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The Church & Salvation

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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February 24, 2022 12:01 am

The Church & Salvation

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 24, 2022 12:01 am

We cannot understand the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on salvation unless we also examine its doctrine of the church. Today, R.C. Sproul presents us with these views, underscoring the importance of the 16th-century Reformation.

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Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind… What is required of us?

And who has the authority to tell us? From the early church on, there has always been a debate over critical theological issues. That debate, of course, came to a head early in the 16th century when Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church.

Today, Dr. R.C. Sproul tackles one of the most important points of contention then and now. Our topic in this session will be The Church and Salvation. Notice that I have not titled this lecture merely The Doctrine of the Church, nor have I titled it The Doctrine of Salvation. But we're looking at a very narrow concept of Roman Catholic ecclesiology, that is the relationship of the church to salvation. So that we're considering not only ecclesiology, which is the doctrine of the church, but also soteriology. And soteriology is the doctrine of what? Of salvation, yes. Coming from the Greek soter, which means savior. Sotsomitos.

That's what I'm trying to say. What I'm trying to get at is what is the relationship between the church as an institution and salvation as a reality? Roman Catholic theology, the Roman Catholic institution, is usually described as an institution given to sacerdotalism.

Coming from the Latin sacerdotum, which is the Latin term for priest, sacerdotalism is an ism in which salvation is mediated through the functions of the priesthood, namely the sacraments. Notice that the great emphasis in Reformed churches and even manifested in its architecture is in the preaching of the Word, where the center of attention in Protestant churches is the pulpit. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the center of attention is what? The altar. And the mass is seen as the heart of the liturgy rather than the sermon, which is usually a very short homily.

Now that difference is a difference, of course, an emphasis. It's a difference in degree, and it has its roots in an entirely different approach to salvation. And sacerdotalism has to do with the approach of salvation by means of the priestly functions of the sacraments which impart saving grace to people. Now if salvation is sacerdotal, if redemption comes through the means of grace that are dispensed by the priest and controlled by the church, then the question automatically comes, what happens to a person who is not a member of a sacerdotal communion, who is not a member of the Roman Catholic Church?

Alright, that's the issue. Can a person outside of the Roman Catholic Church, from the perspective of the Roman viewpoint, can that person be saved? That question was a burning question in this country in the 40s and in the 50s, and indeed up to the new mentality manifested and expressed by Vatican II, partly because of the significance of a papal encyclical that was issued in 1943, which we'll look at in a moment.

But I remember, if I can illustrate the problem from personal experience, some certain incidences that took place in my own life. First thing I recall is growing up in a suburban community outside of Pittsburgh. In that suburban community there were only two churches, a Protestant church and a Catholic church. There were two elementary schools, a public elementary school and the Roman Catholic elementary school. And there was a very clearly defined spirit of division between those two institutions.

The division was manifested in the geographical establishment of the neighborhood. The Catholics lived on one side of the main highway. The Protestants lived on the other side of the main highway. The Protestants all went to the Protestant church and to the public school.

The Catholic children all went to the Catholic church and to the Catholic school. And there was virtually no interchange socially between the two groups, and there was a severe element of distrust and suspicion between these two groups. And we know that when we're talking about the 1940s now, we're talking about a situation that has been greatly alleviated from earlier days, let's say at the turn of the century, and the problem that the Irish Catholic faced socially and politically in this country in the midst of different ethnic backgrounds.

So there's a sense in which I can recall this spirit of suspicion. And I remember when we went into 10th grade, the Catholics at that point did not have their own high school so that we suddenly were thrown together. And baseball teams and football teams, et cetera, now were composed of a mixture of Protestant and Catholic. And there was some beginnings of communication and friendships developing. And I remember having a person tell me that they had been taught in their Catholic parochial school as a part of a matter of course of their teaching that anyone who was a Protestant could not go to heaven, that you must be within the Roman Catholic church in order to go to heaven.

And I had my friends tell me that. This became more existentially real to me as I got older and developed a very close friendship with a man who was Roman Catholic. And at the time that I was entering into marriage with Vesta, I of course wanted this fellow who was my best friend to be my best man in my wedding. And at that time, he asked special permission from the church to participate in my wedding. And that permission was not granted. It was refused on the grounds that it was considered then by the priest a serious sin to even attend a Protestant worship service, to be present at all in any kind of ecclesiastical function within Protestantism. So my best friend was not even allowed to attend my wedding, let alone participate in it. When he got married a little while later, I was given permission by the Bishop of New York to participate in his wedding as a Protestant, but I was not permitted to approach the altar for the time of the consummation of the vials, et cetera, in the marriage mass.

So we went through those struggles that were very real in the 40s and in the 50s. And then when I went to seminary and had my first parish, which was a student parish, I was a student minister in a small Hungarian refugee church in a depressed community. And in that community, there were eight Catholic churches and one very tiny Protestant church. And I lived next door to the church in a small manse situation. And I remember I came there in the fall as the school term began. And during the Halloween period, our home became the favorite target of the children of the community because, as I discovered from the children, whom I interrogated afterwards, that they were told by their priest that the devil lived in my house.

And so our house was covered with mud as a result of mud throwing, tomatoes and all kinds of garbage that was left on my lawn. And it wasn't a question of this being done by children that I had known or had been in any contact with. These were total strangers.

I had no knowledge of these people at all. But it was a regular procedure during the Halloween period to bombard the bastion of Protestantism, which was the house of Satan. Now, I'm only pointing out these illustrations to show that this kind of attitude, which is really foreign to what the mood of our culture is today, is not something that passed out of the scene 150 years ago. In my own lifetime, I went through these experiences of finding a strong, suspicious view of anything Protestant concerning the Roman institution. Vatican II and its atmosphere, of course, has brought radical changes in the mentality to this kind of an experience.

But now I want to see the theological and historical basis for these kinds of feelings and attitudes. Historically, Cyprian in the early church developed a formula that has become very important and very significant in the Roman Catholic development of the relationship of the church to salvation. The classic phrase or formula given by Cyprian is the statement, perhaps you've heard it, extra, ekklesium, nulla salus.

Extra means what? Outside of or apart from. Outside of the ekklesium. What's the ekklesium?

The church. Nulla? None. Okay, or no. You've heard of something as nullo. If you've played hearts, you can go nullo.

That means you don't take any tricks. No salus. Salvation. Outside of the church, no salvation. That's the formula, the so-called Cyprianic formula developed in the sub-apostolic age by Cyprian, one of the great Latin fathers. And in this formula, Cyprian defined the formula by way of an analogy that he made with Noah's Ark. He said that it is just as necessary for salvation to occur in the life of a person that they be concretely, really, and visibly within the membership of the Roman Catholic Church in order to be saved as it was concretely, really substantially necessary for people to be in the ark of Noah in order to be rescued from the flood. I mean, somebody just couldn't have a disposition to be with Noah but missed the boat and would be considered spiritually present.

None of that. You'd still be inundated by the torrential downpour that God sent to judge the world. You had to be in that ark, safely inside, on the right side of the doors, not outside looking in, not even giving a friendly wave. You had to be there.

All right? And this is the way Cyprian defined the necessity of one's membership within the Roman Catholic Church in order to secure salvation. All right, this notion was modified to some degree by the great doctor of the church, who in Roman Catholic tradition is considered the supreme theologian of the church in terms of developing Roman ecclesiology. What theologian is that? Not Aquinas. Aquinas, of course, is considered the supreme theologian of the church, generally speaking.

He's the Doctor Angelicus. But this is the one who is considered the supreme theologian with respect to ecclesiology. Augustine.

St. Augustine. Ironically, the saint whose writings awakened Luther to his understanding of justification by faith, Luther being an Augustinian monk. But Augustine had a very strong view of the church, and he, more than any theologian of the first millennium, developed and articulated a systematic doctrine of the church. And his famous statement, it's been oft repeated in Roman circles, he who does not have the church as his mother does not have God as his father. He who does not have the church as his mother does not have God as his father. It's Augustine, perhaps more than anyone else, who developed the attitude of looking at the church in terms of being holy mother church, in whose bosom one must safely abide in order to be redeemed.

However, in the development of ecclesiology that we find in Augustine, there are some very sophisticated notions that would counteract a crass Cyprianic view. And the reason for this has its roots in another serious historical controversy growing out of the fourth century, and that is the Donatist controversy. The Donatist controversy. How many of you are familiar with Donatism, the Donatist controversy in any degree? Two or three? Several of you are.

That's good. What was the Donatist controversy about, basically? Priests or bishops that had given up their Bibles to be burned, whether they could be involved in baptizing people. Alright, it's the question of the legitimacy of either heretical baptism or, as you indicated, the validity and the legitimacy of the lapsy priests. The notion of the lapsy has its origins even earlier, back in the days of persecution, where those priests who were called upon to recant of their faith in Christ. Church history gives us the triumphant record of the multitude of Christians, of bishops, of priests, men like Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who boldly professed their faith in Christ in the midst of the threat of death and persecution, and who went to the lions in the Colosseum or to become the torches of Nero's garden. These men, of course, have lived on in terms of their fame as the martyrs of the church, but not everyone who was called upon to bear the witness of martyrdom acted so heroically. There were those who broke under the pressure, those who were priests, those who were bishops, who, under the threat of persecution, repudiated their faith in Christ. All right, when the fire of persecution blew over, then the question was, what do we do with those who have lapsed?

Can they be restored? Is their liturgical function, their priestly activity valid or invalid? Now, you had a wing in the Catholic Church, the Donatist wing, who insisted on a strict Cyprianic understanding of the church and who were, in a sense, Catholic Puritans. They maintained that the visible church is only the true church when its leaders are spiritually pure. Sacraments are not valid if a priest who gives that sacrament is heretical or if that priest is living in mortal sin.

You see the issue. If someone is a lapsi, if someone who is a heretic, or if a clergyman is living in mortal sin, according to the Donatist, then the sacraments that they administer are not efficacious, they are invalid, made invalid by the corruption of the one who is doing the administration. That was the Donatist view. Now, what kinds of serious problems would that raise for people in the church? And suppose the Donatists were right, that an unbeliever or heretic has all of the liturgical things that he does invalidated by virtue of his corruption.

If that were the case, if the Donatists were right, what would that say about my marriage? It wouldn't be valid. What would it say about my baptism? It wouldn't be valid. What about my confirmation? It wouldn't be valid. What about my ordination?

It wouldn't be valid. If the efficacy of the sacraments or of the rites of the church are dependent upon the purity of the administrator. Now, it was at this point that Augustine was awakened from his dogmatic slumbers and was forced to develop his total scheme of ecclesiology over against this pressing heresy of the Donatists. And in light of that, Augustine developed his doctrine of the church indicating the four classic marks of the church.

And we're not going to deal with all of them because of the press of time and we're going to try to deal only with those that are relevant to the issue. What are the four marks of the church according to Augustine? Holy, Catholic, Apostolic.

What's the other one? Holy, Catholic, Apostolic church. And in those definitions he gave great discussion to the concept of the unity of the church, to the catholicity of the church, to the apostolicity of the church, and to the holiness of the church.

And it was the second item, the holiness of the church, that was the center of the Donatist controversy. Although catholicity was also involved, the crucial point was the holiness. Let me just give you a few ideas of what Augustine stated with respect to the holiness of the church, the visible church. He said that the church is holy because of its unity with Christ and because of the activity of the Holy Spirit within it. That is to say that Augustine was maintaining that the church is not something that is intrinsically holy, independently holy, but its holiness is a derived and a dependent and a contingent type of holiness dependent upon its relationship and mystical union with Christ who is holy and because of the work and activity of the Holy Spirit within it. But he was quick to point out that that doesn't mean that everybody within the church is holy, but they are in the place where the holiness of God is focused by means of the presence of Christ, the sacraments, presence of the Holy Spirit, and the focalization of grace substantially within the visible church.

But there are tares along with the wheat, tares who, though they participate in the presence of holiness, remain more or less untouched by it. He goes on to say that the visible church has the means of grace by which holiness comes, but that doesn't mean that everybody makes diligent use of those means and grace. And he maintained that the church will only be without spot or wrinkle in heaven. And to expect the church to be pure for its work to be valid is an exercise in futility in this world.

He saw in the Donatus a premature seeking to realize what was promised only in the eschaton, in the future, in the heavenly church. The earthly church is not without spot or wrinkle or blemish, even in the best of churches. According to the Donatus, the church had to be morally and spiritually perfect in order for it to be a true church. The only conclusion Augustine can come to is that Rome isn't a true church, neither are the Donatus true churches. There aren't any true churches because there's no church in this world without spot or blemish.

He also points out that discipline is to take place in the church, that the tares are not allowed to run wild and choke out the wheat, but one must not be involved in a radical process of eliminating the tares, lest in your zeal for purity you injure wheat at the same time. Alright, he believed that the unholy man who was in the church still belongs to the church but is not in the inner court, see. And he talks about the church as being what he calls a corpus permixtum, a mixture of true believers and false believers. Alright, now I don't want to go any further into that right now for the purposes of time except to point out that you see in Augustine, the statement that within the visible church there is a mixture of the holy and the unholy. Now he says the true church, that is the company of the elect, the people of God according to Augustine, exists, and these are his words, substantially within the visible church, but not exclusively. There may be heretics, schismatics who have enough grace left outside of the church still to be redeemed. So Augustine modifies the strong view of visible membership as an essential ingredient for salvation. The true church, the invisible church, if we can use Protestant language here, exists substantially within the Roman Catholic Church, but not exclusively. So Augustine had at least a crack in the door for a provision for those who have the possibility of redemption who are not visibly physically united with the Roman Catholic Church. Well, that brings to light why the Protestant Reformation was so important.

Rather than agree that one had to be a member of a certain church to be saved, the Reformers relied solely on Scripture. Salvation is my grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the word of God alone, and for the glory of God alone. Thanks for listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Thursday.

I'm Lee Webb. As we have heard this week, the distinctions that brought about the 16th century Protestant Reformation are still in place. We'd like to help you continue your own study of this topic by sending you a copy of Dr. Sproul's book, Are We Together? In it, he examines historical creeds and modern doctrinal statements to show that the Roman Catholic Church has not changed its original stance. He does so in the clear yet humble way that he taught this series that we're featuring this week. And by the way, this series is part of our offer, too, in a digital format. Request both of these resources with your donation of any amount when you call us at 800-435-4343.

If you prefer, you can give your gift online at At one of our Ligonier National Conferences, I had the privilege of interviewing an Italian pastor who sees this divide between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants up close. Leonardo DiCarico pastors a church within walking distance of the Vatican, and I asked him how people there respond when he shares the biblical view of salvation.

You know, traditional Catholicism is not able to deliver assurance, and present-day Catholicism is not able to give any sense of fulfillment and joy. So once people discover the Gospel, the natural result is the discovery of contentment, hope, joy, and the desire to tell others. Well, I hope that underlines why our study this week is so important.

And before we go, here's a preview of what we'll hear from Dr. Sproul tomorrow. In Protestant theology, what is the instrumental cause by which a person accrues to himself, appropriates to himself the merits of Christ? What is that instrument? Faith. What is the instrumental cause of justification for the Roman Church? Baptism. Please make plans to join us Friday for a lesson on the sacraments here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-31 16:15:32 / 2023-05-31 16:24:17 / 9

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