Justification by faith alone, as briefly described in the preceding editorial, is the heart of the gospel of grace. This is compromised, and thus effectively denied, by the movement, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT).
In order to understand what this compromise is, as well as the seriousness of it, we must remind ourselves of the error warned against in the book of Romans and especially in the book of Galatians.
Romans 3 and 4 warn against the sinner’s working in order to be righteous. All our working and all our own works are excluded from the only righteousness that is acceptable with God. Romans 4:5 warns that if a man works to be justified, he will not be justified: “To him that worketh not … his faith is counted for righteousness.” Clearly implied is that for righteousness one may not add any of his own works to his faith in Jesus Christ. If he does add a work of his own to the work of Christ for him, he is not justified.
This is the explicit warning of the book of Galatians. The error of the Galatians was not that they rejected faith in Jesus Christ as the way to be justified. Rather, they added a work of their own to faith in Jesus Christ as the way to be righteous with God. The work that they added was circumcision. The error, therefore, that the apostle exposed and condemned was that of teaching and practicing justification by faith and works. To put it differently, it was the error of adding a work of their own to the work of Christ for them as making up their righteousness with God.
When the apostle declares in Galatians 2:16 that a man is justified by the faith of Christ “and not by the works of the law,” the meaning is three-fold. First, a man is not justified by his own works of obeying any part of the law of God, whether moral or ceremonial. Second, a man is not justified by his own works that are added to the work of Christ for him. Third, a man is not justified by his own works that he performs by the power of the Spirit of Christ within him, which works are then added to the work of Christ for him.
The wickedness of the Galatians was that they were trusting mainly in Jesus Christ and His cross and partly in something they themselves did.
Exactly this was the Roman Catholic error concerning justification at the Reformation, and exactly this is the error of the Roman Catholic Church still today.
Rome has never denied that a sinner is justified by God’s grace through faith on the basis of Christ’s work. On the contrary, Rome has always affirmed this. The Roman Catholic theologian Avery Dulles is deceptive and misleading, therefore, when, in defending ECT, he encourages Protestants to “put to rest any suspicions that Catholics consider it possible to be justified by good works without grace and faith” (“The Unity for Which We Hope,” in Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, ed. Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus [Word, 1995], p. 138).
No knowledgeable Protestant ever had such suspicions. Protestants do not suppose that Roman Catholics think it possible to be justified by works without grace and faith. We are well aware that Rome teaches that sinners are justified by grace and faith—and the sinner’s own good works. This is the error of Rome. Just this! The adding of works to faith and grace for righteousness with God.
Rome has always taught that a man’s own works are necessary for justification in addition to the faith in Christ by which Christ’s works for him become his own. Roman teaching is that justification begins with a sinner’s cooperating with God’s grace by his alleged free-will. God responds by infusing His grace into the sinner, so that he can do good works. Then, partly on the basis of Christ’s work and partly on the basis of the sinner’s own good works, the sinner is forgiven and rewarded with eternal life.
According to Rome, justification is by faith and by works. A sinner’s righteousness with God is partly the obedience of Jesus Christ and partly his own obedience. For righteousness and salvation, therefore, the sinner trusts in Jesus Christ and in himself.
This doctrine of justification by faith and works Rome has confessed in her creed, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent.
Justification … is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend.
The article continues with the acknowledgment that the righteousness of justification consists of “the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ (which) are communicated” to us. But not only of these merits, the article is quick to add. The righteousness of justification consists also of “the charity of God (that) is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein.”
According to the Roman creed, righteousness with God in the matter of justification is, in part, our own love for God and the neighbor, including the works which we do to express this “charity,” or love. Therefore, this article on justification in the Roman Catholic creed finds it appropriate, indeed necessary, to admonish us to “hear that word of Christ: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Sixth Session, Chap. 7). The way to be righteous with God is, in part, our keeping the commandments.
Justification is by the law—in part.
Workers are justified.
Holding the doctrine of justification by faith and works, Rome curses, and must curse, with the solemn, damning curse of the “anathema” those who confess and proclaim justification by faith alone, that is, every genuine Protestant.
If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema (Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Canon 11).
Vitally important Roman Catholic teachings and practices depend upon and express Rome’s teaching of justification. One is that every sinner can and must “merit,” or earn, justification and final salvation. He earns justification and salvation by his own good exercise of his alleged free-will, by his prayers, and by his other good works. He does this, in particular, every time he “goes to confession” and receives from the priest his prescribed “satisfactions.”
Another related teaching is that the Roman Catholic Church can help guilty sinners merit justification and salvation by means of indulgences, which again are earned, or even paid for in cold cash, by the sinner. These indulgences represent the meritorious works of Mary and other saints that are now applied to the account of the sinner who earns them.
A third teaching is that every ordinary Roman Catholic must make a certain payment for his own sins by suffering the torments of purgatory after his death. Thus he himself finally accomplishes his justification and salvation. Rome herself makes perfectly plain that purgatory with its huge impact upon the lives of all the Roman faithful in so many ways is only the implication of her doctrine of justification. In that Sixth Session devoted to the “Decree on Justification,” the Council of Trent included Canon 30:
If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened [to him]: let him be anathema.
The Roman doctrine of justification is essentially the Galatian heresy. It is the Galatian heresy in a bald, developed form. But it is the Galatian heresy.
With this heresy, ECT, particularly its evangelical membership, has compromised. By doing so, ECT has fatally compromised the biblical and Reformation truth of justification by faith alone.
(to be cont.)