The Father William Most Collection
Which Church Saves?
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
"Which Church Saves" is the title of a leaflet. It says no Church saves, only Christ saves, and then quotes Acts 4.12: "Neither is there salvation in any other," and similar things and also: Acts 16. 31: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved," plus Titus 3. 5: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us."
The whole thing rests on ignorance of Scripture.
Only Catholics have any right to quote Scripture at all. For in the early centuries there were many works called Gospels of James, of Thomas, of Peter etc. along with the Gospels we know. How can anyone know which are part of the Bible? Luther said that if a book preaches justification by faith strongly, it is inspired. That was folly, for he did not prove that is the standard. And also, he could write such a book, and so could I, and it would not be inspired. Calvin thought the Spirit tells each one interiorly - much too subjective, room for mere imagination, and no proof that is done anyway.
The only way to know is if you can prove that there is a group, a Church, commissioned by Jesus Himself to teach, and promised His protection :"He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10. 16).
But the chief trouble with the leaflet is this: it does not know what the word saves means. There are three meanings of that word in Scripture : 1) rescue from temporal evils 2) enter the church 3) enter heaven. The sense some sects use, such as the author of the leaflet take it to mean that if once in a lifetime you take Jesus as your personal Savior, i.e., believe He has died for you - then you are infallibly saved, no matter what sins you have committed, are committing, will commit - that sense is not found in the Bible at all. The standard reference work for Scripture scholars, Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, has along article on "save". It does not mention this erroneous sense at all. But Luther thought: Do nothing but keep on believing it is all paid for. So Luther in his Epistle 501 wrote to his great lieutenant Melanchthon: "Even if you sin greatly, believe still more greatly." What a permission to keep on sinning!
That mistake in turn rests on Luther's error on justification by faith. Yes, there is justification by faith as St. Paul insists so many times. But we must take the word faith the way St. Paul means it. Luther thought it meant what we have just said: Conviction the merits of Christ apply to me. Luther never did any work to find out what St. Paul really meant. He should have read carefully every spot where Paul uses the word faith, kept notes, and added them up. The standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, in the Supplement volume, in the article on faith , subsection on Paul (p. 333) says this: "Paul uses pistis/pisteuein [Greek words for faith and believe] to mean, above all, belief in the Christ kerygma [preaching about Him], knowledge, obedience, trust in the Lord Jesus. It comes by hearing with faith the Gospel message... by responding with a confession about Christ... and by the 'obedience of faith' (Rom 1:5... 'the obedience which faith is." This is a lot different from the foolish mistake of Luther. We notice especially obedience. Paul did not mean that obedience earns salvation, but he did say many times that disobedience earns hell, e.g., 1 Cor 6. 9-10, where he gives a list of the big sins and sinners and adds they "will not inherit the kingdom of God." Paul does not say with Luther: "Sin greatly and just think it is all right". Similarly in Ephesians 5. 5: "Be sure of this, no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words , for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." Luther thought all Paul's threats mean nothing if only one takes Christ as his personal Savior. Paul never said that. He often said, as did Jesus, that we will not inherit if we commit such sins. Now a child does not get inheritance by earning it, but could earn to lose it by being bad, so as to be disinherited (cf. Romans 6. 23). Hence Jesus said: "Unless you become like little children, yo will not enter the kingdom of heaven." But the children are not free to disobey right and left and still get away with it!
No one should believe that a Church saves, in the sense of redeeming. Jesus did that. But Jesus also said many things. For example: in Mat 18. 17: "If he will not hear the church, let him be to you as a heathen and a publican." And Matthew 16. 19: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." In the language of the time, to bind and loose meant to give authoritative teaching. So in Luke 10:16: " He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." He also said in John 6. 53: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." To be able to eat and drink thus we need the Church.
To sum up: Only Catholics can know for sure which books are part of the Bible. In it we find only Jesus earned redemption. But He also commanded us to hear the Church and to receive His flesh and blood from it. To say we can ignore all churches is folly. But there is only one that he founded - that was not one started in the 16th century - too late, if the promises of Christ had left the Church teaching a false way to salvation for so many centuries, the promises of Christ would be no good.