This evening John Ankerberg will examine what Roman Catholicism teaches concerning the doctrine of justification and what are the issues surrounding this doctrine that divide Catholics and Protestants today. The doctrine of justification deals with the question how can a sinful person be accepted by a holy and righteous God. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants agree that this doctrine is important since if a man seeks to be forgiven in a way in which he cannot be forgiven, then he won’t be forgiven. Both Catholics and Protestants agree that the benefits and merits of Christ are necessary for a man to receive justification but where Catholics and Protestants disagree is how do the merits of Christ become mine.
Catholicism carried to its logical conclusion is a denial of justification by faith in the context of Romans 4 and 5 because it involves works as a means of merit. And where we disagree is precisely there because we understand the scriptures to also say that those acts of obedience to the commandments are part of that process of justification. The Roman Catholic doctrine itself teaches that man cooperates by faith and works for redemption whereas biblical theology says it’s by grace we have been saved through faith, not by ourselves, it’s the gift of God, not by works, lest anyone should boast. As Saint James says faith alone is not enough, faith without good works is insufficient because the justification that the Catholic church talks about is not as Luther taught, merely imputed.
Walter, are you saying this: If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, are you saying that? Are you saying that a man is justified by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ? Romans 4. Absolutely.
Trent says that man’s anathema. Whereas the Catholic church is trying to say, instead of imputation it’s rather a transformation of the inner person. I think we agree that the Catholic church is saying that. What we’re saying is: Is that what the scripture exactly in Romans 3, 4 is saying? If God is saying something different than Trent at that point, then we should stick with the scripture. You are justified by faith because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and the root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God. The question is: Is it a beginning transaction or is it a final transaction? I think that’s what we disagree. Right, this is the point. What you just read: faith is the beginning of the transaction right? Yeah. No! For by grace (past tense), you have already been saved through faith, not by yourselves, not by anything working in you, nothing like that, no transformation in you.
John’s guests are Father Mitchell Pacwa, an ordained Roman Catholic priest who is a member of the society of Jesus. A Jesuit, he has an earned doctor of philosophy degree and is currently a professor at Loyola University in Chicago. John’s second guest is Protestant scholar Dr Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute in California. Please join us for this discussion.
The whole idea of a New Testament and the whole idea of the reformation was look, you cannot get right standing with God by human effort or by any sacerdotal system; you’re going to get it by a relationship to Christ. And you said that yesterday very forcefully, you said you were trying to teach people not WHAT but WHO and that the the core of Christianity was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit by which we know we have passed out of death into life. Now this is the crux of the reformation. When the reformers said you are justified by faith, they were not trying to say the sinful nature was eradicated or man didn’t need it; they weren’t saying that. They were saying this is what God did for you; you can’t do it for yourself. See that this is the point that I think we have to recognize. The moment that you take Trent’s position and really ram it home, you run smack into Romans 4 and you run smack into first John which tells you Christ is the propitiation for all our sins and not for ours only for the sins of the whole world.
Textbooks are quoted in Trent and a couple things on that. First of all, I agree with Trent that it’s not a confusion of justification, sanctification. To see that because it is part of a relationship…But you’re not going to make the mistake of making justification Romans 4, which is an act of God, right pure and simple. Absolutely. You can’t make that as something intrinsic to man because he infuses grace into us, then you’ve got sanctification and justification as two parts of the same thing. Well that’s exactly what Trent did. I know and that’s exactly what I agree with. We have been redeemed in Christ, we have been justified by faith. The justification by works which you’re referring to is progressive in the life of the believer as a result of sanctification because it’s the Spirit that works in us to transform us into the image of Christ. Because of that we are able to perform good works. Well I don’t see where Trent says something different except in saying that that is part of the same process of justification.
Let me give you Trent and see if we can define it here.” If anyone says that by faith alone the sinner is justified in such wise as to mean that nothing else is required…” which is what Walter is saying. Nothing on our part is required, Jesus did it all. It doesn’t depend on us or what God does in us at that point; it depends on Jesus. Okay, Trent is saying “if anyone says that by faith alone the sinner is justified and in wise as to mean that nothing else is required to cooperate…” That man’s got to cooperate in order for the obtaining of the grace of justification, that man’s to be anathema. We’re saying that man does not have to do something in cooperation to have God justify him. You don’t have to say “yes” to the grace? Do you have to say “yes” to the grace of Christ or not? I would say for by grace or you say through faith. You have to make that act of faith by your will? Yes. That is something that you are doing. That is your will doing it because it is Christ that gives us a command to repent. Yeah but if God doesn’t jiggle your willer by grace, you aren’t going to do it. And again the council Trent does not teach otherwise.
Let me give you an example here. Let’s stick with the actual teachings of the Catholic church. Walter, are you saying this: If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, are you saying that a man is justified by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ? Romans 4, absolutely. Okay Trent says that man’s anathema. What do they mean by the word “imputation”? Not the way he’s explaining it. I don’t agree with what your explanation is but I know what you’re saying. Well I think the key word there is “imputation”. In other words they’re saying that it’s just something that is put over you in a legal way. That’s a simple declaration in the way that the nominalist, philosophers just would impute something to a person whereas the Catholic church is trying to say instead of imputation it’s rather a transformation of the inner person. I think we agree that the Catholic church is saying. What we’re saying is: Is that what the scripture exactly in Romans 3 and 4 is saying? If God is saying something different than Trent at that point then we should stick with the scripture. If that’s the only scripture. But that’s not the only scripture.
Protestants have at least an explanation for James 2 that will reconcile with Romans 3 and 4. I have never Roman Catholic reconcile Romans 3 and 4. Did you read the rest of the chapters in the succession of Trent? The way they deal with that in the same paragraph is: we are justified by faith because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and the root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God. The question is: Is it a beginning transaction or is it a final transaction? I think that’s what we disagree. Right this is the point. What you just read “faith is the beginning of a transaction” right” Yeah. No for by grace (past tense) you have already been saved through faith, not by yourselves, not by anything working in you, nothing like that, no transformation in you, you have been saved by grace outside yourself, which reaches down, redeems you and then justifies you. And the transformation of the Spirit coming into us in the new birth makes us in the image of Christ. We become new creations in Christ Jesus. What Trent is saying is that faith is the beginning of the transaction of justification but what the text is saying is that salvation is by grace; that’s the initial act of God. Grace proceeds from mercy, mercy proceeds from love, the nature of God. Now we’re transformed by the power of grace. That’s why the emphasis in Ephesians 2 is “by grace you have already been saved”, you’re not working for it. You see this Catholic catechism here, since Vatican 2 specifically says that Paul’s wrong and I just cannot understand how Trent or they can say it. “If we follow Christ we shall never place anyone or anything above God. We shall love and serve him alone and in doing this, we shall save our soul, we shall earn heaven, we shall have happiness with God forever.” But if you can earn heaven, if righteousness comes by the efforts of man, Paul says, Christ died for nothing. If though that at the same time Christ in for instance in Matthew 6 you know it talks about having merits, fasting, merits by prayer, merits by alms giving and Jesus himself uses that term, then is there not necessarily some form of merit?
Can I ask a question: In rabbinic and rabbinical rhetoric, what is the context of Matthew 6? To whom is it addressed specifically? He’s addressing it to the disciples in the context of the crowds to explain how not to pray, how not to give alms and how not to fast. And all of it is in the context of Judaism as it was then abused. Now we’re moving out of the concept of law, the covenant of law which emphasized meritorious behavior. Job was a righteous man, why? Well he not only believed God but he also offered sacrifices. Your point changes in the New Testament because you are no longer under a covenant of law as were the Jews. Now you’re in the covenant of grace. Grace does not exclude obedience to God but grace is what redeems, not the concept of piling up merits.
Again Trent in the same paragraph says that too. You know it said “we are said to be justified gratuitously because none of the things that precede justification whether faith or works merit the grace of justification.” We don’t so we don’t teach in Catholicism that you can merit the grace of justification at all. And Trent specifically rejects that. But there is room for merit because Christ himself gives that room by saying that you need to merit properly. But not as a means of redemption. That’s what they say here, that it does not matter. If it doesn’t, then the act of justification itself outside of man is sufficient. If you can’t do anything to improve justification, what God did in Romans 4 with Abraham is kaput, it’s over.
Here again, they’ve just defined the term justification to include the acts of love without which you cannot know God and obeying the commandments. That was my point, what they did was under justification, which Paul doesn’t do, he teaches sanctification separately after redemption, not as a means of redemption. But at the same time says that unless you have those acts of sanctification you cannot be saved. Because they’re the fruit or the evidence of the justification. Necessary to be saved. No. Can you know God without love? No you cannot know God without love and you cannot fulfill the will of God or the law of God without love. Can you know Christ without obeying all his commandments? Yeah because you do it every day of your life and so do I. Well what did Jesus himself say? Don’t get him out of context and he said “If you love me keep my commandments. He that keeps my commandments is he that loves me.” but he made provision for the fact that we as mortals obviously we sin. Otherwise you wouldn’t be hearing confessions. So people sin, they get resolution in the name of Christ because they’re imperfect. They’re failures, they’re sinners like everybody else. You and I are too so our salvation is by grace, through faith and unto the production of works which testify to what God did for us, not what we did for ourselves. And what we disagree is precisely there because we understand the scriptures to also say that those acts of obedience to the commandments are part of that process of justification whereby if we omit that at any point…Like John 5 makes a distinction in different kinds of sin but if one commits serious sin one can cut oneself off from Christ and you know thereby lose one’s justification. That’s the Armenian position. I’m familiar with this but that’s not my point. My point is deeper than that position. The point that I’m trying to make is that if we’re justified freely by grace, we’re justified by faith, if we’re transformed by the power of God, we become new creations in Christ. If all of this takes place, it is by God’s grace. Now if you’re going to go on from there as Trent does and talk about the act of sanctification and obedience to the commandments of God and so forth, you really got a dead end because the scripture says in James, which you’re fond of quoting, whosoever offendeth in one point of the law is guilty of all. Now you haven’t committed adultery but you’ve lied, you’re guilty of the law. The whole thing comes crashing down on your head. Now what is sin but transgression of the law. All unrighteousness is sin. You and I and everybody else professing Christians perform acts of unrighteousness in specific categories whether mortal or venial, we transgress the law. By transgressing the law, we testify that the law is holy, righteous, just and good and that salvation has to be by grace because we ain’t keeping it.
And again, Catholics don’t deny that it’s by grace, the grace of Christ, but the thing that we have difficulty in going with you to say that I can claim to be saved is Paul the great teacher of faith refuses to claim that he’s saved. He won’t teach that about himself. He says for instance in the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians chapter 9 ”I know in whom I have believed and I’m persuaded he’s able to keep what I’ve committed to him against that day. Neither death nor life, angels, principalities, nor powers, height nor depth, anything in all creation shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s security. The one thing that he doesn’t include in that list is himself. “And I am persuaded…” No, he doesn’t include himself as one of the things that can keep him from separating from Christ so he says here in 1st Corinthians 9. “but I do not run uncertainly and I don’t fight like one who beats the air but I keep my body under subjection lest by any means after having preached to others I myself am disapproved.” I’m not arguing calvinism. I’m simply saying I don’t think that a man who writes multiple passages in his 13 epistles about what it is to pass out of death into life, what it is to be justified by grace, justified by faith and he keeps using the word “saved” in the past tense, yes I can’t believe that the man in one verse is going to say lest I myself after having done all of this I’m now unsaved.
That again is where we disagree, that he can say both and this is kind of being fiddlers on the roof, keeping this crazy balance that you know Catholics are trying to do. That yes, you have to have confidence in Christ and to commit despair is a sin and to say to despair of Christ in any way is something that we do not advocate at all. But at the same time, like Paul who is concerned that he’d be disqualified or taken away, cast away from the race or disapproved, that we also have to say “No I cannot be confident that I am faithful now or will always be faithful.” The word is not “lost” there, in the Greek it is “disapproved from a race”. This is the main loss. It doesn’t mean “lost” as such but it does not mean “win” either.
We need to have a final wrap-up statement from both of you here. I’ve let you go longer than we should and I want a final wrap-up statement.
Father Pacwa: Okay the the thing that I would say is that Catholicism is trying to protect two things. On one hand, the first and foremost grace of Christ as absolutely essential and human will to be able to accept that grace and a third thing to see that this process of justification is one of complete transformation of the person. And until we meet Christ we can’t be positive that we’re saved but neither should we despair of it. We can’t be in despair either.
Walter: Catholicism carried to its logical conclusion is a denial of justification by faith in the context of Romans 4 and 5 because it involves works as a means of merit. The Roman Catholic doctrine itself teaches that man cooperates by faith and works for redemption whereas biblical theology says it’s by grace we have been saved through faith, not by ourselves, it’s the gift of God, not by works, lest anyone should boast. So for me to carry it to a logical conclusion, I having gone to Catholic schools as you have, I’ve been trained in it, know perfectly well that I was taught, and I’m sure you were too, that you have faith in Jesus Christ and you work like a beaver because if you don’t, purgatory.