Monday, April 13, 2015

FROM CONFLICT TO COMMUNION - Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017

A few days ago, while engaged in some online research, I came upon a document that was published back in 2013 which I had been unaware of: FROM CONFLICT TO COMMUNION - Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

The document/report was a collaborative effort of The Lutheran–Roman Catholic Commission on Unity (formerly known as "The Joint Lutheran - Roman Catholic Study Commission on the Gospel and the Church"), and the following is an introduction to the report, published on The Lutheran World Federation website (LINK):

The Luther-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity invites all Christians to study its report open-mindedly and critically, and to walk along the path towards the full, visible unity of the Church.

In 2017, Catholics and Lutherans will jointly look back on the event of the Reformation and reflect on 50 years of official worldwide ecumenical dialogue during which time the communion they share anew has continued to grow.

This encourages Lutherans and Catholics to celebrate together the common witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, amidst this celebration, they will also have reason to experience the suffering caused by the division of the Church, and to look self-critically at themselves, not only throughout history, but also through today’s realities.

And from the Forward of the document/report, we read:

The true unity of the church can only exist as unity in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that the struggle for this truth in the sixteenth century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history. In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church. This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:4–6).

I read this interesting document/report last week before spring-break guests arrived on Thursday. I plan on rereading it again in greater depth, with an emphasis on the 91 footnotes, and may publish some reflections in a new thread once I have finished the task.

I hope a few readers will take the time to read through the document, and share their assessment/s in the combox.

[Links to document: HTML; PDF.]

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Beggars All and James Swan: from bad to worse...

James Swan of the Beggars All blog, on 04-05-15, added "Addendum #2" to his recent thread (link), that I commented on in my last post here at AF (link).

He begins "Addendum #2" with the following highly subjective opinion:

The response was written by an ex-defender of Rome (if I recall correctly) with whom this blog has interacted with over the years. Of my interactions with this blogger, I've noticed the imprecise defining of theological positions (the very thing I'm being accused of with his latest response).

James certainly has the right to share his opinion(s) with us, but I hope he realizes that such subjective opinions will not carry much weight with informed readers. Before moving on to his ONE example of my supposed "imprecise defining of theological positions", I would like to point out his statement that I was "an ex-defender of Rome" is "imprecise". What precisely does he mean by "Rome" ??? Does he mean the Rome of the historic Roman empire ? Does he mean the "Roman Church" as understood by Martin Luther, in distinction from the Papacy ? Does he mean the Bishops of Rome, in distinction from the official documents of the historic "Catholic Tradition" ? Does he mean the Roman Catholic Church as a separate denomination from the hundreds of other Christian sects ? (Hope everyone realizes that I am using the above questioning as a hyperbolic function.)

James then wrote:

For instance, in our previous interaction, the blogger thinks Luther held the "Roman church" is a true church, but failed to account for Luther's important distinction between the Roman church and the papal church. He used a quote without a context (that when read in context, demonstrates the distinction).

In our earlier "interactions", James had the decency to refer to me by name, but now, I am just "the blogger" (condescension ?). Be that as it may, I find the phrase, "the blogger thinks Luther held the "Roman Church" is a true church, to be "imprecise", and this because it gives one the initial impression that Luther himself did not believe that the Roman Catholic Church of his day retained enough truth to still be considered a Christian church; that this is something I just 'think' he held to. Thankfully, James does clear this matter up in an older post of his; note the following:

Mr. Waltz is accurate: the particular quote he utilized does point out that Luther did not deny the Roman church was a Christian church: "I honor the Roman Church. She is pious, has God’s Word and Baptism, and is holy."

It seems that James' charge of imprecision has nothing to do with whether or not the quote I provided was accurate, for he agrees with me that, "Luther did not deny the Roman church was a Christian church"; which, for the record, was EXACTLY what I was attempting to convey in my original post (link). With this in mind, I think it is important ask why James believes that my quote is "out of context" if the distinction (the fact the Luther separated the Papacy from the "Roman Church") he obsesses on is not included ? (I suspect that I am not the only one who believes that no less than five specific threads on this issue, plus the "Addendum #2", lies within the realm of obsession).

In my 'book', for a quote to be construed as "out of context", the quote would have to convey a meaning that is in some sense untrue. Since James has clearly stated that the quote I provided "is accurate" and conveys the fact that, "Luther did not deny the Roman church was a Christian church", I find little value in his charge.

Further, I would argue that if one obsesses on the distinction that Luther believed the Pope/Papacy to be the "Antichrist" (something pretty much everyone who has knows anything about Luther's beliefs is quite aware of), while leaving out his belief concerning the "Roman church", the odds of misconstruing Luther is much greater. [Ask yourselves this: how many times have you come upon the quote that I provided in my post, in treatments on Luther from authors who write from an anti-Catholic position ? Compare those rare instances with the number of times one finds reference(s) to his position on the Pope/Papacy.]

Before moving on to rest of James' "Addendum #2", I would like to provide a quote from the first of James' five threads on this issue:

Since Rome officially anathematized the Gospel at Trent, I don't consider her part of the Catholic Church. The debate on this amongst the reformed still goes on. In fact, it was debated by James White and Douglas Wilson: ARE ROMAN CATHOLICS ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST? . Here would be a good example of something I part company with Luther on, and even many of my Reformed friends. I don't think the papacy can be extracted from the Church of Rome and still have the term "Church of Rome" make sense. (link)

Am I the only person who finds it a bit strange that James has "part[ed] company with Luther on, and even many of my Reformed friends", on an issue he has spent so much time documenting ???

[BTW, the debate referenced by James is now available on YouTube: LINK.]

James then wrote:

I would argue that the Watchtower's view of faith in relation to works, and faith and its relationship to the righteousness of Christ (Luther's "great exchange") are fundamentally different than what Luther held to. So in his present criticism, the blogger equates Luther's view of sola fide and the Watchtower's alleged view of sola fide, without actually presenting Luther's view of sola fide and comparing it to what he purports the Watchtower believes. Nor have I come across anything from the Watchtower in which they actually attempt to explain Luther's view in comparison to their own view.

I am anything but an 'expert' on "Luther's view of sola fide"; but, I am somewhat of an 'expert' on the Jehovah's Witnesses current (and past) take on this matter. With that said, I do not recall EVER stating that the JWs current understanding of sola fide is identical (the same) to that of Luther. (Though not an expert on Luther, I am aware of at least three very important distinctions: the relationship between baptism/baptismal regeneration and faith; the issue of whether or not one who has been justified by faith [alone] can fall into unbelief; the unique JW 'two class' distinction.) With that said, I would argue that James has completely missed the point I was attempting convey: JWs currently believe that one is justified by faith [alone], not by some faith and works construct—works/obedience, "simply demonstrates that their faith is genuine".

James then focuses on only one the three selections I provided in my post; the one, which of course, can be most easily distorted. Interestingly enough, he even gets the document I quoted from wrong, attributing it to the 1988 2 volume document, Insight on the Scriptures, not the 1971 document I actually quoted from, Aid to Bible Understanding. Though the document Insight on the Scriptures, borrows without any change a considerable portion of the material found in Aid to Bible Understanding, the two are separate, distinct works. For instance, the last selection he provides from "This document", is not to be found at all in Aid to Bible Understanding. Since the content of the two documents does not represent any change in the JWs position on faith [alone], I will relegate his error to sloppy referencing.

James also posted:

"Missing is any discussion of Christ taking upon himself the sin of the world..."

If James thinks that JWs reject the clear Biblical teaching found in John 1:29 and 1 John 2:2, et al. ("Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world"; "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" - KJV), he is grossly mistaken. The affirmation of this teaching is found is dozens of JW documents, including both the Aid to Bible Understanding and Insight on the Scriptures (see the contributions in both documents under the "ATONEMENT" section).

[BTW, I sincerely wonder if James, an avowed Calvinist, believes that Jesus, the Lamb of God, has taking upon Himself the sin/s of the "unregenerate" ???]

James ends his opinionated piece with:

I'm not entirely sure of the motivations of this blogger, but the application of equivocation to distinct theologies leads me to wonder if this particular person has embraced some form of a universal Fatherhood of God and theBrotherhood of Man approach to Christian theism (or perhaps theism in general).

Since I do not believe that the JWs current understanding of sola fide is identical (the same) to that of Luther, the charge of "equivocation" is baseless. As for "the motivations of this blogger", I wanted to clear up some misconceptions concerning the theology of the sect I was born into, and have kept a keen eye on throughout my life. [BTW James, what are your "motivations" ???]

Though much more could be related, I shall end my reflections on James' charges for now. I sincerely hope that others than James and myself have some shared interest in the issues that have been touched on...

Grace and peace,


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, p. 274.]

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; also, Insight on the Scriptures, 1988, vol. 1.604, 605.]

[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,