Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 5)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

Essential: Sola Scriptura

We will once again take up this most important doctrine. I do so at this time because I rather enjoy the approach taken by James White. And also because it reminds us of what the doctrine is as we take a look at how the Catholic Church refutes it. Recall that Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone, is considered the “formal” cause of the Reformation. The doctrine states, quite simply, that sacred scripture is sufficient to act as the infallible rule of faith for the church. But sometimes it helps to define what something is not. White lists six items that are not features of Sola Scriptura (TRCC pp. 56-59).
  1. Sola Scriptura is not a claim that the bible contains all knowledge. The Bible says little about science. It did correctly rule against Einstein and Hoyle in terms of steady-state cosmology—but it says nothing about the energy levels of the hydrogen atom. Apparently the microscopic details of the hydrogen atom are not important for our salvation.

  2. Sola Scriptura is not a claim that the bible is exhaustive in its religious knowledge. In fact, from Sola Scriptura we know this to be the case:
    Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
    Protestants readily accept that this passage attests to the fact that there are some mighty interesting things that Jesus did that we can look forward to learning on the other side of eternity. However, they are not necessary for our salvation. The Catholic Church stretches the meaning of this passage far beyond what it says:
    The Bible actually denies that it is the complete rule of faith. John tells us that not everything concerning Christ's work is in Scripture John 21:25), and Paul says that much Christian teaching is to be found in the tradition that is handed down by word of mouth (2 Timothy 2:2).
    (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, The Attack on “Romanism”, p. 136)

    Notice Keating’s claim for John 21:15: The Bible denies it is the complete rule of faith. There is no way to support that claim from the passage in question. All it tells us is that many of Jesus’ deed went unrecorded. It gives no indication whatsoever that (a) knowledge of these deeds is critical and (b) fear not, for their details will be preserved by an infallible apostolic chain of sacred oral tradition.

  3. Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the authority of the Church to teach God’s word. Here White correctly points out a symptom of a chronic ailment. The illness is that certain Protestant denominations, so intent on distancing themselves from Rome—run as far away as they can, often ending up in an extreme and unwarranted position. In this case, in denying that the Church has the exclusive right to interpret scripture, there is a tendency to deny that the Church has any right. But there are passages that speak to the authority of the Church, such as:
    if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. (1 Tim 3:15)
    If we didn’t know our scripture, we might conclude that “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” was a Romanish self-description. But there it is, penned by the apostle Paul. We do note, however, that the church is “a pillar” rather than the sole authority. Nevertheless, Sola Scriptura does not deny that the Church has a critical role in educating the flock. There is no false dichotomy—it is not Sola Scriptura or the church—it is both.

  4. Sola Scriptura is not a denial that the word of God has, at times, been spoken. It is without question true that at many times the prophets and apostles taught with words. This is again a question of sufficiency as opposed to comprehensiveness. It is no doubt the case that some of Paul’s teachings were not recorded. However, the Protestant position is that the Bible comprises all necessary and the only authoritative account of the special revelation of God. Anything that God intended to bind our conscious—that is to require us to believe, is in scripture. Unrecorded teachings are often, most likely, reiterations of teachings that were recorded. Regardless, we do not need to know their content—and any claim that these teachings have been orally preserved through tradition is not binding—you can choose to believe such claims or not—but you definitely do not have to believe them.

  5. Sola Scriptura does not reject tradition. It embraces any God-honoring tradition. It does, however, deny that any tradition is on equal footing with scripture. The Catholic Church, quite to the contrary, affirms that her sacred traditions are as binding as scripture.
    The holy ecumenical and general Council of Trent... clearly perceives that this truth and rule are contained in the written books and unwritten traditions which have come down to us.... Following, then, the example of the orthodox Fathers, it receives and venerates with the same sense of loyalty and reverence all the books of the Old and New Testaments -- for God alone is the author of both -- together with all the traditions concerning faith and morals, as coming from the mouth of Christ or being inspired by the Holy Spirit and preserved in continuous succession in the Catholic Church. (Council of Trent, Fourth Session, 1546)
    The Catholic Encyclopedia states:
    Now in this respect there are several points of controversy between Catholics and every body of Protestants. Is all revealed truth consigned to Holy Scripture? or can it, must it, be admitted that Christ gave to His Apostles to be transmitted to His Church, that the Apostles received either from the very lips of Jesus or from inspiration or Revelation, Divine instructions which they transmitted to the Church and which were not committed to the inspired writings? Must it be admitted that Christ instituted His Church as the official and authentic organ to transmit and explain in virtue of Divine authority the Revelation made to men? The Protestant principle is: The Bible and nothing but the Bible; the Bible, according to them, is the sole theological source; there are no revealed truths save the truths contained in the Bible; according to them the Bible is the sole rule of faith: by it and by it alone should all dogmatic questions be solved; it is the only binding authority. Catholics, on the other hand, hold that there may be, that there is in fact, and that there must of necessity be certain revealed truths apart from those contained in the Bible; they hold furthermore that Jesus Christ has established in fact, and that to adapt the means to the end He should have established, a living organ as much to transmit Scripture and written Revelation as to place revealed truth within reach of everyone always and everywhere. Such are in this respect the two main points of controversy between Catholics and so-called orthodox Protestants (as distinguished from liberal Protestants, who admit neither supernatural Revelation nor the authority of the Bible). The other differences are connected with these or follow from them, as also the differences between different Protestant sects--according as they are more or less faithful to the Protestant principle, they recede from or approach the Catholic position.
    Exactly what is Catholic tradition? This is a very difficult question. It is clear that sacred tradition is not always what it claims to be. If tradition meant, as the Catholic Church claims, the oral tradition handed down in an unbroken succession from the apostles, then our division would not be as great as it is. We would still argue against such tradition binding the conscience because of the problems associated with proving a claim of a unbroken succession. Nevertheless, I believe our differences would be manageable.

    In practice, however, sacred tradition is much more. It is whatever the Church says it is. How can one even claim that extra-scriptural Catholic doctrine such as purgatory, The Immaculate Conception, The Assumption, or papal infallibility (just to name a few) arrived as an oral tradition that can be traced back to the apostles?

    And if not, how can there be binding revelation that was unknown to the apostles? Did they not need it for their own salvation?

    Another problem is that sacred tradition is not always, well, traditional. For example, In 1559 Pius IV declared that widespread dissemination of the Scriptures is to be avoided in that it causes more harm than good. Vatican II changed this tradition, and now Rome calls for free-access to the Scriptures for all.

    We should understand that the Church's position on infallibility is not as trivial as we Protestants like to poke fun at, and that they have explanations as to how sacred tradition can appear to change. Nevertheless it is undeniable that this is but one example where the Church sometimes teaches A, while at other times, not-A.

    So do Protestants. We call it a mistake.

    In reality Catholic tradition actually means that the Church, after due consideration, can offer new binding revelation (not traceable to the apostles). This is stated nowhere as clearly as in the time of Vatican I (The "infallibility" council, 1870), where Pius IX boldly declared: "I am tradition".

  6. Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and enlightening the Church. Indeed, from the very basis of Sola Scriptura we read:
    Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Tim. 2:7)
    That is, our very understanding of scripture comes from, we readily acknowledge, the work of our helper, the Holy Spirit. In other words, Sola Scriptura does not promise that we will understand the Bible, it promises that for believers the Bible contains everything that we must know. It is still necessary that we benefit from the teaching of the Holy Spirit, without whom the words will be foolishness.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Were the Nazis Christian?

Another post on Ed Brayton's site dealt with evolution and Hitler. There is a recurring skit that gets replayed on pro-evolution sites, like remakes of the same bad movie:
  1. Someone on anti-evolution site, let's call him Ken, posts an article that attempts to link evolution to Nazi "Master Race" philosophy.

  2. A post goes up on the pro-evolution site denying that evolution is in any way responsible for Nazism.

  3. Commenters on the anti-evolution blog will not only universally condemn Ken, but there will be an inevitable (an rapid) shift from debunking the false link between evolution and Nazism to establishing what is in their mind the indisputably true connection: Christianity and Nazism.
First, I would like to point out that my view is the link between Nazism and evolution is superficial at most. One can find quotes from high-ranking Nazis using evolution to support their philosophy—but this is no more than an attempt to use scientific language to give one's vile philosophy credibility.

In some sense, the link between my field of nuclear physics and sociopathic nuclear states (Iran, North Korea) is stronger—obviously they truly use the science to advance their hideous agendas. Nazi Germany, on the other hand, would have been Nazi Germany with or without Darwin.

The apologists on evolution sites often argue this way:
  1. The connection between evolution and Nazism is superficial; those Nazis who spouted evolution as justification surely knew no biology whatsoever, and they did not understand Darwin at all.

  2. However, those Nazis who claim to be Christian (as Hitler did) are therefore Christian. All it takes is the claim. And any modern Christian who argues that Hitler was not a true Christian is guilty of the "True Scotsman" fallacy. In other words: how dare anyone be so arrogant as to argue that someone (Hitler, Fred Phelps) who claims to be a Christian is not a "true" Christian. Yes they are, and therefore they are perfect candidates for displaying the moral vacuum known as Christianity.
Point two is specious. One can co-opt the teachings of anything (evolution, Christianity) to provide a faux matrix of authenticity. Even worse, you can find useful idiots from the co-opted philosophy to agree with you. But Christianity is not joined by claiming the title. There are basic principles and ideals affirmed by the vast majority of its adherents. If someone (Hitler, Phelps) do not meet even minimal standards, it is quite correct to say: they are not "true" Christians.

Even if (because you are a bigot—I see no other explanation) you insist that Hitler claiming to be a Christian makes him just as much of a Christian as, say, Thomas Aquinas, there is a little bit of history you'll have to explain to support your contention. (Or not—bigots have no problem living in a constant state of cognitive dissonance.)

Rutgers University (that hotbed of fundamentalist Christendom) has a "Nuremberg" project where they are investigating some new documents. One major part of the Nazi Master plan, it turns out, was "The Persecution of the Christian Churches." (I haven't seen a Nazi "The Persecution of Evolutionists" document on the Rutgers site. I'll let you know if I do.)

You can find some of this here and here.

The editor of the project, Julie Mandel, quoted in the Phildelphia Inquirer, Jan. 9, 2002:
A lot of people will say, 'I didn’t realize that they were trying to convert Christians to a Nazi philosophy.' … They wanted to eliminate the Jews altogether, but they were also looking to eliminate Christianity.
And from a 1945 OSS report:
Important leaders of the National Socialist party would have liked to meet this situation [church influence] by complete extirpation of Christianity and the substitution of a purely racial religion
Source: Christianity Today blog 01.09.2002

Yeah those Nazis, they sure were true Christians.

Speaking of which, Basic Instinct 2??? Please tell me I only imagined the trailer.

CLARIFICATION: Point 3 of the "recurring skit" should make it clear that the claim is that commenters on Ed’s post would link Nazism to Christianity. They did. I did not mean to imply that Ed Brayton, as the author rather than a commenter, linked Nazism to Christianity. He emphatically does not, and I regret if I was not clear enough on that point.

Friday, March 24, 2006


If you can't understand how anyone could be a NASCAR fan, because the sport is so cerebral, then this is the week to put your apostasy to the test. The race is in Bristol Tennessee, and the track has two distinguishing features: high banking (basic physics: you don't have to slam on the brakes in the turns, so speed is maintained) and it's the shortest track on the circuit, only about ½ mile around.

The fact that it is the shortest track means that all the cars will stay bunched (in single file they will extend halfway around the track, so it's not really possible for them to spread out, even if they wanted to.) There will be no huge leads, period. No time to relax for any driver, regardless of position.

Although NACSAR’s smallest track, it has one of the largest seating capacities, something like 180,000. The joint looks like, smells like, and feels like the Roman Coliseum on homecoming. The seats are sold out well beyond even the most conservative expectation for the rapture. Why, a seat in my Sunday School class is far easier to come by.

The cars are reinforced in the front-end, because bumping is inevitable. In fact, the accepted way to pass at this race involves bumping. If a slower car won't yield, you bump him from behind, get him aerodynamically "loose", and whoosh! He goes sliding up the track while you fly by. On the way he might hit the wall, or another car, or beaucoup other cars, but hey, that's Bristol! Collisions there often involve cool multi-car pileups (because the cars are bunched). The proximity effect also causes drver tempers to flare. Way, way cool!

So watch. And then, if you still don’t like NASCAR, you are unsalvageable. (Although you still may want to give the race at Talladega a try.) If God hadn't intended NASCAR to be fun, he wouldn't have given us levigation.

Last year's winner: the 29 car driven by Kevin Harvick.

Our sacred symbol: The Easter Bunny

Here is a wacky (whacky?) story of modern America, which I found among Jay Nordlinger’s Impromptus:
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Easter Bunny has been sent packing at St. Paul City Hall.

A toy rabbit, pastel-colored eggs, and a sign with the words “Happy Easter” were removed from the lobby of the City Council offices, because of concerns they might offend non-Christians.

A council secretary had put up the decorations. They were not bought with city money.

St. Paul’s human-rights director, Tyrone Terrill, asked that the decorations be removed, saying they could be offensive to non-Christians.

But City Council member Dave Thune says removing the decorations went too far, and he wonders why they can’t celebrate spring with “bunnies and fake grass.”
Source: the Washington Post.

Nordlinger finds humor in the fact that the city of St. Paul has an official human rights director. That doesn’t surprise me at all. What I find sublimely interesting is what a dodo this guy (the human rights director, not Nordlinger) is. He is worried that a toy rabbit, pastel-colored eggs, and “Happy-Easter” signs are offensive to non-Christians?

They are offensive to me, as a Christian, trivializing, as they do, our holiest day. (Before you comment, I have no objection to “easter” baskets which, like Christmas presents, are an enjoyable though secular tradition—even though in our household we don’t do the easter basket thing.) I would be more than delighted if I never saw another Easter Bunny, although I have no interest in launching a campaign to criminalize him (her?).

Of course, even though I see no linkage between bunnies or pastel-colored (or primary colored, for that matter) hard boiled eggs and the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, I could not care less whether (or not) City-Hall displays them.

These are fun times in which we live.

More on Roman Slavery

This is a continuation of the post below.

I though about this in the shower, and here is the best way that I can describe why I think Paul didn't bother (or need) to give an explicit condemnation of Roman slavery.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that there are only two types of governments available for nations, A-ism and B-ism. Let's assume that A-ism is acceptable to God while B-ism is inherently evil.

Does the bible have to condemn B-ism explicity? Not if it is easily deduced from all fundamental teachings that the principles upon which B-ism rests are evil. We are rational intelligent beings, and God is not our nanny.

Now suppose Paul, touring country A, which practices Godly A-ism, encounters Bob, a refugee and a pagan from country B, a nation governed through B-ism.

What is Paul's reaction? I suspect he would praise God that Bob escaped tyranny. Then he would present the gospel to Bob.

Suppose Bob is converted to Christianity.

What is Paul to do with Bob? Have him join an armed militia of fellow expatriates? I don't think so.

One suggestion Paul might make to Bob is to return to his country and preach the gospel, even though it will certainly mean prison and possibly death.

Does that sound implausible? To me it does not. Yet at no time did Paul have to lecture explicitly on the evils of B-ism.

The story of Onesimus is analogous. Not perfectly so, for there are two additional pressures on Onesimus. One is that he broke the law (I suppose you could say the same about Bob) and the second is that Onesimus, it would seem, also stole from Philemon.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Slavery and the Bible

If you don't know about Ed Brayton, he has one of the most interesting blogs on the net. He is a Panda's Thumb contributor (and therefore virulently anti-ID) and a non-believer, but his writing and his reasoning skills set him apart from the rest of the PT crowd. I almost never agree with him, but I enjoy how his mind works, and he often surprises me.

Today he has a thread on Slavery and the Bible which is more or less dedicated to me.

You'll find my comments sprinkled throughout. The gist of my argument is this: Although slavery is not explicitly condemned in the New Testament, and even though Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, that in no way implies that God condones the institution of slavery or that slave-owners will escape judgment. Paul sent Onesimus back to (a) obey the law and (b) to spread the Gospel.

Jesus did not come with a social gospel promising personal liberty and justice for all men in this life. (In fact, he promised suffering.) He came with a gospel offering eternal life to the faithful, and Onesimus (gladly, I suspect, although it’s just a hunch) returned to Philemon ready to bear witness to its power. That does not make slavery or Philemon right, it simply shows what Paul thought was important.

Paul's life is a testimony to: preach the gospel regardless of your situation; anything else is the tail wagging the dog.

UPDATE: Eric Seymour of In The Agora jumps into the fray.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 4)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.


There are many essential differences between Rome and the Reformers. It is always good to remember one stark fact: both sides charged the other of the most grievous accusation one can make against a body claiming to be a church of our Lord: apostasy. Both sides accused the other of preaching a different gospel. There is really only two broad conclusions:
  1. One or both sides did not actually understand what the other was teaching. After centuries of study, we can now safely say that they were both teaching the same thing (or close to it) but didn’t realize it. In other words, either the Reformers and/or the divines at the Council of Trent were wearing blinders.

  2. One or both sides is teaching a false gospel and is, in fact, an apostate church.
Essential: Who Defines the Gospel?

Make no mistake about it, this is an essential. As look at how the Catholic Church answers this question, we will recognize that we are in the domain of irreconcilable differences. On the issue of who has the authority to interpret scripture, there is no point of agreement between The Roman Catholic Church and the reformers.

As always, we want to present actual Catholic positions, not caricatures or slander. The best way to do that is to use official Catholic sources. None is more definitive than the pronouncement of the Council of Trent (1546):
Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books

Moreover, the same holy council considering that not a little advantage will accrue to the Church of God if it be made known which of all the Latin editions of the sacred books now in circulation is to be regarded as authentic, ordains and declares that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church, be in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and that no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.

Furthermore, to check unbridled spirits, it decrees that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds, or even contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published. Those who act contrary to this shall be made known by the ordinaries and punished in accordance with the penalties prescribed by the law. (Fourth Session, April 8, 1546)
Trent makes its point in very strong language. No person may presume to interpret scripture in way that is in disagreement with Rome’s teaching. This is quite the opposite from the reformers view of Private Interpretation, which we have talked about in Lesson 2, and which, in a nutshell, teaches that every believer has the privilege and duty to study the scriptures responsibly, seeking a true understanding of the gospel. Do that, and according to Trent you are subject to arrest.

Nothing has changed since Trent, which continues to be the definitive source on many questions of Catholic doctrine. No doctrine of Trent has ever been magisterially revoked—all are in full force. In this particular instance, however, we can see the doctrine unambiguously reiterated in modern times:
But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church (The Magisterium), whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (Vatican II, 1965, Dei Verbum, ii.10)
So Rome reserves for herself the exclusive right to interpret scripture. Rome also, in agreement with (conservative) Protestants, affirms that scripture is inspired. However, we disagree on the justification for the inspiration:
But the basis for one’s beliefs in its inspiration directly affects how one goes about interpreting the Bible. The Catholic believes in inspiration because the Church tell him so—that is putting it bluntly—and that same Church has the authority to interpret the inspired text. Fundamentalists believe in inspiration, although on weak grounds, but they have no interpreting authority other than themselves. (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians”, Ignatius Press, 1988, p. 136)
Keating gives the reasons for believing in the inspiration of scripture, and goes on to characterize the Fundamentalist (that would, presumably, be us) reasons for believing in this true doctrine as weak—we are accidentally correct.

Let us compare the two lines of reasoning for believing in the inspiration. We discussed this in a previous lesson, here I’ll remind you with a thumbnail sketch.

Protestant reasons for affirming inspiration

We examined this question, and addressed it with a seven-point “bootstrapping” approach:
  1. Jesus is a real historic figure
  2. The gospels are, at least, reasonable historic accounts
  3. Jesus performed miracles
  4. Miracles are a sign from God that the person performing them is a prophet
  5. As a prophet, Jesus would speak the truth
  6. Jesus affirmed the bible as the word of God
  7. Conclusion--Therefore, the bible is the word of God
This, and faith, is why we believe the Bible is the inerrant and inspired word of God. We took this approach to avoid the blatantly circular:
The Bible is inspired because 2 Tim. 3:16 says it is inspired.
We acknowledged that our proof would not be convincing to unbelievers. Indeed by 2 Cor. 1:18 we accept the impossibility to prove anything regarding the truthfulness of the Bible to unbelievers. It was an in-house proof—designed to give us greater comfort and faith in what we believe.

Roman Catholic reason for affirming inspiration

The Roman Catholic approach, as Keating stated so clearly, is much simpler. The Bible is inspired because Rome says the Bible is inspired. But where does The Catholic Church turn to in order to explain her authority? To scripture, most notably
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:18-19)
The Catholic justification for believing in the inspiration of scripture is patently circular: Rome says the Bible is inspired. Rome has the authority to make such a decree, because it has been given the authority by inspired scripture.

The Protestant justification is linear and is based outside of scripture. The Catholic justification is circular, and based on a misinterpretation of scripture.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Her Church

If you have a strong stomach, check out the web site for the Ebenezer Lutheran Church in San Francisco. It makes a worthy attempt to do for the proud name "Lutheran" what John Shelby Spong and Bishop Gene Robinson have accomplished for "Episcopalian". Especially check out their video. (Quick Time 7 required, it would seem.)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 3)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.


Continuing our temporary sidetrack from Gerstner’s book to James White's The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996), we begin by looking at some nonessentials. These are practices of the Catholic Church which we may find odd, but which in fact are not anything that should prevent fellowship. There are quite a few items that we could examine as non-essentials—we’ll just look at two examples.

The Sign of the Cross

Catholics (and some Protestants) make the hand motion of two perpendicular lines which is commonly called the sign of the cross. The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its entry of the Sign of the Cross, reads:
A term applied to various manual acts, liturgical or devotional in character, which have this at least in common: that by the gesture of tracing two lines intersecting at right angles they indicate symbolically the figure of Christ's cross.

Most commonly and properly the words "sign of the cross" are used of the large cross traced from forehead to breast and from shoulder to shoulder, such as Catholics are taught to make upon themselves when they begin their prayers, and such also as the priest makes at the foot of the altar when he commences Mass with the words: "In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti".

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes variations on the practice, and also provides some history from the early church:
"In all our travels and movements", says Tertullian (ca. 155-230) (De cor. Mil., iii), "in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross".
Apart from the danger of the practice becoming a superstition, the sign of the cross—much like wearing a cross or a WWJD bracelet, is a matter of Christian liberty. Many Protestants (especially Baptists) have a visceral, negative response to the sign of the cross—an assumed pagan-like practice and guilt by association with Rome. But, as James White points out, “Godly men have crossed themselves and Godly men have refused to cross themselves.” (TRCC, p. 33).

Suppose a visitor at the next pot luck crossed himself. What would you think? Would your private reaction be mildly or extremely negative? What if a member of the church had practice? Should the elders pull him aside? My own view is that it is not much different from wearing a cross—and yes there are some mainstream denominations (as well as Mormons) who strongly discourage if not out outright ban the wearing a cross. This may be mild legalism, but legalism it is.

The sign of the cross, in my opinion, should fall under the umbrella of Christian Liberty. Without question its debate has no standing among the substantive differences we’ll soon discuss.

The Liturgy and High Worship

A Catholic service sure doesn’t bear much resemblance to what goes on in a Baptist church. Ornate churches with stained glass. Processions, candles, incense, robes, kneeling, crossing, chanting—it is all very foreign.

It is also not unique to Catholic Churches. Lutherans and Anglicans also have very formal liturgies. Even Baptists have a liturgy, albeit, in general, a very simple one. We comfort ourselves that God surely likes this simplicity—but in fact we are merely assuming that to be the case. Scripture does not tell us how formal or informal to make our worship service. The best approach, once again, is to place the liturgy in the category of Christian liberty.

Of course—if the liturgy replaces the gospel, that is a serious problem. But virtually anything can become a stumbling block to the gospel. Legalism is a pernicious problem in many fundamentalist churches with informal liturgies. The fact that a given local church’s liturgy may be creating inattention to the gospel is a problem with the leaders of that church, not with the practice. Formal liturgies don’t shortchange the gospel, people do. Many highly respected Protestants wear robes, light candles, and worship in stained glass buildings. This is not worth arguing over.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 2)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.


A question that immediately arises: Does any of this, the doctrinal differences between Protestants and Catholics, actually matter? Was the Reformation important, or was it over inconsequential academic subtleties?

Put another way: We know that somewhere there must be a limit beyond which we cannot have Christian fellowship with the followers of other churches. We would all agree, I think, that we cannot have any sort of Christian fellowship with Mormons, who hold a blasphemous view of all three persons of the Godhead and in particular Jesus. What about Roman Catholics? Clearly we are much, much closer to Catholics than to Mormons—by orders of magnitude. But are Roman Catholics also “beyond the pale” of orthodoxy? And even then, there is another question: even if I can’t have Christian fellowship, does it make sense to join forces to fight the culture wars? Does it make sense for Catholics and Protestants to join forces to fight abortion, or pornography? What about Protestants and Mormons? Protestants and Moslems?

What is the proper balance? On the one hand we have Christ's high priestly prayer of John 17, a prayer for unity of all believers. We dare not live in ignorance of our Lord’s call for unity. On the other hand we, have tension arising from frightful passages such as:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:8)
These are not simple questions.

A lesson may be found from the time Paul encountered someone who was teaching a different gospel. Paul did not tolerate the diversion from the true gospel. He did not dismiss the crime, chalking it up to unimportant intellectual differences that shouldn’t be of concern to true believers united in their love of Christ. No, he publicly condemned the error and labeled it as hypocrisy.

You know the punch line. The person Paul condemned was none other than Peter.

We read of the account in the book of Galatians:
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Gal. 2 11:16)
Peter, if not explicitly then at least implicitly through his actions, was teaching that works are required for justification. No doubt Peter also understood that grace was necessary for justification, but by his actions he was, in effect, stating that in addition to grace one had to act as a Jew and do the works of the law in order to be justified. Peter was teaching:

From the rest of the New Testament, we know that Peter corrected himself and ceased his Judaizer error. Paul, in challenging rather than tolerating Peter, did him a great loving service. As for Paul, John Calvin theorizes that the credibility of his (Paul’s) entire ministry depended on his fortitude in standing up to Peter.

We live in an age where society worships at the altar of tolerance. I think we have to resist grabbing onto the humanists’ coattails.

Paul’s rebuke of Peter can serve as a model. Their positions differed by some amount. Clearly Paul’s circle was not big enough to accommodate Peter’s position. If you stress unity among believers whose positions differ as much as those of Peter and Paul (which by today’s standards may not be so rare), then I would say gracious debate, rather than unity, is called for.

Next time, however, let us examine some of the non-essential differences between Catholics and Protestants.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 1)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

In this section, we will try to take a rather lengthy look at Roman Catholicism. We will try to understand what Rome actually teaches, rather than attack a caricature of the Catholic Catechism.

In addition to Gerstner’s book, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).

In fact, let’s begin by quoting a hypothetical encounter taken from White’s book. Bill is a lifelong Baptist, who at the mall, encounters Scott (let the reader guess why that name was chosen) an old friend from his teenage years. Bill and Scott both were in the church choir.
Bill: Remember the choir director at church, Scott? We had some great times with him, especially when we kept bugging him to sing “Love is the Flag Flown High.”

Scott: (suddenly feeling a bit uneasy) Yes, I remember him well.

Bill: So, where have you been attending church these days?

Scott: Well, Bill, I’ve been thinking about getting back in touch with you about that. I’ve had a change in direction, you might say.

Bill: Oh? Last I heard you were over at Southside.

Scott: Yes, I was there for quite some time. But a few years back—well, I was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

Bill: You’ve become a Roman Catholic? I can’t believe it! How could you do that? You know a lot of what they teach isn’t in the Bible at all. Worse, some of it is contrary to the Bible. I remember when we talked about things like Purgatory and the Pope and worshipping Mary and all that—remember? You even said once, “Yeah Purgatory. You’ll find that in your bible dictionary—right next to venial sins!”

Scott: I do remember saying that. But, Bill, I’ve got to tell you, we were both wrong. There’s so much more to it than we ever thought. And the Bible does teach about venial sins, and Purgatory, and the Pope, and we don’t worship Mary….

Bill: Wait a minute, Scott, I’m still in shock here. You’re actually telling me that you are a member of the Roman Catholic Church? That you believe the teachings of that church—that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, and Mary is the Mother of God, and you have to work your way to heaven?

Scott: I believe everything the Church teaches, though you aren’t very accurate in your understanding of what the Church does teach—neither was I, I can assure you. Look Bill, I had all the same ideas you have now. But I looked into what Rome really teaches. I discovered that not only did I have a lot of misconceptions about the theology of the Roman Catholic Church, but I found out they had a tremendous foundation for their own beliefs in the Bible! And what really clich├ęd it, Bill, was that I couldn’t defend what I always believed against the objections raised by the Apostolic Church.

Bill: Like What?

Scott: Well, like believing the doctrine of sola scriptura, that everything has to be spelled out in the Bible or it’s not to be believed. Where does the Bible teach sola scriptura, Bill? You and I had always assumed the Bible was our sole rule of faith, but where does the Bible teach that? If you can’t support that from the Bible, then you have a self-refuting belief, don’t you?

Bill: Well, in the book of Matthew, Jesus said that we should reject traditions. I think it’s in the fifteenth chapter or so, isn’t it?

Scott: Yes that’s correct. But if you look at the passage carefully, Jesus said to reject human traditions, not divine traditions. He himself held men accountable to extrabiblical traditions. For example, in Matthew 23:2, He told people they needed to obey the person who sat in the “seat of Moses.” Now where in the Old Testament do you find the teaching about “Moses’ seat”?

Bill: Well, I’d have to look it up. I can’t think of any place.

Scott: I looked. It isn’t there. And what of Paul’s command to the Thessalonians, “Hold fast to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by epistle”? I have never heard any discussion of holding fast to traditions that have been passed on orally in any Bible study you or I ever attended, did you?

Bill: Again, I’d have to look that one up. But I can’t believe you are really convinced of all the unscriptural doctrines Rome teaches. Like, what about the Gospel itself, Scott? Do you really think you can work your way to heaven?

Scott: No, of course not, and neither does any informed Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church doesn’t teach that you can work your way to heaven Bill. That’s a Protestant myth. In fact, one of the turning points of my journey was when I discovered that the Council of Trent had condemned anyone who said you could work your way to heaven! The very first canon on justification from Trent says “If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”

Bill: But what about the Mass, and confession to priests, and all that?

Scott: I’ve discovered a lot about the teaching of the Church over the past few years, Bill, and I’ll tell you that the early Christians believed in all those things, just like the Church teaches today. And there is solid basis in the Bible for the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice, for the office of priest, for confession, absolution, the Sacraments—all of it.

Bill: You aren’t going to tell me that you find biblical support for worshipping Mary, are you, Scott?

Scott: No, I’m not because I don’t worship Mary.

Bill: Scott, you and I have both watched Catholics lighting candles to Mary, saying the Rosary, all of that. How can you not call that worship?

Scott: Believe me, Bill, the teachings about Mary were the toughest. I just couldn’t understand them at first. But slowly, over time, I realized that most of my problems had to do with Protestant myths, like the idea of worshipping Mary rather than venerating her. I also came to understand how biblical the devotion to the Mother of All Christians is. I’d love to explain this all to you, I really would…

Bill: And the Pope, you really call him “Holy Father”?

Scott: Yes, Bill, I do. He is the successor of Peter, the one on whom Christ built his church, as Matthew 16:18-19 teaches. He’s the modern fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for Peter that his faith would not fail.

Bill: I can’t believe this. You really are of all this, aren’t you?

Scott: Yes, Bill. And you’ve got to admit, I have the advantage right now. I’ve been where you are, and I know what you believe. You haven’t been where I am. You can’t honestly say you’ve given Rome a fair chance, can you? Instead you’ve accepted what others have said at face value. Most of the time when we were young we heard from former Roman Catholics Now, tell me Bill, would you want your church judged solely on the word of former members?

Bill: Well no, probably not.

Scott: I’d really like to talk to you some more about this, Bill. Let me just tell you that I haven’t abandoned anything. I’ve simply found the fullness of what Christ gave us in His Church. I’ve found the Apostolic Church, the historic church, the one Christ founded and promised never to abandon. I believe and love the Bible as much as I ever did. I’ve simply learned that it doesn’t teach what Martin Luther thought it did. (White, pp. 21-24)
This dialog, while obviously contrived, makes some very good points. One is that there are some very smart and knowledgeable Roman Catholics, some of them former Protestants, who can and will skillfully defend their faith. The other is that, as Protestants, if we don’t know (a) how to defend our faith and (b) don’t know what Rome really teaches, then we are impotent in the face of such opposition.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More on "Creationist"

In his post Theistic Evolution and creationism, Immunologist JM O’Donnell responded to my post on the definition of creationism. I decided to return the favor.

(Note: I should also point out that others have been discussing this topic including Krauze at Telic Thoughts and Alan Gray.)

Back to JM O’Donnell. He starts off by (I’m paraphrasing) scoffing at my contention that Panda’s Thumb regulars don’t want to recognize a specific (and self-consistent) definition of “creationist” because they do not want to offend friendly theistic evolutionists, a category of which O’Donnell self-identifies. He writes:
I think David seems to believe that the PT crew would think I may get highly insulted [if called a creationist] and have a hissy fit or something.
That is exactly right. You may not be insulted, but many of the PT crew would indeed assume that you’d be insulted, given that, in their view, there is not much worse than being called a creationist.

When I was an undergrad, long before I was a Christian, I almost, almost, got sucked into the Ayn Rand cult. (Which is the most inexcusable of all cults. Ayn Rand, if she believed in individualism as much as she professed, should have been repulsed by the concept of a Ayn Rand cult or an Ayn Rand Institute—or at least she should think of them as “suckers.” Or tell them to go get a real job.) Anyway, I recall a discussion in a history class freshman year where another student, I remember she was from India, said to me, quite politely but with real concern, “I’m sorry, but you sound like a capitalist.” She was afraid that she was going to offend me by this horrible insult, but of course I was delighted that my arguments were so cogent. (The irony that she was at a university named after a pair of uber-capitalist Andrews—Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Mellon, seemed to be lost on her.) Many PTers are like that student—they could not conceive that you wouldn’t mind being called a creationist, hence they give you a way out.

O’Donnell goes on to discuss theistic evolution.
I happen to agree with the original definition as well, I am also a creationist in a sense because I view God as creating the world via natural laws (physics, evolution, chemistry etc), usually called "theistic evolution". Calling it "theistic evolution" is IMO, simply a bait and switch to simply avoid the rather distastful association with creationists like AiG and Hovind. The key difference between theistic evolution compared to standard creationism is that I do not view signs of that creation are directly and empirically visible in nature. Ergo, I don't buy fine tuning for example and most importantly, I do not want my metaphysical beliefs taught in schools.
Now, I am not sure what O’Donnell means by the “orginal definition.” If you read my previous post, I don’t know if O’Donnell means the first part of Russell’s definition, the total definition, or if he means the definition I proposed. No matter, I want to discuss his views on theistic evolution.

First, O’Donnell seems to imply that there are two types of creationists, those like himself, theistic evolutionists, and the AiG types. Clearly that is not the whole story. There are many old earth creationists, Hugh Ross comes to mind, that do not believe that the diversity and complexity of life can be explained by evolution. They are neither theistic evolutionists nor AiG creationists.

When O’Donnell points out the difference between theistic evolutionists and Hovind-ites he starts off general but then uses the word “I”, so I am not sure if he is making a sweeping statement or just speaking of his personal brand of theistic evolution. I’ll assume the former. At any rate, the difference is that a theistic evolutionist does not, according to O’Donnell, believe that evidence of creation is directly and empirically visible in nature.

This makes no sense at all. It seems to me that if one is a theistic evolutionist, then one is a theist. If you are a theist, then how can you preclude the very possibility that God has intervened supernaturally? I can understand this description:

theistic evolutionist: Someone who approaches science as if and fully expecting that only natural processes are needed to explain experimental observations, and one who may never concede (in this life) that a scientific puzzle demands the explanation ‘God did it’, and yet one who never completely rules out the possibility that a supernatural intervention by God is (a) within his power and right and (b) might manifest itself as an ultimately inexplicable observation.

A theistic evolutionist might decide to work his entire career in the hopes of explaining whatever the best example of irreducible complexity might happen to be—but in the back of his mind he must allow the possibility that it really is a supernatural discontinuity—or else he is not really a theist.

I don’t know what O’Donnell means by not buying fine-tuning. How can you not “buy” fine-tuning? You can deny one explanation for fine-tuning (ID) or a different explanation for fine-tuning (multiverse) but the fact that the constants are fine-tuned is not, these days, in much dispute.

O’Donnell doesn’t want his metaphysical beliefs taught in schools. Okay, but what does that have to do with “creationist”? Is it a requirement to be a creationist that you want your beliefs taught in public school? This is more definition-creep that then gives loopholes used to avoid collateral damage. If Hovind agreed that his views should not be taught in school, would he no longer be a creationist? Of course not—these are clearly separate issues.
In terms of what David discusses, the 'creationists' that the likes of the Pandas Thumb crew basically dislike are those pushing 'creation science' or those of the Discovery institute led ID movement. For the record, I have never been personally attacked by any atheist on the pandas thumb for my religious beliefs
That can’t be right—I’m not pushing creation science, nor am I a member of the DI. Yet I get called a creationist, pejoratively, all the time on Panda’s Thumb. Besides, if they are talking about members of the DI, why not refer to them as, oh, “members of the DI”?

I am not persuaded from my viewpoint that, on Panda’s Thumb, “creationist” means “moron” but, don’t worry, for those of you they like it doesn’t apply because (pick your loophole—e.g., you don’t advocate teaching this or that in school, or you claim this or that is not science, etc.)

The fact that O’Donnell’s faith has not been attacked demonstrates that the PTers are treating him with kid gloves. Like Ken Miller, he is useful to them—he demonstrates their laudable tolerance. I don’t fall in that category (of being useful) and have had my faith (incoherently) attacked repeatedly—even, on at least one occasion, being called a child abuser for rearing my sons as Christians.

O’Donnell writes:
For all intents and purposes a theistic evolutionist is a creationist.
Very true—but it goes beyond that. A theistic evolutionist is also a proponent of intelligent design, whether or not they want to admit it. It is self evident—if they believe God exists and created the universe, even if “only” through the natural laws, then they still affirm that the universe is the (undetectable, perhaps) result of God’s work. That is, He intelligently designed it. The only difference with standard IDers is that they (theistic evolutionists) do not expect to find any scientific evidence that requires a supernatural explanation.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What is a Creationist?

Over on Panda’s Thumb, they use the term loosely as a synonym for “moron”, although they never explicitly define it as such, that being much too impolitic.

In fact, they never get around to defining “creationist” at all. One of the most prolific commenters on PT, the ‘Rev. Dr.’ Lenny Flank, who sometimes calls me a creationist, recently asked:
Hey Heddle, why, again, do all the creationists think Big Bang theory is wrong …… ?
But of course, I don’t think the Big Bang theory is wrong—so, Lenny, am I or am I not a creationist? Inquiring minds want to know.

This discussion led to my once again requesting a definition for “creationist.” To his great credit Russell, another regular commenter on PT, made a stab at it:
Here’s my understanding of “creationist”: someone who rejects the conclusive evidence of common descent, and/or someone who believes that supernatural intervention is necessary to explain the current state of the natural world, particularly that part of the natural world we call biology. Now, I’m sure you can construe that to include “theistic evolutionists” - indeed, I know some who proudly lay claim to the label “creationist”. But as long as they recognize that their understanding of divine intervention can never fall under the purview of science, they’re not “creationists” in my understanding of the word.
While I applaud the attempt, this is a bizarre definition indeed. Whether one is a creationist should not be tied to the notion of common descent—otherwise it would have been impossible to label anyone a creationist or a non-creationist prior to the advent of the theory of common descent. Was Augustine a creationist? Surely he was, and would have been designated as such—yet he neither affirmed nor denied common descent, given that he never heard of it.

Likewise the phrase: “particularly what we call biology.” How can whether or not one is a creationist be tied to biology? Were people indistinguishable as creationists or non-creationists before the advent of biology?

Expunging the ill-conceived tie-ins to common descent and biology, there is, contained in the paragraph, a decent core definition, which I’ll paraphrase:

Creationist: someone who believes, to some nonzero but unspecified extent, that invoking supernatural intervention is necessary to explain the natural world.

I accept that as nice, concise description. No muss, no fuss. There are, however, problems for the PT faithful with that definition—I’ll get back to that point.

Later in his definition, Russell performs a little sleight of hand. After arguing that theistic evolutionists might be shoe-horned into this definition, he adds: “But as long as they recognize that their understanding of divine intervention can never fall under the purview of science, they’re not ‘creationists’.”

Do you see it? The core definition stated that a creationist believes that supernatural intervention, at least at some level, is required to explain the natural world. Fair enough. Here is a modification—apparently being a creationist now requires acknowledging that the divine intervention never falls under the purview of science. But that is something altogether different. (The purpose for this switcheroo is to allow a loophole for friendly Christians to walk through and avoid being creationists, people like Ken Miller.)

By the first part of Russell’s definition I am a creationist, by the second part I am not. For I agree: divine intervention does not fall under the purview of science. I walk right through the Ken Miller loophole.

So, while Russell at least tried to define “creationist”, in order not to saddle certain useful Christians he had to leave a loophole big enough that many of us whom they will insist on calling creationists (not that I mind) can easily mosey on through. In other words, Russell’s definition is fatally inconsistent.

True to form, another commenter used the first part of Russell's definition to label me a creationist, while conveniently ignoring the second part. I wager he would invoke the second part to argue that PT's good buddy Ken Miller (and alleged good Catholic) is excused from bearing the heinous scarlet 'C'.

I have asked if they will accept the definition I presented above. (At the time I posted this there were no responses. It should be interesting—because my definition, which I think is fair—essentially equates “creationist” to, at a minimum, a deist. After all, if you believe that there was a God, even if you now believe he is hands-off (or even dead)—you still affirm a minimal divine intervention of setting up the initial conditions.

Which brings me to my final point. While I can live with the definition above, I think the best and most accurate definition is:

Creationist: someone who believes in God

Because if God didn’t create, then what did He do?

Of course, the PT crowd could never accept that definition. Ken Miller and at least some of the PT staff profess belief in God. You see the problem.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Lesson 6: Justification (Part 5/5)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Justification from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

The Evangelical Way of Justification: Faith → Justification + Works

We will not spend a great deal of time in this final section on Justification, because we more or less covered the evangelical (Protestant) view when we earlier contrasted it with the Roman Catholic view.

Recall our definition:

Justification: The means by which an unjust sinner is made acceptable to a Holy God.

It is somewhat surprising how little modern Protestants and Catholics know about the topic of Justification.

In the forward to R. C. Sproul’s book Faith Alone. Michael Horton writes:
It is also revealing (a) how little most Protestants know about their own convictions and (b) with what great ease they find the concerns raised by the Reformation to be irrelevant. How can this be? Has Rome’s position changed? In fact it has not. The Vatican II documents as well as the new Catechism of the Catholic Church reinvoke the theological position of the Council of Trent, condemning the gospel of justification by an imputed righteousness.

Today one can easily find theological professors at leading evangelical institutions who no longer find justification by faith alone to be true, much less necessary.

R. C. Sproul has rendered the church an enormous service at a critical moment. The Reformation was not primarily concerned with the issues evangelicals today often think of first: the papacy, superstition, and the cult of the Virgin and the saints. First and foremost, it was a challenge to Rome’s confusion over the very meaning of the gospel.
The difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Evangelical view on justification is shown in stark relief when one considers the following statement:

By grace, God reckons Christ's righteousness to us.

To the evangelical, this statement is the gospel. We are acceptable to God because Christ's righteousness is credited or imputed to us, not because we actually become righteous. To the Roman Catholic Church, as is made clear in the Council of Trent, the same statement is viewed as a legal fiction, one that impugns God's character. To Rome, God is not deceitful; He doesn’t go about declaring the unjust as just. To Rome, God declares the just to be just.

There is a modern trend to discount the importance of the differing views on justification. To say, in effect, that the Reformation was much ado about nothing. But once you see that what one side views as the gospel, the other side views as worthy of excommunication (see the articles on justification in the Council of Trent) you should be dissuaded of the notion that the differences are trivial.

Catholicism does not teach salvation by works. Rome agrees with the Reformed that the righteousness of Christ is required for justification. The difference is that in Rome's view, our Lord's righteousness is sacramentally infused into the sinner—which is to say that by grace (not by works—no need to slander the RCC) the sinner actually becomes just (or righteous). In this way the "legal fiction" is avoided. In Rome's view, the just are justified. In the Reformed view, regenerated man is declared justified while still a sinner.

It should be clear from the Atonement that imputation does not constitute a legal fiction. On the cross, our sin was imputed to Christ. Our sin was not infused into Christ—that would make Christ actually sinful, and His death would have accomplished nothing. Likewise, His righteousness is imputed to us. It is not a legal fiction, because in both cases the one who gets the short end of the stick (Christ) (a) possessed a perfect righteousness and (b) voluntarily agreed to the imputation.

In the table below, I list some of the similarities and differences between the Reformed and Roman Catholic views on justification.

The analytic vs. synthetic distinction is interesting. An analytic statement is a tautology. Example: A rectangle has four sides. There is no information added in the predicate (has four sides) that wasn’t present in the subject (rectangle.) A synthetic statement, by contrast, adds information. An example: The car is red.

In the Roman Catholic view, the just are justified. It is analytic. In the Reformed view, the unjust are justified by imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is synthetic.

For the Reformed, a saved person will undergo a process of sanctification, but will never arrive at a point where he could be justified by his inherent righteousness, even though that inherent righteousness is not really of himself but is the result of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. For the Reformed, the basis of justification always rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ.

One criticism of the Protestant view of justification is that it is a change in status only. That is, God declares you to be justified, but you are still the same person after the declaration. Technically this is true, but it is not the complete story.

In Reformed theology, there are three steps that occur in logical if not actually temporal order: regeneration, faith, and justification. Both coming-to-faith and justification are reserved for those whom God regenerates. With that in mind, it is clear that a justified man is radically different from his former, unregenerated self. Furthermore, the process of sanctification inevitably begins. There is no room in Reformed theology where one can sneak in the perversion of antinomianism.

There are many passages on justification in scripture, some of which we have already studied. Let us review two of the more important.

9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; (Rom 4:9-10)
Here is one of the proof texts of justification by faith alone. For before he was circumcised, before any good works, righteousness was credited (imputed) to Abraham for one reason and one reason only: faith. Sola fide.

Looking at the question of baptizing adults we see a similar distinction. The Roman Catholic view is that the adult who sees, understands, and affirms the teachings of Rome is qualified for a baptism that will then regenerate him. The Protestant view is this intellectual acknowledgement is not sufficient—the adult must first be regenerated and then be baptized. Indeed the difference is extreme: the Protestant view is that an unregenerate person brings further damnation upon himself by undergoing baptism. The Protestant view parallels Abraham’s circumcision: Abraham was justified before circumcision; the adult is justified before baptism.

Another important passage comes from James:
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)
This passage is important to answer the common slander of Reformed theology, already discussed, that the Reformed view is inherently antinomian, given that imputed righteousness in and of itself demands no change in a person's life. James makes it clear that God only justifies regenerated men, and such men will produce fruit. A person who never bears fruit is not regenerate and hence not saved, even if he, like the demons, intellectually believes.

The Reformed mantra of "Justification by Faith Alone" is really shorthand for “Justification by a Saving Faith which unites us with Christ who alone saves, and which always leads to good works.” It is more accurately Sola Christo, Christ Alone.

We also take note that saving faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). While we must not discount a credible confession of faith, we have to make a distinction between confessing your faith in words (undoubtedly a good thing) and possessing faith. This is especially important when we consider the case of those who die in infancy. Scripture teaches Sola Fide without exception. There is no age of accountability described in scripture. (There is a reference of a Jewish age of accountability it terms of criminal acts, same as we recognize—but there is no indication that infants are saved by some means other than Sola Fide.) So what of infants who die in the womb, or at a very young age?

Once one understands that professing faith is very different from possessing faith, there is no problem. The gift of faith is God’s to give, and to give to whom it pleases him. There is nothing whatsoever (other than our own chauvinism) that precludes God from bestowing the gift of faith on infants, mentally handicapped, etc. John’s reaction (in the womb) to the presence of Jesus (in the womb) is a sign that faith may be given at any time (Luke 1:41).

We can have hope for those infants murdered in the womb, or who died at a young age, but not because children are innocent or that they have a special pathway to heaven that gets closed tight when they reach a certain age, but because God who is merciful will lose no sheep.

Next Topic: Roman Catholicism