We are coming to the end of our review of the Tim Challies article, “Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel”. There is one more point to examine, but before we get to that I want to disclose something I discovered in my research for this series. The very same canons from the Sixth Council of Trent that Challies uses for his evaluation in his article are the same ones found evaluated in this article. Since I could not find any publication date on it, I cannot determine who wrote their article first. I’ll let you compare them for yourself and come to your own conclusion on that, but it certainly does make one scratch their head. At any rate, it does serve to reinforce the notion that Reformed talking points run far and wide.
The Protestant Reformation is probably the biggest farce that has ever been perpetrated on Christianity. That farce lives on with help from the likes of Tim Challies and writings such as the one under evaluation here. Whether or not his misrepresentation is purposeful or he is simply just confused himself, it doesn’t excuse him from being complicit in the deception of the thousands of laity who look to him daily for their interpretation of reality. Elders are to be above reproach, and there is certainly much in his own writing that can be cause for reproach.
So then let’s get on with our examination of point number six. Once again, I have included the quote from the canons of the Sixth Council of Trent so that we may consider them alongside Challies’ own rejection of Catholic doctrine.
“If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does not rather illustrate the truth of our faith and no less the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema. (Canon 33)”
“This is the heart of the issue, isn’t it? The Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, as laid out by the Council of Trent, and as systematized in the canons, does that very thing—it diminishes the glory of God and the merits of Jesus Christ. It adds to Christ’s work. To add anything to Christ’s work is to destroy it altogether.”
This is Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” plain and simple. It is the “cross story” vs. the “glory story”. Challies might have just as well quoted from Luther directly.
Thesis 22: That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.
…This has already been said. Because men do not know the cross and hate it, they necessarily love the opposite, namely, wisdom, glory, power, and so on. Therefore they become increasingly blinded and hardened by such love, for desire cannot be satisfied by the acquisition of those things which it desires. Just as the love of money grows in proportion to the increase of the money itself, so the dropsy of the soul becomes thirstier the more it drinks, as the poet says: »The more water they drink, the more they thirst for it.« The same thought is expressed in Eccles. 1:8: »The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.« This holds true of all desires.
Thesis 24: He, however, who has emptied himself (cf. Phil. 2:7) through suffering no longer does works but knows that God works and does all things in him. For this reason, whether God does works or not, it is all the same to him. He neither boasts if he does good works, nor is he disturbed if God does not do good works through him. He knows that it is sufficient if he suffers and is brought low by the cross in order to be annihilated all the more. It is this that Christ says in John 3:7, »You must be born anew.« To be born anew, one must consequently first die and then be raised up with the Son of Man. To die, I say, means to feel death at hand.
In the above-cited Heidelberg Disputation, Luther contended that man’s desire to do works only feeds “the glory story,” or the story of man. In Luther’s construct, ALL reality is interpreted through two stories: the glory story (the story of man), and the cross story (the story of redemption). Giving any credence to the works or the belief that man can perform good works only contributes to the story of man and his glory. This includes believers! When Challies claims that the Catholic doctrine of justification diminishes the glory of God and the merits of Jesus Christ and adds to Christ’s work, that’s Luther’s “glory story” and not the “cross story”.
And he is exactly right; that is the heart of the issue. It was what the reformation was all about. It was a battle over “infused grace” vs. the obedience of Christ in our place. But the dirty little secret is that it was an argument over those things with regard to progressive justification, which the reformers never denied and actually upheld. The dispute was simply over the means. Authentic Protestantism saw no difference between justification and sanctification. It saw sanctification as the means by which justification was preserved, not the means in which we bring glory to our Father through good works.
This is what is meant when reformed teachers uses phrases like, “sanctification is the growing part of salvation,” or, “the same gospel that saves you sanctifies you.” It reveals their belief that justification is a process. But unlike Catholicism, that process is maintained by “faith alone”. It is why they view works in such a derogatory manner, because works diminish the “cross story”. They diminish the “work” that Christ does in maintaining the believer’s declared righteousness. “Christ’s work” is not simply His “work” on the cross. “Work” in their construct is a collective term that encompasses all of the tasks that Christ performs, including an active obedience to the law continually imputed to the believer, so that when God looks at you, all He sees is Christ. But if at any time you believe that any work you did originated with you, you rob Christ of His glory and make it your own, “destroying it altogether.”
What this all boils down to is that the whole argument over works vs. “faith alone” is a distraction from the real issue. We are lead to believe that it is an argument over justification. We are left to assume that Protestant’s believe that justification is a one-time event. But the real debate of the Reformation was an argument over the means of maintaining justification.
No wonder so many Christians are confused. I myself could not understand why obedience in the Christian life was looked upon so negatively by my reformed pastor and elders, when all of scripture clearly stated that believers are to obey. I had no problem understanding and making the distinction that it had nothing to do with me trying to stay justified. I wanted to obey because I loved my Father. But now that I understand the way authentic Protestantism regards works as well as their take on progressive justification, it all makes so much more sense now. And what I find is that with practice, the duplicity and doublespeak become so much easier to spot.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:15-16
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.
We continue on in our review of an article written by Tim Challies in 2014 entitled, “Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel”. It is not a direct polemic on Catholic orthodoxy. Rather, he has selected certain points to consider where Catholicism disagrees with Protestantism. It is a rather slick approach, because he provides no argument for either side, neither seeking to disprove why the Catholic rejection is wrong, nor seeking to prove why the Protestant belief is correct. He simply declares that Catholics reject what he believes.
As we work our way through this series, we are beginning to see a recurring theme. It is the classic dispute between works vs. “faith alone”. But the more we examine these statements, the Protestant equivocation becomes more and more apparent. The authentic Protestant doctrine of “faith-alone” justification is not what most Protestant laity think it is, and those in “authority” within the walls of the institution are perfectly happy to let them continue to assume this misunderstanding.
Challies’ fourth point draws from Canon 24 of the Sixth Council of Trent of January 13, 1547 [i].
“If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema. (Canon 24)”
“I believe that good works—works that bring glory to God—are the fruit and proof of justification. I deny that they are in any way the cause of justification’s increase and preservation. (Gal 3:1-3, Gal 5:1-3)”
Stop right there! Challies has just given himself away! Read that last sentence again. “I deny that they [good works] are in any way the cause of justification’s increase and preservation.” In his own statement, Challies has not denied that justification is increased and preserved. Let me say that again. Challies has NOT denied that justification is increased and preserved. He denies that good works are the cause of it. The implication is clear that something causes the increase and preservation of justification, but it’s not good works. That’s progressive justification.
When it comes right down to it, that was the only dispute regarding the Reformation. Calvin and Luther never denied that justification was an on-going process. They only disputed the means. For the Catholics, good works are what maintains one’s righteous standing. But for the Protestants, it is “faith alone” that increases and preserves justification. This is the only point of contention between Protestantism and Catholicism, not whether or not justification is progressive, only the means by which it is maintained.
But to be clear, good works vs. “faith alone” is not the issue; it is a distraction. The truth is that justification is a FINISHED work. It needs no increasing or preservation, period; by good works, “faith-alone”, or anything else. A person’s new creaturehood that results from the new birth is the basis for one’s justification. The new creature is not under the jurisdiction of the law, therefore there is no sin. He is the righteous offspring of God his Father. He is free to perform good works without fear of condemnation, not to increase or preserve his justification, but rather as the means by which he demonstrates his love to God and to others. It is what he is called to do. And there are rewards in heaven that await him to the degree that he is faithful in performing those works.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” ~ Ephesians 2:10
“That the man of God may be perfect [mature, complete], throughly furnished unto all good works.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:17
“This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” ~ Titus 3:8
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” ~ Hebrews 10:24
“Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:8
“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:14
“Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,” ~
“Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” ~ Colossians 3:24
“Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” ~ 2 John 1:8
Protestants are the last people on earth that should be talking about works. Good works, as defined by Challies, are “works that bring glory to God.” Sounds good, but he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth, because Protestantism doesn’t believe that any man can do any good works, even saved ones. Any good works we do are only experienced by us. It is Christ performing the good works through us. If at any moment we begin to think we actually did the work, we have denied Christ and put justification at risk. Luther stated in his Heidelberg Disputation that if anyone believed he could do a good work, it was an unpardonable sin. “Faith alone” means a continual recognition that we cannot do any good works, and it is this recognition that keeps us justified.
The doublespeak is clear in Challies’ reply to Canon 24. “I believe that good works—works that bring glory to God—are the fruit and proof of justification…” – Sure, because it is not us doing the works but us experiencing the works performed by Christ through us. “…I deny that they are in any way the cause of justification’s increase and preservation..” – Of course, since we cannot perform any good works, we must rely by “faith alone” on the works of Christ to be performed through us continually in order to increase and preserve our justification.
We could end here and not have to look at this article any further. Anything that Challies or any other Protestant/Reformed elitist says from this point forward is irrelevant. Their gospel is false! It is progressive justification regardless of what they say. Their own words have given them away, and here is the proof. Nevertheless, there are still two more points to consider, and we will look at point number five in the next article.
Both Protestantism and Catholicism hold to progressive justification. This is the idea that salvation is a process, and not a onetime completed event that redirects the believer to focus on representing God’s characteristics in life. Salvation is a gift, life is a reward. Protestantism and Catholicism both make salvation the reward for persevering in church orthodoxy.
With Protestantism and Catholicism, salvation cannot be finished, nor an individual matter between people and God, or the church would have no cause to be supported as an institutional industrial complex. In order for their massive institutions to be supported financially, they must claim God’s authority in overseeing the salvation of humanity.
Protestants claim that the Reformation was necessary because of the issue of “infused grace.” Luther and Calvin believed that all righteousness remains outside of the “believer.” The new birth, as defined by Protestantism, is a mere ability to perceive “truth” while doing no good work. Mortal sin (unforgivable) results if one thinks any person can do a good work. Venial sin (forgivable) results if it is believed that any person, whether saved or unsaved, can do no good work. Venial sin can be forgiven by the “means of grace” found only in the church.
Catholicism believes that the new birth enables the individual to cooperate with the church in finishing salvation. The individual is infused with God’s righteousness and can do good works. Mortal sin is sin committed by those outside of the church. Venial sin can be forgiven through the means of grace found in the church whether Protestant or Catholic. However, in Catholicism, the person actually grows in righteousness. In the end, Purgatory finishes the process, and in fact, makes the person perfect enough to obtain eternal life and enter into heaven. Only members of the Catholic church qualify to enter Purgatory.
Church doctrine is therefore the essence of sin because sin is a master that seeks to control humanity through condemnation (Genesis 4:7). If “believers” still need salvation, they are not free to love without fear of condemnation.
In truth, salvation is finished, and yes, we do “move on to something else” where sin is the exception and not the rule. We are not under law and its demands, but rather under grace and free to fulfill the law through love. The motive of the true believer is love—not law-keeping in regard to orthodoxy.