Paul's Passing Thoughts

Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 11, 2016

This is part three of a six part series.
Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two
Click here for Part Four.
Click here for Part Five.
Click here for Part Six.

We continue on in our review of an article written by Tim Challies in 2014 entitled, “Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel”. Challies states in his introduction, “What I have found is that the Roman Catholic Church understands my theology very well.” But by contrast, those of authentic reformed theology also understand Catholicism very well. This should really come as no surprise to us, since the reformation boiled down to nothing more than two packs of wolves vying for the mutton. The argument has always been about progressive justification and whether or not believers have anything to contribute to the mix.

In an interesting twist, Challies doesn’t argue against Catholicism directly. In fact, he offers very little in the way of support for his own views which he simply claims Catholics reject. This conveniently allows him to frame the argument any way he wishes without having to back it up. It is one thing to say “you reject what I believe,” but it is an entirely different matter to say, “here is why you reject what I believe.” Really, it serves as nothing more than a distraction, getting our attention off the real issue. While we are busy evaluating what Catholics say about Protestants, we are ignoring what Protestants are saying.

Challies cites select canons from the Council of Trent. To be specific, these citations come from the Sixth Council of Trent of January 13, 1547 [i]. The canons on justification are only one section of a larger body of work. The first section contains a lengthy affirmation of the Catholic doctrine on justification. The canons that follow are then the resulting refutations based on what is taught in section one. Challies cites the canons only while ignoring the specific doctrinal statements in section one.

So having said that, let’s continue our review by looking at Challies’ third point. Quoting from his article:

“If anyone says that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he firmly believes that he is absolved and justified, or that no one is truly justified except him who believes himself justified, and that by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected, let him be anathema. (Canon 14)”

“This may require some nuance, because I do not believe that I am absolved from sin because I believe I am absolved from sin; however, I do hold, as the Council says here, that faith in Christ alone does absolve sin and justify sinners. (Rom 5:1)”

So far this is one of the most confusing statements in this article! There is a reason his reply is “nuanced”, and I give him some credit here for at least being honest about that. Let’s parse this out. Challies says, “I do not believe that I am absolved from sin because I believe I am absolved from sin”. Said another way, simply believing that one is absolved from sin does not absolve from sin. In that sense, it would seem that Challies would find agreement with Rome, for that is what it appears that Canon 14 declares. And I seriously doubt that anyone in their right mind would say they are absolved from sin simply because they believe it. The must be some basis for absolution other than simply declaring it.

But look carefully at Canon 14. It states, “absolved from sins AND justified.” Both are related. The former is dependent upon the latter. Catholicism rejects the notion of justification by “faith alone” and that furthermore such a justification should be the means or the basis of absolving sin. But it goes even farther than that. The last part of Canon 14 states, “by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected.” Once again what we have is the idea of an ongoing absolution of “present sin” in the Christian life, and such absolution is only obtained by “faith alone”, which Catholicism rejects. Whereas in Catholicism such absolution, such maintaining of justification, would be obtained by the sacrament of confession (among others).

Challies’ “nuanced” first part of his reply only references absolution with regard to “faith alone” and conveniently leaves out a reference to justification. Therefore he feels he can honestly say, “no, I don’t believe I am absolved of sin simply because I believe I am.” At face value, it is a purposefully obtuse understanding of Canon 14, and Challies knows this, thus the need he feels to “nuance” his reply.

Yet he turns right around in the second part of his reply and says, “faith in Christ alone does absolve sin and justify sinners.” It would seem as if he has just contradicted what he said in the first part of his statement. Which is it Tim?   Are you absolved of sin because you “believe” you are or not? When one understands that with Protestants, “faith alone” is needed to maintain justification, it all become pretty clear. In the Protestant construct, “faith alone” does absolve sin because then the “active obedience of Christ” is applied to the believer’s account. If believers are still sinners, Christ’s work of keeping the law must be constantly imputed, and that only happens by “faith alone”. As that happens, justification is maintained.

This is yet one more example of just how both Catholics and Protestants believe in a progressive justification. What Challies calls “nuance”, not only in this example but in his entire article, is better referred to as “doublespeak.” It is language used to deceive usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth. It is also a technique used by teachers of reformed theology whereby they allow the laity to assume that they mean something other than what they are really saying.   We will continue to dissect the doublespeak as we examine point number four in the next article.

Andy


[i] https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5392

 

 

 

Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 10, 2016

This is part two of a six part series.
Click here for part one.
Click here for part three.
Click here for part four.
Click here for part five.

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:

CHAPTER IV

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.

CHAPTER V

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.

In the next article we will examine point number three.

Andy


[i] https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5392

Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 9, 2016

This is part one of a six part series.
Click here for part two.
Click here for part three.
Click here for part four.
Click here for part five.
Click here for Part Six.

For quite some time now, Paul’s Passing Thoughts has been saying that Protestants are the most confused group of people in the world.   They are the ones who have no idea what they believe about the gospel. Catholics on the other hand might believe a false gospel, but at least they are honest about what they believe.

I actually think Tim Challies has done us a great service. He wrote an article back in 2014 in which he attempts to show how Catholics disagree with what he believes.   But what it ironically ends up being is an indictment against Protenstantism. No one should any longer be able to come to us here at PPT and say we are misrepresenting Protestantism or Reformed theology. Challies has unwittingly made the case for us in his own words. He has provided several points of Catholic orthodoxy for us to consider. But I think it is ironic, because in his effort to show where Catholic orthodoxy rejects what he believes, it has given us an insight into just how much Protestantism actually agrees with Catholicism.

In this post, we will examine the first statement from the article, and other points will be considered in subsequent posts. From the article, point number one:

Catholicism declares –
“If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema. (Canon 9)”

We understand what is meant by the Roman Catholic Church in this regard. And I have spoken also with Catholic friends (even Eastern Orthodox) who will maintain that indeed this is what is taught by their church: that salvation begins with faith (beginning justification) and is maintained by works throughout their lives (progressive justification). It is by the performing of the sacraments that such maintaining of justification is accomplished (infant baptism, eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation/confession, anointing of the sick, marriage, holy orders[1]).

Now let’s take a look at Challies’ response

“I believe that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required and nothing else needs to be cooperated with, to obtain the grace of justification. Rome understands exactly what I believe here and rejects it. (Rom 3:20-28, Eph 2:8)”

He’s right.  Rome understands exactly what he means!  The problem is that Protestants don’t understand what he means.  At first glance it seems like a reasonable response with which you or I could agree, but his statement is disingenuous at best.   Why? Because Challies fails to point out one critical aspect. The Catholic statement on justification clearly suggests progressive justification. Something else (in addition to faith) is needed to be justified. For the Catholic, that “something else” is works through the performance of the sacraments, and these are performed over one’s lifetime. As these works are done, justification is maintained.

Challies neglects to point this out. He simply says it is faith and nothing else. This is very nuanced. In so doing, he allows his reader to assume that he is talking about justification as being a one-time event. He fails to mention that the Reformed doctrine of “faith alone” must be lived out continuously throughout the Christian life. If at any time a person ceases to live by faith alone, if he attempts to perform any works, he puts his salvation in jeopardy. Any works performed would only serve to condemn because this would be an attempt to merit righteousness. This was the major point of contention of the Reformation. Both Luther and Calvin state as much in their writings.

“Still, however, while we walk in the ways of the Lord, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, lest we should become unduly elated and forget ourselves, we have still remains of imperfection which serve to keep us humble: “There is no man who sinneth not,” says the Scripture (1Kgs 8:46). What righteousness can men obtain by their works?” ~ Calvin[2]

“First, I say, that the best thing which can be produced by them is always tainted and corrupted by the impurity of the flesh, and has, as it were, some mixture of dross in it. Let the holy servant of God, I say, select from the whole course of his life the action which he deems most excellent, and let him ponder it in all its parts; he will doubtless find in it something that saviors of the rottenness of the flesh since our alacrity in well-doing is never what it ought to be, but our course is always retarded by much weakness. Although we see that the stains by which the works of the righteous are blemished, are by no means unapparent, still, granting that they are the minutest possible, will they give no offense to the eye of God, before which even the stars are not clean?  We thus see, that even saints cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation.” ~ Calvin[3]

“Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be perpetual in the church (2Cor 5:18,19). Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death, i.e., ablution, satisfaction expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of grace, “but by grace are ye saved,”  “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8,9).” ~ Calvin[4]

“It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

“The law wills that man despair of his own ability, for it »leads him into hell« and »makes him a poor man« and shows him that he is a sinner in all his works, as the Apostle does in Rom. 2 and 3:9, where he says, »I have already charged that all men are under the power of sin.« However, he who acts simply in accordance with his ability and believes that he is thereby doing something good does not seem worthless to himself, nor does he despair of his own strength. Indeed, he is so presumptuous that he strives for grace in reliance on his own strength” ~ Luther[5]

“Theologically and more universally all must learn to say, “I am a sinner” and likewise never to stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true….The fundamental question of the Disputation is how to arrive at that righteousness that will enable us to stand before God” ~ Luther[6]

What Challies actually believes along with the rest of those of the Reformed Protestant tradition, is that a person not only receives salvation by justification by faith alone, but that salvation is maintained by faith alone in sanctification.

Furthermore, notice the use of the term “sinner”. Again, the reader is allowed to assume that a “sinner” is an unsaved person. But there again is the nuance. Both Catholics and Protestants teach that ALL men are sinners, even saved ones! (“Sinners saved by grace.”) In fact, in his introductory remarks at the beginning of the article, Challies states,

“We [Protestants and Catholics] agree on the problem: we are sinful people who have alienated ourselves from God and are thus in need of salvation. But we disagree in very significant ways as to how sinful people can receive that salvation.”

Challies acknowledges that he agrees with Catholics on this point.  And there is no distinction made as to who exactly the “sinful people” are here.  There is nothing specified as to who the “we” is referring.  It is clear that he includes himself and believers in that equation.  It stands to reason then that if believers are still “sinners” then they are in constant need of justification.  He says so himself in that very statement.  Salvation/justification therefore must be ongoing (progressive) in this construct.

I submit that there is ONLY one difference between Catholics and Protestants. Both believe in a progressive justification, but the dispute revolves around what happens afterward, how it is maintained. While Catholics believe it is maintained by works, Protestants believe it is originated AND maintained by “faith alone” as well. In either case, salvation is made to be a process instead of a finished work.

In this regard, Challies is exactly right. Catholics do not believe what he believes and indeed rejects it. But I would wager that if most of his readers and followers, to wit, most of Christianity, were honest with themselves and discovered what Protestantism really teaches about justification, they would reject it as well.

In part two of this series we will examine Challies’ second point from his article.

Andy


[1] http://study.com/academy/lesson/the-7-catholic-sacraments-definition-history-quiz.html

[2] John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion edited by Henry Beveridge, pg 502

[3] ibid Pg 508

[4] ibid, pg 509

[5] The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 18

[6] ibid