UnknownIt should be born in mind that the goal of the Lutheran dialogues with the Catholic Church is full visible communion. Recent changes in the larger Lutheran Church regarding sexuality and marriage have challenged this process but the partners continue to dialogue, showing how disagreements that are rather profound do not have to end the pursuit of peace and unity. The way forward is not clear but when you consider where we were before World War II and where we are today we have surely come a long way.

A much bigger issue in today’s church is ecclesial authority, even more than justification.  The adoption of papal infallibility as dogma (it was not an infallible teaching in the 16th century) complicates things for sure!  Some good work has been done on these issues—especially by the Anglicans and the Orthodox. The Reformed and Lutheran churches have also done some important work and more recently Mennonite and other non-magisterial churches have engaged in official dialogues.

My personal preference is that we avoid the kind of language that either Calvin or Luther used in the context of the sixteenth century. This is required because of love, not compromise. We can press the essential points without using the older language and forms employed in the most intense times of disagreement.

On the opposite side, I would advise against using the language that Trent uses as well.  Catholics can, and do, affirm what Trent taught but they have moved away from the “language” of that era into newer ways of affirming the core doctrines without the unnecessary polemical rhetorical devices.

There is one theologian that both Roman Catholics and Protestants “like” equally – St. Augustine. He lived and wrote long before the issues of justification that currently divide us were even on the table.  Here is an interesting blog about Augustine and justification –  http://pontifications.wordpress.com/2008/01/07/augustine-on-justification/

If we are to make progress we need to stress simpler language since the technical forms of the past are missed on most, even some theologians. The simpler any statement is, generally speaking, the better the statement – God gets ALL the credit for justification and, at the same time, we absolutely MUST obey God’s law. Both Catholics and Protestants will generally try to say much more but we can say this and make huge strides. A good friends says, “But the more one says, the more one leaves oneself open to criticism.”

Another friend, who is a scholar on the work of Jonathan Edwards, believes that Edwards gives us some suggestions about the kind of language that we might use in our current context. This he reasons, is because Edwards was not primarily responding to Roman Catholicism. He was responding to two trends within Protestantism which were nearly identical to the differences between Luther and the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 – Arminianism, which emphasized what man must do and antinomianism which emphasized what God does.

It should further be noted that the justification issue which divides Roman Catholics and Protestants still divides Protestant from Protestant. This is true in the non-Lordship debate and among leaders of the Gospel Coalition based on recent posts we’ve read about their disagreements. When Professor Norman Shepherd emphasized the necessity of evangelical obedience at Westminster Seminary almost three decades ago he was heard to be teaching Roman Catholic theology by some Reformed conservatives. And a few days ago Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, was banned from writing blogs on the Gospel Coalition website because of his emphasis on God’s sovereign grace sounded to some people too much like antinomianism.


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  1. fr. Daimen Merrin June 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    I can’t tell who is speaking when the post says they are 95% sure the Catholic Church has changed its theology on justification since Trent. The person who said this should be careful, the Catholic Church has a living voice that can answer that question. But if I said I’m 95% sure that Lutherns today do not believe in justification the way that Luther belived it. No one can answer because Luther is dead. And we get no where.

    • John Armstrong June 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm - Reply

      I did not say this Fr. Dalmen as I know this 95% claim is incorrect. I do not believe Rome changed its theology so much as the emphasis and understanding of Trent has improved on both sides of the divide thus we can better hear each other now as opposed to the way we argued about this in the past. I hope you know I understand your point well.

  2. fr. Daimen Merrin June 26, 2014 at 11:09 am - Reply

    ok thanks, been following this series closely. This post is confusing in its layout. I can’t tell who is asking the questions and when your answers start. God Bless you in your work.

    • John Armstrong June 26, 2014 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      Note my blog issues were corrected later today. Thanks for letting me know about the errors. This first post was inadvertent on my part.

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