Roman Boastfulness

Those of you who read this blog to find out news about Beth may have noticed that I also write about theology and church history, and the things I write are distinctively not flattering to Roman Catholicism. I want to assure those of you who are devout Roman Catholics that I do not intend to question your sincerity or your devotion to Christ at all. Those are between you and Him.

What I do intend to question is the legitimacy of the whole “Roman” component of Roman Catholicism: the church hierarchy, the very presupposition that the “universal” church was destined to be based in Rome. From that presupposition flows everything else. But those very presuppositions need to be challenged.

As I was growing up, I was the geekiest, nerdliest little “good Catholic” boy that you can imagine. My mom has a photograph of me in a suit, my hair combed back in a wave, my new missal in my hands and my eyes clad with a 1967 version of “coke-bottle” glasses ready to dive into that missal.

But as I grew older, I became exposed to conservative Protestant understandings of Christianity, and as I read through the New Testament, a kind of cognitive dissonance was unleashed in my heart that it has taken decades to sort through: How could an institution as old and as seemingly authoritative be so different from the vision of Christ and Christianity that’s given in the New Testament?

In this attached posting, entitled In his Theology of the Cross, Luther follows Paul in rebuking Roman boastfulness, I provide some of the background for how this could occur.

Grace in the New Testament

The only word study on the word “Grace” that I’ve seen is the one that T. F. Torrance did in his The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers.

Torrance studies the word in its Classical and Hellenistic Greek usage, and as well, he traces the word through the Old and New Testaments. He says: “In the New Testament charis (χάρις) becomes a terminus technicus”, that is, it acquires its own new and unique definition.

Tracing the word through the Gospels, through Paul, and the other New Testament writers, he says “there seems no doubt that the Pauline usage of charis became normative for the whole church”.

For Paul, it is always described as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”.… In Paul, there is no separation between the person and the work of Christ. He does not know Christ after the flesh, but Christ crucified and risen after the Spirit. Christ crucified and risen is God’s power and God’s grace-act among men. In the background there is always the thought that charis is the grace of God, but in the foreground it is the person of Christ, and the act of Christ that fill the focus of vision.

The simplest and the most profound expression of grace Paul gives is perhaps the following: δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 3:24). It would be safe to say that Paul never speaks of grace, except as grounded in the self-giving of God in the person and death of Jesus, and in every instance it is the objective side of its content that predominates…

In its primary sense in St. Paul’s epistles grace has to do with the act of divine intervention rather than with our receiving of it. Charis is now the presupposition of all man’s relations with God and constitutive of the whole Christian life. Grace is the decisive deed which makes the ground of our approach to God an act and word of His in which He irrevocably committed. It means the establishing of something quite new among men, a new relation to God, not one in which the divine command forms the basis of our relations with God, but one in which the divine self-commitment invites us to approach Him on the grounds of love, because in Christ the divine will has been perfectly fulfilled on our behalf. Grace is a colossal deed that cuts away the ground from all our [“any other”] human religion, and establishes a new religion in the Gospel, so wonderful that men are utterly overwhelmed, and so radical that it entails a complete reversal of all previous attitudes and ideas. Such a reversal means that we cannot think our way in to the wisdom of God, which is, as Paul says, the Cross, because God has done a deed which makes our wisdom foolish and which interrupts us in our career.

“…Grace is the will of God to constitute man’s life afresh on a wholly new basis and in a renewed world, to set him free from sin and Satan; to endue him with the Spirit, to make him the possessor of a supernatural life. It is thus the presupposition of the whole Christian life, not one principle which (along with others) works within that life.”

Grace in the New Testament is the basic and most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel, it is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. “By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that, no striving will add one iota.”

For more information see this link.