Interview with an Elder

A Bible Church

The Bible Church I visited is an independent non-denominational church. It is organized on the presbyterian model, with a board of elders and a board of deacons. Disputes on matters of doctrine or public conduct are decided by the board of elders. Mission and ministry programs are handled by the board of deacons. Key positions such as preaching and music director require "ordination" - which means a seminary degree. No single person has ultimate authority. Their concept of the visible church is congregational. They are but one example of a "local church", and expect the visible body of Christ to consist of many such independent local churches - including those with differing emphasis and organization. The true body of Christ can be recognized by the presence of true believers. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples - that ye love one another."

Adult Education

On Sunday morning, there are two services and an adult education hour. The adult class I attended began with singing traditional hymns. Traditional Protestant hymns are a form of liturgy and serve to reinforce key Biblical doctrines. After the hymns, there was a time for prayer requests and sharing. The lesson was on Matthew 7:13-14: What are the requirements of the narrow way? Entering into life requires a change in heart and lifestyle, and leaving sin behind.

I asked if the few who are saved are "better" than the many who are lost. This provoked a lengthy exposition of the Gospel, but basically affirmed that 1) God is not willing that any should perish, 2) Salvation is wholly the work of God and 3) we must "receive", i.e. cooperate with the free gift of Grace.

The Service

The worship service began with the singing of hymns. The hymns reviewed the redemptive work of Christ, in preparation for Holy Communion. The hymns included "To God be the glory, great things He has done! So loved He the world that He gave us His Son." and "Would you be free from the burden of Sin? There's power in the blood!" The communion elements were Baptist style with individual cups of unfermented wine and unleavened bread. An Anglican style banner proclaimed, "Do this in remembrance of ME."

The service of communion was followed by announcements of a missions conference, the offertory, and then the Sermon.

The sermon was an exposition of Romans 8, and concerned how to obtain victory in this life over indwelling sin. A key point was that when we are justified, we are joined to Christ and become partakers of his nature, giving us new life, and the power not to sin. However, we can still of our own free will choose to resist Grace and quench the Spirit.

Interview with Elder Roger

After the service, Elder Roger graciously offered to answer my questions. My initial question was, "How does your doctrine of salvation differ from that of the Roman Catholic Church?" Roger carefully avoided saying anything negative concerning Catholic doctrine, but eagerly explained salvation as it is understood at his church. I have summarized my questions and Roger's answers in the style of a catechism.

What is the primary difference in doctrine between your church and the Roman Catholic Church?

Our sacrament of the Lord's Supper remembers and symbolizes the presence and work of Christ on the cross and in our lives. The Roman Church teaches that Christ is bodily present in the Mass.

Most importantly, believers enter into salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ made possible through saving faith in Christ's atoning work as the sinless Lamb of God, sacrificed on the cross for our sin, and now our risen Lord seated at the right Hand of God the Father. This differs with the Catholic doctrine of salvation that emphasizes faith plus works for salvation.

How does the true doctrine of Salvation differ from that of the Roman Church?
We are saved by faith and not by works.
What is meant by the word "saved"?
We are saved from the bondage of Sin (our sins are covered by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ), from eternal judgment, and to a life of love and obedience.
Can these things taken together be called a conversion?
Certainly, these are the results of a true conversion. Furthermore, in a true conversion there will always be recognition and repentance of our own sin, acceptance of Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, belief that God raised Him from the dead, and confession before others that He is Lord.
What kind of faith is required?
Saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
How is saving faith different from other kinds of faith?
Its object is Christ, its hope is eternal Glory, its sure result is the obedience of love, it is itself a free gift from God.
What kind of works are they which do not produce true conversion?
"Works of righteousness" are those which adhere to the external aspects of Old Testament law and the religious rules of men expecting thereby to earn God's favor.
How can a person enter Heaven?
First accept the free gift from God of eternal life offered only in Jesus Christ, God's Son. Only they can enter or enjoy Heaven, who love Jesus Christ and worship Him, and have been cleansed from all Sin.
Can we truly say that we obtain Heaven by faith and not by works?
By God's grace we are saved through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God not of works (Ephesians 2:8, 9). However, the scriptures also make it very clear that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Therefore, those who have truly received the gift of saving faith will surely bear the fruit of love and obedience.
Is there a logical possibility that those who are truly converted, can fall away and fail to enter into Heaven?
A true convert is sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). Therefore, I do not believe a true convert can fall away and fail to enter into Heaven. This question, however, is hotly debated between the disciples of Calvin and those of Armenius. In truth only God has certain knowledge of who has been truly converted and who will enter into Heaven after death. Therefore, the prudent course is to consider our own salvation with fear and trembling, while continually living in the power of the Holy Spirit and examining our own lives for the Holy Spirit's fruit.
What is the meaning of the word "justified"?
God accomplishes two works in us through our justification: a right standing before God, and a new nature with the power to resist sin.
According to today's sermon from Romans 8, sin is a present reality. "For if we say that we have no sin, we lie, and do not the truth." Yet for those who have entered into Heaven, there can be no possibility of sin. When and how is this transformation accomplished?
At the Bema seat judgment, our works will be judged and the dross burned away. This is called, the "Refiners Fire". Although we are daily being purified from sin, it can be called the "final purification". We must all appear before the Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad (II Corinthians 5:10). Yet because we who are in Christ are covered by the blood of Christ, we know our transgressions have been removed as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12). Therefore, the purification that takes place at the Bema Seat is related to the rewards we will receive in Heaven
What name should be given to our final purification in the Latin Tongue?
At this point, my disguise having been penetrated, Roger showed great interest in my brief explanation of the different meanings poured into various theological words by Catholics. He observed that the Mormon Church has doctrines which sound like true doctrines, but when the Mormon meaning of the words is understood, their doctrines are in reality false. However, the Roman Church has doctrines which sound like false doctrines, but when the Catholic meaning of the words is understood, they are in reality true doctrines.

There was one question which I left out of the "catechism" above:

How can a person enter Heaven according to the Roman Church?

The Roman Church teaches that by observing the traditions of the Church and by careful obedience to works prescribed by the authorized representatives of the Church, one may hope to please God and enter into Heaven.
Where did you get your information about Catholic doctrine?
From the many members of our congregation who have left the Roman Catholic Church to become members of our church. In particular, the majority of the members of our Latin Ministry have first hand experience with the Roman Catholic doctrines and traditions.

In addition, the internet provides a wide array of resources for study on this topic. One book I have found very interesting on the subject is Secrets of Romanism by Joseph Zachello.