Justification by faith alone, or what? What do Protestants think Catholics believe?

Le Sueur, The Preaching of St. Paul at Ephesus

The Preaching of St. Paul at Ephesus (1649), by Eustache Le Sueur. (WikiPaintings.org)

For Protestants, one of the cries of the Reformation, one of the staples of Protestant faith, is sola fide, justification by faith alone. Many Protestants, especially the Reformed, hold this point to be so crucial and integral to the message of the Gospel that they label any other view (that is, the Catholic or Orthodox views) to be “heresy” or even “apostasy.”

As you know, this troubles me deeply. The Catholic Church teaches salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), the gracious and unmerited favor of God on the sinner, just as uncompromisingly as any Protestant community. So Catholics and Protestants agree on the source and the cause of grace; what we disagree on with regard to sole fide amounts to merely the mechanics by which that grace is received. To my view, our theologies even on this disputed point are much closer to each other than either side generally admits, resulting in what appears to me to be a difference of mere wording and nuance.

Velazquez, St. Paul

St. Paul (c. 1619), by Diego Velazquez. (WikiPaintings.org)

So the charge that the Catholic Church teaches a “different gospel” than Protestants (and a false one) is entirely incomprehensible to me. And so, the question occurs to me — and I sincerely hope for some dialogue with Protestants here: What is it that Protestants, particularly Reformed Protestants, think that the Catholic Church teaches, that is so antithetical to the Gospel? that would warrant denying fellowship with their Christian brothers and sisters, and even accusing them of “apostasy”? I am not at this time attempting any positive argument for Catholic position; I am merely trying to understand the Protestant charge.

The unspoken assumption of sola fide — by faith alone — is the rejection of the idea that “works” play any role in salvation. As St. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). These verses comprise one of several linchpin passages in sola fide theology — but what exactly does Paul mean here by “works”? I have often heard the accusation that Catholics (or Arminians, or anyone not Calvinist) teach “works’ righteousness” — the doctrine that by our “works” we are saved: that somehow, anything we can do can win God’s favor, merit our salvation, or in our own deeds make us righteous. As I’ve demonstrated, this isn’t what Catholics believe at all. I have heard the charge that Catholics are “Pelagian” or “semi-Pelagian”: Pelagius taught that Adam’s original sin did not taint human nature and that man was capable, in himself, of choosing good over evil without the grace of God. The Catholic Church denies this, and always has.

Ribera, Saint Paul (1637)

Saint Paul (1637), by Jusepe de Ribera. (WikiPaintings.org)

This line of sola fide reasoning apparently interprets that the “works” of Paul’s argument means any act of doing somethingany work accomplished, ἔργα or facta. The belief, then, that doing something, anything, any action at all other than having faith, is necessary for salvation, is therefore construed as a contradiction: Certainly the practice of the Sacraments or the belief that Baptism is necessary for salvation fall into this category, but taken to the extreme, this opposition to “works” (that is, having to do anything to be saved) includes even the simple act of praying a prescribed prayer.

So is that it? Is it this teaching that one has to do something in order to be saved that is so gravely contradictory to the Gospel, and that makes Catholics “apostate” (that is, having willfully turned one’s back on and denied Christ)? Or is there something else I’m overlooking? Because the something that Catholics believe one must do to be saved, at a most basic understanding, is merely to accept God’s freely offered grace. All other actions — Baptism, the Sacraments, good works of charity proceeding — are merely the result of God’s grace working in our lives, both giving us the will and empowering us to work (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:12–13).

Where in this is the denial of Christ? If I believed that in any sense I was abandoning Christ’s Gospel, I would not have made this journey. I would like to understand the positions of Protestants who would label this “apostasy.”

48 thoughts on “Justification by faith alone, or what? What do Protestants think Catholics believe?

  1. I have always felt that the line by paul is misunderstood, he was a jew who kept the 613 laws (works). But faith and works are necessary for salvation. Jesus makes it plain in Matt 25 that you must do more then just believe but act also. Jesus called us Gods and Gods are an active term, it contains action. Protestants believe that only preaching the word is necessary, but God wants more, what is to love your God with all your strength and love your neighbor but a command to be active. Mother Teresa is condemned by protestants because she did not preach the word, that she only did works. You must fill the belly of a child, before you preach the word. If you are saved by the grace of God, then God is big enough to give perfect justice too. Catholic teaching is suffering is a blessing from God, and a gift you return to God. Wisdom is in suffering, and wisdom is God.

    • You’re absolutely right. Reading Ephesians 2 in full while writing this post, it clicked more clearly to me than ever what “works” Paul is talking about. It all only makes sense in addressing the differences between his Gentile converts in Exodus and the Jewish Christians, who “boasted” in their “works” of the Law.

      One of the most striking things about the Catholic faith that drew me was that it is an active faith: a faith of doing and living the Gospel, of actions themselves being meaningful and powerful, and being transformed the work we do in Christ, more than resting passively in faith.

    • Thanks. Every time I’ve ever asked someone directly (speaking of anti-Catholic Reformed Christians — certainly neither all Protestants nor all Reformed are this way), they either spouted the usual accusations and were unwilling to listen to my answers, or they avoided the question.

  2. Excellent piece. I think part of the problem is the language Catholic sometimes use about ‘gaining merit’ by doing works, as though they think God has some accounts sheet where He ticks off bad stuff if we do good stuff/ The whole language around plenary indulgences just seems wrong to many Protestants. Only God can grant forgiveness of sins, and for many (not me) praying the Rosary or whatever in order to ‘gain an indulgence’ smacks of ‘works’ somehow effecting our salvation. At least that is what Protestant friends have told me 🙂

    • Yeah, I realize that talk of “merit” and “indulgences” is confusing. Most anti-Catholics seize on those points and attack them without ever stopping to examine the whole tapestry, and seeing the image of Christ that is the Gospel in it. I want to address those points here eventually, but I admit I struggle with explaining them myself. I think merit is best understood in that God rewards our good works, as Jesus says time and time again that He does: All the talk of storing up treasure in Heaven, and “Great is thy reward” and “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and again and again. The democratization that goes hand in hand with Protestantism argues that all sins are of the same weight, and all Christians are equally unworthy in God’s eyes, and that the only “reward” Jesus ever spoke of was our eternal salvation: but Scripture just doesn’t bear that out. Certainly no work we do ever wins or earns our salvation; but the acts we do, the faith we have and the love we share, do store up treasure in Heaven, over and beyond that.

    • Thanks. 🙂 Obviously I am a Catholic, and do not accept this Reformed interpretation of “works.” But I didn’t want to stir up a fruitless argument here; my aim is understanding where Reformed critics are coming from.

      And yes, Luther was a Protestant. He was a leader at the forefront of what is known as the Protestant Reformation; he was “protesting” against the established Catholic Church; he eventually went and established his own church. I really do not understand, either, Protestants’ resistance to that term. Certainly their doctrines and their principles and their understandings all descend from the teachings of Luther or Calvin or Zwingli or the other leaders of the Protestant Reformation — the Protestant tradition. And they are still “protesting.” In the major divisions of Christianity, regrettable as they may be, “Protestant” is the label that has attached itself to those Christians who split from Rome in the Protestant Reformation, and those who continue in their tradition. If Protestants are proud of that tradition, it’s a badge they ought to wear with honor.

      • Some Protestants hate the word for the same reason Protestants use it. And because it’s a tricky word.

        The original meaning of the word is just what you said–though it was the German princes, not the theologians, who were first called Protestants because they signed a formal protest against the Emperor’s edict banning the evangelical teachings. Later, the word was used to describe all of those who took part in the Magisterial and Radical Reformations, like Lutherans, Zwinglians, Calvinists, and Anabaptists. The word “Protestant” separated them from the Roman Catholic church.

        Now there are Christians who believe that the Reformers didn’t go far enough and want to separate themselves from the traditional “Protestants”. Since they don’t agree with their theology, they want want to be lumped under the same label.

        And hey now, Luther didn’t leave to form his own church–he fought for the renewal of the corrupt establishment even after his excommunication. His intention was not to start a breakaway movement–Lutherans had their own churches not by choice, but because if they didn’t have their own, they’d have no church at all.

        • See, I phrased that the way I did on purpose. 😉 After he was excommunicated, he did go and establish his own church, rather than do what was expected of him and recant — which was always a option. No excommunication is permanent; excommunication is not a punishment as much as it’s a coercive tool. I think, as I’ve said before, Luther could have accomplished meaningful reform within the Church, if he hadn’t been so bull-headed about it, challenging authority rather than working with it. As it was, he created an international issue of it, such that the German princes protested more for political reasons than for any reason of faith. Though I guess one of the things that needed to be reformed was the Church’s involvement in politics to begin with. By a certain point, the train Luther started got away from him, such that there was no going back, and I think Luther realized it.

          Labels are useful. If the “new” Protestants aren’t “Protestants,” what do they want to be called? Arguably protesting is what Protestants do best and have always done — if not against Rome, then against themselves. Indeed, they’ve never stopped. 😉

  3. I’m still fuzzy on this question, but surely if the intellect and will don’t work together, there will be no faith, therefore no openness to Grace or truth of the Faith? If there is no choices to make, there’s no get-out clause surely?

    • In the Reformed understanding (so far as I understand it), intellect and will do work together, but it’s God pulling all the strings, sovereignly ordaining every action and event, such that our will isn’t really “free.” And no, there’s no “get-out” clause. God’s grace is always effectual: if He elects to save you, and gives you the gift of saving grace, you will be saved. But, they explain, He does not save you against your will. The ones who come to receive salvation are the ones God elected from the beginning to be saved, and He orchestrated events such that you would come and would be receptive to His grace.

        • The debate over free will (whether or not we have it, and how it works) is one of the longest and most disputed arguments in theology and philosophy. See how long the wiki article is. I’m not a theologian or philosopher, so the best I can do is follow the teachings of the Church. I think everybody would recognize that we at least have the appearance of free will. We seem able to make decisions — but whether God or nature or circumstances predetermined our actions and the choices we will make is the question. One of my biggest problems with Calvinism is the implication that the sinner has no free will, either — that God ordains man to sin; that God ordained even Adam’s original sin — and then yet he doesn’t ordain to save all people.

          • My retort to this then is to ask, if Adam and Eve didn’t have free will, why would they make the wrong choice, and why would a loving God, want us to be deemed as failures even before we’ve had a chance to choose for Him?
            Looking at the story of Salvation, surely this is proof enough of God’s intention to give us the choice to open ourselves to His Grace.Otherwise there is no point to living as a Christian. There is no point to life really.

        • That was one of Luther’s problems with Calvin as well. He thought the whole double-predestination thing was a bit drastic. Luther was content to say that God elects some to be saved, and others, we can’t say one way or another. Or, to put it in my words, “Hell if I know.”

          • That sounds like something Luther would have said as well. 😉 I am still a newb to Thomism, but as I understand it St. Thomas Aquinas took the same position — that God predestined some to be saved, but left others to their own devices. Though as that Arminian guy I read recently, Roger Olson, argued, there’s no principled difference between that kind of predestination and double-predestination: that to not preordain to save some is the same as to preordain to damn them. I rather doubt Roger Olson is of a comparable intellect to Thomas Aquinas, but I’m not sure how St. Thomas would have answered that challenge.

  4. I think it is a good post but I know that the Protestants used sola gratia in a different way than what a Catholic would interpret. I wrote of this some time ago and wonder if you agree with this excerpt from my previous post:

    Sola Gratia or ‘by Grace Alone’ would seemingly be an innocuous enough statement and surely Catholics might also embrace such a sentiment. But along with this statement was the insistence by Protestant theologians that excluded the need for man to cooperate with God’s Grace. In fact, it seems to deny that God has given mankind “free will” at all. For their tenet seems to imply that humans are entirely incapable of saying yes or no to God’s Grace. Catholic’s naturally took a traditional stance holding that God’s gift of free will made it necessary for man to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, a life blessed with God’s Grace or a life bereft of Grace.

    Catholic thought agrees that any movement of mind or heart is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, who urges us to make our choice for God and to recoil from evil. But we need not heed these urgings. We can, in fact, choose wrongly and turn our face from God. Truly, isn’t this the essence of sin itself? To deny free will is to implicitly deny that man is incapable of sin: for without free will, how could we be held culpable?

    This led to the theological stance of Calvin regarding predestination – an untenable position that would leave God to judge every human at the moment of birth and either choose to supply or deny that soul the grace needed for salvation. Such a position makes our God of Love and Mercy a God more easily characterized by a despot or tyrant. Luther’s belief that human nature was totally corrupted by original sin was echoed in his doctrine concerning predestination. These ideas were stated in the Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod of Lutherans: “As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God’s grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it.” [1] Of course they could not answer it. In this theology God chooses to damn or save a person without any regard to the inner condition of their soul.

    • Yes, you are right, that particularly the Reformed (Calvinist) Protestants of whom I’m speaking here tend to understand grace in the way you describe — that they label monergism, God’s grace working by itself, solely and without any “help” from us. But certainly that’s not the way Luther understood grace or the way Lutherans understand it today: we have made progress toward an understanding with them. Neither do Arminians, or Wesleyans, or most other Protestant schools see it that way. You may have hit on the sticking point. They insist that Scripture teaches monergism, despite all the clear teaching to the contrary, and that to read anything other than that is “apostasy.” Can there be any reasoning with that?

      The rather ironic thing about monergism is that Scripture never uses that term (or its equivalent in Greek), but on a number of occasions uses the one they are arguing against, συνεργέω (synergeo, and variants) — to work together. “Working together with [God], then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 6:1). “For we are God’s fellow workers (συνεργόι, synergoi)” (1 Cor 3:9a).

      • That is an interesting point. Even with the progress that has been made, there is always a sticking point as you say. Maybe by God’s Grace this wall will be shattered as well. We can only pray.

  5. As always, I stress that there are many different forms of Protestantism–Calvinism doesn’t speak for all of us. Martin Luther certainly counts as a Protestant–he was the original. But Lutheran theology =/= Calvinist theology =/= Anabaptist theology =/= Zwinglian theology =/= Baptist theology etc. etc. I’ve considered writing a post on the word “Protestant” for this very reason.

    I still think a lot of misunderstanding surrounding faith, works, and salvation comes from a hideously warped understanding of what salvation is and how it is obtained. That salvation is some mystical “prize” that is won and can be held in the hand troubles me enough as it is. But the American mindset especially says, “What is the absolute minimum I must do in order to avoid hell” (again, so much wrong with this question) is especially problematic. Using this thinking, the only thing that is important is what “saves me”.

    I completely agree that good works are necessary. We are commanded to do them explicitly by God. There’s no getting around that. However, the good works themselves are not what repairs the relationship between us and God. That is what faith does, faith that can only come from the Holy Spirit. Nothing we do repairs that relationship, but living as a Christian is more than just having our “saved” card, as it were.

    • Certainly I’m only talking to Calvinists here, particularly the hard-core ones who bandy about terms like “apostasy” against anyone they disagree with (especially us). I understand well the many differences among Protestants. I was never among any group that was anti-Catholic growing up. The time or two I ran into such people, I defended Catholics ardently.

      There is definitely a lot of misunderstanding about grace and works — even about the terms and the words themselves. The idea that Catholics believe in salvation “by faith and works” doesn’t really get at the truth, I don’t think, though that phrase is pervasive and I’ve used it before myself. Our good works of charity “save” us in a different way than Jesus’s work on the Cross has saved us: they sanctify us and free us from the fetters of sin and further us along the road to final salvation. And that’s also a different kind of “works” than what I’m speaking about in what we have to do to be saved (have faith, repent, confess Christ, be baptized, and live the life of His grace). But a lot of people don’t understand the distinctions between these ideas, and hear “works” and think we think “works” can save us.

      I recently read a book that provoked a lot of thought, The Salvation Controversy by Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin (going by “James” at that time). Among other things, he addressed a number of different modes of speech in Scripture that modern interpreters, especially Protestants, have lost sight of: the senses of temporal salvation as opposed to eternal salvation; all the times that people in the Bible talk of being saved from something, and they don’t mean eternal salvation at all. Paul and the other writers say at different times that they have been saved, or are being saved, or will be saved. And Protestants tend to flatten it all out and see only eternal salvation as a fait accompli — yes, “Protestants” is a wide brush, but I certainly always did that as a Protestant. Jimmy finishes out the book with a look at justification through the lens of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Though he is a Catholic apologist, it was about the fairest and most frankest examination of these ideas I’ve ever seen.

        • The Holy Spirit has been variously translated as “advocate”, “intercessor”, “teacher, “helper”, “comforter”.
          ”Every salutary condition, power, and action, in fact the whole range of our salvation, comes within the Comforter’s mission. Its extraordinary effects are styled gifts, fruits, beatitudes. Its ordinary working is sanctification with all it entails, habitual grace, infused virtues, adoption, and the right to the celestial inheritance. “The charity of God”, says St. Paul (Romans 5:5), “is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is give to us.” In that passage the Paraclete is both the giver and the gift: the giver of grace (donum creatum) and the gift of the Father and the Son (donum increatum). St. Paul teaches repeatedly that the Holy Ghost dwells in us (Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16)”.
          The Holy Spirit does not give us faith, we have to be open to receiving the Grace of God in all we do and say in order for the Holy Spirit to act as a conduit between God and I.

  6. I’m no expert on RC theology, but I’ve understood the main difference in justification to be:

    Reformed: Men are made completely righteous before God by faith alone, good works come necessarily as a result of this, but do not add to it. Men are made completely perfect in the eyes of God through faith in Christ.

    RC: Men are made righteous before God through faith plus sacraments, indulgences, penance, etc. Purgatory is required of those who need to be made perfect before heaven.

    This is especially concerning to the Reformed protestant as the RC devalues the death of Christ by needing to ‘add’ to what He has already accomplished.

    Am I on the right track here?

    • Thank you for replying! This helps me understand a lot. But no — that’s not quite right. But you’re on the right track in that you have the standard misunderstandings. 😉

      I’ll do my best to answer briefly, but you know I’m not very good at that. I would be glad to address each of these issues in a separate post (in fact, I probably should anyway).

      In the Catholic view, it’s God’s grace alone, through faith, that justifies us. In a real sense, speaking of initial justification — that moment when one first comes to faith in Christ — it’s just as much “by faith alone” in our view as it is for y’all. It’s faith alone, the gift of God’s prevenient grace, that draws us and brings us to Him. It’s God’s free grace alone, by Christ’s sacrifice alone, that makes us righteous. But given that grace, we believe, we have the free will to accept it or reject it — we can always walk away, or “backslide” in the Protestant parlance.

      Speaking of the Sacraments, we have to be clear what we’re talking about. We mean, most fundamentally, Baptism. And what this amounts to is, as I said above, we have to do something to be saved; we have to accept and act on the grace we’re given. The act of Baptism does not in itself save us or make us worthy or righteous — it is not a “work” by which we try to earn anything. It is the means of God’s grace (as even Luther put it). Jesus works through the visible sign of the Sacrament to accomplish a spiritual cleansing and regeneration, the new birth He spoke of. Baptism is a requirement not because of any legalistic reason, but because it’s the way we come to that washing away of sins — in the same way that in order to wash away physical dirt, it’s a requirement to get wet. This is what the early Church clearly believed.

      This is long enough for now, but very briefly: penances are in no way “punishment” for sins, and they in no way try to atone for our sins. Our sins are forgiven by God’s free grace alone when we confess them and repent (as the Bible clearly teaches — the practice of auricular confession to a priest is just the way it happened to develop in the Church, rather than the public confession of the early Christians). Penance is a healing remedy that’s offered, a way to cleanse ourselves of the temporal effects of sin — for example, if I’ve been a lifelong alcoholic, even after I’ve been forgiven of the sin associated with that, I still have to deal with the cravings and temptations and bad habits that sin has caused in me. Penance is akin to a spiritual twelve-step program in that case (and that might very well be offered as a penance) — something we are offered (and do voluntarily, not as a “requirement” for forgiveness) to rehabilitate us spiritually, to make amends with our neighbor and our brother and sister in the Church.

      Ack! This is really getting too long. Purgatory fits into the same bucket as penance. In fact, the best way to understand it may be that if we haven’t completely rehabilitated ourselves from the effects of sin when we die — if I die and am still dealing with lusts and temptations and bad habits — then it stands for me to finish being purified before I can stand before God. It is no way detracts from Christ’s atonement or “adds” anything to it. My sin is already paid for in full — I am already forgiven — but I still have attachments to this world I need to let go of. Purgatory is a means of healing and cleansing and purifying, not of punishment. I wrote a little bit more about purgatory on All Saints’ and All Souls’, here. I also wrote a good bit on it in a comment to somebody recently that can probably be worked into a post.

      Indulgences are a poorly understood kettle of fish that not even Catholics talk about very much. They are certainly not a major part of Catholic spirituality. I wrote at some length about them here. The best way to explain them is as incentives to encourage the faithful to do certain good works — which is how they originated. The pope says, if you wear this medal, or pray this prayer, or visit all the great pilgrim churches in a year, or renew your baptismal vows, then, by the power of the keys, you are remitted from doing penance for a certain set of sins, or you have that much less to worry about in purgatory after you die. Granting an indulgence has nothing to do with atonement for sins or salvation or any other such.

      I know this is lengthy, but I hope it has cleared up some misunderstandings. 🙂 Feel free to ask questions if you have any more. My goal in this is not to convince you of anything, but to convince you, hopefully, that we hold to the same Gospel of grace that you do.

      • Hmm, interesting. Help me out with one more thing:

        A Reformed Protestant would believe in two important aspects of the atonement – the forgiveness of sins and the positive imputation of righteousness. So there’s a negative aspect (eliminating sins) and a positive aspect (imputing righteousness).

        Is the main difference, then, that RC theology denies that Christ attained for us the latter aspect?

        • No, we don’t deny imputation of righteousness. But that really depends on what you mean by that. God does not impute (credit, account, ascribe, assign) to us the sins He has forgiven (Romans 4:8). He imputes as righteousness to us (He counts it as righteous) the living faith He has breathed into us (Romans 4:5). This is the way Scripture and the Church Fathers referred to imputation.

          We do disagree with the way Protestants use that word — as a forensic declaration that something that isn’t righteous is in fact righteous in God’s eyes, as a “crediting” or “transfer” to us of an alien, external righteousness. We believe that the grace, the faith, the agape, the righteousness from God that He infuses into us (Romans 3:22), justifies us and makes us actually, internally righteous through that justification. This accomplishes both the negative aspect — forgiveness of our sins and cleansing of its stain (Isaiah 1:18) — and the positive aspect — bringing us to righteousness, sanctifying us, and renewing us (Romans 6:19,22).

        • Thanks for all your replies! RC theology in particular isn’t something I’ve looked into a lot (other than monergism vs synergism). You have definitely inspired me to look more into things!

  7. Joe –

    I followed your path as well and was confirmed last April into the Catholic Church. I am constantly frustrated by men like RC Sproul who claim that Catholics are semi-peliagian when there is no basis in fact or reason to make such claims. Rome has never, never stated that man can initially come to God without grace. A semi-pelagian believes that man can initially come to God without grace. Sproul keeps spouting off a new definition of semi-pelagianism to denegrate Catholicism. The Reformation, in the end, was more about creating a new church. It was about power, control and the removal of the priestly class then searching for truth. There was no proto-protestant church in history.

    • Thank you so much for the comment! Yes, you are absolutely right! I get frustrated with Sproul especially because he is such a prominent leader and is so active in attacking Catholic theology (no doubt because of the recent rash of defections from Geneva to Rome). I am sure he leads many astray, but I like to think that the more defections there are, the more of the Reformed will actually examine the claims of the Catholic Church and not just listen to the inaccuracies and misrepresentations from Sproul and James White and others. I haven’t read any of Sproul’s anti-Catholic material — I tried to read James White’s and it was so emotionally and spiritually draining to review it that I had to stop. But I have a very difficult time understanding how someone as intelligent and gifted as Sproul seems to be is so incorrigible in his distorted picture of Catholic theology. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if he does it on purpose — but I think the real reason is that many are so deeply committed to the ideals and tradition of the Reformation that they are completely unable to see or believe anything else.

      Do you know Called to Communion? It’s one of my favorite blogs and websites. Bryan Cross and the many other writers there are brilliant in their criticisms undermining the attacks of Sproul and others. It is the headquarters of those leaving Geneva for Rome. If you haven’t read it, read Jason Stellman’s account of his conversion to Rome, and listen to his interview. He was a prominent Reformed pastor who has shaken the Reformed world with his decision to come to Rome.

  8. Pingback: Some questions about justification and righteousness « The Lonely Pilgrim

  9. I forgot to add that Sproul’s CDs on Rome helped lead me to my conversion. Sproul agreed with Rome constantly on that tape and his biggest issue was penance. Sproul wants a system where the temporal effect of sin isn’t punished and only intellectual belief is necessary to be saved. Scripture commands us to work for God. Many people twist the word work into meaning that there is a certain level of work that one must perform and they get into heaven (i.e., a works religion). Christ commands us to work and people don’t want to hear that fact. Either Christ failed with Rome and he’s a false prophet or he created Rome and didn’t fail. Protestantism is built upon church failure.

      • Hmm, I’ve never heard the “Ecclesial Deism” before. An interesting term. I can certainly see most Protestants agreeing with the defiintion given by Mr. Cross, which is a shame, because I don’t agree that I’m an ecclesial deist. I don’t believe the Roman Catholic Church has fallen into heresy or apostasy. As someone who has been called both, I am sensitive to the labels. Nor do I believe that Christ abandoned the church–what I have is a different understanding of what the church is.

        Unfortunately, I know of too many Christians who would not hesitate to label the Roman Catholic Church apostate and confidently claim that the Spirit has abandoned it.

        • It’s a term Bryan invented, I think, but I think it’s very apt, and a very piercing article. And yes, that’s, in half, the way most Protestants would answer. Whether they believe and argue that the Catholic Church is apostate or not, the only possible justification for forming and maintaining a separate church body is that the Catholic Church is not the Church. But that’s not the understanding the Church had of herself for 1,500 years. To hold to a different understanding of what the Church is is to accept that Luther and the Reformers were right. And one of the things they argued, and their justification initially for forming their own churches, was that the Catholic Church had fallen into apostasy and was no longer the Church of Christ; that the Holy Spirit had taken His hand off the Catholic Church, and that the Church was something other than how she had traditionally understood herself. Protestant thought is a slippery slope, that no matter how it is framed ultimately leads back to ecclesial deism.

          • We do accept that the Orthodox churches have valid Holy Orders and apostolic succession. But they are out of communion with the See of Peter, on which Christ said He would found His Church. Most Orthodox acknowledge that Peter and his successors have primacy, but they believe it was meant to be a primacy among equals, and that the bishop of Rome overstepped his authority. The Orthodox are nonetheless left with the argument that Rome somehow departed from orthodox teaching, in papal claims and in the filioque, and is no longer the true Church.

            We believe that the true Church is One, Holy, and Apostolic. Most Orthodox have at least two out of three, the Holy and Apostolic. Many Protestants may have the Holy. But when examining who is One, it’s not very difficult to see that the Orthodox are anything but one. Protestants — ’nuff said. Jesus Himself wills that “all of them may be one.” And Peter, and therefore Rome, is the veritable foundation stone of Christ’s Church (Matt 16:18). And both as a testament to her veracity and as a fruit, the Roman Catholic Church, more than any other, has preserved a remarkable degree of unity around the world and through all the ages.

  10. The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church may be separated, but this does not mean that Eastern Orthodoxy is not a full Church in the sense that the Catholic one is. The EO has apostolic succession, valid sacraments, and the like. The EO is in schism, but it still has apostolic succession. Protestant churches have no apostolic succession and are heretical. Huge difference between heresy and schism IMO. Anytime my Protestant friends think about joining the Eastern Orthodox instead of the Catholic Church I welcome them to join to get away from the theological relativism of pism. The Reformation was over power and authority more than it ever was about theology. The reason the Reformation stuck was that the priestly class was removed and people were now free to be their own priest, pope and church. Heck, my soul cries out that I be my own God due to its sinful nature.

  11. I guess what Protestants believe is that Catholics think that one can “buy their way” into heaven either through money (charity) or helping grandmas cross the street. Good works are part of FAITHFULNESS, they are not about “earning” God’s favor.
    The common line that everyone is a terrible sinner, is a misunderstood one. The Scriptures clearly differentiate between grave, obstinate sinners and those who are not. Why else would it call some people wicked and some as righteous. Everyone is just a wicked sinner anyway, right?

  12. Too many Protestants totally misrepresent the Catholic, Orthodox, Assyrian, Anabaptist and Methodist positions. If we look at them all we find that NONE believes in salvation by works. What they actually believe is salvation by a living faith as opposed to a dead faith. A living faith is evidenced by good works, not works of the law, but works of obedience to Christ. The problem with the “faith alone” mantra is that 1) James contradicts it, and 2) it gives the false impression that we don’t have to obey Jesus who said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

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