Over the past few weeks we have been speaking about The Ten Commandments. We spoke about the Commandment to Keep Holy the Seventh Day, and the Commandments not to steal or cheat or commit adultery or kill.
We spoke about the importance of God’s law being written on our hearts, and today we hear this again from Moses in the Old Testament:
“Moses told the people,
‘Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.’”
And God told Moses,
“I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse:
a blessing for obeying the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today;
a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today,
Many of us know people who say, “I believe in God. I just don’t believe in organized religion.” Or, they may say, I believe in God. Why do I have to go to Church?” They will say, “God knows that I am a good person. I don’t need the Church. I just need to believe.”
Jesus seems to be anticipating this kind of minimalist thinking when he said,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
And, Jesus continued,
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.”
When we fail to follow his Commandments we become morally unstable and our faith will not sustain us in the inevitable trials of our faith and morals, as Jesus said,
“And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”
St. John the Evangelist taught that if we love God we will follow His Commandments. We don’t just profess faith, we practice it with our actions.
Five hundred years ago there was primarily only one Church, the Catholic Church. There were different expressions of the Catholic faith in the East and the West, but all had the seven true Sacraments of the Church and bishops and priests which we would readily recognize today. By that time the Catholic Church had been around for 1500 years.
Less than five hundred years ago, the Protestant revolt began. That has been just since Christopher Columbus discovered America and Mexico was just beginning to be explored by the Spanish. In terms of Christian history, it wasn’t that long ago.
Much of the Protestant argument involved the issue of faith versus works. Protestants were fearful, not without reason that some followers of the Catholic Church believed and emphasized that salvation could be earned through good works, or even purchased. However, the Catholic Church always emphasized the importance of works of faith, through love for those who believe in Jesus Christ.
And, from the beginning the Church fathers, like St. Paul emphasized the importance of faith, as he did in the letter to the Romans that we read today. Protestants used this text to support their movement and to make the argument that faith alone is needed for salvation. Paul was discussing the importance of faith in God, when he proclaimed
“the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ
for all who believe.
For there is no distinction;
all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.
They are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption in Christ Jesus,
whom God set forth as an expiation,
through faith, by his blood.
For we consider that a person is justified by faith”
The Protestant division began with Martin Luther and his Lutheran followers. Within just a century the world experienced the painful division from one Christian faith to some eight basic Christian sects. Today there may be as many as 800 million Protestants in 33,000 different Protestant sects or denominations in over 200 countries. Something dreadful happened in Christianity when the Protestants left the “rock” of the one Catholic Church, still today the largest and oldest Christian community, with well over 1 billion Catholics worldwide.
The pain of this deep wound has been great. Both Protestant and Catholics have longed for unity and an end to the great divide. A new ecumenical effort began shortly after the Council of Vatican II. For thirty years a working group of Lutherans and Catholics sought a way to settle their theological differences. They finally managed to do that, and published the results twelve years ago. In October 1999 both the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation signed “The Lutheran-Catholic Accord.” In that historic accord they put to rest the central theological argument that lay at the heart of the Protestant revolt. Together they professed our common belief that faith is necessary for salvation; and, faith is reflected in our good works. We must pray for unity among Christians. The primary argument against unity is resolved.
Unfortunately we still cannot share the Eucharist because they do not have a priesthood.
Nevertheless, today we all agree that none of us deserve salvation, justification, nor can we earn it. Justification is a gift from God for those who believe in Jesus Christ. We don’t talk enough about the importance of the Lutheran Catholic Accord, and few Protestants or Catholics know about it. You can find easily on the Vatican website.
St. Paul was rightly teaching about the importance of our faith for our salvation. Later, in the Epistle of St. James, the Apostle said,
“Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” (James 1:22)
And that is Jesus’ message, when he said,
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
Next week we will begin Lent with Ash Wednesday. One of the works of Lent is to prepare for Easter by taking stock of our faith and seeing where we need to grow. A healthy Lenten journey would be to take a measure of our faith and determine whether we are doers of the word, or just hearers. We should all examine our faith regularly to know God’s Will and prepare for our eternal salvation, for, as Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”