Updated November 3, 1999 (first published September 18, 1997) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
For decades liberal mainline Protestant and Baptist denominations have been “dialoguing” with the Roman Catholic Church in an attempt to find consensus on various doctrinal issues. One of these is the doctrine of justification, the definition of which parallels the definition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The definition of justification is the definition of how man is saved.
The most amazing statement yet to come out of the whirlwind of ecumenical dialogue is the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” issued by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and representative theologians of the Roman Catholic Church. The LWF is composed of 122 member Lutheran denominations. The first version was issued in 1995. Responses to this from various Lutheran denominations were incorporated into a revised text presented for consideration to the Lutheran World Federation in September 1996. Further modifications were subsequently made and the latest revision was issued in February 1997 for distribution to member denominations. The LWF requested that responses to this be made by June 1, 1998. Finding what the LWF calls a consensus among Lutherans on this matter, the declaration was approved. A formal signing ceremony was conducted by the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican on October 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany.
I obtained a copy of this Joint Declaration in 1997. It is a very cleverly worded document that defends the false Catholic sacramental gospel in every point. The Roman Catholic Church is changing absolutely nothing it has professed to believe about justification. The 16th-century Council of Trent cursed anyone who would dare to say that justification is by faith alone through grace alone by Christ’s completed atonement alone, and this ecumenical declaration does not draw back from that one iota. Consider the following two statements from the sixth session of the Council of Trent:
“If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA” (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 12).
“If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA” (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 24).
If the Roman Catholic Church were suddenly to agree with Bible-believing non-Catholics that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone by Christ’s complete and all-sufficient sacrifice alone WITHOUT WORKS OR SACRAMENTS OR BAPTISM OR PRIESTHOOD, it would bring the curses of its own infallible popes upon its head. It has not done that, though. The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification does not teach that “justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us” nor does the Joint Declaration deny that justification is “increased before God through good works.”
WHAT DOES THE JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION TEACH?
The Joint Declaration teaches exactly what the Roman Catholic Church has always taught on the doctrine of salvation, which is this: justification is the IMPARTATION of new life to the sinner whereby he is enabled to know and seek God. It is a PROCESS which begins with baptism and involves the doing of good works and the faithful participation in the church sacraments. It is NOT MERE IMPUTATION of Christ’s perfect righteousness and blood atonement to the sinner’s account so that he stands from that moment on and through all eternity as perfect and complete in Christ SOLELY on the basis of what Christ did at Calvary. Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia (1991) defines justification as “the PROCESS by which a sinner is made righteous, pure and holy before God. Justification in the Catholic Tradition comes about by means of faith in Christ, AND IN A LIFE OF GOOD WORKS lived in response to God’s invitation to believe.” The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that “the New Testament concept of ‘good works’ which merit eternal life are different from those condemned by Paul.” In other words, when Paul said that our good works have nothing to do with salvation, he was referring to the Old Testament law not to New Testament commands.
Consider the following excerpts from the Joint Declaration on Justification which teach precisely this same traditional Catholic view of justification:
JUSTIFICATION IS COMPLETED THROUGH WORKS AND SACRAMENTS: “Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God’s gift through the Holy Spirit who WORKS THROUGH WORD AND SACRAMENT in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that RENEWAL OF LIFE which God will bring to completion in eternal life” (“Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” February 1997 edition).
JUSTIFICATION IS BY IMPARTATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, NOT BY IMPUTATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: “...as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God IMPARTS as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way. ... The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and BEING MADE RIGHTEOUS by justifying grace, which makes us children of God” (“Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” February 1997 edition).
JUSTIFICATION IS IN BAPTISM: “By the action of the Holy Spirit IN BAPTISM, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. ... Catholics hold that the grace of Jesus Christ IMPARTED IN BAPTISM takes away all that is sin ‘in the proper sense’ and that is ‘worthy of damnation’ (Romans 8:1)” (“Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” February 1997 edition).
JUSTIFICATION IS A PROCESS OF OBEDIENCE; NO SECURITY EXCEPT THROUGH OBEDIENCE AND SACRAMENTS: “In spite of their own weakness and the manifold threats to their faith, on the strength of Christ’s death and resurrection they CAN BUILD on the effective promise of God’s grace IN WORD AND SACRAMENT and so be sure of this grace. ... Recognizing his own failures, however, the believer MAY yet be certain that God intends his salvation” (“Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” February 1997 edition).
JUSTIFICATION IS PRESERVED BY OBEDIENCE: “According to Catholic understanding, Good Works, made possible by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, contribute to growth in grace, SO THAT THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES FROM GOD IS PRESERVED and communion with Christ is deepened” (“Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” February 1997 edition).
The Roman Catholic Church brought the curse of Galatians 1 upon its head when it ADDED something to the grace of Christ for salvation. The Apostle Paul plainly taught the Gospel which was given to him by Revelation.
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).
REDEFINING GRACE: THE ROMAN DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION CONTRASTED WITH THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE
Biblical justification is the divine declaration that the believing sinner is righteous through Jesus Christ. It is a legal term. It is the Judge declaring the guilty sinner righteous on the basis of the satisfaction made by the payment of a Substitute. Justification is the IMPUTED righteousness of Christ. The impartation of the Holy Spirit and His work in the believer’s life is a thing separate from justification, and to confuse the two is to pervert the Gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church confuses justification with sanctification and illicitly intermingles faith and works, law and grace. This was the error of the Galatian legalizers.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-8).
The false teacher does not create an entirely different gospel; he merely changes the biblical Gospel. He might even say that he believes in salvation by grace alone through faith alone, but he redefines faith and grace to include works. To so redefine these glorious terms, though, is an absolute biblical impossibility because the infallible Word of God tells us “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Romans 11:6).
To mix grace and faith and works in any sense whatsoever is to pervert the Gospel of Christ and leads people away from the truth and brings the curse of God upon one’s head.
WHY ARE SO MANY LUTHERAN THEOLOGIANS HAPPY ABOUT THIS DECLARATION?
The question that naturally arises in this context is why are large numbers of Lutheran theologians pleased with this declaration, which obviously reaffirms the old Catholic belief on justification? The answer is not difficult. A majority of Lutheran theologians today are apostate even from their own faith as taught in the original Lutheran confessions. These apostate [apostate means having rejected the true biblical faith] Lutherans do not really care about Bible doctrine because they do not believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God. We must not forget that the wretched phenomenon of theological modernism” originated largely through the Lutheran state church of Germany more than 100 years ago. At least it was popularized and perpetuated by the German Lutherans. This modernism has since permeated most mainline denominations. Modernists believe the Bible is a mixture of “inspired” and uninspired human teaching, myth, and fable. There are endless varieties of opinion among modernistic theologians, but in general they do not believe there was a literal creation, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal fall into sin, and they do not believe there is a literal atonement which was made on Calvary. Liberal theologians question or deny practically every doctrine of the New Testament Christian faith. Purity in doctrine, therefore, is not their agenda. Ecumenism is their agenda, as inspired in these last days by their father the devil (John 8:44) with the goal of creating a one-world “church.” Whatever furthers their agenda is good in their eyes, regardless of whether or not it undermines the very faith of their old Protestant fathers.
NOT ALL LUTHERANS ACCEPT THE DECLARATION
The liberal ecumenical Lutheran groups are pretending that there is a “consensus” on this issue, but that is not the case. Large numbers of old-line Lutherans have renounced the declaration on justification.
More than 240 Lutheran theologians in Germany have signed a petition criticizing the declaration. They noted that the document actually presents the Catholic interpretation of justification and that the Lutherans who are signing the agreement are compromising their own doctrine (Ecumenical News International, Oct. 22, 1999).
In America, conservative Lutheran groups such as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod have rejected the declaration on justification. The Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod is the second largest Lutheran denomination in America, claiming 2.6-million members in 6,200 congregations. Dr. A.L. Barry, President of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, observes: “The document is a very carefully worded statement that makes it possible for the representatives of the Pope to sign it without changing, retracting or correcting anything that has been taught by the Roman Catholic Church since the time of the Council of Trent in the 16th century. At Trent, the Roman Catholic Church set forth a doctrinal position that specifically rejects and condemns to this day the position of the Lutheran Church on justification. We who are members of a confessional Lutheran church must say with all boldness and vigor that this so-called ‘breakthrough’ is nothing of the sort. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and its many partner churches around the world, as well as any number of Lutheran churches not part of our confessional fellowship, have not accepted the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The Joint Declaration is woefully inadequate and misleading and most sadly of all, is a betrayal of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Christian News, Oct. 18, 1999, pp. 1,16).
Christian News, a weekly paper published by Lutheran pastor Herman Otten of New Haven, Missouri, has printed many articles opposing the declaration on justification.
Brethren, don’t be deceived by the claims of the ecumenical crowd that the Catholic Church has agreed that justification is by grace alone through faith alone without works or sacraments. It hasn’t happened, and it is not going to happen. The Word of God tells us that a leopard cannot change its spots, and those accustomed to doing evil cannot do good (Jeremiah 13:23).
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