The editorial in the previous issue of the Standard Bearer (Jan. 15, 1999, “ECT in the Pitiless Light of the 1998 Bull on Indulgences”) showed that the recent papal bull on indulgences exposes ECT as evangelical capitulation to Rome, sellout of the Reformation, and apostasy to the false church.
The influential movement known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, or ECT, is a threat to the gospel of grace proclaimed in Holy Scripture and recovered by the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
ECT is a fellowship of prominent Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants including Richard John Neuhaus and Avery Dulles among the Roman Catholics and James I. Packer and Charles Colson among the evangelicals.
The purpose of this union of Roman Catholics and evangelicals is threefold. First, they intend to fight the culture war in North America together. ECT speaks of “co-belligerency” in the war against abortion, sexual license and perversity, and assisted suicide.
Second, they plan to cooperate in the evangelizing of the lost.
Third, they want to manifest the oneness of the church of Jesus Christ, which, according to ECT, is badly divided. ECT is definitely an ecumenical movement. The spokesmen for ECT speak of “ecumenicity in the trenches.” By this they refer to the uniting of the churches, not by the official consultations of the rulers in the churches but by the people themselves. The evangelicals defend ECT by calling attention to the fact that members of evangelical churches are already involved in such “grass-roots” ecumenicity by their participation in Promise Keepers and the Billy Graham Crusades. ECT is building on such ecumenical activities on the part of the people.
The threat to the gospel of grace is that ECT roots the fellowship and cooperation of evangelicals and Roman Catholics in their oneness in the faith.
The document in which ECT gave expression to its purpose, and burst onto the ecclesiastical scene, is called, “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” This was published on March 29, 1994. The document states that the cooperation of evangelicals and Roman Catholics is grounded in a oneness in the faith, or gospel, of Jesus Christ: “The mission that we embrace together is the necessary consequence of the faith that we affirm together.” A little later, the document states: “Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Affirmation by ECT that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in the faith compromises the Reformation’s biblical confession of the “gospel of the glory and grace of God,” as Luther described the gospel in the 62nd of his 95 theses. Particularly, this affirmation compromises the fundamental gospel-truth of justification by faith alone.
As soon as the document, “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” has affirmed that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in the faith, it makes a confession about justification that is supposed to prove the doctrinal agreement of evangelicals and Roman Catholics. But this crucially important statement surrenders the Reformation’s biblical belief of justification to the Roman Catholic heresy regarding justification. The truth of justification is lost.
Because justification is central to the entire gospel, with the loss of the Reformation’s biblical confession of justification by faith alone is lost the entire gospel of grace.
The threat of ECT calls for a vigorous defense of the gospel of grace by those who have received the love of the truth.
Even though the entire gospel is at stake in ECT, it is fitting that justification is on the foreground. It is on the foreground. The framers of the ECT-document deliberately made justification prominent. Subsequent debate has focused on justification. The reason, of course, is that justification was the main gospel-truth that was proclaimed by the Reformation. It then occasioned the excommunication of the Protestants by the Roman Catholic Church. This truth has separated Rome and Protestantism ever since.
The allegation that the centrality of justification is merely a theological quirk of Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers is absurd. Richard John Neuhaus, who as an apostate Lutheran theologian knows better, tries this tactic in his defense of ECT.
The arguments surrounding the sola fide (faith alone—DJE) formula are the preserve of a relatively small number of professional theologians, mainly Lutheran and Calvinist, in North America and Western Europe. This does not mean the arguments are wrong; it does mean that they are not, and cannot be, at the center of the global proclamation of the gospel and the Christian mission in the third millennium.
Luther’s motif of righteousness before God … has been embraced by many Christians as the most powerful construal of the gospel and the most faithful to Paul’s understanding of salvation. But to declare it to be the article by which the Church stands or falls in a manner that excludes other ways of saying the gospel is to turn it into a sectarian doctrine (“The Catholic Difference,” in Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, ed. Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, Word, 1995, pp. 204, 207).
Apostolic Scripture makes justification central to the gospel of God. No one can deny that the epistle to the Romans is the full presentation of the gospel in the compass of one book. At the heart of this presentation of the gospel is the theme expressed in 1:17: “therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” This theme—the very heart of the gospel—the apostle then develops in the rest of the letter.
Or, consider the book of Galatians. That the apostle is concerned to defend the one, true gospel, he makes plain in 1:6ff. He marvels that the Galatians are so soon removed from the grace of Christ to “another gospel” (v. 6). He warns that some “would pervert the gospel of Christ” (v. 7). He curses all who “preach any other gospel” (vv. 8, 9). He reminds the Galatians and us that he received the gospel that he preached from Jesus Christ Himself (v. 12).
And then, on behalf of the gospel, the apostle condemns a false teaching of justification and defends the truth of justification:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh by justified (2:16).
The teaching of the apostles that justification is central to the gospel is squarely based on the ministry of Jesus Christ Himself. Justification is the forgiveness of sins, and the ministry of Jesus was, fundamentally, the forgiveness of sins of penitent, believing men and women.
He taught this as His ministry in the parable of the publican and Pharisee in Luke 18:9ff.He practiced this ministry when He said to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee…” (John 8:11).
And He mandated this ministry—the forgiveness of sins—upon His church when, after His resurrection, He breathed the Holy Spirit upon His apostles and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).
False teaching about justification is “another gospel that is no gospel.”
Teaching the truth about justification is the proclamation of the gospel of God and of Christ.
The Spirit of Jesus Christ led the Reformation into the biblical truth of justification, thus clarifying, developing, and correcting what had been taught before in the church.
Compromise of the Reformation’s doctrine of justification, therefore, of which the evangelicals in ECT are guilty, is radical apostasy from the gospel of grace.
In light of this, it is necessary that we answer the question, “What is the biblical teaching on justification as faithfully confessed by the Reformation and by the true church today?”
(to be continued)