I was rummaging through some old—and I do mean OLD—files yesterday looking for a letter, when I ran across some old Penpoints. Penpoint was the monthly update from Dr. Greg Bahnsen of the SCCCS (Southern California Center for Christian Studies). My eyes happened to fall upon the issue from just over a decade ago, June, 1994, which carried the title, “Highlighting the Reformation While Pondering a Supposed Protestant-Romanist ‘Truce'”. Well, that sorta caught my attention, in light of what has happened since then. I mean, seeing “Romanist” is enough to catch anyone’s attention today. The graphic on the front contained a quote from Calvin’s Antidote to … the Council of Trent (1547), which reads,
They contend that a Council cannot err….Whether the Spirit of God presided over the Council must be decided by this test: Did they condemn their own and their fathers’ abominations, and turn to true repentance?…Let anyone who will compare our writings with theirs, and then let him turn his eye and survey the reality. I say nothing more than that it will at once be plain how just our grounds are for bewailing the destruction of the Church, and calling for the restitution of its fallen state….But when, falsely assuming the name of the Church, they seize upon the spoils of which they have robbed it, what else can else can we do but protest?”
Of course, I immediately had to chuckle in light of the rC’s running about the landscape singing the praises of Mother Church. So I started to read Dr. Bahnsen’s comments, prompted by the publication of the first ECT document. Here are some of the gems that only shine the brighter in light of what has taken place since he left this world:
The pledge to reduce theological infighting and aggressive proselytizing of one another surely breathes the spirit of our times — a spirit of detente rather than antithesis, a spirit which accentuates commonality and cooperation, a spirit which seeks compromise rather than confrontation. Representative of the response given by many Protestant laymen, a member of the First Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: “I’m not so narrow that I cannot accept the fact that there are other very good Christian people in other denominations I think we’re all working toward the same goal; we’re just taking different routes to get there.”
The spirit of our times indeed! How that spirit has increased its audience and following in the past decade! Now men who call themselves “Reformed” have not only imbibed that spirit but are actively promoting it as the hallmark of “Reformed” theology. He continued:
Similarly, the Christian Research Institute recently assessed Romanism to be a Christian denomination, not a body which — to use the words of the Westminster Confession — has “so degenerated as to become no church of Christ.” Within the past decade we have even seen a few Presbyterian ministers willing to go over to the Roman Catholic communion. Are we really just taking different routes to the same goal after all?
This was written before my first encounters with Roman Catholic apologists on BAM, back when Norman Geisler and others were writing for the Journal and providing a view of Rome significantly less robust than is proper. The ministers to which Dr. Bahnsen referred include Scott Hahn and Gerry Matatics. Indeed, less than two years prior to this Dr. Bahnsen had contacted me and asked me to take his place in debating Matatics in Omaha, Nebraska, due to a schedule conflict (which I did). Dr. Bahnsen continued:
The signers of the recently unveiled peace treaty confessed “our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples” and called for trust of one another, rather than continuing suspicion. Indeed, in attempting to evangelize members of the other group, explained Charles Colson, it would actually be wrong for an Evangelical to criticize the Roman Catholic church (and vice verse). But are we truly one?
Are we truly one? Well, rC’s say we are due to our trinitarian baptism. Bahnsen didn’t believe that. This audio proves it.
The Reformers also realized that, in their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ who had saved them by His grace as declared in the gospel, they had to beware of grievous wolves among the flock of Christ who, speaking perverse things, would draw away the disciples (Acts 20:29). Out of love for the Lord and for the Lord’s people, they were compelled to “mark those who cause divisions…contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and turn aside from them” (Rom. 16:17). Those who preach “another gospel,” a message which perverts the good news declared by the Apostles, must be deemed “accursed,” not as brothers in the true faith (Gal. 1:7-9). Their love for Christ caused them to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, that’s right…right here, at aomin.org, and on the Dividing Line. 🙂
Accordingly the Reformers warned God’s people against the soul-destroying errors of Rome. To take but one crucial illustration (of many which could be mentioned): consider the Romanist error of taking justification to be God’s making a person just by inner spiritual renewal, infusing him with righteousness — thus confounding justification and sanctification. The Council of Trent (1547) declared that “in new birth there is bestowed upon them… the grace whereby they are made just.”
Goodness, it does seem Greg Bahnsen believed not only in the imputed righteousness of Christ, but he seemed to believe the Bible was clear enough, perspicuous enough, to actually communicate that belief to us with enough force and power for us to say “This is the truth, its denial is an error.” Ah, the good old days when Reformed folks were focused on the gospel and actually believed the Word spoke with power…! I sure don’t see the rC’s speaking like this, do you?
The Reformers likewise renounced the Roman Catholic idea that man’s will can “cooperate toward disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of justification” (to use the words of Trent) — which implies synergism, rather than salvation by grace alone.
Synergism? Condemned? And…and…it looks like Dr. Bahnsen knew what Warfield was talking about after all! Sola gratia can’t be applied to Rome’s sacerdotalism! Goodness!
Well, running across this somewhat yellowing Penpoint from more than a decade ago was actually very encouraging to me, it really was. It reminds me that these struggles are all under the sovereign hand of God, and He is still on His throne. He brought Greg Bahnsen safely home, and He will see us through as well.