In this month when the Protestant Reformation is commemorated it is worth re-visiting a couple of the Reformer’s main rallying cries.
If you have Protestant Evangelical friends you will know that they still accuse Catholics of “salvation by works”. To be honest, when you read about the Catholic Church in the fifteenth and sixteenth century it was pretty hard not to draw that conclusion.
Sure, the Catholic Church led the fight against the older forms of salvation by works–Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, but in practice the sale of indulgences, the works of pilgrimages and penance were largely understood as salvation by works.
While salvation by faith alone is not a Catholic creed, it is true that we should reject salvation by works.
What gets me however, is that in this month and year of commemoration of the Protestant Revolution we hear very little about this very important critique of the church.
That’s because salvation by works is back. Big time.
Furthermore, it is not just the Catholics who have embraced salvation by works. It is the mainstream Protestant churches too.
I’m talking about a form of Christianity in which the supernatural has been forgotten, sidelined or intentionally ignored. Modernist, progressive Christianity–both Catholic and Protestant–is not concerned with saving souls or the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is about making the world a better place, feeding the hungry, helping the immigrants, loving the poor, visiting the prisoners and saving the environment. This is the new religion of good works, and just like at the end of the Middle Ages–nobody is taking notice and everybody assumes that of course, this is what Christianity is really about!
But its not.
The faith is not first and foremost about saving the world. Its about saving souls. Its not first and foremost about feeding the hungry. Its about forgiveness. Its not about making the world a better place. Its about preparing for our journey to a better place (or a worse place as it may be)
This new form of salvation by works is even more complicated and corrupt than the first form of salvation by works because of an even more hidden and subtle heresy: universalism.
This is the belief that everybody will be saved in the end. In other words, its not even salvation by works because you don’t need to be saved. Its just good works because well, we have decided that good works and making the world a better place is what it is all about
It is a kingdom of this world. But hold on. Jesus said clearly that his kingdom was NOT of this world.
Remember forty days in the desert. This was precisely the temptation Satan gave Jesus: he promised him a kingdom of this world. What happened when Peter told Jesus that he would not go up to die, and Peter would make sure it didn’t happen? Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan.”
This false gospel is the most prevalent heresy in the Church today and although it seems nice, seems common sense, seems practical and seems acceptable to all and popular to the non-Christians, no one should be deceived it is actually death to the church.
Just think about it for one little minute. If everyone will be saved in the end and all it is about is making the world a better place, then we might as well close up shop and become just another charity. Let the United Nations do it. Let the Boy Scouts do it. Let Bill and Melinda Gates do it. Why should we do it?
If that is all it is about, then what does the Catholic Church have to offer? Courses on the Enneagram run by old nuns? Mission trips which are not about mission at all, but about starting village health programs?
Universalism and the new form of salvation by good works go hand in hand. That’s why there is no such thing as Catholic missions anymore. Who ever heard of a Jesuit going out to people who have never heard the gospel and preaching and baptizing them? Catholics don’t do that anymore.
Why not? Not just because we’re lazy or cowardly.
We don’t do it because we don’t think it is necessary. They’re all going to go to heaven anyway, so we’d better do something practical like go out there and drill a water well.
And water wells are fine. But if they don’t have the water of life, what good is it?