Archive for the ‘Sola Fide’ Category

Pope Francis on Luther on June 26, 2016

June 28, 2016

Pope Francis was interviewed aboard an airplane on June 26, 2016. In that interview he expressed the position that Luther was right about justification. Before we get too excited, though, please consider the statement in its full context:

Kleinjung: Holy Father, I wanted to ask you a question. Today you spoke of the gifts of the shared Churches, of the gifts shared by the Churches together. Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you.

Pope Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power…and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other…even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try…but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. – “when?” – “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know…the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things…against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together.

Some thoughts:
1) Notice that Francis doesn’t make any promises regarding revitalizing Luther, even though that was what was asked.
2) Instead, Francis focuses primarily on ecuminism.
3) Although Francis appears to believe that Lutherans, Protestants, and Roman Catholics all agree on justification (“all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.”) his apparent basis for believing this is is the joint statement on justification, one which he acknowledges expresses divisions as well as agreement: “today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, … .”
4) Moreover, neither that document nor this statement repudiates Trent’s denial of justification by faith alone.

So, what the Pope means by agreement with Luther on justification is not something Luther would count as agreement. It is a very high level agreement, such as is found in the “joint statement on justification,” and not one that addresses what Luther saw as the central point of the Reformation.


Faith Demonstrated – a Central Jacobian Theme

November 30, 2015

After a brief greeting, James immediately begins his first of several brotherly admonitions.

James 1:2-3 calls believers to be thankful for trials because the testing of faith works patience.  
James 1:12 promises the crown of life to those who endures temptations.
James then approaches the same point another way.  He points out that the engrafted word is able to save our souls, but immediately distinguishes between a (mere) hearer and a doer. (James 1:21 and following)
James 1:26 proposes a specific test – the use of the tongue.  A person who seems religious but fails to bridle his tongue is self-deceived and his religion is “vain.”
This vain religion is then contrasted with a pure religion that results in care for those who have lost fathers and husbands.  
This second test becomes more central in the second chapter.  Here James suggests that care of these poor people is a part of obeying the law of God.  
He even explains (vs 18) that faith is shown by works in the form of a challenge to a “vain man” (vs 20) who claims to have faith but lacks works.
James then illustrates the principle by providing two examples of people performing works that demonstrated their faith:
1). Abraham offering his son
2). Rahab sending out the spies another way
James then compares faith without works to a corpse.
James then returns to his previous example about the tongue (ch 3).  He argues that wisdom is demonstrated by – you guessed it – works (vs 13).
James contrasts such works with sinful envy and the like.  James concludes that the good works are the fruit sown by the peaceable wisdom from above (vss 17-18).
Chapter 4 is an extended call to holiness. James begins by identifying an internal source of sin (vss 1 and 5).  James contrasts that with the grace that God gives (vs 6).  
Chapter 5 begins with a condemnation of rich oppressors before turning back to exhort the brethren to patience.  The letter then ends with a variety of practical guides for such endurance, including the prescription to sing Psalms when we are merry and to pray when we are not.
James is a sort of anti-Joel-Osteen – eager to exhort his listeners to go beyond surface level professions of faith and especially to beware of rich hypocrites, rather than favoring people who are rich.

John of Damascus Interpreting James 2:26

September 2, 2015

It was interesting to read a late patristic-era author (his death is sometimes used as the end of the patristic era) interpreting James 2:26. In An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, vol. 4, chapter 9, “Concerning Faith and Baptism,” (PG 94:1121-22) John of Damascus writes (translation available here, emphasis mine):

It behooves us, then, with all our strength to steadfastly keep ourselves pure from filthy works, that we may not, like the dog returning to his vomit [2 Peter 2:22], make ourselves again the slaves of sin. For faith apart from works is dead, and so likewise are works apart from faith. [James 2:26] For the true faith is attested by works.

It’s particularly interesting to note that the Damascene correctly ascertains that James’ point is that works testify to true faith.

For those who like the original Greek or the Latin translation in Migne:

The key word there is δοϰιμάζεται (comprobatur), which is accurately translated as “is attested by” as in the translation provided.

Justification by Faith Alone on Apologia Radio

October 14, 2014

Jeff Durbin was kind enough to have me on Apologia Radio to discuss Justification by Faith Alone (link to page for episodedirect link to mp3 of episode). I’m in the second radio hour of the podcast, after the discussion of Christian films. I hope it is edifying!


Is Faith a Work? Of course not! But why not?

December 11, 2012

Roy Ingle (Arminian) says, “no.” And that’s fine. Properly considered, faith is not a work. But what is missing from his explanation is any cogent explanation of why obedient response to the command to “Believe,” that is proclaimed in the Gospel is not properly a work.

For example, Ingle does not argue from the fact that faith is not a work because faith is a gift of God. As it is written:

Ephesians 2:4-10
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

You see, we are his workmanship, and we are made for good works. We are not our own makers who made ourselves by our works. All of salvation, even faith, is a gift of God. And from that faith come many good works. When we were dead in sins, he regenerated us unto good works.
Mr. Ingle makes the claim: “The idea that a person believes the gospel because they were first regenerated to do so has no biblical basis.” What a remarkable claim! He quotes Ephesians 2:1-3 – if only he had read on to the following paragraph!
Mr. Ingle asserts: “The Arminian position is that all can be saved through faith in Jesus.” I suppose that they all could be, if God gave all of them faith. But God does not, and without faith it is impossible to please God. As it is written: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
While it is great that Mr. Ingle inconsistently affirms that faith is not a work (and we agree with him that properly understood, it is not a work), it is disappointing to see that this truth is held inconsistently with other views which tend to suggest that faith is a work.
What does Mr. Ingle have that he did not receive? Will he say faith? What makes Mr. Ingle any different from the reprobate? Will he say faith? And if he does, will he attribute this to his own running or willing? If he says, “faith,” but confesses that this is from God, he preserves consistency. If he says, “faith,” but attributes faith to the will or power of man, then he has effectively converted faith into a work, and holds a position that is internally inconsistent.


Trent, Augustine, Scripture, and Justification

May 16, 2012

Trent makes a number of explicit claims about justification.

Of this Justification the causes are these:
the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting;
while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance;
but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father;
the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified;
lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation.

Trent immediately explains:

For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.

Whether or not other aspects of Trent can be reconciled to Augustine, these conceptions are not consistent with Augustine. Augustine took the position that the thief on the cross had the faith that justifies without having baptism. To use Trent’s categories, the instrumental means for the thief was (in Augustine’s view) faith, not baptism.

Augustine connects the dots with Cornelius as well. Clearly he had the Spirit before baptism, which demonstrated his right standing with God (compare the argument about circumcision in Acts 15).
Augustine points out that the fact that the benefit can be invisibly applied (applied without the sacrament, the visible sign) should not lead us to scorn the sacrament. After all, even Cornelius was subsequently baptized.

Acts 10:30-48

And Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.’ Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.”
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) that word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.
Then answered Peter, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

Augustine goes on to say: “But what is the precise value of the sanctification of the sacrament (which that thief did not receive, not from any want of will on his part, but because it was unavoidably omitted) and what is the effect on a man of its material application, it is not easy to say.”
That’s perhaps the most troubling piece of all for those hoping to make Augustine in the image of Trent. Trent treats baptism itself as the instrumental means of justification, but it seems pretty clear that’s not what Augustine thinks.

And in case you think I’m speculating about his view on Cornelius, look at the parallel Augustine himself draws just shortly after:

And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by authority, still we can form a true conjecture of the value of the sacrament of baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision, which was received by God’s earlier people, and before receiving which Abraham was justified, as Cornelius also was enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized.

Notice what Augustine concedes: he concedes that baptism and circumcision are parallel, that Abraham was justified before circumcision, and that Cornelius was analogously “enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit” before baptism.

If Rome would concede the same, we would find faith alone as the instrumental means of justification, rather than baptism. Moreover, we would find reputed righteousness, rather than actual righteousness, the formal cause. Whether that latter point is something that Augustine himself held, perhaps we can consider another time.

– TurretinFan

Clement of Rome and Bryan Cross – Justification by Faith Alone or Faith and Works?

May 2, 2012

I’m glad that my friend Lane Keister recently highlighted the point that 1 Clement teaches justification by faith alone. The author of 1 Clement (whether Clement is the author or the scribe is an open question) does clearly indicate that justification is by faith alone, and by faith to the exclusion of works of holiness.

The contemporary Roman response to this (and Bryan Cross’s response is illustrative of this category) is the same as their response to Paul’s similar clear teaching to the Romans (the ancient Romans) and the Galatians. That response is to attempt to divide justification up into parts, suggesting that initial justification could be by faith alone in some sense, while suggesting that final justification is by faith and works.

There are major and minor problems associated with this response. First, neither Paul nor the author of 1 Clement make this distinction. Second, Paul in Galatians denies this tactic: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Next, notice that in their responses, Rome’s advocates invariably go to places where the author doesn’t mention justification. Bryan, to take an example, goes to Romans 5:5 and 1 Clement 12, 49, 50, 10 and 31, none of which mention justification.

The author of Clement does actually refer to the word justification in another place, and one in which he speaks about justification by works. The naive reader may be wondering whether Bryan has just overlooked this passage. No, there’s a good reason that Bryan does not go there. In that place, the author is using the term justification the way James does:

Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. “For God,” saith [the Scripture], “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words. For [the Scripture] saith, “He that speaketh much, shall also hear much in answer. And does he that is ready in speech deem himself righteous? Blessed is he that is born of woman, who liveth but a short time: be not given to much speaking.” Let our praise be in God, and not of ourselves; for God hateth those that commend themselves. Let testimony to our good deeds be borne by others, as it was in the case of our righteous forefathers. Boldness, and arrogance, and audacity belong to those that are accursed of God; but moderation, humility, and meekness to such as are blessed by Him.

(1 Clement 30)

In that place, the author of Clement is describing justification in the eyes of others. The author suggests that we should seek to be justified by our deeds as opposed to our words – much like the man in James who claims to have faith, but doesn’t show it by works.

But let’s turn to the passages that Bryan cites. First, let’s look at Chapter 12. Bryan cites the first line, but let’s look at the whole thing:

On account of her faith and hospitality, Rahab the harlot was saved. For when spies were sent by Joshua, the son of Nun, to Jericho, the king of the country ascertained that they were come to spy out their land, and sent men to seize them, in order that, when taken, they might be put to death. But the hospitable Rahab receiving them, concealed them on the roof of her house under some stalks of flax. And when the men sent by the king arrived and said “There came men unto thee who are to spy out our land; bring them forth, for so the king commands,” she answered them, “The two men whom ye seek came unto me, but quickly departed again and are gone,” thus not discovering the spies to them. Then she said to the men, “I know assuredly that the Lord your God hath given you this city, for the fear and dread of you have fallen on its inhabitants. When therefore ye shall have taken it, keep ye me and the house of my father in safety.” And they said to her, “It shall be as thou hast spoken to us. As soon, therefore, as thou knowest that we are at hand, thou shall gather all thy family under thy roof, and they shall be preserved, but all that are found outside of thy dwelling shall perish.” Moreover, they gave her a sign to this effect, that she should hang forth from her house a scarlet thread. And thus they made it manifest that redemption should flow through the blood of the Lord to all them that believe and hope in God. Ye see, beloved, that there was not only faith, but prophecy, in this woman.

The first point to note is that the author of Clement is describing the instrument of Rahab’s salvation from the destruction of Jericho. He’s not saying she was justified from her sins by a combination of faith and something else. Interestingly, this would seem to be Rahab’s initial act. So, if hospitality is a good work added to faith, then this would mean that her initial justification was not by faith alone. What an absurd result, even on Roman terms!

But note the spiritual lesson that the author of Clement derives. He actually states that she illustrates that redemption flows from the blood of Christ to all who “believe and hope in God.” When he comes to applying her physical salvation to spiritual salvation, her works are not in the picture – just her faith and hope in God. Yes, she places the thread in the window, but that thread for Clement illustrates Christ’s blood, not her deeds.

The second passage that Bryan goes to (twice, actually) is chapter 49 to which we will append chapter 50, since it was also excerpted and is a related thought:

(49)Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.
(50) Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ. For it is written, “Enter into thy secret chambers for a little time, until my wrath and fury pass away; and I will remember a propitious day, and will raise you up out of your graves.” Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile.” This blessedness cometh upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Chapter 49 is a long praise of love and an exhortation for those who have love in Christ to obey the commandments of God. It is not an admonition to them to seek justification through observation of the commandments of God. Chapter 50, by contrast, is a suggestion to beg for love from God. While we are exhorted to love “so that through love our sins may be forgiven us,” notice that it does not say “through our love.” Notice as well that the author does not attribute the blessedness to the man who is most careful to keep the commandments, but rather to those chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continuing in the order that Bryan picked, let’s jump back to chapter 10:

Abraham, styled “the friend,” was found faithful, inasmuch as he rendered obedience to the words of God. He, in the exercise of obedience, went out from his own country, and from his kindred, and from his father’s house, in order that, by forsaking a small territory, and a weak family, and an insignificant house, he might inherit the promises of God. For God said to him, “Get thee out from thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make thee a great nation, and will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shall be blessed. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” And again, on his departing from Lot, God said to him. “Lift up thine eyes, and look from the place where thou now art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth, [so that] if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” And again [the Scripture] saith, “God brought forth Abram, and spake unto him, Look up now to heaven, and count the stars if thou be able to number them; so shall thy seed be. And Abram believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” On account of his faith and hospitality, a son was given him in his old age; and in the exercise of obedience, he offered him as a sacrifice to God on one of the mountains which He showed him.

Notice that the author of Clement describes here how Abraham is recognized as faithful. He is recognized as faithful by his obedience. Moreover, a reward was given him for his faith and hospitality, but that reward was not justification, not is it eternal life, but a son in his old age.

Then following Bryan’s hopping and skipping through 1 Clement, we come to chapter 31:

Let us cleave then to His blessing, and consider what are the means of possessing it. Let us think over the things which have taken place from the beginning. For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith? Isaac, with perfect confidence, as if knowing what was to happen, cheerfully yielded himself as a sacrifice. Jacob, through reason of his brother, went forth with humility from his own land, and came to Laban and served him; and there was given to him the sceptre of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Bryan seems to suppose that Abraham’s blessing referenced here is either justification or eternal life, but that’s not what 1 Clement says. Indeed, the blessings mentioned by Clement are largely temporal blessings. Abraham gets a son in his old age and Jacob gets a huge family. We see that it is not justification or eternal life that is in view, but other blessings when we look at the next chapter, chapter 32, which completes the thought:

Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognize the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also [was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.” All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Notice how this chapter coming immediately on the heels of 31 undermines Bryan’s claims. Notice that even when it comes to these great gifts, the author of Clement says it was not “for their own sake, or for their own works,” taking back with one hand what he seemed to Bryan to give with the other hand. Moreover, it is at this very juncture that the author indicates that our justification is by faith alone.

It is remarkable how in his post Bryan tries to suggest that the question is about whether the author of Clement is talking about dead faith or not (“The question is this: Is he talking about about living faith (i.e. faith informed by the virtue of agape), or is he talking about dead faith (i.e. faith where there is not the virtue of agape)?”). One really wonders if Bryan seriously thinks that our position is that the author of Clement is suggesting that dead faith justifies. Of course, what Bryan means by “dead faith” and what we and James mean by “dead faith” are two different things. In Bryan’s attempt to re-frame the question away from justification by faith, he has simply added an additional layer of imposed meaning on the author of Clement. The author does not here distinguish between “dead” and “living” faith – and certainly does not do so in the sense that Bryan’s argument requires.

Moreover Bryan’s argument relies on a mis-framing of the real question. The real question is not whether the author of 1 Clement viewed love as a virtue or as good works. After all, while Trent did argue that Faith must be accompanied by both Love and Hope (Chapter VII), Trent also positively stated that men are justified through the works that they do:
Chapter X:

Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, “Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity.”

And this erroneous understanding of James’ epistle is irreformably made part of Rome’s dogma in at least two canons:
On Justification:
CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

What Rome anathematizes, we embrace – for it is the apostolic teaching of justification by faith alone apart from works. That’s the real question – not the question of whether love is properly a virtue.

– TurretinFan

John Calvin vs. Cardinal Sadoleto

April 30, 2012

September 1, 1539, Calvin delivered a powerful blow to Roman apologetics of his day with his letter to Cardinal Sadoleto (Tony Pietrantonio recently provided an involuntary imitation of Sadoleto). What is interesting about the Calvin vs. Sadoleto dispute is that it begins from the topic of worship. Calvin states:

Therefore, Sadolet, when you uttered this voluntary confession, you laid the foundation of my defense. For if you admit it to be a fearful destruction to the soul, when, by false opinions, divine truth is turned into a lie, it now only remains for us to inquire which of the two parties retains that worship of God which is alone legitimate.

It is with great sorrow that we see some heirs of the Reformation squandering the legacy of legitimate worship of God, replacing it with all manner of will worship. Granted that it does not yet reach the extremes of Rome with its worship of idols of Mary, Angels, and the Saints, and the worship of them and of God by idols – the worship of bread as though it were God – and many other idolatries and blasphemies of like sort. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the purity of worship is something that is sadly too often missing in churches that are aimed at marketing themselves with popular music and other entertainment.

When it comes to doctrine, Justification by Faith takes a chief place, and Calvin’s argument is excellent:

You, in the first place, touch upon justification by faith, the first and keenest subject of controversy between us. Is this a knotty and useless question? Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown. That doctrine, then, though of the highest moment, we maintain that you have nefariously effaced from the memory of men. Our books are filled with convincing proofs of this fact, and the gross ignorance of this doctrine, which even still continues in all your churches, declares that our complaint is by no means ill founded. But you very maliciously stir up prejudice against us, alleging that, by attributing every thing to faith, we leave no room for works.

I will not now enter upon a full discussion, which would require a large volume; but if you would look into the Catechism which I myself drew up for the Genevans, when I held the office of Pastor among them, three words would silence you. Here, however, I will briefly explain to you how we speak on this subject.

First, We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.

What have you here, Sadolet, to bite or carp at? Is it that we leave no room for works? Assuredly we do deny that, in justifying a man, they are worth one single straw. For Scripture everywhere cries aloud, that all are lost; and every mans’s own conscience bitterly accuses him. The same Scripture teaches, that no hope is left but in the mere goodness of God, by which sin is pardoned, and righteousness imputed to us. It declares both to be gratuitous, and finally concludes that a man is justified without works, (Rom. iv. 7.) But what notion, you ask, does the very term Righteousness suggest to us, if respect is not paid to good works ? I answer, if you would attend to the true meaning of the term justifying in Scripture, you would have no difficulty. For it does not refer to a man’s own righteousness, but to the mercy of God, which, contrary to the sinner’s deserts, accepts of a righteousness for him, and that by not imputing his unrighteousness. Our righteousness, I say, is that which is described by Paul, (2 Cor. v. 19,) that God both reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ. The mode is afterwards subjoined — by not imputing sin. He demonstrates that it is by faith only we become partakers of that blessing, when he says that the ministry of reconciliation is contained in the gospel. But faith, you say, is a general term, and has a larger signification. I answer, that Paul, whenever he attributes to it the power of justifying, at the same time restricts it to a gratuitous promise of the divine favor, and keeps it far removed from all respect to works. Hence his familiar inference — if by faith, then not by works. On the other hand — if by works, then not by faith.

But, it seems, injury is done to Christ, if, under the pretence of his grace, good works are repudiated; he having come to prepare a people acceptable to God, zealous of good works, while, to the same effect, are many similar passages which prove that Christ came in order that we, doing good works, might, through him, be accepted by God. This calumny, which our opponents have ever in their mouths, viz., that we take away the desire of well-doing from the Christian life by recommending gratuitous righteousness, is too frivolous to give us much concern. We deny that good works have any share in justification, but we claim full authority for them in the lives of the righteous. For, if he who has obtained justification possesses Christ, and, at the same time, Christ never is where his Spirit in not, it is obvious that gratuitous righteousness is necessarily connected with regeneration. Therefore, if you would duly understand how inseparable faith and works are, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches, (1 Cor. i. 30,) has been given to us for justification and for sanctification. Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life. On the contrary, where zeal for integrity and holiness is not in vigour, there neither is the Spirit of Christ nor Christ himself; and wherever Christ is not, there in no righteousness, nay, there is no faith; for faith cannot apprehend Christ for righteousness without the Spirit of sanctification.

Since, therefore, according to us, Christ regenerates to a blessed life those whom he justifies, and after rescuing them from the dominion of sin, hands them over to the dominion of righteousness, transforms them into the image of God, and so trains them by his Spirit into obedience to his will, there is no ground to complain that, by our doctrine, lust is left with loosened reins. The passages which you adduce have not a meaning at variance with our doctrine. But if you will pervert them in assailing gratuitous justification, see how unskillfully you argue. Paul elsewhere says (Eph. i. 4) that we were chosen in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy and unblameable in the sight of God through love. Who will venture thence to infer, either that election is not gratuitous, or that our love is its cause? Nay, rather, as the end of gratuitous election, so also that of gratuitous justification is, that we may lead pure and unpolluted lives before God. For the saying of Paul is true, (1 Thess. iv. 7,) we have not been called to impurity, but to holiness. This, meanwhile, we constantly maintain, that man is not only justified freely once for all, without any merit of works, but that on this gratuitous justification the salvation of man perpetually depends. Nor is it possible that any work of man can he accepted by God unless it be gratuitously approved. Wherefore, I was amazed when I read your assertion, that love is the first and chief cause of our salvation. O, Sadolet, who could ever have expected such a saying from you? Undoubtedly the very blind, while in darkness, feel the mercy of God too surely to dare to claim for their love the first cause of their salvation, while those who have merely one spark of divine light feel that their salvation consists in nothing else than their being adopted by God. For eternal salvation is the inheritance of the heavenly Father, and has been prepared solely for his children. Moreover, who can assign any other cause of our adoption than that which is uniformly announced in Scripture, viz., that we did not first love him, but were spontaneously received by him into favor and affection?

Your ignorance of this doctrine leads you on to the error of teaching that sins are expiated by penances and satisfactions. Where, then, will be that one expiatory victim, from which, if we depart, there remains, as Scripture testifies, no more sacrifice for sin? Search through all the divine oracles which we possess; if the blood of Christ alone is uniformly act forth as purchasing satisfaction, reconciliation, and ablution, how dare you presume to transfer so great an honor to your works? Nor have you any ground for ascribing this blasphemy to the Church of God. The ancient Church, I admit, had its satisfactions, not those, however, by which sinners might atone to God and ransom themselves from guilt, but by which they might prove that the repentance which they professed was not feigned, and efface the remembrance of that scandal which their sin had occasioned. For satisfactions were not regularly prescribed to all and sundry, but to those only who had fallen into some heinous wickedness.

You can (and really should) read the whole letter here (link to letter). It is excellent.


Did the Acts 15 "Council" Rely on the Exegesis of Scripture?

February 19, 2012

Jason Stewart (whose apostasy was recently discussed), has posted a fictitious (and apparently also intended as facetious) dialog under the title, “Taking a Stand on the Scriptures Against the Traditions of Men.”  The title is mocking, of course.  Stewart posits a hypothetical dialog between two Judaizers in the mid-first century.  Stewart’s attempt flops for a number of significant reasons, which we will investigate under several questions (I briefly examined the general question before).

I. Did the assembly in Acts 15 act on the authority of Scripture?

Stewart’s dialog is more telling than he might like to admit.  He writes:

Phineas: “Well, tell me what Scripture texts they cited to prove their position.”

Malachi: “They didn’t. Not a single one. Well, not unless you count Bishop James quoting a couple of verses from Amos during his summary. But afterward I went back and looked, and that passage has nothing to do with circumcision. So I don’t know why he even referred to it.”

First, let’s look at what the text of Scripture actually says:

Acts 15:13-19

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, after this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:

The italicized portion is a quotation from Amos 9:11-12:

In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.

First, it is telling that Stewart’s characters (and presumably Stewart himself) do not know why the Scripture was quoted.  Actually “Phineas”/Stewart says:

Phineas: “I never thought I’d say this but it sounds like there’s more of the Council’s will at work here than God’s. It has all the makings of a man-made tradition imposed as God’s will. They have absolutely no scriptural basis for what they’ve done. Tacking on a Scripture verse at the end doesn’t make it all okay. In truth, this doesn’t just lack a biblical basis, it flat out contradicts the Scriptures. I’m still reeling from this news. I never thought I’d see the day.”

(emphasis added)

But isn’t it absurd to suppose that the verse was just “tacked on”?  Is it just because it has a nice poetic sound to it?  Or was there a reason?  Of course, there was a reason.

James explains that Peter’s testimony (and implicitly the testimony of Paul and Barnabas as well) regarding what the Holy Spirit did among the Gentiles is trustworthy, because of what the Scriptures say.  Their alleged experience is being judged by what the Scriptures say.

Stewart’s claim (in the mouth of “Malachi”) is that these verses have “nothing to do with circumcision.” That just seems to demonstrate Stewart’s lack of exegetical fortitude.  The verses do have to do with circumcision, although they don’t use the word “circumcision.”  How so?

These verses refer to the “heathen which are called by my name.”  These are heathen people, not Jews, yet they are called by the name of the Lord.  What distinguishes heathen from Jews?  Chiefly, the visible (though obviously not prominent) mark is circumcision.  That they are referred to as heathen even while being called by the name of the Lord, demonstrates that they do not require circumcision in order to be the followers of God.

Moreover, note that God is taking credit for “doing this.”  That’s monergism at its finest.  James’ comment, “Known unto God are all his works …” is his acknowledgment that the prophecy of Amos has been fulfilled.  James’ statement, however, is also gleaned from the prophets in that it is at least implied in the following passages:

Ecclesiastes 3:11  He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Isaiah 46:9-10 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Isaiah 48:3  I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.

James was citing Scripture as authority on this question of the circumcision.  But Amos 9:11-12 is not the only passage dealing with the future in-gathering of the Gentiles:

Isaiah 60:3  And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

Isaiah 60:5  Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.

Isaiah 60:9  Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the LORD thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee.

Jeremiah 16:19  O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.

Psalm 72:17  His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.

Isaiah 65:1  I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.

Jeremiah 3:17  At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart.

Romans 9:26  And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. [Note: this one is included just to demonstrate that I’m not alone in thinking that the Old Testament said this.]

Isaiah 56:1-8
Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.

Nevertheless, Amos is the most explicit in terms of describing the “heathen that are called by my name.”  In short, James and more generally the assembly at Jerusalem described in Acts 15 did act on the authority of Scripture, and the relevant Scripture did answer the question, without using the word “circumcision.”

II. What was the Rationale of the Assembly?

Mr. Stewart included the following exchange in his dialog:

Phineas: “So on what basis did they make the decision?! They had to give some rationale!”
Malachi: “Peter related his experiences of Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit by faith, and then Paul and Barnabas told stories from the mission field. But at the end of the discussion it was Bishop James that said, and I’ll quote him best as I remember, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place this burden of circumcision on you Gentiles.”

It’s remarkable how “Malachi”/Stewart skips merrily over the Scripture portion of the discussion.  In contrast, as noted above, James actually skips over Paul and Barnabas’ accounts.  Moreover, “Malachi”/Stewart uses the word “circumcision” in his conclusion, but James does not and the whole church at Jerusalem does not.  The only time it even appears in the official letter is in the description provided by the Judaizers:

Acts 15:19-29

Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote letters by them after this manner;

The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, “Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law:” to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

So, marvelously, this word that it was supposedly so important to find in Amos doesn’t get mentioned in the James’ conclusion or that of the official letter.  The reason, of course, is that just as I noted above, the issue was really over whether the Gentiles had to become Jews.

Recall the way that Paul put the debate in Galatians:

Galatians 2:14  But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Likewise, look at the summary in Acts 21:

Act 21:20-26

And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.

Notice, again, the summary of what the official letter said does not even mention circumcision as such.  The question is more broadly whether they need to follow the law, that is, be and live like Jews.

As for the specific line, “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us,” it seems Mr. Stewart supposes that this is a claim that the church at Jerusalem was inspired, but there are two more reasonable explanations.  First, the Scripture itself is the product of the Holy Ghost.  He inspired it, and he prophesied what would occur.  Second, and perhaps more accurately, the Holy Ghost came upon the Gentiles and give them the miraculous and extraordinary sign gifts while they were still Gentiles.  Moreover, the Holy Ghost came to Peter in a vision and informed that he was free to eat unclean meat, immediately before the group from the gentile, Cornelius, arrived.

III. What was the Tradition of Men here?

The unauthorized tradition, the tradition of men, was the tradition of the Judaizers.  Remember what the official letter said: “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, “Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law:” to whom we gave no such commandment.”  This error was then corrected with Scripture.

Thus, while Stewart’s dialog was mockingly titled, ironically, it was an accurate description of the case.

IV. Is the Acts 15 Assembly Normative of Anything?

A. Who constituted the assembly?

The assembly in Acts 15 was not only the apostles, but also the local elders from the Jerusalem church and the brethren there as well.  For note:

Acts 15:22-23
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

B. What issued from the assembly and who was “bound” by it?

The assembly issued a letter that was not directed to “the whole church of Jesus Christ” but rather to a specific group of Christians in a specific geographic area, and only to the Gentile Christians of that group.  Recall:

Acts 15:23  And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

So, what came out was a letter that was written to a particular group of Gentiles living in particular geographic areas.  If this were a papal decree, it wouldn’t meet the criteria for being “ex cathedra” because it not intended to bind the whole church.

C. Any appeal to their own authority?

The gist of their letter was one of disavowing the claim that they had issued a command that the Gentiles must become Jews.  “We never said that, and we’re not going to” was the point of the letter.  While there is no doubt that the apostles had a lot of authority in the church, there is no appeal to, “We the united apostles have agreed …” but rather, as noted above, the point was to disclaim the notion that anyone in Jerusalem had any such tradition on divine authority.  So, you might say that there was some appeal to authority, but there was no clear indication that the authority sprang from the fact that the meeting was an “ecumenical council” or anything of that sort.

Indeed, further to (A) above, the church of Antioch etc. did not participate in the council, which is why the church at Jerusalem sent back “chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These were sent as witnesses, so that the people at Antioch could be sure that the apostles in Jerusalem really hadn’t issued the command attributed to them by the Judaizers.

D.  Who called the assembly?

No emperor or bishop of Rome called the assembly, of course.  Instead, the folks at Antioch were so troubled by the dissension over the topic that they sent to Jerusalem, the place from which the Judaizers had come (as can be seen both in Galatians 2 and Acts 15).

V. Implications for Rome’s Ecclesiology?

What (as my brother, James White, recently discussed) are the implications that Mr. Stewart wants us to take away regarding his own church?  Does he want us to think that the bishops of his church are apostles and prophets with the extraordinary gifts like Peter, Paul, and others at that assembly were?  Does he want us to think that the bishops of Rome get visions like Peter received?  How is the assembly at Acts 15 supposed to “cash out” when you turn to Rome?  These are questions that it seems Mr. Stewart has not thought carefully about.  And the killer question is – why would we treat with equal or greater respect a council of men who don’t have extraordinary experiences, the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and the in-person instruction of Jesus as compared to a council of men that all those things?  There’s no compelling answer that can be given. Peter and Paul had the Holy Spirit in a way that, quite obviously, no one has today.  Their extraordinary gifts testified to their authority – but what testifies to the authority of the Roman bishop?

VI. What if the Point is Just that Private Judgment is Bunk?

An alternative reading of Stewart’s dialog is just as a general mockery of private judgment. At the end of the dialog, Stewart has his Judaizers saying this:

Malachi: “I know. So, what are we going to do? My heart sank the moment I heard the ruling.”
Phineas: “We must do the only thing we can do. The thing God wants us to do. We must reason with them from the Scriptures and demonstrate what the divinely inspired writings clearly teach on this matter. We have to show them they’ve made a grave error. You well know you can’t be a follower of the Lord and remain uncircumcised. This is serious. An uncircumcised person is destined for destruction. The Lord’s wrath burned against Moses’ for neglecting the covenantal sign, as I’m sure you remember.”
Malachi: “I do. What if they don’t reverse their decision? I began thinking about that possibility.”
Phineas: “I’m hopeful they’ll come around. After all, they are Jesus’ apostles, which means they learned first hand that Jesus didn’t come to abrogate the law but to fulfill it, and that our Lord himself was circumcised. They themselves bear the mark of the covenant in their bodies, after all!”
Malachi: “But let’s say they don’t agree with us? What if they don’t agree with the Scriptures?”
Phineas: “Well, then, as much as I hate to say it, we’ll have to separate from them and organize churches that are faithful to the Scriptures and our most ancient faith as it was taught by Jesus. God has spoken in the Scriptures and so we will take our stand on the Scriptures. No man or group of men has the authority to set aside what God commands in his holy Word. We have to obey God rather than men. You never know, if we do have to separate, maybe our example of faithfulness to the Word of God will bring them back to the truth.”

The focus of this dialog seems to be on trying to illustrate what Stewart sees as a Sola Scriptura mindset.  But the problem is not with the principle of Sola Scriptura, but rather with Stewart’s understanding of Scripture.  We have already provided some examples of Stewart’s exegetical frailty above, but there is more in this section.

The idea that “an uncircumcised person is destined for destruction” does not reflect the text of Scripture.  Recall that before Abraham’s circumcision, it is written:

Genesis 15:6  And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Moreover, consider all those who believed from Adam, Abel, and Enoch down to the family of Abraham and Melchizedek.  They were uncircumcised, but they were not “destined for destruction.”  (Oh, and don’t forget about – you know –  I hate to have to even mention this – but every woman)  Stewart seems to have imposed his misunderstanding of the nature of baptism back into the Old Testament.  Circumcision, like Baptism, was not what saved anyone.  People are saved by grace through faith. Adam and Abel were saved the same way Abraham was, and we are saved the same way as well – though with clearer vision than they had.

But let’s set aside Stewart’s exegetical failures.  What if fundamentally people cannot understand what Scripture is saying?  Then, of course, Stewart’s whole case falls apart.  After all, if people fundamentally can’t understand what Scripture is saying, it is pure hubris to suppose that they understand what Stewart himself is saying.  Moreover, of course, if they can’t understand what Scripture is saying, then Stewart himself (as one of “people”) also cannot understand.  Moreover, to make matters worse – not only is Stewart acting as though he thinks he understands Acts 15, through his mocking dialog, he is suggesting that he thinks others may also be able to understand Acts 15.  But if private judgment is bunk – this is all a tremendous waste of time.

VII. Was a Council needed to Settle a Disagreement Between Peter, Paul, and putatively James?

This is really related to the earlier question about the impact on Stewart’s ecclesiology.  Recall that, per Galatians, in this dispute at Antioch, Paul opposed Peter to his face.  Recall:

Galatians 2:11-14 

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?


Acts 15:1-2 

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

Clearly, Peter came around to Paul’s way of thinking, but they didn’t just settle the matter at Antioch.  They went back to James.  When they got there, they found a “sect of the Pharisees” that taught the circumcision was required (oh, how early heresies started to creep in!), but James denied having commanded that the Gentiles must be circumcised and obey the law of Moses.

Still, at the time in Antioch, Paul withstood Peter to Peter’s face.  Why couldn’t Paul just obey what the “pope” said if that’s what Peter was?  Moreover, why were not the folks at Antioch satisfied by Paul’s authority?  The reason was James and his apparent authority, and the implicit suggestion that this was a teaching that had been handed down.

VIII. What might one to do avoid this problem?

Suppose that you were an apostle in charge of Christianity.  Seeing the problems that can arise from fake oral tradition (the Judaizers really did have contact with the apostle James). What might you do, knowing that you and the other apostles were going to die, that persecution would prevent any effective central control for a century or more, and knowing that there would be false teachers and heretics who would arise?  One approach you might take is to leave behind writings that capture the actual teachings of Jesus and the apostles, so that people could refer to them when questions arose.  In fact, this is what God provided for us, notwithstanding the mockery of Stewart and others.

– TurretinFan

Post Script

Having written the above (well, much of it – I went back and altered a few points later), I reviewed the comment box.  There, I found Stewart commenting:

Whatever old covenant texts the Council may have considered, the final rationale for the Gentile exemption is given in the bare statement: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us…” Note well that St. James isn’t basing the Council’s decision on Amos 9:11, 12. Instead, and contrary to what one would expect if Scripture alone is the final authority, the prophet Amos is produced simply as a scriptural witness agreeing with the apostolic ruling. Mark carefully the order – the prophet agrees with the Council’s conclusion, not the other way around.

Stewart should read more carefully. James pronounces a sentence, and only after that does the assembly agree.  His reference to Scripture is part of his rationale.  What Scripture agrees with (and confirms) is the Apostles’ experience, not the other way ’round.  The comment continued:

In addition, the old covenant Scriptures never give the slightest inkling that God will one day sheath the knife of circumcision. A.D. 49 is the first time this teaching is promulgated to God’s people. 

 This is simply a sad reflection on Stewart’s inability to understand Amos 9:11-12, and his apparent lack of awareness regarding the other Scriptures (see the examples provided above in section I).

Stewart additionally commented:

One more thing….
How loud must the Holy Spirit increase the volume of the text before readers hear the obvious importance of St. Peter’s presence in Acts 15? His statements and reasonings dominate the chapter. St. James makes his final appeal in reference to Simon’s (Peter’s) words before citing the witness of Amos, and concluding by crafting a conciliar statement that encapsulated the Council’s mind (motivated as it was by Peter) on the matter of Gentile circumcision. St. Peter is the man at the Jerusalem Council. The ecclesial spotlight is on him.

Peter’s statements/reasonings occupy five verses.  They are important, and James does mention them.  But they hardly dominate the chapter. 

What dominates the chapter is Paul.  Paul is the champion of the faith in vs. 2.  The church at Antioch (which included Peter, see Galatians 2) sends Paul and others to Jerusalem to hash it out with James (the people from whom the Judeans had come, see Galatians 2).  In verse 3, on the way to Jerusalem, Paul declares the conversion of the Gentiles and gets a great reception.  In verse 4, Paul and company (Peter or the fact that he was in Antioch and came along to Jerusalem isn’t even mentioned) are received by the apostles.  After Peter makes his five-verse speech, it’s not over.  Paul then gives an account of his experiences (vs. 12).  Paul makes the list of people to go back to Antioch with the news (vs. 22) and because he was already known as the champion of this position, they send men with him.  Paul gets called “beloved” in the letter (vs. 25) and Peter isn’t even mentioned in the letter (except under the general grouping of “apostles”).  And I could go on, but the rest of the chapter is also Paul, Paul, and more Paul.  In fact, of course, the chapter divisions are not original, and Paul dominates this whole section of Acts.

Not to mention, of course, that when it comes time to actually make a decision, while Peter is first to say something memorable (isn’t he always?), James is last.  It is James whose final word becomes, in effect, the word of the whole group.  In the assembly itself, even though Peter may talk more, the focus is on James and his decision.

So, Peter doesn’t dominate either the chapter or the council.  Peter is not unimportant (he’s the third most important person – tied with Barnabas), but calling him “the man” just displays Stewart’s prejudice to think too highly of him.

Here are Peter’s statements and reasonings:

Acts 15:7-11 

And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

Notice that Simon (“the man”) Peter doesn’t mention the word circumcision.  The “yoke” he mentions is not circumcision (they and their fathers did bear that yoke) but the whole ceremonial law.  If only Stewart would pay attention to “the man” he might figure out why Amos 9:11-12 are relevant.  As Peter explains, the Gentiles were saved by faith without having been circumcised.  The evidence is the “gift of the Holy Ghost” (namely the miraculous sign gifts).  They received that, while still Gentiles.

Also, if Stewart were paying more attention to “the man” he would notice that it is “faith alone” that Peter is teaching as the instrumental means of salvation.  It’s not as well developed as Paul’s discussion in the epistles, but it is there nonetheless.

Furthermore, as well, “the man” that Stewart lavishes with excessive praise is teaching another important doctrine: grace alone. Notice, indeed, that Peter recognizes that it is through and not through meritorious works that both the Jews and Gentiles are saved.  The Jews could not merit salvation through works and the Gentiles cannot either.  Again, see Paul’s epistles for a more full discussion.

Considering that this part of the passage “dominates” (per Stewart) one might wish that the doctrines and faith of Peter would dominate Stewart’s mind – instead of encouraging him to impose the papacy anachronistically onto the passage.

As to the notion that James and Jerusalem in Acts 15 contradict the claims of Roman primacy….
St. James’ conclusion to the deliberations harmonizes naturally with his pastoral role as Bishop of Jerusalem. He is simply acting as the resident Shepherd of the city and host of the Council. And, of course, Roman primacy was years away as Peter had not yet established his See in that city.

None of this, of course, has any legitimate basis in the text (we can talk about its very questionable basis in tradition another time).  Moreover, why would the “resident Shepherd of the city” pronounce the judgment of the assembly?  Why wouldn’t that be the “pope”‘s role?  This isn’t just an appeal to questionable traditions, it’s a blindingly ad hoc appeal to them. 

Later, we find another comment from Stewart:

Can you please locate one passage or verse in the OT that indicates circumcision (an Abrahamic institution, btw) will cease as a requirement for the Lord’s people? Given the Protestant belief in the perspicuity of Scripture, I would imagine finding something will be relatively easy.

Is Stewart really this unfamiliar with the doctrine of perspicuity?  That doctrine does not say that every doctrine is plainly taught in Scripture, but only that the necessary doctrines are plainly taught.  Moreover, it is self-evidently clear that circumcision cannot be required for salvation, at least from the fact that women cannot be circumcised.  Moreover, as already abundantly explained above, Amos 9:11-12 is precisely that passage, and that’s just the reason that James quoted it.

– TurretinFan

Sola Fide Debate – William Albrecht

September 13, 2011

William Albrecht and I recently debated the topic of Sola Fide (link to mp3).  I hope it will be edifying.  I ended up sticking pretty closely to my previously planned affirmative constructive (link to text of affirmative constructive).  I only used a little material from my previously planned affirmative rebuttal, because although Mr. Albrecht threw out a few unsupported assertions regarding the historical record, he claimed he was not going to address the issue (link to text of planned affirmative rebuttal).

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