assurance of salvation into question and any adequate theological explanation must take into account all relevant passages of Scripture:
1 Cor 9:27 "No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be
disqualified." See this a transition into the warnings of chpt 10, St. Joseph's edition note. Be sure to read all of I Cor 10.
2 Cor 5:10 - judgement by works (not just faith)
Rom 2:6 - see all of this chapter for numerous references
Rom 11:22 - "See, then, the kindness, otherwise you too will be sut off."
Heb 3:12 - "Take care, brothers, that none of you may have an evil and unfaithful heart, so as to forsake the living God... We have become partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end... (read through 4:11, see also, Heb 2:1-3; 6;4,6; 2 Jn 8-11).
See the conditional statements in Col 1:22-23, "provided you continue in the faith." I Cor 15:2, "if you hold fast, unless you believed in vain."
See the statments relating to apostasy (apostacy is the abandoning of what one believed) 2 Thess 2:3, Gal 5:4, ("you have fallen from grace"). 2 Pet 2:20-22! "For, if they having escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, again become entangled and overcome by them, their last condtion is worse than their first. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment handed down to them. What is expressed in the true proverb has happened to them, 'The dog returns to its own vomit' and 'A bathed sow returns to wallowing in the mire.'"
Consider also the passages addressed to believers concerning the eternal consequences for persisting in sin: Rom 1:18-2:16 (esp 2:5-8), I Cor 6:9-11, Rev 21:7,8.
Ezekial 33:10-20 is extremely clear.
A key document for understanding the Catholic position comes from the II Council of Orange, 527 AD in response to the challenge of semi-Pelagianism. Unfortunately it was lost at the time of the Reformation, not discovered until later, during the Council of Trent, after the positions had hardened. It has become the basis for the Lutheran-Catholic joint declaration on justification, which has effectively bridged this doctrinal difference of the Reformation. Even John Calvin affirmed that, "the moment we turn away even slightly from Him, our salvation, which rests firmly in Him, gradually vanishes away" (Institutes II, 16, 1; p. 503 McNeil).
Summary: The Reformers were quite right in opposing a semi-Pelagianism (a heresy in the early Church which resurfaces often) which was very present at that time in Rome. They affirmed that we are saved by faith, which is the correct teaching of the Church. Their error was in saying that we are saved by faith alone.
.... to be continued