The Roman Catholic-Lutheran
" Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification":
A Denial of the Gospel and the Righteousness of Christ
Richard M. Bennett
There have been numerous, alarming attempts over the past five years to declare Roman Catholics as "brothers and sisters in Christ" during the dialogue between Evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church. Now something more sinister and authoritative has taken place. "The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" (JD), an official doctrinal statement jointly authored by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), has been signed on October 31st, 1999, as a joint confessional agreement. On the 482nd anniversary of Martin Luther's pivotal posting of the yet unanswered "95 theses" that ignited the Protestant Reformation, the RCC and LWF vividly confirmed their position of the serious apostasy--to which ecumenism with Rome inevitably leads. The Lutherans of LWF have now embraced the doctrine of the Council of Trent, and in so doing have officially and formally denied the Gospel and the righteousness of Christ.
Elite untouchable JD?
JD is the result of thirty years of Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. This fact alone might dissuade many from daring to challenge it. The document itself is about nineteen pages in length depending on which printing one reads. Arrayed with many footnotes, a sizable appendix, the official response of the Lutheran World Federation, the Roman Catholic response, the clarifications to the document, and the added accouterment of John Paul II’s comment on JD, the document appears very much like the robes of those who devised it: all very "haut couture" meant to stun anyone who might dare to analyze it.
In addition to the first rate showmanship with which JD has been presented, it appears that there is neither grub nor gnat that has not been strained out of this cleverly worded document and addenda. Dare anyone be so bold as to ask if a camel has been swallowed? Daunting circumstances notwithstanding, the Christian, committed to Scripture as his sole authority, and in the same Holy Spirit that gave the Scripture, is able to sift error from truth, discerning that which is in accord with Scripture in the Official Common Statement in which JD is ratified and approved by both parties.
There are presuppositions upheld in JD itself, which are not stated as such in the Official Common Statement. Some of these presuppositions totally negate Biblical justification as, for example, the idea that justification is by means of the sacrament of baptism. Such a tradition of men is accepted by both parties to the agreement which in JD states,
4.4 The Justified as Sinner
This heresy is in line with the teaching of the Council of Trent,
Biblical truth, however, is that the believer’s faith cannot be based on any physical works of men whatsoever, as true faith is in God’s work alone. To attempt to claim causative effects, therefore, for that which was given to testify to the Lord’s grace and His finished work is "to preach another gospel".
While such deadly landmines as this permeates JD, this analysis is limited mainly to examining the Official Common Statement ratified by both parties. To examine adequately the superabundance of heresies and half truths in the full JD document is far beyond the scope of this paper, but certainly it is hoped that Evangelical men will undertake to address these.
JD and the Judgement of Sovereign God
Because God is All Holy and man is dead in trespasses and sins, an immense gulf exists between the Creator and the human creature. Because of Adam’s sin, mankind is born spiritually dead. God justifies His own Holiness in graciously providing the believer’s rectitude by imputing to the sinner the perfect righteousness of Christ and His perfect propitiation-sacrifice. The Scriptures proclaim the Holiness and Righteousness of God in the flawless life and death of the God-man the Lord Christ Jesus. Justification in the first place has to do with God Himself, to show that He is just in justifying the sinner in Christ.
The Gospel has to do with who God is in His Holy and Righteous nature. The Gospel demonstrates that because of who God is, He alone justifies. Thus Romans 3:26 states, "To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." The final cause of justification is the glory of the Divine Holiness, Justice and Goodness. Thus the one who preaches any other gospel is accursed by God (Galatians 1:8-9).
Perversion of the Gospel is an enormous crime. It debases the perfect righteousness and sacrifice of Christ, and in so doing stands against the very nature of God’s Holiness. Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord warns, "But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness."
It must be carefully observed that it is not possible for those who pervert the Gospel to continue unaccused than for God to permit His glory to be set aside. The time frame is not known; however, the certainty is inevitable. God that is Holy "shall be sanctified in righteousness." God is God, and those who teach a false gospel may not, by a false fancy, assure themselves of uninterrupted tranquillity. God is Holy by nature. He must be sanctified in judgement, for God cannot deny Himself.
The document alleges, "...that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics..." and "...that the mutual condemnations of former times do not apply to the Catholic and Lutheran Doctrines of justification as they are presented in the joint declaration." These statements notwithstanding, the relevant "condemnations" by the Church of Rome on those who hold to the biblical Gospel have never been revoked or recanted. The present day dogma of the RCC upholds the teaching of the Council of Trent and declares that it is infallible. From Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, the following curses still stand,
From a Roman Catholic perspective, as will be seen, these condemnations do in fact stand because JD does not contradict either. From a Biblical and historical Lutheran viewpoint, however, these anathemas of Trent fall under the wrath of God.
The Contents of JD
JD consists of five main divisions with the entirety subdivided into forty-four numbered paragraphs. The fourth main division, the lengthiest of the five, is broken down into seven sections, an overview being as follows:
The Official Common Statement ratifies JD. This begins with three paragraphs (OCS 1-3) followed by the words, "By this act of signing The Catholic Church and The Lutheran World Federation Confirm the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in its entirety." The Official Common Statement has an Annex with four sections. Finally, Section 2 has five subsections, A-E.
Stumbling at the Rock of Offence
JD must be analyzed in the light of Biblical truth. What was true for Israel in the Apostle Paul’s analysis applies in this instance.
The Biblical "rock of offence" is Christ Jesus Himself, the Rock on which one believes for extrinsic justification, that is, imputed righteousness. One must remember from the outset that the issue at hand is "Justification". Error always cloaks itself in reasonable sounding phrases and often makes use of the scheme of the evil one to twist the Scriptures. JD is replete with "Reformation-like" language and Scripture quotations. A characteristic vagueness and impreciseness permeates the document. Certain sentences can be read and assented to by a Biblical Christian, but when the slant of meaning is examined each is seen to be the opposite of what it first seemed to say. The conclusions arrived at are similar to the deception of Jacob in Genesis Ch. 27, "The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." "The voice" of JD is distinctly that of the Scriptures; "the hands", however, are the hairy hands of Rome. The document is excelsior of doublespeak. It claims to explain a common understanding of the doctrine of justification, and then adds encumbrance upon impediment to the purely Scriptural, wholly objective, wholly juridical nature of the doctrine. There is no better way to assess the guile of JD in its attendant Official Common Statement than by comparing it to what the Scripture, the Word of God, declares to be truth.
Trent in New Garments
In JD, imputed righteousness is cleverly sidestepped for the old lie of establishing one’s own righteousness. The central point that separated the Reformation from Rome was the Biblical doctrine of extrinsic justification. A person is accepted by the All Holy God only "in the beloved" "to the praise of the glory of his grace." The doctrine of imputed righteousness struck at the very heart of the Roman Catholic insistence on one being made inherently just, i.e., just within oneself. In JD, the doctrine of extrinsic or imputed righteousness has been wiped out in favor of the RCC doctrine of inherent righteousness. Clearly, JD is an attempt to do away with the biblical Gospel. Thus the Official Common Statement 2. A) reads,
This is a convoluted mixture of the doctrines of justification and sanctification rather than merely a problem of semantics. Justification nowhere in Scripture ever means inherent righteousness (i.e. "being made righteous"). The believer’s justification is not based on a single iota of anything in him: it is based wholly in his standing in Christ. This is the crux of the matter in JD. One goes the way of all flesh to the judgement of hell if he adds anything to the pure and perfect righteousness of Christ. One needs to be "afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of Christ" (II Cor. 11:3). Justification is not "being made righteous", but JD follows such statements as these with numerous Scriptural quotations and phrases cloaking its errors in the semblance of truth. It is quite like Rebekah’s word to Jacob, "Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command thee." Thus "Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son." In JD, the voice of some of the best Scripture texts on justification is heard. The conclusion, however, is similar to what Isaac discerned, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." The hands of JD are distinctly those of Rome; the material that is manipulated, however, is that of Scripture.
"Being Made Righteous"
In the justifying act of God, He imputes Christ's perfect righteousness to the individual. It is a legal and one time, finished, irrevocable act which cannot be misconstrued to be a process or ongoing occurrence, such as the term "being made righteous" will allow. The simple truth of Scripture is stated Rom 3:22, "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe." God’s demonstration of His own righteousness is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in His perfect life and sacrificial death. The great news is that this absolute righteousness is by imputation "unto all and upon all them that believe." Being "called children of God" and "a new creation" is the fruit. It is what follows on this act. "Being made righteous" here is just a rewording of the old lie of the Council of Trent in which it was officially declared, "Justification…which is not merely remission of sins, but also of the sanctification and renewal of the interior man…whereby an unjust man becomes a just man." In this final word of the JD Official Common Statement is the age old Roman Catholic mixing of sanctification with the act of justification, returning to the age old fabrication that righteousness is supposedly within the soul, rather than to the biblical truth that by Holy God the believer is credited with the everlasting righteousness that is in Christ Jesus. "Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength...."
What is proposed in JD as the "doctrine of justification" is deficient in two essential ways. It neither upholds the perfect standard of God’s Holiness nor does it demonstrate the perfect righteousness of Christ in life and death. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." (Romans 10:3) The Bible emphasizes and declares the righteousness of God, "the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith" (Romans 1: 17). This is not proclaimed nor taught in the Official Common Statement on JD. Destitute and sinful human beings need the perfect righteousness of Christ. This is what the Scripture clearly says is now manifest, "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested." (Romans 3:21)
Manifested in Scripture, Missing in JD
What precisely is omitted in JD is "the righteousness of God without the law the righteousness which is of God by faith" of Philippians 3:9, "the righteousness of the one", "the obedience of the one" of Romans 5:18-19, the righteousness of Jesus Christ "the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" of 2 Peter 1:1. The verdict act of God in declaring that a sinner is acquitted and counted righteous because of the obedience and death of Jesus Christ alone is not contained in JD. What is proposed in its place is a combination of some Biblical truths (such as grace alone, faith alone) with the old lying definition of "justification" being seen as a quality of the soul within the believer.
Because righteousness is of and from God, it is absolutely perfect. The one-time act of God in justifying a sinner in Christ Jesus is perfect. Because man in himself cannot be perfect, righteousness can only be communicated through imputation or reckoning. God’s provision of the perfect righteousness of Christ is acquired by faith alone. It is not seen (Hebrews 1:11). The "righteousness of God without the law" is not to be seen on earth. The fruitfulness of such righteousness is indeed seen; nevertheless, the righteousness itself is in heavenly places in Christ.
What is proposed to be "justification" in the Official Common Statement on JD is to be seen here on earth, and not the Scriptural, declarative justification "in heaven". Rather justification is presented as taking place "on earth" in the believer, as for example, in Annex Para 2,
The simple truth of Scripture is that God never accepts an individual as such. Rather, he is accepted only in the Beloved, in the righteousness of the One, Christ Jesus, that is, in the righteousness of faith. Receiving the Holy Spirit and the renewal of hearts is the old confusion of justification with sanctification. Because the purpose of these statements is to define justification, such stupefaction is studied deceit.
The phrases, "being made righteous" and "we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit" both make room for what is to be concluded, i.e., that "justification" is within the person and a quality of the soul within the believer. Basically the Biblical truth is this: the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer is an act of God in Christ.
The official statement ratifying JD states,
The use of the phrase "Justification takes place" rather than the Biblical concept, "to whom it shall be imputed," is studied deceit because the word "justification" can be made to imply a process rather than a one-time act of the God. Nevertheless, the Scriptures continually speak about the outcome of the justifying act as "righteousness", not justification. JD and the Official Common Statement on JD use the noun "justification" and carefully avoid the verb "justifies". The Greek word "justifies" (logizomai) means to count esteem, impute, number, reason, reckon. It is a verb denoting a one-time action. The repetition of the noun "justification" in JD and in the Official Common Statement on JD conveys the concept of a quality within a person that totally contravenes the Scripture. Not mentioning "imputed righteousness" and continually speaking of "justification" is seductive sophistry.
Thus in the Official Common Statement’s endorsement of JD, the basis for the Gospel is given as within man rather than the perfect righteousness of the God-man, Christ Jesus. This is speaking against God and is worse than anything proposed by Israel or the Pharisees. The words of the Lord Christ Jesus therefore apply, "for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in."
The Mindset of Rome in JD
The Roman Catholic Church cannot conceive of the act of justifying in which man remains a sinner. Catholic theology understands justifying as "justification", something that God graciously pours into a man’s heart, displacing sin and sinfulness in the process. Biblically speaking, however, justifying righteousness is something that always resides in the person of Christ alone. The imputation of this righteousness is what makes a believer acceptable to God. As long as the believer lives, he is in himself guilty, but in Christ He is righteous and accounted precious in God’s sight.
An Astonishing Quote from Aquinas
It is a surprising thing that a section of Thomas Aquinas’ teaching is affirmed in this final word confirming the conclusion of JD and the Official Common Statement. The question Aquinas was answering in S. Th II/II 4, 4 ad 3 is, "Whether Formless Faith Can Become Formed or Formed Faith Formless?" The abstruseness of the question itself gives one a taste of the intricacies of scholastic theology. Why quote from a most intricate question in Aquinas rather than simply giving the words of Scripture that are referred to in the brackets? The Romans 3:28 text given in brackets before the Aquinas quote states, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." The word "conclude" in this text is the Greek word "logizometha" meaning, we esteem, impute or reckon "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." This imputation of righteousness ("dikaiousthai") annihilates the concept proposed that "the person is justified". Had the Scripture been cited rather than Aquinas, "righteousness reckoned" would have been obvious, and the sophistry exposed. The statement agreed on says,
Biblically speaking it ought to say,
Earlier in the same work cited, Aquinas teaches that grace is a quality of the soul. In the "Treatise on Grace", he asks the question "Is Grace a Quality of the Soul?" In the body of his article, he cites Aristotle’s physics saying, "motion is the act of the mover in the moved." Then in Reply Obj. 1, he states, "Grace, as a quality, is said to act upon the soul not after the manner of an efficient cause, but after the manner of a formal cause, as whiteness makes a thing white, and justice, just." The whole idea of grace being moral justice located inside a person, rather than Holy God imputing Christ's righteousness to each person whom He places in Christ, blatantly contradicts Biblical truth. Such teaching is a negation of consistent Biblical teaching of positional legal righteousness in Christ alone.
Complete Perfection in Christ, not in the Individual
Endorsing the teaching of Aquinas and all such teaching in JD as "Justification takes place", "being made righteous", and "we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit" is quite cleverly teaching "inherent righteousness" without using those words. Such teaching opposes both the Gospel and the righteousness of Christ.
The distinction between the righteousness of faith (justification) and the righteousness of the law (i.e., sanctification) was foundational in Luther’s understanding of the Gospel. After Luther, the Formula of Concord of 1556 reiterated the basic Biblical insights of double righteousness. This was bedrock of historical Lutheranism. It was recognized that if active righteousness (sanctification) were brought into the definition of the passive righteousness by faith, then both the glory of Christ and the Gospel are denied and one returns to the old lie of Satan that what is inside a man makes him right before God. "Ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5).
The written Word of the Lord continually shows the believer where he or she is eternally and splendidly saved. "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." The Roman Catholic Church does not rest satisfied with Christ alone, her process program in fact nullifies the grace of God. What is literally damming in the Official Common Statement of JD is that an attempt has been made to masquerade the perfect righteousness of Christ as inherent righteousness. What was truly Biblical in Luther’s understanding of imputed righteousness is now subsumed under Rome’s idea of "inner" righteousness, the source of her power over the minds and hearts of men, which power she covets. What is most serious, the very truth of the Gospel is thus made void. The "inner" process system is a hopeless practice born of a blasphemous idea. Rather, "It is God that justifieth."
The Wrath of God is Revealed
The Lord forewarned of stumbling at the Rock of offence, "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner." (1 Peter 2:7) The RCC and LWF in publicizing their apostasy in JD have to fear a revelation of something much more serious; the very wrath of God. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." (Rom 1:18)
"With her much fair speech…till a dart strike through his liver"
The intent to continue dialogue "to reach full church community" is a conclusion mentioned in paragraph 3 of the Official Common Statement. The actual words are as follows,
It is quite revealing that the stated conclusion here is one of the primary goals as defined in the Church of Rome’s conditions for dialogue.
RCC Rules of Engagement Applied to JD
In the Vatican Council II Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents No. 42, "Reflections and Suggestions Concerning Ecumenical Dialogue", the Church of Rome carefully lays out the ground rules for her program of ecumenical dialogue among Christians. From that document it is clear that the RCC is proceeding to "dialogue" with Christians by adhering to a special set of rules. Thus specifically she states, "...dialogue is not an end in itself...It is not just an academic discussion." Rather, the stated purpose of dialogue is that
The "little by little" may this time be a giant step as it appears in the conclusion to the Official Common Statement of JD (quoted above).
In the introduction to "Reflections and Suggestions Concerning Ecumenical Dialogue" (No. 42), the RCC states that
Using many words, the RCC is giving what is consistently her primary basis, "the community of spiritual goods". Her "first basis" is not that of the Lord and the Apostles, which was the written word of God alone.
The dart through the liver: Rome's first basis
For the RCC the first basis on which ecumenical dialogue works is not Sola Scriptura, "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35); rather it is a "community of spiritual goods". This basis is exactly the same as the premise on which the RCC builds her doctrine and which is spelled out in her latest official Catechism.
Thus the first basis for all the dialogue with the LWF was the RCC’s own measure of "truth". The rules following on this first basis were also her own rules of engagement. Some of the rules are these:
The words "revealed datum" are carefully chosen. For a Bible believer, the term would mean just the Written Word; for the RCC, however, the term "revealed datum" consistently refers to Scripture plus Tradition as her first basis. Proceeding from this impure base, the "constructive synthesis" rules are simply the old line of evolution, "truth" by synthesis, or relative "truth". Excluded from start to finish is the principle of Sola Scriptura. To the RCC who by so exquisite an application of her rules of engagement has "thrust through" the Lutherans, the words of the Lord speak directly, "[You are] making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered."
According to Vatican Council II Document No. 42, the final goal of the dialogue between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church is that the Lutherans be brought "into that unity of the one and only Church...This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose." For the RCC, the final conclusion has not yet been attained until her stated objective is secured. Until then, "continued dialogue is required…in order to reach full church communion". And to this, the Lutherans apparently have agreed fully—snared by thirty years of hearing her "much fair speech...till a dart strike through his liver", as indeed it has.
The RCC has been clear in laying out her agenda toward all Christians who are not part of her organization. She has applied her method skillfully, relentlessly since Vatican Council II. Ought one to be surprised by the conclusions to which she and the LWF have come?
For those who are the Lord’s own within the Lutheran Churches, the warning of the Lord is clearly given,
JD as ratified in the Official Common Statement is indeed outwardly stunning, but the message is dead men’s bones in that it attempts to cleverly establish man’s own righteousness. The words of the Lord are indeed appropriate, "I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20) ¨
Richard Bennett spent twenty-one years as a Roman Catholic priest in Trinidad, West Indies. In 1986, he was saved by God's grace alone and formally left the Roman Catholic Church and its priesthood.
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