What should Church really be all about?
What did Jesus achieve on the cross?
Whereas the Church of the apostles emphasised belief in Jesus as the necessary and sufficient means of salvation, the Church that followed (of the early Church Fathers) implied that this was no longer necessary and the Catholic Church that followed implied that it was no longer sufficient. Universalism followed by exclusivism! What a tangled web was weaved!
We now turn to Thomas Aquinas. He seemed to agree with Augustine on the issue of salvation.
Since, however, the death of Christ is, so to say, the universal cause of human salvation, and since a universal cause must be applied singly to each of its effects, it was necessary to show men some remedies through which the benefit of Christ's death could somehow be conjoined to them. It is of this sort, of course, that the sacraments of the Church are said to be. (Summa contra Gentiles 4:56)
The sacraments were, and still are, very much part of the Catholic solution for maintaining good relations with the Creator. One would expect this to not be the case when Martin Luther and the Protestants arrived on the scene.
So at last came the Reformers with their open Bibles and their solas. Sola fide, by faith alone, through grace alone in Christ alone. We seem to be back where we started off, a simple faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ, through dying on the cross for our sins.
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. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Every Christian era has its own problems, usually brought about by too much analytical Greek thinking. The Reformers, trained and educated, thinking men of their day, liked a good argument, just like the Church Fathers and the Ancient Greeks, their ancestral equivalents. Have you heard of Occams razor (the simplest solution is usually the best one)? Well, you can throw that out of the window for a start, as the Protestants took simple basic Biblical truths ... and analysed them.
Out of this great ruminatory rigmarole came the following conclusions, beliefs and schools of thought concerning the mechanism of salvation, the atonement. One historical viewpoint is the satisfaction view of the atonement, acceptable to both the Catholics and the Lutherans. Then there is the substitution view, favoured by the Calvinists, also the moral influence view, the governmental view and the limited view of the atonement. Then there is the ransom view, favoured by some in the Word of Faith movement. Please don�t interpret a lack of systematic comparison of these theologies as a lack of respect for the importance of these issues. I really don't want to steer you into the stormy waters of Calvinism vs Arminianism, Free Will vs Predestination, Once Saved Always Saved? or any other theological joust, otherwise we will surely lose ourselves. It is simply to make the point of how easy it is for a simple faith to suffer at the altar of over-analysis.
Although the Reformation was not a complete one and resulted in a plethora of state Churches throughout Europe, it did mostly bring the focus back to personal salvation, rather than through the sacraments. One effect of the plethora of views was that Christians began to think deeper about who was going to receive salvation and whether faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the only way. John Calvin, one of the key Reformers, was certain of this belief and spoke quite strongly against those, such as fellow Reformer Zwingli, who disagreed. Calvin wrote:
All the more vile is the stupidity of those people who open heaven to all the impious and unbelieving, without the grace of him whom Scripture teaches to be the only door by which we enter into salvation.
Yet, the certainties shared by Calvin and those who preceded him, were beginning to slowly crumble as the World around them started to change at an increasing pace, with the rise of rationalism and the scientific age. The World was opening up. Explosions in the growth of transportation and communications were allowing for new freedoms in human interactions. For some this was a foretaste of Heaven, for others this brought uncertainties and confusion.
We shall see the effect of this next week ...
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)