Thursday, June 16, 2005

A credible profession of faith

Some folks over at Dave Armstrong’s outfit are confused my distinction between a saving profession of faith and a credible profession of faith. I already explained my usage back in April in another exchange with Armstrong:


Armstrong asked me, before he decided that he didn't want to hear the answer, if I “accept the Catholic Church as a fully Christian institution, so that one can be saved if one accepts all its teachings, as opposed to only being able to be saved (if indeed it is possible at all for a Catholic) despite its teachings?”

I've already answered the first clause. As for the rest, that is not how I would pose the question.

To be a Christian is to be, among other things, a Christian believer. One must believe certain things, and not believe certain other, contrary things. On the one hand, some dogmas are damnable dogmas. On the other hand, the Bible lays out certain saving articles of faith.

This is God's criterion, not mine. I didn't invent it. By the same token, how God applies that criterion in any individual case is up to God, not to me. I'm not the judge, God is the Judge.

To take a concrete example, Scripture teaches sola fide (Romans; Galatians). I'm saved by faith in Christ. And I'm saved by the sole and sufficient merit of Christ.

But in Catholic dogma, one is saved by the merit of Christ plus the merit of the saints plus one's own congruent merit. And this results in a divided faith.

Now, in Reformed theology, we draw a distinction between a credible profession of faith and a saving profession of faith. For purposes of church membership, since we cannot know of a certainty who is or isn't saved, we only require a credible profession of faith.

A Catholic qua Catholic cannot offer a credible profession of faith. But whether a Catholic can offer a saving profession of faith is a different question. The answer varies on a case-by-case basis. It is easier to say who isn't saved than to say who is.


A “credible profession of faith” is a traditional term of art in Reformed circles. For an example, check out the following link:

To illustrate my point, any of the following creeds could supply the basis for a credible profession of faith:

1. The Thirty-Nine Articles
2. The Formula of Concord
3. The Baptist Faith & Message (
4. The C&MA statement of faith (
5. The JFJ statement of faith (
6. The EFCA statement of faith (
7. The Campus Crusade statement of faith (
8. The AG statement of faith (

These are all broadly evangelical affirmations of faith. By contrast, Trent or Vatican II does not supply the basis for a credible profession of faith.

Remember, too, that Trent anathematizes my own faith, so it’s not as though Trent is being any more tolerant or charitable than I am.

Still, it is possible for a Catholic to be saved, unlike a Muslim or Mormon or other suchlike. Hence, it is possible for a Catholic to make a saving profession of faith even if he can’t make a credible profession of faith.

As a friend of mine recently expressed the distinction, with reference to evangelical Arminians:
<< We have to keep in mind that there is a distinction to be drawn between *how* one is actually saved, and *how one accounts* for how one is saved. You never see anyone in the Bible saved on the basis of his (or her) articulation of how saving faith came, or how they understood the doctrine of election as part of the gospel message. Rather, you see people believing in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved, coming to Christ, following Christ, etc. My explanation of *how* God accomplished my doing these things is conceptually distinct from *my doing them* as a saving response to the kerygma. >>

For example, as a Calvinist I’d say that every Christian is saved by sovereign grace, even though every Christian does not affirm sovereign grace. I don't doubt that John and Charles Wesley were saved, or Dwight Moody, or Fanny Crosby. I don't doubt that Billy Graham is saved.

1 comment:

  1. Steve --

    Armstrong's next level of abuse will come by trying to beat you over the head with the term "anti-Catholic", and may manifest itself by him explaining to you that you have not read James Davison Hunter's Culture Wars, so you are ignorant of your own vulgar protestant bigotry.

    I have a theory that there is a team of Jesuits in Detroit someplace that work in a bunker with a T1 line under the rubrick of "Dave Armstrong", but occationally they have to take time off (even the Jesuits are allowed to have some fun, I guess). When they do that, they take vacation in shifts, and when they are short-handed, they break out the archives and put all arguments on auto-pilot. That process inevitably takes any discussion to the "Do you accept Rome as a Christian Church? ANSWER YES OR NO!" track.

    So to the Jevvies in Detroit who are manning outpost Armstrong, I hope your week in Downtown Disney (or where Jevvies go to unwind) is restful and relaxing.