Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Justification, historical theology, and apostasy


Earlier today, in the comments section of the “Did Thomas Aquinas embrace Sola Scriptura?” thread, Matt posted some cogent thoughts on the Robert Reymond article that I had linked to earlier. After typing up a brief response, I decided to pull Reymond’s, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, off of the shelf, and reread his section on justification (pages 739-756), for I had remembered that he had written some convoluted thoughts on the pre-Reformation theologians who did not embrace his understanding of justification by faith alone. The following is what he actually penned:

Finally, the Protestant doctrine calls into question the salvation of millions of Christians throughout history. This argument, made in our time even by some Protestants, against a rigid application of Protestantism’s doctrine of justification by faith alone contends that if God justifies only those who self-consciously renounce all reliance upon any and all works of righteousness which they have done or will ever do and trust in Christ’s vicarious cross work alone, then one much conclude that the vast majority of professing Christians throughout history were not and are not saved. This vast group would include, we are informed, such church fathers as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas who as sacerdotalists believed in baptismal regeneration and, because they confused justification and sanctification, believed also in the necessity of deeds of penance for salvation. Against this Protestant rigidity it is urged that just as God predestinates by grace alone Arminians who have a faulty understanding of the of the doctrine of election, so too He justifies by faith alone Roman Catholics, among others, whose understanding of justification differs (that is, it does not affirm justification by “faith alone”) from classic Protestantism’s doctrine of justification.

This argument, however, is aimed not so much against Protestantism’s “rigidity” as it is against Paul’s insistence (1) that there is only one gospel—justification by faith alone in Christ’s work alone
…(Pages 753, 754.)

In footnote #63 he references J. L. Neve’s, A History of Christian Thought, and comments that he:

carefully documents in the Apostolic Fathers how quickly after the age of Paul—doubtless due to pagan and Jewish influences without and the tug of the Pelagian heart within—the emphasis of their preaching and writings fell more and more upon works and their merit and moralism. It is one of the saddest facts of church history that from the post-apostolic age onward the church fell more and more into serious soteriological error, with grace and faith given way to legalism and the doing of good works as the pronounced way of salvation. Only upon rare occasion, and not even fully in Augustine, was the voice of Paul clearly heard again before the sixteenth-century Reformation [note: he cites NO examples]. (Page 754.)

Reymond then concludes:

What I mean by this in the present context is that the clear teaching of the Word of God should be upheld and we should not look for reasons to avoid it, even if the alternative would force us to conclude that these fathers—and all others like them—were not saved. (Page 754.)

Clearly, we have in Reymond yet another example of one who embraces ECCLESIAL DEISM. Reymond joins R.C. Sproul, James R. White, and so many other Protestant apologists, who essentially argue that virtually the entire Church became apostate after the close of the Apostolic period, and that “the true Gospel” was not recovered until the 16th century.


So much for the promise of our Lord that He would be with His Church, unto the end of the world.


Grace and peace,

David


P.S. For another excellent thread on justification and historical theology see Neal Judisch’s POST.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

David quotes Reymond as follows:

"Only upon rare occasion, and not even fully in Augustine, was the voice of Paul clearly heard again before the sixteenth-century Reformation" and then notes:

[note: he cites NO examples]. (Page 754.)

Rory says:

He is describing total apostasy. Who would be interested in a religion whose "church" goes longer than a thousand years without having any known convert and whose most prominent members are burning in Hell?

I wonder if he has any concern about the spiritual insights of the non-elect reprobates with whom he agrees regarding the Nicene and Chalcedonian teachings. I would be hesitant to think that enemies of Christ would have nailed those difficult teachings perfectly. Since they were unregenerate, I would almost tend towards believing that they were undoubtedly wrong.

I wonder if Reymond and his followers have heard of the Mormons? They would seem to have a lot in common and could perhaps learn from each other.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

I love my grandkids, but after nearly two weeks of visits, this beachbum is enjoying some ‘free’ time again—you wrote:

>>He is describing total apostasy. Who would be interested in a religion whose "church" goes longer than a thousand years without having any known convert and whose most prominent members are burning in Hell?>>

Me: Amen Roars…the notion of elect believers in ‘caves’ is even contrary to the OT IMHO.

>>I wonder if he has any concern about the spiritual insights of the non-elect reprobates with whom he agrees regarding the Nicene and Chalcedonian teachings. I would be hesitant to think that enemies of Christ would have nailed those difficult teachings perfectly. Since they were unregenerate, I would almost tend towards believing that they were undoubtedly wrong.>>

Me: I think you would/will be a bit shocked with what Reymond has penned about the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers concerning the doctrine of the Trinity…will type up his comments Monday…


Take care and God bless,

David

Randy said...

This is actually logically consistent. If Catholics could be saved then the reformation is impossible to justify. It was about Luther's pet doctrine. But if it was an essential doctrine you can say it was worth it. To say the church was split over a non-essential doctrine would be very hard for protestants to swallow.

God justifies only those who self-consciously renounce all reliance upon any and all works of righteousness which they have done or will ever do and trust in Christ’s vicarious cross work alone

I do think that the standard is pretty high. If you do a survey well over 90% of protestants don't meet this standard. Even if they answer right who is to say they don't have some subconcious works-righteousness thinking lurking somewhere? It is very hard to make your faith totally pure in this area. This is especially true since so many biblical passages ignore this distinction and talk about salvation in terms of works. Jesus was especially bad for doing this.

Anonymous said...

Hey Randy,

Good points all around. From the Reformers oint of view it is logically consistent necessity that Augustine, Athanasius, and Aquinas were unregenerate because of a faulty theology.

What seems inconsistent is the apparent unwillingness to reevaluate Trinitarian and Christological doctrines. Since the doctrinal formulations at Nicea and Chalcedon developed over several centuries, it would seem possible that a Church of an unregenerate leadership would have erred on this as well. I realize that the Reformers would say that they believe those doctrines because the Bible teaches them, not because of any supposed authority to Catholic councils. To me however, it just seems strange (if not inconsistent) that a community allegedly composed of non-elect, depraved, enemies of God would, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit understand these essential doctrines so well.

I would offer a word on the standard you mentioned: "God justifies only those who self-consciously renounce all reliance upon any and all works of righteousness which they have done or will ever do and trust in Christ’s vicarious cross work alone"

I think a Catholic can come quite close to accepting those words. Salvific works are not generated from within. I renounce any work I have ever done. The Reformers don't make a distinction between charitable works performed by supernatural grace, and good human works performed by virtue of natural attributes. The only reason I mention this is not because I imagine that a Protestant will read this and begin to accept the distinction. The reason I mention it is so that anyone of good will can see that if they would understand Catholic soteriology, they have to draw that distinction. I would have it known how repugnant, to him who understands his own weakness, to imagine that we can generate any meritorious work of our own.

Rory
As against the Calvinist view, we can refuse grace, but in agreement with Calvin, we cannot be the source. In that context, I "self-consciously renounce all reliance upon any and all works of righteousness which they (I) have done or will ever do."

I could probably go on to the "vicarious work on the Cross" except that I wouldn't want to exclude any part of our Lord's Passion, with His crucifixion being the culmination of course.

Randy said...

I think Catholics would remove the word "self-consciously" for starters. The concept of renouncing works and embracing grace through faith is right. Even good works not done out of love for God would need to be rejected. But could this happen without being fully aware of it? Could an imperfect renouncing be considered adequate? I think the answer is "Yes". Part of this involves the sacramental grace of baptism and/or confession making up for the imperfections in one's faith.

But even without water baptism there can be an acceptance of God's grace perhaps under another name. We cannot assume God has not done this.

David Waltz said...

Hi Randy,

Some good points; I would add to your thoughts the emphasis that the sacraments are not “works”, but rather are the ‘normal means’ for God’s grace—even some Reformed folk are arriving at this understanding:

“But we do need to communicate that God works powerfully and savingly through his means of grace, including baptism. We do need to emphasize that baptism is a merciful work of God, and not so much a human act of devotion. We do need to reiterate, again and again, that through baptism, the Spirit incorporates us into the elect community, the church, which is the bride and body of Christ. We do need to teach that baptism is our initiation into the covenant of grace, and therefore grants privileges and imposes obligations. Most importantly, we need to confess our faith “in one baptism for the remission of sins” and in the gloriously gracious God who acts through the waters of baptism to bring us to himself.” (Rich Lusk, Baptismal Efficacy.)


Grace and peace,

David

Randy said...

Thanks David. I don't think the reformed churches are that far off. At least the church I was raised in talked about the sacraments and the word as "means of grace". Of course they believed in infant baptism which not all protestants do. So they see it as efficatious even if the person being baptized is unaware of what is happening.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Dave, of course the problem here is that the Reformers' definition of "sola fide" was different from the view of every single non-heretical ECF upto the Reformation. As Saint Augustine's writings demonstrate, there was no dichotomy between faith and works in the Catholic Church. All works are the result of the graces that God has chosen to give us, thus all works are in effect God's works. Protestants have refused to recognize the fact that the Catholic Church has always taught this in order to justify their own works of willful disobedience against the Body of Christ.

Matt said...

Sorry for the late entry here, but I just want to note (because I am basically speechless) that this is one of the saddest and most painful things that I have ever read. (Reymond, of course!)

Acolyte4236 said...

Anon,

They did revise Christology and dissent from Chalcedon. See Richard Muller's, Christ and the Decree.

The odd thing is why they accepted the Filioque. Most Protestant exegetes today admit it can't be demonstrated by sola scriptura, yet they retain it and not a wiff of protest.