Lesson 20B Preview: Pope Gregory the Great Homily excerpt “Doubting Thomas”; Video (ELCA) “Understanding the Roman Catholic Church”; Michael Haykin Audio Lecture “Justification by Faith”

Pope Gregory the Great on Doubting Thomas

The following is an excerpt from the homilies of Pope Gregory the Great:

Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. He was the only disciple absent; on his return he heard what had happened but refused to believe it. The Lord came a second time; He offered His side for the disbelieving disciple to touch, held out His hands, and showing the scars of His wounds, healed the wound of his disbelief.

Dearly beloved, what do you see in these events? Do you really believe that it was by chance that this chosen disciple was absent, then came and heard, heard and doubted, doubted and touched, touched and believed? It was not by chance but in God’s providence. In a marvelous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his Master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.

Touching Christ, he cried out: My Lord and my God. Jesus said to him: Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed. Paul said: Faith is the guarantee of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. It is clear, then, that faith is the proof of what can not be seen. What is seen gives knowledge, not faith. When Thomas saw and touched, why was he told: You have believed because you have seen me? Because what he saw and what he believed were different things. God cannot be seen by mortal man. Thomas saw a human being, whom he acknowledged to be God, and said: My Lord and my God. Seeing, he believed; looking at one who was true man, he cried out that this was God, the God he could not see.

What follows is reason for great joy: Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. There is here a particular reference to ourselves; we hold in our hearts One we have not seen in the flesh. We are included in these words, but only if we follow up our faith with good works. The true believer practices what he believes. But of those who pay only lip service to faith, Paul has this to say: They profess to know God, but they deny him in their works. Therefore James says: Faith without works is dead.

A brief tribute to Pope Gregory the Great by Father James Kubicki:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) produced this video Understanding the Roman Catholic Church:

This marvelous lecture from Prof. Michael Haykin of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, is titled Justification By Faith and explains the emergence of the doctrine beginning with Paul’s Galatians and Romans. He moves on to discuss Augustine, Pelagius, Luther, and Calvin. You might find it useful to reread Galatians, chapter 2: 15-19: before listening to the lecture (about 50 minutes).

Bible Verses for Reflection: Galatians 2: 15-19, Romans 9: 27-28; Ephesians 2: 15-17

A Quote for Your Consideration: From the Augsburg Confession,

“Article V: Of the Ministry.

That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.”

Questions for Discussion:

1. A Sunday School student asks, ” I was reading John and got to the passage, I think it was chapter 20, verse 27, where Jesus has Thomas touch his side. I don’t understand the reason this is in the Bible. What does it contribute? I thought the resurrected Lord was physically perfect. I think I saw that in a movie.” How would you respond? Does Gregory teach us anything that would be useful in answering this student?

2. How did Augustine lead the medieval church “astray”, according to Haykin?

3. What did the Council of Trent contribute to the debate on the doctrine of justification – from the Lutheran perspective?

4. Another student now asks. “Would you explain our church’s position on “predestined” in Romans 8: 28-30 and Ephesians 1: 5-11? If one is predestined to be adopted as a redeemed child of God, then does it follow that another is predestined to not be adopted and therefore damned? Did Luther and Calvin say the same thing on predestination and damnation? Having just listened to Haykin’s lecture, you feel confident you can respond. What will you say?

5. A student observes, “You’ve talked a lot about Augustine and Pelagius and their different ideas about free will and original sin. I am still not clear on what we Lutherans believe today. Aren’t we responsible moral people who must be held accountable by God for what we do, including our decision to believe in Jesus and receive salvation?” What will you say, using Prof. Haykin’s insights, to clarify these issues?

6. A student comments in your class, I recently was asked by an evangelical friend when – he wanted to know the specific day – I was ” saved”. Growing up a Lutheran I was baptized as an infant. I came to faith throughout my childhood and I continue to grow in faith every day. I could not pinpoint one specific day I was “saved” or a specific time I asked Christ to come into my life. I know he lives in my heart. This person told me that it was a shame I didn’t know an exact date I was saved and have a testimony to give about this day. What do we Lutherans say when this question is asked? How will you answer this student? How does Luther’s doctrine of justification contribute to the answer you might give?

7. A student in your Sunday School class says,  “I know that the Lutheran church teaches justification by faith alone and I have always believed that, but what about James 2:24? Also, I know that salvation is by faith alone and good works follow faith, but I am confused on justification. What is the difference between justification and salvation? I cannot get a clean grasp on the differences.” Earlier in the week you had listened to Prof. Haykin’s lecture on justification. Now how will you apply it in responding to this student’s two challenging issues? 

8. Another very quiet student in your class, emboldened by all these  questions, asks,Can a person who is not saved do good works? Is God indifferent to them? Or is He glad when an agnostic performs an act of Christ-like mercy?” How will you respond to this student?


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