Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 2
Yesterday we began to take an in-depth look at an article written by Tim Challies back in 2014. Our assertion here at PPT is that there is fundamentally no difference between Catholics and Protestants in terms of doctrine, particularly the doctrine of justification. The mantra of “faith-alone” has been the hallmark of Protestant orthodoxy from the beginning of the Reformation, but very few Protestants truly understand what the reformers meant by that. That misunderstanding is perpetuated to this day by the who’s who of Protestant big dogs for the purpose of keeping the laity ignorant and uninformed. But Challies has allowed us a peek inside the elite world of academics who truly understand authentic Protestantism.
Challies’ purpose is to explore the ways in which Catholics reject what he believes in the way of Protestantism. His attempt at apologetics is really nothing more than a back-door polemic, but are their views really all that different? We continue to unpack this gift given to us by examining the second point of his article.
“If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema. (Canon 12)”
Before we go on we need to examine this statement more closely. Canon 12 makes a declaration about what it believes justification is NOT; it is not merely confidence in divine mercy alone, or “faith alone”. That being said, the question we need to ask ourselves then is, if it’s not confidence in divine mercy, or confidence alone that justifies, then what DO Catholics teach is the basis or standard of justification? If Challies is going to claim that Catholics reject what he believes, it is important for us to know what the contrasting view is. Why does Rome reject the Protestant view of justification being a mere “faith alone”?
Interestingly enough, the answer can be found from the very same council of Trent. Specifically, the canons that Challies cite are from a larger work entitled, The Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, published January 13, 1547[i]. It contains three sections:
- Decree Concerning Justification
- Canons Concerning Justification
- Decree Concerning Reform
To answer our question we must refer to the first section, the “Decree Concerning Justification.” In Chapter IV we read the following:
A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE SINNER AND ITS MODE IN THE STATE OF GRACE
In which words is given a brief description of the justification of the sinner, as being a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior. This translation however cannot, since promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Do you see that? Roman Catholicism teaches that the standard for justification is the new birth! Moreover, the new birth is propagated by a desire of one to be born again. This requires a conscious effort of the individual to make a choice. Chapter V goes on to make this clear.
THE NECESSITY OF PREPARATION FOR JUSTIFICATION IN ADULTS, AND WHENCE IT PROCEEDS
It is furthermore declared that in adults the beginning of that justification must proceed from the predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ, that is, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits on their part, they are called; that they who by sin had been cut off from God, may be disposed through His quickening and helping grace to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace; so that, while God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, man himself neither does absolutely nothing while receiving that inspiration, since he can also reject it, nor yet is he able by his own free will and without the grace of God to move himself to justice in His sight. Hence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you,19 we are reminded of our liberty; and when we reply: Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted,20 we confess that we need the grace of God.
To be clear, the Catholic view of justification begins with the new birth, defined in their own words as being a supernatural translation from one state of being to another. A literal change. The new birth is what starts you on your way. That justification is then maintained, as the believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit, throughout his life. “Faith alone” is not enough.
Challies says that the Catholic view is contrary to what he believes. In responding to Canon 12 he states,
“I believe this! I believe that justifying faith is confidence in God’s divine mercy which remits sin for the sake of Christ and on the basis of the work of Christ. It is this—faith—and nothing else that justifies us. (Rom 3:28, John 1:12)”
In other words, Challies believes that there is no cooperating with the Spirit through works to maintain justification. It is “faith alone” and nothing else. Once again, this is a statement that you or I might agree with. But the devil is in the details. The key is in this phrase:
“…justifying faith is confidence in God’s divine mercy which remits sin for the sake of Christ and on the basis of the work of Christ.”
We are again allowed to assume that “faith alone” refers to initial salvation. What Challies fails to mention is that Protestantism believes that this “work of Christ” is on-going throughout the life of the believer as a covering for “present sin”. Moreover, in stating that Catholics reject his view of justification, he has unwittingly admitted that Catholics also reject his view of the new birth. Said another way, Catholics believe that the new birth is a literal change of being, and Challies does not! The new birth is defined as merely and ability to “see” his sinfulness and need of salvation rather than a literal change of being.
The Bible, however, teaches that when a person believes, he is changed. The old man dies. He is crucified with Christ. A new creature is born in his place who is the literal offspring of God who CANNOT sin (1 John 3:9). The reason he cannot sin is because when the old man dies, the law can now no longer condemn him. The new, born again creature is not under the condemnation of the law (Romans 8:1). Therefore there is no sin, because where there is no law there is no sin (Romans 4:15, 5:13). And if there is no sin, there is no “present sin” and therefore no need of a “covering”.
If a believer is still defined as a sinner, then he indeed would be in constant need of some work of “grace” to cover that sin. In the Protestant construct, that work of grace is effected by Christ, known as the “active obedience of Christ”. Christ obeying the law in our place is imputed to the believer as a covering for present sin. But if that is the case, then according to Protestantism, the standard for justification is not the new birth but the law. Such a doctrine keeps a believer under the law. Being “under law” is the Biblical definition of an unsaved person. Furthermore, the apostle Paul said in Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” In other words, Christ’s work to END the law with His death on the cross becomes pointless!
Furthermore, if a continual “covering” is needed to maintain one’s righteous standing, then that means justification is an ongoing process. Even if the effecting of the “covering” is obtained by “faith alone” throughout one’s life rather than a co-laboring, it still makes justification progressive, instead of a one-time event in the life of a believer.
So once again we see that BOTH Catholics and Protestants hold to a progressive justification, and that the ONLY difference is the means of maintaining it, works vs. “faith alone”. Catholics make no equivocation about this. It is Protestants who are confused. But that confusion is the result of such duplicitous double-speak from the likes of men such as Tim Challies.