Monday, October 24, 2005

Lesson 31: The Council of Trent (cont.)

We have been discussing the Council of Trent, the counter-Reformation, and the Roman Catholic Church's response to the doctrines of the Reformers.

Let us review the first two lessons on this subject.

Sola Fide

First we saw how the Council cursed those who proclaimed the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide) At Trent, the conferees established the Roman doctrine of Justification by infusion as opposed to imputation. They then took aim at what they perceived as the Reformed position, attacking in three cannons.
Canon 6.11: If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.
This is a straw-man argument. As mentioned, the Reformers did not exclude infusion, but stressed that the grounds for justification rested solely in the imputed righteousness of Christ. The final clause does not apply to the Reformers at all.

Canon 9 also is imprecise:
Canon 6.9: 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.
Here Rome is condemning a caricature. The Reformers never taught that man's will is not involved, what they taught was man must first be born again before his will can dispose him to respond favorably to the offers of God.

Then there is:
Canon 6.10: If anyone says that men are justified without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us, or by that justice are formally just, let him be anathema.
This is a strange canon indeed. The first clause is an attack on Pelagianism. It correctly states that one cannot be justified apart from the merit of Christ. That is, one cannot merit justification. The second is an attack on the Reformers forensic view: the view that we are declared righteous by legal declaration, not because we actually are righteous.

Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura means that everything necessary for our salvation is contained in scripture. There is nothing that we have to know, in terms of spiritual matters, that is not contained in the Bible. Scripture and only scripture is our authority.

Trent has this to say about Sola Scriptura:
The holy, ecumenical and general Council of Trent, lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the same three legates of the Apostolic See presiding, keeps this constantly in view, namely, that the purity of the Gospel may be preserved in the Church after the errors have been removed. This [Gospel], of old promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promulgated first with His own mouth, and then commanded it to be preached by His Apostles to every creature as the source at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct. It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.
After listing the canon, including the Apocrypha, Trent continues:
If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.
At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), where the Reformed doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, Sola Fide was condemned, the Roman Catholic Church also confirmed for herself the sole right to interpret Scripture and tradition authoritatively.

Perseverance and Assurance

In today's lesson, the doctrines in question are the related ideas of Perseverance of the Saints (Eternal Security) and Assurance of Salvation. They are related, but not the same, and Rome conflates them.

Perseverance of the Saints is the belief that once a person is saved, he cannot lose his salvation. Simply put: eternal life means eternal life.

Assurance is the idea that we can have total confidence in our salvation.

One big difference: Perseverance of the Saints is promised by God. It is a gift of grace. Assurance is not promised. It must be earned through obedience and endeavoring to imitate Christ.

Perseverance of the Saints is implicitly required by the doctrine of Unconditional Election (predestination). After all, it would not make much sense to speak of an elect chosen from the foundation of time if they could lose their salvation.

The logic is straightforward: eternal life is, well, eternal. You cannot have eternal life for just a few years. Once you have it, as promised by God for a saving faith, you cannot lose it, otherwise it wasn't really eternal and God has been made a liar. Eternal life goes hand-in-hand with salvation; you cannot have one without the other. Ergo, salvation is once-and-for-all as well.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:26)

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. (1 John 2:25)
If you are a believer, you already possess eternal life; it is a promise, not a carrot used to keep you in line. That way of thinking leads to salvation by works. Eternal always means eternal, it never means temporary, and scripture never ties the promise of eternal life to your condition upon death.

Fortunately we do no have to rely on the implicit need for perseverance; scripture is quite explicit about it.

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of hand. "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. "I and the Father are one." (John 10: 27-30, NASB)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6, NASB)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." (Rom. 8:31-36)
Christ will have all those whom have been effectually called. None will stray and be lost forever.

And as if that weren't enough, we are also sealed by the Holy Spirit:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Eph 4:30, NASB)

Preservation, not Perseverance

As everyone always notes, Preservation of the Saints is a better name for this doctrine. Preservation sends the correct message that it is by God's grace and faithfulness to His promise, and not our works, that our salvation is preserved. Perseverance implies the opposite: that man through his own righteousness can hold on to something he didn't deserve in the first place.

Yeah but what about…

We all know about some guy who appeared to have been a genuine believer, then all of a sudden he quit coming to church. Later we learn that he became a transgendered devil-worshipping biker enviro-nazi NARAL-supporter and Episcopalian Bishop and was promptly elected to the California State Assembly (where he was often identified as a "conservative-leaning moderate").

What to say to say about such a creature without being arrested for a hate crime? Well, the only possibilities are the two obvious ones: Either he never really was saved or he is still saved and will, in time, cease his backsliding and return to the fold.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.(1 John 2:19, NASB)

Roman Catholic Position

Roman Catholicism absolutely denies the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. Catholics can fall from a state of grace by committing a mortal sin. They have lost their salvation, and must be restored through the sacrament of penance.

Trent has this to say about Perseverance:
Similarly with regard to the gift of perseverance, of which it is written: He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved, which cannot be obtained from anyone except from Him who is able to make him stand who stands, that he may stand perseveringly, and to raise him who falls, let no one promise himself herein something as certain with an absolute certainty, though all ought to place and repose the firmest hope in God's help. For God, unless men themselves fail in His grace, as he has begun a good work, so will he perfect it, working to will and to accomplish. Nevertheless, let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall, and with fear and trembling work out their salvation, in labors, in watchings, in alms, deeds, in prayer, in fastings and chastity. (boldface added)
In my opinion, this pays lip service to some of the scripture supporting perseverance while inserting caveats that sound like mild warnings but actually completely destroy the doctrine. What does it mean to place one's "firmest hope in God" while at the same time men may "fail in His grace"? In reality, there is no hope placed in God, in this view all hope is then resting not on God’s grace but man’s ability. So God, having begun a good work, will certainly complete it (Phil. 1:6), unless, according to Trent, He doesn't.

To be sure, the Trent analysis also conflates the related but distinct doctrines of Assurance and Perseverance by referring to the fear-and-trembling from Phillipians 2:12, which deals with attaining the former, not the latter.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (Phil 2:12)

Here the apostle is telling us, in effect, if you really are a Christian, and/or if you want to be assured of your salvation, then strive to live like a Christian. If you are not living like a Christian, any assurance you have is a false assurance.

Of course, as we have seen, Trent was anathema drunk, so we also read later in the Council's report:

Canon 6.16. If anyone says that he will for certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema.

The Hebrews Problem

The most problematic passage for the doctrine comes from Hebrews:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Heb. 6:4-6, NASB)

I approach this utterly convinced in the doctrine of Perseverance (Preservation) of the Saints, so that I am not going to entertain the possibility that this is a refutation. Instead, I want to see if this can be reconciled.

Let us first deal with "those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit". Without doing extreme violence to the text, this must refer to believers, i.e., those already saved. It cannot refer, as some well-meaning apologists would have it, to non-believers attending church and playing as Christians, for they have not yet repented and so cannot "renew" what they never did.

Now what does "fallen away" mean, except to lose one's salvation? It cannot mean garden-variety sinning; otherwise the passage would be teaching a new bad-news gospel: that only perfection can maintain a person in a state of grace.

It is possible that this passage is explicable by covenantal theology—that it refers to members of the covenantal family who fall away. However, the language "renew them to repentance" does not seem appropriate. Some also suggest it is referring to the mysterious unpardonable sin of Matthew 12:32, but the lengthiness of the description here seems to go way beyond a reiteration that there is such a transgression.

No, in my opinion a simple but accurate paraphrase of the passage is: If believers lose their salvation, then it is impossible for them to repent and be restored, because that would require another crucifixion.

We need to understand the possible ways of using an if-then argument. One is straightforward: If A is true, then B is also true.

If that is what is being used here, then the message is simply what it says: if you are a believer, be careful not to lose your salvation, because you cannot get it back. This goes far beyond a refutation of Perseverance of the Saints. Catholics and some non-Reformed Protestants believe you can lose your salvation, but both believe you can be restored.

Another way to use if-then arguments is reductio ad absurdum. In this method, we accept an incorrect premise and show how it reaches an absurd conclusion, thus denying the premise.

A clear example is found in 1 Corinthians:

and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:17)

If the resurrection did not happen, then our faith is worthless. But the resurrection did happen. Our faith has infinite value, amen.

I believe the passage in Hebrews is used in this manner. If believer can lose his salvation, then it would require a second crucifixion. But a believer cannot lose his salvation. A second resurrection is unnecessary, amen.

If you stop and think about what it means to lose you salvation, I think this conclusion becomes obvious. To lose our salvation means that we commit sins that have not been paid for by Christ’s Atonement. That is why we would then require a second crucifixion. But Christ's sacrifice paid for all our sins, past present and future (they were all "future" sins when He paid for them).

For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. (Rom. 6:10, NASB)

If we can lose our salvation, it means we can commit a sin that either God did not anticipate, calling into question his Sovereignty, or a sin that Christ didn't pay for, casting doubts on His Atonement, and indirectly, on Christ's deity. And all the scripture that tells of Christ's finished work is a lie.

Far from refuting the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, this passage of Hebrews, read properly, is actually one of its strongest affirmations. It teaches: How absurd to think that a saved person could lose his salvation. Christ died for all the sins of the elect, once and for all; His perfect work is finished.

Appendix: Other Interesting Anathemas

Canon 5.4. If anyone denies that infants, newly born from their mothers' wombs, are to be baptized, even though they be born of baptized parents, or says that they are indeed baptized for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam which must be expiated by the laver of regeneration for the attainment of eternal life, whence it follows that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins is to be understood not as true but as false, let him be anathema,

Canon 7.1. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, or that there are more or less than seven, namely, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, order and matrimony, or that any one of these seven is not truly and intrinsically a sacrament, let him be anathema.

Canon 7.3. If anyone says that these seven sacraments are so equal to each other that one is not for any reason more excellent than the other, let him be anathema.

Canon 7.4. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation but are superfluous, and that without them or without the desire of them men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification, though all are not necessary for each one, let him be anathema.

Canon 7.10. If anyone says that all Christians have the power to administer the word and all the sacraments, let him be anathema.

Canon 8.3. If anyone says that in the Roman Church, which is the mother and mistress of all churches, there is not the true doctrine concerning the sacrament of baptism, let him be anathema.

Canon 8.4. If anyone says that the baptism which is given by heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church does, is not true baptism, let him be anathema.

Canon 8.5. If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.

Canon 8.6. If anyone says that one baptized cannot, even if he wishes, lose grace, however much he may sin, unless he is unwilling to believe, let him be anathema.

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