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Protestantism, Pelagianism and Presumption
Posted By Eric Sammons On July 30, 2010 @ 9:17 am In Protestantism,The Church | Comments Disabled
One of the key rallying cries of the first Protestant Reformers was that they were resisting the “Pelagianism” of the Roman Catholic Church. Pelagianism is the belief that man, under his own power, is able to obtain salvation; the grace of God is superfluous to this process. The Reformers believed that the Catholic Church of their time, with its emphasis on works in the process of salvation, was preaching a doctrine dangerously similar to the 4th century Pelagius. They, on the other hand, believed that our works were useless for our salvation and instead believed God alone saves us without any involvement of ours.
Thus, on the surface, these two belief systems – Protestantism and Pelagianism – appear to be in complete opposition. But I would posit that they share an underlying error, and that is presumption. Presumption is the sin in which one believes that it is guaranteed that he is going to heaven. As Joseph Pieper once wrote, it is a “perverse anticipation of fulfillment.” Instead of hoping that one will be saved, the presumptuous person assumes it as fact. But of course no one can know with 100% surety that he will be saved until after his death occurs.
So how do both Pelagians and Protestants presume their salvation? A Pelagianist believes that by his own power he can guarantee salvation and the forgiveness of his sins; God “owes” him salvation based on his good works. A Protestant believes that God alone, without any work of his, will effect his salvation with absolute certainty; in this case God “owes” him salvation based on His supposed promises: he is “assured of his salvation.” In both cases, the person presumes more than he can know.
Both of these attitudes, of course, are erroneous. The proper attitude of the Christian is hope, not presumption. The Christian believes “in hope we are saved” (Romans 8:24). Although we are great sinners, we trust in God’s mercy to save us, but we also know that we must cooperate with this mercy in order to one day see Him face-to-face. Our life as pilgrims here on earth is full of tension between the possibility of damnation and the promise of salvation. And hope is the proper Christian response to that tension, as it recognizes with humility our great sins, but trusts in the even greater mercy of God.
Note: The basis for this post came from Joseph Pieper’s wonderful book “On Hope .”
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 On Hope: http://www.amazon.com/Hope-Josef-Pieper/dp/0898700671/
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