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(52 posts)


The True Church

Tuesday··2006·11·21 · 3 Comments
Anyone who has debated much with Catholics has heard this question: “If the Catholic Church is not the true church, then where was the church for all the centuries between the alleged apostasy of Rome and the Reformation?” It’s a valid question, to which Dr. Luther provides a valid answer: In passing, I will here reply to the passage where you [Erasmus] describe it as unbelievable that God should overlook an error in His church for so many ages, and not reveal to any of His saints a point which we maintain to be fundamental in Christian doctrine. In the first place, we do not say that God tolerated this error in His church, or in any of His saints. For the church is ruled by the Spirit of God, and Rom. 8 tells us that the saints are led by the Spirit of God (v. 14). And Christ abides with His church till the end of the world (Matt. 28.20). And the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (i Tim. 3.15). This we know; for the Creed which we all hold runs thus, ‘I believe in the holy catholic church.’ So it is impossible that she should err in even the least article. Even should we grant that some of the elect are held in error throughout their whole life, yet they must of necessity return into the way before they die; for Christ says in John 8: ‘None shall pluck them out of my hand’ (John 10.28). But what is hard and problematical is just this: ascertaining whether those whom you call the church were the church’or, rather, whether after their lifetime of error they were at last brought back to the truth before they died. It does not at once follow that, if God suffered all those consummate scholars whom you quote to err throughout so many ages, therefore He suffered His church to err! Look at Israel, the people of God. There, out of a great number of kings over a long period of time, not one king is mentioned who did not err. Under Elijah the prophet, all the people and every public institution among them had gone astray into idolatry, so that he thought he was the only one left; yet, while the kings and princes, priests and prophets, and all that could be called the people and church of God, were going to ruin, God had reserved seven thousand to Himself (cf. i Kings 19.18). But who saw them, or knew them to be the people of God ? And who will dare to deny that in our day, under these principal men of yours (for you only mention persons of public office and of great name), God has kept to Himself a church among the common people, while allowing all whom you mention to perish like the kingdom of Israel? For it is God’s prerogative to bring down the chosen ones of Israel, and, as Ps. 77 says, to slay their fat ones (Ps. 78.31); but to preserve the dregs and remnant of Israel, according to Isaiah’s words (cf. Isa. 10.22). What happened under Christ Himself, when all the apostles were offended at Him, when He was denied and condemned by all the people, and only Joseph, Nicodemus and the thief on the cross were preserved? Was it not the former group who were then called the people of God? Indeed, there was a people of God remaining, but it was not so called; and that which was so called was not it. Who knows whether, throughout the whole course of world history from its beginning, the state of the church has not always been such that some were called the people and saints of God who were not so, while others, who were among them as a remnant, were the people and saints of God, but were not so called?—as appears from the histories of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob. Look at the time of the Arians, when scarcely five catholic bishops were preserved in the whole world, and they were driven from their sees, while the Arians reigned everywhere, taking to themselves the public name and office of the church. Yet under these heretics Christ preserved His church; though in such a way that it was not for a moment thought or held to be the church. Or show me a single bishop discharging his office under the kingdom of the Pope. Show me a single council at which they dealt with matter of religion, and not with gowns, rank, revenues and other profane trifles instead, which only a lunatic could consider the province of the Holy Ghost! Yet they are called the church, despite the fact that all who live as they do are lost, and are anything but the church. Even under them, however, Christ has preserved His church, though not so as to be called the church. How many saints do you think the Inquisitors alone have in time past burned and killed for heretical perversions, such as John Hus and those like him? And many holy men of the same spirit doubtless lived in their day. Why do you not rather marvel at this, Erasmus: Since the world began, there have always been superior talents, greater learning, and a more intense earnestness among pagans than among Christians and the people of God. It is as Christ Himself acknowledges: ‘the sons of this world are wiser than the sons of light’ (Luke 16.8). What Christian can be compared with Cicero alone (to say nothing of the Greeks) for ability, learning and hard work? What then shall we say hindered them from finding grace? For they certainly exerted ‘free-will’ to the utmost of their power! Who dare say that not one among them pursued truth with all his heart? Yet we are bound to maintain that not one of them reached it. Will you say in this case too that it is unbelievable that God abandoned so many great men throughout the whole course of history and let them strive in vain? Certainly, if ‘free-will’ has any being and power at all, its being and power must have been present with such men as these, in some one case at least! But it availed nothing; indeed, it always wrought in the wrong direction; so that by this argument alone it can be proved clearly enough that ‘free-will’ is nothing at all, inasmuch as one can show no trace of it from beginning to end of the world! But I return to the matter in hand. What wonder, if God should leave all the great men of the church to go their own ways, when He thus allowed all the nations to go their own ways, as Paul says in Acts (cf. Acts 14.16) ? My good Erasmus, God’s church is not so common a thing as the term ‘God’s church’; nor are God’s saints so promiscuously found as the phrase ‘God’s saints.’ The saints are pearls and precious jewels, which the Spirit does not cast before swine; but (as Scripture puts it) He keeps them hid, that the wicked may not see the glory of God! Else, if they were open to the recognition of all, how could they be so vexed and afflicted in the world as they are? So Paul says: ‘Had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (i Cor. 2.8). —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 119–123.

Acceptable Worship

Monday··2007·12·03 · 4 Comments
In 2 samuel 6, we read the story of Uzzah, the man who died for reaching out to steady the ark of God lest it fall to the ground. Uzzah, reacting spontaneously, probably gave no thought to his action. He certainly meant no harm, yet God killed him “for his irreverence.” But the trouble did not begin with Uzzah. The ark never would have wobbled, and Uzzah never would have been in that situation, had the king followed God’s instructions. David had planned and prepared thoroughly for the worship of God on that day. Now one was dead and thirty thousand men were stunned. God was angry with them, and they were angry with God. A beautiful plan had gone seriously wrong. This is a stern lesson for a generation like our own whose people think that they can constantly reinvent worship! It appears that there is never even a question within many as to whether God will be pleased with their own original designs to approach him. All of us need to take note that noble intentions, creativity, and sincerity are not sufficient factors in determining what worship is acceptable to the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim! God is jealous about the way he is worshipped (Exod. 20:4–6, the second of the Ten Commandments). As the Westminster Confession of Faith comments on this and other Scriptures: The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped . . . any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (XXI:1). It is the Lord’s prerogative to dictate how he may be worshipped. He condescends to allow sinners to approach him, and he carefully stipulates how that may be done. With the recent history of plagues that had fallen upon the Philistines who defiled the ark, and of fifty thousand Israelites who had been slain for ignoring well-known cautions against approaching it, one would have expected that David would have taken more care in preparing to move the ark to Jerusalem. The Almighty had allowed the ark to return from Philistia into Israel by its being placed on a new cart and pulled along by two milk cows (1 Sam. 6). However, this method had been devised by those of worldly mindset, men who were ignorant of God’s Word. But Jews, unto whom all the prophets and all the Word of God had come, had no excuse for worshipping as do heathen peoples. Acceptable homage to God must not arise from the imagination of a worship team, not even one led by David himself! The elements of divine services of worship must arise from the Word of God itself. It is totally unacceptable presumption to imagine that God will receive any inventions of man as ways of approaching him. Very specific directives had been given to Israel for transporting the ark. The ark was to be covered, not opened to public view. It was to be carried on the shoulders of Kohathites, not on a cart or a wagon. Express warnings had been given that even Kohathites must not touch the ark or they would die (Num. 4:5-13).These men were to touch only the poles slipped through rings on the ark. Of course we do not worship by Old Testament forms today. Roman Catholicism made the mistake of creating its worship from Old Testament precedents, with priesthood, vestments, altars, sacrifices, incense, etc. The ways in which the church is to express worship are stipulated in the New Testament. Many modern practices of Protestants are not to be found among them. —Walter J. Chantry, David: Man of Prayer, Man of War (Banner of Truth, 2007), 169–171.

Images of God (3)

Packer continues explaining why images of God are prohibited. The prohibition is not related “to the real or supposed helpfulness of images, but to the truth of them.” 1. Images dishonor God, for they obscure his glory. The likeness of things in heaven (sun, moon, stars), and in earth (people, animals, birds, insects), and in the sea (fish, mammals, crustaceans), is precisely not a likeness of their Creator. “A true image of God,” wrote Calvin, “is not to be found in all the world; and hence . . . His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form. . . . Therefore, to devise any image of God is itself impious; because by this corruption His majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is.” The point here is not just that an image represents God as having body and parts, whereas in reality he has neither. If this were the only ground of objection to images, representations of Christ would be blameless. But the point really goes much deeper. The heart of the objection to pictures and images is that they inevitably conceal most, if not all, of the truth about the personal nature and character of the divine Being whom they represent. To illustrate: Aaron made a golden calf (that is, a bull-image). It was meant as a visible symbol of Jehovah, the mighty God who had brought Israel out of Egypt. No doubt the image was thought to honor him, as being a fitting symbol of his great strength. But it is not hard to see that such a symbol in fact insults him, for what idea of his moral character, his righteousness, goodness and patience could one gather from looking at a statue of him as a bull? Thus Aaron’s image hid Jehovah’s glory. In a similar way, the pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of his deity, his victory on the cross, and his present kingdom. It displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power. In both these cases, the symbol is unworthy most of all because of what it fails to display. And so are all other visible representations of deity. Whatever we may think of religious art from a cultural standpoint, we should not look to pictures of God to show us his glory and move us to worship; for his glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us. And this is why God added to the second commandment a reference to himself as “jealous” to avenge himself on those who disobey him: for God’s “jealousy” in the Bible is his zeal to maintain his own glory, which is jeopardized when images are used in worship. In Isaiah 40:18, after vividly declaring God’s immeasurable greatness, the Scripture asks us: “To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?” The question does not expect an answer, only a chastened silence. Its purpose is to remind us that it is as absurd as it is impious to think that an image modeled, as images must be, upon some creature could be an acceptable likeness of the Creator. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 45–46.

Images of God (4)

Looking to images of God causes us to misrepresent God in our minds, essentially causing us to worship a false god. 2. Images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God. The very inadequacy with which they represent him perverts our thoughts of him and plants in our minds errors of all sorts about his character and will. Aaron, by making an image of God in the form of a bull-calf, led the Israelites to think of him as a Being who could be worshiped acceptably by frenzied debauchery. Hence the “festival to the Lord” which Aaron organized (Ex 32:5) became a shameful orgy. Again, it is a matter of historical fact that the use of the crucifix as an aid to prayer has encouraged people to equate devotion with brooding over Christ’s bodily sufferings; it has made them morbid about the spiritual value of physical pain, and it has kept them from knowledge of the risen Savior. These examples show how images will falsify the truth of God in the minds of men. Psychologically, it is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him. Thus you will in this sense “bow down” and “worship” your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 46–47.

The Spirit & the Word

It is a great indication of the hubris of men that the Roman Catholic religion avers that the authority of Scripture has been given it by ecclesiastical decree. Calvin, of course, agrees with me: Not the Church but the Spirit Confirms the Word As John Calvin pondered the basis of our confidence in the gospel, he was dismayed that the Roman Catholic Church made the authority of the Word dependent on the authority of the church: A most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men! [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 1960), 1:75 (I.vii.1).]   How then shall we know for sure that the gospel is the word of God? How shall we be sure, not the just that these things happened, but that the biblical meaning given to the great events of the gospel is the true meaningé─ţGodé─˘s meaning? Calvin continues: The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not then find acceptance in mené─˘s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit therefore who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrated into our hearts to persuade us that the faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded . . . because until he illumines their minds, they ever waver among many doubts! [Ibid. 79 (I.vii.4).]é─ţJohn Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 78é─ý79.
The church has historically called Scripture the “norm of norms and without norm.” The phrase “norm of norms” indicates the superiority of Scripture above all other standards, just as the New Testament calls Christ the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords.” With this phrase, we acknowledge that Scripture stands superior to all other authorities. But this does not mean that Scripture is simply a “first among equals.” The additional phrase “without norm” says that it stands alone, with or without the affirmation of other authorities. It is what it is whether it is acknowledged or not. Scripture alone is infallible; Scripture alone cannot err. This is the major point of conflict between Rome and the Reformation, between Roman Catholicism and Christianity. Rome claims infallibility for the church as well as Scripture. In fact, Rome claims to have infallibly created the canon of Scripture. Protestants make no such claims. We know that we are fallible, from the lowest to the highest. We know that the possibility of error exists in everything we do, including—and this is troubling to many—the compiling of the canon of Scripture. On this issue, R. C. Sproul writes: This disagreement . . . points to the larger issue that surrounds the question of canon. How was the canon established? By whose authority? Is the canon closed to further additions? . . . Did the canon come into being by the fiat of the church? Was it already in existence in the primitive Christian community? Was the canon established by a special providence? Is it possible that certain books that made their way into the present canon should not have been included? Is it possible that books that were excluded should have been included? We know that at least for a temporary period Martin Luther raised questions about the inclusion of the Epistle of James in the New Testament canon. That Luther once referred to James as an “Epistle of Straw” or a “right strawy Epistle” is a matter of record. Critics of biblical inspiration have not grown weary of pointing to these comments of Luther to argue their case that Luther did not believe in the inspiration or infallibility of Scripture. This argument not only fails to do justice to Luther’s repeated assertions of the divine authority of Scripture and their freedom from error, but more seriously it fails to make the proper distinction between the question of the nature of Scripture and the extent of Scripture. Luther was unambiguous in his conviction that all of Scripture is inspired and infallible. His question about James was not a question of the inspiration of Scripture but a question pf whether James was in fact Scripture. Though Luther did not challenge the infallibility of Scripture he most emphatically challenged the infallibility of the church. He allowed for the possibility that the church could err, even when the church ruled on the question of what books properly belonged in the canon. To see this issue more clearly we can refer to a distinction often made by Dr. John Gerstner. Gerstner distinguishes between the Roman Catholic view of the canon and the Protestant view of the canon in this manner: Roman Catholic view: The Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books. Protestant view: The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books. The distinction in view here refers to the Catholic Church’s conviction that the canon of Scripture was declared infallibly by the church. On the other hand, the Protestant view is that the church’s decision regarding what books make up the canon was a fallible decision. Being fallible means that it is possible that the church erred in its compilation of the books found in the present canon of Scripture. When Gerstner makes this distinction he is neither asserting nor implying that the church indeed did err in its judgment of what properly belongs to the canon. His view is not designed to cast doubt on the canon but simply to guard against the idea of an infallible church. It is one thing to say that the church could have erred; it is another thing to say that the church did err. Gerstner’s formula has often been met with both consternation and sharp criticism in evangelical circles. It seems to indicate that he and those who agree with his assessment are undermining the authority of the Bible. But nothing could be further from the truth. Like Martin Luther and John Calvin before him, Gerstner has been an ardent defender of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. His formula is merely designed to acknowledge that there was a historical selection process by which the church determined what books were really Scripture and what books were not Scripture. The point is that in this sifting or selection process the church sought to identify what books were actually to be regarded as Scripture. It may be said that Rome has a certain “advantage” with respect to infallibility. Rome believes that the church is infallible as well as the Scripture. This infallibility extends not only to the question of canon formation but also to the question of biblical interpretation. To summarize, we can say that according to Rome we have an infallible Bible whose extent is decreed infallibly by the church and whose content is interpreted infallibly by the church. The Christian individual is still left in his own fallibility as he seeks to understand the infallible Bible as interpreted by the infallible church. No one is extending infallibility to the individual believer. For the classic Protestant, though the individual believer has the right to the private interpretation of Scripture, it is clearly acknowledged that the individual is capable of misinterpreting the Bible. He has the ability to misinterpret Scripture, but never the right to do it. That is, with the right of private interpretation the responsibility of correct inter-pretation is also given. We never have the right to distort the teaching of Scripture. Both sides agree that the individual is fallible when seeking to understand the Scripture. Historic Protestantism limits the scope of infallibility to the Scriptures themselves. Church tradition and church creeds can err. Individual interpreters of Scripture can err. It is the Scriptures alone that are without error. —R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 40–43.

é─˙some things hard to understandé─¨

As heirs of the Reformation, and in distinction from Roman Catholicism, we hold to the perspicuity of Scripture. This is the doctrine that any believer can, by the illumination from the Holy spirit, understand the Scriptures adequately to know what God would have him believe and do. In saying this, we do not mean that all Scripture is equally easy to understand. Some passages are, as Peter confessed, é─˙hard to understandé─¨ (2 Peter 3:15é─ý16). On this subject, in his Disputation . . . against the Papists, William Whitaker quotes none other than a pope, Gregory the Great (540é─ý604), whom Calvin is said to have called é─˙the last good pope.é─¨ The very obscurity of the words of God is of great use, because it exercises the perception so as to be enlarged by labour, and, through exercise, be enabled to catch that which a lazy reader cannot. It hath besides this still greater advantage, that the meaning of sacred scripture would be lightly esteemed, if it were plain in all places. In some obscure places the sweetness with which it refresheth the mind, when found, is proportionate to the toil and labour which were expended upon the search. é─ţGregory the Great, quoted in William Whitaker, Disputations on the Holy Scriptures (Soli Deo Gloria, 2005), 375.

The Bereans and Sola Scriptura

William Whitaker cites the Apostle Paulé─˘s praise of the Bereans against the Roman Catholic doctrine of sola ecclesia:    Our seventh argument [demonstrating that scripture, and not the church, is the interpreter of scripture] is taken from Acts xvii. 11, where the Bereans are praised for searching the scriptures whether those things which Paul taught were so. From which place we argue thus: If the doctrine of the apostle was examined by scripture, then the doctrine of the church should also be examined by scripture. The antecedent is true; therefore also the consequent. The Jesuit here hath but one reply. He says that the person of the apostle was not known to the Bereans, and that they did not understand whether Paul was an apostle or not; and therefore that they did well in judging his doctrine by the scriptures: but we do know (says he) that the church cannot err, and therefore we ought not to examine its teaching. I answer: It makes little matter whether the Bereans knew Paul to be an apostle or not. The question is not about persons, but about the kind of teaching. The Bereans are praised for not rashly and hastily receiving whatever Paul taught them, but diligently examining his doctrine by scripture. Whence we draw two inferences: First, that all doctrine is to be judged by the scriptures. For, if the Bereans compared the preaching of an apostle with the rule of scripture, shall we embrace without any examination whatever the pope may please to maintain? Secondly, That the apostles preached nothing which could not be established by the scriptures of the prophets, and did perfectly agree with them. But we (says he) know that the church cannot err. But we (say I) know that the pope errs shamefully, and they who think otherwise err also to the eternal ruin of their own souls. . . . Verily, the church, that is, the pope, would be a kind of God if he could not err. é─ţWilliam Whitaker, Disputations on the Holy Scriptures (Soli Deo Gloria, 2005), 457.

A Love/Hate Relationship

Tom Ascol and John Calvin on sin, and Godé─˘s simultaneous love and hatred toward sinners:    Godé─˘s response toward all sinners is anger and opposition. His wrath is provoked and stored up against all sin. The distinction that Roman Catholicism makes between venial and mortal sins is baseless. While Protestants rightly reject that kind of distinction theologically, it often subtly informs much of their thinking about sin and judgment. Many are under the false impression that Godé─˘s wrath in general, or hell in particular, is reserved for those guilty of é─˙major sins,é─¨ such as Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Lesser sinners are tempted to hope that their case is significantly different. This is why even the title of Jonathan Edwardsé─˘ famous sermon, é─˙Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,é─¨ so often evokes scorn. It is assumed that while it might be conceivable that some sinners would be in that horrible position, surely it is not true of all. To this Calvin answers, é─˙Every sin is a deadly sin!é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.8.59.] In saying this, he was merely echoing the prophet Ezekiel, who teaches, é─˙the soul who sins shall dieé─¨ (18:4, 20), and the apostle Paul, who writes in Romans 6:23, é─˙The wages of sin is death.é─¨ Calvin exhorts Christians to acknowledge this fundamental, vital point of biblical teaching: é─˙Let the children of God hold that all sin is mortal. For it is rebellion against the will of God, which of necessity provokes Godé─˘s wrath, and it is a violation of the law, upon which Godé─˘s judgment is pronounced without exception.é─¨ [ibid.] This is true even for those whom God chose before the foundation of the world to receive salvation (Eph. 1:4). Though they are the objects of eternal, divine love, they are nevertheless liable to Godé─˘s anger because of their sin. Paul reminds the Ephesians of this fact when he writes that Christians were é─˙by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankindé─¨ (2:3). This means that, before their conversion, the elect are both deeply loved by God and at enmity with Him. Calvin explains the matter quite starkly by quoting Augustine after invoking Romans 5:8: Therefore, [God] loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made. [Ibid., 2.14.4.] é─ţThomas K. Ascol, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 160é─ý161.

To Will What We Ought

Thursday··2009·07·30 · 1 Comments
Arminians have often caricatured the doctrine of Irresistible Grace as dragging sinners, against their will, into the Kingdom of God. But that is not what any Calvinist believes, and it is certainly not what Calvin himself believed. Keith Mathison writes:    In 1542, the Dutch Roman Catholic theologian Albert Pighius wrote a work titled Ten Books on Human Free Choice and Divine Grace. Pighius was critiquing Calviné─˘s teaching on the subject of free will and predestination as found in the 1539 edition of the Institutes. In 1543, Calvin wrote a response to Pighius titled The Bondage and Liberation of the Will. This book contains Calviné─˘s most extended treatment of the relationship between Godé─˘s grace and mané─˘s will. In it, Calvin sums up his argument against Pighius in the following statement: But all that we say amounts to this. First, that what a person is or has or is capable of is entirely empty and useless for the spiritual righteousness which God requires, unless one is directed to the good by the grace of God. Secondly, that the human will is of itself evil and therefore needs transformation and renewal so that it may begin to be good, but that grace itself is not merely a tool which can help someone if he is pleased to stretch out his hand to [take] it. That is, [God] does not merely offer it, leaving [to man] the choice between receiving it and rejecting it, but he steers the mind to choose what is right, he moves the will also effectively to obedience, he arouses and advances the endeavor until the actual completion of the work is attained. [Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will: A Defence of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice Against Pighius, 114.]    Contrary to Pighius, Calvin affirms that grace is efficacious: [In the Institutes] I say, then, that grace is not offered to us in such a way that afterwards we have the option either to submit or to resist. I say that it is not given merely to aid our weakness by its support as though anything depended on us apart from it. But I demonstrate that it is entirely the work of grace and a benefit conferred by it that our heart is changed from a stony one to one of flesh, that our will is made new, and that we, created anew in heart and mind, at Transforming Grace length will what we ought to will. For Paul bears witness that God does not bring about in us [merely] that we are able to will what is good, but also that we should will it right up to the completion of the act. How big a difference there is between performance and will! Likewise, I determine that our will is effectively formed so that it necessarily follows the leading of the Holy Spirit, and not that it is sufficiently encouraged to be able to do so if it wills. [Ibid., 174.]    As we see, Calvin clearly taught that in order for man to be saved, the Holy Spirit had to work efficaciously and irresistibly to bring him from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life. In his teaching on the subject of saving grace, Calvin merely followed the doctrine set forth in the Scriptures. The doctrine of efficacious grace is necessary because of the state of fallen man. Man is born dead in sin (cf. Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13), with his mind and heart corrupted (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7é─ý8; 1 Cor. 2:14). He is a slave to sin (Rom. 6:20; Titus 3:3) and therefore unable to repent and come to God (Jer. 13:23; Matt. 7:18; John 6:44, 65). Because of this, man must be born again (John 3:5é─ý7). Those whom God elected and for whom Christ died are brought to life by the Holy Spirit (John 1:12é─ý13; 3:3é─ý8; 5:21; Eph. 2:1, 5; Titus 3:5). God gives them faith and repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 13:48; Eph. 2:8é─ý9; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25é─ý26), and they are justified. é─ţKeith A. Mathison, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 173é─ý174.

Union with Christ (2)

Union with Christ confers upon us the dual benefits of justification and sanctification. That is, we are both declared righteous (justified), and made righteous.    The double benefit of justification and sanctification provides an immediate answer to the Roman Catholic objection that Calvin and the other Reformers wrongly divided these doctrines, or removed good works from their proper place in the Christian life. On the contrary, Calviné─˘s doctrine of union with Christ unifies his theology of salvation. Viewing both justification and sanctification from the perspective of union with Christ shows how intimately these saving benefits are related. Calvin was convinced that the several benefits of salvation, though distinct, could never be divided. To receive Christ by faith is to receive the whole Christ, not just part of Him. Thus, in coming to Christ we receive both justification and sanctification. To separate these benefits, Calvin said, would virtually tear Christ in two. But of course é─˙Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparableé─ţnamely, righteousness and sanctification.é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.6.] A key text for Calviné─˘s doctrine of salvation was 1 Corinthians 1:30, where Christ is described as é─˙our righteousness and sanctification.é─¨ é─˙If you would properly understand how inseparable faith and works are,é─¨ Calvin wrote, é─˙look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches, has been given to us for justification and for sanctification.é─¨ [John Calvin, Responsio, in Ioannis Calvini opera selecta, ed. P. Barth, W. Niesel, and Dora Scheuner (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1926é─ý1952), 1:470.] First Corinthians 1:30 clearly distinguishes the two benefits of union with Christ, so that we comprehend Godé─˘s full work of salvation in declaring us and making us righteous. Yet justification and sanctification are also joined together as inseparable benefits we receive simultaneously in Christ: Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.16.1.] é─ţPhilip Graham Ryken, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 197é─ý198.

What Means é─˙Universalé─¨?

Sixteenth century Roman Catholic apologist Robert Belarmine (1542é─ý1621) proposed é─˙five rules whereby true and genuine traditions of the apostles [traditions held by Rome as equal to scripture] may be distinguished.é─¨ William Whitaker listed those rules along with his rebuttals. On the first:    The first rule is this: Whatsoever the universal church holds as an article of faith, and which is not found in the Bible, is without any doubt apostolical. The reason of this rule is, because the church cannot err. That the church cannot err, he proves by a twofold argument: first, because it is the ground of truth; secondly, because, as Christ says, the gates of hell shall not prevail against that rock upon which the church is built. I reply: The present occasion does not permit me to handle the question, whether or not the church may err [Whitaker has already done so earlier in this work]: there will be another fitting place for discussing that subject. Meanwhile, I return two answers. First, I demand what they mean by the universal church? For although a very great number of men everywhere throughout the churches may have embraced some practice or opinion, it does not therefore follow that it should be ascribed to the whole church; because there may be many who condemn it, and amongst these the church may subsist. So when Christ was upon earth, there were many traditions of the Pharisees which had become prescriptive, such as are mentioned Matt. xv. and Mark vii.; some of which related to faith, and some to practice. These were universal (if those are to be styled universal which are observed by the great majority), and had prevailed in the church through a long course of years and ages; for they are called the traditions é─˙of the elders.é─¨ Does it therefore follow, either that these were divine, or that all men who belonged to the church held them, especially when it is certain that some of them were plainly impious? Superstitious rites, then, and perverse opinions, and traditions repugnant to piety, may prevail amongst men professing Godé─˘s holy religion. For the church does not always consist of the greatest or the most numerous, but sometimes of the fewest and the meanest. Secondly, Bellarmine cannot prove that any popish tradition was observed in all churches. For, to take his own example, many churches have entertained doubts concerning the number of the canonical books, as we have shewn in the first controversy. It follows, therefore, that it was no apostolical tradition, because it was not received by the universal church, according to this rule of Bellarmineé─˘s. . . . He says that all points which the church holds as articles of faith were delivered by the apostles or prophets, in writing or by word of mouth, and that the church is not now governed by new revelations, but remains content with that which it received from the apostles. If this be true, then the church cannot now deliver any thing as an article of faith which was not heretofore, from the very times of the apostles, received and preserved as an article of faith. But the papists affirm that the church can now prescribe some new article of faith, which had not been esteemed in former ages as a necessary dogma. That the virgin Mary was conceived without original sin, was formerly thought a free opinion, not a necessary part of faith . . . But, at present, it is not permitted amongst papists to retain the ancient liberty of opinion upon this subject; and he is hardly deemed a catholic, who ascribes any even the slightest taint of sin to Mary. The university of Paris admits no one to any of the higher degrees in divinity, who does not solemnly swear both that he believes that Mary was conceived in immaculate purity, and that he will constantly persevere in the assertion of the spotless conception of the virgin. . . . [Bellarmine] says that the church is not now governed by new revelations, but remains content with those things which they who were the ministers of the word handed down. So beautifully do they agree among themselves. Some say that a new dogma, which never was such before, may be prescribed by the church; others, that the church is not governed by new revelations, but remains content with those things which were delivered from the beginning. So that either Bellarmineé─˘s rule is false, or these articles of faith cannot and ought not to be considered necessary. But I demand of Bellarmine, whether it was delivered down by the apostles, that the epistle to the Hebrews was written by Paul. All the papists allow it. [Bishop Lindanus (1525é─ý1588, )] affirms that it is no less necessary to believe it Paulé─˘s, than to believe its canonicity. If that be true, then this is an apostolical tradition: if it be apostolical, then it was always received by the universal church. But it may be easily shewn that many churches thought otherwise; yea, that the Roman church itself was once in the contrary opinion, as appears from Jeromeé─˘s catalogue of illustrious men, under the title Caius. Either therefore the Roman church erred in the one tradition or in the other; or else at least this first rule of Bellarmineé─˘s is not true, certain, and perpetual. é─ţWilliam Whitaker, Disputations on the Holy Scriptures (Soli Deo Gloria, 2005), 503é─ý504.

Montrous Errors

William Whitaker closed his work, A Disputation on Holy Scripture Against the Papists especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, with a summary é─˙To the Christian Readeré─¨:    If ever any heretics have impiously outraged the holy scripture of God, we may justly rank the papists of our time with this class of men, who pervert things the most sacred. For, not to mention how insultingly most of them speak, and how meanly they think, of the scriptures, and to pass by at present the insane slanders of certain of them, (because I would not hurt your pious ears with the foul speeches these men have uttered,) there are especially six opinions concerning scripture which they now hold and obstinately defend, that are eminently absurd, heretical, and sacrilegious. The first concerns the number of canonical and truly inspired books of scripture; since, not content with those which in the old Testament were published by the prophets, in the new by the apostles and evangelistsé─ţthe chosen organs of the Spirit, they add to this fair and perfect body of canonical scripture, not only the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, Tobit, but even the history of the Maccabees, the apocryphal stories of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon, and fragments of Esther, than which nothing more spurious can be imagined. The second is, their placing the authentic scripture in the old Latin translation, which they call the Vulgate, and not in the sacred Hebrew and Greek originals: which is not merely, as Glaucus with Diomede [Iliad, vi. 234é─ţ236.], to exchange gold for brass, but to prefer the work of man to that of God. Who can doubt that Glaucus was a wise man compared with these? Brasen arms are as fit for all warlike purposes as golden; but who would not choose to learn true religion from the words of the Holy Ghost rather than from those of a translatoré─ţespecially such a translator, and draw the water which he drinks from a spring, and not a cistern? Besides, in forbidding the people to read the scriptures, and performing their service in a strange language, they plainly take away all mutual converse of God with the people, and the people with God, and interrupt the intercourse and communion of the Deity with man. The third is, their determining that the authority of scripture depends upon the voice and testimony of the church, and their teaching that the scripture is no scripture to us except on account of the sentence of the church; which is just the same as Tertullian formerly so wittily charged upon the heathen, Apol. c. 5: é─˙With you divinity depends on human choice. God is no God, unless it so pleases man. Man must now be kind to God.é─¨ It is absolutely thus that the papists maintain, that the scriptures would be no scriptures to us, if the church did not give them their authority, and approve them by her judgment. The fourth is, their complaining of the incredible obscurity of the scriptures, not for the purpose of rousing men to diligence in studying and perusing them, but to bring the scriptures into hatred and subject them to wicked suspicions: as if God had published his scriptures as Aristotle did his books of Physics, for no one to understand. é─˙Know that they are published, and yet not published; for they are only intelligible to those who have heard myself.é─¨ The fifth is their refusal to have controversies decided by scripture, or to allow scripture to be its own interpreter, making the pope of Rome the solo judge of controversies and of scripture: as if scripture were of no force without the pope, could hold no sense but what it received from the pope, nor even speak but what the pope saw good; or as if God did not speak to us, but only by the pope as his interpreter. The sixth is, their asserting the doctrine of scripture, which is most full and absolutely perfect, to be incomplete; and therefore not only joining innumerable unwritten traditions, whereof their was no mention in the bible, with scripture, but even setting them on a level with scripture in dignity, utility, authority, credit, and necessity: wherein they fall under the weight of just so many anathemas from Christ as the traditions are which they add to scripture. Who can adequately conceive the greatness of this insult, that these rotten popish traditions, whereof there is not one syllable in scripture, should be counted equal to the scriptures? These monstrous errors of the papists, courteous reader, we refute in this book, not only by arguments and testimonies drawn from scripture, but also by those other proofs in which our adversaries principally confide; nor do we produce merely the ancient fathers of the church as witnesses on our side, but also the schoolmen and classic authors of the papists, who though, as the apostle says, they é─˙held the truth in unrighteousness,é─¨ yet left it not without witness. é─ţWilliam Whitaker, Disputations on the Holy Scriptures (Soli Deo Gloria, 2005), 705é─ý707. Youé─˘ll notice that Whitaker wastes no time with soft, conciliatory words, but calls the é─˙papisté─¨ doctrines what they are: insulting to scripture, é─˙absurd, heretical, and sacrilegious,é─¨ é─˙monstrous errors,é─¨ é─˙under . . . anathemas from Christ.é─¨ There is no hint of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, only proof that such fellowship is not possible (2 Corinthians 6:14). This leads us to ask, what has happened to the church today? Where is the resolve to é─˙hold fast the confession of our hope without waveringé─¨ (Hebrews 10:23), to é─˙guard what has been entrusted to youé─¨ (1 Timothy 6:20)? God help us to know the truth, and to stand firm in ité─ţfor the sake of the gospel and the souls of men, for the glory of God.

The Puritans and Sex

Thursday··2009·09·03 · 15 Comments
We all know, don’t we, that the puritans hated sex and considered it to be exceedingly sinful. After all, that is what “puritanical” means, isn’t it? Well . . . maybe not. According to Leland Ryken, that attitude belongs to the Roman Catholics, particularly during the middle ages. Rome taught that sex, although less sinful for some than the alternatives, was always sinful, not in the act itself, but in the driving passions and resulting pleasure. This view was held by no less than our beloved Augustine, who commended married couples who abstained from sex! The Puritans rejected that attitude wholeheartedly, and made no secret of their opposing view. Ryken writes that “When a New England wife complained, first to her pastor, and then to the whole congregation, that her husband was neglecting their sex life, the church proceeded to excommunicate the man.” Catholic doctrine had declared virginity superior to marriage; the Puritan reply was that marriage “is a state . . . Far more excellent than the condition of single life.” Many Catholic commentators claimed that sexual intercourse had been the resultof the Fall and did not occur in Paradise; the Puritan comeback was that marriage was ordained by God, “and that not in this sinful world, but in paradise, that most joyful garden of pleasure.” . . . Given the Catholic background against which they wrote and preached, the Puritans’ praise of marriage was at the same time an implicit endorsement of marital sex as good. They elaborated that point specifically and often. This becomes clearer once we are clued into the now-outdated terms by which they customarily referred to sexual intercourse: “matrimonial duty,” “cohabitation,” “act of matrimony,” and (especially) “due benevolence.” Everywhere we turn in Puritan writing on the subject we find sex affirmed as good in principle. [William] Gouge referred to physical union as “one of the most proper and essential acts of marriage.” It was Milton’s opinion that the text “they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) was included in the Bible to justify and make legitimate the rites of the marriage bed; which was not unneedful, if for all this warrant they were suspected of pollution by some sects of philosophy and religions of old, and latelier among the Papists. William Ames listed as one of the duties of marriage “mutual communication of bodies.” So closely linked were the ideas of marriage and sex that the Puritans usually defined marriage partly in terms of sexual union. [William] Perkins defined marriage as “the lawful conjunction of the two married persons; that is, of one man and one woman into one flesh.” Another well-known definition was this: Marriage is a coupling together of two persons into one flesh, according to the ordinance of God. . . . By yoking, joining, or coupling is meant, not only outward dwelling together of the married folks . . . but also an uniform agreement of mind and a common participation of body and goods. Married sex was not only legitimate in the Puritan view; it was meant to be exuberant. Gouge said that married couples should engage in sex “with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.” An anonymous Puritan claimed that when two are made one by marriage theymay joyfully give due benevolence one to the other; as two musical instruments rightly fitted do make a most pleasant and sweet harmony in a well tuned consort. Alexander Niccholes theorized that in marriage “thou not only unitest unto thyself a friend and comfort for society, but also a companion for pleasure.” In this acceptance of physical sex, the Puritans once again rejected the asceticism and implicit dualism between sacred and secular that had governed Christian thinking for so long. In the Puritan view, God had given the physical world, including sex, for human welfare. —Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 42, 43–44.

Puritan Interpretation of Scripture

Leland Ryken on Puritan hermeneutics: The logical starting place is the Puritansé─˘ belief that the Bible must ordinarily be interpreted literally or historically, not arbitrarily allegorized. To understand why the Puritans made so much of the literal or single interpretation of Scripture, we need to know something about the centuries-long Catholic practice of attributing allegorical interpretations to virtually all of Scripture. Catholic interpreters, for example, claimed that in the story of Rebekah, Rebekahé─˘s drawing water for Abrahamé─˘s servant really means that we must daily come to the Bible to meet Christ. The six water pots at the marriage in Cana refer to the creation of the world in six days. The womané─˘s comment in the Song of Solomon that é─˙my beloved is to me a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breastsé─¨ was interpreted as meaning the Old and New Testaments, between which stands Christ. Another commentator found the breasts to denote the learned teachers of the church, and yet another thought the verse referred to the crucifixion of Christ, which the believer keeps in eternal remembrance between his breasts, that is, in his heart. To the Puritans, such allegorizing was ridiculous and unreliable. é─˙The Scripture hath but one sense,é─¨ claimed Tyndale, é─˙which is the literal sense, and that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth.é─¨ Thomas Gataker agreed: é─˙Sir, we dare not allegorize the Scriptures, where the letter of it yields us a clear and proper Sense. We should pause to note what the Puritans did not mean when they insisted on the literal or plain interpretation of Scripture. They did not mean that the Bible is literal rather than figurative. William Bridge, for example, commented that é─˙though the sense of the Scripture be but one entire sense, yet sometimes the Scripture is to be understood literally, sometimes figuratively and metaphorically.é─¨ The Puritans did not even deny that there were allegorical passages in the Bible. James Durham wrote, é─˙There is great difference betwixt an allegoric exposition of Scripture, and an exposition of allegoric Scripture.é─¨ é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 145.

Illumination for Interpretation

While Rome had held the clergy above the common people, declaring that only they could interpret the Scriptures, the Puritans followed the Reformers in insisting that the Holy Spirit illumines the mind of any Christian as he or she reads the Bible. é─˙Every godly man hath in him a spiritual light,é─¨ declared John White, é─˙by which he is directed in the understanding of Godé─˘s mind revealed in His word.é─¨ Thomas Goodwin said with equal confidence that The same Spirit that guided the holy apostles and prophets to write it must guide the people of God to know the meaning of it; and as he first delivered it, so must he help men to understand it. What are we to make of this confidence that the Holy Spirit guides us in understanding the Bible? We must realize that Catholic allegorizing of the Bible had obscured Scripture, in effect making é─˙the Pope the doorkeeper of Scripture, not the Holy Spirit.é─¨ Set in the context of ingenious Catholic allegorizing in which the Bibleé─˘s message was decipherable only by the clergy, the Puritan belief in the illumination of the Holy Spirit put the Bible back within the grasp of every reader. Thus John Ball could write: We are not necessarily tied to the exposition of Fathers or Councils for the finding out of the sense of Scripture. Who is the faithful interpreter of Scripture? The Holy Ghost speaking in the Scripture is the only faithful interpreter of the Scripture. é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 146é─ý147.

Papist Poetry (pretty poor)

Monday··2010·03·01 · 21 Comments
One sure warning that you are about to hear a really bad song is when the singer announces, “This is a song the Lord gave me.” At that point, you should plug your ears, and probably hold your nose, as well. A couple weeks ago, Calvin’s comments on John 2:4 provoked a discussion in which I learned something I hadn’t known about Roman Catholic Mariology: apparently, Mary is the “New Eve.” Of course we know that Christ is the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), but I had never heard any mention of another Eve. Turns out it’s because there isn’t any. What should have immediately occurred to me, but didn’t, is that there couldn’t be a second Eve because Christ already has a bride (Ephesians 5:22–27), chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Well, the gentleman who was schooling me on this mysteriously dropped out of the conversation, so I never really got a satisfactory explanation. While I was waiting to see if he would return, my mind began wandering through the maze of papist Mariology, and I began to wax poetic. Those who remember my previous poetic works, including a contribution to contemporary worship music and a collection of cheese couplets, may want to go elsewhere at this point. Anyway, considering all that the Bible says about Mary, and adding to that all that Rome has said . . . “This is a song the Lord gave me.” Not Quite the Magnificat (tune and inspiration) A couple thousand years ago, I was a Jewish lass A strange thing happened to me (pardon me if this sounds crass) I was impregnated by the Spirit of the Lord And had a holy baby who was very much adored This baby was the son of God and made me very proud He was so good that some folks claim he never cried out loud And then some guys in funny hats invented theories odd Among them being that I am the very mother of God So now I am God’s mother and the mother of his son But I’ll reveal a stranger fact before my song is done My baby was the second Adam, I, the second Eve Which made me my son’s wife, a thing I hardly can believe Now if I am God’s mother, Jesus then is my grandson I know that is a weird thought, but it’s not the weirdest one I’ve come to a conclusion that is sticking in my craw If I am Jesus’ wife, then I’m my granddaughter-in-law So . . . I’m my own grandma, I’m my own grandma It sounds funny, I know, but Rome says it is so Oh, I’m my own grandma!

Heavy Hearted

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. é─ţ1 John 2:19 Ié─˘m grieving over a friend today, hoping the verse above doesné─˘t describe his end. I cané─˘t even remember what I had intended to blog today. Let me instead draw your attention to the following resources from Grace to You that are relevant to this situation. Eat them up; you never know when you might need them. Explaining the Heresy of Catholicism Irreconcilable Differences: Catholics, Evangelicals, and the New Quest for Unity When Believers Stop Believing: Portrait of an Apostate

A High Price Tag

I scanned my shelves this morning and counted Bibles. In my office alone, I found three readeré─˘s Bibles, eight Study Bibles, one Parallel Bible, two Greek New Testaments, one Harmony of the Gospels, and one Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. If I lost all those, I could still find at least two complete Bibles and a couple of nearly complete Bibles in commentary sets, plus the Gospels, Psalms, and other books in various other commentaries. I also have a Douay-Rheims, a New World Translation, and an NIV parked between Charles Finney and Rick Warren, but Ié─˘m not counting those. Then there are the ten-or-so paperbacks Ié─˘ve got for giving away. If I went through the whole house, Ié─˘m sure I could find a dozen and a half more. The point, as youé─˘ve probably guessed, is that thaté─˘s a lot of Bibles. I admit that I seldom give much thought to this abundance of treasure. Only occasionally do I think of the history of the Bibleé─ţmy English Bible, to be preciseé─ţand what it cost and who paid the price so I could have just one. Five hundred years ago, men like William Tyndale paid the ultimate price to bring the Bible, in English, to common folks like me. Having promoted the Reformation teachings of Luther, Tyndale had fled King Henry VIII and England and gone into hiding on the continent. Eventually, Henry was é─˙inclined to mercy,é─¨ and an English merchant named Stephen Vaughn was commissioned to find Tyndale and ask him to return home to England. Vaughn, having found Tyndale, informed the King in a letter, é─˙I find him always singing one note.é─¨ John Piper writes:    The thirty-seven-year-old Tyndale was moved to tears by this offer of mercy. He had been in exile away from his homeland for seven years. But then he sounded his é─˙one noteé─¨ again: Will the king authorize a vernacular English Bible from the original languages? Vaughan gives us Tyndaleé─˘s words from May 1531: I assure you, if it would stand with the Kingé─˘s most gracious pleasure to grant only a bare text of Scripture [that is, without explanatory notes] to be put forth among his people, like as is put forth among the subjects of the emperor in these parts, and other Christian prices, be it of the translation of what person soever shall please his Majesty, I shall immediately make faithful promise never to write more, nor abide two days in these parts after the same: but immediately to repair unto his realm, and there most humbly submit myself at the feet of his royal majesty, offering my body to suffer what pain or torture, yea, what death his grace will, so this be obtained. Until that time, I will abide the asperity of all chances, whatsoever shall come, and endure my life in as many pains as it is able to bear and suffer. In other words, Tyndale would give himself up to the king on one conditioné─ţthat the king authorize an English Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew in the common language of the people. The king refused. And Tyndale never went to his homeland again. Instead, if the king and the Roman Catholic Church would not provide a printed Bible in English for the common man to read, Tyndale would, even if it cost him his lifeé─ţwhich it did five years later. é─ţJohn Piper, Filling Up on the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton (Crossway, 2009), 28é─ý29. Tyndale was forced to do all of his translating and writing as an exiled fugitive. Multitudes were tortured and killed for smuggling his books into England, or for simply possessing them. In 1535, he was befriended by an Englishman named Henry Philips. Philips, over several months, won Tyndaleé─˘s trust with the intention of betraying him. On October 6, 1536, at the age of forty-two, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake.

The Good News: Faith Alone

Tuesday··2010·08·10 · 3 Comments
Summarizing the difference between the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone and the Roman doctrine of justification by faith plus merit, R. C. Sproul writes: [T]he Roman view of justification starts with baptism. The benefits that accrue from baptism can be lost by committing mortal sin, but they can be recovered by penance. The regained justification lasts until another mortal son is committed, and the cycle repeats. According to the Roman view, a believeré─˘s destiny is determined by the purity of his heart at the time of death. Even if the believer does not die in a state of impenitent mortal son, there may be impurities on the soul, necessitating purgatory until the impurities are cleansed. All of this is presented in the most recent Roman Catholic catechism. It states that if a believer has any impurities on his or her soul at the time of death, the believer will go to purgatory the soul of the believer may be in purgatory for only a week of he or she is near to sainthood, but more likely the believer will remain there for several hundred years, perhaps ever two million, three million, or four million yearsé─ţuntil, in that place of purging, the believer is so cleansed from impurities that finally, when God looks at him or her, he sees an inherent righteousness. Is that good news? It is actually the worst possible news we can hear. If someone told me that the only way I could get into the kingdom of heaven and be adopted into the family of God is to get rid of all impurities in my soul, I would despair. So let me tell you what the good news is. I despair of my righteousness; I acknowledge my sin. I put my trust in Christ and Christ alone. And the good news is that at the very instant I do, all that Jesus is, and all that Jesus has, is mine, and for the rest of my days he has me covered. The Father looks beyond my impurities and all my sin, and he sees the cloak of righteousness of Jesus. For that reason, I am justified not for today, not for this week, not until I commit another sin, but for eternity. Is there any better news than that in the whole world? é─ţR. C. Sproul, (Crossway, 2007), 100é─ý101. is a collection of messages from the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference. You can download the entire message from which todayé─˘s quotation was taken here.

“but for the faith of the church”

In which I share an excerpt from my newest joke book. You may be surprised, as I was, to learn that there is such a thing as The Catholic Study Bible. Roman Catholic history makes the idea of Catholics actually studying the Bible (or even reading it) seem fantastic. I myself have only known one Catholic who read the Bible at all—and I have made an effort to find this out about my Catholic acquaintances. Nevertheless, such a thing exists, and happens to be lying in front of me at this very moment, open to Mark 6:3. This is the passage the notes of which every New Testament reference to Jesus’ brothers and sisters is referred. As you likely know, Roman Catholic dogma claims that Mary, the mother of Jesus, remains perpetually virgin. There is, of course, no biblical suggestion that that is so, yet it is a doctrine believed de fide, or as an essential doctrine denial of which is heresy. Therefore, whenever Scripture refers to the brothers of Jesus, it must mean something else, because . . . well, because if it doesn’t, then Rome is wrong, and that is simply inconceivable. So they explain: The brother of James . . . Simon: in Semitic usage, the terms “brother,” “sister” are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, half-sisters; cf Gn 14, 16; 29, 15; Lv 10, 4. While one cannot suppose that the meaning of a Greek word should be sought in the first place from Semitic usage, the Septuagint often translates the Hebrew ???āh by the Greek word adelphos, “brother,” as in the cited passages, a fact that may argue for a similar breadth of the meaning in some New Testament passages. For instance, there is no doubt that in v 17, “brother” is used of Philip, who was actually the half-brother of Herod Antipas. On the other hand, Mark may have understood the terms literally; see also Mt 3, 31–32;12, 46; 13, 55–56; Lk 8, 19; Jn 7, 3,5. The question of meaning here would not have arisen but for the faith of the church in Mary’s perpetual virginity. —The Catholic Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 2006), 1326. The note is, on the one hand, disappointing. I really expected a much higher level of sophistry from these great Papist scholars. On the other hand, I get a good chuckle out of the brazen admission that they really don’t have a leg to stand on, and must perform linguistic tricks just to say the word might, given the right screenwriter and director, believably be cast as something other than itself. Quite humorous is their insinuation that we should utter in hushed tones, “Ooh, nuance!” at the revelation that half-brothers have been referred to simply as brothers. Oh, such broad semantic range! The cherry on the sundae is the editors’ final bare-faced admission that, if Rome hadn’t put them on the spot, they never would have thought to impose anything but the plain meaning on the text.

Perpetually Virgin, or Without Sin?

Monday··2010·08·30 · 3 Comments
I have a bit of Papism on the brain lately; you may have to bear with me. Last week I commented on the so-called explanation for the Roman doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary found in The Catholic Study Bible (Mark 6:3). This is a de fide doctrine, that is, “of the faith.” These are essential doctrines, denial of which is heresy. Also held de fide is the doctrine of the immaculate conception: On the 8th December, 1854, Pope Pius IX, in the Bull “Ineffabilis” promulgated the following doctrine as revealed by God, and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful: “The Most Holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin.” —Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (The Mercier Press, 1960), 199. According to Roman dogma, Mary was born, and remained, without sin. Mary: sinless, and perpetually virgin. There is a conflict in there that ought to be obvious. Can you see it? If not, don’t feel too badly. It only occurred to me as I listened to John MacArthur Explaining the Heresy of Catholicism. The following verses from 1 Corinthians 7 should clear it up for you: 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. If Mary had remained a virgin, she would have sinned. That she would have sinned gives me no problem. I certainly believe that she, like every other descendant of Adam, was conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity (Psalm 51:5), and lived, like all of us, in constant need of forgiveness. I could even buy her perpetual virginity, if it was not so plainly false and the Roman apologies so absurd. What is impossible to reconcile is the proposition that she both was sinless and lived a life that was fundamentally sinful. As I like to say, you do the math. Related: Did Augustine Teach the Sinlessness of Mary?
With Reformation Day just past, I’ve pulled from my bookshelf a reminder that the Reformation still matters, from The Holy Bible: Confraternity Edition (1958). Indulgences A The faithful who spend at least a quarter of an hour in reading Holy Scripture with the reverence due to the Word of God and after the manner of spiritual reading, may gain: An indulgence of 3 years. B Those, however, who read at least a few verses of the Gospel and further kiss the book of the Gospels, devoutly reciting one of the following invocation: Through the Gospel’s words may our sins be blotted out—May the reading of the Gospel be our health and protection—May Christ the Son of God, teach us the words of the Holy Gospel, are granted: An indulgence of 500 days; A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if they perform this act daily for an entire month, as given above; A plenary indulgence at the hour of death, if they frequently performed this devout exercise during their lives, provided that they have made their confession and received the holy Communion or are at least contrite, and invoke devoutly the most holy Name of Jesus with their lips, if possible, otherwise in their hearts and accept death patiently form the hand of God as the just penalty for sin. “Oh, but that all changed with Vatican II,” you say? Think again. [F]or Catholic leaders, most prominently the pope, the focus in recent years has been less on what Catholics have in common with other religious groups than on what sets them apart—including the half-forgotten mystery of the indulgence. “It faded away with a lot of things in the church,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “But it was never given up. It was always there. We just want to people to return to the ideas they used to know.”

Evangelicals and Catholics Together (sort of)

Who would have thought that Albert Mohler would agree with Roman Catholic scholars on the perpetual virginity of Mary? Listen to Mohler preach James 1:1, then read this. Be amazed. Be amused.

Regarding Ratzinger’s Recent Resignation

Dear brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the holy church to the care of our supreme pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the cardinal fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new supreme pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer. —Pope Benedict XVI In honor of the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, and in recognition of his invocation of Mary as “Mediatrix of all graces,” and because I’ve got nothing else today, here’s an oldie from the archives: Not Quite the Magnificat

The Ecumenical Gospel

One of the ironies of ECT was that, among other things, the framers wanted to overcome relativism in the culture. However, they ended up relativizing the most important truth of allé─ţthe gospel. é─ţR. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 6. In 1994, a group of leading evangelicals and Roman Catholics met in an attempt to unite against the moral decay that they were observing. Of major concern were the issues of abortion and é─˙family values.é─¨ These certainly are issues on which people of all faiths can find common ground. However, the resulting document, known as Evangelicals & Catholics Together (ECT), included the declaration that evangelicals and Roman Catholics have a unity of faith in the gospel. In 1997, ECT was followed by ECT II, which attempted o address the objections of more reasonable evangelicals against ECT, particularly those regarding justification. The great failure of ECT II, according to R. C. Sproul, is that it left out the language of imputation. Christians believe, as Scripture plainly teaches, that the only righteousness believers possess is an imputed righteousness, without which no one can be justified. This is irreconcilable with the teaching of Rome, which is that, in addition to faith, one must become inherently righteous. Sproul explains: Trent said that God does not justify anyone until real righteousness inheres within the person. In other words, God does not declare a person righteous unless he or she is righteous. So, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, justification depends on a personé─˘s sanctification. By contrast, the Reformers said justification is based on the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus. The only ground by which a person can be saved is Jesusé─˘ righteousness, which is reckoned to him when he believes. . . . The doctrine of imputation is, for me, the nonnegotiable. In 1541, at the Colloquy of Regensburg, there were serious efforts by the magisterial Reformers to reconcile with Rome. They came close, but ultimately they could not reconcile their competing views on imputation. Luther stressed that the only righteousness believers have in the sight of God is an alien righteousness, that is, the righteousness of Christ that God imputes, or reckons, to them. They have no hope of becoming so inherently righteous that God will accept them. If I had to become inherently righteous before God would accept me, I would despair of Christianity tomorrow. é─ţIbid., 2é─ý3. In case the waters werené─˘t muddy enough, 2009 brought us The Manhattan Declaration which, without providing a clear definition of the gospel, called for Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians to unite in the gospel, implicitly declaring that there really is no substantive divide over what the gospel really is. Which makes The Manhattan Declaration just more of the same confused, gospel-denying ecumenism as ECT and ECT II.

Has Rome Reformed?

If I had a nickel for every time someone, often a pastor, told me how thankful he was for the changes that have occurred in Roman Catholicism, I wouldn’t be rich, but I could probably buy you lunch at a pretty nice place. R. C. Sproul, acknowledging that there have indeed been real changes, is neither thankful nor optimistic. ECT and similar efforts to make common cause with Roman Catholics are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of where the Roman Catholic Church is theologically and what it actually teaches. There is no question that the Roman Catholic Church has changed since the sixteenth century. But the changes have not closed the gap between Rome and Protestantism. Indeed, the differences are greater now. For instance, the formally defined proclamation of the infallibility of the pope and all of the Mariology statements have come since the Reformation. Neither has Rome backed down from any of the positions it took in the sixteenth-century debate. In the updated Catechism of the Catholic Church, released in the mid-1990s, the treasury of merit, purgatory, indulgences, justification through the sacraments, and other doctrines were reaffirmed. —R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 6. The Reformation is not irrelevant, nor is it over.

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, é─˙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.é─¨ In contrast, Rome claims that é─˙Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.é─¨ 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 é─˙righté─¨ 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: é─˙Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, [the council] decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,é─ţin matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine,é─ţwresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,é─ţwhose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,é─ţhath held and doth hold.é─¨ In other words, Trent declared that Romeé─˘s interpretation of Scripture is the only correct interpretation. When a Protestant presents a biblical interpretation, if it differs from Romeé─˘s 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. é─ţR. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 27é─ý28. 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.

No Second Plank

Rome teaches that justification is a sacerdotal (priestly) function of the church, which means that it is received through the sacraments. Through baptism, justifying grace is infused, as they say, ex opere operato, é─˙through the working of the work.é─¨ Protestants have interpreted this to mean é─˙automatically,é─¨ but that is not quite accurate. Rome does teach that faith is required for the sacrament to be efficacious. According to the Council of Trent, one must cooperate with and assent to (cooperare et assentare) the working of the sacrament, or at least, as would be the case with infants, receive it without resistance. In contrast to the biblical doctrine of imputation, in which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believeré─ţthat is, credited to him though he actually is not righteousé─ţthe righteousness of Christ is, through the sacrament received in faith, infused into the subject, actually making him righteous. This is necessary, becauseé─ţsays Romeé─ţGod will not declare righteous anyone who is not actually righteous. So, in baptism, one is made truly righteous, and therefore justified. The justification of Rome, however, can be lost. Through sin, infused grace can be diminished and even killed entirely. Those whose infused grace has only been diminished by é─˙venialé─¨ sin must go through purification in purgatory before entering heaven. A person who dies with unconfessed é─˙mortalé─¨ sin goes to hell. This is where penance, the é─˙second plank of justification,é─¨ comes in. Through the sacrament of penance, which includes é─˙contrition, confession, and then acts of satisfaction,é─¨ justifying grace can be restored. So, while it is trueé─ţcontrary to what many Protestants have understoodé─ţthat Rome teaches the necessity of faith, she denies the sufficiency of faith alone. Believers must be inherently righteous, and perfectly so, to enter heaven. This is what the Reformation was all about, and it is as important and relevant today as it was five hundred hears ago. R. C. Sproul writes: Much is at stake here. One of the most significant theological issues we can ever discuss is on the table. It is the question of what we must do to be saved. If I thought that I had to arrive at a state, no matter how much grace the church has for me, of pure righteousness without any imperfections in order to reach heaven, I would completely despair of ever having salvation. If my church taught this concept of justification, that would be horrible news, not good news. Thankfully, the Reformation affirmed the biblical gospel, the truth that the moment a person possesses saving faith, he is transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, his sins are taken away, he is declared to be just on the basis of the righteousness of Christ, and he is adopted into the family of God. There is no need for inherent righteousness, for purgatory, or for a second plank of justification. é─ţR. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 39.

Imputed, Not Imparted

Our family reading of The Good News We Almost Forgot goes well with yesterdayé─˘s post from Sproulé─˘s Are We Together?. With new visions and new perspectives on justification buzzing around the church today, ité─˘s crucial that we understand the historic Protestant (and I would say biblical!) explanation of justification. . . . First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Lutheré─˘s famous Latin phrase, which means é─˙at the same time, justified and a sinner.é─¨ The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate His commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of heaven, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based on our works but because we trust é─˙him who justifies the ungodlyé─¨ (Rom. 4:5). Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. é─˙Aliené─¨ doesné─˘t refer to an E.T. spirituality. It means we are justified because of a righteousness that is not our own. I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because é─˙the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christé─¨ has been credited to me. é─˙Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die,é─¨ wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is é─˙The Lord is our righteousnessé─¨ (Jer. 23:6). . . . Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christé─˘s righteousness is credited to our account. Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they would not allow. In fact, the Council of Trent from the sixteenth-century Catholic Counter-Reformation declared anathema those who believe in either justification by imputation or justification by faith alone. But evangelical faith has always held that é─˙all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.é─¨ True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. Thaté─˘s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is é─˙believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be savedé─¨ (Acts 16:31), not é─˙believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.é─¨ There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christé─˘s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone. é─ţKevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Moody Publishers, 2010), 115é─ý117.

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.

The “True Church” Gap

The early church father Cyprian (d. 258) developed a formula that is the seed of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the relationship between the church and salvation: “extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” which means “outside of the church, no salvation.” It’s a statement with which, on its face, I agree without reservation. The Roman meaning, however, stipulates the Roman Catholic institution as the true church. Therefore, outside of Roman Catholicism, there is no salvation. Over the years, Rome has attempted to soften this doctrine through loopholes that should make any lawyer proud. The latest iteration comes in the 1995 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which Rome states, regarding the affirmation that “outside the church there is no salvation”: How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 14). (Section 846) But this affirmation is followed immediately by a softening clause: This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience’those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 16). (847) —Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 64–65. That’s all very generous, I suppose, but the promise, as I read it, is that even I, outside of the mother church, can, by my own sincere intentions and efforts, achieve salvation—which does nothing to close the gap between Rome and the Reformation.
As previously discussed, Rome calls the sacrament of penance a “second plank of justification” for those who have made shipwreck of their faith by committing “mortal sin.” The sacrament of penance consists of three dimensions: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Contrition is genuine sorrow over having offended God (in contrast to attrition, which is sorrow over the consequences to self). Confession, obviously, is the act of confessing to sin. Christians agree with the necessity of contrition, as well as confession per se. The dimension of penance that separates Christians from Roman Catholics is satisfaction. In order to satisfy God’s justice, the penitent must perform works of satisfaction. These works may be as small as reciting a number of “Hail Marys,” or as great as making a pilgrimage or giving alms. This is whence the idea of indulgences comes. By performing certain acts, or giving alms, a truly penitent sinner earns a measure of merit, shortening his stay in purgatory. But where does Rome get the merit it dispenses? Is there a bank in which loose merit is stored up for a rainy day? Well, conveniently, yes! Rome calls it the treasury of merit, in which is deposited all the excess merit of supersaints (“works of supererogation”) who died with more merit than they needed in order to skip purgatory and go straight to heaven—and Rome holds the checkbook. This is no small error, but a repudiation of the gospel at its core. As Sproul writes: I believe that there is no concept within the Roman Catholic Church that is more basely repugnant to Protestants than the concept of the treasury of merit. A person who believes in justification by faith alone weeps at this notion. This is because Protestants also believe in a treasury of merit, one that is infinite and inexhaustible, but we believe that treasury is filled with the merit of the Son of God alone. The issue in the indulgences controversy is the sufficiency of Christ alone to redeem a person. According to Protestantism, justification happens on the basis of Christ’s merit credited to His people. For Rome, we are never finally saved until we have sufficient merit of our own. —R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 76.

Massive Heresy

Thursday··2013·03·07 · 1 Comments
Christians have two major objections to the Roman Catholic Mass. The first is the presumed repetition of the sacrifice of Christ. The celebration of the Mass is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as é─˙the Holy Sacrifice.é─¨ That has prompted Protestants to argue that if the bread is really the body of Christ and the priest breaks it, the church is ripping and tearing the body of Christ again when the Scriptures tell us that He was broken for us once and for all, that He was the final, full, sufficient sacrifice for the sin of His people (Heb. 7:27; 10:12é─ý14). Is not Christé─˘s body being mutilated again in the Mass? Are we not inflicting torment on the One who has finished His work of sacrifice? Rome nuances its teaching on the sacrificial aspect of the Mass, saying that it is an unbloody sacrifice and that it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ. However, the whole idea of any kind of sacrifice happening in new-covenant worship is repugnant to Protestants, who hold that the value, the significance, and the merit of Christé─˘s suffering on the cross was so great that to repeat it is to denigrate it. é─ţR. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012),79. The second is the doctrine of transubstantiation, in which the substance of bread and wine are literally transformed into the real, physical body and blood of Christ, without altering its outward appearance. On the surface, this is a revolting doctrine, but the theological implications are not so obvious. Sproul continues: Protestants also struggle with the question of how the human nature of Christ can be in more than one place at the same time. The Roman Catholic view essentially attributes the quality of omnipresence to the physical body of Jesus. If the Mass is being celebrated simultaneously in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, then, according to Roman Catholic teaching, His physical body and blood, which are part of His human nature, not part of His divine nature, are present in more than one place at the same time. Rome says this happens because there is a communication of power from the divine nature, which can be omnipresent, to the human nature. But once the human nature assumes the attributes of the divine nature, Rome has a problem with her own Christology. The Council of Chalcedon (451) defined the relationship of the two natures of Christ, saying that He is vera homo vera dues, that is, é─˙truly man and truly God,é─¨ and that the two natures are in perfect unity but without mixture, confusion, separation, or division, so that each nature retains its own attributes. So, Rome needs to explain how attributing omnipresence to the body of Christ does not involve a deification of the flesh of Jesus, giving it a divine attribute. How does that not confuse the two natures of Christ?* é─ţIbid., 78é─ý79. * For a fuller explanation, see Kingdom Feast, also by R. C. Sproul.


R C. Sproul on Roman Catholic Mariology, what they say vs. what they do, and what they say vs. the gospel: The basic question is whether the Roman Catholic preoccupation with Mary’the veneration of Mary, devotion to Mary, and so forth—adds up to Mariology or Mariolotry. To worship a human being, no matter how exemplary, faithful, and righteous he or she may be, is to engage in idolatry. Officially, the Roman Catholic Church does not sanction worship of Mary—but it comes very close. Rome sees a difference between what it calls latria and dulia. latria is the Greek word for worship, while dulia is the Greek word for service. Giving latria to something other than God would be to worship an idol. Giving dulia is simply to give service, obeisance, or veneration, which can be given to things other than God. Rome made this same distinction with regard to statues during the iconoclastic controversy in the Reformation era; it said that when people bowed down and prayed before images, they were not worshiping them, they were merely doing service, using them as means to stimulate their own worship. Rome insists that Mary is given dulia, not latria; she is venerated but not worshiped. However, for all practical purposes, I believe I can say without fear of ever being proven wrong that millions of Roman Catholic people today worship Mary. In doing so, they believe they are doing what the church is calling them to do. I grant that there is a legitimate technical distinction between latria and dulia, between worship and veneration, but it can be very hard to spot the line of separation. When people are bowing down before statues, that is of the essence of worship. The biggest issue in the whole Mariology debate is the sufficiency of Christ. In truth, this is the issue with Roman Catholic theology from beginning to end. It is the issue with Rome’s doctrine of Scripture, its doctrine of justification, and even here, with its doctrine of Mary. Is Christ alone our perfect sacrifice? Does He offer Himself for the sins of His people or is He offered by His mother? Does He alone achieve our redemption or does He have to depend upon the cooperation of His mother? Protestants believe that Christ alone is our justification. The Bible knows nothing of a parallel between Eve and Mary. It puts the emphasis on the parallel between Adam and Christ, who alone was the perfect sacrifice to undo what Adam caused once and for all. Finally, there is the eschatological issue. The doctrine of the bodily assumption of Mary holds that God, in His grace, took Mary to heaven, where she now participates in all of the benefits that Christ has promised His people. Rome has said that this doctrine assures us of our participation in the resurrection of Christ. But the New Testament roots and grounds our assurance in Jesus’ resurrection. We do not need another example; we simply need to believe the promises of Christ. By making this claim, Rome is adding to the New Testament witness that is the basis of our assurance of salvation and final redemption in Christ. This is an invention of men, not a result of the exegesis of the Word of God. —R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 114–116.
At the conclusion of Are We Together?, R. C. Sproul asks the important question, é─˙How then should we proceed?é─¨ We know that Roman Catholicism is outside of biblical Christianity. What should we do with this knowledge? How shall we live with the millions around us who are caught in this false religion, as fellow citizens of our earthly kingdoms, and as fellow bearers of the imago Dei? I am happy to make common cause with Roman Catholics on social issues, but we have no common cause in the gospel. Rome has compromised the gospel with her unbiblical doctrines. I firmly believe that she is é─˙teaching as doctrines the commandments of mené─¨ (Matt. 15:9). How then should we proceed? How should we relate to Roman Catholics? I believe that as individuals, we should reach out to Roman Catholics. We should love our neighbors who are in the Church of Rome. We should befriend them and spend time with them. By doing so, we earn the right to lovingly critique their views. As churches, we must stand for the biblical gospelé─ţand nothing more. It is our calling to hold high the truth and expose falsehood. To this end, it is essential that we know and understand what Rome is teaching, so distinctions can be made. It is important that the people in the pews be educated about what Protestants believe over against what Roman Catholics teach. Pastors should preach the gospel and point out ways in which it is twisted by men, including the Roman Catholic Church. I am not saying that every sermon must attack Rome, but given the attraction that Roman Catholicism is exerting on some Protestants, it is essential that its errors be exposed. By faithfully preaching the gospel, pastors will defend the Reformation. When our involvement in social issues brings us into contact and camaraderie with Roman Catholics, we need not draw back. But we must not assume that we are brothers and sisters with them in the gospel. They are members of a church that has anathematized the gospel, so we ought to pray for them and seek to reach them for Christ. . . . The Reformation is not over. It cannot be over and must not be over until all who call themselves Christians have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. The cause of sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria remains the cause of and for biblical truth. é─ţR. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 121é─ý122.

Apostolic Succession

The Nicene Creed describes the church with four words: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Concerning meaning of the latter, the church and Rome disagree. Mark Dever writes: The church is apostolic and is to be apostolic because it is founded on and is faithful to the Word of God given through the apostles. Early in Jesusé─˘ public ministry, Jesus é─˙called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostlesé─¨ (Luke 6: 13). Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus then prayed é─˙for those who will believe in me through their [the apostlesé─˘] messageé─¨ (John 17: 20). From the apostles until the present day, the gospel which they preached has been handed down. There has been a succession of apostolic teaching based on the Word of God. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that they had been é─˙built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstoneé─¨ (Eph 2: 20). The succession which followed the setting of this foundation may not always have involved a person-to-person transmission, but there has been a succession of faithful teaching of the truth. Writing to the Galatians, Paul stressed that their allegiance to the gospel message he had already given them superseded any allegiance to him personally (see Gal 1: 6é─ý9). What does that mean for today since the apostles are long gone? Some Protestants have been hesitant to affirm this attribute because the Roman Catholic Church has interpreted it as being tied to the authority of the bishop of Rome. Yet the apostlesé─˘ teaching rather than their persons are the focus of this attribute. Edmund Clowney put it succinctly: é─˙To compromise the authority of Scripture is to destroy the apostolic foundation of the church.é─¨ The physical continuity of a line of pastor-elders back to Christé─˘s apostles is insignificant compared to the continuity between the teaching in churches today and the teaching of the apostles. Only with the apostlesé─˘ teaching is the church é─˙the pillar and foundation of the truth,é─¨ as Paul described it to Timothy (1 Tim 3: 15). é─ţMark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (B & H, 2012), 18é─ý19.

Who knows? You can.

The story has often been told of the monk Martin Luther exasperating his confessor with hours of detailed confession. The burden of sin weighed heavily on Luther, and the Roman system of confession and penance could not relieve him of it. Steve Lawson writes: In an effort to ease Luther’s burden, Staupitz sent him on an official trip to Rome (1510). Luther hoped to find peace there by visiting sacred sites and venerating supposed relics of Christianity, but instead he discovered the gross abuses and masked hypocrisies of the priests. He became disillusioned with the corruption of the Roman church and disenchanted by the pilgrimages to adore religious relics. These objects included the rope with which Judas supposedly hanged himself, a reputed piece of Moses’ burning bush, and the alleged chains of Paul. Yet worse, it was claimed that the Scala Sancta (“the Holy Stairs”), the very steps that Jesus had descended from Pilate’s judgment hall, had been moved to Rome, and that God would forgive the sins of those who crawled up the stairs on their knees, kissing each step. Luther dutifully climbed the stairs in the appointed manner, but when he reached the top, he despaired: “At Rome, I wished to liberate my grandfather from purgatory, and went up the staircase of Pilate, praying a pater noster on each step; for I was convinced that he who prayed thus could redeem his soul. But when I came to the top step, the thought kept coming to me, ÔÇśWho knows whether this is true?’” —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 7–8. Luther’s doubts led him to dig into the Scriptures, which led him out of the bondage of Rome to freedom in Christ. Rome is once again—or, rather, still—offering indulgences (get yours here). Thousands will be flocking to Brazil this week to get theirs. We should pray that the thought will come to them, “Who knows whether this is true?”

No Clearer Book

Martin Luther insisted that Scripture was understandable by the common mind. Yet all Scripture is not equally clear or—by itself—understandable, nor is it accessible to every person. Steve Lawson writes: The Roman Catholic Church withheld the Bible from the common people, claiming they could not understand it. The pope and other leaders must interpret it for the laity, Rome said. But Luther maintained the very opposite. He said, “No clearer book has been written on earth than the Holy Scripture.” Again, he stated, “There is not on earth a book more lucidly written than the Holy Scripture.” Luther affirmed that the Word is crystal clear, plainly understandable for ordinary Christians. This is especially true in regard to the core message of the Bible, which, Luther stated, is clearly communicated by God in intelligible language for all to read. He asserted: “Scripture is intended for all people. It is clear enough so far as truths necessary for salvation are concerned.” This foundational belief led Luther to translate the Bible into the German language. He was certain that if the people could read it in their own language, they would grasp its essential message. He believed that Scripture is remarkably clear in what it teaches about salvation. Luther did not deny that some parts of the Bible are not easy to understand, but he attributed that difficulty to the reader, not Scripture itself: “I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of Scripture.” With proper study, he believed, all the content of the Bible could be grasped. Because of his belief that some biblical passages are more difficult to understand, he advised, “If you cannot understand the obscure, then stay with the clear.” Again, he said, “If the words are obscure at one place, yet they are clear at another place.” Luther believed that the verses that are clearer must interpret passages that are less clear to the human mind. By this principle, Luther asserted that Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. Nevertheless, Luther did recognize that Scripture is incomprehensible to those who are not born again: “If you speak of the internal clearness, no human being sees one iota of Scripture unless he has the Spirit of God. All men have a darkened heart. . . . The Spirit is required to understand the whole of Scripture and every part of it.” He believed in Scripture’s intrinsic clarity, but he also accepted the biblical teaching that those whose hearts have not been enlightened by the Holy Spirit are blind to the Bible’s message. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 36–37.

Let Your Conscience Be Your God

Friday··2013·09·13 · 1 Comments
Good news from Pope Francis (the humble pope) for conscientious infidels. In “An open dialogue with non-believers,” published in the Italian La Republica, he writes: First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. Given that - and this is fundamental - God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision. So it seems that the blue fairy was right. Protestants will be pleased to be reminded that this good news does not originate in the Vatican. Respected Protestants have said this before. Of course, there will always be unloving, heartless cranks, down on human nature, who insist on a narrow, exclusive religion: The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? —Jeremiah, Prophet, Spokesman for God I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. —Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah, Son of God, God Incarnate But those guys have never even been on television, so I wouldn’t pay too much attention to them.
Because, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, justification requires perfect inherent righteousness, sinners must be purged of any remaining impurities before entering heaven. This is where the doctrine of purgatory originates. Purgatory is nowhere mentioned in Scripture, but papists imagine it to be found in 1 Corinthians 3. MacArthur explains why that is a fatuous interpretation. Some claim that 1 Corinthians 3 describes purgatory, where the believer is put through a fiery judgement to purge out the dross of sin. But read that passage again. It describes the judgment of the believer’s works, to see if they are “ wood, hay, straw”or “gold, silver, precious stones” (v. 12). At issue is whether our works endure or are tested in the purging fire. This is the judgment that will take place in the eschatological future at the judgment seat of Christ. It is not describing on ongoing state of purgatory that believers pass through on their way to heaven: Each one’s work will become manifest for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (vv. 13–15) Notice again, that only the works, not the believers themselves, must go through the fire. Also note that rewards are what is at issue—not endurance to heaven. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 91.

Glorification versus Purgatory

If sanctification was our final transformation before eternity, we would surely be in need of some kind of purgatory before entering heaven, because sanctification in this life is incomplete. MacArthur writes, [T]he holiness our sanctification produces could never be sufficient to fit us for heaven by itself. In heaven we will be perfectly Christlike. Sanctification is the earthly process of growth by which we press toward that goal; glorification is the instantaneous completion of it. God graciously, summarily glorifies us and admits us into his presence. . . . there is no waiting period, no soul sleep, and no purgatory. Misunderstanding on this point runs deep. No less a scholar than C. S. Lewis wrote, Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know.”—“Even so, sir.” Lewis was no theologian. He was prone (like too many Anglicans) to water down the clarity of biblical truth with Roman Catholic tradition. But this is surely one of his most glaring and baffling errors. It is as if he were totally oblivious to the biblical promise of glorification. Once more: Nothing in Scripture even hints at the notion of purgatory, and nothing indicates that our glorification will in any way be drawn out or painful. On the contrary, as we have seen repeatedly from Scripture, the moment a believer dies, his soul is instantly glorified and he enters God’s presence. To depart this world is to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). And upon seeing Christ, we become like him. It is a graceful, peaceful, painless, instantaneous transition. Paul says to be absent from the body is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 136–137.
My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. —Luke 1:46–47 This is what every Roman Catholic needs to hear this season: Mary needed a Savior; so do I, and so do you. The mighty God reaches down in mercy, lifting the humble to greatness. Mary herself was the perfect example. No one was lowlier than she was—a poor, young peasant girl from Nazareth. She was nobody from nowhere, and she knew it. She was also a sinner, which is why she praised God as her Savior. This is one of LukeÔÇÖs favorite titles for Jesus. Mary used it because she needed to be saved as much as anyone else. And by his grace god saved her. He saw her lowly condition. He did great things for her, such as putting a child in her virgin womb, and sending his Son to be her Savior. God reached down and saved her. This is why all generations call Mary blessed: she was blessed by the undeserved favor of a merciful God. —Philip Ryken, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 76.

Give Up Giving Up for Lent

Friday··2014·03·07 · 1 Comments
Having grown up Lutheran, I am accustomed to the observation of Lent. As far as I can remember, however, I don’t think anyone in my church was fasting or giving anything up. The Roman Catholics in our communities did, of course, but that was them, and I thought it was just another Papist oddity, and enjoyed pulling Slim Jims out of my pockets on Friday when everyone else was eating fish (which, let me remind you, is meat, no matter how you fry it). In all my years living in predominantly Lutheran and Roman Catholic communities, I never knew why anyone would give anything up for Lent. I only knew that they did it. I only recently learned that it is done in order to identify with the suffering of Christ. Now, having observed or read fairly extensively on liberalism, postmodernism, the charismatic movement, etc., I am not easily shocked by the foolishness concocted by pseudochristian sects and movements; indeed, I am no longer usually shocked by the horrors that exist within nominal evangelicalism (Beth Moore, anyone?). But this really took me aback. How could anyone be so crass as to think that giving up chocolate can in any way identify them with the sacrifice of the cross? How could anyone think that any sacrifice they can contrive could ever, in any way, be compared to the suffering of Christ? Note well: We have no idea how exquisite was the suffering of Christ. If you saw The Passion of the Christ, you still have no idea how Christ suffered—none at all. All you saw was a brutal execution like thousands of others—all gore, no gospel. What Christ suffered cannot be displayed visually, which is why—second commandment aside—God gave us a book, not a movie. While we can know what he suffered, because Scripture tells us, we will never fathom the degree of the suffering. What Christ suffered was the curse of God. He “became sin for us,” and bore the full wrath of God against sin on our behalf. What was that like? I have no idea, but I do know that nothing I have ever suffered, will ever suffer, or could ever suffer—short of hell itself—is worth mentioning in comparison. Even if I was crucified exactly as Christ was, I would still have no way of knowing how he suffered. Knowing what Christ suffered, and knowing that we can’t fathom the depth his experience, should remove any illusions of identifying with that suffering by a few weeks of pretentious “sacrifice.” To give up any earthly pleasure on the pretext of identifying with Christ’s suffering is an insult to the Savior. It is to downgrade the enormity of the sin he bore, and to belittle the atonement that he made for his people. It is no act of worship, no matter how sincere the intent. It is no less than blasphemous. I hope you will fully embraced the Reformation, and eschew Lent altogether. At the very least, I hope you will give up this ignorant, pretentious, irreverent custom.

Pre-Reformation Ignorance

Ryle describes the spiritual state of England before the Reformation: Before the Reformation, one leading feature of English religion was dense ignorance. There was among all classes a conspicuous absence of all knowledge of true Christianity. A gross darkness overspread the land, a darkness that might be felt. Not one in a hundred could have told you as much about the Gospel of Christ as we could now learn from any intelligent Sunday School child. We need not wonder at this ignorance. The people had neither schools nor Bibles. Wycliffe’s New Testament, the only translation extant till Henry VIII’s Bible was printed, cost £2 16s. 3d.* of our money. The prayers of the Church were in Latin, and of course the people could not understand them. Preaching there was scarcely any. Quarterly sermons indeed were prescribed to the clergy, but not insisted on. Latimer says that while Mass was never to be left unsaid for a single Sunday, sermons might be omitted for twenty Sundays, and nobody was blamed. After all, when there were sermons, they were utterly unprofitable: and latterly to be a preacher was to be suspected of being a heretic. To cap all, the return that Hooper got from the diocese of Gloucester, when he was first appointed Bishop in 1551, will give a pretty clear idea of the ignorance of Pre-Reformation times. Out of 311 clergy of his diocese, 168 were unable to repeat the Ten Commandments; 31 of the 168 could not state in what part of Scripture they were to be found; 40 could not tell where the Lord’s prayer was written; and 31 of the 40 were ignorant who was the author of the Lord’s prayer! If this is not ignorance, I know not what is. If such were the pastors, what must the people have been! If this was the degree of knowledge among the parsons, what must it have been among the people! —J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 62. * I.e., in 1890. Current value (2017), about $366 US dollars, by my estimation.

The Blood of a Duck and the Girdle of Mary

Added to the gross ignorance of the times before the Reformation was a deep-seeded superstition fostered, through deliberate deception, by the religious order of the day. Men and women in those days had uneasy consciences sometimes, and wanted relief. They had sorrow and sickness and death to pass through, just like ourselves. What could they do? Whither could they turn? There was none to tell them of the love of God and the mediation of Christ, of the glad tidings of free, full, and complete salvation, of justification by faith, of grace, and faith, and hope, and repentance. They could only turn to the priests, who knew nothing themselves and could tell nothing to others. . . . In a word, the religion of our ancestors . . . was little better than an organized system of Virgin Mary worship, saint worship, image worship, relic worship, pilgrimages, almsgivings, formalism, ceremonialism, processions, prostrations, bowings, crossings, fastings, confessions, absolutions, masses, penances, and blind obedience to the priests. It was a grand higgledy-piggledy of ignorance and idolatry, and service done to an unknown God by deputy. The only practical result was that the priests took the people’s money, and undertook to ensure their salvation, and the people flattered themselves that the more they gave to the priests, the more sure they were of going to heaven. The catalogue of gross and ridiculous impostures which the priests practised on the people would fill a volume, and I cannot of course do more than supply a few specimens. At the Abbey of Hales, in Gloucestershire, a vial was shown by the priests to those who offered alms, which was said to contain the blood of Christ. On examination, in King Henry VIII’s time, this notable vial was found to contain neither more nor less than the blood of a duck, which was renewed every week. At Bexley, in Kent, a crucifix was exhibited, which received peculiar honour and large offerings, because of a continual miracle which was said to attend its exhibition. When people offered copper, the face of the figure looked grave; when they offered silver, it relaxed its severity; when they offered gold, it openly smiled. In Henry VIII’s time this famous crucifix was examined, and wires were found within it by which the priests could move the face of the image, and make it assume any expression that they pleased. . . . At Bruton Priory, in Somersetshire, was kept a girdle of the Virgin Mary, made of red silk. This solemn relic was sent as a special favour to women in childbirth, to insure them a safe delivery. The like was done with a white girdle of Mary Magdalene, kept at Farley Abbey, in Wiltshire. In neither case, we may be sure, was the relic sent without a pecuniary consideration. Records like these are so silly and melancholy that one hardly knows whether to laugh or to cry. But it is positively necessary to bring them forward, in order that men may know what was the religion of our forefathers before the Reformation. Wonderful as these things may sound in our ears, we must never forget that Englishmen in those times knew no better. A famishing man, in sieges and blockades, has been known to eat mice and rats rather than die of hunger. A soul famishing for lack of God’s Word must not be judged too harshly if it struggles to find comfort in the most grovelling superstition. —J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 63–65.

Images as “Books”

Writing against images of God, Calvin addresses the Roman Catholic assertion that “images are the books of the uneducated.” This is a lame excuse, says Calvin, when used by those who are to blame for said ignorance by withholding the Word from the masses. But whence, I pray you, this stupidity if not because they are defrauded of that doctrine which alone was fit to instruct them? indeed, those in authority in the church turned over to idols the office of teaching for no other reason than that they themselves were mute. Paul testifies that by the true preaching of the gospel “Christ is depicted before our eyes as crucified” [Gal. 3:1 p.]. What purpose did it serve for so many crosses—of wood, stone, silver, and gold—to be erected here and there in churches, if this fact had been duly and faithfully taught: that Christ died on the cross to bear our curse [Gal. 3:13], to expiate our sins by the sacrifice of his body [Heb. 10:10], to wash them by his blood [Rev. 1:5], in short, to reconcile us to God the Father [Rom. 5:10]? From this one fact they could have learned more than from a thousand crosses of wood or stone. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.11.7.

Angel Worship

According to Roman Catholicism, angels as well as saints are appropriate recipients of prayer. Calvin, and Scripture, say otherwise. It remains for us to cope with that superstition which frequently creeps in, to the effect that angels are the ministers and dispensers of all good things to us. For at once, man’s reason so lapses that he thinks that no honor ought to be withheld from them. Thus it happens that what belongs to God and Christ alone is transferred to them. Thus we see that Christ’s glory was for some ages past obscured in many ways, when contrary to God’s Word unmeasured honors were lavished upon angels. And among those vices which we are today combating, there is hardly any more ancient. For it appears that Paul had a great struggle with certain persons who so elevated angels that they well-nigh degraded Christ to the same level. Hence he urges with very great solicitude in the letter to the Colossians that not only is Christ to be preferred before all angels but that he is the author of all good things that they have [Col. 1:16, 20]. This he does that we may not depart from Christ and go over to those who are not self-sufficient but draw from the same well as we. Surely, since the splendor of the divine majesty shines in them, nothing is easier for us than to fall down, stupefied, in adoration of them, and then to attribute to them everything that is owed to God alone. Even John in Revelation confesses that this happened to him, but at the same time he adds that this answer came to him [chs. 19:10; 22:8–9]: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you . . . Worship God.” —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.14.10.

Going to Confession

Confession is not a frivolous matter to be engaged in only at appointed times and dates throughout the year. Confession should be a daily activity for the Christian, whose entire pilgrimage is characterized by the spirit of repentance. The principal reason why confession must be on a daily basis is because our sins against divine law are committed on a daily basis. We do things we ought not to do and leave undone those things God commands us to do. We run up a daily indebtedness before God. Consequently, our daily prayers must include genuine acts of confession. It is no accident that the Roman Catholic Church elevated the rite of penance to the level of a sacrament. Because the sacrament of penance was at the eye of the tornado of the Protestant Reformation, a backlash of negativism toward penitence set in among Protestants. It was a classic case of overreaction . . . The Reformers sought not the elimination of repentance and confession, but the reformation of the church’s practice of these things. . . . In the controversy over penance, the Protestant Reformers did not repudiate the importance of confession, and they acknowledged that confessing one’s sins to another human being is biblical. However, they did challenge the requirement of confession to a priest. . . . The apostle John tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, KJV). Here we find the promise of God to forgive our confessed sins. To ignore or to neglect this promise is to steer a perilous course. God commands us to confess our sins and promises to forgive our sins. That we should confess our sins daily is clear. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 52–53, 54–55.

Deeds of the Law

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. —Romans 3:19–20 Critics of sola fide are fond of pointing out that Paul doesn’t use the precise words “faith alone” But there’s no escaping his meaning: the immediate context makes it plain. Remember that final, devastating point in Paul’s lengthy discourse on sin: “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). In other words, works are worthless for justification. Paul’s very next statement is that “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, [is granted] to all and on all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). That is a clear affirmation of the principle of sola fide. Most Roman Catholic theologians (and a fairly recent strain of nominal Protestants who reject the principle of sola fide) have claimed that when Paul speaks of “the deeds of the law,” he means only the formal rituals and other ceremonial features of the law—circumcision, rules governing ceremonial cleanness, and such. But Paul’s use of this phrase simply cannot be narrowed down that way, in a heretical effort to give sinners some credit for their salvation. In Romans 7, for example, when Paul wanted to illustrate the law’s utter inability to justify sinners, the one precept he chose to single out as an example is the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7; cf. Ex. 20:17). Coveting is arguably the least of all the sins named in the Decalogue. It deals with desire. Resisting or committing that sin is not something that entails any kind of action. So when Paul speaks of the deeds of the law,” he is using that expression in the broadest possible sense. His meaning cannot be limited to the rituals and ceremonial features of the law. Quite the contrary: the expression “deeds of the law” as Paul consistently employs it would include any thought, action, or attitude that aims to gain God’s approval through a show of obedience to the Old Testament’s 613 commandments. No matter how rigorously the sinner tries to follow the law, seeking justification before God that way is a futile exercise. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 61–62.

The Long Line

Speaking with converts to Roman Catholicism, I am told that the Roman Catholic church is the church Christ founded, and is therefore the true Church. Their perspective sees Catholicism as all there ever was before that upstart, Luther, went astray. In his book, Pillars of Grace, Steve Lawson exposes the fallacy of that view, showing that the Reformation was not the result of a Sixteenth Century spontaneous combustion, but of a divine fanning of a flame kept burning, though low at times, from the beginning. Though the gospel was corrupted, abandoned, and even repudiated by the Roman church, it was never lost to God’s elect. From Clement of Rome in the first century to Calvin of Geneva in the sixteenth, there is a progression in the church’s understanding of the doctrines of grace, a gradual maturation in the comprehension of these glorious truths. What began as mere restatements of Scripture grew into fuller descriptions of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. . . . Admittedly, these stalwarts had feet of clay. Though they helped bring great clarity to the church regarding many essential truths, they were capable of holding views that contradicted their own teachings. . . . They were not perfect men possessing infallible understanding. Rather they were flawed figures with fallible minds. But when it came to the truths about salvation, there was considerable unity in their growing understanding of sovereign grace. Throughout the first sixteen centuries of the church, this long line of godly men increasingly asserted the key aspects of God’s sovereignty in saving grace. A growing consensus concerning Scripture’s teaching on the doctrines of grace gradually emerged. From mere traces of these biblical truths in the teachings of the early centuries, the church’s understanding developed with time and came into greater focus. In spite of their many imperfections, God used these figures, to varying degrees, to document, define, and defend the doctrines of grace. In no period of history has God left Himself without a witness. In the second through fourth centuries, the Church Fathers spoke these truths, though they needed greater clarification. In the fifth century, God raised up Augustine, who brought further illumination to these doctrines. In the Dark Ages, this noble procession wore thin. Throughout the late medieval period, stalwarts for sovereign grace were often few. But in the Protestant Reformation, teachers of the doctrines of grace were plentiful and prolific. Through it all, God maintained a line of godly men, those who upheld the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). Throughout the flow of church history, God remains faithful to His cause. As Lord of the church, He guarantees the success of His truth. As the Author of Scripture, He ensures the triumph of His theology. From His throne above, our sovereign Lord sends forth faithful messengers to proclaim His supreme authority. By His Holy Spirit, God prepares the hearts of His people to embrace the teaching of sovereign grace, all in His perfect timing. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 37–38.

Made Forever Common

John Wycliffe (ca. 1330–1384) is best known for his translation of the Bible from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate to English. The Roman Catholic hierarchy had, until then, intentionally kept the Scriptures from the common people, and was not at all happy with Wycliffe. Canon of Leicester and historian Henry Knighton did not conceal his anger. The attitude of the clergy towards the common folk, and their self-ordained position as dispensers of grace, is plainly displayed in the following complaint: Christ delivered his gospel to the clergy and doctors of the church, that they might administer to the laity and to weaker persons, according to the state of the times, and the wants of man. But this master John Wickliffe translated it out of Latin into English, and thus laid it more open to the laity, and to women who can read, than it formerly had been to the most learned of the clergy, even to those of them who had the best understanding. . . . And in this way the gospel pearl is cast abroad, and trodden under foot of swine, and that which was before precious both to clergy and laity, is rendered as it were the common jest in both! The jewel of the church is turned into this sport of the people, and what was hitherto the principal gift of the clergy and divines, is made for ever common. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 364. We, of course, are very grateful.


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