The doctrine of justification was of central importance for the Lutheran Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was held to be the "first and chief article" and at the same time the "ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines. "The doctrine of justification was particularly asserted and defended in its Reformation shape and special valuation over against the Roman Catholic Church and theology of that time, which in turn asserted and defended a doctrine of justification of a different character. From the Reformation perspective, justification was the crux of all the disputes. Doctrinal condemnations were put forward both in the Lutheran Confessions and by the Roman Catholic Church's Council of Trent. These condemnations are still valid today and thus have a church-dividing effect. (taken from the "Joint declaration on the doctrine of justification by the LutheranWorld Federation and the Catholic Church", emphasis mine)
I hope you can grasp at least some of the irony of this "joint declaration" which readily acknowledges that the differences that fueled the reformation still exist today - it's just not a big deal anymore. This massive issue of Justification, this dividing line of Christianity, for which many Christian heroes risked their lives defending in this once great Christian stronghold of northern europe, is being trivialized away by ecumenical sissies who are only too happy to sacrifice truth at the altar of unity. This has been a hot button debate among several of my european friends in recent times. John Macarthur had this to say on the issue:
The cornerstone of justification is the reckoning of righteousness to the believer's account. This is the truth that sets Christian doctrine apart from every form of false religion. We call it "imputed righteousness". Apart from it salvation is utterly impossible (p197 The Gospel According to Jesus)
There are many other heresies that could be discussed concerning Roman Catholic doctrine including Mary worship, the blasphemous eucharist where Christ repeatedly dies on the cross each mass, their denial of Christ as the sole mediator between God and man, the manipulative lie of purgatory, adding extra books to the Canon of Scripture, and the infallibility of the Pope. But it is the precious and beautiful doctrine of Justification that I will be discussing today, because perverting this doctrine leads to all the other man made perversions. If we are saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, then all the other rituals become invalidated. This doctrine lay at the heart of the reformation.
Before I continue I must state two disclaimers. First, when I use the word "Catholic" I am referring to the Roman Catholic religion, not to be confused with "catholic" when used in it's universal sense such as "catholic church" when it means universal church. Secondly, this article does not suggest that every person attending a Catholic congregation is not a Christian. I believe there are true Christians attending Catholic churches - but this is in spite of, not by virtue of, true Catholic doctrine as we will now see.
Roman Catholic doctrine denies justification by faith alone and says:
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
Anathema, according to Catholic theology, means excommunication, the exclusion of a sinner from the society of the faithful. Roman Catholic theology therefore pronounces a curse of excommunication, of being outside the camp of Christ, if you believe that you are saved by grace through faith alone in Jesus.
When the Roman Catholic church negates justification by faith alone, it necessarily implies that we must do something for justification, for if it is not by faith alone, then it must be by faith and something.
Catholicism teaches that certain things must be done by people in order to be justified and to keep that justification. Of these acts, baptism is the first requirement. Consider these quotes:
Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that we too might walk in newness of life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 977).
Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted to us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God's mercy (CCC, par. 2020).
According to Roman Catholicism, baptism is only the first sacrament of forgiveness. Good works, according to Roman Catholicism, are also required and are rewarded with going to heaven:
We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere to the end and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God' eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ (CCC, par. 1821).
The above quote clearly states that heaven is the eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. Catholic theology asserts that works are a predecessor to justification in direct contradiction to God's Word which states that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28).
In the CCC, par. 2010, it says:
Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification.
How does anyone merit for himself the undeserved kindness of God's grace? Grace is by definition unmerited favor. This is an utterly false teaching. So how does the Catholic church get around this apparent dilemma that grace is unmerited but it is obtained through our merits? It states:
Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify (CCC, par. 2023).
This is the crux of the problem. Roman Catholic theology asserts that God's grace is granted through baptism and infused into a person by the Holy Spirit. This then enables him or her to do good works which then are rewarded with heaven. Basically, this is no different from the theology of the cults which maintain that justification is by grace through faith and your works, whether it be baptism, going to the true church, keeping certain laws, receiving the sacraments, or anything else you are required to do.
Maintaining Your Justification
Because the Catholic view of justification is a cooperative effort between God and man, this justification can be lost by man's failure to maintain sufficient grace through meritorious works. Roman Catholicism teaches that works are necessary for attainment of justification. According to Catholic theology, penance is a sacrament where a person, through a Catholic priest (CCC, par. 987), receives forgiveness of the sins committed after baptism. The penitent person must confess his sins to a priest. The priest pronounces absolution and imposes acts of penance to be performed.
Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as the second plank (of salvation) after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace (CCC, par. 1446).
Acts of penance vary, but some of them are prayer, saying the rosary, reading the Scripture, saying a number of Our Father or Hail Mary prayers, doing good works, fasting, and other such things. Is it by doing these acts of penance that the Catholic is able to regain his justified state before God? In essence it is earning one's salvation. Think about it. If you do not have it and you get it by saying prayers, fasting, and/or doing good works, then you are guilty of works righteousness salvation, which is condemned by the Bible.
I must thank Matt Slick at CARM (Christian Apologetics Resource Ministry) for much of that information.
Right now in Denmark, where I live, there is a prominent Catholic theologian who is enjoying widespread acceptance to teach with both Catholic and evangelical churches. His name is Niels Christian Hvidt and in my next post I will publish the letter I wrote to him.
Go On To Read The Letter To Niels Christian Hvidt
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