In Protestant theology, what is the instrumental cause by which a person accrues to himself, appropriates to himself the merits of Christ? Faith. What is the instrumental cause of justification for the Roman church? Baptism. How are we made right with God?
The answer to that question is important. In fact, it's a matter of eternal life and death. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind.
I'm Lee Webb. Protestants teach that salvation is through faith in the person and work of Christ. For Roman Catholics, salvation comes through participation in a sacrament.
Bottom line, one actually saves, the other doesn't. That's why we're focusing this week on what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches. Here's R.C.
Sproul. In this particular lecture, we're going to cover very briefly in a broad overview the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. In the last 20 years in the world of theology, there's been a major interest in certain quarters of the church of a renewal of liturgy and of a renewal of a complete understanding of the nature of sacramental religion. In fact, some theologians have tried to broaden to a great degree the concept of sacrament to include many things beyond what are normally considered sacraments in the technical sense in the life of the church. This movement has sometimes been called the pan-sacramental movement, that is, that all of life is seen to have a sacramental dimension to it, something especially sacred, something in which we see divine significance in commonplace events and dimensions of the created order. I give that statement by way of introduction because this whole movement now of renewed interest and concern in sacrament is coming at a time when the world is moving rapidly into a posture of secularism.
And the sacred, the sacramental, is being restored in some circles as an answer to the whole drift of secularism in modern culture. Again, I mention this because in the Roman Catholic Church there has always been a strong view of the sacramental character of life, and one of the reasons why the Roman Church has seven sacraments rather than two, which is typical in most Protestant communions, is that a fundamental sacramental approach to man underlies this whole notion of what a sacrament is. So what I want to do first of all is to say that there are the following basic differences between the Roman Catholic approach to sacrament and, generally speaking, Protestant approaches to sacraments. And I say generally speaking because Protestant communities do not always agree on the nature and the function and significance of the various sacraments.
In fact, the biggest controversy of the 16th century that made it impossible for the Reformed churches to be unified with the Lutheran churches was a sacramental controversy, most specifically their understanding of the Lord's Supper. But the basic differences in general have to do first of all with number, second of all with nature, third of all with efficacy, that is in terms of what the sacraments do, what they accomplish, what their function is, and fourth a difference in mode of operation. And that fourth point may be the most significant of them all because the Roman Catholic sacraments are considered by the church to work their effects, to do what they are designed to do, ex opera operato. That is literally by the working of the works, that is by simply performing the sacrament it does operate and perform what it's designed to perform. The popular term for this kind of operation is automatic, that is that the sacraments automatically convey the grace that they are supposed to convey. The English word sacrament comes from the Latin word sacramentum, which is the Latin word that is used to translate the Greek word musterion, musterion.
You can transliterate that, m-u-s-t-e-r-i-o-n. Do you have any idea what English word comes from the Greek musterion? Mystery. The oddity about this is that the term musterion in the New Testament never has reference to what we call sacraments. It has an entirely different meaning, but there is a sense in which we use the concept of mystery in a broader, more contemporary sense to refer to the hidden dimension, the mystical dimension, the transcendent dimension of the sacraments. And so you can see how Rome can speak of the holy mysteries or the holy sacraments because the term sacramentum, as I said, is a translation of the Greek word mystery. Historically, the Roman church has defined seven ecclesiastical rites or sacraments which have divine signification. The number of seven sacraments was fixed by Rome at the Council of Lions and at the Council of Florence and at the Council of Trent.
So as early as the twelfth century, the Roman Catholic Church had fixed the number of the sacraments at seven. And the rationale for the different sacraments and the selection of the seven was seen in terms of the analogy that the sacraments have with the medieval concept of the seven stages of life's existence, so that there is sacramental aid, sacramental grace given to people at every stage of their life. You get sacramental grace at the initial stage of your life in baptism, and then when you make the transition from childhood or from the stage of infancy into adulthood, you have the sacrament of confirmation. Then when you enter into the adult stage of marriage, you have matrimony, the sacrament of matrimony. Then you reach the end of your life, and at the end of your life, you have to pass the great transition across the veil into death.
And so there to prepare a person for that final departure, that last stage, we have extreme unction. And then as you have these four earthly stages, so to speak, you have in addition to those four earthly stages, three special graces available that are most significant that are divine assistants for the living of life on this planet. You have the sacrament that is restricted not to everyone, but is given to those who are entering into a special ministry of the church, who are instruments of God to assist us all in this process of living. And that comes through the sacrament of holy orders or ordination. Then there are the two sacred sacraments that are designed to give the most assistance for the progress of life in grace in this world. The first is the sacrament of penance, which is of special importance because it gives assistance for the whole life after baptism, for sins committed after baptism. The second plank of grace is the sacrament of penance, and again we'll look at that in more detail in a moment. And then finally, the sacrament that is seen to be the supreme sacrament, the sacrament that is above all other sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church, is the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Alright, what I'd like to do then is to look briefly at the nature of the different sacraments that I've mentioned already and give us an overview of the separate sacraments and what they accomplish, what they do, how they're understood. First of all, we have the sacrament of baptism. The sacrament of baptism, of course, is the first sacrament to be administered in life, and according to the Roman Catholic Church, the sacrament of baptism confers ex opera operato, the grace of regeneration. So that regeneration, being born of the Spirit, being born a second time, having the guilt and the corruption of original sin cleansed and the disposition of the soul changed through the grace of baptism, a person who receives this sacrament is then in a redeemed state, is in a state of regeneration.
Original sin has been cleansed, alright, and a person is placed in a state of justification. In Protestant theology, what is the instrument of justification? The necessary prerequisite for justification, the sine qua non, that without which there is no justification. What is the instrumental cause, not the meritorious cause, but the instrument by which a person accrues to himself, appropriates to himself the merits of Christ.
What is that instrument? Faith. So that the Protestant community believes that the instrumental cause of justification is faith and faith alone. What is the instrumental cause of justification for the Roman Church? Faith and works may be the difference in the formula between the two, but the instrumental cause is defined by the church and particularly at the Council of Trent to be baptism. Baptism is the instrumental cause of justification in the Roman Church. In the Protestant Church, faith is the instrumental cause of justification. Even though a person has been baptized and cleansed of the power and guilt of original sin through this sacrament, has now the infused grace of justification and regeneration by means of the sacrament of baptism, still there is something of the nature of sin that is left over. Baptism does not sanctify perfectly.
It leaves a person with concupiscence. Have you heard of that word before? Concupiscence is defined by the Roman Catholic Church as a sort of inclination towards sin. The definition is this, that concupiscence is of sin and inclines towards sin, but is in itself not sin. This is not a remaining sin, but a remaining disposition to sin, or an inclination towards sin that accounts for the fact that baptized people do frequently fall back into sin.
Do you understand that? How would the Reformation deal with the concept of concupiscence? From the Reformed perspective, anything that is a disposition to sin is sin, and so they don't like this distinction of that which is of sin, it's of the nature of sin, it disposes towards sin, it inclines towards sin, but in and of itself is not sin.
So you do have a difference there. Following baptism is the sacrament of confirmation. According to the Roman Catholic Church, this is not a new infusion of grace in addition to baptism, but an increase in grace unto maturity. Now that's a very difficult concept to understand. It's not a second baptism, not a new filling of grace by means of the sacrament of confirmation, but it strengthens, it undergirds, it moves towards maturity the grace that is given in baptism.
It's kind of a booster shot if I can use a popular notion. Confirmation is distinguished from baptism as a separate right, but confirmation presupposes baptism. You cannot have confirmation without baptism because the word confirmation itself suggests what? That that which was done earlier is now being confirmed and firmed up, as it were, through the process of confirmation.
We could again spend a great deal of time with confirmation, but in light of the time I have to be selective, so I want to just continue if we can. The sacrament of matrimony again involves an infusion of grace, and let me just take a second to distinguish between the words impute and infuse. As you've learned in terms of the Reformed doctrine of justification, a man is justified according to Protestant theology by having the merits of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, imputed or transferred to the account of the believer. If I am the believer here and we have the merits of Christ up here, the merit of Christ is given over into the account of the believer. And we think of imputation another way, and that is in terms of the cross, where the sin of man is imputed to Christ, laid upon him, transferred to his account, and he dies for our sins. Our sins are imputed to him, counted upon him, and there's a double transfer. Our sin goes to Christ. His merit comes to us by means of this transfer of accounting.
That's imputation. In infusion, here in the Roman Catholic view, the righteousness of Christ is actually more or less put into the believer, if I can use this kind of a very crass analogy, fused into so that there is a real substantial presence of grace, of justification, and of the righteousness of Christ within the person, not just counting for the person, but actually becomes the person's possession. Now, when we talk about the sacrament of matrimony, we see again the notion of infused grace being given to the couple that are presenting themselves for marriage, and the special grace of marriage is designed by God and given to strengthen the union of the two people, so that what is going on in marriage is not merely an external right involving promises and sanctions and authoritative decrees, but during the commitment there is grace given to people, special grace to enable them to accomplish a real mystical union between the two people. Alright, the sacrament of holy orders also gives an infusion of grace which gives special powers to those who receive holy orders. There are two powers of holy orders of ordination that are most significant. The two special powers given to the priest in ordination are the power of absolution and the power of consecration.
Again, we recall Luther at the celebration of his first mass immediately following his ordination and how he stood over the elements and became paralyzed and frozen in the midst of the mass and was unable to continue, stood there and froze while the whole congregation was in embarrassed silence when he came to the time to say the words of consecration. Now, he was utterly terrified and thunderstruck in a state of awe at the contemplation in his own mind and his own understanding at the exercise at this new power that he had never had before, the power of consecration by which the normal elements of bread and wine are transferred substantially into the body and blood of Christ. That power, that's a supernatural power of consecration, comes through the infused grace of ordination or of holy orders. Alright, then there's the sacrament of extreme unction which the institution is seen in terms of James chapter 5 where we read, If anyone is sick, they are to call the elders, and the elders are to anoint the person and pray, etc. Originally, extreme unction was constituted in the church as a healing right, not as a last right.
And it's interesting that the Roman Catholic Church has redefined the sacrament of extreme unction to call attention to its historic origins and to see function not only as a last resort of healing for those who are about to die ostensibly, but that the extreme unction is a gift of grace that is to be used any time a person is seriously ill, not with a view simply to prepare them for death, but hopefully to bring grace of healing upon the person. Let's look then at the two sacraments that are most significant and most divisive in terms of the issues that separate the Roman Church from the Protestant Church. I mentioned that the differences include number, efficacy, mode of operation, and the nature of the sacrament itself. Most people think that the big difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church is the fact that Rome has seven sacraments and we only have two. But the biggest difference, the most controversial differences, are found in the two sacraments of penance and of the Lord's Supper. The sacrament of penance is so crucial to the division between Protestants and Rome because it touches on the two central issues of the debate between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. The issue of justification specifically and the broader question of the issue of merit and grace.
This is the eye of the tornado. This is the real issue that divides Rome from the Protestants. As I mentioned before, I think when Luther responded to the diatribe of Erasmus in the sixteenth century and was dealing with the concept of merit and grace and the sovereignty of God throughout that particular volume, Luther responded at the end of his book by saying to Erasmus after annihilating the arguments of Erasmus and carrying on a very heated polemic with Erasmus, he nevertheless thanks Erasmus at the end of the book by saying, that you have not bothered me with trifles, that you haven't bothered me with questions like the authority of the pope or the function of Mary or the liturgical rites of the church or relics or any of that business, but that you've touched the core ecclesia, the heart of the church, that you've dealt with the article upon which the church stands or falls, the central motif of the grace of God in our redemption.
That's the issue. The pope thing could be negotiated. You know, Scripture tradition, that can be negotiated, not that we're about to give it up. I mean, those kinds of things you can at least sit down and talk to as intermural debates between Christians. But when you're talking about the question of how a person is redeemed, how a person is justified, you're talking about the heart of the matter. Because again, as Luther said, it's the article upon which the church stands or falls, and if it's the article upon which the church stands or falls, it's the article upon which you stand or fall for eternity. Here's the issue.
It's simply this. If justification is in fact by faith alone, if justification only comes by trusting in the righteousness of Christ and entrusting in the righteousness of Christ alone, let me ask you the question. What happens to a person who trusts not in Christ but in his own works? What happens to a person who trusts partly in Christ and partly in his own merit? If it's true, as the Protestants claim, that justification is by trusting in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone, we're talking not about ecclesiastical debates of form. We're not talking about subtle points of theology. We're talking about the eternal destiny of human beings.
And that's why we're airing R.C. Sproul's series on Roman Catholicism. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. Thank you for being with us today. We must have the ability to discern where Protestantism and Roman Catholicism divide.
As we just heard Dr. Sproul say, eternity hangs in the balance. To help you study even further, we've put a large number of resources onto a single USB drive. It includes six e-books, seven full teaching series, and several digital editions of Table Talk magazine, all of it loaded onto an attractive metal USB drive. You can contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we will send you this Reformation resource drive. Plus, we'll provide a digital download of the series that we're airing this week.
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Just look for Ligonier in your app store. Well, you may have heard that Roman Catholics worship Mary. Is that true? Dr. Sproul will address that question tomorrow on Renewing Your Mind. .
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