Could it really be true that Rome misunderstood the Reformers teaching on grace and faith in what they wrote at the Council of Trent?
One evangelical respondent to the blog that sparked my initial interest in preparing this series of posts put the common view of so many quite well: “What is needed from the Catholic Church is repentance so shouldn’t the Church formally renounce what it said at Trent?”
Isn’t this really the bottom line? Shouldn’t the Catholic Church “repent” or we cannot trust a single thing that they now say about justification and the gospel?
The answer of many anti-Catholic apologists to this question is very simple. They say something like this: “The Catholic Church cannot change by its own confession about itself never changing so whatever they now say has no bearing on the fundamental issue of justification unless they recant, repent and remove the teaching of the Council of Trent on this central issue.”
My first response to this is to ask you another question: “What church removes the past and unconfesses what it once strongly confessed?” And, “What would the Catholic Church do, given how it develops dogma and reflects upon its own teaching by new dogmatic ways of expression, to make you actually believe that it really does teach salvation by grace through faith?”
A theologian once used an illustration with me that compared this matter to “blue laws” in America’s legal history. They are still on the books but the present circumstances and legal opinions clearly override them in a way that reconsiders these laws and, in some cases, makes them of less importance to the present situation in history. This illustration may help but it doesn’t quite go far enough. The Joint Declaration says what happened far better than this approach can put it.
So what does The Joint Declaration actually say?
This declaration is shaped by the conviction that in their respective histories our churches have come to new insights.