Wednesday, February 24, 2010


One of the arguments that Catholics will use against the Protestant teaching of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture Alone”) is the “canon” argument. The “canon” refers to the list of inspired books that belong in the Bible. The Catholic argument is that Protestants can’t even know which books belong in the Bible without the help of the Catholic Church, since the Catholic Church is the one that “infallibly determined” which books go into it. Without this guarantee, Protestants can’t be sure that they have the correct canon. At least, that’s what Catholics believe.

Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox all have a different canon, but the purpose of this article is not to address the precise books that fall into this list, but rather, whether or not a person can know infallibly (i.e., without the possibility of error) which books make up this list. Many Catholics seem to think that we can have “infallible certainty” on this, and in fact, insist that we must have this level of certainty. One Catholic source says:

"Only the Church, the infallible bearer of tradition, can furnish us invincible certainty as to the number of the Divinely inspired books of both the Old and the New Testament." (Online New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, under “Scripture”)

Concerning the canon, and how we know which books are inspired, we all realize that no one alive today had anything to do with the formation of the canon, and therefore, we are dependent on others for this information. And, of course, we get this information from the writings of the early church. Now, the church did not “determine” the canon… the canon was “determined” by God. The early church fathers simply “recognized” the inspired books. But it doesn’t mean that recognizing the inspired books made those fathers infallible, nor that they needed to be infallible in order to recognize those books. Catholics just assume that the church is infallible, when there is no biblical evidence for it. (Another topic for another day)

But the truth is, we are all fallible creatures with fallible minds and hearts, and we all make fallible decisions. No matter what we end up choosing, or who we end up trusting, we all start out with fallibility… including the final authority(ies) that we choose to follow.

But we have to ask, how did the Old Testament saints know that Deuteronomy or Isaiah or Malachi were inspired books, when they didn’t have the Catholic Church there to tell them? Just like the fathers who recognized the books of the New Testament, they too, had to use their discernment, evaluate the available evidence, and reason with their fallible minds to come to a conclusion on their canon. But God does give us sufficient certainty on the canon today, just as He did for the Old Testament believers then. Once again, we don’t need to be infallible to recognize “the Infallible,” or else none of us would ever be able to recognize God and His dealings with us.

We so often see Catholics presenting a false dilemma concerning the canon: They say that either,

1) the early church fathers must have INFALLIBLY chosen the right books, or
2) they must have been WRONG in their choices

But these two are not the only options. The truth can be found somewhere in between those two extremes. For example, it is certainly possible to be fallible, yet correct. But I don’t believe that any human can have infallible certainty on the canon (or on anything else, for that matter). Infallible certainty is strictly God’s domain. But again, that doesn’t mean that He won’t give us sufficient certainty about the things of God.

Now, let us pose this important question: Is it mandatory for EVERY believer to have INFALLIBLE certainty on the FULL canon in order to be saved and to live for God?

If the answer is yes, then wouldn’t we have to say that out of the multitudes of godly people who lived before the fourth century, that not one was saved, or not one could live for God, until after the Councils of Carthage and Hippo (which supposedly settled the canon issue)?

If the answer to the above question is no, then why do Catholics put so much emphasis on INFALLIBLE certainty of the canon in the first place?

Actually, according to another Catholic Source, the first time that the canon of Scripture was infallibly declared was at the Council of Trent (1546):

“According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books, i.e., about their belonging to the canon.” (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 3, page 29, Copyright 1967; Under “Canon, Biblical”)

The online “New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia” (Under “Canon of the Old Testament”) also confirms the above source:

“The Tridentine [i.e., from the Council of Trent] decrees from which the above list [of books] is extracted was the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon, addressed to the Church Universal.”

So, if these Catholic encyclopedias are correct, and if we really do need infallible certainty on the canon of Scripture, we find it strange that the Catholic Church waited for 1500 years before giving an infallible judgment on the canon.

But, Catholics can’t have it both ways. You can’t INSIST that we “really need” infallible certainty on the one hand, and on the other hand, say it’s no big deal that we DIDN’T have it until Trent in 1546. Again, the truth is, “infallible certainty” was not needed then, and is not needed now. If it were, then the Catholic Church has done a very poor job of providing this “certainty” for its members.

Another question is, why does the Catholic insist on the need for infallible certainty on the canon of Scripture for Protestants, when he (the Catholic) can’t have anywhere near this level of certainty on HIS OWN “canon” of Sacred Tradition… since he really doesn’t even know what it is? “Sacred Tradition” is supposedly equal to Scripture and is a critical part of the Catholic’s rule of faith, but can anyone tell us exactly what its contents are? No, they can’t. They always seem to dance around this question, when asked, and seem to purposely use extremely vague definitions for it. What kind of “certainty” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #82) can be derived from such a mysterious and nebulous Tradition? Does the Catholic Church have an official, infallible, and unchanging list of all of its “Sacred Traditions”? No, they don’t. We’re still waiting for a clear and meaningful defintion of “Sacred Tradition” before anyone can ever claim that it is “inspired.”

So, if the Catholic can demand from us an infallible list of the full contents of Scripture, then Protestants can also demand that Catholics provide an infallible list of the full contents of “Sacred Tradition” – so, please show us the list. Otherwise, demanding “infallible certainty” from anyone else, when you, yourself don’t have it, is hypocrisy.

So, the concept of “infallible certainty” on the canon is just another inflated Catholic claim that actually hurts the Catholic Church more than helps it. And furthermore, this canon argument does nothing to disprove “Sola Scriptura.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The First Attempt

The story of the offerings of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-5), the first sons of Adam, is very revealing to us, and relevant to this topic. It demonstrates the fact that, since the beginning, God never intended that man’s works would ever contribute to his salvation. Both Cain and Abel brought a sacrifice to God: Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground (i.e., the labor of his hands), while Abel brought an innocent animal, an unblemished victim, of his flock. And of course, the Bible tells us that God accepted Abel’s offering, and not Cain’s. Cain’s offering is man’s first recorded attempt to earn salvation.

The very fact that the work of Cain’s hands was rejected, indicates that God wants us to trust in the Innocent Substitute in order to be saved, rather than our good works. Abel’s sacrifice represents Jesus on the cross, an innocent and perfectly unblemished and righteous Person to die in the place of sinful man; while Cain’s sacrifice represents all of man’s energy, work, and suffering in his futile attempts to become right with God. But that didn’t save anyone at that time, and it doesn’t save today. If “faith PLUS works” is what saves (as Catholics believe), then why didn’t Abel offer fruits and vegetables ALONG WITH the animal sacrifice? No, there is only one thing that saves, and that is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to which Abel’s offering pointed.

Cain’s offering was rejected for the same reason that the fig leaves were taken away from his parents, and replaced with animal skins (Genesis 3:7, 21). That is, an innocent one had to shed his blood and die to cover their nakedness. The fig leaves were not good enough, because they too, represented the work of man’s hands. Cain was not recognizing the seriousness of his condition as a sinner and the need for an innocent life to be sacrificed. Once again, if man is saved by “faith plus works,” then why didn’t God just ADD the animal skins to the fig leaves?

To Work or Not to Work...


No, Paul is talking about the outworking, or the “living out” of our salvation. Once again, the context is not “how to be saved,” but Paul is describing the glorious Second Person of the Trinity, what He gave up for us, and how we should live, in light of that. It’s not about doing works in order to obtain our salvation, but it’s about our time of growth, our sanctification. We are not saved “by good works,” we are saved “in order to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

Catholics speak of their works being done in a “state of grace.” That is, if one does good works in this state of grace, his works will then count toward his salvation. According to them, God still gets the credit, since HE gave them the ability to do the good works in the first place. Therefore, it is “all God,” they say. And since God does these grace-infused works through us, He is glorified when we are justified through those works, right? Well… not exactly.

It is true that God is glorified when we do good works. And yes, it is true that everything good comes from God, but that doesn’t mean that everything good is salvific, (i.e., has the power to save us). God is the One Who determines what saves and what doesn’t save… and He tells us in His Word that we are justified (in the “saving” sense) – not by works – but by faith APART FROM WORKS (Romans 3:28; 4:4-6; Titus 3:5). [See Part 2 of this series]

Someone once said that people who think that these ‘grace-infused works’ will save them, will either:

1) downplay God’s demand for PERFECTION, or
2) exaggerate on their OWN righteousness

I happen to agree with that. None of us are perfect in our good works, so we must trust in that perfect work of Jesus and HIS righteousness, not ours.


No, the apostle Paul said:

“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by HEARING WITH FAITH? Are you so foolish? Having BEGUN by the Spirit, are you now being PERFECTED by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3 NASB)

Paul is saying that the thing which has “birthed” us into the body of Christ (faith / trust in Jesus), will be the SAME THING which will MAINTAIN us in our Christian walk. Yes, we will have to endure to the end, but it is the maintaining of our FAITH that brings this about, and works are just a natural by-product of that (true) faith. Remember, our good works do please God, and we will be rewarded for our good works, but they are the result, not the cause, of salvation. Faith is what “gets” us saved, and faith is what “keeps” us saved. Not works.


But there is absolutely nothing lacking in the afflictions of Christ, concerning His payment for sin. So, Paul is speaking of what is lacking in the church and is reminding us of his (Paul’s) suffering for them. But Paul never says that man’s suffering justifies anyone.

Jesus suffered for a DIFFERENT reason than we do. He suffered to pay for the sins of mankind, but we (the church) suffer in the sense of bearing each other’s burdens, and laboring to win souls.

Again, there is no “lack” in Christ’s work. Sadly, this verse is so often twisted by Catholics to say something that it doesn’t say.


But those who say this miss Jesus’ whole point. Jesus was NOT defining faith as a “work” at all. The Jews were the ones who first brought up the subject of works. So Jesus just uses this as a springboard and responds to them on that topic. He is basically saying, “You’re asking what WORKS should be done to be right with God? This is the only so-called ‘work’ that God requires: You must BELIEVE IN ME. You’re looking for works, but God is requiring faith.” Jesus is actually re-directing their misguided view of works.

We believe that all of the verses that Catholics use when defending their “faith plus works” view, can be explained and reconciled with the Protestant understanding of "Faith Alone." However, we don’t believe that Catholics can reconcile their view of “faith plus works” with the context of Romans 3, 4, and 5, which clearly teaches the “Faith Alone” view.

Probably the most devastating argument in the Bible against the “faith plus works” concept can be found in the book of Galatians. The apostle Paul was dealing with the error of the Judaizers, who convinced the Galatian churches that one must not only believe in Jesus’ work on the cross to be saved, but must also be circumcised. (Galatians 6:12) We see these same Judaizers in Acts 15:1, also.

Paul’s whole point was that they were (wrongly) adding to the work of the cross. They were teaching salvation by their works IN ADDITION TO faith in the cross, just as the Catholic Church does today (and unfortunately, many Protestants, also).

So, what’s the big deal? Why was Paul so disturbed by this? Isn’t it enough that Jesus’ work is being recognized? And can’t WE get at least some credit for our salvation?

Absolutely not! It’s either ALL Jesus, or not Jesus AT ALL. It can never be “Jesus PLUS my works.”

Notice the phrases used by Paul in Galatians to describe those who would add any works to the cross:

1) They NULLIFY / FRUSTRATE God’s grace (Galatians 2:21)
2) They have been SEVERED FROM CHRIST and have FALLEN FROM GRACE (Galatians 5:4 NASV)
3) They have DESERTED JESUS for a DIFFERENT GOSPEL (Galatians 1:6)
4) They are ACCURSED (Galatians 1:8-9)
Does anyone STILL want to claim that he can add to the cross, or cause some type of “increase” in his justification, through his works? [as the Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 24 teaches]

Finally, we have actual examples of people who were saved by faith, apart from their works.

Romans 4:2-3 tells us that Abraham (who lived before the Mosaic Law) was justified by faith alone, and just a few verses later (verse 6), we see that David (who lived under the Mosaic Law) was likewise saved.

Jesus also told the story of the Pharisee and the publican (tax collector) in Luke 18:9-14. In this short story, it is the unlikely (and usually hated) tax collector who goes home justified, simply because he humbled himself, knowing that he was an undeserving sinner, and he surrendered to God. The bragging Pharisee, who thought surely that God would be impressed with his works, made sure to tell God how great he (the Pharisee) was. The whole reason that Jesus presented this story is to caution against the attitude of those who “trusted in themselves” (verse 9).

And of course, we have the classic example of someone saved by faith alone: the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43). He was one of two thieves hanging on their own crosses on either side of Jesus. At first, the “good thief” (as he came to be known) was mocking and ridiculing Jesus, like everyone else was (Matthew 27:38-44), but a little later, had a change of heart, defended Jesus, and condemned the other thief for his attitude (Luke 23:39-40). Then, with repentance, he uttered those immortal words, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” (23:42). And of course, Jesus tells him, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” Jesus didn’t say, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to come down from that cross, get baptized, participate in the Eucharist, and do this list of works I’ll give you…” No, He recognized the man’s change of heart (repentance and faith in Him) and accepted him on that basis. And He does the same for us today.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has a number of teachings that put too much emphasis on works. Teachings like Purgatory, the Treasury of Merit, Indulgences, the idea that man can atone for sin by almsgiving (giving money), and mixing / confusing justification with sanctification… these all detract from the work of Jesus on the cross. These teachings are telling us that His suffering and dying was just not quite enough to pay the penalty for sin. WE must ADD something to make salvation complete. Catholics may not say it in these words, but this is truly the bottom line in their logic. In other words, they are saying that Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) were not true. He apparently needs our “help” (according to the Catholic Church). Can any honest person deny that this is blasphemy?

But to be fair, the Catholic Church is not the only church that teaches that works contribute to a person’s justification. Sadly, there are also some Protestant churches that believe this teaching. It is also a fact that most (if not all) other world religions believe this same concept, in one form or another. You see, man (because of his nature) wants to take credit for things that he shouldn’t.

I pray that no one reading this will ever think that on Judgment Day, he will be able to stand before Jesus Christ and say, “Yes, Lord, You did Your 99% and I did my 1%, so I helped to pay for my own salvation...” God forbid.

It is my sincere prayer that no one (Catholic or Protestant) would ever fall prey to the deception and half-truths of this “faith plus works” doctrine. And may God have mercy on those who teach it.