All Around Us

The Reformation Reviewed

There are ongoing discussions between Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Greek Orthodox, and Lutherans. One gathers from reports that the men involved in discussions find fewer and fewer reasons for remaining separate. Recently, reports have appeared in newspapers and magazines describing basic accord between Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians on the issue of “justification by faith.”Time, Oct. 3, 1983, reports:

In the distant past, theological disputes between Protestants and Roman Catholics were, quite literally, matters of life and death. Tens of thousands of people died during the devastating religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Sharp differences remain on some basic points of doctrine, but in recent years the churches have been working quietly to resolve these old dogmatic quarrels. Last week a panel of 20 Lutheran and Catholic theologians, meeting in Milwaukee, announced that they had reached essential agreement on the meaning of “justification,” one of the key issues of the Protestant Reformation. The theologians said the remaining points of difference about this doctrine were no longer reason to keep their churches apart. . . . 

Summarizing the new agreement, the theologians said, “We can and do confess together that our hope for salvation rests entirely on God’s merciful action in Christ.” The remaining differences, as well as the agreements, will be spelled out in a 21,000-word joint statement to be issued this week. . . . 

. . . For Lutherans justification remains “the template, the pattern of how God and man relate. For Catholics, it is one doctrine among many.” More basic, the Catholics on the panel assured the Lutherans that they believed that good works alone could not bring salvation, while the Lutherans declared that their emphasis upon faith and God’s grace did not mean they rejected the importance of good works in the life of a Christian.

The Christian News, Oct. 3, 1983, presents an editorial comment on the above accord. In it, the editor points out that the Roman Catholic Church did not change its view of justification at all—and the agreement worked out was with the aid of Lutheran theologians known for their liberalism. Among other things, the editorial stated:

. . . Note from the report that the Roman Catholic Church has never retracted the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent condemned the Scriptural doctrine of justification. Vatican II reaffirmed everything Trent said about justification. The National Catholic Register article shows that when Rome says it accepts the doctrine of justification by faith, it includes charity (or works) in faith. 

Actually Luther and the Church which excommunicated him were in far greater accord than true Lutherans today are with the present Roman Catholic Church. . . . 

. . . Protestant and Roman Catholic universalists do not accept the Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith alone regardless of all the orthodox sounding terminology they use. 

CN has for many years shown that Dr. John Reumann, who appears to be the leading Lutheran spokesman on the Roman Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue Commission, is one of the most liberal Lutheran theologians in the U.S. What he means by justification is not at all what Lutherans confess in the Augsburg Confession. 

Reumann does not accept the Bible as God’s inspired and inerrant Word. He argued in the November, 1969 Concordia Theological Monthly that the New Testament is some sort of fallible patchwork put together by fallible men who even fabricated some of the things now included in the New Testament. He rejects the Christian doctrine of Hell and the immortality of the soul. . . .

It appears, then, that an agreement has been worked out between liberal Lutherans and Roman Catholics which is supposed to be a basic resolution of the old differences concerning justification by faith. But the conservative Lutheran still insists that the differences remain—and in fact are greater today than at the time of the Reformation. Yet the majority of churches seem almost eager to show that they understand each other—and can even perhaps unite together at some future date. Can you imagine what Martin Luther would say?

Tuition Tax Credit

The Presbyterian Journal, Oct. 5, 1983, reports that President Reagan is being criticized for his lukewarm support to tuition tax credits for students in non-public schools. Pressure is being applied that this support become stronger. The report states:

According to Dr. James Skillen, executive director of the Association for Public Justice (APJ) and a member of the group which met at the White House, President Reagan told them he now has a commitment from two senators, Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and Howard Baker (R-Term.) to bring Senate Bill 528 to a vote in the full Senate this fall. The corresponding measure in the house is HR-1730.

Supporters of the bills say their effect will be to reduce tax revenues by about $800 million by 1985. They claim that is less than one percent of the current public school budget of $108 billion, while private schools educate 12 percent of all elementary and secondary children in the U.S. 

The President, who has supported such tax relief for families using non-public schools since before his 1980 election, claimed his staff has had a difficult time developing an adequate strategy for working with Congress on the matter. 

But critics have said the real problem was that the issue was too low on the White House priority list . . . .

A letter to the Banner, Oct. 10, 1983, expresses the thought, seldom heard in Reformed circles anymore, that there might be real danger of receiving any sort of new government assistance:

The very fact that Bob Jones University is being refused tax exempt status on the basis of its own policy of discrimination shows that the government has no intention of acting as the Christian schools’ benevolent friend. What awaits us in the future? Race quotas, women in the right places, or, worse yet, maybe we might end up turning our schools into a free-for-all as far as keeping non-Christians out. After all, a voucher or tax credit can be spent anywhere, and where government money follows, so also closely comes government regulation.

Again, one is reminded of the dangers involved in any kind of governmental support. The temptations are real: we pay taxes and have the right to expect to get our “money’s worth” also in the education of our children. But the Bob Jones University case ought to cause us to beware. If the government provides support and tax-relief, if we become increasingly dependent upon it, if we finally believe we can not do without it—then too the government is in a position to deny such support because we do not recognize the “rights” of homosexuals, or women-in-office, or the “rights” of those of other religious beliefs.

“Reformed” Thinking?

From the man who labeled “predestination” as “blasphemy” in the Reformed Journal, a man who is a member in the C.R.C., Thomas B. Talbott, professor of philosophy at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, come two other articles in the Reformed Journal, in part, a response to a certain John Piper who sought to refute Talbott’s original article. In June, 1983 issue, he writes:

There are really two parts to Piper’s argument. He argues, first, that the proposition 

(P) God loves all men is true only if 

(Q) The final judgment is remedial or temporary is also true; and he argues, second, that there is no biblical warrant for believing (QJ and therefore no biblical warrant for believing (P) either. Now I am prepared to accept the first part of this argument, though it too is controversial and often challenged. I am prepared to concede, in other words, that (P) entails (Q) . . . . Accordingly, all those universalistic passages—call them prooftexts if you will—that people like Piper struggle so hard to explain away are in fact, given Piper’s own assumption that (P) entails (Q), a powerful reason for thinking that the final judgment is either remedial or temporary or both. . . .

Again, Talbott argues thus in the issue of September, 1983:

. . . And Scripture does leave open the possibility, at least, that a person may shut out the Spirit entirely. Then, perhaps, a person must simply bear that punishment which is the inevitable consequence of his sin: “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire, which will consume the adversaries.”

Heb. 10:26-27

Nor should one, I think, tone down the language here or try to soften this terrible image of “a fury of fire.” Our God is a consuming fire,

Heb. 12:29

as George MacDonald never tired of reminding us, and the fires of hell are but the most terrible expression of the love of God. As a symbol of that which consumes all that is false within us, see Cor. 3:16 sec the image of fire is one that permeates all of Scripture and cannot be dispensed with. It represents not only the most terrible, but also the most irresistible form that God’s purifying love can take. One way or another, Christ shall defeat his enemies, and his enemies shall in time gladly be defeated, and death itself shall be consumed in the lake of fire.

One must simply note, (1) that denial of predestination inevitably leads to “unlimited” or universal atonement, denial of eternal hell, and universal salvation—for that is what Talbott is teaching. 

(2) That Talbott and his opponent, Piper, though both within the same denomination, do not argue on the basis of the Reformed Confessions. The Confessions represent the acknowledged confession of a church of what Scripture truly teaches. It is the touchstone to determine whether one belongs within one denomination. To argue only from Scripture is to deny the confessional basis of a denomination. 

(3) How can a denomination or a magazine, both presumably with the confessional basis of our Three Forms of Unity, allow for such writings or teachings in their midst? That is not a question of “freedom,” but is direct violation of one’s confessional basis.