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Handout #14 Summary and Conclusions 12/14/14
A. This is our last class in the What’s the Difference? series.
1. I’ve tried to be accurate and fair, but I certainly don’t claim infallibility or inerrancy.
B. Of course, there are many more things we could talk about, many other things we disagree about.
C. This has been a very challenging class to teach, both intellectually and emotionally.
1. For some reason I don’t know, God has drawn me into this struggle in very personal ways.
2. It began with Scott Hahn, a close friend of mine in seminary.
3. And then our associate pastor and my dear friend Bill Bales
4. And it’s continued on down through the years.
5. I was thrown into controversy I was ill-prepared for. Over the past 31 years, I’ve been forced to learn about all this.
II. I’d like to address the question of whether we are being ‘picky’ by spending 14 weeks talking about our differences with the Roman Catholics (RC) and Eastern Orthodox (EO).
A. We’ve had LIFE for 20 years and have never done anything like this before.
1. We’re had many folks leave our church to go to another and never had a SS series on the baptist or charismatic church.
B. But I would suggest that we’re dealing with something else here.
1. They get so much right (the first week of this class I listed our many agreements with the RC/EO churches). But they also get so much wrong. There are some RCs and EOs who seem so evangelical in their theology and so sincere in their faith. There is no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit is at work in and through these churches. And then there are other aspects of those churches which seem so unbiblical, so superstitious, so idolatrous.
2. The three churches have never really known how to think about each other.
3. And if you tend to think that maybe it’s all misunderstandings and misconstructions and that we ought to get along and accept each other, remember that the Protestant church is the only one of the three which does not claim to be the only true church.
4. Reformed Christians have historically believed there are real dangers here.
5. The question can’t just be: “Can one still get to heaven this way?”
6. There is real danger in missing the main meaning of the cross.
7. There is real danger in underestimating our corruption and giving man too much credit.
a. I repeat that I don’t think they’re trying to take glory for salvation. I think rather that they are trying to protect free will, as well as ensure leverage to promote godly living,
8. There is a real danger in compromising the sovereignty of God and thinking man has the final say.
a. Recently I heard that a person outside our church referred to the doctrine of limited atonement as terrible. And I agree that it’s terrible — in the sense of fearsome and shocking. But that doesn’t mean it’s not Biblical. We don’t get to choose what we like to believe. We must let God be God. We are His creatures. He has absolute right over us.
9. There is a real danger in putting faith in tradition.
a. There were different parties & schools of opinion among the Jews when Jesus showed up, all based on the same Bible.
b. We can see how Jesus reacted to the OT situation. He didn’t rebuke them for not following the correct tradition. He rebuked them for not listening to Scripture.
c. Traditions had distorted God’s word, not preserved it (Mark 7:1ff.).
10. There is a real danger of believing in a church that tells us what the Bible says instead of having a Bible that tells us what’s wrong with the church
11. I think there’s also a real danger of thinking you’re the one true church.
C. Part of me wants to ignore the differences and just be friends. It would be much easier and more popular.
1. But Jesus and the apostles didn’t act that way.
2. Think about the stern things Jesus said about human traditions and the word of God (Mark 7:1ff.).
3. Think about Him driving out the money changers in the temple.
4. Think about the things Paul says in Galatians about those who rely on obedience to the law.
5. Listen to Paul’s warning in 2Cor.11:1-15 that Satan comes dressed as an angel of light and that some preaching Jesus are actually preaching a different Jesus, not the true Jesus of the Bible.
D. The Bible is very clear that there is an enormous danger in being too critical and too picky and too narrow, but that also there is an enormous danger in being too accommodating and too tolerant and too accepting.
III. Evaluating RC/EO
A. I want to remind us that we are not saying anything about the hearts of the adherents. I’m confident that many of them are sincere lovers of Christ who will stand with us before the throne of grace in glory.
B. But the potential consequences of these kind of errors are significant. And for us to pretend these things don’t matter would not be good for us or for them.
C. Remember the Reformers were cast out of the RC for challenging their infallibility, and I would imagine the same result would have come if there had been a similar movement in the EO.
D. The word catholic means universal. This debate is between Protestant Catholics and Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics.
E. The real question is which church is orthodox? Orthodox has come to mean true/correct. The EO charge that we departed from the orthodox apostolic truth as part of the RC church in the 11th century.
1. The RC charge that we departed from the orthodox apostolic truth at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century.
2. We claim that they both departed from the orthodox apostolic truth long ago.
IV. In the end there are two great issues which divide us.
A. Sola scriptura (Scripture is the only final judge on matters of faith and life)
1. Or, put it this way: the infallibility of Scripture alone versus the infallibility of Scripture and the church
2. RC/EO accuse us of denying the word of God by rejecting Holy Tradition.
3. We accuse them of polluting God’s word by embracing the tradition of man as if it was the word of God.
4. We tell you right up front: we are not right about everything. If we knew the things we were wrong about, we’d change them, of course. But read and study the Bible with us and see if you are not convinced that most of what we teach is true.
5. Pick your poison: the faults of sola scriptura and infallible church tradition
a. On the one hand, both churches (RC/EO) are dependent on the infallibility of church tradition.
(1) If they do not have the infallibility they claim, then everything they teach is suspect. They are putting their faith in fallible humans instead of in the infallible Son of God speaking in His word.
(2) Even though the RC & EO churches agree on much, there is one very important way they agree with the Protestant church:
(a) The Orthodox agrees with us that the Roman church is not infallible.
(b) And the Roman church agrees with us that the Orthodox church is not infallible.
b. On the other hand, Sola Scriptura can be taken too far.
(1) E.g. "Just me and my Bible is enough." It doesn't matter what other Christians think or what the great teachers of the faith have believed throughout history.
(2) Individual interpretation can become prejudice against scholarship, a prejudice against learning from another instead of getting it from the Word yourself. It can forget the fact that God gave us the gift of teaching in the church.
(3) We can overreact to tradition. The fact is that tradition is something God has given us for our benefit. Just because we do not deem it infallible does not mean we throw it out altogether. It must always be subservient to the Scriptures themselves, but the baby need not be thrown out with the bath water.
(4) The church IS given the gift of interpreting the Bible: but not one church leader or one branch of the church.
B. Doctrine of salvation: the substitutionary atonement, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness & sola fide
1. One of the main arguments used by RC/EO in this debate is that even though the Bible frequently says that salvation is by faith, it never actually says that salvation is by faith ALONE.
2. But look carefully at the relevant verses.
a. Acts 2:21 “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
(1) It says EVERYONE who calls upon His name shall be saved, not those who call upon AND do good works. Cf. Acts 10:43, John 6:40.
b. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
(1) This verse says that WHOEVER believes will have eternal life! If someone who truly believes could still be lost because He doesn’t do all the other stuff, then it’s not true that whoever believes will have eternal life. Cf.: John 11:25.
c. John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
(1) Here it says that whoever believes HAS eternal life! If someone has eternal life and then loses it, then it wasn’t eternal, was it? Cf.: John 6:47.
(2) “Obey the Son” here is clearly a synonym of “believe.” Both are ways of saying that someone responds positively to the call of Jesus. I’ve actually heard Acts 2:21 (above) used AGAINST sola fide. “You see, you don’t just need to believe, you need to call upon, and you need to repent, and you need to receive Him, and you need to come to Him. But these are all synonyms, and that’s clear if you look at these verses carefully.
d. You see how these verses — and many others — show that salvation is by faith alone. See also John 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 5:1, 10:9–10; 1Corinthians 1:21; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:8-9, 1John 5:13.
3. How can RC/EO read these and say, “But these doesn’t say faith alone!”? It is because they see faith as a work, a virtuous thing to do that elicits God’s reward. Evangelicals believe that we’re saved by faith not as a work which calls for a reward, but which unites us to Christ that our sins might be counted as His and that we might partake of the riches of the reward He earned.