John 6 for Roman Catholics

A live walk through the 6th chapter of John based upon the original language text. Roman Catholicism teaches that Jesus taught transubstantiation in this chapter, but a fair reading of the text reveals otherwise.

Dr. James White writes, “while one cannot help but deal with the central issues of the gospel in 6:35-45, we continue on to make application and demonstrate that Jesus’ words concerning eating His flesh and drinking His blood, contextually, has nothing to do with Aristotelian philosophy and categories of being. Was Jesus really teaching transubstantiation a thousand years before the term came into usage? And did the disciples walk away because of that teaching? Or was it something else, something made plain in the text, if one is but willing to listen?”

This is a program we hope will be shared with many Roman Catholics.

2017 and Rome

James-White23“2017 will clarify for many why they are not Roman Catholics, and how they will relate to Rome. For many, the walls will fall, and they will swim the Tiber. For others, they will be confirmed in their bigotry and their rejection of Rome based upon bad arguments, false history, and their own form of overpowering tradition. But for many of the truly faithful, the issues will be seen with clarity, and their rejection of Rome will be accompanied not only by a new found fervor for the truths of sola scriptura, soli Deo gloria, sola fide, etc., but that fervor will be joined with a deep desire to see Roman Catholics come to know the gospel that actually saves and gives peace. If your opposition to Rome does not result in your reaching out in love and truth to them, longing to see them come to know the grace that truly saves, then your opposition is a clanging cymbal, and it means nothing.” – Dr. James White

Why is the Reformation Still Important?

Dr. James White:

Why is the Reformation still important? Why is it proper for us to focus upon it this year in celebration of 500 years? Why do I pray that by the end of 2017 more and more of God’s people will embrace the Reformation, and Reformed theology as a whole? Well, here is a tweet from the current Pope. He encourages Roman Catholics to “entrust the new year to Mary.” Doing this, evidently, will result in “peace and mercy” growing throughout the world. And here I thought that could only happen as men and women bow the knee not to Mary, but to the Lord Jesus, in repentance and faith, trusting in His once-for-all work upon the cross as the perfect Savior. Rome’s departure from the Gospel remains complete, and defiant. She continues to blaspheme the cross every time a man-made “priest” pretends to “re-present” the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary upon a Roman altar. And she continues to enslave men with her endless gospel of sacraments and penances, which can never bring them peace. And in this tweet the Pope demonstrates once again the grossly idolatrous nature of modern Roman teaching concerning Mary.

How many non-Roman Catholics today understand why they do not bow the knee to Rome? In what is loosely called Evangelicalism, very few. One either has the wild-eyed bigotry of the Jack Chick variety anti-Catholicism, or the luke-warm “it’s just a matter of taste” variety of synergistic Tiber-paddling that is so common today. May the number of those who knowingly, and out of a true commitment to sound biblical doctrine, reject Rome’s pretensions, grow in this the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.


Indulgences and Rome Today

“Does theology matter? Specifically, the doctrine of justification as spelled out so clearly in the Reformation? I was directed to this clip from Catholic Answers Live this morning, and it very well illustrates the answer. I often explain indulgences to non-Roman Catholic audiences, and they just stare at me in amazement. Often I get the feeling that they are skeptical as well. “Sure, maybe Rome taught that hundreds of years ago, but today? No way!” Well, indulgences are still very much a part of the Roman system. Here’s a brief clip proving the point.” – Dr. James White

Grace: What Does God Give Us?

grace02Grace: What Does God Give Us?

This extract is from Why The Reformation Still Matters, by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, Crossway, 2016. (available here)

Michael Reeves is President of Union and Professor of Theology. He is the author of The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Paternoster, 2012).

Tim Chester is a pastor with Grace Church, Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, and a tutor with the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy. He is the author or co-author of numerous books.

Years before the Reformation, in his days as a monk, Martin Luther had begun lecturing on the Bible at the university in Wittenberg. There he taught his students that salvation is by grace. ‘Not because of our merits,’ he explained; salvation is ‘given out of the pure mercy of the promising God’.[1] No alarms went off; not a single eyebrow was raised among all the inquisitors in Rome. And why not? Because Martin Luther the monk was still then upholding Rome’s own theology. He was loyally teaching standard medieval Roman Catholicism, that salvation is by grace.

Eyebrows might not have arched in Rome, but perhaps yours did just then. For was not the whole point of the Reformation that medieval Roman Catholicism falsely taught salvation by works? That, certainly, is how many see it. Yet that idea actually fails to grasp quite how things really were. More importantly, it fails to grasp the true wonder and acuteness of the Reformers’ message.

Grace in medieval Roman Catholicism

What, then, did Luther the monk (before the Reformation) mean when he taught salvation by grace? He could state that salvation ‘is not on the basis of our merits but on the pure promise of a merciful God’. Which sounds all very Reformational – until he goes on to explain:

Hence the teachers correctly say that to a man who does what is in him God gives grace without fail . . . [God] bestows everything gratis and only on the basis of the promise of his mercy, although he wants us to be prepared for this as much as lies in us. [2]

So, according to this, God does save by grace, but that grace is given to those who are ‘prepared’ for it, who do ‘what is in them’ to be fit for grace. Or as others (‘the teachers’) of the day liked to put it, ‘God will not deny grace to those who do their best.’

Romans 5:5 is perhaps the single most helpful verse for under- standing this view of salvation by grace. ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,’ writes the apostle Paul. Instead of being read as a verse about the transformative work of the Spirit in those who ‘have been justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1), as the context proves, Romans 5:5 was taken as an account of salvation, meaning that God pours his love and grace into our hearts, transforming us and making us holy – holy enough, ultimately, for heaven.

Our problem, according to this theology, is that, while God is holy, we are spiritually lazy. Only holy people belong with a holy God in heaven, but, while we may recognize the problem, we really cannot be bothered. We do not seem able to summon up the energy needed to be truly holy. And so God in his kindness gives us grace. ‘Grace’ is thus a bit like a can of spiritual Red Bull. I find myself unable to pull myself together and get holy. Then God gives me Grace, and suddenly I find myself much more eager and able.

This, then, was a theology of salvation by grace: without this grace, we could never become the sort of holy people it claimed belong in heaven. But it was absolutely not a theology of salvation by grace alone. Here grace provided the necessary boost it imagined we all need to earn eternal life; but it did not actually give or guarantee eternal life itself. The Red Bull of grace would be given to those who wanted and pursued it, and it saved only in so far as it enabled people to become holy and so win their salvation.

This might all have been the theology of sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism, but it does not feel too unfamiliar to twenty-first century Protestants and evangelicals. ‘Grace’ is still routinely thought of today as a package of blessing doled out by God. And, small details aside, that picture captures well a common and instinctive view of salvation, that while we know God saves by grace, we still look to ourselves and our performance to know how we stand before him. Our prayer lives are often painfully revealing of this. Every day Christians should be able to approach the Almighty and boldly cry ‘Our Father’ all because of Jesus. As we read in Hebrews, ‘Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace’ (Hebrews 4:14–16). Yet in practice our sins and failings make us shrink back. Ignoring Jesus’ salvation, we feel we cannot approach the Holy One because of how we have performed. Continue reading

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: A Curtain on the Reformation?

judge-gavel2Leonardo De Chirico of the Reformanda Initiative interviews Prof. Michael Reeves, UK. Author of books such as The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (2010) and (with Tim Chester), Why The Reformation Still Matters (2016).

On October 31, 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed ‘The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ (JDDJ), claiming that they were ‘now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.’[1] This has led many since to think that the fundamental theological differences of the Reformation have now been resolved, and that there remains little or nothing of real theological substance to prevent evangelical-Catholic unity. Professor Mark Noll, for instance, boldly declared,

If it is true, as once was repeated frequently by Protestants conscious of their anchorage in Martin Luther or John Calvin that iustificatio articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae (justification is the article on which the church stands or falls), then the Reformation is over.[2]

Let’s start here: what should we make of the JDDJ?

Michael Reeves: The JDDJ itself was rather less sanguine about what had been achieved, and stated explicitly that it ‘does not cover all that either church teaches about justification.’[3] Nevertheless, it did claim to be a ‘decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church’ in that it managed to express ‘a consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification and shows that the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations.’[4] This itself, though, was a considerable claim. Those ‘doctrinal condemnations’ it professed to avoid include the binding anathemas of the Council of Trent (1545-63), such as:

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.[5]

Is this a failure of the JDDJ?

Since the JDDJ expressly sought to avoid those condemnations, its understanding of justification cannot be that sinners are saved by faith alone without works by the sole remission of sins and the sole imputation of the righteousness of Christ.[6] It cannot then amount to the evangelical understanding of justification that the Council of Trent sought so carefully to define and oppose. And since it does not encompass the evangelical understanding of justification, it cannot be a decisive step forward to overcoming the theological differences between evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church.

How does the JDDJ define justification then?

When it first sets out to define the biblical message of justification, various aspects of salvation are listed alongside each other. Continue reading

Is the Reformation Over? A Statement of Evangelical Convictions

reformation-200x150The following is a statement released Nov. 1, 2016 by Reformanda Initiative on the state of the Protestant Reformation, which will mark its 500th anniversary next year. Reformanda Initiative is an organization primarily composed of European evangelicals, but not limited to that demographic, which seeks to inform evangelicals of the ongoing nature of the Reformation.

On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Evangelical Christians around the world have the opportunity to reflect afresh on the legacy of the Reformation, both for the worldwide church of Jesus Christ and for the development of gospel work. After centuries of controversies and strained relationships between Evangelicals and Catholics, the ecumenical friendliness of recent times has created ripe conditions for some leaders in both camps to argue that the Reformation is all but over (that the primary theological disagreements that led to the rupture in Western Christianity in the 16th century have been resolved).

Why Some Argue the Reformation Is Over

Two main reasons are generally cited in support of the claim that the Reformation is over:

1. The challenges for Christians worldwide (e.g., secularism and Islam) are so daunting that Protestants and Catholics can no longer afford to remain divided. A unified witness (with perhaps the Pope as the leading spokesman?) would greatly benefit global Christianity. ?

2. The historical theological divisions (e.g., salvation through faith alone, the ultimate authority of the Bible, the primacy of the bishop of Rome) are considered matters of legitimate difference in emphasis, but not sharp points of division and contrast that prevent unity.

The cumulative force of these arguments has softened the way some Evangelicals understand and evaluate the Roman Catholic Church.

It is also important to note that in the last century, global Evangelicalism has grown at an explosive rate while Roman Catholicism has not. The fact that millions of Catholics have become Evangelicals in recent years has not gone unnoticed by Roman Catholic leaders. They are seeking to respond strategically to this loss of their faithful by adopting traditional Evangelical language (e.g. conversion, gospel, mission, and mercy) and establishing ecumenical dialogues with churches they once condemned. There are now more friendly relationships and dialogue between Catholics and Protestants where once there was persecution and animosity. But the question still remains: have the substantive differences between Catholics and Protestants/ Evangelicals disappeared?

Is the Reformation Over?

In all its varieties and at times conflicting tendencies, the Protestant Reformation was ultimately a call to (1) recover the authority of the Bible over the church and (2) appreciate afresh the fact that salvation comes to us through faith alone.

As was the case five centuries ago, Roman Catholicism is a religious system that is not based on Scripture alone. From the Catholic perspective, the Bible is only one source of authority, but it does not stand alone, nor is it the highest source. According to this view, tradition precedes the Bible, is bigger than the Bible, and is not revealed through Scripture alone but through the ongoing teaching of the Church and its current agenda, whatever that may be. Because Scripture does not have the final say, Catholic doctrine and practice remains open-ended, and therefore confused at its very core.

The Roman Catholic theological method is powerfully illustrated by Rome’s promulgation of three dogmas (i.e., binding beliefs) with no biblical support whatsoever. They are the 1854 dogma of Mary’s immaculate conception, the 1870 dogma of papal infallibility, and the 1950 dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption. These dogmas do not represent biblical teaching, and in fact clearly contradict it. Within the Catholic system, this does not matter because it does not rely on the authority of Scripture alone. It may take two millennia to formulate a new dogma, but because Scripture does not have the final say, the Catholic Church can eventually embrace such novelties.

On the doctrine of salvation, many are under the impression that there is a growing convergence regarding justification by faith and that tensions between Catholics and Evangelicals have eased considerably since the 16th century. At the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the Roman Catholic Church reacted strongly against the Protestant Reformation by declaring “anathema” (cursed) those who upheld justification by faith alone, as well as affirmed the teaching that salvation is a process of cooperating with infused grace rather than an act grounded in grace alone by faith alone.

Some argue that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999 has bridged the divide. While the document is at times friendly towards a more biblical understanding of justification, it explicitly affirms the Council of Trent’s view of justification. All of its condemnations of historic Protestant/Evangelical convictions still stand; they just do not apply to those who affirm the blurred position of the Joint Declaration.

As was the case with Trent, in the Joint Declaration, justification is a process enacted by a sacrament of the Church (baptism); it is not received by faith alone. It is a journey that requires contribution from the faithful and an ongoing participation in the sacramental system. There is no sense of the righteousness of God being imputed by Christ to the believer, and thus there can be no assurance of salvation. Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church’s view is revealed by its continued use of indulgences (the remission of the temporal punishment for sin allotted by the Church on special occasions). It was the theology of indulgences that triggered the Reformation, but this system has been invoked most recently by Pope Francis in the 2015–2016 Year of Mercy. This shows that the Roman Catholic Church’s basic view of salvation, which is dependent on the mediation of the Church, the distribution of grace by means of its sacraments, the intercession of the saints, and purgatory, is still firmly in place, even after the Joint Declaration.

Looking Ahead

What is true of the Roman Catholic Church as a doctrinal and institutional reality is not necessarily true of individual Catholics. God’s grace is at work in men and women who repent and trust in God alone, who respond to God’s gospel by living as Christian disciples who seek to know Christ and make him known.

However, because of its unchecked dogmatic claims and complex political and diplomatic structure, much more care and prudence should be exercised in dealing with the institutional Catholic Church. Current initiatives to renew aspects of Catholic life and worship (e.g., the accessibility of the Bible, liturgical renewal, the growing role of the laity, the charismatic movement) do not indicate, in themselves, that the Roman Catholic Church is committed to substantive reform in accordance with the Word of God.

In our global world, we encourage cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics in areas of common concern, such as the protection of life and the promotion of religious freedom. This cooperation extends to people of other religious orientations and ideologies as well. Where common values are at stake regarding ethical, social, cultural, and political issues, efforts of collaboration are to be encouraged. However, when it comes to fulfilling the missionary task of proclaiming and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world, Evangelicals must be careful to maintain clear gospel standards when forming common platforms and coalitions.

The position we have articulated is a reflection of historic Evangelical convictions with its passion for unity among believers in Jesus Christ according to the truth of the gospel.[1] The issues that gave birth to the Reformation 500 years ago are still very much alive in the 21st century for the whole church. While we welcome all opportunities to clarify them, Evangelicals affirm, with the Reformers, the foundational convictions that our final authority is the Bible and that we are saved through faith alone.


[1] These fundamental convictions are expressed in official papers by the two global Evangelical organizations, the World Evangelical Fellowship and the Lausanne Movement. After addressing such topics as Mariology, authority in the church, the papacy and infallibility, justification by faith, sacraments and the Eucharist, and the mission of the church, the World Evangelical Fellowship’s summary comment is, “Cooperation in mission between Evangelicals and Catholics is seriously impeded because of ‘unsurmountable’ obstacles.”

“World Evangelical Fellowship: Evangelical Perspective on Roman Catholicism” (1986) in Paul G. Schrotenboer (ed.), Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987, p. 93).
We see this view mirrored in the 1980 “Lausanne Occasional Paper on Christian Witness to Nominal Christians among Roman Catholics” and a comment by the primary author of the Lausanne Covenant, John Stott: “We are ready to co-operate with them (Roman Catholics, Orthodox or liberal Protestants) in good works of Christian compassion and social justice. It is when we are invited to evangelize with them that we find ourselves in a painful dilemma for common witness necessitates common faith, and co-operation in evangelism depends on agreement over the content of the gospel.

Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, “Lausanne Occasional Paper 10 on Christian Witness to Nominal Christians among Roman Catholics” (Pattaya, Thailand, 1980); John Stott, Make the Truth Known: Maintaining the Evangelical Faith Today (Leicester, UK: UCCF Booklets, 1983, pp. 3–4).