Once again, in citing Phil. 3:10 and Rom. 8:17, Armstrong does not consider it necessary to actually handle the verses, establish context, meaning, anything exegetical. They are simply cited, and then the assumption is made that Protestants have no place in their theology for “suffering.” And his source for this (if you happen to be widely read in meaningful Protestant writing you are probably wondering, since you have read lots about suffering and its role in conforming us to the image of Christ) is…himself! “He [Paul in Romans 8] is going along, talking like a good ‘born again,’ sanctified, ‘filled with the Holy Ghost” Evengelical Protestant, and then suddenly (unless one ignores this part, as I did in my Protestant days) he becomes a morbid, masochistic, crucific-clutching Catholic and takes away everyone’s fun and peaches and cream: ‘…if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.'” Evidently, Armstrong’s audience does not include serious minded Protestants, for such writing immediately informs one that Mr. Armstrong’s “Protestant” experience was anything but serious.
Armstrong writes, “There is no need to consult commentaries at this point, for our purposes.” Well, even if consulting secondary sources without providing primary exegesis would be sufficient, the point is that Armstrong has no concept of the depth of writing from non-Catholic sources on the meaning and purpose of suffering; further, the Roman Catholic use of the term, especially in reference to penance, would require his proving that in the context of writing to the churches at Rome and Philippi Paul intended to communicate, through the term “suffering,” the kind of thing Armstrong has in mind as a Roman Catholic, and once again, he does not even try to make this connection. It is simply assumed.
Armstrong then says that outside of certain forms of Pentecostalism, “they will not deny that a Christian needs to, and can expect to, suffer.” Expect to suffer? Surely. Walk as Christ walked and one will suffer the hatred of the world. But “need to” is a completely different animal, especially in the context of Rome’s beliefs regarding the subject, as noted previously. I believe fully that God intends to conform me to the image of Christ, and a number of the experiences I will go through in that process will take the form of what can be properly identified as “suffering.” But “need to” so as to expiate temporal punishment of sin? Need to so as to perfect my justification before God? Most assuredly not! This is the issue, and Armstrong leaves it untouched. He writes, “Most Evangelicals do not take it that far, yet still minimize the place of suffering, and hence, of the related notion, penance. This represents a scandalous lack of understanding of the deeper, more difficult aspects of Christianity.” I think this represents a scandalous lack of understanding of the deeper, more meaningful works of Calvin, Edwards, the entire body of the Puritans, Bunyan, Spurgeon, Warfield and any number of modern writers. The fact is that the Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God is so far beyond the crass “suffering by grace = penance for temporal punishments, say your Our Fathers and Hail Marys and fast on Fridays and consider obtaining some indulgences just in case” kind of Catholicism that afflicts millions on our planet that it is truly beyond words to express. Armstrong continues,
My emphasis here is simply that such suffering is directly tied to the spiritual benefits of a Christian, derived from Christ, and that this aspect or factor cannot be underestimated. In Romans 8:17 it is very clear: unless we suffer, we cannot be glorified with Christ (no reward without the sweat and the toil).
Yes, suffering is very clearly present in the text. No one doubts this. But what Mr. Armstrong does not seem to understand is that the mere presence of the word does not, to any serious minded reader, include within it the massive mountain of theological baggage connected to suffering/penance/merit as seen in Indulgentiarum Doctrina and other Roman Catholic magisterial documents and teachings. Presumption is not exegesis, nor does it amount to confounding the Protestant position. Armstrong assumes that the suffering to which Paul refers is identifiable with the sufferings Rome refers to. Why? He does not say. He does not even try to tell us how v. 17 is functioning in the entire citadel of Christian truth known as Romans chapter 8. It is just thrown out there, and we are to believe. Sorry, but I’ve spent far too much time seeking to honor the text and communicate its meaning to others to buy such an obvious ipse dixit. And Phil. 3:10 is not even touched. It is merely cited as one of the “95” verses, no exegesis offered. Just presumption.
Finally, for this portion, we note the real “argument” Armstrong is trying to present:
This doctrine and perspective gives the highest meaning to suffering: it can be helpful and beneficial to others, just as Jesus’ and Paul’s sufferings were. It is no longer meaningless, but can lead to a greater good. St. Paul wrote, for example, in Philippians 2:17, “I am to be poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith” (cf. 2 Cor. 6:4-10).
This is very “unevangelical” language (so passages like these are rarely discussed in nonscholarly Evangelical Protestant circles), but quite harmonious with Catholic theology and spirituality.
The Bible teaches that Christ’s sufferings (and this will come out most clearly in the next section regarding Christ’s afflictions) alone avail for our salvation. Christians suffer as part of their sanctification, or to use the language of Paul later in Romans 8, that process whereby God the Father conforms them to the image of His Son. We do so by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that in our sufferings we die to self, and live to Christ. When a Christian suffers according to God’s will, he or she has the promise that nothing can touch them in their suffering that was not ordained by the Father and the Son (Col. 3:3). While our suffering in no way, shape, or form adds to the work of Christ, it is very much a part of God’s will. It is never “meaningless,” for God does not cause His children to suffer needlessly. But the fact that my suffering can be used of God to His glory and to the benefit of others (as in the life of Paul) truly has nothing whatsoever to do with Rome’s doctrine of penance. These passages may not have been discussed in Dave Armstrong’s campus ministry meetings, but a quick review of the sermons and studies at the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church would disabuse Armstrong of his misunderstandings of what serious Protestants believe about suffering.
But in any case, there is nothing about the first two passages offered that comes close to “confounding” Protestants. We will finish this section by looking at the last two passages cited, 2 Cor. 4:10 and Col. 1:24.