Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Pope Clarified Luther's "Idea of Justification"?
11/24/2008 - James SwanA few people sent me this link, Pope Clarifies Luther's Idea of Justification (Says It's True, if Faith Is Not Opposed to Love). It's a review of statements made by the Pope on November 18, 2008. This means we're reading what someone heard Pope Benedict XVI say, rather than reading an entire context of exactly what was stated. I mention this because as I read through the link, I was left with more questions about exactly what the Pope meant than definitive papal statements of clarification on either justification or Luther. I wondered if the Pope actually spoke in such ambiguity or if the reviewer simply put down "the gist" of what he heard.
Running through the entire article is the phrase "works of the law." Typical Roman Catholic theology interprets Paul's use of the term "law" to mean "ceremonial law." The Pope's reported statements would concur. The Pope stated Paul's understanding of "law" is the "collection of behaviors extending from an ethical foundation to the ritual and cultural observances that substantially determined the identity of the just man -- particularly circumcision, the observance regarding pure food and general ritual purity, the rules regarding observance of the Sabbath, etc." But Paul actually uses the general term "works" rather than "works of the law." By limiting Paul's meaning to "ceremonial law" Roman Catholic theology is then able to promote some other kind of law required for salvation. This understand is contrary to both Paul and Luther. Neither limited the law to the ceremonial law. Both saw that any so-called particular righteous deed, inclination, or behavior that one assumes can contribute to justification is in actuality a worthless act. [for an excellent overview of Paul's understanding of "law" as opposed to "works of the law," see Dr. White's book, The God Who Justifies, pp. 181-184].
For Luther, justification was actually totally of works, but those works were perfect and performed by the perfect savior, Jesus Christ. These works are acquired by faith, imputed to the sinner. Luther says,
"[I]f you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ's own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf."
According to the link, these "works of the law" merely served to distinguish Israel from the pagans. But now, being "in Christ" distinguishes Christians from such people. The "works of the law" therefore are no longer needed. The Pope then states "To be just means simply to be with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Other observances are no longer necessary." This is one of the puzzling ambiguous statements offered in the link. It doesn't clarify at all what it means to be justified. How is one "in Christ"? Isn't it by the sacraments in Catholic theology? Isn't this a type of "observance"? Isn't Rome merely substituting one set of observances for another? This understanding is contrary to both Paul and Luther. Luther stated, "Only faith justifies; the Mass, purgatory, monastic vows, and all things fall."
After this discussion, the article finally gets around to Luther. It doesn't put forth any definition of Luther's understanding of justification or what is meant by "faith alone." It simply states:
And it is because of this, the Bishop of Rome continued, that Luther's expression "by faith alone" is true "if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love."
"Paul knows," he added, "that in the double love of God and neighbor the whole law is fulfilled. Thus the whole law is observed in communion with Christ, in faith that creates charity. We are just when we enter into communion with Christ, who is love."
First, Luther's understanding of justification was never opposed to charity or love. This seems to be the typical Catholic misapprehension about justification by faith alone, that is, if faith alone saves, one is given a licence to sin. Paul answers for Luther in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them." Faith performs good works, not to keep one justified, but out of heartfelt gratitude to God graciousness. Luther never saw faith alone opposed to serving the neighbor in love and charity. Luther stated, "We receive Christ not only as a gift by faith, but also as an example of love toward our neighbor, whom we are to serve as Christ serves us. Faith brings and gives Christ to you with all his possessions. Love gives you to your neighbor with all your possessions."
Second, the Pope offers this definition of faith alone: "Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love." This is another ambiguous statement that most would simply pass by with agreement. Trent states that "Faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification." One therefore has to question exactly what the Pope means. Does he mean only to describe the beginning of the process of salvation, or does he mean that clinging to Christ and His perfect work imputed to a sinner by faith alone is the sole means of justification? Does the Pope mean that faith linked to a process of being "conformed to Christ" will result in possible everlasting peace with God, or does he stand with Luther in proclaiming that a sinner viewed through Christ's perfect work stands righteous before God now and forever?
Third, the article states, "Paul knows," he added, "that in the double love of God and neighbor the whole law is fulfilled. Thus the whole law is observed in communion with Christ, in faith that creates charity. We are just when we enter into communion with Christ, who is love."
Again, ambiguous statements. Is it the duty of the Christian to perfectly fulfil "the double love of God and neighbor" in order to eventually achieve everlasting justification? Does one have to go through a process of fulfilling this "whole law" by maintaining communion with Christ? Are we only just "when we enter into communion with Christ" through baptism or the sacraments, only to have this state taken away by a sinful action? Jesus tells us he came to fulfill the law and prophets (Matthew 5:17). That is, the only one who has ever perfectly fulfilled "the double love of God and neighbor" is Christ Jesus, and "through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses (Acts 13:39). Luther would have nothing to do with a process of eventual salvation:
"St. Paul teaches everywhere that justification does not result from works but from faith alone, that it does not come in installments but all at once. For the 'testament' comprises everything: justification, salvation, the inheritance, and our most prized possession. Through faith it is enjoyed all at once, in order to make it perfectly clear that no work but faith alone affords such blessings of God as justification and salvation, and that faith makes us children and heirs at once and not in piecemeal manner, as good works must be performed. As children and heirs we then freely perform all manner of good works without anything of that menial spirit which presumes to become pious and meritorious by such service. Merit is unnecessary. Faith gives everything gratuitously, gives more indeed than anyone can merit" [What Luther Says, Volume II (St Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1959) p. 710].
So did the Pope clarify Luther's idea of justification? Well, if the article accurately put forth the Pope's statements, he did not. Rather, he used ambiguous language and didn't even scratch the surface of what Luther meant by "faith alone." Perhaps the Pope only meant to demonstrate that "faith alone" is not a rejection of Ephesians 2:10. This would be a helpful clarifying statement for Roman Catholics, many of whom think that "faith alone" equals eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. For an overview of Luther's understanding of the relationship between faith and works, see my paper, A Look at Justification By Faith Alone and Good Works in Luther's Theology.
Tim Staples and Double Standards
11/19/2008 - James SwanCatholic Answers occasionally airs a show dedicated to taking calls from non-Catholics. The shows are usually very cordial, as Rome's apologists seek to influence the callers to "come home to Rome." Tim Staples hosted the show recently, and spent time interacting with a Baptist on the correct interpretation of Matthew 5:32. What exactly is the interpretation of "marital unfaithfulness"? The Baptist caller wanted to know.
It wasn't Tim's interpretation that caught my attention, rather it was this short MP3 clip which I isolated from the answer given. The caller first presents an interpretation given to him by a Catholic priest, that the "marital unfaithfulness" means "incestual adultery." Staples quickly informs the caller that that interpretation is only "a way" to interpret the passage. Tim then points out the Roman Catholic Church does not have one infallible way of interpreting Matthew 5:32. Rather, there are several way to interpret the verse. He then states, "There is a lot of freedom with regard to the interpretation of Scripture." But the most striking statement was Tim's affirmation that even the verses infallibly defined by the Roman Catholic Church "are left open to other interpretations as long as you don't deny that which has been infallibly interpreted."
Tim didn't mention exactly which verses the Roman Church has infallibly defined, but from his answer, it wouldn't seem to make a significant difference anyway. According to Tim, Roman Catholics are still free to come up with their own interpretations of even infallibly defined verses (as long as they don't deny the infallibly definition). Tim's answer shows that Catholic claims to infallible interpretation are chimerical. For all the claims to interpretive certainty, they typically can't point to an established authoritative interpretation of any verse. They themselves then provide their own interpretations of Scripture.
But here was the irony of the answer from Tim Staples. The claims for interpretive certainty and the charges against Protestant private judgment are so oft-repeated by Catholic apologists, that they run on auto-pilot. Within the same call, Tim actually stated the typical Catholic argument for Catholic certainty and Protestant interpretive anarchy. I've isolated Tim's statements in this brief MP3 clip. Tim states,
"For 1500 years, the Church always understood that nobody has the authority... just as Saint Peter tells us...of private interpretation.... to think that you or I can run around and interpret the Bible however we want and start our own church and that sorta thing that we see in Protestantism... that is completely alien to the Christian Church for the first 1500 years of the Christian era..."
It amazes me how easily a Catholic apologist can contradict himself within the span of a few minutes. Refuting Roman apologists involves simply listening closely for the double standards. They will typically refute themselves, as did Tim Staples. Learn to evaluate their arguments, and then apply them to their position.
Rebuttal of William Albrecht's Response to the November 4, 2008, Dividing Line Program
11/18/2008 - Tur8infanMr. William Albrecht (aka GNRHead) is an apologist promoted and endorsed by Steve Ray (a lay apologist and pilgrimage tour guide who frequently appears on the “Catholic Answers” radio program). By way of background, I should point out that I am not usually this harsh in my criticism of Internet videos. I recognize that a lot of folks slap such videos together in a hurry. So, before presenting this critique, I made sure that Albrecht was aware that this was coming, and offered him the chance to withdraw or clean up his video in advance.
Naturally, he refused. I didn’t expect otherwise. I encourage everyone, before they read this article to listen to the November 4, 2008, edition of the Dividing Line (link). Mr. Albrecht called into the show and discussion ensued between him and Dr. White.
With that background, I proceed to address a video by Albrecht. I’ve provided a full transcript in seven segments from the following video source (source). Albrecht doesn’t have the clearest enunciation of his words, so in some places I have been forced to make an educated guess as to what he was trying to say. Also, I have tried to eliminate unintentional stutters and/or filler (“umm” etc.) in the interest of simply providing what Albrecht was trying to say.
For those unwilling to read the entire 5,000 word article, here is the summary. The video was long on rhetoric short on substance. The few matters of substance raised are easily dismantled, because Albrecht’s methodology is (apparently) to simply insult and denigrate those who disagree with him, rather to present a cogent and coherent argument. Finally, a lie on Albrecht’s part with respect to the historical facts of the Dividing Line (DL) is exposed.
[Click Here to Continue Reading]
Is it Prideful to Claim the Book of Judith has Historical Errors?
11/17/2008 - James SwanBack in 2004 I attended Dr. White's debate with Catholic apologist Gary Michuta on the Apocrypha. The cross-examination period was the key moment in determining whose position actually made the most sense of the historical facts. One of the questions Dr. White asked Mr. Michuta was about the historical accuracy of the book of Judith. Judith claims Nebuchadnezzar reigned from Nineveh (Judith asserts Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Assyria, ruling from Nineveh). The problem Catholic apologists face is that the historical and Biblical evidence does not bear these claims out. Nebuchadnezzar was actually the king of Babylon, and did not rule from Nineveh.
Here is a brief MP3 clip of the actual question and answer from the 2004 debate. In Mr. Michuta's response, he assumes Judith is scripture, and appeals to problems of Biblical inerrancy as an answer. That is, non-Christian scholars have attempted numerous times to indict the Bible of an historical error, only to eat their words when either archaeology or textual analysis resolve the alleged error or contradiction. Michuta assumes the same is the case with the historical claims of Judith. He concludes that he isn't going to answer the question, because in actuality, it presupposes a non-Christian worldview. He treats Judith as an historical work. Since it is Scripture, any errors must be alleged errors.
In his book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, Michuta reaffirms this method of response: "The best way out of this dilemma is not to enter it at all. Biblical inerrancy is not based upon our feeble abilities to solve every problem" (p. 322). Michuta further states, "The problem at the heart of this line of argumentation [by Protestants pointing out historical errors in the Apocrypha] is one of pride. It places the intellect in the role of judge, allowing it to sit in judgment upon the Word of God" (p. 323).
But it appears it's not only Protestants who struggle with pridefully using their intellect to judge the Bible. Those in charge of The Jerusalem Bible likewise struggle with this pride. They state, "...[H]istorically he was king of Babylon and was never styled 'king of Assyria,' and Nineveh was not his capital city." I hear the complaint already, "The Jerusalem Bible was produced by liberal Catholics." Okay, well the Thigpen / Armstrong New Catholic Answer Bible likewise seems to have a pride problem. It states, "Any attempt to read the book directly against the backdrop of Jewish history in relation to the empires of the ancient world is bound to fail. The story was written as a pious reflection on the meaning of the yearly Passover observance" (p. 442).
But the most fascinating example of pride comes from a very recent broadcast of Catholic Answers Live. Tim Staples was asked directly about the historical errors in the book of Judith. Tim answers by stating Judith is not strict history, but is rather an extended parable, and he reluctantly uses the phrase "didactic fiction." Here is the brief MP3 clip of the actual question and answer from Catholic Answers Live. I've never done a study on this, but I wonder how many Biblical "extended parables" actually contain seemingly historical facts that are in error, but get passed over because they were not meant to be correct facts. Staples position implies that if Judith is actual history, it is indeed in error.
Tim goes on to further assert that the book of Jonah is not a historical book, but is rather a "timeless story." Ironically, Michuta chastises higher critics in his book for attacking Jonah and the rest of Scripture with charges of historical error (p.323), and by doing so I assume he considers Jonah a historical and prophetic narrative. (As an ironic aside, one of the popular Catholic charges against Luther is that he denied Jonah as history).
Michuta concludes someone with humility would simply accept the canon of Scripture as given to the Roman Catholic Church:
"It takes humility to accept the canon of Scripture as given to the Church. But once we have made such an act all the glories of the Bible open up to us. we may humbly submit our intellect to the text, sitting at the Master's feet like little children, knowing that even if the power to solve all difficulties is beyond us, there is nevertheless a solution. To do otherwise would be not only anti-Protestant (since it violates Sola Scriptura), but anti-Catholic and anti-Christian as well" (p. 323).
Catholic Answers often promotes Mr. Michuta's book as the definitive source for information about the Apocrypha. I wonder if Gary Michuta considers Tim Staples "anti-Catholic" for his position on Judith and Jonah? That would be a "Catholic Answer" I'd like to have. He probably would not. I'd probably get an answer that states since Staples doesn't treat the book as history, he doesn't fall under the condemnation of "pride."
Rome's authoritative statements on issues like this are rare, if not completely absent, so a Catholic apologist is able to affirm what another Catholic apologist denies. Where is Rome's infallible help on this issue? Is the book history or an extended parable? I think before any Catholic apologist ventures into an Apocrypha debate or offers a "Catholic Answer," perhaps they should at least figure out which genre the book is before they decide what is really prideful or humble.
Popes Testify that Catholicism and Islam Worship the Same God
11/14/2008 - Tur8infanOccasionally, I point out that one of the biggest reasons to reject the doctrines of Rome, is that Vatican II dogmatically taught that God and Allah are the same: that Muslims worship the one true God. As well, Vatican II teaches the Jews worship the one true God. This doctrine is false. Those who reject the Son of God reject God, and both religious Jews and Muslims do reject the Son of God.
I get a variety of reactions from those who are part of the Roman church when I point this out. Sometimes the reaction is disbelief that Vatican 2 actually taught that. Other times the reaction is an argument suggesting that Vatican 2 actually taught something else, such as that the Muslims are right to be monotheists. A few agree and try to come up with some way in which Muslims worship God by worshiping the fictional conception of Allah (an interesting squirm, but not particularly availing). Finally, a few acknowledge that it is what Vatican II taught, and accept it.
Below, I will point evidence supporting my contention that the Roman church teaches that God and Allah are one and the same - and that Muslims and Jews worship the same God as Rome does. I hope that this will give those readers of mine who identify themselves with the church of Benedict XVI some pause. I hope they will consider the fact that this is not a true doctrine: that it is contrary to Scripture.
The following is my evidence from the mouth of your two most recent popes, John Paul II (JP2) and Benedict XVI (Ben16).
"As I have often said in other meetings with Muslims, your God and ours is one and the same, and we are brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham."
JP2 1985 (source")
Nevertheless, neither religious Jews nor Muslims have the faith of Abraham, for they reject the Son of Abraham.
"We are all children of the same God, members of the great family of man. And our religions have a special role to fulfil in curbing these evils and in forging bonds of trust and fellowship. God’s will is that those who worship him, even if not united in the same worship, would nevertheless be united in brotherhood and in common service for the good of all."
JP2 1985 (source")
Notice that JP2 acknowledges that the worship itself is different, but asserts that it is worship of the same God.
"In the final analysis, prayer is the best means by which all humanity can be united. It disposes people to accept God’s will for them. It also affects the relationship of those who pray together, for by coming together before God in prayer people can no longer ignore or hate others. Those who pray together discover that they are pilgrims and seekers of the same goal, brothers and sisters who share responsibility for the same human family, children of the same God and Father. It is my ardent hope that the Day of Prayer for Peace to be held in Assisi, at which Christians of all Communions and believers from all the great religions have been invited to participate, will be a beginning and an incentive for all believers in God to come often before him united in prayer."
JP2 1986 (source")
Nevertheless, those who have not received adoption are not the children of the Father. Likewise, Muslims and Christians have different and competing goals - not the same goal.
"I thank you for your visit, all representatives, leaders, of the Muslim community here in Uganda. Archbishop Wamala said that you are cooperating and that in doing so, you are also accomplishing the will of God, our Creator, our Father. God has created all of us, men and women, the whole human race, to cooperate–to cooperate in order to improve the world. He, our God, committed us, the world, to being inhabited, to being used, not abused, not abused, used, and to serving the human being, human existence. It is necessary to cooperate all together, for the riches of the world are sometimes in danger and the human community is many times is in danger. It requires the cooperation of all of us who believe in the same God, the one God of Abraham, the Father who gave us his son Jesus Christ. Thank you very much for your visit."
JP2 1993 (source")
Nevertheless, the Muslims do not believe in the same God, for they do not even know God.
"We Christians joyfully recognize the religious values we have in common with Islam. Today I would like to repeat what I said to young Muslims some years ago in Casablanca: “We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection” (Insegnamenti, VIII/2, , p. 497)."
JP2 1999 (source")
What joy is there in the fact that there are those on the road to hell who happen to acknowledge some parts of the truth? This truth partially known will not save - it will only increase the condemnation of those who, like the Muslims, reject the one true God.
"This year is also the 40th anniversary of the conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, which has ushered in a new season of dialogue and spiritual solidarity between Jews and Christians, as well as esteem for the other great religious traditions. Islam occupies a special place among them. Its followers worship the same God and willingly refer to the Patriarch Abraham."
Ben16 2005 (source")
But James said:
"Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." James 4:4
I'm not suggesting that we cannot be kind to Muslims. We can, should, and must. Nevertheless, we need to distinguish between being kind and respectful to them as people and endorsing or esteeming their religion. Islam is a path to judgment, part of the broad road that leads to destruction. Friendship with Islam as such is an unkindness not a kindness to the members of that religion. Those siding with Islam are siding against Christianity.
To parody an old saw, we must love the Muslim not Islam: the man not his religion.
Hopefully, this settles the matter of what Rome teaches, as well as illustrating some reasons why what Rome teaches is wrong. You will notice that in each case, the quotation is taken from the English translation provided at the Vatican's official web site. These are not my own translations. Now, I call on those of you in the Roman communion to consider whether Scripture teaches that one can both be one who worships God and who rejects the Son of God. If you see that the Scriptures do not teach that, I urge you to come out from the Roman communion and into fellowship with an Evangelical body that maintains not only the historic but Scriptural distinction between the followers of Christ and all other religions, including the religions of Mecca and modern Jerusalem.
Charges of Mariolatry Clarified
11/06/2008 - Tur8infanIntroduction
Dr. White, on yesterday's special edition of the Dividing Line, provided answers and some cross examination of one of the critics of an article I wrote a while ago on the worship of Mary in Catholicism. Dr. White did an excellent job, I write here simply to briefly summarize two of the relevant points, for those listeners who, like the caller, were confused.
1. External Critique
This critique of Catholicism is an external critique. We are not saying that Roman Catholicism today says, "We worship Mary." Instead, we are saying that actions and attitudes expressed by Benedict XVI and others amount to worship: they are worship. Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
2. External Judgment
This critique of Roman Catholicism is based on the actual events and expressed opinions of the members of Roman Catholicism identified. It is not based on reading their minds. We are not suggesting that the average person at the Vatican kneels in front of a statue and says to themselves, "Time to worship Mary." No, instead, we are saying that the expressed attitudes towards Mary (such as asking Mary to turn their hearts or the hearts of others) are inappropriate - that they amount to worship of Mary.
Our goal here is to warn folks that what they are doing is wrong. We are not trying to suggest that "Joe Roman Catholic" knows that he is worshiping Mary when he recites the Ave Maria, when he bows to a statue of Mary, and when he otherwise venerates Mary and departed believers.