Saturday, February 20, 2010

Buchanan: Justification in the Romish Church After the Reformation

If you didn't know better, James Buchanan's fifth lecture, History of the Doctrine in the Romish Church After the Reformation, could easily be mistaken for a rebuttal to the modern Ecumenical movement between Protestants and Roman Catholics of the last couple of decades. Buchanan ably demonstrates that the initial argument between Rome and the Protestants is very clear. He states on page 142,
This is the radical error; for the whole question between the Popish and Protestant Churches lies here: Are we justified by our own righteousness, or by the righteousness of Christ? by a righteousness infused and inherent, or by a righteousness imputed, which is not in us, but in Him?
But then something changed. The Protestant movement was becoming too big to handle. On page 135, Buchanan refers to Luther,
Luther, marking this sudden change, could hardly restrain his indignant sarcasm, and exclaimed, 'Popish writers pretend that they have always taught, what we now teach, concerning faith and good works, and that they are unjustly accused of the contrary: thus the wolf puts on the sheep's skin till he gains admission into the fold.'
Just as in the modern Ecumenical movement of the 1990s-2000s, the desire to reconcile overrides reality and language becomes the weapon. From page 136 Buchanan reminds us of the Diet of Ratisbon.
We learn another lesson from what occurred at the Diet of Ratisbon. It shows the possibility of appearing to concede almost everything, while one point is reserved, or wrapped up in ambiguous language, which is found afterwards sufficient to neutralize every concession, and to leave the parties as much at variance as before.
On page 138 Buchanan writes,
The double policy of the Romish Church, so strikingly exhibited at Ratisbon,--in first rejecting the Protestant doctrine of Justification as an unauthorized and dangerous 'novelty,' and afterwards claiming it, in their own sense, as a truth which they had always held and taught,--was pursued in several successive diets of the Empire.
Of course we know from history that the Council of Trent was convened for over almost two decades to respond to the Reformers. It is often interesting to see many in the Modern Ecumenical movement to be surprised at Trent's language and it's promotion of Grace through faith. However, this is the beauty of ambiguous language. On page 139 Buchanan notes,
Their deliberations on this subject were held in their sixth session, 1547, and resulted in sixteen decrees, setting forth the doctrine of the church, and thirty-three canons, denouncing the errors which are opposed to it.
Even though the supposed errors of the Reformers were denounced at Trent, Buchanan goes on to note on page 143 what he explains as Old verses New Popery,
But it is a still more instructive fact, that even in Protestant countries, the priesthood have made use of two distinct sets of books,--the one containing Old Popery undiluted, and consisting of catechisms and books of devotion,--such as 'The Sacred Heart of Jesus,' or 'The Angelical Exercise,' designed for the edification of the ruder part of their flocks;--the other intended for the better educated class of their own communion, but still more, perhaps, for their Protestant neighbors, in which all the grosser features of Popery are concealed, or softened down, or colored over, and all its distinctive doctrines kept in the background, or explained away.
I have personally experienced this last paragraph time and time again. Ask a recent convert to Roman Catholicism if he has prayed to Mary or paid for indulgences to escape purgatory. You may find the response a bit squeamish. What is worse, you will find the Gospel to be lost in ambiguous terminology as he notes on page 149,
It is true that the church of Rome has always held some important doctrines of Scripture, and that these, applied by the Spirit of God, may have produced in some within her pale saving conversion to God; but it is equally true, that the whole subject of the method and ground of a sinner's justification has been so obscured and corrupted by her teaching, that in proportion as men became thoroughly imbued with her peculiar lessons, they were just so much the less likely to have recourse to Christ alone for salvation.
Many times I have been asked if I believe all Roman Catholics are going to hell. I agree with Buchanan on the same page.
Do we then deny the possibility of pardon and acceptance with God within the church of Rome? God forbid! What we deny is, that any sinner was ever justified, there or elsewhere, by his own righteousness; and we reject the Romish doctrine of Justification, as having a tendency to lead men to rely on their own works, rather than on the finished work of Christ.
Buchanan concludes with a citation of Luther.
If no flesh be justified by the works of the law of God, much less shall nay be justified by the rule of Benedict, Francis, or Augustine, in the which there is not one jot of true faith in Christ.... But some there were whom God called by the text of the Gospel and by baptism. These walked in simplicity, and humbleness of heart, thinking the monks and friars, and such only as were anointed of the bishops, to be religious and holy, and themselves to be profane and secular, and not worthy to be compared to them. Wherefore, they finding in themselves no good works, to set against the wrath and judgment of God, did fly to the death and passion of Christ, and were saved in this simplicity.
In conclusion, this chapter demonstrates that history repeats itself. Modern Evangelicals would do well to know that Christianity did not start with their parents or the day they were born or even with Billy Graham. We would also do well to set aside our passions to save the culture as a first priority. Thereby escaping the error of teaming up with those of opposing faiths and purposely obscuring the Gospel as the defining glue which defines and binds the church of Jesus Christ.

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