Monday, November 3, 2014

RE-DEFINING JUSTIFICATION



I see it happen all the time.  A Catholic and a Protestant will be discussing salvation, and the Protestant points out that the Catholic Church teaches that a person is saved by his faith plus his works.  But immediately, the Catholic will say, “Oh no!  We don’t teach that.  Salvation is not by works.  The Council of Trent teaches that justification is unmerited and not obtained by works of any kind (Session 6, chapter 8).”  But when the Protestant points to other sections of Trent (Session 6, chapters 10 and 16) to show that the Catholic Church does indeed believe in works for salvation, then they will start to back-track and point to certain Bible verses in an attempt to claim that believers really are saved by works.  They do a flip-flop.  What they first denied, they later try to vigorously defend.  You see, what the Catholic Church teaches is often confusing, even for Catholics. 

Much of the confusion seems to come from the fact that the Catholic Church believes that justification is split into two different categories:  “initial” justification and “ongoing” or “progressive” justification.  They believe that in the initial phase there are no works that merit salvation.  And, supposedly, this initial justification is achieved by water baptism (which, ironically, is a work).  But afterward, in the progressive phase, salvation is (according to them) indeed merited / earned by good works.  So, they believe a person can be justified at one point and then re-justified (or “more justified”) later.  But the fact is, they are confusing justification with sanctification, which involves the Christian’s growth process.  “Sanctification” means to be set apart for God’s use, and it is a process in which we are gradually conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 9:13-14).  Good works are part of this process, but they are done out of thankfulness for what God has done for us, never to merit salvation.

But according to the Bible, there is no such thing as “initial” or “progressive” justification.  Biblical justification refers to a judicial sentence or decision, as in a courtroom.  It is a term having strong legal overtones, and is used together with words like “impute” (Romans 4:8), “reckoned” (Romans 4:4, 9-10), and “counted" (Romans 4:3, 5).  Justification means to declare someone righteous.  It is a proclamation of one’s status by the Judge (God).  There is nothing “progressive” about such a decision.  It is a one-time proclamation.  So, there is no such thing as an “increase” of justification.   You can’t be “a little justified” or “partially justified.”  According to the Bible, you’re either justified or you’re not.
  
The righteousness we have, as Christians, is based on the righteousness of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His perfect work.  Any type of righteousness that would involve some sort of “progressive justification” is based, to some extent, on the righteousness of the believer and his works.  But that would be an imperfect righteousness.  And that’s exactly the type of justification that the Catholic Church offers to its members.


In fact, Catholic teaching on salvation falls into the same error as that of the Judaizers.  See this article:




It seems that the Catholic Church’s redefining of justification has been subtle enough to confuse and deceive certain Protestants, as well.  Note, for example, the famous ECT documents (Evangelicals and Catholics Together), where some Protestants have joined with Catholics to promote “unity” and to stand together against certain evils in the world.  They even appear to now agree on justification, as well.  This may sound like a good thing.  But does this mean that the Reformation was all just one big misunderstanding, and that we should all hold hands and agree now?  Then why were there martyrs back then on both sides?  Did they all die for nothing?  Was it over a mere misunderstanding?  Hardly.  The differences between Protestants and Catholics were real back then, and they always have been.  What was error then, is still error now.  The ECT signers, in their quest for “common ground,” have come to an agreement on an unbiblical view of justification / salvation.


Conclusion


The apostle Paul was not so subtle in his view on salvation.  He says, “Are you so foolish?  having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?”  (Galatians 3:3)  Notice that Paul equates attempting to add works to the cross with living “by the flesh.”


My friends, out of all the Bible writers, it is Paul who deals with the concept of justification in the most detail (mainly Romans chapters 3-5 and the book of Galatians).  But he never tells us of a split justification like the Catholic Church teaches.  He uses no examples of “initial” or “progressive” justification in Scripture.  He offers no explanations or descriptions of this type of justification anywhere in his writings.  There is not even a brief mention of such a concept.


But on the other hand, Paul does tell us over and over that justification / salvation is obtained by faith and NOT by works (Romans 3:28; 4:2-6, 9-10; Galatians 2:16; 3:1-3; 3:11).  A man is saved by the grace of God through faith (i.e., trusting) in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and nothing else.  There is no list of good works, no sacraments, and no formulas that can be added to His sufficient work.  That is the simplicity of the true gospel.  But unfortunately, the Catholic view of justification is another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4).


Sunday, September 21, 2014

THE RAPTURE AND CATHOLIC ESCHATOLOGY



Eschatology is the study of end time events, which seems to be a popular topic today.  It appears that the Catholic Church does not have an official dogmatic teaching specifically on the topic of “the Rapture,” but this topic does come up often in Catholic / Protestant discussions.  What is the Rapture?  It is the Christian belief that Jesus Christ will return from Heaven in the clouds to take His church back to Heaven with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53).  Those taken will include all true Christians who are living at that particular time, as well as the bodies of those who have already died in Christ.  It is also known as the Resurrection.
 

Problems with the Catholic View


Some Catholics believe that there is no Rapture at all, but many who do acknowledge it will consider it to be the same exact event as the Second Coming of Christ.  Closely related to all this is the Millennium, or the one-thousand year period in which Jesus Christ reigns in peace and righteousness.  It will be a time in which Satan is bound / chained and unable to deceive the nations (Revelation 20:3).  But although the Bible mentions a thousand year period, i.e., the Millennium (Revelation 20:1-7), Catholics generally hold to the Amillennial (“no Millennium”) view.  This view (CCC #676) teaches that there is no literal 1000-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth.  They believe in a more allegorical, or symbolic, view which says that we are living in the Millennium now, and Christ is sitting on the throne in Heaven, where He “reigns through the Church” (CCC #668).  The church is the “kingdom” of His reign and the devil is bound during this time.  As far as the meaning of the phrase “1000 years” mentioned in Revelation, they’ll say it is just a term that is symbolic for “a long time.”
 

Ok, first of all, if one wants to claim that the Millennium is happening now, then he would also have to believe that Satan is now chained and is NOT deceiving the nations today (Revelation 20:3).  But can any honest person really believe this?  There is more deception today than ever (2 Timothy 3), even in many churches!  2 Corinthians 11:14 says that the devil disguises himself as an angel of light, and is therefore a deceiver by nature.  Scripture is full of passages demonstrating that he is still at work today, deceiving mankind.  If he really were isolated and locked up (as described in Revelation 20), the great majority of people on earth today would be saved, and the world would be a far better place than it is.  The idea that Satan is not deceiving the nations today is itself a great deception. 
    

Furthermore, if the Millennium is happening today, then one is forced to ask, where is the worldwide peace and righteousness promised during this period (Jeremiah 23:5-6; Isaiah 9:6-7)?  Where today can you find the wolf that dwells together with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6)?  Or the bear and the cow happily feeding together (Isaiah 11:7)?  Or has anyone casually allowed their children to play near the hole of the poisonous snake lately (Isaiah 11:8)?  Do we see everyone in the Middle East beating their swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4)?  No, the world we live in today is full of deception, danger, injustice and wars.  Just watch the evening news on any given day, and anyone can see that we are certainly not living in the Millennium that the Bible speaks about.
  

Secondly, why should anyone believe that the Bible’s prophecies of the First Coming of Jesus Christ (a past event) were literal, yet interpret so many of His Second Coming prophecies (future) as symbolic or allegorical?  This is an inconsistent hermeneutic (principle of interpretation) which causes much confusion.  A literal fulfillment of these prophecies (such as the Millennium) would actually bring to pass God’s desire to restore His creation (e.g., Romans 8:18-23; Acts 3:21).


Third, for God to keep His promises to Israel, there must be a literal kingdom on earth for the Jews, according to these - Jeremiah 23:5-8; Ezekiel 47 and 48; Amos 9:11-15 - and many other passages.  The promises God gave to Israel were not taken away from them and given to the church.  Each has their own set of promises that must be fulfilled.  Notice that we are NOT saying that each has a different way of salvation, because there is only one way that anyone will ever get saved… by grace through faith.  But what we are saying is that there is no “replacement theology,” where the church replaces Israel.  Both have their specific time and role; and after the church is raptured, God will surely again focus on Israel (Romans 9, 10, 11).


These are just a few of the issues we have with this Catholic view.  See this article refuting the Amillennial view in more detail:




Who Goes and Who Stays?


Concerning the Rapture, we would also like to address some verses about Noah and Lot (Matthew 24:36-42; Luke 17:26-29).  There seems to be some confusion with some Catholics over who is “taken” and who is “left behind” in these passages.  We’ve often seen Catholics say that it was actually Noah and Lot who were “left behind,” meaning that they survived God’s judgment; and those who perished in the flood and those who perished in Sodom were “taken” (in death).  But lest anyone attempt to play word games here, we would stress that the “taking” and the “leaving” was done by God BEFORE the wrath or judgment was poured out.  The point is that in both cases one group (the believers) is removed from the “danger zone,” and the other (the unrepentant) stays in the “danger zone.”  One group is safely relocated, and the other stays behind and suffers God’s wrath.  Also, interestingly, in Lot’s case the angel said that he couldn’t do anything (i.e., bring down the judgment of God) until Lot and his family were safely removed (Genesis 19:22).  Since Jesus gave us this as an example of His return, this surely points to a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  See more details on this in our new blog here:


http://theresurrectionstillspeaks.blogspot.com/2014_09_01_archive.html



Friday, July 11, 2014

PRIVATE INTERPRETATION



The issue of “private interpretation” of Scripture (also called “private judgment”) comes up quite often in Catholic / Protestant debates.  This article is mainly directed toward Catholics, but it is not just for Catholics, since there are many others who also misunderstand the concept.  The only time the term is actually mentioned in the Bible is in 2 Peter 1:20:


“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.”


Many will say that this verse “warns us against private interpretation.”  No, the Apostle Peter was not warning against anything in this verse.  So, let’s put this false teaching to rest, once and for all.  This was not a warning of any kind.  On the contrary, if read in context, one will see that this passage is actually an encouragement about the truthfulness and reliability of Scripture.  Many miss the whole point of this verse and twist it to say what it doesn’t mean.  Note that:


  • It is not telling us that we can’t interpret Scripture

  • It is not telling us that interpretation is “dangerous”

  • It’s not telling us that only a certain organization or “magisterium” can interpret for us

  • It is not telling us that only church leaders can interpret for us

  • It mentions nothing of a need for “infallibility” when reading the Bible


Many people just assume these things are true from the start.  But let’s look at this passage IN CONTEXT:


2 Peter 1:


v. 18) “And this voice which came from Heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount.”


v. 19) “We have also a more sure Word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the Day Star arise in your hearts:”


v. 20) “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.”


v. 21) “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 


How can one “take heed” to prophecy (verse 19) if he can’t interpret that prophecy?  Also, why does the apostle compare Scripture to a light (verse 19) if Scripture interpretation keeps us in the dark (as many believe)?  The comparison of Scripture to “light” is meaningless if we can’t interpret its contents.


As any honest Bible reader can see, this passage is speaking of the ORIGIN of the message that God gave to the apostles and prophets and is NOT speaking of the READING of the Bible.  It is speaking of the SOURCE of prophetic Scripture, not the STUDY of it.  The prophets heard from God and, with God’s help, infallibly interpreted that message and infallibly related it to their audience.  The meaning of this passage is simply that Scripture did not originate in the mind of mere men.  It came directly from the mind of God, not from human impulse.


Also, notice (v. 18) that Peter is referring to the time he had personally seen the Lord Jesus transfigured.  (Matthew 17:1-9) This was a very real and personal experience for Peter, yet he speaks of Scripture as an even “more sure word”! (v. 19)


Concerning the definition of “private interpretation,” the Greek words for it simply mean “one’s own interpretation.”  A private interpretation is one that is fallible.  The prophets were not affected by fallibility when they received God’s words.  But all the rest of us today are when it comes to reading Scripture.  So how does the one reading the Bible really know that he is being led by the Holy Spirit?  How does he know that he is arriving at God’s interpretation, as opposed to his own?  Answer:  Your interpretation will be correct if it lines up with the rest of Scripture, with the immediate context and the overall context taken into account.  Yes, and God allows (even demands) common sense be used as well, when interpreting His Word.  Furthermore, history, genre, grammar, etc., also help us to understand.


But according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a private interpretation is only right when it agrees with (or, at least doesn’t contradict) the Catholic Church (CCC #119).  Interestingly, this would mean that the Catholic can trust his own fallible interpretation of Scripture as long as that interpretation does not contradict his own fallible interpretation of the Church’s dogmatic teachings.  And this is supposed to produce the “infallible certainty” of which they boast?


The Catholic believes that his church’s magisterium has the final word.  But it is Scripture that is the Ultimate Standard for Christians, not any church, denomination, or organization.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17)


According to the online New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (under “Protestantism”) we read:


“Again, it is illogical to base faith upon the private interpretation of a book [i.e., the Bible].  For faith consists in submitting; private interpretation consists in judging. In faith by hearing, the last word rests with the teacher; in private judgment it rests with the reader, who submits the dead text of Scripture to a kind of post-mortem examination and delivers a verdict without appeal: he believes in himself rather than in any higher authority.”

This is typical Catholic rhetoric.  Catholics say that Scripture can’t be the final authority because it requires interpretation, so we need an infallible teacher to be certain.  They accuse the Protestant of making himself the final interpretive authority, and accuse him of being his own pope.  He is now a judge of the Scriptures, rather than an interpreter.  Accusations abound - but we will soon see the double standard they use.


In all fairness, some Catholics will admit that private interpretation is acceptable and necessary, but many Catholics will say no and create a false dilemma here.  In this case, either:

1) One must have an infallible interpretation by a teacher, or 

2) He will have a wrong interpretation.
   

But these are not the only two options.  Someone can give a fallible interpretation and still be right.  Catholics will often point out that Protestants are “limited” to fallible interpretations, and therefore, have little or no certainty.  But this is a clear double standard, since the Catholic cannot escape this same “dilemma” of using his fallible mind to interpret his sources, whether that source is Scripture, the magisterium, the church fathers, Tradition, or whatever.  It is unavoidable.  All forms of communication must be interpreted.  And all of us have fallible minds and make fallible interpretations.  The truth is, the Catholic has no more certainty in interpreting Scripture than anyone else does. 
 

One way that the Catholic thinks that he can get around the “problems” of fallible interpretations and lack of certainty is by first finding the “True Church” (which, of course, he’ll say is the Catholic Church).  But how do we determine that they are the true church?  He’ll tell us that we must first find it through a study of Scripture, church history, Sacred Tradition, and the church fathers, and this will lead us to an infallible Church who will then be able to tell us correctly what Scripture means.  At this point, we can then rest and never have to worry about our certainty in interpretation any more.


But if you can understand Scripture well enough to “verify” a papal office and its claims of infallibility, and if you can interpret this never-clearly-defined “Sacred Tradition”, and if you can interpret the multi-faceted history of the church, and if you can interpret the teachings of the church fathers (whose language is often harder to understand than the Bible), and if you can piece all of this together to find the “One True Church”… then why couldn’t you just simply interpret the Bible outright?  Ironically, the Catholic Church can’t seem to trust you to interpret the Bible by itself, yet it expects you to be able to go through the long and complicated process above.  But where is the certainty that they so desperately desire in all of this process?  The fact is, in this case the level of certainty is lowered!


The Catholic Church is using very circular reasoning:  They are infallible because that’s what they interpret Scripture to mean.  How do we know that this is the correct interpretation?  Because they are infallible!  Should faithful Catholics believe the Church’s interpretations because they make good sense and because they line up with biblical principles?  No, they want them to believe it because they say so.

CONCLUSION



Even though we all need help interpreting now and then, there is no “special authority” required to interpret the Bible.  Every Christian should be growing in his personal study of God’s Word.  However, it’s not an overnight process; and you don’t have to have a perfect understanding or perfect interpretations of every Bible verse to be pleasing to God.  But God does expect us to interpret His Word when He speaks of “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  We may not have infallible certainty, but we can have sufficient certainty.  Like it or not, when reading Scripture, all interpretations are private interpretations – there may be a lot of people who interpret a passage the same way that you do, but each one of them must still fallibly interpret what they read.

No matter how you slice it, it is always ultimately you who will stand before God… and you (and your interpretations) will be judged accordingly, whether you followed your own ideas or whether you chose to be subject to an authority of some type.  No one will be able to fully blame anyone else on Judgment Day.  If you, as a responsible adult, don’t test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21) by God’s Word, it will be no one’s fault but your own.

The Bible is inspired by God and it therefore has enough consistency in its texts and in its principles to help us discern what God is telling us.  Otherwise, why would He bother to give it to us?


We encourage everyone to read the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament.  Read them in context and read them slowly, carefully, and prayerfully.  Read them with a humble attitude because they are God’s words to us.  They are words of life, eternal life.

See also: