Evangelical Idea of Salvation - 01/12/2004
I've always been interested in the Evangelical idea that the Catholic Church's sacramental "system" of salvation is somehow elitist or more inaccessible than what Christ intended. There are many theological arguments to be made on this issue, but in practical terms it seems plain to me that attaching grace to actions like eating, drinking, anointing with oil, etc, could be a very gracious gift to man from a God who knows that we are often better able to deal with physical realities than spiritual ones. (This view also has the benefit of fitting in well with the Incarnation.)
Anyway, my question is this: my best understanding of the Evangelical view of salvation is that we are saved by grace, through faith (in Christ) only, and that this faith comes from the Holy Spirit through reading the Bible. I am wondering how this idea can be reconciled with God's love and mercy on humanity, given the fact that for nearly all of Christian history
the overwhelming majority of men and women have been illiterate, and that for the first millenium-plus after Christ there was no mass publishing. If, for more than a thousand years, Bible-reading was limited to a wealthy and educated few-- and even if the RCC had not discouraged it, economic and social circumstances would not have allowed otherwise-- then how were the common people of those times to be saved?
It seems to me that in light of the real history of His creation, the God who "hears the cry of the poor" would be more likely to send them spiritual "manna from Heaven" (the Eucharist) than a book which they can neither read nor afford.
CONTENDER MINISTRIES RESPONSE:
Hi Nick. Thanks for writing to Contender Ministries. First, the presumption that performing certain works is necessary for justification or salvation is contrary to what the Bible teaches. We don't criticize doctrines that are merely extra-biblical so long as they don't go against biblical teachings. The importance and function of the Catholic sacraments though, makes justification "works-based", which is unbiblical. When Jesus was asked "what must we do to do the works God requires?", Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:28-29). Romans 4:2-3 says, "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.' " Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." I could go on, but for the sake of brevity, we'll let those verses speak for themselves.
Secondly, you misunderstand the biblical ("Evangelical", as you say) view of salvation and justification. Faith does not depend on reading the Word of God. I have absolutely no idea where you heard that. Romans 10:17 says, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." One does not have to be literate to be able to hear the message. One need only have ears to hear the wonderful message of the gospel of Christ. The scriptures are replete with stories of people who turned to Christ in faith without reading a single word. Then through an exercise in faith (the only work required of God) we are made righteous. Romans 3:22a, "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." This is the good news! This is the message our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to share. This is WHY he suffered the sacrificial death for our sins. When we try to justify ourselves through works, or believe in an unbiblical middle-state of purgatory, then we minimize the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Such doctrines imply that His gift to us was not sufficient without extra help from ourselves.
I hope this answers your question, or at least clears up your understanding of the biblical view of salvation by grace through faith alone. May the Holy Spirit guide you and give you wisdom.
Ben and Jennifer Rast