Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 5
We continue on in our examination of the Tim Challies article, “Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel”. The strategy I am using in these articles is to evaluate both sides of the argument, Catholic and Protestant. I think the best way that we can uncover the duplicity employed by Challies is to examine the argument in context alongside Catholicism. Therefore it is necessary to make sure we have an accurate understanding of Catholicism.
I think it is disingenuous of Challies to circumvent such an evaluation. I don’t believe one can effectively argue against what one group claims they reject about one’s beliefs unless one fully understands what the other’s beliefs are. This is precisely what he is attempting, not to refute Catholicism on its face, but to refute Catholicism’s rejection of his own beliefs. I think it speaks volumes about the fact that Challies knows that there is no real practical difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. Yet, it provides an effective cover for any serious consideration of what his beliefs are on at least two levels. One, the reader is left to assume that his assessment of Challies’ beliefs are in line with his own. Two, Challies shelters his beliefs from any serious scrutiny since the focus is on Catholicism and not Protestantism. But as you should well know by now, we don’t play that game here at Paul’s Passing Thoughts!
So having said all of that as an introduction, let’s take a look at point number five from the article.
“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema. (Canon 30)”
”I believe this precious truth and will fight to the death for it! I believe that at the moment of justification the sinner’s guilt and punishment are removed to such an extent that no debt remains to be discharged in this world or in purgatory before he can enter into heaven. (Rom 5:1, Col 2:13-14)”
The context of this point appears to be an argument over the doctrine of purgatory. Look closely at the word “purgatory”, and you should see the root word “purge”. That is the purpose of purgatory; to purge any remaining sins. A more detailed explanation of purgatory is found on the Catholic Answers website:
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a ‘purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,’ which is experienced by those ‘who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified’ (CCC 1030). It notes that ‘this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned’ (CCC 1031).
“The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.”[i]
Challies would have us believe that the dispute is over this doctrine of purgatory, but this again only serves as a distraction from the real issue. But an examination of the Catholic view as set against a true Biblical view is necessary to understand Challies’ position.
According to Catholicism, purgatory is needed to “purge” any last remaining vestiges of sin and unrighteousness. In this sense, the “sin debt” is not fully paid. As we saw in part two of this series, Catholics believe in the new birth as a change in the state of being, but if remaining unrighteous must be purged in purgatory, then obviously the implication is that even though believers are born again, they are still sinners.
Reference is made particularly with regard to “venial sins” vs. “mortal sins”. Martin Luther also spoke of “venial” and “mortal sins” in his Heidleberg Disputation. According to Luther, if we believe that we did any good work, that’s works salvation and a “mortal sin.” But, if we attend our good works (as Christians) with fear that it could be us who did it and not God, that’s “venial sin” and not “mortal sin.” Hence, part of the Protestant daily repentance regiment is asking forgiveness for good works[ii] that we have done[iii] just in case it was us who did them[iv]. Catholicism allows for the possibility that there could be venial sins of which the believer is not consciously aware, and it is these venial sins that must be purged in purgatory. Nevertheless, the point is that both Catholics and Protestants agree on a continual need for dealing with present sin, either in this life or the next.
Herein is the basis of the dispute. Reformation theology, as Challies follows it, would deny the need for purgatory on that basis that there is no dealing with sin in the next life other than the final judgment. In this life, venial sins are forgiven in this daily returning to the same gospel that saved you. In living by “faith alone” you acknowledge that you did no good works and you demonstrate your continual need for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to your account. So while Challies is right in rejecting the doctrine of purgatory, he is still in error regarding the idea of believers still being sinners in need of daily salvation through “faith alone”.
Both Catholicism and Protestantism are in error on the same point. The assumption is a remaining need for forgiveness of “present sin”. In contrast, the Bible says that the born again believer IS truly righteous as a state of being because of his new creaturehood as the righteous offspring of God the Father. This righteous offspring is righteous because there is no law under which he can be condemned. The law was ended for him when he was born again, because the old man died. And where there is no law, there is no sin. This is why the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:9 that he who is born of God CANNOT sin! If he cannot sin, then there is no need for forgiveness, there is no need for any re-justification by the active obedience of Christ, there is no need for Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to one’s account in order to maintain a righteous standing, and there is no need for any purging of remaining sin before one may enter the Kingdom.
Here we have another example of Challies allowing his readers to assume that they agree with his belief and that their definition of terms is the same as his own. But neither Challies nor any reformed Protestant leader believes that a saved person is truly righteous. That is the real issue at stake. While he says in his statement, “I believe that at the moment of justification the sinner’s guilt and punishment are removed,” the fact remains that this authentic Protestant doctrine of “faith alone” must be lived out continually so that the work of Christ is constantly done in the life of the believer. Guilt and punishment are removed, so long as one returns to the same gospel that saved him.
We have one last point to examine, and we will evaluate that point in part six.