Tag Archives: catholicism

PODCAST: Bridging the Gap w/ special guest David Lapp

I was pleased to have David Lapp as my guest to discuss the growing divide between groups of people along political and religious lines. David, through his work with Better Angels (http://better-angels.org), has been working to heal, in particular, the political divides which were so apparent in the recent U.S. presidential election by focusing on what unites us as Americans. He’s also a convert to Roman Catholicism from Protestantism and we spent a great deal of time discussing how Catholics and Protestants can find unity even as we divide over issues of authority and doctrine.

Some of his writing can be found at the Institute for Family Studies’ website–https://ifstudies.org.

Podcast link:

“The Itis” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0

Is Scripture Alone Enough?

Scripture Alone

The Protestant Reformation had, as its ultimate authority, scripture alone. Their claim was not that no other authority can provide true or useful information, but that the sole infallible rule of faith must be the word of God. This viewpoint flows from Scripture itself. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3 that:
“evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:13-17 ESV).

To summarize, Paul warns Timothy about those who will claim to be Christians (even Christian teachers) but will in fact be deceived and deceive others. They will claim that their doctrine is true and perhaps claim some kind of authority or tradition to back it up.

At this point, Paul could have told Timothy (the recipient of his letter) to hold fast to the doctrine of the magisterium, to Peter, or to Peter’s successors. He does not. Instead, he calls him to hold fast to the scriptures, which contain all information that one might need to receive salvation from God (implying that anyone who claims that there are doctrines that must be believed to be saved which have no place in the word of God must be rejected as false or even, to use Paul’s word, “evil”). Scripture is sufficient to serve its purpose because scripture is “God-breathed.” Neither Paul nor any other writer claim that any other source is God-breathed but scripture alone.

Tradition and the opinions of men can be helpful and good. However, scripture warns us that it can also be destructive and against God, even when delivered by those who are in religious authority over God’s people. Jesus chastises the teachers of the Jews for this very thing when he tells them, “you leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). Similarly, Peter rejects the authority of the religious leaders of Israel when he tells them, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 ESV). Paul goes even further when he declares that, “even if we [apostles of Jesus Christ] or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Paul admits that even those in the highest religious authority can be wrong, and that if they are their teaching must be vehemently rejected.

It is Paul’s claim that all tradition, all teaching, all authority must be tested by that which is God-breathed– which is the scripture of God. Any system which does not allow its teaching to be tested, altered, or even completely abandoned in light of scripture is a system of deception which is headed by impostors. If anyone wishes to argue that any other source may be just as authoritative as scripture must demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that this source is God-breathed. The Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society all fail to live up to this standard, so they must be rejected.

The Magisterium’s Role in Defining Scripture

A Roman Catholic, however, might argue that without the magisterium, there can be no scripture, thus the magisterium must be as authoritative as scripture. This claim is based on the faulty premise that the Roman Catholic Church gave the world the Bible and defined infallibly what it is. There is at least one major problem with this claim however– the Roman Catholic Church did not define the canon of scripture (which books are in the Bible) until the 16th century at the Council of Trent– and they included Old Testament books that neither the Jews nor many Roman Catholics had accepted as scripture beforehand. Are we to believe that there was no scripture until this definition? Or did the church have the Bible before the Council of Trent? If it did, then the claim that one needs the magisterium to infallibly define the canon of scripture is bogus and a smokescreen.

In fact, since it is God who inspired scripture, scripture exists without men making any declaration on the matter. Since it is God who uses His scripture to bring his elect into relationship with Him and sustain their faith, it also seems likely that He would make it evident what books He inspired, which is in fact what happened.Through a process of a few hundred years– and without any declaration from a catholic council– the church did in fact come to a clear consensus in regard to what New Testament books were inspired. Their litmus test for deciding these books demanded that the books be ancient, apostolic in nature (written by an apostle or a companion of an apostle), and that they be universally used throughout the church. This criteria for recognizing what God had inspired makes sense since the gospel and teachings of Jesus were given to the apostles, and the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible could bring His church to see what it was.

As for the Old Testament, according to Romans 3:2 those books were entrusted to the Jews. The Jews accept (and accepted in Jesus’ day) a canon that does not include the so-called deutero-canonical books in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, which suggests that in what can loosely be called Christianity, it is the protestant variety which holds to the correct Old Testament canon, and that the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to have an infallible definition of the canon does not hold up.

The Final Authority for the Early Church

The concept of papal and magisterial authority developed over time, and it is not difficult to find seeds of this concept in the relatively early church. Tradition also was given some weight, though occasionally wrongly (see for example Irenaeus’ bogus claim that Jesus lived to be in his 50s– a tradition he claimed to have received from those who knew John [Against Heresies, 2:22:5]). However, one still sees a strong witness for the doctrine that scripture alone must be the final authority for the Christian.

Often, when tradition is brought up by the church fathers, the context tells us exactly what they meant by that word– the tradition which is contained in scripture. For instance, Athanasius in his letter to Adelphius defines apostolic tradition as such:
“While the Apostolic tradition teaches in the words of blessed Peter, ‘Forasmuch then as Christ suffered for us in the Flesh,’ and in what Paul writes, ‘Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (Letter 60, To Adelphius, 6).

Irenaeus also speaks of what was handed down as being contained in the Scriptures:
“We have learned from none others [the apostles] the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith…” (Against Heresies, III:1:1).

Early church fathers stated in varying ways that doctrine must be taken from scripture, and that all doctrine must be held to the light of scripture and either accepted or rejected on the basis of that light.

Hippolytus wrote that:
“There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source…. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn” (Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 9).

Note that Hippolytus claims that it is from scripture alone and no other source that knowledge of who God is can be gained.

Similarly, Athanasius sounds downright Lutheran in his claims that, “vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things,” (History of Councils, 6) and, “the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth” (Against the Heathen, 1:1).

We would be wise to follow the counsel of Basil of Caesarea when he stated that, “hearers who are instructed in the Scriptures should examine what is said by the teachers, receiving what is in conformity with the Scriptures and rejecting what is opposed to them; and that those who persist in teaching such doctrines should be strictly avoided” (The Morals, Rule 72).

In response to this emphasis of scripture as final authority from the early church, many Roman Catholics might argue that all Catholic dogmas come from the apostles and must be witnessed to at least partially in scripture. However, claiming that something must be in scripture is quite different from claiming that it is. Someone who claims that, for instance, the Roman Catholic dogmas of Mary’s immaculate conception and assumption are attested to in scripture, let alone early church tradition, is no longer reasoning objectively and is simply accepting the authority of the magisterium and its bogus claims that its doctrine is apostolic. For the Roman Catholic, there is not in practice the three-fold authority of scripture, tradition, and magisterium which they claim. The debate between protestants and Roman Catholics is one between scripture alone and magisterium alone– in Roman Catholicism the magisterium has the final authority to define what scripture and tradition are/mean, and no one may challenge what Rome declares, regardless of what scripture plainly teaches.

For instance, could the Roman Catholic say with Augustine, without pause, that we ought not, “[dare to] agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, with the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God” (On the Unity of the Church, 10)?

For the Christian trying to determine what source is authoritative for his doctrine and practice, tradition and church authority must always be subservient to scripture.

Contrasting Roman Catholic and Protestant Views of Justification

While there is important agreement on the issue of justification (how one is saved) between Catholics and Protestants– such as the shared value that it depends upon grace and is on the basis of what Christ has done– there are major disagreements that are of incredible importance to the definition of the gospel itself. To begin, I will elaborate a basic Protestant view with supporting Scriptures, and then I will contrast this view with the Roman Catholic understanding. Any feedback is appreciated! All Bible quotations are from the ESV.

The Protestant View

1. Justification is a gift of God that does not depend upon works. Grace is the ground of our justification, and faith is the means by which we are saved.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
(Romans 3:21-25, 28)

“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
(Galatians 2:16)

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ The law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.'”
(Galatians 3:10-12)

“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
(Galatians 3:21-22)

2. Justification means being declared righteous by God and having a right relationship with Him. Good works do not increase our justification. Being in a right relationship with God also entails that we have been delivered from the penalty for our sins.

“[Abraham’s] faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
(Romans 4:22-24)

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(Romans 5:1)

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.'”
(Romans 4:4-8)

“Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
(Galatians 3:2-3)

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”
(Romans 8:33)

3. If someone believes that they contribute to their justification by doing works, they are doing damage to the gospel.

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
(Galatians 2:21)

“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
(Galatians 5:2-4)

4. Good works flow from being regenerated by the Spirit and are an evidence of genuine faith.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
(Galatians 5:22-24)

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? …faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
(James 2:14, 17-18)

“God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
Romans 3:30-31

The Roman Catholic View

1. Justification is by the grace of God.

“…In that new birth that is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace by which they are made just.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter III)

“…we confess that we need the grace of God.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter IV)

“If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works… without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, Canon I)

2. By having faith in God AND the sacrament of baptism, one is justified.

“The meritorious cause [of justification] is… Jesus Christ… the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified finally.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter VII)

“If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation… [but that] men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification… let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, Canon 4)

3. If one loses one’s justification by committing a “mortal sin,” another sacrament– penance– is required to regain justification.

“The grace of justification once received is lost not only by infidelity, whereby also faith itself is lost, but also by every other mortal sin, though in this case faith is not lost.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XV)

“Those who through sin have forfeited the received grace of justification, can again be justified when, moved by God, they exert themselves to obtain through the sacrament of penance the recovery, by the merits of Christ, of the grace lost.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XIV)

4. Temporal punishments awaiting sin may remain after justification if venial sins are committed.

“If anyone says that… it is a fiction that there remains often a temporal punishment to be discharged after the eternal punishment has by virtue of the keys been removed, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Fourteenth Session, Canons concerning penance, Canon 15)

“[The sacrament of penance includes] satisfaction by fasts, alms, prayers and other devout exercises of the spiritual life, not indeed for the eternal punishment, which is, together with guilt, remitted either by the sacrament or by the desire for the sacrament, but for the temporal punishment which, as the sacred writings teach, is not always wholly remitted.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XIV)

5. These temporal punishments can be lessened or removed by indulgences (including attending Mass) or through purgatory.

“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world of in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, Canon 30)

“We are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or by those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by the temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us.”
(Council of Trent, Fourteenth Session, Penance, Chapter IX)

“[The sacrifice of mass] is rightly offered not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ but not yet fully purified.”
(Council of Trent, Twenty-second Session, Chapter II)

“If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mass is… not a propitiatory one [and] ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Twenty-Second Session, Chapter IX, Canon 3)

“Souls [detained in purgatory] are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.”
(Council of Trent, Twenty-Fifth Session)

A Summary of the Issue

One major difficulty with comparing Protestant and Roman Catholic views on justification is that we don’t always define words in the same way. Roman Catholics do define justification as being received by faith. Works (other than the sacrament of baptism) are not necessary for INITIAL justification. However, because Catholics believe we may retain temporal punishments for sins after justification, they end up with practically the same problem that all legalists do– they are not at peace with God and must do works (albeit by grace) to actually be at peace. Even if this were not the case, the requirement of the sacrament of baptism in essence takes the place of circumcision in the circumcision controversy that Paul dealt with in Galatians.

“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
(Galatians 3:24-26)

Some Catholics will say that in Galatians, Paul is simply telling the Galatians not to follow ceremonial aspects of the Old Covenant law, like circumcision. But Paul is clear that what he is contrasting is salvation by works (in this case, of the Old Covenant law) and salvation by faith. Not salvation by faith and baptism, or faith and the sacraments, or faith and good works, but salvation that comes only by faith. Of course, if this faith is a genuine faith, it will issue out in good works. As James says, if a man has a faith with no works, can that faith (a dead faith that is faith in name only) save him? Absolutely not.

It is important that we don’t misrepresent Roman Catholics as teaching a bootstrapping salvation that they do by themselves (even the Judaizers Paul chastised in Galatians would be aghast at this view of salvation). It is also important that Protestants be charitable when it comes to the state of salvation and sincerity of Roman Catholics. However, it does us no good to gloss over differences in the interest of an ecumenism that is based on false unity. Let there be unity where it is genuine and disunity where we must be honest that unity does not exist.