The Alliance Of Confessing Evangelicals In 1998: We Still Disagree With Rome

A response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together

Without the imputation of righteousness the Gospel is not good news because we can never know if we are standing before God in a justified and therefore saved state. We will have to wait for some ultimate, but by no means guaranteed, salvation. The Gospel is not good news if believers may face thousands of years in purgatory before they come at last to heaven.

 

The first of these two documents, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” was a call to the Christian world to form a united front against the destructive influences of secular culture in such areas as ethics, statism, and the relativization of truth. In the context of this call to co-belligerency in the common sphere of cultural life, which we heartily endorse, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” affirmed a unity of faith among Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. Included in this common faith was an affirmation that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.

Many Christians were unsettled by that affirmation chiefly because of the historic controversy between Protestants and Roman Catholics regarding the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide). Pleas were made to the signatories to provide greater clarity to this matter. The second document attempts to do this. Unlike the first effort, “The Gift of Salvation” tries to clarify the unity of faith that was asserted earlier. It emphasizes the grace of God in salvation, the atonement of Christ, and that the gift of justification is received through faith.

But there is nothing new in this language from a Roman Catholic perspective. Rome has always maintained that salvation is based upon grace, upon the work of Christ and upon faith. The Council of Trent called faith the initiation (initium), foundation (fundamentum) and root (radix) of justification. “The Gift of Salvation” clearly acknowledges that justification is central to the scriptural account of salvation.

What is striking about this document is the joint affirmation by the signatories that “we understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).” This statement would seem to indicate that the co-signers agree in affirming the biblical and Reformation doctrine of sola fide. If such is the case, we rejoice. However, although it is said that certain affirmations are “in agreement with” sola fide, sola fide itself is not stated.

“The Gift of Salvation” says that:

1) Justification is received through faith,
2) Justification is not earned by good works
or merits of our own,
3) Justification is entirely God’s gift,
4) In justification God declares us to be his friends
on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, and
5) Faith is not mere intellectual assent but an act
of the whole person, issuing in a changed life.

Each of these points agrees with sola fide. Yet separately and together they fall short of both the biblical and Reformation doctrine of sola fide, which is our concern.

Imputed or Infused Righteousness

Why do they fall short? Central and essential to the biblical doctrine of justification and to the Reformation doctrine of sola fide is the concept of the “imputation” of the righteousness of Christ to the believer. Historically Rome has always contended that the basis of justification is the righteousness of Christ, but it is a righteousness that is “infused” into the believer rather than being “imputed” to him. This means that the believer must cooperate with and assent to that gracious work of God, and only to the extent that Christ’s righteousness “inheres” in the believer will God declare the person justified.

Protestants disagree, pointing to the critical difference between “infused” righteousness and “imputed” righteousness. Sola fide affirms that we are justified on the basis of Christ’s righteousness for us, which is accomplished by Christ’s own perfect active obedience apart from us, not on the basis of Christ’s righteousness in us. Thus, the good news of the Gospel is that we do not have to wait for righteousness to be accomplished in us before God counts us justified in his sight. He declares us to be just on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness.

Without the imputation of righteousness the Gospel is not good news because we can never know if we are standing before God in a justified and therefore saved state. We will have to wait for some ultimate, but by no means guaranteed, salvation. The Gospel is not good news if believers may face thousands of years in purgatory before they come at last to heaven.

Source (HT: R. Scott Clark, Heidelblog)