Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree? – Program 5

By: Dr. John McArthur, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. D. James Kennedy; ©1995
Is there more than one way that someone can become a believer? Is baptism necessary or sufficient for salvation? The panel also answers audience questions.

Two Ways of Salvation- Audience Questions

Ankerberg: Welcome. We’re here in Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church with Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. John MacArthur and Dr. R. C. Sproul and we’re talking about the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document, as well as the new clarifying statement that has just been signed by some of our Evangelical friends that signed the ECT document. And this is going to be a wonderful program. We have questions from the audience and, hopefully, the very question that some of these folks are going to ask is the one that you want to ask and have answered.
Now, I’m going to ask the first one and start the ball rolling here, and that is, there was a very controversial area in the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document that many of the Evangelical laypeople picked up on right away. And it was this statement right here: “Those converted, whether understood as having received the new birth for the first time, or as having experienced the reawakening of the new birth originally bestowed in the sacrament of baptism, must be given full freedom and respect as they discern and decide the community in which they will live their new life in Christ.”
Dr. R. C. Sproul to many people that sounded like the Evangelical Protestants who were helping frame this were allowing there to be two equally valid ways of coming into a relationship with Christ: that is, the new birth or the sacrament of baptism. We objected to that statement and wanted it clarified. Tell us what’s at stake and what we did.
Sproul: First of all, John, let me put my theologian’s hat on just for a second with your indulgence just to get a little bit technical here with respect to that. That question as you’ve posed it and as it’s stated in ECT represents what’s called the fallacy of the false dilemma or the “either/or” fallacy. So in the document there was a bullet point list of ongoing points of differences: “Do we believe this or that?” which, in some cases, radically missed the historic points in dispute. For example, you’re saying: “Are there two ways of conversion: one through regeneration; the other through the sacraments?”
That really misses the point of the historic debate between Reformed Theology, Protestantism and Rome because both Rome and historic Evangelicalism maintained that it is necessary for a person to be regenerate. Okay? There’s no dispute about that. The question is, “How does regeneration come to pass?” and “What does it affect? What does it do?” and “How is it linked to justification?”
Now in the classical Reformed view of Calvin-Luther, the order of salvation went like this: that first, before I can believe and meet the requirement of faith in order to receive and appropriate the righteousness of Christ for my justification, something has to happen to my heart, because I’m fallen; I’m dead in sin; and the Holy Spirit has to change the disposition of my heart. We call that “regeneration” or “rebirth.” As a result of that work of the Holy Spirit, now I am able to and, indeed, do embrace Christ in faith. So, I’m reborn; I have faith; as a consequence of the faith I am justified.
Now, the Roman Catholic Church has taught that the way a person comes to salvation is, in the first instance, they are baptized, and baptism works ex opera operato–“by the working of the works”–virtually automatically, infusing the grace of justification in the soul, effecting regeneration and justifying grace. So a person is now justified by baptism. And that’s good until or unless that person commits mortal sin. Mortal sin is called mortal sin because it destroys the grace, this justifying grace that’s been implanted/infused into the soul at baptism. That’s why you have confession. That’s why you have the sacrament of penance, which became the center of the controversy in the sixteenth century. The sacrament of penance Rome defines and redefines at Trent as “the second plank of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls.” That is, once you commit mortal sin, that sin is called “mortal” because it “kills” the grace of justification that you received at baptism. So you need to get justified again. And that comes through another sacrament, namely, the sacrament of penance.
Now, what that provoked in the sixteenth century was in the second question: Not only what is the grounds and the basis of justification–whether it is the righteousness of Christ imputed to me or infused in me, the other question was: What is the instrumental cause of my justification? Going back to Aristotelian language. The “instrumental cause” is defined as “that cause or means by which an effect is brought to pass.” And when the Reformers said that justification is “by faith alone”–sola fide–the word “by” there meant the instrumental dative. The means by which I appropriate the righteousness of Christ and therefore am justified is by faith and by faith alone. Whereas, Rome taught the “instrumental cause” of justification is not faith, it is the sacraments–in the first instance, baptism, and the second instance, penance. And so that was a major point of difference on the “how” question of how a person is saved. Does that answer it, John.
Ankerberg: Yes. Talk about that thing of faith, then, because, obviously, if a Roman Catholic baby is baptized, where does faith come in? They’re not even conscious at that point.
Sproul: No. The faith would come–they would presume that it would come later as a consequence of their being in a state of justifying grace. It would be a result. It would be for them–the same place it is for us: the faith is a result of regeneration, ultimately. Although, the difference from the Reformed perspective, although there are many professing Evangelicals that don’t agree with this, they would say that regeneration makes it possible for a person to have faith but it doesn’t necessarily yield the fruit of faith, and that would be the case in the Roman Church but not in the case of the Reformation.
Ankerberg: Why did we want that clarified and why has that been so objectional to the Evangelical community, then?
Sproul: Because for the most part, the Evangelical community is aghast at any idea that the sacraments can in any way automatically confer justifying grace, that a person can be saved through the sacraments without faith. So you have a double-edge sword here. On the one hand you have that view, seeming to suggest that a person can be saved without faith; the other view of Rome that a person can have faith and not be saved. Now, that gets confusing, but let me say this: that that’s only in the case of infants. When it comes to the adult person who has committed mortal sin, according to Rome, they not only must go through sacramental penance but they must also have faith. So faith is a requirement in the case of adults.
Ankerberg: Well, let’s pick it up right there, too, with the adult. They’re not saying it’s faith alone either, because then you have to go back to the sacraments and the….
Sproul: If you look at their section in Trent on the sacraments of penance, as well as Session VI of Council of Trent on justification…on the canons and decrees of justification, Rome spells this business of “mortal sin” out and goes on to say that a person has true faith and commits mortal sin. That mortal sin destroys the grace of justification but does not destroy the faith. So there you have a clear statement by Rome…I should have brought the canons and decrees of Trent with me to read it to you exactly. But the thing there, John, is it clearly states that a person can have faith, true faith–not just a profession of faith but true faith–and not be justified. Which couldn’t be any more clear of a repudiation of the New Testament concept of justification by faith alone.
Ankerberg: All right, let’s finish this up. Flip the coin, because Catholics do not have assurance that they’re in Heaven because they have to get more and more justifying faith through the sacraments once they have come in via baptism….
Sproul: Well, they don’t normally have the assurance of salvation because, again, Trent declares that it is possible to have assurance of salvation in the sense of knowing that you are going to be saved by special revelation, in special circumstances, like in the case of Mary and in some of the saints. But the normal rank and file believer cannot have the assurance of perseverance or the assurance of salvation except beyond that of what the Church encourages them.
Ankerberg: All right, finish this off here in the sense that, talk about salvation as a final act that is completed. In other words, in the forensic sense that: God makes an eternal judgment about my status because of Christ versus Catholicism, that it’s not a completed act all at once, it’s a process. Define those two for us.
Sproul: For the Protestant–for the biblical view as I understand it, John, and embrace it–justification technically and narrowly considered, and what the word means in the Greek, in the Hebrew and I believe originally in the Latin until it got corrupted in the Roman judicial system–and that’s where one of the problems came in with the Latin; justixicare which means “to make just” and that planted the seeds in some of the Latin fathers of thinking that justification means “a making just”–but the biblical concept dikaiosune and so on clearly teaches that justification, narrowly considered, is the declaration of God, the legal declaration–what we call “forensic declaration.” You hear about the forensics in trials and forensic medicine and forensic pathology and so on. What we’re talking about there is that justification, specifically and narrowly, refers to God’s declaration of a person’s being righteous in His sight. Okay? That that’s what justification means. And that is a once-for-all thing.
What the New Testament teaches is that the very moment a person has authentic faith in Jesus Christ, at that instant God the Father declares that person “in Christ” and acceptable in the beloved. He now remits or removes their sins forever. The eternal punishment of sin has been removed and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to that trusting and believing person. They are now pronounced just.
Luther said they are “Simul Justus et Peccator,” “at the same time just and sinner.” While they’re still unclean in themselves, though the seed and the beginning of their transformation has already taken place, they’re still sinners and they remain polluted by sin until they’re glorified by God in Heaven. The process of sanctification goes until we die and go into Heaven, but the status that you’re referring to, our condition of being declared just before God, is a once-for-all, single, instantaneous action the moment faith occurs.
Ankerberg: Great. Question?
Q: My question is to any of the three. I know that there were 20 Evangelical signatories to ECT and there were a number of other Evangelicals who endorsed it.
To you know, as of this date have any of the signatories disavowed the document or had their names removed? Or have any of the other Evangelicals, such as Pat Robertson and Os Guinness removed their endorsement from ECT?
Sproul: Only one that I know of has removed his name, and that was John White, President of Geneva College. And Jack–he’s a friend of mine–Jack struggled with it and he did remove his name, partly I assume because his denomination encouraged him to do so. In fact, they may have commanded him to do so, I don’t know. But to my knowledge, that’s the only one who has removed his name. I have not talked to all the other signatories. I have talked with Os about it and Bill Bright and so on. I’ve urged them and pled with them to remove their names but to this so far, it’s been to no avail.
MacArthur: I would just add, maybe you guys may know this. Has anybody other than the men we met with added their names to the document that we came up with?
Ankerberg: Some have, and at this moment, though, those are still in the mail going to the other Protestant signees and we’re waiting to hear. I see no reason why they wouldn’t all sign the clarifying doctrinal statement. I’d really be surprised if they didn’t.
Sproul: It would be interesting to see if the Roman Catholic signatories would be willing to sign that statement. Seriously. Because if they really do have a united view of justification, as they’re claiming, they should be willing to sign it as well.
Ankerberg: Yeah, the men around the table.
Sproul: Yes. Those who came to…
Ankerberg: Yes. Another question.
Q: I come from Brazil, the largest Roman Catholic country in the world. I heard you gentlemen say that what is at stake here is the Gospel. Therefore, aren’t those who advocate Lordship Salvation views guilty of the same mistake as Roman Catholics are by adding works to the Gospel and therefore denying justification by faith alone?
Ankerberg: MacArthur, we knew that question had to come up tonight somewhere. Very good. It’s time to answer it, John.
MacArthur: I’ve written on that question, haven’t I? Look, that is a straw man. To say that Lordship Salvation–whatever that term might mean to people–has the connotation that you must believe in Jesus as Lord in order to be saved. I don’t know how that all of a sudden became an aberrant view, but somewhere down the path it has become abberant in some circles to affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ, in spite of the fact that you have to confess with your mouth Jesus “as Lord” in order to be saved. But the implication that people want to read into that is that if you have to do that, that’s a work. That’s a pre-salvation work that you have to do. And then they take repentance and they say, “We don’t believe in repentance, either.” In other words, salvation is purely grace; you don’t commit to anything and you don’t repent from anything. And you say, “Well, repentance is in the Bible.” Well, those people who are against Lordship Salvation, they will redefine repentance as changing your mind about who Jesus is, or changing your mind about whether you can save yourself, but it does not mean turning from your sin, because if you had to turn from your sin, that would be a pre-salvation human work. Or, if you had to submit to Christ and bow your knee to His Lordship, that would be a pre-salvation work. The simple answer to that is, that is exactly what R. C. was talking about when he talked about regeneration. You couldn’t repent if it were a pre-salvation human work and you couldn’t submit to Christ if it were a pre-salvation human work. None of it is a pre-salvation human work; it is all-encompassed in the redeeming work of God. It is all the work of God. God grants repentance.
Paul said that to Timothy. God grants repentance. God grants submission. God breaks the human will. God terrorizes the soul over the results and the implications of sin. God bows the knee to Christ. And to take any less than that is nothing more than limiting God. Are you saying that God can save, just can’t make people repent? Or God can save, just can’t make them submissive. I mean, it strikes a blow against the power of God. Doesn’t say anything about human works. I would never advocate there’s any component of human effort in salvation. It’s all of God. Let’s just not strip out what God is doing and say He’s not doing it.
Kennedy: John, I think, if I could add to that. The person who objects and coins this phrase, “Lordship Salvation,” which is the view that we are to believe in Jesus Christ both as Savior and Lord, which is to say we are to believe and repent, this has been the view of the Church down through the centuries. And now it has made as some kind of aberrant view by some in recent times. Now, the truth of the matter is, that these people are guilty of doing the very thing that they’re charging those who believe in what they now call “Lordship Salvation” because they do not see that salvation is all of God and they say, “Well, we can’t repent. That would be a human work. All we can do is believe. And so therefore we will believe in Jesus as our Savior. And that is salvation by grace, but we are not able to repent.” But they are the ones that are declaring that man has some ability to do something, namely, to believe.
The truth of the matter is, the unregenerate man is blind. “He has eyes and sees not; he has ears and hears not;…his mind is darkened”….his heart is of stone. He’s at enmity with God and “he is dead in trespasses and sins.” He can no more believe than he can repent. He can’t even understand the Gospel for “the things of the Spirit of God,” of which the Gospel is the heart of those things, “are foolishness” to the natural man, “neither can he know them”– ___________ –“it is not possible that he can know them.”
The fact of the matter is that what God requires for salvation is faith and repentance. Faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and repentance and submission to Him as Lord. And that which God requires for salvation, that God also freely gives by His grace in regeneration. So that the whole thing may be “of God.” Salvation is by faith, by grace…excuse me, by faith, in order that salvation may be of grace. Why? In order that salvation may be of God. That is the essence of Evangelical religion. Salvation is “of God,” from eternity to eternity, from alpha to omega, man has no part in it–neither his repentance, nor his faith, nor his good works or anything else. And to God be the glory, it is all “of God.”
MacArthur: I’ve been wanting to say that for a long time.
Sproul: John, I think it’s critical that as part of the question that was raised there about Lordship Salvation was, Does not the Lordship Salvation, that concept, undermine sola fide, justification by faith alone, because of its insistence on works and we haven’t discussed that, quickly. The Reformers said that “justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” The point was this, following James, that true faith, the faith that brings us into a saving relationship to Christ, by which we receive His righteousness, that is the “alone” basis for our salvation, where our works contribute nothing of merit or value or contributing anything to the basis of our salvation, that is received solely by faith. But if that faith is a true faith, immediately, inevitably, necessarily that faith begins at the moment of its inception to show forth the fruit of redemption and of justification. So, if the question is this: Is it possible for a person to have faith, be justified, and never have works? What John is saying and what we’re all saying is, that’s absolutely impossible! There’s no such thing as a “carnal Christian” in that sense–that they are utterly carnal and at the same time a Christian. I hope that helps.
Ankerberg: Explain it, then, Dr. MacArthur of, for the person that has listened to Simul Justus et Peccator–at the same time that he’s just, he’s also a sinner. For the people that are the soft-hearted ones that are listening, okay? For the people that say, “Okay, I have made my commitment to Jesus as Lord, but I haven’t lived perfect every step. Does that mean that I have not really accepted Jesus’ Lordship?” Talk to those folks.
MacArthur: I like to say to people like that, it’s not the perfection of your life, it’s the direction. Paul said, Not as though I have attained, but I know the direction I’m going. I’m going toward Christ-likeness. And that’s my passion. And I think the way you get in touch with the reality of your salvation is not by counting up your righteous acts, but it’s by listening to your heart longings. Puritans used to talk about “holy aspirations.” I think the evidence of a regenerate heart is a hatred of sin, is a love for God, and a longing to obey. I don’t think it’s perfect obedience. It’s not perfect love toward Christ and it’s not a perfect hatred toward sin, but it is animosity towards sin. It is revulsion towards sin and mostly in me, not in you or in the culture. And it is a love for God that comes forth in a desire to commune with Him, a desire to do that which is well-pleasing in His sight, a desire to sing His praises. It comes forth in a love of His truth, a hunger to know that truth and to apply that truth in your life. I think it’s the cry of the heart. I mean, David said it, “As the heart pants after the water brook, so my soul pants after thee, O God. When will I come before you?”
Kennedy: John, I think also on that, that the unregenerate man loves sin and he hates righteousness. Righteousness, godliness is a burden. He doesn’t like to go the church if it’s a godly church. If you want to see that, watch what happens when his wife truly gets converted and becomes a godly woman. He rebels against that. The ungodly person loves sin, and righteousness is a burden to him. The godly person, the regenerate person, loves God, seeks after holiness, falls into sin, but he hates sin. And that is a great burden to him. It weighs heavily upon his soul. It’s the difference between a pig whom, if you take it and wash it in the bathtub and put a pink ribbon around its neck. As soon as it gets outside, it finds a mud puddle and it begins to wallow in it. Whereas, if a lamb should trip and fall into the mud or a cat, it will immediately get up and the cat will begin to lick itself and the lamb will try to get itself cleansed. Because it has a different kind of a nature. And the unregenerate person has the pig nature; the regenerate person has the lamb or cat nature.
Ankerberg: Here’s another question.
Q: How do you reconcile your doctrine of sola fide with those passages in the Bible where Jesus is in a judgment position saying, “I was hungry, you didn’t feed me. I was naked, you didn’t clothe me. I was in prison, you didn’t visit me”–which appears to be a judgment on their non-response to human needs or works.
Kennedy: Well, let me take a crack at that. I think that throughout the Scripture we find that salvation is by grace through faith; judgment is by works. This is found throughout the Scripture. The reason for that is that faith is invisible. As James says, “Show me your faith without you works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” And the only visible representation of faith is our works. And so, therefore, our judgment is based upon our works, which are the evidence of our faith. But salvation is uniformly declared to be of faith.
MacArthur: And it is true that consistently through the Scripture judgment is predicated on works. And again, those works are the evidence. And that’s again, you get back to the Lordship Salvation debate. Those people who denounce Lordship Salvation want to have a salvation without works. And James says that’s not legitimate salvation.
Sproul: Yes, it’s where the works come in; they’re not the grounds of my justification, but if they’re not present, if there are no works, that means what? There is no faith. And if there is no faith, there’s no justification.
Kennedy: As it has been for centuries, works are not the root of our salvation, but they are the fruit of our salvation and the evidence of it.
Q: During the last several Ankerberg shows, there was only one reference as to why ECT was written to begin with, and it might be helpful to the people in the audience here, as well as to the viewers, to clarify that and point out maybe also that the writing of ECT crippled the goal that they were trying to accomplish.
Sproul: I’d like to speak to that, because I did mention earlier what the driving force, according to Chuck Colson and others was. Chuck Colson is an international Christian. He has been a spokesman for the cause of Christ across borders like few people have, particularly in the level of prisons. In Eastern Europe, in the East, all over the place, he has seen the rising spectre of increasing hostility of a paganism, a neo-paganism that is radically hostile to historic Christianity. He has been in the White House. He has watched the systematic dismantling and disintegration of anything Christian to our culture and speaks to us against the night. This has been a driving passion for Chuck Colson, to be an activist and apologist for Christ in the marketplace, in the prison, in the world, defending Christian truth against secular paganists. Okay? And it was that concern that I believe was the over-arching concern along with his concern that there’s been bloodshed around the world, in Latin America particularly, of conflicts between Catholics and Evangelicals.
Also, in Chuck’s work, particularly in the prison ministry, where I’ve been with him in these prison ministries, he’s encountered many Roman Catholic chaplains who have welcomed him with open arms and encouraged him to preach his Gospel in these circumstances. And he’s saying, if we can have this kind of cooperative activity at the grass roots, it’s time now to put the old rancor aside and try to find more and more and more venues of cooperation and acknowledging that we have more unity of faith than anybody dreamed of prior to this time. I think that’s the motivating force behind this document. I think it goes too far, as we’ve been saying all along.
MacArthur: I think there’s one other thing that came up in the meeting several times and that is that both Chuck Colson and J. I. Packer are convinced that effective evangelism is dependent on a pre-theological sort of moral consensus. In other words, you can’t just evangelize a culture in a vacuum. They believe that to create…Francis Schaeffer used to talk about pre-evangelism. They’re in that idea that if we can create a context of Christian morality, the Gospel becomes much more readily received. And they’re convinced of that, although personally I’m not convinced that that’s an issue. Certainly it wasn’t an issue for the Apostle Paul throughout the whole Gentile world. But they’re convinced that that is going to have a great impact on the acceptability of the Gospel.
Kennedy: May I add one other thing to that, because having listened to the excellent exposition of the motives for the ECT document, for those who have seen none of the other programs. They may wonder what the problem is. Because all of that sounded so good and so noble. The problem is that in creating this document of co-belligerency to face the evils of the secular neo-pagan world, it was the opinion of many, including the three sitting here, that they presented vague and apparently compromising statements concerning the essence of the Christian Gospel and put the whole heart of Christianity into jeopardy. And that’s why we had the meeting here a few weeks ago to try to resolve it, and that’s what we’ve been discussing about for the last few weeks.
Ankerberg: And, R. C., where does it stand right now?
Sproul: As it stands, so far we have a minimal statement of clarification by which some of the framers of the document–Chuck Colson, Jim Packer and Bill Bright–have affirmed their personal belief in the central importance of the historic doctrine of justification by faith alone, among other clarifications that they’ve gone on record that they did not intend in any way to imply in ECT a negotiation of that centrality to the Gospel. They are now taking that document to the other Protestant signatories and asking them to sign it and they have made a commitment to release this statement of clarification to all of the same media agencies that ECT was originally given–through the Press, to the New York Times, to the Washington Post, to CT and others. And at the same time it stands where there’s a commitment to on-going discussions to try to resolve this problem further.
Q: A stumbling-block to many Roman Catholics at the time of the Reformation and today is James Chapter 2, verse 24 in its proper interpretation: “You see, then, how that by works a man is justified and not by faith alone.” Would you please explain that verse?
Kennedy: I think that the key in that passage is that James is dealing with people who profess to be Christians and yet they don’t evidence the reality of their faith by their works. And he says in verse 18, “Yea, a man may say he has faith and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works and I will show thee my faith by my works.” And he says in verse 15, “If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food and one of you say unto him, ‘Depart in peace. Be ye warmed and filled,’ notwithstanding you give him not those things which are needful for the body, even so faith if it hath not works is dead alone.” And over and over again in this, he makes clear that people will say they have faith and they don’t have works, and James is saying that real faith always produces works as a result.
And a key in this I think are the words “say” and “see.” They are repeated throughout this whole second chapter of James. And the question is, A man may say that he has faith but will that faith justify him if it’s just a “said” faith? No, it won’t.
To give you an illustration, one time years ago I talked to a woman and I shared with her the Gospel and she said to me, “Do you mean that all I have to do is say that I believe in Jesus Christ and I will be saved?”
I said, “No, mam, I didn’t say that. She said, “You didn’t? What did you said.”
I said, “If you would put your trust in Jesus Christ, you would be saved.”
She said, “There, you said it again. All I have to do is say that I trust in Jesus Christ and I’ll be saved.”
I said, “No, mam, I did not say that. I have never said that in my life.”
She said, “You just said it.”
I said, “No, I didn’t.”
I wonder if everybody here noticed how she distorted my statement. I said, “If you would trust in Christ, if you would believe in Christ, you would be saved.”
She said that I said, “If you would say that you trusted in Christ and say that you believed in Christ, you would be saved.”
There is a gulf, a vast gulf between saying that you have faith and having faith. And that is the difference between salvation and eternal perdition. What we need to do is trust in Christ and if we do that, works will inevitably follow as a result of that.
Sproul: I’d like to add to that, John, Trent is virtually filled with quotations and citations of James 2:21 and 2:24. “You see that Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac on the altar…” and then James 2:24: “We see then that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Now, there the Holy Scriptures, what could be a clearer, more demonstrative categorical repudiation of sola fide than that. “We see, then,” by conclusion, “that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” That would seem to put Luther out of business as clearly as anything could possibly do!
And the Catholic theologians of the sixteenth century said, “Read this! Read this! Read this!”
All right. We have to answer that. But Jim, of course, put his finger on it. The issue that James is dealing with there, by citing Abraham–and the plot thickens–is that both Paul in Romans 3 and James in James 2 are talking and using the word [for] justification, they use the same Greek word [and] they appeal to the same person as their exhibit “A” to prove their case: Abraham. “Was not Abraham our father justified when he offered Isaac on the altar?”
Paul labors the point in Romans 4 that “Abraham is justified by faith,” not in Chapter 22 of Genesis as James quotes, but in Chapter 15 of Genesis, when Abraham “believes God and it’s counted to him, reckoned to him, imputed to him”–there’s a great Reformed text–“for righteousness.” And so, they both appeal to Abraham, but to different points in their life. How do we reconcile this?
I think Jim’s on it right there. The question James is answering is the question he starts off with this thing, [which] is: “If a man says he has faith and has not works, will that faith save him?” The issue here, under the microscope of the apostle, is, What constitutes saving faith?
And, of course–and this is where Evangelicals stumble because we have created a whole milieu, an environment, in the twentieth century Evangelical world that tells people that all you have to do to be saved is raise your hand, come forward, pray a prayer, you know, “say the sinner’s prayer,” make these statements. No. It’s still…the requirement is faith. All of those things that we’re talking about are outward manifestations, demonstrations, or professions of faith. The Bible does not teach, never did teach, that a person is saved by the “profession” of faith. It’s the possession of faith that alone links us to Jesus Christ and that’s what James is laboring in Chapter 2. It would take another half an hour or hour to follow that all the way. But that’s a summary.
Kennedy: Right. Go through the second chapter of James, underline every instance of “say” and “see” and I think you’ll understand the difference between a professed faith, and a possessed faith, and whether we can “see” by the evidence of his works the reality of his faith or not.
Ankerberg: All right, question?
Q: Looking down the road a few years, do any of you gentlemen see the ECT as a preliminary document which could eventually and perhaps unwittlingly evolve into a synthesis document for a global one-world religion?
MacArthur: I’ll take a shot at that. I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so I don’t want to be stoned if I’m wrong here. But I am convinced that this is only the beginning of a rather large movement that is going to continue to escalate. And it isn’t primarily because of this document, it’s primarily because of the ringing cry for tolerance; because of the lack, the abysmal lack of discernment in the Church; because of this tremendous impetus that this unity mentality has; and things like Promise-Keepers and any other kind of expressions of Evangelical ecumenism are creating a greased slide for this. And I think it is going to escalate.
I think you’ve got powerful media people, such as Trinity Broadcasting, who have got this high on their agenda and they’re going to pump this thing nationwide all the time. I think it’s very conceivable, and we would not all agree on how we interpret the Book of Revelation, but if you take a futuristic, futurist view of the Book of Revelation, it would very, very much fit the scenario of moving rapidly toward a one-world false religion that is described in the 17th chapter of the Book of Revelation which will be bigger than Rome but obviously is connected with the “city on seven hills” that is called “the harlot” and “drunk with the blood of the martyrs” and all of that kind of thing. So, certainly, from my tradition, looking at that and looking at Revelation in its prophetic implications, I’m not going to say this is that, but it certainly could fit that scenario.
Q: While you took the Catholic religion to task, why is it that you were not strong against the 20 Evangelicals who signed and produced that pact and did it without doctrinal justification; and number two, why wasn’t the second meeting held first so you would resolve all the Evangelical issues before any pact was ever produced?
Kennedy: Well, I can answer part of that and that is, I never knew that the consultation was underway until after I had heard about the signed document. So, consequently, I was able to do nothing about it beforehand. And if I had known about it, then I perhaps could have done something beforehand.
I think another factor that needs to be considered is the fact that the second meeting that was held here did result in those major players in that signing a clarifying document that they believed the basic Reformational teachings of sola fide and the other related doctrines. But I think that there have been some statements here from a number of people that we wish that they had been willing to take a clearer stand and remove their names altogether from the document and we must confess that we all find it very difficult to see how they really can keep their names on both of those documents. They seem to find no problem because they say that’s what they meant all along and now they’re clarifying that.
But we see that first document as so ambiguous and confusing and misleading that we do not see how a person believing what they signed in the second document–and we do not question that they believe that–we don’t see how they can ignore the implications and leave their name on the first document.
Sproul: One of the things for which I was grateful, and I expressed my gratitude to Chuck Colson–and I wasn’t being facetious or cynical about it–was that as soon as this document was released, then I responded to the Press about it in a negative way and Chuck and I talked about it.
And he said, “You know, R. C., I didn’t send you a copy of this and I didn’t ask you to sign this document because I knew that you wouldn’t.”
And I was sincere at that point when I said, “Thank you.”
I very much appreciate that he understood, upfront, there’s no way in the world I would ever sign a document like that.
Q: My question is for Dr. R. C. Sproul. Do the drafters of ECT say anything about papal authority over the Church? What is their position on that, if any at all?
Sproul: I’m trying to recall there’s even anything said about papal authority. I mentioned earlier that in one section of ECT there is a list, a bullet point list, of those points of continuing, ongoing disagreement between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. And one of them, again, infelicitously and not very accurately, sets in contradistinction the authority of Scripture and Tradition, or the magisterial authority of the Church and so on, which is a sort of, frankly, a sloppy misunderstanding of the critical issue there in the sixteenth century on sola scriptura.
Sola scriptura had to do with two things: one, that the Scripture and the “Scripture alone” has the authority to bind our conscience and impose divine obligations upon us. No church council, no church leader can do that. And, secondly, that there’s only one source of written special revelation, namely, the sacred Scriptures; whereas, Trent has a dual source theory of two sources that the Church has of special revelation, namely, the Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, which is ruled over by a pontiff in whom is vested this ex cathedra infallibility.
There’s very little discussion of that in Vatican II, but that really does get to the heart of the historic division because, as Roman Catholic theologians continue to complain about within Rome, they are convinced that they, as theologians, have very little authority and very little influence on the Church; that it’s the magisterium that determines what is to be believed in the Church, not the theologians or the Scriptures or anything else.
I frankly think in practical terms the biggest thing that got Luther in trouble in the sixteenth century was not so much he challenged the doctrine of the Church as he challenged the authority of the Church. And when he challenged the authority of the Church Councils and of the pontiff in Rome, that’s when Cajetan and Eck and so on linked him with John Huss and then that’s when the Church moved to excommunicate him.
Ankerberg: All right, our last question.
Q: Gentlemen, would you say that the blurring of distinction today between today’s Evangelical movement and the Catholic Church is the direct outgrowth of the semi-Pelagian views of Charles Finney and his distaste of Reformed theology?
Sproul: Yes.
Q: Explain that now.
MacArthur: I’m not going to take time to explain all that, but I would agree with that. I think, God knows the immense impact that Charles Finney had. In fact, apart from the Reformed faith, Charles Finney basically defined the rest of Evangelicalism. Apart from the Reformed faith. I’m not just talking about its theology, I’m talking about its format. If you understand how people preach, how they conduct evangelistic meetings, how they call sinners forward, and that whole thing, all of that, is basically Finney’s style. Which, of course, was based on the fact that he believed with all his heart that in order to get people saved you had to manipulate their will any way you could because it was all up to them. It’s amazing how that found its way into the fabric of Evangelicalism. Billy Sunday. D. L. Moody. And right through that, down to Billy Graham and it isn’t so much that you see it in the message, as you see it in the manipulation; you see it in the way things are done, although it’s in the message, too.
Sproul: It’s really in the message.
MacArthur: You tell people you need to make a decision for God and the decision is not for you to decide on God but for Him to decide on you. If you understand the Scripture. So I think it’s endemic within Evangelicalism. No question about it.
Sproul: Charles Finney is known for being the most effective evangelist in the nineteenth century, and he is considered to be the paragon of evangelistic outreach. And I think that he certainly was evangelistic. But I don’t see any remote way that Charles Finney was in the broadest meaning of the term anywhere close to being an Evangelical Christian. Charles Finney rejected more classic orthodox Christianity than the Roman Catholic Church ever dreamed of. I mean, he wasn’t just semi-Pelagian, as Arminian evangelists are, he was an unvarnished Pelagian and he was militant about it in terms of his denial of the doctrine of original sin. Not just the Calvinistic view of original sin, but any view of original sin. Charles Finney, who was celebrated as a hero among Evangelicals, loudly and systematically denied the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ in a manner that would have made liberals in the nineteenth century blush! But he was effective in eliciting these responses evangelistically in mass evangelism and did more to set the format for mass evangelism than anybody probably in American history. But I’m serious about this, John, the man was not a heretic. Don’t say that R. C. Sproul said that Charles Finney was a heretic. Get it straight. He was an arch-heretic! Other than that, I don’t have an opinion on Charles Finney.
Ankerberg: Well, that wraps it up. Guys, I want to say thank you for your willingness to come and to talk about something that has been very troubling to all four of us. The good news is that we have a clarifying statement. We are waiting to see how many of the Evangelical Protestant signees of the ECT document will sign it. I would assume that all of them will. And then there is the hope for future discussion on some of these other issues that we have discussed tonight.
And I want to say thank you for your coming, for being brave enough, courageous enough to speak out on some of these very, very tough issues. Thank you very much. Let’s give them a hand of appreciation.


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