Friday, April 3, 2015

Beggars All and the Jehovah's Witnesses position concerning justification—yet another misrepresentation of a non-Reformed soteriology


Back on 07-03-14, I published a post (link) that brought into question a thread at the Beggars All blog (link) which adopted the assertion that the Council of Trent "reaffirmed" semi-Pelaganism that was "condemned at Orange in 529 AD".

There were also those infamous threads at BA which attempted to defend the charge that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI "is pretty much a full-blown Pantheist" (see this post for links to those threads). But, it seems that misrepresentation at BA is not limited to the Catholic Church... 

In a thread published on 03/31/15 at Beggars All (link), James Swan relates to his readers, "what the Jehovah's Witnesses have to say about Luther".

He provides selections from a The Watchtower, 09-15-03, article, with the title, "Martin Luther—The Man and His Legacy" (available online here).

The first two quotes pertain directly to Martin Luther, but the third quote, moves beyond the historical Luther into the realm of theology, specifically, what James believes JWs believe/teach concerning justification. He prefaces the third quote he provided from the JW article with:

What I looked for as I read the article was how it gave testimony to the distinctives of the Watchtower. For instance, the Watchtower article mentions justification.

The quote itself is immediately followed by the following:

Someone reading these statements quickly might find them within the realm of orthodoxy. Certainly it's true that Luther thought himself not worthy of God's favor. Certainly it's true that Luther had his evangelical breakthrough by "Bible study, prayer, and meditation." It is true that "Luther recognized that God’s favor cannot be earned." It is true that salvation is "by faith and not by works, or penance." What's missing from these statements is Luther's emphasis on the righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners (alien righteousness), and the word "alone," as in "faith alone." The majority of the article focuses on what Luther did: his works. Without stating it explicitly, the Watchtower has presented its soteriology: having faith in God and doing works.

The last portion, "having faith in God and doing works", is a hyperlink that leads one to an online article, published on John Ankerberg's apologetic website (LINK).

I have some difficulties with James assessment(s). First, it is an error to extrapolate that if, "Luther's emphasis on the righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners (alien righteousness), and the word 'alone,' as in 'faith alone'", are "missing" in an article on Luther, then one should conclude the soteriology of the author writing the article denies those concepts. If one adopts such methodology, consistency would lead one to also conclude that the Bible denies those concepts, for one will not find therein an explicit statement of, "the righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners (alien righteousness)", nor will one find the phrase "faith alone" used in the sense that one is "justified by faith alone"; in fact, "faith alone" is found only once in the entire Bible, and it is used in a negative sense: one is NOT justified by "faith alone" (James 2:24).

Second, one should not rely on a professional apologist to discern what someone else (and/or group) believes. One should always let that person, or group, speak for themselves. It is a rare instance to find a professional apologist giving a totally accurate picture of a person, or group, he disagrees with. The article linked to by James is unreliable, for it omits a good deal of germane evidence that contradicts the two authors (Ankerberg and Weldon) conclusion: Jehovah's Witnesses teach a "works salvation". The following explicit JW texts are not to be found in their article:

Is anything more than faith needed in order to gain salvation?

Eph. 2:8, 9, RS: By grace ["undeserved kindness," NW] is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (The entire provision for salvation is an expression of God’s undeserved kindness. There is no way that a descendant of Adam can gain salvation on his own, no matter how noble his works are. Salvation is a gift from God given to those who put faith in the sin-atoning value of the sacrifice of his Son.)

Heb. 5:9, RS: “He [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Italics added.) (Does this conflict with the statement that Christians are “saved through faith”? Not at all. Obedience simply demonstrates that their faith is genuine.)

James 2:14, 26, RS: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (A person does not earn salvation by his works. But anyone who has genuine faith will have works to go with it—works of obedience to the commands of God and Christ, works that demonstrate his faith and love. Without such works, his faith is dead.)

Acts 16:30, 31 RS: “‘Men, what must I do to be saved?’ And they [Paul and Silas] said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” (If that man and his household truly believed, would they not act in harmony with their belief? Certainly.) [Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989, p. 359.]

These sheeplike ones are not justified or declared righteous on the basis of their own works any more than the 144,000 heirs of Christ are. The prime thing that counted was the thing that was evidenced by their trying to do what they could in behalf of Christ just as the situation afforded, namely, their faith in him as the Messiah or Christ of God. They recognized that they had no righeousness wholly pleasing to God in themselves. In harmony with this they availed themselves of the propitiatory blood of the sacrificial Lamb of god, Jesus Christ. (John 1:29, 36) To gain a righteous apperance before Jehovah God, they did a washing, as it were, of their symbolic robes. [God's Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, 1973.]

Finishing his earthly course free from flaw in any sense of the word, Jesus was acknowledged by God as justified. He was thus the only man, who through test, stood firmly and positively just, or righeous before God on his own merit. By this "one act of justification [form of di•kai'o•ma],"that is, by Jesus' proving himself perfectly righteous his entire flawless course, including his sacrifice, he provided the basis for declaring righteous those persons having faith in Christ.—Rom. 5:17-19; 3:25, 26; 4:25. [Aid to Bible Understanding, 1971, p. 437.]

[Note: emphasis in the above selections are in the original.]

The above quotes present the offical view of Jehovah's Witnesses concerning justification by faith [alone]. No amount of sophistry will change this teaching into a "works salvation" soteriology, as Ankerberg and Weldon have attempted to accomplish in their misleading article.

As for the Jehovah's Witnesses view of Martin Luther, the fullest treatment that I am aware of is in the book, Mankind's Search for God (1990). Chapter 13, "The Reformation—The Search Took a New Turn", is 29 pages long, with pages 314-319 being devoted to Luther. The treatment is certainly a brief one, but, I find nothing in it that is historically inaccurate.

Shall end this post here, sincerely hoping that I have brought some clarity and accuracy to the Jehovah's Witnesses view on justification.



Grace and peace,

David

10 comments:

Melanie said...

Hi David,

I've been reading your posts on and off for a few months and I confess that I cannot figure out your doctrinal stance. Do you believe that the JW's are orthodox? Are you presently a Witness or are you still a Catholic. I agree with your assessment of the typical Protestant apologetic; that it is not consistent with church history and that the church has always been more or less catholic, but some of your views seem to be atypical given your view of church history.

David Waltz said...

Hi Melanie,

Thanks much for taking the time to comment. In your post, you asked:

==Do you believe that the JW's are orthodox? ==

Me: If you mean by "orthodox", that they hold to the great Catholic Tradition, I would answer with a resounding NO.

==Are you presently a Witness or are you still a Catholic.==

Me: I was born into the JW paradigm (4th generation), but left them in 1983. I published this thread because I have a certain disdain for shoddy apologetics and misrepresentation, not because I consider the JWs to be a viable option within the greater Christian paradigm. I have grave issues with a number of doctrines currently held by the JWs, but firmly believe that one needs to take issue with what they actually believe, not some ''strawman' misrepresentation.

As for Catholicism, I have not been attending Mass since 2010 because of two de fide teachings that I have not been able to give assent to. I have been praying and pondering over this issue, asking for God's grace and assistance to lead me to a correct understanding of His will concerning this important matter...


God bless,

David

Melanie said...

Thank you for getting back in touch with me. I'm actually Sam BTW, I'm signed in with my wife's google account.

I too am tired of the shoddy apologetics, which in truth are actually thinly veiled polemics, I think. I am also tired of Baptists in particular, but Protestants in general, who insist that their church or denomination bears continuity with the early church.

I presently attend a Lutheran church which is at least sacramental and more or less in keeping with historic Christianity. What is your position on the Eastern and Anglican churches? What would keep you from fellowshiping with them?

-Sam

David Waltz said...

Hello again Sam,

Thanks for the correction concerning your name. In your last comment, you asked:

==What is your position on the Eastern and Anglican churches? What would keep you from fellowshiping with them?==

First, Eastern Orthodoxy. The two de fide teachings that I am currently struggling with are also part of the official teachings of the EO churches (the real physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and the infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils).

Second, Anglicanism. For better or worse, I have been heavily influenced by John Henry Newman when it comes to Anglicanism. His erudite assessments have made too much of an impression for me to consider entering the Anglican communion.

Now, I have a question for you: what is your assessment of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification document produced by Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue Commission ? [LINK TO DOCUMENT]


Grace and peace,

David

Melanie said...

Hello again,

I have responded by email as well as post here, as I am not sure which you would prefer for extended conversations.

I have read the joint declaration once and had a conversation with a gentleman before about this very topic. Paragraph 15 seems to be the most significant portion of the document:

"In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."

The Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican agreed on the above paragraph but the rest of the document consists of each party parsing and nuancing the language to suit their respective theologies. I can see how critics of the joint declaration are right to say that there is no real unity presented in the document, but nevertheless, I still think that it is a positive thing to at least come to a mutual understanding and to accept whatever doctrinal divides exist without damning one another. I don't think that Christ ever intended his body to be divided into warring factions.

Another question that may be asked is "which doctrine of justification is the historic one"? I was a Baptist once and would have told anyone that Sola-fide was the heart of the gospel and that no one holding to any kind of works righteousness was a true Christian. After much reading I reluctantly came to the conclusion that if Sola-fide was essential to salvation then practically no one was saved prior to Luther. My personal belief is that the RCC conflates faith and works while greater Protestantism (evangelicalism in particular) divorces faith from works, which in my opinion are errors, though not damnable. As a Baptist I finally could no longer plaster over verses like this one from Revelation," blessed are they that do his commandments that they may have right to the tree of life." How could I continue to deny the role that works play in salvation without repudiating the scriptures themselves? To put it succinctly, I believe that works are necessary, and perhaps meritorious in a sense, but ultimately they flow from a saving faith, just as Abraham believed, but his faith was made perfect only after attempting to offer Isaac, the angel speaking "now I know that you fear God."

I know I went long in this response. I hope you don't find my thoughts childish; I'm not as well read as you.

Peace,

-Sam

David Waltz said...

Hi Sam,

Thanks much for your cogent response to my question. I have guests arriving shortly for an extended spring-break weekend visit, so this post is not going to be as thorough as I would like it to be. I will probably have to wait until Monday to check out your email, and provide any substantial reflections. Thanks for your patience in advance...

In your post, you wrote:

== The Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican agreed on the above paragraph but the rest of the document consists of each party parsing and nuancing the language to suit their respective theologies. I can see how critics of the joint declaration are right to say that there is no real unity presented in the document, but nevertheless, I still think that it is a positive thing to at least come to a mutual understanding and to accept whatever doctrinal divides exist without damning one another. I don't think that Christ ever intended his body to be divided into warring factions.==

Me: Excepting the statement, "that there is no real unity presented in the document" (I would prefer something along the lines of, 'full unity is not presented in the document'), I concur with what you said, especially, "that Christ ever intended his body to be divided into warring factions."

== Another question that may be asked is "which doctrine of justification is the historic one"? I was a Baptist once and would have told anyone that Sola-fide was the heart of the gospel and that no one holding to any kind of works righteousness was a true Christian. After much reading I reluctantly came to the conclusion that if Sola-fide was essential to salvation then practically no one was saved prior to Luther.==

Me: Well said. Have you read Matthew C. Heckel's excellent essay, "IS R. C. SPROUL WRONG ABOUT MARTIN LUTHER?" (Link to online pdf copy)

[You may find this related thread of interest.]

==As a Baptist I finally could no longer plaster over verses like this one from Revelation," blessed are they that do his commandments that they may have right to the tree of life." How could I continue to deny the role that works play in salvation without repudiating the scriptures themselves? To put it succinctly, I believe that works are necessary, and perhaps meritorious in a sense, but ultimately they flow from a saving faith, just as Abraham believed, but his faith was made perfect only after attempting to offer Isaac, the angel speaking "now I know that you fear God."==

Me: Once again, well said. The import of the verse you mentioned from Revelation can be found in a least a couple of dozen other verses in the NT (not to mention some germane verses from the OT). One of my personal favorites is from 1 John 3:7:

"Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous."

==I know I went long in this response. I hope you don't find my thoughts childish...==

Me: I appreciate the length, and found your thoughts to be cogent and germane. Thanks for taking the time to share them with me.

Have much more I would like to relate on this subject, but have a few chores that need to be taken care of before my guests arrive. Sincerely hope that we can continue this discussion Monday.


God bless,

David

Melanie said...

Hi David,

Yes, I'll read as much of that article you linked as I can and we can resume on Monday. I'll message you with what I find in the document if I don't hear from you first.I hope you enjoy your time with company. Thanks much.

Peace,

-Sam

David Waltz said...

Hi Sam,

My busy spring-break with visiting family guests is now over, and I am eager to resume our dialogue.

I just finished going through the last week of unread emails, but did not see one from you. I may have missed it (almost 900 emails), if so, could you resend...

Were you able to read Heckel's article ???


Grace and peace

David

Melanie said...

Hi David,

I read the article and found it very helpful in explaining the reformers' attitude toward the pre-reformation church. It is interesting to note how the 1st and 2nd generation reformers considered the Roman church to be authentically Christian, but modern popular Reformed writers do not. Why the polemicism if it is not the historic Reformed position? Why does Sproul get away with such broad mis-characterization of the issue?

What the article did not seem to address is which of the two soteriologies is the true and historical one. I think it is significant to note that the Father that the Protestants claim as their own (Augustine) did not hold to sola-fide. What does this say for Sola-fide? Was Augustine not well versed in the scriptures? Or was the Reformation doctrine an overstatement and a reaction to the works-righteousness of medieval Christianity?

I personally have not found sola-fide so plainly laid out in scripture that I can subscribe to it without qualification. But if I find myself qualifying Reformed soteriology how is this any different from the Roman formulation of "faith working through charity"? My point is that I find very little difference between the Reformed and the Catholic understanding once everyone has elaborated their position sufficiently. The Reformed, when backed into a corner, will admit that works are necessary but not meritorious. The Catholic, while making the claim that works can be meritorious, will admit that these works flow from God entirely by grace. I honestly do not see enough of a difference to divide the church any longer.

Your thoughts?

Peace,

-Sam

David Waltz said...

Good morning Sam,

Thanks much for your thoughtful response; your wrote:

==I read the article and found it very helpful in explaining the reformers' attitude toward the pre-reformation church. It is interesting to note how the 1st and 2nd generation reformers considered the Roman church to be authentically Christian, but modern popular Reformed writers do not. Why the polemicism if it is not the historic Reformed position? Why does Sproul get with such broad mis-characterization of the issue?==

Me: The early Calvinistic Reformers were able to differentiate between the historic Catholic Church and the Papacy/Pope (as did Luther). Using the 'historic' interpretation of the book of Revelation, they saw the Pope as the Antichrist of the endtimes, but realized that according to 2 Thess. 2:4, the Son of Perdition (i.e. Antichrist) "sitteth in the temple of God", interpreting "the temple of God", as the Church; and as all know, the only Church to which the Reformers could point to was the historic Catholic Church.

As to why Sproul "get[s] with such broad mis-characterization of the issue", I think it is in part due to a highly selective presentation of the history of the Reformation and the Reformers (i.e. a 'sanitized' version).

==What the article did not seem to address is which of the two soteriologies is the true and historical one. I think it is significant to note that the Father that the Protestants claim as their own (Augustine) did not hold to sola-fide. What does this say for Sola-fide? Was Augustine not well versed in the scriptures? Or was the Reformation doctrine an overstatement and a reaction to the works-righteousness of medieval Christianity?==

Me: I believe that the latter view is the correct one.

==I personally have not found sola-fide so plainly laid out in scripture that I can subscribe to it without qualification.==

Me: Indeed, does not James 2:20-24 require "qualification" ?

==But if I find myself qualifying Reformed soteriology how is this any different from the Roman formulation of "faith working through charity"? My point is that I find very little difference between the Reformed and the Catholic understanding once everyone has elaborated their position sufficiently. The Reformed, when backed into a corner, will admit that works are necessary but not meritorious. The Catholic, while making the claim that works can be meritorious, will admit that these works flow from God entirely by grace. I honestly do not see enough of a difference to divide the church any longer.==

Me: Reformed scholar, A.N.S. Lane, in his masterful book, Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue (LINK), comes to the same conclusion as you, identifying that the only real difference (once polemics are jettisoned) between the Catholic position and most Protestants is the issue of whether justification is infused or imputed to the believer; noting that the imputation theory was a 16th century "theological novem".

Sincerely appreciate your continued interest and participation in this important issue.


Grace and peace,

David