The growing false consensus on justification

In 1999, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Lutheran World Federation issued the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which claimed to represent a resolution of the central issue of the Reformation, namely the question of whether we are saved by grace by faith alone, as Luther insisted, or by a combination of faith and works, as Roman Catholicism insisted.

It did no such thing. But now, it seems, the World Communion of Reformed Churches has signed on to the JDDJ.

On the basis of that "agreement," the Roman church declared that the condemnations of the Council of Trent sort of do not apply to Lutheranism, at least as represented by the churches of the LWF. Here is what Trent, in fact, condemned:

Canon IX: If anyone says that the ungodly is justified by faith alone in such a way that he understands that nothing else is required which cooperates toward obtaining the grace of justification . . . let him be condemned.

Canon XII: If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, which remits sin for Christ’s sake, or that it is this trust alone by which we are justified, let him be condemned.

Canon XIV: If anyone says that a man is absolved and justified because . . . he confidently believes that he is absolved and justified . . . and that through this faith alone absolution and justification is effected, let him be condemned.

The Lutheran Confessions, on the other hand, say this:

Also they (the Lutherans) teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4 (Augsburg Confession, IV).

That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. (Augsburg Confession, V).

Also, they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God's will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone. They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works (Augsburg Confession VI).

(See also Article IV of the Defense of the Augsburg Confession.)

On any honest reading, the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent condemn precisely what the Lutheran Confessions teach regarding justification. Yet on the basis of the JDDJ, the PCPCU declares that the condemnations of Trent do not apply to the churches of the Lutheran World Federation. Yet as we'll see below, the PCPCU participants openly declare in a footnote that the position of the Lutheran Confessions is condemned by Trent!

But to be clear, has the Catholic church admitted error with regard to the condemnations of Trent? Edward Cardinal Cassidy, then President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christianity Unity (the Catholic agency involved in arriving at the JDDJ), was asked that very question. He replied, "Absolutely not, otherwise how could we do it? We cannot do something contrary to an ecumenical council. There’s nothing there that the Council of Trent condemns” (Ecumenical News International, 11/1/99).

That being the case, it seems that, on the understanding of the PCPCU, the churches of the Lutheran World Federation no longer adhere to the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions on the subject of justification which was condemned by the Council of Trent. And again, let this point not be missed: Trent does, indeed, condemn the statements from the Confessions quoted above in their natural sense, as their authors understood them, and as Lutherans have understood them through the centuries,

The only possible conclusion is that, on the understanding of the Catholic participants in the dialog which led up to the JDDJ, the churches of the Lutheran World Federation no longer confess what the Lutheran Confessions teach regarding the doctrine of justification. This, it seems to me, is a rather significant point. And yet somehow none of the news stories covering the JDDJ and its supposedly historic significance seem to mention that.

Liberal Lutheranism, like liberal Protestantism in general, has been in headlong flight from theological substance for decades. Political action has replaced theological orthodoxy as its primary concern. Ecumenism trumps confession. Post-modernism runs rampant; the doctrinal affirmations of the Reformation are not so much rejected as ignored. Universalism- about as emphatic a rejection of the Reformation doctrine of justification as can be imagined- is increasingly prevalent. Form and appearance are everything; doctrinal substance simply doesn't matter.

So it's hardly surprising that the churches of the Lutheran World Federation seem amazingly silent on their apparent abandonment of the traditional Lutheran position on what Luther insisted was "the article by which the Church stands or falls."  In fact, to hear the ELCA and the religious media tell it, it's almost as if the Catholics had actually accepted the historic Lutheran position! That is certainly what the ELCA laity and the general public have been led to believe. And it seems, the World Communion of Reformed Churches has been sold the same bill of goods- except, perhaps, insofar as those goods are the same kind in which its own member churches deal!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following:

No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods (Catechism, par. 2027).

Merit is to be ascribed, in the first place, to the grace of God, and secondarily to man’s collaboration. Man’s merit is due to God (Catechism, par. 2025).

Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man (Catechism, par. 2019- note that the Lutheran understanding of the term excludes sanctification).

Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons (Catechism, par. 2021- note that on a Lutheran understanding grace is nothing more or less than God's unmerited favor).

The divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearning of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom (Catechism, par. 2022).

The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful (Catechism, par. 2008).

Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the body of Christ  (Catechism, par. 2003).

As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins” (Catechism, par. 1394).

As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God  (Catechism, par. 1414).

Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father, every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes the forgiveness of our sins (Catechism, par. 1437).

Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is called “penance” (Catechism, par. 1459; this statement alone constitutes an absolute denial of what Lutherans understand to be the essence of the Gospel).

Let there be no mistake here: this represents the official position of the Roman Catholic church. Now, what do the Lutheran Confessions have to say about the same subjects?

The Third Article.

Of Sanctification.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?--Answer.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true. (Luther's Small Catechism, The Apostles' Creed).

Of Free Will they (the Lutherans) teach that man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received through the Word. These things are said in as many words by Augustine in his Hypognosticon, Book III: We grant that all men have a free will, free, inasmuch as it has the judgment of reason; not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete aught in things pertaining to God, but only in works of this life, whether good or evil. "Good" I call those works which spring from the good in nature, such as, willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn divers useful arts, or whatsoever good pertains to this life. For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being. "Evil" I call such works as willing to worship an idol, to commit murder, etc. They condemn the Pelagians and others, who teach that without the Holy Ghost, by the power of nature alone, we are able to love God above all things; also to do the commandments of God as touching "the substance of the act." For, although nature is able in a manner to do the outward work, (for it is able to keep the hands from theft and murder,) yet it cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc. (Augsburg Confession, XVIII).

The Eighteenth Article, Of Free Will, the adversaries receive, although they add some testimonies, not at all adapted to this case. They add also a declamation that neither, with the Pelagians, is too much to be granted to the free will, nor, with the Manicheans, is all freedom to be denied it. Very well; but what difference is there between the Pelagians and our adversaries, since both hold that without the Holy Ghost men can love God and perform God's commandments with respect to the substance of the acts, and can merit grace and justification by works which reason performs by itself, without the Holy Ghost? How many absurdities follow from these Pelagian opinions, which are taught with great authority in the schools! These Augustine, following Paul, refutes with great emphasis, whose judgment we have recounted above in the article Of Justification. Nor, indeed, do we deny liberty to the human will. The human will has liberty in the choice of works and things which reason comprehends by itself. It can to a certain extent render civil righteousness or the righteousness of works; it can speak of God, offer to God a certain service by an outward work, obey magistrates, parents; in the choice of an outward work it can restrain the hands from murder, from adultery, from theft. Since there is left in human nature reason and judgment concerning objects subjected to the senses, choice between these things and the liberty and power to render civil righteousness are also left. For Scripture calls this the righteousness of the flesh which the carnal nature, i.e., reason, renders by itself, without the Holy Ghost. Although the power of concupiscence is such that men more frequently obey evil dispositions than sound judgment. And the devil, who is efficacious in the godless, as Paul says, Eph. 2:2, does not cease to incite this feeble nature to various offenses. These are the reasons why even civil righteousness is rare among men, as we see that not even the philosophers themselves, who seem to have aspired after this righteousness, attained it. But it is false to say that he who performs the works of the commandments without grace does not sin. And they add further that such works also merit de congruo the remission of sins and justification. For human hearts without the Holy Ghost are without the fear of God; without trust toward God, they do not believe that they are heard, forgiven, helped, and preserved by God. Therefore they are godless. For neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit, Matt. 7:18. And without faith it is impossible to please God, Heb. 11:6.

Therefore, although we concede to free will the liberty and power to perform the outward works of the Law, yet we do not ascribe to free will these spiritual matters, namely, truly to fear God, truly to believe God, truly to be confident and hold that God regards us, hears us, forgives us, etc. These are the true works of the First Table, which the heart cannot render without the Holy Ghost, as Paul says, 1 Cor. 2:14: The natural man, i.e., man using only natural strength, receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. (That is, a person who is not enlightened by the Spirit of God does not, by his natural reason, receive anything of God's will and divine matters.] And this can be decided if men consider what their hearts believe concerning God's will, whether they are truly confident that they are regarded and heard by God. Even for saints to retain this faith [and, as Peter says (1 Pet. 1:8), to risk and commit himself entirely to God, whom he does not see, to love Christ, and esteem Him highly, whom he does not see] is difficult, so far is it from existing in the godless. But it is conceived, as we have said above when terrified hearts hear the Gospel and receive consolation [when we are born anew of the Holy Ghost].

Therefore such a distribution is of advantage in which civil righteousness is ascribed to the free will and spiritual righteousness to the governing of the Holy Ghost in the regenerate. For thus the outward discipline is retained because all men ought to know equally, both that God requires this civil righteousness [God will not tolerate indecent, wild, reckless conduct], and that, in a measure, we can afford it. And yet a distinction is shown between human and spiritual righteousness, between philosophical doctrine and the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, and it can be understood for what there is need of the Holy Ghost. Nor has this distribution been invented by us, but Scripture most clearly teaches it. Augustine also treats of it, and recently it has been well treated of by William of Paris, but it has been wickedly suppressed by those who have dreamt that men can obey God's Law without the Holy Ghost, but that the Holy Ghost is given in order that, in addition, it may be considered meritorious. (The Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Article XVIII).

In the Twentieth Article, they distinctly lay down these words, namely, that they reject and condemn our statement that men do not merit the remission of sins by good works. [Mark this well!] They clearly declare that they reject and condemn this article. What is to be said on a subject so manifest? Here the framers of the Confutation openly show by what spirit they are led. For what in the Church is more certain than that the remission of sins occurs freely for Christ's sake, that Christ, and not our works, is the propitiation for sins, as Peter says, Acts 10:43: To Him give all the prophets witness that through His name, whosoever believeth on Him, shall receive remission of sins? [This strong testimony of all the holy prophets may duly be called a decree of the catholic Christian Church. For even a single prophet is very highly esteemed by God and a treasure worth the whole world.] To this Church of the prophets, we would rather assent than to these abandoned writers of the Confutation, who so impudently blaspheme Christ.  For although there were writers who held that after the remission of sins men are just before God, not by faith, but by works themselves, yet they did not hold this, namely, that the remission of sins itself occurs on account of our works, and not freely for Christ's sake.

Therefore the blasphemy of ascribing Christ's honor to our works is not to be endured. These theologians are now entirely without shame if they dare to bring such an opinion into the Church. Nor do we doubt that His Most Excellent Imperial Majesty and very many of the princes would not have allowed this passage to remain in the Confutation if they had been admonished of it. Here we could cite infinite testimonies from Scripture and from the Fathers [that this article is certainly divine and true, and this is the sacred and divine truth. For there is hardly a syllable, hardly a leaf in the Bible, in the principal books of the Holy Scriptures, where this is not clearly stated.] But also above we have said enough on this subject. And there is no need of more testimonies for one who knows why Christ has been given to us, who knows that Christ is the propitiation for our sins. [God-fearing, pious hearts that know well why Christ has been given, who for all the possessions and kingdoms of the world would not be without Christ as our only Treasure, our only Mediator and Redeemer, must here be shocked and terrified that God's holy Word and Truth should be so openly despised and condemned by poor men.] Isaiah says, 53:6: The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all. The adversaries, on the other hand, [accuse Isaiah and the entire Bible of lying and] teach that God lays our iniquities not on Christ, but on our [beggarly] works. Neither are we disposed to mention here the sort of works [rosaries, pilgrimages, and the like] which they teach. We see that a horrible decree has been prepared against us, which would terrify us still more if we were contending concerning doubtful or trifling subjects. Now, since our consciences understand that by the adversaries the manifest truth is condemned, whose defense is necessary for the Church and increases the glory of Christ, we easily despise the terrors of the world, and with a strong spirit will bear whatever is to be suffered for the glory of Christ and the advantage of the Church. Who would not rejoice to die in the confession of such articles as that we obtain the remission of sins by faith freely for Christ's sake, that we do not merit the remission of sins by our works? [Experience shows — and the monks themselves must admit it — that] rhe consciences of the pious will have no sufficiently sure consolation against the terrors of sin and of death, and against the devil soliciting to despair [and who in a moment blows away all our works like dust], if they do not know that they ought to be confident that they have the remission of sins freely for Christ's sake. This faith sustains and quickens hearts in that most violent conflict with despair [in the great agony of death, in the great anguish, when no creature can help, yea, when we must depart from this entire visible creation into another state and world, and must die].

Therefore the cause is one which is worthy that for its sake we should refuse no danger. Whosoever you are that has assented to our Confession, "do not yield to the wicked, but, on the contrary, go forward the more boldly," when the adversaries endeavor, by means of terrors and tortures and punishments, to drive away from you that consolation which has been tendered to the entire Church in this article of ours [but with all cheerfulness rely confidently and gladly on God and the Lord Jesus, and joyfully confess this manifest truth in opposition to the tyranny, wrath, threatening, and terrors of all the world, yea, in opposition to the daily murders and persecution, of tyrants. For who would suffer to have taken from him this great, yea, everlasting consolation on which the entire salvation of the whole Christian Church depends? Anyone who picks up the Bible and reads it earnestly will soon observe that this doctrine has its foundation everywhere in the Bible]. Testimonies of Scripture will not be wanting to one seeking them, which will establish his mind. For Paul at the top of his voice, as the saying is, cries out, Rom. 3:24f., and 4:16, that sins are freely remitted for Christ's sake. It is of faith, he says, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure. That is, if the promise would depend upon our works, it would not be sure. If remission of sins would be given on account of our works, when would we know that we had obtained it, when would a terrified conscience find a work which it would consider sufficient to appease God's wrath? But we spoke of the entire matter above. Thence let the reader derive testimonies. For the unworthy treatment of the subject has forced from us the present, not discussion, but complaint that on this topic they have distinctly recorded themselves as disapproving of this article of ours, that we obtain remission of sins not on account of our works, but by faith and freely on account of Christ.

The adversaries also add testimonies to their own condemnation, and it is worthwhile to recite several of them. They quote from 2 Pet. 1:10: Give diligence to make your calling sure, etc. Now you see, reader, that our adversaries have not wasted labor in learning logic, but have the art of inferring from the Scriptures whatever pleases them [whether it is in harmony with the Scriptures or out of harmony; whether it is correctly or incorrectly concluded. For they conclude thus:] "Make your calling sure by good works." Therefore works merit the remission of sins. A very agreeable mode of reasoning, if one would argue thus concerning a person sentenced to capital punishment, whose punishment has been remitted: "The magistrate commands that hereafter you abstain from that which belongs to another. Therefore you have merited the remission of the penalty because you are now abstaining from what belongs to another." Thus to argue is to make a cause out of that which is not a cause. For Peter speaks of works following the remission of sins and teaches why they should be done, namely, that the calling may be sure, i.e., lest they may fall from their calling if they sin again. Do good works that you may persevere in your calling, that you [do not fall away again, grow cold and] may not lose the gifts of your calling, which were given you before, and not on account of works that follow, and which now are retained by faith; for faith does not remain in those who lose the Holy Ghost, who reject repentance, just as we have said above (253:1) that faith exists in repentance.

They add other testimonies cohering no better. Lastly, they say that this opinion was condemned a thousand years before, in the time of Augustine. This also is quite false. For the Church of Christ always held that the remission of sins is obtained freely. Yea, the Pelagians were condemned, who contended that grace is given on account of our works. 92] Besides, we have above shown sufficiently that we hold that good works ought necessarily to follow faith. For we do not make void the Law, says Paul, Rom. 3:31; yea, we establish the Law, because when by faith we have received the Holy Ghost, the fulfilling of the Law necessarily follows, by which love, patience, chastity, and other fruits of the Spirit gradually grow (The Defense of the Augsburg Confession, XVIII).

The Principal Question in This Controversy.

Since the will of man is found in four unlike states, namely: 1. before the Fall; 2. since the Fall; 3. after regeneration; 4. after the resurrection of the body, the chief question is only concerning the will and ability of man in the second state, namely, what powers in spiritual things he has of himself after the fall of our first parents and before regeneration, and whether he is able by his own powers, prior to and before his regeneration by God's Spirit, to dispose and prepare himself for God's grace, and to accept [and apprehend], or not, the grace offered through the Holy Ghost in the Word and holy [divinely instituted] Sacraments.

Affirmative Theses.
The Pure Doctrine concerning This Article, according to God's Word.

1. Concerning this subject, our doctrine, faith, and confession is, that in spiritual things the understanding and reason of man are [altogether] blind, and by their own powers understand nothing, as it is written 1 Cor. 2:14: The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them when he is examined concerning spiritual things.

2. Likewise we believe, teach, and confess that the unregenerate will of man is not only turned away from God, but also has become an enemy of God, so that it only has an inclination and desire for that which is evil and contrary to God, as it is written Gen. 8:21: The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Also Rom. 8:7: The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither, indeed, can be. Yea, as little as a dead body can quicken itself to bodily, earthly life, so little can man, who by sin is spiritually dead, raise himself to spiritual life, as it is written Eph. 2:5: Even when we were dead in sins, He hath quickened us together with Christ; 2 Cor. 3:5: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything good as of ourselves, but that we are sufficient is of God.

3. God the Holy Ghost, however, does not effect conversion without means, but uses for this purpose the preaching and hearing of God's Word, as it is written Rom. 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God 5] unto salvation to every one that believeth. Also Rom. 10:17: Faith cometh by hearing of the Word of God. And it is God's will that His Word should be heard, and that man's ears should not be closed. Ps. 95:8. With this Word the Holy Ghost is present, and opens hearts, so that they, as Lydia in Acts 16:14, are attentive to it, and are thus converted alone through the grace and power of the Holy Ghost, whose 6] work alone the conversion of man is. For without His grace, and if He do not grant the increase, our willing and running, our planting, sowing, and watering, all are nothing, as Christ says John 15:5: Without Me ye can do nothing. With these brief words He denies to the free will its powers, and ascribes everything to God's grace, in order that no one may boast before God. 1 Cor. 1:29; 2 Cor. 12:5; Jer. 9:23.

Negative Theses.
Contrary False Doctrine.

Accordingly, we reject and condemn all the following errors as contrary to the standard of God's Word:

1. The delirium [insane dogma] of philosophers who are called Stoics, as also of the Manicheans, who taught that everything that happens must so happen, and cannot happen otherwise, and that everything that man does, even in outward things, he does by compulsion, and that he is coerced to evil works and deeds, as unchastity, robbery, murder, theft, and the like.

2. We reject also the error of the gross Pelagians, who taught that man by his own powers, without the grace of the Holy Ghost, can turn himself to God, believe the Gospel, be obedient from the heart to God's Law, and thus merit the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

3. We reject also the error of the Semi-Pelagians, who teach that man by his own powers can make a beginning of his conversion, but without the grace of the Holy Ghost cannot complete it.

4. Also, when it is taught that, although man by his free will before regeneration is too weak to make a beginning, and by his own powers to turn himself to God, and from the heart to be obedient to God, yet, if the Holy Ghost by the preaching of the Word has made a beginning, and therein offered His grace, then the will of man from its own natural powers can add something, though little and feebly, to this end, can help and cooperate, qualify and prepare itself for grace, and embrace and accept it, and believe the Gospel.

5. Also, that man, after he has been born again, can perfectly observe and completely fulfill God's Law, and that this fulfilling is our righteousness before God, by which we merit eternal life.

6. Also, we reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts, who imagine that God without means, without the hearing of God's Word, also without the use of the holy Sacraments, draws men to Himself, and enlightens, justifies, and saves them. (Enthusiasts we call those who expect the heavenly illumination of the Spirit [celestial revelations] without the preaching of God's Word.)

7. Also, that in conversion and regeneration God entirely exterminates the substance and essence of the old Adam, and especially the rational soul, and in conversion and regeneration creates a new essence of the soul out of nothing.

8. Also, when the following expressions are employed without explanation, namely, that the will of man before, in, and after conversion resists the Holy Ghost, and that the Holy Ghost is given to those who resist Him intentionally and persistently; for, as Augustine says, in conversion God makes willing persons out of the unwilling and dwells in the willing.

As to the expressions of ancient and modern teachers of the Church, when it is said: Deus trahit, sed volentem trahit, i. e., God draws, but He draws the willing; likewise, Hominis voluntas in conversione non est otiosa, sed agit aliquid, i. e., In conversion the will of man is not idle, but also effects something, we maintain that, inasmuch as these expressions have been introduced for confirming [the false opinion concerning] the powers of the natural free will in man's conversion, against the doctrine of God's grace, they do not conform to the form of sound doctrine, and therefore, when we speak of conversion to God, justly ought to be avoided.

But, on the other hand, it is correctly said that in conversion God, through the drawing of the Holy Ghost, makes out of stubborn and unwilling men willing ones, and that after such conversion in the daily exercise of repentance the regenerate will of man is not idle, but also cooperates in all the works of the Holy Ghost, which He performs through us.

9. Also what Dr. Luther has written, namely, that man's will in his conversion is pure passive, that is, that it does nothing whatever, is to be understood respectu divinae gratiae in accendendis novis motibus, that is, when God's Spirit, through the Word heard or the use of the holy Sacraments, lays hold upon man's will, and works [in man] the new birth and conversion. For when [after] the Holy Ghost has wrought and accomplished this, and man's will has been changed and renewed by His divine power and working alone, then the new will of man is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Ghost, so that he not only accepts grace but also cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the works which follow.

Therefore, before the conversion of man, there are only two efficient causes, namely, the Holy Ghost and the Word of God, as the instrument of the Holy Ghost, by which He works conversion. This Word man is [indeed] to hear; however, it is not by his own powers, but only through the grace and working of the Holy Ghost that he can yield faith to it and accept it (Formula of Concord, Epitome, II) (NOTE: This matter is discussed in even greater detail in the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, II).

So it seems quite clear that the Lutheran Confessions unequivocally and emphatically condemn what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches regarding the role of the human will in conversion and thus in justification. This is no small matter because if human merit or the human will prior to conversion is given any role whatsoever in justification, justification is not by grace alone. at least in the Pauline and Protestant sense of the word "grace." This point, of course, is missed by Arminian Protestants, who in their talk about "accepting" Jesus and ascribing a role to the human will in conversion seem not to have noticed that despite their rejection of the liturgy, baptismal regeneration, the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper, and various other matters that they have sided with Rome and against Paul and the Reformation on the freedom of the natural human will in spiritual matters and thus on the fundamental question of justification itself!

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the PCPCU is quite honest about this point. Again, it seems incredible that it has gone unremarked-upon by the churches of the LWF. This can probably be explained in part by the fact that the Formula of Concord, which contains the clearest statement of the Lutheran position on freedom of the will, was never accepted by the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia and occupies an ambivalent place in many member churches of the LWF. Churches of the Pietist tradition, in particular, have often been vulnerable to the same overemphasis on human agency prior to conversion and shortchanging of the role of grace in conversion of which the Arminian churches and Rome are guilty.

But let me say it again: the PCPCU participants themselves are commendably honest on this point:

The Catholic Church has noted with satisfaction that Note 21, in conformity with Canon 4 of the Decree of Justification of the Council of Trent, states that man can refuse grace; but it must also be affirmed that, with this freedom to refuse, there is also in the justified person a new capacity to adhere to the divine will, a capacity that is rightly called cooperation . . . it is difficult to see how the term “mere passive” can be used by Lutherans in this regard, and how this phrase can be compatible with the affirmation by Lutherans in Note 21 of the full personal involvement in faith...
The Catholic Church also maintains with Lutherans that these good works of the justified are always the fruit of grace. But at the same time, and without in any way diminishing the totally divine initiative, they are the fruit of man, justified and interiorly transformed. We can, therefore, say that eternal life is, at one and same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merit..”

God’s gift of grace in justification remains independent of human cooperation? This must be understood in the sense that the gifts of God’s grace do not depend on the works of man, but not in the sense that justification can take place without human cooperation...

The level of agreement is high, but it does not yet allow us to affirm that all the differences separating Catholics and Lutherans in the doctrine concerning justification are simply a question of emphasis or language. Some of these differences concern aspects of substance and are therefore not all mutually compatible, as affirmed on the contrary in Note 40.

If, moreover, it is true that on those points on which a consensus has been reached the condemnations of the Council of Trent no longer apply, the divergences on other points, must, on the contrary, be overcome before we can affirm, as is done generically in Note 41, that these points no longer incur the condemnations of the Council of Trent. That applies in the first place to the doctrine on “simul iustus et peccator.”

Note this well: the Catholic participants in the dialog which led up to the JDDJ themselves recognize that the position concerning justification agreed to by the LWF participants is in conflict with the position of the Lutheran Confessions! One wishes for similar honesty on the part of the LWF participants!

Further, the PCPCU participants explicitly make clear that on these points the condemnations of the Council of Trent remain in force!

To make sure that this is clear, the position of the Lutheran Confessions is that God acts upon a human will wholly hostile and uncooperative, to paraphrase the Formula of Concord, to make unwilling hearts willing. This is an action which can be successfully resisted so that the fault of those who reject the Gospel lies with them and with them alone. But it is by God's action through the Word, wholly without the cooperation of a human heart in fact at active enmity with God, that this takes place. Thus, the credit for human conversion belongs solely to God.

Why some, and not others? Cur alli, prae allis? It is the Lutheran position that this is a mystery, but one clearly taught by Scripture. No "merit" accrues to a human nature which is passively changed from unwillingness to willingness. Nor is God to any degree responsible when the unconverted human will does the only thing it can do without God's monergistic action in conversion and rejects Him. Paul writes in Romans 8 that "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." He says in Ephesians 3 that "you were dead-" not merely kind of sick- "in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Jesus tells the disciples in John 15 that "you did not choose me but I chose you." None of this can be true if the human will is capable of cooperating with God in bringing about conversion. The condition of the human will after conversion is, of course, another matter.

If God is responsible for anyone's unbelief, then He is the Author of what can only be described as evil and is not, in fact, "unwilling that any should perish;" if the human being is to any degree responsible for his or her conversion and is able to merit salvation even by not resisting God, then human salvation is not by grace alone.

In fact, these reservations on the part of the PCPCU representatives sum up the whole problem with the JDDJ.  It represents an agreement on a formula- "justification by grace alone, through faith alone-" which fails to note that the words "justification," "grace," and "faith" have entirely different meanings in Catholic and in Lutheran theology.

"Justification" in Roman Catholic theology is the process by which human beings are literally made just, or righteous, through the merit and virtue of Jesus becoming empirically their own; in Lutheran theology, "justification" is an instantaneous event, the forensic declaration that the sinner is righteous through the merits of Christ through faith alone. That righteousness, to be sure, becomes gradually manifest in the life of the Christian, but this takes place through a process called "sanctification" which is wholly separate from justification and is completed only in eternity.

"Grace" for Catholicism is gratia infusa, a supernatural quality infused into the soul through the Sacraments by which the individual is somehow enabled to merit salvation through the merit of Jesus; in Lutheran theology (as in Paul) it is God's wholly unmerited favor by which Christ's merit is imputed to the believer, and is by definition entirely undeserved and unmerited. Again, that sanctifying grace also transforms the sinner is not denied, but Lutheranism has as one of its hallmarks the assertion that the Christian is simul justus et peccator- at the same time a saint (perfect and acceptable before the bar of God's justice) and a sinner (with a heart not wholly set upon God and the things of God, but in thought, word, and deed still, in Luther's phrase, to a real degree "turned inward upon itself").

This teaching, as the PCPCU participants themselves observe, remains under the condemnation of Trent! And since it represents the essence of the Lutheran doctrine of justification, it seems natural to ask how that doctrine itself cannot!

"Faith," in Catholic usage, is primarily the word as James uses it: accurate knowledge such as the devils can have. In Lutheran, as in Pauline, usage, it is, to use the classical formulation, knowledge combined with two qualities no demon has ever had: assent and trust, and cannot exist without spontaneously producing good works.

And therein lie the fundamental differences between the Catholic and the Lutheran positions on justification. As the PCPCU footnote makes clear, no consensus at all has been achieved on the doctrine of justification; all that has been achieved is agreement on a formula by which each side means something entirely different.

Well, maybe "nothing" is putting it too strongly. If nothing else, at least the Catholic participants have identified the essence of our disagreement, and in view of the way in which both sides have caricatured each other's positions down through the years, this in itself is a major achievement. But the LWF side seems determined to regard the JDDJ as representing some sort of consensus on the doctrine itself, which it plainly is not. The postmodern flight of the modern age from the notion that there is such a thing as "truth" which exists, which is discoverable, and which matters seems in this as in so much else to have overcome the theological discernment and even integrity of the churches of the Lutheran World Federation.

And, it seems, of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Calvinists, no less than Lutherans, have traditionally been monergists, insisting on God's agency alone in human conversion and in salvation at every step. Yet it seems that liberal Reformed Christians, too, esteem the appearance of agreement above its substance, and indeed above theological substance itself.

A useful consideration of the JDDJ by the Rev. Paul McCain, which I consulted extensively in writing the above, can be found here.  It should be noted that Pr. McCain's church body and mine, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, rejects the notion that JDDJ represents any sort of consensus on the doctrine of justification and in no way associates itself with it.

An even more helpful examination of the JDDJ by the Rev. Rolf Preus can be found here.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, if the Christian Church ever finds unity on this side of the Parousia, it will come as a result of the efforts of those who maintain with integrity what they cannot in good conscience yield. It will never come from those who put unity first and only then ask what is and what is not true. And at least on the LWF side, that seems to be exactly what has been done with the JDDJ.


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