The preceding editorials have demonstrated that Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) is evangelical compromise of the biblical and Reformation doctrine of justification. By affirming together with Roman Catholics that “we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ,” deliberately omitting the word “only,” the evangelicals compromise with the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by faith and works. They compromise for the sake of the culture wars, for the sake of evangelism, and for the sake of church unity. But they compromise the truth of justification.

How serious is this?

A Reformed criticism of ECT would condemn a number of evils.

Where is the Church in ECT?

For one thing, ECT is an effort to realize church unity without the involvement of any church. Where is the church—the instituted church—in this ecumenical endeavor? Where is the body of Christ in all this ecumenical wheeling-and-dealing? What authority do the negotiators in ECT have for their activities and decisions? Who supervises their work? What wisdom and power do they draw on for this extraordinarily difficult and significant work? What makes their decisions and documents binding?

The evangelicals are strictly on their own, as mere individuals. No evangelical church sponsors ECT. Neither is the Roman Catholic Church involved, although we may be sure that she watches the goings-on with great interest. Colson is not the church. Packer is not the church. Neuhaus is not the church. Colson, Packer, and Neuhaus in a room together are not the church. They are all free-lancers who have taken it upon themselves to do the church’s business and to speak in the name of the church. They are running in the work of church unity, but Christ has not sent them.

The Tactics of Diplomacy

Another evil is that ECT tries to achieve church unity by the tactic of playing with words, crafting misleading phrases, and adopting deceptive documents that paper over real, substantial, and abiding divisions. The ecumenical method of the men of ECT is not that of frankly facing up to doctrinal differences and then honestly debating these issues, in order to arrive at oneness that consists of real agreement in the truth of the Word of God.

In this respect, ECT resembles the notable ecumenical conference between Protestants and Roman Catholics at Regensburg in 1541. Prominent men from both churches participated. Bucer, Melanchthon, and Pistorius represented the Protestant churches. Calvin was there as a friend of Bucer. Gropper, Eck, and Cardinal Contarini were Rome’s delegates. Cultural pressure was exerted on the conference in the personal presence of the emperor, who needed church unity for his own, earthly, political ends.

Bucer and Melanchthon, the evangelical heavyweights at the conference, would have sold out the Reformation by their compromise with Roman heresies. They agreed to a statement on justification that failed to affirm justification by faith alone; approved a declaration stating that the church is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture; produced a draft article that taught transubstantiation; and acknowledged that the adoration of Christ in the bread of the Lord’s Supper need not be rejected as a matter of principle. Only the pope’s insistence on still more Protestant concessions and the adamant opposition of Luther wrecked the enterprise and saved the Reformation.

Regensburg is a warning to the true church in all ages that false, if well-meaning, ecumenicity is as great a danger to the gospel, and, therefore, to the church, as is heresy. The truth which has been won by dint of struggle, sacrifice, suffering, and blood on the battlefield can be lost at the conference table by nice, smiling, ecclesiastical diplomats. In one day!

No genuine church unity will ever be realized in the way of ignoring or manipulating doctrine. This is not the way of the Spirit of truth.

The Real Oneness of Rome and Modern Evangelicalism

In addition, ECT virtually begs true evangelicals to investigate what it is that opens up contemporary evangelicalism to compromising with Rome on justification. Is it not that contemporary evangelicalism embraces the doctrine of the free-will of man? Agreeing with Rome in this basic teaching, is not contemporary evangelicalism, in fact, essentially one with Rome in their gospel? Affirmation together of the doctrine of justification merely acknowledges and spells out this essential oneness.

Richard John Neuhaus, the Lutheran-become-Roman Catholic and a main player in ECT, points out this very thing. Neuhaus is defending ECT’s affirmation of justification to various evangelicals who are loud in their criticism that the affirmation does not confess “justification by faith alone.” He reminds these evangelicals that “the great majority of evangelicals in America and the world do not believe” what the Reformation taught about sovereign grace and expressed in the phrase, “justification by faith alone.” On the contrary, “Wesleyan, Arminian, Holiness, Pentecostal, and other evangelical traditions are much closer to the Catholic understanding …” (“The Catholic Difference,” in Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward A Common Mission, ed. Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, Word, 1995, p. 199).

The same point was made in a recent issue of the Roman Catholic magazine, New Oxford Review, although the subject was not a defense of ECT but a defense of Rome against the shrill attacks upon her by certain American fundamentalists. With reference to one of these critics of the Roman Catholic Church, the author correctly observes that he—the critic—is “zealous in defending the Protestant Reformation but does not realize that his own emphasis on ‘deciding for Christ’ inescapably implies the possibility of co-operating with the grace of justification—a possibility the Reformers constantly condemned but upon which the Catholic Church insists” (New Oxford Review, Jan. 1999, p. 33).Rome has made it her official confession that the doctrine of free-will is basic to her teaching on justification. Canon IX of “The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent” on justification reads:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified, in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will: let him be anathema (emphasis added).

Calvin saw clearly that the heart of the Roman heresy of justification by faith and works is the lie of free-will:

The Papists … can by no means allow that the righteousness of faith is gratuitous, for from the beginning this figment about free-will has been resorted to—”if men of themselves come to God, then they are not freely justified.” They, then, as I have said, imagine a partial righteousness, they suppose the deficiency to be made up by satisfactions, they have also, as they say, their devotions, that is, their own contrived modes of worship. Thus it comes, that they ever persuade themselves that the righteousness of man, at least in part, is made up by himself or by works (commentary on Hab. 2:4).

Every church that maintains free-will, though its evangelical credentials be never so impressive, is one with Rome in the doctrine of justification. It comes as no surprise that this church in one way or another expresses approval of ECT. Such an evangelical church can indeed cooperate with Rome in evangelism: both offer to sinners a salvation dependent upon the sinner’s own will, choice, or acceptance, and both thus grant to sinners a righteousness made up, in part, of the sinner’s own fine efforts.

Betrayal of the Gospel of Grace

Although ECT can, and should, be criticized in several respects, it is the purpose of this series of editorials to expose ECT as a betrayal of the gospel of grace simply by virtue of its compromise of the truth of justification by faith alone.

How serious ECT’s compromise of justification by faith alone is, the book of Galatians shows. It condemns the corruption of the truth of justification. But, as has been demonstrated in a previous editorial, the Galatian heresy was the very same as the Roman doctrine of justification with which ECT compromises.

The condemnation is devastating.

Galatians 1:6-9 calls the Roman doctrine approved by ECT “another gospel,” and curses those who teach it.

Galatians 5:2-4 declares that to add any work to the work of Christ for a sinner’s righteousness, as the Roman doctrine approved by ECT does, is to forfeit the profit of Jesus Christ altogether; is to become debtor to do the whole law; and is to fall completely from grace.

Galatians 2:21 charges that the Roman Catholic denial of justification by faith alone, which denial ECT approves and affirms, makes the death of Christ vain.

Standing Up Against Peter and an Angel from Heaven

The gravity of compromising the gospel-truth of justification, as is done by ECT, indicates the importance of our maintaining the doctrine of justification by faith alone, without compromise. Maintaining this doctrine is of essential importance for the penitent sinner, for the true church, and for God.

For every penitent sinner, the importance of justification by faith alone is that confessed in Article 23 of the Belgic Confession of Faith: “(it) gives us confidence in approaching to God, freeing the conscience of fear, terror, and dread.” On the other hand, every human who enters the judgment trusting even in part for his righteousness in his own work, or in the work of any other than Jesus alone, will be condemned.

Salvation is at stake here! Have the evangelicals in ECT forgotten Luther’s verdict upon every one who practices Rome’s doctrine of justification? The 32nd of the 95 theses was, “Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.”

All Roman Catholics are properly, and necessarily, the objects of evangelism.

For the true church, the importance of maintaining justification by faith alone is, as Luther put it, that this is “the article of a standing or a falling church.” To teach it is to teach the gospel of grace, and this is the mark of a true church, the infallible sign of the presence of Jesus Christ Himself. Denial or corruption of justification by faith alone is to teach salvation by the will and work of man, and this is the infallible mark of the false church, which has abandoned Christ.

For God, the importance of maintaining justification by faith alone is that by the preaching, belief, and confession of this doctrine God is glorified in His marvelous grace. In this doctrine, with its related truths, particularly the truth of the bondage of the will, God is God. The gracious God justifies the ungodly—only the ungodly—on the basis of His own work of mercy and justice in the cross of Jesus Christ—only the cross of Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, to teach justification by man’s own works, even in part, is blasphemy. This is the worst blasphemy, for it denies God His Godhead in salvation and makes man his own god in salvation. Luther was right: “It is . . . as blasphemous to say that a man is his own god, creator, or producer as it is blasphemous to say that he is justified by his own works.”

Elect, penitent sinners must be comforted; the true church must stand; God must be glorified.

Therefore, we take our stand with Luther: “Of this article (that is, justification by faith alone—DJE) nothing may be yielded or conceded, though heaven and earth and whatever will not abide, fall to ruin.”

Although North American culture develops into the kingdom of the beast, although the evangelizing of the lost seemingly suffers, and although the church of Christ gives the appearance of hopeless division—matters which deeply trouble us also—nothing of the gospel-truth of justification by faith alone may be yielded.

On the contrary, as Luther also exhorted, since justification by faith alone is “the principal doctrine of Christianity … if you see this threatened or endangered, do not be afraid to stand up against Peter or an angel from heaven.”

Here, we stand up. — DJE