I guess the difference between my view of Rome’s gospel and C. Michael Patton’s (as seen in his most recent comments, following up on last week’s article) is summed up in the title line: “credo” means “I believe,” in the indicative; “credam” would be in the subjunctive, a less forceful and clear affirmation. I believe Rome’s gospel is a false gospel, full stop, end of statement, indicative mode. But brother Patton’s discussion is filled, and I truly mean filled, with question marks. What about this? What about that? What about those folks over there? Do any of us really have it right? Isn’t it all a matter of “better” and “best,” “closer” and “close enough”? How about them Eastern Orthodox? Couldn’t we do better than we are doing? Etc. and etc.
I understand the desire to avoid being a narrow-minded, ignorance-driven, tradition-bound, know-it-all-but-know-nothing-at-all fundie who banishes everyone who parts their hair differently (or who allows their women to wear pant suits!) to hell. I get it. We all want to be open minded and inclusive and loving and tolerant and all that wonderful stuff, right? I went to Fuller, remember? I know how to talk about biblical contradictions with circumlocutions like “tensions in the text” and all that stuff. Been there, done that, got the degree.
But here is where I get off the train and wave as it passes by: call me out of date, call me hopelessly archaic and out of touch, but…I do not think it is a matter of a “spectrum” of “gospels.” It’s not “close, closer, closest.” There is something called a dividing line, and if there isn’t, I can’t make heads or tails out of Galatians, or Romans, for 1 John. Now brother Patton says, “There is definitely a line that can be crossed. I can’t always tell you exactly where that line is.” Where we part company is that I do not have the slightest problem looking at Rome’s gospel and saying without hesitation, “that’s not a gospel, that’s not close, that’s not just missing something, that’s not just deficient—that makes the gospel Paul anathematized in Galatia look like child’s play.” Patton continues to ignore the issues I raised in my critique and focuses solely upon sola fide. As important as that is, to isolate that from the entirety of Rome’s sacramentalism, with its heart being found not in its doctrine of justification per se, but in the “eucharistic sacrifice” of the Mass, is to miss the real issue. By reducing Rome’s error to “missing” justification by faith, Patton and many like him today show a fundamental misapprehension of what Rome is all about. It is the work of Christ, or in the case of Rome, the work of Christ re-presented through the sacramental authority of the priest, that is central. Rome denies that the death of Christ perfects anyone at all: His death creates a massive reservoir of grace that is then doled out to the faithful through the sacraments of Romanism. But any discussion of Rome’s message that does not take into consideration its oft-repeated and explained concept of the Mass as a propitiatory yet non-perfecting sacrifice that leaves the believer in danger of hell fire and punishment, brought about by a man who is identified as an “alter Christus” through his special sacramental powers, will not adequately express the totality of Rome’s fundamental errors. Putting Rome on the same level as others who simply deny sola fide is not even fair to Rome’s own claims, let alone does it properly see the inter-connectedness of Rome’s dogmatic denials of the biblical faith.
So in answer to brother Patton’s plethora of interrogatives, I counter with a single assertion: if Paul’s anathema of the Judaizers means anything, it means Rome’s dogmatic denials of fundamental gospel truths, normally embedded in her positive additions of non-biblical teachings, must be, on any rational level, considered to be under the same anathema. All the post-modern angst that can be wrapped up in the “well, there are many questions that can be asked in this area” cannot erase the clarity of the dividing line provided by Scripture.