Thursday, September 24, 2015

What’s Wrong with the “Joint Declaration on Justification”? (Part 2)

I’ve been in touch with some of the folks who are doing “street evangelization” in Philadelphia, in conjunction the visit of “Pope Francis” there. In response to a “church history” document they are handing out, one muddle-headed Roman Catholic sent this response:

Thanks very much for sharing your handout outside the convention center this morning. I read it with great interest.

I'd like to share with you some additional information on the Catholic Church teaching on justification/salvation which you can find at the Vatican website:

I believe that we are fully aligned! I hope that this has resolved any doubt. Many blessings.

I responded here yesterday. Thomas Schreiner, in his “Faith Alone”, goes further:

Certainly some progress has been made, but the Joint Declaration does not accomplish [nearly] as much as is advertised. The fundamental problem with many ecumenical documents is their ambiguity. Both parties read the agreement in a way that accords with their theological tradition. In other words, both Catholics and Lutherans could sign off on the Joint Declaration without changing their theology in any significant way.

Of course, the Roman Catholic interlocutor yesterday was completely wrong: Rome had not “signed off” on it at all – Rome first rejected it and then added its own appendix – and even so, it is a badly damaged and gutted document.

The Roman Catholic discussion of “justification” 
in the “Joint Declaration” encompasses 
the section between the two red arrows here – 
and leaves out the whole practice of the 
Roman Catholic religion – and its necessity 
for anyone who would become Roman Catholic. 
The ongoing sacramental theology of Roman Catholic and their conception of indulgences, says Henri Blocher, “[awakens] horrible doubts as to the genuineness of the agreement.” Furthermore, the claim that justification occurs in baptism is disquieting, especially for those of a Baptist persuasion.

Now, “horrible doubts” is what Blocher actually said, and what he is talking about, is that “the Joint Declaration” leaves out so much of “the Roman Catholic Religion” that MUST be practiced AFTER BAPTISM. That is, the Roman Catholic doctrine of “salvation by faith” occurs up to and only up to the point of baptism. For most Roman Catholics, that occurs when a child is only several weeks old. In that sense, it is meaningless for virtually every Roman Catholic.

The bulk of the practice of the Roman Catholic religion, including “confession” (“satisfaction”), “indulgences”, and the whole economy of Purgatory, occur after baptism, and “justification by faith”, for any individual Roman Catholic, is a thing long past. That is illustrated in the “sacramental treadmill” chart nearby.

Even sympathetic observers … point to this omission as the problem of the “Joint Declaration”. It could hardly be denied that acceptance of justification by faith as understood by the Reformers immediately entailed the rejection of these beliefs and practices, which, for centuries, the overwhelming majority among Roman Catholics, both clergy and laity, have understood in ways incompatible with the Reformation. The fact awakens horrible doubts as to the genuineness of agreement. (Henri A. Blocher, from “The Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on Justification” in Bruce L. McCormack, ed., “Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges”, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006, 207).

It is terribly irresponsible of the “ecumenical” parties to leave out the context for such a doctrine. I know that they are eager to come to some kind of agreement – to show progress – but it should not come at the expense of this kind of distortion of *precisely where* this “agreement” occurs in the overall schema of both parties.


  1. John when you say context of such a doctrine what do you mean?

  2. It strikes me that a similar though less detailed flow chart could be made for anyone who denies the doctrine of eternal security, even if not Roman Catholic. Does it therefore follow that the denial of the doctrine of eternal security is ipso facto the denial of the doctrine of sola fide?

    Related question: It seems that a similar flow chart could be made for any theory on which salvation is not point-in-time, a la Baptist theology. Does it follow that the only soteriology compatible with sola fide is the doctrine of point-in-time salvation (i.e., "On what day did you accept Jesus as your personal Savior?")