The Surprising Admissions Converts Make

David Mills tries to defend being casual about sin, though he rebrands it as familiarity:

In the Protestant world of my youth, nearly everything was a matter of life or death. The Evangelicals made your salvation a drama that depended on you making a decisive commitment. They loved the drama of a sobbing sinner stumbling forward at the altar call.

The mainliners didn’t sweat salvation the same way, but they made your social conscience almost as crucial. God expected you to respect picket lines, protest the war, protect the environments, eat union-grown grapes.

But the Catholics. Gosh, they didn’t seem to sweat anything. The few Catholics I knew — my college town had more Wiccans than Catholics — didn’t seem vexed by human sins, personal or social. They might like devotion and care about social causes, but they didn’t pursue them as intensely as the Protestants I knew.

Older people told me that Catholics had confession. They could axe-murder an entire middle school, go to confession, and Whoosh! they were okay. God was happy with them again. The axe murder? No big deal. Confession magically wiped the slate clean no matter what you did.

Except that the whoosh only got you as far as purgatory if you went to confession.

But now Mills sees the benefits of Rome’s lack of rigor:

After being a Catholic for a few years, I can understand why people think the Church is too casual about sin. I can be too casual about it. It’s easy to use confession as a forgiveness machine and the Mass as a medicine that cures you without your having to do anything. I know how easily you can presume on God’s love.

But that’s just the risk God chose to take when he gave us the Church and her sacraments. Our Protestant friends are not wrong in their criticism, but they miss what God Himself is doing through the Church. He flings his grace around, as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel reading. He lets some fall on rocky or thorny ground, so that some will fall on fertile ground. He gives us gifts we can abuse, because he wants to give us life.

What Mills fails to add (aside from the punishment for mortal sins) is that Protestants exalt Christ. To be hard on sin is to take seriously the cross. Christ died to save sinners from the penalty of sin. That shows that God was not very casual about sin. It also means Christ didn’t die to give sinners a second chance — in purgatory.

Forensic Friday: Christ’s Priestly Office

Priest is a strong and lovely word. There is no lovelier or sweeter name on earth. It is much better to hear that Christ is called “Priest”, than Lord, or any other name. Priesthood is a spiritual power which means no other than that the priest steps forth, and takes all the iniquities of the people upon himself as though they were his very own. He intercedes with God for them and receives from Him the Word with which he can comfort and help the people. It is lovelier and more comforting than “Father” and “Mother”, for this name brings us everything else. For by being a priest He makes God our Father and Himself our Lord. When I believe in His priesthood, then I know that His work is none other than to be seated in heaven as our Mediator, and that He makes intercession for us, before the Father, without ceasing, and all the time speaks on our behalf. This is the highest comfort which can be given to any man, and no sweeter sermon can be preached to our hearts. (Martin Luther, Exposition of Genesis xiv. W.A. 24. 480)

Where's Waldo Wednesday

[The reformers] went beyond Anselm in distinguishing clearly between active and passive obedience in the mediatorial work of Christ, and in recognizing the former as well as the latter as a part of the atoning work of Christ. The God-man satisfied the demands of the divine justice, not merely by His sufferings and death, but also by obedience to the law in its federal aspect. His atonement consisted not only in making amends for past transgressions, but also in keeping the law as the condition of the covenant of works. As the last Adam He did what the first Adam failed to do.

Finally, they also surpassed Anselm in their conception of the manner in which the merits of Christ were passed on to sinners. Anselm’s view of this had a rather external and commercial aspect. Aquinas improved on this by stressing the significance of the mystical union as the means of transferring the blessings of salvation to those who stood in living relationship to Jesus Christ. He failed, however, to give due prominence to the receptive activity of faith. The Reformers shared his opinion respecting the great importance of the mystical union, but in addition directed the attention to that conscious act of man by which he appropriates the righteousness of Christ – the act of faith. They were very careful, however, not to represent faith as the meritorious cause of justification. (Louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, pp. 185-86)