Every Member Ministry

Remember how the Second Vatican Council affirmed the priesthood of believers?

The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. (Lumen Gentium 2.10)

Look where it leads:

Here is part of what the pope said:

And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.

No, no, no. Now see, this infuriates me as an apologist (and former Protestant). It is one thing to have to correct this nonsense when it comes from the late Anglican bishop Tony Palmer. But from the pope? I defend the poor man, but at times he exasperates me.

Turns out Lutherans and Roman Catholics don’t agree:

Now, it is true, that some consensus has been reached between Catholics and Lutherans on justification. But it is not at all true to say, as Pope Francis does, that we all “agree” now, as though there are no differences to speak of. And for him to say that Luther “did not err” on justification is just flat baloney.

I mean, for heaven’s sake, Luther taught justification by faith alone. The Council of Trent condemned this error. Was Trent wrong? Or was Pope Leo X wrong in Exsurge Domine?

Leo X condemned Martin Luther’s view that the sacraments give pardoning grace

Leo X condemned Martin Luther’s teaching that sin remains after baptism

Leo X condemned Martin Luther’s view that a just man sins in doing a good work

And in its Canons on Justification, the Council of Trent pronounced an anathema on the following views of Luther:

Canon 5 anathematized the view that Adam’s sin destroyed free will

Canon 7 anathematized the view that good works before justification are sinful

Canon 9 anathematized justification by faith alone

Canon 11 anathematized imputed righteousness

Canon 25 anathematized the view that good works are venial sins even for the just man

There are important differences between Protestants and Catholics, and ecumenism is of no use if we don’t treat them honestly. We can’t just pretend they are not there and wish them away. If Luther “did not err,” did the Church err? Should we all become Protestants?

Trent was right; Leo X was right. Luther did indeed err; and in this particular statement, so did Pope Francis. I love Pope Francis; he’s my Father; but no, no, no. He was wrong.

Move over papal audacity. Say hello to lay audacity.

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Where’s Waldo 2016 Update

Since some of the comments of late are echoing the union-with-Christ-centric reading of Reformed soteriology that animated many posts here, I offer a refresher on Calvin’s understanding of first-importance matters when he was explaining to Cardinal Sadoleto what Protestants believed about salvation. Note first the priority of forensics — this is about sin, guilt, law, legal verdicts:

We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.

Oh, yes, he talks about communion. That’s not union, at least in the English language I use.

Second, the obedience boys should observe Calvin’s understanding of works in relation to faith:

What have you here, Sadolet, to bite or carp at? Is it that we leave no room for works? Assuredly we do deny that, in justifying a man, they are worth one single straw. For Scripture everywhere cries aloud, that all are lost; and every mans’s own conscience bitterly accuses him. The same Scripture teaches, that no hope is left but in the mere goodness of God, by which sin is pardoned, and righteousness imputed to us. It declares both to be gratuitous, and finally concludes that a man is justified without works, (Rom. iv. 7.) But what notion, you ask, does the very term Righteousness suggest to us, if respect is not paid to good works ? I answer, if you would attend to the true meaning of the term justifying in Scripture, you would have no difficulty. For it does not refer to a man’s own righteousness, but to the mercy of God, which, contrary to the sinner’s deserts, accepts of a righteousness for him, and that by not imputing his unrighteousness. Our righteousness, I say, is that which is described by Paul, (2 Cor. v. 19,) that God bath reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ. The mode is afterwards subjoined — by not imputing sin. He demonstrates that it is by faith only we become partakers of that blessing, when he says that the ministry of reconciliation is contained in the gospel. But faith, you say, is a general term, and has a larger signification. I answer, that Paul, whenever he attributes to it the power of justifying, at the same time restricts it to a gratuitous promise of the divine favor, and keeps it far removed from all respect to works. Hence his familiar inference — if by faith, then not by works. On the other hand — if by works, then not by faith.

Funny how far union with Christ was from Calvin’s explicit explanation of Protestant soteriology. Maybe union comes in the Development of Calvinist Doctrine. One man’s development is another’s change.

The Puritan Fetish

Why do Reformed Protestants think appealing to the Puritans settles it?

Why does Patrick Ramsey think John Ball’s view of justification is significant?

While denying the Roman Catholic doctrine that love is the life and soul of justifying faith, John Ball (1585-1640) strenuously affirmed that justifying faith cannot be without love. Faith and love are distinct graces which are “infused together” by the Holy Spirt at regeneration and “the exercise of faith and love be inseparably conjoined (Treatise of Faith, 45-46).” Where there is justifying faith there is love: “As light and heat in the Sun be inseparable, so is faith and love, being knit together in a sure bond by the Holy Ghost (pg. 38).

If faith and love are distinct yet inseparable, so it is sometimes argued, “then Faith alone doth not justify (pg. 56).” The presence of love at the moment of justification implies that it is along with faith a co-instrument of justification. Ball responded to this objection by appealing to a common turn of phrase regarding the role of faith in justification: faith alone justifies but the faith which justifies is not alone. Or as it stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”

And why does William Evans think the Puritans founded America (tell that to the Virginians)?

America was founded by Puritans. They viewed themselves as in covenant with God, as a new Israel. They thought that the covenant promises made to Israel applied quite literally to them. They thought that if Americans were obedient God would bless our land, just as he blessed ancient Israel. That’s why many American Christians love to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This is where American exceptionalism, our notion of America as a special, chosen nation originates from.

But if Evans is right about the amillennialism, why don’t we abandon the Puritans (who were a tad preoccupied with being a chosen people)?

The point should be clear to us now—with the coming of the Messiah, the notion of the “promised land” is christologically defined. The promise of “land” is fulfilled concretely in Christ, who rules over the world as God’s kingdom, and his people. A principle of redemptive history is that when God takes something away, he replaces it with something much, much better.

All this should be a warning to us not to identify the Promised Land with any particular nation, or particular piece of real estate. The covenant promises of God regarding land do not apply to America as a nation in covenant with God, or as some sort of new Israel. God’s plans are not going down the tube because of America’s present unfaithfulness. We know that ultimate individual and collective transformation are God’s work that will not be completed until Christ comes again, and that, while real (albeit provisional) successes are at times realized today, this eschatological horizon implies that the ministry of the church is not going to usher in the millennium.

Will Believers be Judged for Not Knowing English Historical Theology?

Apparently, Mark Jones believes Lee Irons stands condemned:

I am flabbergasted at the cocksure way by which Irons makes these claims. He castigates Piper for several errors, but ends up making a few blunders himself. One in particular stands out.

He says: “Faith has never been viewed as a condition of justification in Reformed theology…” (emphasis mine).

This is simply false.

So it looks like God won’t be pleased with Lee’s works on judgment day.

But will God look favorably on Jones’ own high estimate of his historical theological chops?

Most of the Early Modern Reformed did not view Romans 2:7-11 as hypothetical, contrary to what some in the Reformed camp today have suggested. Rick Phillips has addressed this question in the past, but I remain concerned about some historical and exegetical issues made therin; his post also strikes me as far too defensive. Better, in my view, is the approach taken by Richard Gaffin in By Faith, Not By Sight.

Should this cause people to despair regarding the future judgment? Only if one is a bona fide hypocrite. Christ will rightfully condemn the hypocrites in the church (Matt. 25:41-46). They are marked out as those who did not do good works. They are those who neglect the weightier matters of the law (Matt. 23:23).

I mean, if believers are going to be judged by their good works as Jones says is writ large in English Protestantism, doesn’t that conclusion apply to blog posts? Is it evidence of saving faith or a good work to mock other believers on grounds of the history of English theology?

Sure, this post may even be evidence of my own sinfulness. But I’m not the one promoting obedient faith.

(On the upside, Dr. Jones has abandoned the third-person bi-lines, sure evidence of holiness.)

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?

But Won't You Still Go Into Exile?

Tim Challies channels Paul in Romans 7 even if he avoids “oh wretched man”:

I still get angry. I still lash out in anger. I still simmer in anger. I still have desires that stem from anger and suffer the consequences of my anger. And that is just one sin. I still lust and am still jealous and am still thankless and still sin in so many ways. I have died to sin but sin has not yet died within. But here is the difference; here is the change: Sin no longer has dominion. And practically I cannot relate to it as if it has dominion. I have to ensure that my experience of sin is consistent with my theology of sin.

Anger does not own me. Christ owns me. Lust does not motivate me. Christ motivates me. Jealousy does not get the final victory. Christ gets the final victory. The cross stands there as assurance that I have been saved from its power and will some day be fully and finally delivered from its presence. Sin is in me but I am in Christ. And what is in me was put upon him on the cross. He triumphed over it then. He broke its power. And now I just wait, battling all the while, for him to speak the word and bring it to an end once and for all.

But the good news is that he is united to Christ, right? So isn’t the priority of union before justification just as antinomian as the priority of justification to sanctification? Either way, the assurance of God’s favor is a great comfort for believers who still carry around sin. But let’s not conclude that somehow union fixes what justification lacks. The only remedy for sin, before or after regeneration, is not obedience but the grace of Christ.

At the same time, wouldn’t the obedience boys tell Tim that he is going to have to suffer for his ongoing sin? Can he simply get away with all this anger and lust and jealousy? Won’t he experience God’s displeasure?

Is Original Sin a Legal Fiction?

Lane Keister responds to Roman Catholic criticisms that justification by faith alone depends on an understanding of the imputed righteousness of Christ that turns salvation into a “legal fiction” — we are righteous but not really because, in the words of John Kinnaird, it is not real and personal.

That post got me wondering about what Rome does with the transfer of sin from Adam to the human race. So what do Roman Catholics — or Protestants who insist on real and personal holiness — teach about the sin of Adam imputed to new born infants? Is it a legal fiction to view them as sinners (as Paul does Rom 5:12 — “all sinned”)? After all, the Council of Orange affirmed original sin this way:

CANON 2. If anyone asserts that Adam’s sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

Likewise, the Baltimore Catechism affirms that Adam’s sin affected all mankind:

45. Q. What evil befell us through the disobedience of our first parents? A. Through the disobedience of our first parents we all inherit their sin and punishment, as we should have shared in their happiness if they had remained faithful.

And even more recently, John Paul II taught some kind of “fiction” when it came to the affects of Adam’s sin on the rest of the human race:

How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”. By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.

I understand that neither of these catechisms use the language of imputation, though the notion of inheritance is in the forensic Friday ball park. Even so, the magisterium has some explaining to do if you can swallow the idea that humans come into the world with the guilt of Adam’s sinful estate and then object to Protestants drawing a line between the imputation of Adam’s sin and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. If you want to be a Pelagian about sin, fine. But if you don’t want to be Pelagian about depravity, then don’t be semi-Pelagian about justification.

What a Difference Three Decades Make

In 1981 the PCA turned down the OPC’s decision to join the PCA. The context was something called J&R, joining and receiving. The PCA had invited the RPCES (denominational patron of Covenant College and Covenant Seminary) and the OPC to join and be received by the PCA into one denomination. The RPCES cleared the hurdle. The OPC did not mainly because the PCA had reservations about the teaching of Norman Shepherd and his influence within the OPC.

This week the word came that the PCA has upheld a lower court ruling that exonerates Peter Leithart’s teaching. It is an odd ruling because the PCA had approved a study report that argued the Federal Vision theology, of which Leithart is a proponent, was outside the bounds of the communion’s confessional standards.

It is also odd because the affinities between Shepherd’s theology and the Federal Vision are numerous if not always obvious.

This takes the question of how to fix the PCA to an entirely different dimension.

Are Protestants Logocentric? Proudly (in a humble way)

From Luther’s comments on John 3:

What should Christ do, and of what use is the Messiah? What kind of Messiah is He? . . . What does He do? He testifies. If He walks in such weakness and holds on His kingdship no more fimrly than that He testified, is there nothing else that He can do but preach and talk? If He is no soldier, possesses no land (not even the width of His palm) and no people, what does He do? Preach. Yes, such a Messiah are we bidden to accept.

How if it be God’s will that the Messiah should not come like a Caesar? Such an honour He will not grants unto them, that He should come arrayed with power like theirs. But that He comes so unadorned and does nothing but preach, that is unspeakable wisdom and strength, yes, the treasure of wisdom and knowledge, for whosoever believes in Him shall live eternally. But who sees this? You are not meant to see it. His reign and His preaching are a testimony. It is a preaching which testifies to things which no man can hear, see, or read in books of the law or anywhere else in the world. To witness means to speak of what the hearer has not seen. A judge does not judge what he sees. He must hear witnesses. But here He must preach and witness to something which men do not see, and that is how the Lord Christ is a witness to the Father in heaven, high uplifted above all men. He shall do nothing but preach, and His preaching shall be His testimony to the Father, how He is inclined, how He desires to make men blessed and to redeem them from their sins, and from the power of death and the devil. That is His testimony.

Luther might explain why Protestants have stressed sermons as the center piece of worship.

This would explain why Roman Catholics emphasize the Mass:

The Tridentine Decree on Justification is one of the most impressive achievements of the council. The leaders of the council had reported to Rome that “the significance of this council in the theological sphere lies chiefly in the article on justification, in fact this is the most important item the council has to deal with.” But reading it can give one a false impression of the significance of justification within Roman Catholicism. The decree was needed, and the doctrine received the attention that it did, because of the Protestant challenge. For the inner life of the Roman Catholic Church, however, the doctrine was not very important. In 1564 Pope Pius IV promulgated the Creed of the Council of Trent. Justification is mentioned just once in passing: “I embrace and accept each and every article on original sin and justification declared and defined in the most holy Council of Trent.” Shortly afterward, his successor, Pope Pius V, promulgated a Catechismus ex Decreto Concilii Tridentini, the so-called Roman Catechism. This contains only scattered passing references to justification, mostly in the context of teaching on the sacraments. The sacramental system is as central to the catechism as the doctrine of justification is peripheral, and the need to offer satisfaction for sins receives the sustained exposition denied to justification. Justification needed to be treated in response to the Protestant threat, but at the heart of the Christian life in Roman Catholicism is not justification but the sacramental system. The Council fathers turned from justification to the sacraments, and the Decree on the sacraments begins with the observation that all true righteousness begins with the sacraments; having been begun, increases through them; and, if lost, is restored through them. (Anthony Lane, “A Tale of Two Imperial Cities,” in Bruce L. McCormack, Justification in Perspective, 141-42)

Two paradigms, indeed, (but not much reform in the Counter-Reformation).

Former Saint's Remorse

News is circulating that Jason Stellman has finally made official what many surmised — converted to Roman Catholicism. The link to his piece is now dead, which may suggest a vast right-wing Protestant conspiracy. But various bloggers — eager beavers that they are — have offered extensive comments on various quotes from Stellman’s first public statement. These in turn give a feel for some of his reasoning. (My own knowledge of Stellman’s reflections come from the anonymous ghost of Reformed orthodoxy past.)

If the quotations are accurate, Stellman offers nothing really new so far. He still thinks sola scriptura will not yield an authoritative interpretation of Scripture (which Rome seems to do). He also questions the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.

The alleged deficiencies of Protestant soteriology deserve some comment. At one point Stellman writes:

Having realized that I was using a few select (and hermeneutically debatable) passages from Romans and Galatians as the filter through which I understood everything else the New Testament had to say about salvation, I began to conclude that such an approach was as arbitrary as it was irresponsible. I then sought to identify a paradigm, or simple statement of the gospel, that provided more explanatory value than Sola Fide did. As I hope to unpack in more detail eventually, I have come to understand the gospel in terms of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, who causes fruit to be borne in our lives by reproducing the image of the Son in the adopted children of the Father. If love of God and neighbor fulfills the law, and if the fruit of the Spirit is love, having been shed abroad by the Spirit in our hearts, then it seems to follow that the promise of the gospel is equivalent with the promise of the New Covenant that God’s law will no longer be external to the believer, but will be written upon his mind and heart, such that its righteous demands are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And again unsurprisingly, when I turned to the early Church fathers, and especially Augustine, it was this very understanding of the gospel that I encountered over and over again.

What is striking about Rome’s teaching in Stellman’s account is its consequence for how we think about sainthood. According to Protestantism, I (all about me) am a saint already here and now by virtue of faith in Christ and the imputed righteousness and holiness that come by through saving faith. This is why most Reformed creeds and catechisms teach about the communion of the saints. Believers who gather for worship, are members of the church, baptized, and participate in the Lord’s Supper are saints. This is also the language of the New Testament. Paul addresses that sad sack of believers in Corinth as saints (2 Cor 1:1), as well as the believers in Ephesus (1:1).

Roman Catholics, in contrast, reserve the language of sainthood for those Christians who have been canonized. At one (of many) Roman Catholic websites, the process by which a believer becomes a saint receives the following description:

Canonization, the process the Church uses to name a saint, has only been used since the tenth century. For hundreds of years, starting with the first martyrs of the early Church, saints were chosen by public acclaim. Though this was a more democratic way to recognize saints, some saints’ stories were distorted by legend and some never existed. Gradually, the bishops and finally the Vatican took over authority for approving saints.

In 1983, Pope John Paul II made sweeping changes in the canonization procedure. The process begins after the death of a Catholic whom people regard as holy. Often, the process starts many years after death in order give perspective on the candidate. The local bishop investigates the candidate’s life and writings for heroic virtue (or martyrdom) and orthodoxy of doctrine. Then a panel of theologians at the Vatican evaluates the candidate. After approval by the panel and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope proclaims the candidate “venerable.”

The next step, beatification, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. When the pope proclaims the candidate beatified or “blessed,” the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance.

Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well). The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Canonization does not “make” a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done.

Though canonization is infallible and irrevocable, it takes a long time and a lot of effort. So while every person who is canonized is a saint, not every holy person has been canonized. You have probably known many “saints” in your life, and you are called by God to be one yourself.

To move from membership in a Protestant church into fellowship with the Bishop of Rome (i.e., the Pope), then, is to lose one’s status as a saint. In fact, the Protestant convert could likely never recover his former status, given the requirements for canonization and beatification.

This difference may not be enough to give Stellman former saint’s remorse, but it does underscore an important difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We view sainthood and sanctity differently, and the basis for that difference has much to do with the sole sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness for any Christian who might claim to be a saint.

This may also be an important perspective on those old debates about the priority of justification. Sanctification, imperfect as it is in this life, is not sufficient to make one a saint, at least not according to the communion that regards justification, according to Stellman, as a life-long process of having the love of God written on the believer’s heart. But justification (of the Protestant variety) is enough for sainthood since I personally receive all of Christ’s righteousness in faith and that is the only qualification in which I could take comfort for sanctity.