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Westminster Confession of Faith

(4 posts)

The Roman Sola

Roman Catholic theology has always held a solid view of Scriptural inerrancy and infallibility. Our conflict is over the principle of sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, which is that the Bible only is the Word of God and holds ultimate authority. As The Westminster Confession states, The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. In contrast, Rome claims that Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. Furthermore, Scripture is only to be understood according to the tradition of the church. R. C. Sproul writes: Thus, the disagreement over Scripture in the sixteenth century persists today, forming an insurmountable barrier to union between Protestantism and Rome. If Protestants and Roman Catholics could agree that there is but one source of revelation, the Scriptures (minus the apocryphal books in the Roman Catholic Bible), we could then sit down and discuss the meaning of the biblical texts. But ever since Trent, all the efforts to have biblical discussions between Protestants and Roman Catholics have come to dead ends when they encountered a papal encyclical or a conciliar statement. For instance, involved in the controversy over Scripture and authority was the conflict over the Protestant doctrine of the private interpretation of Scripture, which teaches that every Christian has the right to interpret the Bible for himself or herself. However, this right does not include the freedom to misinterpret Scripture. Before God, we do not have the right to be wrong. With the right of private interpretation comes the responsibility to interpret the Bible correctly, not turning the Bible into a lump of clay that can be twisted, shaped, and distorted to fit our own biases. In response to the Protestant claim of private interpretation, Rome declared at the Fourth Session of Trent: Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, [the council] decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine,wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,hath held and doth hold. In other words, Trent declared that Romes interpretation of Scripture is the only correct interpretation. When a Protestant presents a biblical interpretation, if it differs from Romes official interpretation, further talk is pointless, because the Roman Catholics simply say the Protestant is wrong. The tradition of the church is sacrosanct at that point. R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 2728. As others before me have observed, Rome rejects sola Scriptura, but she has a sola of her own: sola ecclesia, the church alone as ultimate authority.

The Justification Gap

Lest any should believe that the gap between Rome and the Reformation has narrowed since Trent, consider these statements from the current Catechism of the Catholic Church: Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. (Section 1992) The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification. (1999) Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy. (2020) We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for “all men to be saved.” She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven. (1821) —Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 48–49. In contrast, the Westminster Confession of Faith says: Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. (11.1) Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. (11.2) —Ibid., 49. Rome tells us to hope in infused righteousness resulting in good works for which we will be rewarded. But if we examine ourselves and compare our best works to the perfection required by God, we are left with no greater hope than a long stay in purgatory. Biblical faith, on the other hand, hopes in nothing but the perfect righteousness of Christ, in which we can find no flaw.

Irresistible Grace in Scripture

If not for the TULIP, I would abandon the term Irresistible Grace as too misleading. In truth, grace is resistible. It is in the very nature of all men to resist God's grace. Most who hear the gospel call (often called the “general” or “outward” call) will reject it. It is the inward call of the Holy Spirit, given to God's elect, that never fails—“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Therefore, terms like Effectual Call or Efficacious Grace are preferred. As the Westminster Confession explains, All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. &mdashThe Westminster Confession of Faith, 10.1. The work of salvation is thoroughly Trinitarian. Just as the Father chooses and the Son redeems, the Spirit does his part in calling, regeneration, and sanctification. As pertains to calling, it is the Spirit who causes us to receive the gospel. At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” —Luke 10:21Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. —1 Corinthians 2:12–13 But in our natural state, we cannot receive what the Spirit says to us. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. —1 Corinthians 2:14 Before we can receive the gospel, a change must take place. Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” —John 3:3–8 This is the Spirit's work of regeneration. In regeneration, we are given an entirely new nature. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. —Ezekiel 36:26–27 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. —2 Corinthians 5:17 Having been given a new nature, we respond to the gospel in a new way. We come, not “dragged, kicking and screaming,” as some Arminians caricature this doctrine, but willingly, eagerly. It is an effectual call that never fails. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me . . . —John 6:37 This post summarizes The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 52–64.

God Is Not Moody

[O]ften when the subject is God’s mercy, the Bible stresses His faithfulness and immutability. Indeed, God—as Savior of His people—is the one true constant in all the universe. This is why He redeems His people rather than summarily destroying them when they sin: “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). His wrath against sin is real, but it does not provoke Him to alter His Word, revise His will, revoke His promises, or change His mind: “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). The necessary implication of God’s immutability is that He is not subject to shifting moods, flashes of temper, fluctuating dispositions, or seasons of despondency. In theological terms, God is impassible. That means He cannot be moved by involuntary emotions, suffering, pain, or injury. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, God is “infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions” (2.1). . . . Divine impassibility is not an easy concept to grasp. . . . Nowadays, even some Christian theologians shun the idea of divine impassibility because they think it makes God seem cold and aloof. But that’s a false notion. To say that God is not vulnerable, that He Himself cannot be hurt, and that He isn’t given to moodiness is not to say He is utterly unfeeling or devoid of affections. Remember, Scripture says God is love, and His compassion, His lovingkindness, and His tender mercies endure forever. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22–23). The main problem in our thinking about these things is that we tend to reduce God’s attributes to human terms, and we shouldn’t. We’re not to imagine that God is like us (Ps. 50:21). His affections, unlike human emotions, are not involuntary reflexes, spasms of temper, paroxysms of good and bad humor, or conflicted states of mind. He is as deliberate and as faithful in His lovingkindness as He is perfect and incorruptible in His holiness. The unchangeableness of God’s affections is—or should be—a steady comfort to true believers. His love for us is infinite and unshakable. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:11). His constant mercy is a secure and dependable anchor—both when we sin and when we suffer unjustly. “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (v. 13). Far from portraying God as unsympathetic and untouched by our suffering, Scripture emphasizes His deep and devoted compassion virtually every time it mentions the unchangeableness of God. Notice that I have quoted almost entirely from Old Testament texts to establish the connection between God’s compassion and His immutability. The commonly held notion that the Hebrew Scriptures portray God as a stern judge whose verdicts are always unrelentingly severe is an unwarranted caricature. In fact, God’s lovingkindness is often given particular emphasis in the very places where His fiery wrath against sin is mentioned (e.g., Neh. 9:17; Ps. 77:7–10; Isa. 54:8; 60:10; Hab. 3:2). Even the prophets’ most severe threats and harshest words of condemnation are tempered with reminders of God’s inexhaustible kindness and sympathetic mercy (Jer. 33:5–11; Hos. 14:4–9). —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 114–116.


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