Ecclesiastical Upgrade

Kathy Schiffer summarizes the most recent batch of reflections by evangelical converts to Rome. Here are the main reasons:

The contributors to Evangelical Exodus were influenced by diverse factors, notably the biblical canon, Christian orthodoxy, and the two concerns most frequently cited by Protestants: sola scriptura (all truth can be found in the Scriptures) and sola fide (man is saved by faith alone). Doug also named Beauty as one of the factors which led him and his fellow seminarians to a new appreciation for the Catholic Church. “In Protestantism,” Doug said, “there’s a tendency to dismiss any reason other than the intellectual. But as human beings, we’re both physical and spiritual creatures. In the Catholic Church, he found, intellect and reason are respected; but the Catholic Church is also more beautiful and more historical. There is an attractive package which draws the spirit, combining art and music and beauty, a long history, and tradition, with solid intellectual arguments.”

When Martin Luther broke with the church, he feared for his soul. He worried about his sins. He needed an alien righteousness to cover his transgressions which haunted him everywhere he went.

Why do Protestants who go to Rome never seem to sense the spiritual angst that motivated Luther? They’ve gone to a church that teaches if you die in mortal sin you risk going to hell. They now are in a communion where mortal and venial sins are numerous and the prospects of purgatory are real. But these “converted” folks seem to operate with the assumption that they were already “saved” as a Protestant but now have found a better version of Christianity, like going from Windows 8 to Windows 10, from Bill Hybels to John Paul II.

Give Protestants credit. We worry about salvation. We learned that worry from the church in Rome. Where did that worry go on the other side of the Tiber? It seemed to get lost in the efforts to preserve Christendom, the papal states, the West, and to win the culture wars.

Would Lutherans (ELCA ones) Ordain Bruce Jenner?

Notice which Lutherans the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are talking to ecumenically — the ones in fellowship with the Lesbyterians — namely the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. But the hangup to full communion is not the doctrine of justification by faith alone but — what Allen Iverson was not talking about — practice. That is, the practice of male ordination:

Asked at the news conference what was the most difficult issue that continued to divide Lutherans and Catholics, Bishop Madden cited women’s ordination as “one of those issues that we are still discussing.”

The Lutherans have been ordaining women since 1970; the Catholic Church teaches it has no authority “to confer priestly ordination on women.”

Bishop Eaton said Lutherans still had difficulty with the Catholic understanding of “the role of the bishop of Rome” and the issue of papal infallibility.

“We are really sorry for some of the things (Martin) Luther said about (the pope) back in the day,” she said, adding that there have been “terrible misunderstandings and, on our part, unfortunate caricatures” surrounding the issue.

“But we really like this one (Pope Francis) a lot,” Bishop Eaton said.

Kathryn Johnson, ELCA director for ecumenical and interreligious relations, said the declaration marked the beginning of “a totally different world of relationship and hopefulness” between Catholics and Lutherans.

The Rev. John Crossin, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said he had been approached by an Anglican colleague about doing a similar document that looks at remaining issues dividing the two communions.

The declaration “is already starting to have a little ripple effect,” he said.

But if you could find pastors who had switched genders, would that satisfy both liberal Lutherans and American Roman Catholics?

Hard to say, but the affinities between Roman Catholics and Protestant modernists keep being hard to miss.

The Sinner's Prayer

I worshiped at Christ Reformed Church, Washington, DC on Sunday and this was our corporate confession of sin:

Our Father, we are sinful and you are holy. We recognize that we have heard in your Law difficult words, knowing how often we have offended you in thought, word and deed, not only by obvious violations, but by failing to conform to its perfect commands, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. There is nothing in us that gives us reason for hope, for where we thought we were well, we are sick in soul.

Where we thought we were holy, we are in truth unholy and ungrateful. Our hearts are filled with the love of the world; our minds are dark and are assailed by doubts; our wills are too often given to selfishness and our bodies to laziness and unrighteousness. By sinning against our neighbors, we have also sinned against you, in whose image they were created. In this time of silent confession we bring you our particular sins.

Depressing? Yes.

Accurate? Yes.

But if sanctification and obedience are as much a part of the Christian life as the Obedience Boys and the Anti-Antinomians say, then isn’t this more like the prayer of a convert than a believer?

On the other hand, if this is a legitimate ordinary prayer for a believer — and I think it is — what ever are the critics of a justification-centric understanding of salvation talking about? If sin persists in the believer’s life to such an extent that she needs to pray prayers like this routinely, maybe the calls for obedience come across as more oppressive than inspiring.

From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted (2) on 2015 04 23 at 12:42 pm

Mark,

We need to stop meeting like this. I am still unsure why you keep pushing the dogmatic boundaries on grace, merit, the covenant of works, and the satisfaction of Christ. Perhaps you’ll recall that Rick Phillips tried to moderate your views a year ago. But you persist in ways that might have even caused Norman Shepherd embarrassment. He was not someone to show off.

Since you and Rick have gone round and around again, I only want to add two cents (same in Canadian dollars).

First, you insist that words need to mean what they mean.

Professor VanDrunen does not define “merit”. He seems to make the argument that because Christ, the true image bearer, merited before God, Adam, as an image-bearer, also could have merited before God. In his quote there appears to be a one-to-one correlation between the merit of Christ and the merit of Adam. This is questionable ground, in my view. He needs to define merit, otherwise we are left guessing, at best, what he means. Is he departing from what the Reformed scholastics meant by merit or agreeing with them?

Great. O lexicographer define thyself’s words:

There are important Christological reasons why Christ could merit, but Adam could not. If our understanding of what constitutes a meritorious work follows the Reformed scholastics, then the answer is quite simple: the dignity of Christ’s person (as theanthropos) explains why he, and he alone, could merit before God.

Sorry, that’s not a definition. So why hold Dave VanDrunen (or the objects of your criticism) to a standard that you don’t meet? Are you special like Jesus? Sorry if that’s a bit snarky, but in previous posts you have compared Jesus to believers, so it’s both fair and snarky.

Second, “voluntary condescension” is not grace. If we are going to insist on the exact meaning of words, then again you can’t pour grace into that phrase from the Confession (though I guess you can because Canada is a free country like the U.S.).

What I particularly don’t understand (howl if you like here) is why you keep stating that the covenant with Adam could not have been meritorious because the reward would have been disproportionate to the work he would have performed:

Finally, the rewards given to Christ are proportionate to the work he performed. Adam’s reward would have been far greater, assuming we say that Adam would have been granted heavenly life, than what he “worked for”.

But following your logic, was Adam’s penalty, his condemnation along with the rest of the human race, proportionate to his merely eating a piece of fruit? Yes, it was an act of disobedience. But one strike and you and your children and your children’s children are out is not an arrangement that brings to mind grace, no matter how much Canadians struggle with baseball. It sounds more like a threat or a curse arrangement. In which case, if Adam could earn everlasting condemnation simply by one act, why not everlasting blessing for the work prescribed by a just and powerful God?

Comments are still open.

P.S. A word of advice — let others decide whether your response is gracious.

From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted on 2015 04 21 at 5:22 pm

Mark,

For the sake of your congregation, the PCA, the Alliance — not to mention yourself — please don’t write part 2. Do you really want to position yourself as Norman Shepherd 2.0? Aside from all that you’ve already written about the parallels among Adam, Christ, and us, and how we all — without sufficient qualification — graciously obtain God’s favor through good works, you now appear to be headed to the no-man’s land of Norman Shepherdville:

In other words, in order to keep the Adam-Christ parallels, we must not actually abandon the concept of grace given to them both, but actually affirm it. It has been a peculiar oddity that some assume that the parallels between the two Adams means that Adam could not have received the grace of God because Christ did not. But this view is based on the fatal assumption that God was not gracious to Christ in any sense.

David VanDrunen, in criticizing Norman Shepherd’s rejection of merit in the Garden of Eden, makes the following claim:

“It is not difficult to see how such a view, if taken seriously, makes belief in Christ’s active, imputed obedience impossible. If image bearers do not merit anything before God, then the true image bearer, Christ, did not merit anything before God, and his perfect obedience can hardly be reckoned ours as the basis for our justification” (CJPM, 51).

This paragraph by Professor VanDrunen will give me an opportunity in the next post to examine more carefully – I trust, in an irenic tone – some of his claims from a historical and biblical perspective.

But it is interesting to me that some recent defences of justification seem to approach the topic somewhat differently than what I find in the Early Modern era when it comes to merit and the Edenic context for Adam’s obedience.

The thing is, Mark, a historian knows the difference between the present and the past. And in the present Norman Shepherd has received round rejections from the Reformed churches. Just listen to the RCUS:

The whole crux of the matter is that Shepherd robs the gospel of good news. How can a man be justified before God? The good news is that Christ’s righteousness, namely, His perfect obedience and sacrifice upon the cross for the sins of His people, is freely imputed by God to all who receive Christ by faith alone, trusting in his saving work on their behalf. By fulfilling the law and suffering its curse, Christ obtains righteousness and eternal life as a free gift for His people.

Now, Mr. Shepherd, if Christ fully satisfied the justice of God and appeased God’s wrath against my sin, then what act of obedience would you have me do, or what act of disobedience would you have me avoid, in order to escape God’s wrath? The Bible says that the only means of escape is to reach out the empty hand of faith and receive the gracious gift. Yes, Mr. Shepherd, all it takes is a simple act of faith. ‘The vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus forgiveness receives.’ Yes, Mr. Shepherd, salvation and justification do in fact take place at a certain point in
time – the moment a person believes! “Verily, verily, I say to you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). “And the publican, … saying, God be merciful to me a
sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified”! (Luke 18:13-14). “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”! (Acts 16:30-31). “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 9:13).
Justification does not take place at any other time than the first appearance of genuine faith in the human heart.

. . . Therefore, the question is this: Is justification by faith alone apart from obedience the one true gospel or is it not? John Murray believed that “it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification.”194 For precisely this reason, Calvin (and Luther too!) called the doctrine of justification by faith alone “the main hinge on which religion turns.”195 Turretin termed it “the principal rampart of the Christian religion. This being adulterated or subverted, it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places. Hence Satan in every way has endeavored to corrupt this doctrine in all ages, as has been done especially by the papacy.”196 Take note: deny justification by faith alone, and it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places! It is a downward slide.

If the RCUS is not good enough for you, how about your own organization, the Alliance, a parachurch agency that launched its existence precisely because justification by faith alone (read Norman Shepherd) was on the ropes. Thanks to the nifty new device that alliance.net has made available, I can find the Cambridge Declaration of 1996 that spawned ACE. It includes the following:

Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today this article is often ignored, distorted or sometimes even denied by leaders, scholars and pastors who claim to be evangelical. Although fallen human nature has always recoiled from recognizing its need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, modernity greatly fuels the fires of this discontent with the biblical Gospel. We have allowed this discontent to dictate the nature of our ministry and what it is we are preaching.

Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ’s cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations.

While the theology of the cross may be believed, these movements are actually emptying it of its meaning. There is no gospel except that of Christ’s substitution in our place whereby God imputed to him our sin and imputed to us his righteousness. Because he bore our judgment, we now walk in his grace as those who are forever pardoned, accepted and adopted as God’s children. There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ’s saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.

Thesis Four: Sola Fide

We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.

We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.

I wonder, the way you are headed, if you can affirm what the Alliance does. I sure hope so. But your constant toying with a doctrine that stands at the center of the gospel leads me to think the RCUS’ words to Norman Shepherd might apply to you:

Does Shepherd Jones really want to maintain that the fathers of the reformation, who together wrote the Protestant Creeds, along with all their spiritual sons, men like Turretin, Hodge, Berkhof, and John Murray, have all misread Scripture and have all misunderstood the doctrine of justification by faith alone?

Those of us who read you fear that the answer is yes.

From DGH on Does The Gospel Threaten Submitted on 2015 03 24 at 12:22 pm

Mark,

You have me scratching my head again. If the gospel threatens, as you say:

God, as Adam’s father, threatened Adam in the Garden. His threat was an act of love (grace?), designed to keep Adam from sinning. Adam had good reason, then, to be afraid of God when he sinned. It would have been the “essence of impiety” not to have been afraid after he rebelled against God. Adam’s first sin was unbelief. But he clearly forgot to fear God, which was a factor in his unbelief. Adam doubted God’s threat to him as well as God’s love.

then when God said to Adam, “if you eat of the tree you will surely die,” we have the first expression of the Gospel — the protoevangelion as it were. And here I had thought that Genesis 3:15 was the first instance of the gospel:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.

Silly me.

While I have you, I have to ask about your math skills. In your reflections on China (and I do wonder what the sound of 1,000,000 Chinese Christians clapping sounds like) you say that the underground church in China is the size of 100,000 OPC churches. Did you mean the OPC with its total church membership (roughly 32,000) or number of churches/congregations (roughly 300)? If the former, my math says the underground church in would reach a level of 32,000,000,000. But if it is only the size of the number of OPC congregations, then the underground church would be 300,000,000.

Is this one of those metric system differences between the U.S. and Canada?

From DGH on The Divine Acceptilatio Submitted on 2015 02 25 at 10:43 am

Mark,

During this season (for some) of Lent and (for others) Fifty Shades of Gray, I wonder about the title of your post. Acceptilatio doesn’t sound Latin or learned. It sounds dirty.

But that’s a mere quibble. I am glad to know that you acknowledge that our sins (doh!) works are flawed and God accepts them despite how much they fall short of his righteous standard. But why is it so hard for you to say the j-word?

Because God accepts less – often, a lot less (i.e., “small beginnings”) – than perfection from us because of his Son and for the sake of his Son, who is glorified in us.

Is this fair? Doesn’t God accept us because of Christ’s righteousness? I mean, if being glorified in us is the standard, then what about my cats? God is glorified somehow in them. What about Saddam Hussein? Wasn’t God glorified in him sort of like the way God was glorified by Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery?

So why do you have such a hard time saying “justification.” You seem almost as reluctant to say it as George Washington was to utter “God” (he liked divine providence, Great Parent, Supreme Benefactor but seemed to gag on God).

Again, the Belgic Confession which you also seem reluctant to quote puts the relationship between justification and sanctification so well:

These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” — thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ”

Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts.

Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior. (Art. 25)

A piece of advice here — your posts on the law, obedience and sanctification toss some of your readers back and forth and undermine assurance. Do you really want to do that?

One other point. You write that God is always please with us, a point that seems to conflict with other posts you’ve written about the punishments believers receive in this life for disobedience:

God accepts imperfection because he is a gracious Father, who has a perfect Son, who sends his Spirit into our hearts (Gal. 4:6). Why are we called righteous and good? Why are our imperfect works acceptable and pleasing to God? The answer: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So does this mean that we now don’t have to worry about the sort of retribution that God’s people faced according to the Psalmist?

Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God
and did not keep his testimonies,
but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers;
they twisted like a deceitful bow.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places;
they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
When God heard, he was full of wrath,
and he utterly rejected Israel.
He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh,
the tent where he dwelt among mankind,
and delivered his power to captivity,
his glory to the hand of the foe.
He gave his people over to the sword
and vented his wrath on his heritage.
Fire devoured their young men,
and their young women had no marriage song.
Their priests fell by the sword,
and their widows made no lamentation.
Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
like a strong man shouting because of wine.
And he put his adversaries to rout;
he put them to everlasting shame.

He rejected the tent of Joseph;
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves. (Psalm 78:56-68 ESV)

If you now think that saints in Christ no longer face this kind of treatment because of their sins, I’m happy to know that. But again a word to the wise, this post doesn’t seem to cohere with your recent advocacy and rationales for obedient faith.