Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Is the "Bible Answer Man" going ECT?

I can't say I didn't see it coming, though it still took me by surprise. Over the years Hank Hanegraaff has demonstrated theological confusion on a number of issues, ranging from predestination and free will to his interepretation of Jude 6. I confess, I listened to him in the past only on occasion, and stopped listening to him altogether after his obviously premeditated and thug-like ambush of James White on the predestination issue a few months ago. Yet, the two times I was on his show, along with the other shows revolving around Roman Catholicism, made it seem as though he agreed with me that while individual Roman Catholics can be saved, they attain salvation in spite of Rome's official gospel, not because of it. Here is his new official stance on this issue:

CRI's Perspective on Catholics and Salvation
Some people say that the Catholic church teaches salvation by works. Is this true?To begin with, let me state up front that Catholics do not teach salvation by works. In fact, the Catholic church firmly maintains that man can only be saved by God’s grace. However, ask Catholics whether they believe that they are justified by faith alone and chances are pretty good you’ll get “no” for an answer. Consequently, some evangelicals have mistakenly concluded that Catholics hold to salvation by works.Justification, to evangelicals, means that God declares us righteous the instant you or I repent and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior — and this, despite our sinfulness. Actually, it’s a singular event, something that is completed instantaneously. Catholics, on the other hand, understand justification to mean that God makes us righteous. It’s seen as a process whereby God gradually perfects us; and this is, incidentally, why Catholics believe that only in the end will believers be sure as to whether they’re truly justified or saved.In addition, evangelicals believe in justification by faith alone. And by faith we mean not only knowledge and agreement, but also personal trust in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. In sharp distinction, Catholics see faith as nothing more than passive agreement, which again is why they don’t believe in justification by faith alone. Catholics actually consider human works as vital elements in the process of justification. This is because they are held to be the result of God’s grace working through and perfecting believers.Well, in sharp contrast to the evangelical belief that works are the fruits of justification, Catholics say that justification results from a combination of faith and works made possible by God’s grace. Yes, we regard the Catholic conception of justification to be confused. Yes, we take serious issue with the numerous doctrines and practices that it has produced.
Though they can be rightly faulted on these points, no one can legitimately claim that Catholics teach a crass system of salvation by works.So, once again, it is important to understand that while many Catholics believe in salvation through works, the official stance of Roman Catholicism is that justification results from a combination of faith and works which is made possible by the grace of God.On Catholics and the doctrine of salvation, that’s the CRI Perspective. I’m Hank Hanegraaff.

Hanegraaff is confused on many points here. First, he uses the word salvation in a way that doesn't seem to make any distinction between salvation as the broader category and justification, regeneration, sanctification, etc., as the more specific events/processes that fall under the category of salvation. In a very real sense, we are saved by our works, but that's only because the truly justified person will bear fruit unto salvation. If one claims to have been justified by God and yet produces no works in "keeping with repentance," that person's "faith" is in vain, being a mere mental assent to the facts rather than a life commitment to Christ. Hence, it can be said that works are necessary for salvation, but only as proof of justification and regeneration.

Granted, Hanegraaff may be using the term "salvation" in its colloquial sense, and so we need to recast the question. The real question at hand is not, Do Roman Catholics believe works are necessary to salvation? The real question is, Do Roman Catholics believe works are necessary to justification? More to the point, Do Roman Catholics believe they can earn eternal life? The answer to the final two questions is an uequivocal yes! Here is what Trent affirmed about justification and meriting eternal life:

"For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches--and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God--We must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace." (Trent session 6, Decree on Justification, chap 16).

"After this Catholic doctrine on Justification, which whoso receiveth not faithfully and firmly cannot be justified, it hath seemed good to the holy Synod to subjoin these canons, that all may know not only what they ought to hold and follow, but also what to avoid and shun" (ibid.)

Moreover, here are the specific decrees of the council regarding this particular issue:

CANON IX. If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema

CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

And so, in spite of Hanegraaff's assertion to the contrary, the official Roman Catholic stance is indeed that justification and eternal life are things that are earned by one's works. And to the extent that the Roman Catholic sacramental system adds even more things necessary to meriting eternal life, it is even more reprehensible to the gospel than the single-work justification system of the Judaizers that Paul condemned in Gal 1:8-9.

What can we expect from all this? I predict a new book by Hank Hanegraaff explaining to us why ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) is not such a bad idea after all. In the meantime, I'm continuing to boycott BAM until they find a host who has a bit more theological sense than the present one.