Protestants and the Pope

This article by Dr. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary, California, and Professor of Church History there, was published on the occasion of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XIV. It is a few years old, but it has an ongoing kind of relevance because what was "unexplored and unchallenged" at the time has remained publicly unexplored and unchallenged.

Dr. Godfrey wrote this:
...in America—with many more Protestants than Roman Catholics—one might have expected some media exploration of why Protestants do not acknowledge the pope as the head of the church. The repeated claims that the pope is the successor of Peter and that the papacy is a 2000 year old institution went unexplored and unchallenged.

This Protestant silence says much about the state of Protestantism today....
Of course, with a name like "Reformation500," my hope in the coming weeks and months and years, is both to explore and challenge the papacy in ways that we haven't seen for a while. Dr. Godfrey's conclusion at this point is a good call to action:
If many Protestants today are not persuaded that the pope is the Antichrist, what should we say of him? Has the theology of the Roman Catholic Church about the pope and about the Gospel changed? The Roman Catholic Church has changed some of its claims about being the only institution in which one can find salvation. It is willing to call Protestants in some sense separated brothers. There does seem to be more toleration and less commitment to coercion on the part of the bishop of Rome. We should be glad for these changes.

Still the basic teaching about the authority of the pope has not changed and the teaching about the Gospel also has not changed. The Roman Catholic Church still anathematizes the Protestant and biblical doctrine of justification.

The most important criterion by which any minister must be evaluated is this: did he preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ? As Paul taught clearly: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). By that standard we must conclude that Pope John Paul II was no more a success than his predecessors since the time of the Reformation. Let us pray that Pope Benedict XVI, a very learned man, may come to see the truth as it is in Christ and teach it faithfully.


Peace with God

James White is running a video series on his blog, "Theology Matters".

Theology matters in our lives, because our theology determines our attitudes about God, which in turn, shapes our behaviors. If we have a "right theology," we can understand our relationship with God, our place in the universe, and use that as a foundational basis for living our lives. If we have a "wrong theology," (and having spent a large portion of my life Roman Catholic, I understand this), there is not an unconditional peace with God; this peace, if it comes, is dependent on our own behaviors. Have I been to confession? Did I miss Mass? It is easy for a nagging guilt to build, if you aren't "spot-on" with doing the right things.

In reality, we have this peace with God, true and restful peace with God, not through anything we have done, nor through anything we have to do to obtain it. It is a pure gift from God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


"Infusion of Grace"? Or Imputation?

Catholic theology teaches that Adam was in some kind of “state of grace” before the fall. This grace was some kind of “stuff” that God applied that made Adam really special.
The notion of infused grace is part of a wider ontology that is applied to the original created state. Augustine had maintained that Adam was upheld in righteousness by an enabling grace that was added to an ontologically unstable nature. The fall occurred with the withdrawal of this donum superadditum and the consequent shift of vision from the invisible and intellectual to the visible and corporeal. Following Augustine, the early medieval scholastics distinguished between an operative grace (liberating the will from its bondage) that always precedes human effort and a cooperative grace that assists human effort. Following Aquinas, the Council of Trent decreed that through prevenient grace God prepares the soul, while it is “through his stimulating and assisting grace [that individuals] are disposed to convert themselves to their own justification” (from Trent session vi, Chapter 5) -- [Horton's original erroneously attributes "canon" 5]. It is worth noting Wilhelm Pauck’s observation that the verb ekkechutai in Romans 5:5 (“the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” – from the KJV) was rendered diffusa est in (was diffused) by the Vulgate, and this became a key basis for the doctrine of infused habits. (Horton pg. 191)
(Incidentally, this is another mistranslation in the Vulgate that got written into Catholic Dogma. This one, however, had some effect on history).

Horton doesn’t satisfy himself with this particular citation, however. He traces this very thoroughly, along with the consequences of this doctrine.

In Horton's Covenant theology, man, created God's Image, has all of the "ontology" he needs. The sin was a legal breakage of the covenant – a “forensic” fall, as it were:
According to federal (covenant) theologians, Adam and Eve were never in a state of grace before the fall. Endowed in their creation with all of the requisite gifts necessary for fulfilling God’s eschatological purposes, there was nothing lacking requiring a gracious supplement.

This reveals a fundamentally different understanding not only of the original condition of humanity in Adam (under a covenant of works), but of grace itself. After all, “the image of God is not a superadded gift but integral to the essence of humanity,” as Bavinck observes… “From this it follows that in Reformation theology, grace cannot in any respect bear the character of a substance.

If grace is a spiritual substance infused into a person in order to perfect nature, rather than divine favor shown to those who are at fault, we have a perfect example of the contrast between ontological-metaphysical and ethical-covenanted construals of the problem. (pg. 194)
In contrast, Bavinck says, “the Reformation rejected this neoplatonic mysticism, returned to the simplicity of Holy Scripture, and consequently gained a very different concept of grace… Grace serves, not to take up humans into a supernatural order, but to free them from sin. Grace is opposed not to nature, only to sin. In its real sense, it was not necessary in the case of Adam before the fall but has only become necessary as a result of sin…The “physical” opposition between the natural and the supernatural yields to the ethical opposition between sin and grace.” In other words, grace does not elevate nature, but liberates it from its bondage to sin and death.

To be sure, Horton follows many other paths here, filling out this line of thinking. Several pages later, Horton continues:
Recognizing this danger (medieval ontology), Protestant orthodoxy walled off justification from any inward change, but then (with varying degrees of success) continued to appeal to traditional medieval categories for [to describe] regeneration and sanctification.

Although I affirm everything that they were after in the formulation, I am arguing that justification should be seen more clearly not merely as ontologically different from inner renewal, but also as the ontological source of that change (regeneration in both its narrower and broader senses). In that case, we need not reformulate a doctrine of regeneration as immediate and direct or even as subconscious and nontransformative, but treat justification as an illocutionary speech-act (verbum externum) that, when identified with the Spirit’s perlocutionary act of effectual calling, issues in repentance and faith. Developing this particular argument will be a central aim of the next chapter.

For Calvin, not only is justification entirely forensic; union with Christ is also regarded as first of all forensic and only consequently transformative.(198)
Unlike a human judge who can only call them as he sees them, God’s declaration [the double imputation of forgiveness for man’s sin and Christ’s righteousness back to man] … “creates the reality it declares.” “God’s declaration, in other words, is itself constitutive of that which is declared.

Once more we see the superiority of communicative and covenantal over purely causal and metaphysical grammars…. No less than God pronounced “Let there be…!” when there was nothing, Abram, the “father of many” while he was childless, Sarah fruitful while she was barren, a young woman pregnant while she was a virgin, God pronounces believers to be righteous while they are unrighteous. Thus, the entire reality of the new creation – not only justification but also renewal, and not only the renewal of the individual but also of the cosmos – is constituted by the covenantal speech of the Trinity. (201)
Of course, there is a lot more detail about this, but these are the basic outlines of Horton’s argument.