On Denying the Gospel for the Sake of God’s Glory

In Reformed theology, there are five “solas,” sometimes called the five pillars of the Reformation. They are sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, and soli deo gloria – by Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. These slogans contain in peppercorn form what the Reformed hold are the necessary corrections to Catholic teaching. They are what give meaning to the word “Reformed.”

In the world of Catholic and Reformed dialogue, sola scriptura probably receives the most attention, with sola fide a close second. But soli deo gloria is no less worthy of attention, as there’s an assumption underlying it that puts much of the “protest” in Protestant. On his blog, Dr. Wes Bredenhof gives the following explanation:

Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory. Rome taught that God ought to be praised for salvation. However, they included good works in the basis of salvation. They gave a place to Mary and the saints alongside Christ as the Redeemer. Human beings had to cooperate with God’s grace for justification and salvation. The inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings. The Reformation objected. The Reformation upheld the biblical teaching of Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory..” All the credit, all the glory, all the praise, goes to God for our salvation.

The assumption I’m referring to is the belief that if man plays a role in his salvation, which the Catholic Church certainly teaches, then “the inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings.” What’s assumed here is that if we include a human role in salvation, we necessarily exclude God. Even if man’s role is only 1%, God’s role is necessarily reduced to 99%. If we want God to be properly glorified, then man must necessarily be excluded from being responsible for salvation.

But consider further what’s being assumed here. What’s being assumed, even for Christians, is a fundamental opposition between God and man, where what is my good work is not God’s good work. My good works and my cooperation with grace are mine, not God’s, since, the assumption goes, the Catholic Church robs God of glory by including a Christian’s good works in salvation. The good works of the saints are theirs, not God’s, since the Catholic Church robs God of glory by including those works in the salvation of others. If including a human role in salvation robs God of glory, then that human role must not itself be God’s work. If it were God’s work, then, of course, it wouldn’t be robbing God of glory to include it in salvation.

What’s assumed is an either/or way of thinking wherein either God is doing the work, or I am. Either God is responsible for my salvation, or I am. Thus, to properly glorify God, we must say that God is responsible for salvation, not man.

It’s certainly true that apart from grace, man is only ever doomed to compete with God for glory. Apart from grace, there remains a fundamental opposition between God and man, an enmity born of man’s pride. Apart from grace, man’s work is man’s work and God’s work is God’s work, and ne’er the twain shall meet. That’s true, so long as we exclude grace from the picture.

The rest can be read over at Called to Communion.


That’s Not in the Bible!

Peter preaching the gospel in the catacombs – Jan Styka


There’s one Reformed critique of the Catholic Church that is the mother of all other critiques. It has come to my wife and I in the form of, “I don’t understand how you could believe things not found in the Bible,” or, “There’s no evidence for this or that Catholic doctrine or practice in the Bible,” or, “By teaching things not found in the Bible, the Catholic Church teaches human inventions,” and so on. For many Protestants, this is the trump card that renders Catholic teaching out of the question.

But those playing the trump card haven’t looked closely enough at it. For the card itself poses a fatal problem for Protestants, a problem very much like that faced by modern materialists – people who believe that physical matter is all that exists. Materialists will use logic to deny the existence of logic, and will insist that their denial of truth is true and their denial of morality good. The very thing they denounce is the thing they use to denounce others. So, too, Protestants will denounce the Catholic Church for doctrines that can’t be proven from the Bible alone; but they do so by means of doctrines that can’t be proven from the Bible alone.


To demonstrate this, let’s start at the bottom, with Scripture itself. Article four of the Reformed Belgic Confession begins with the words, “We believe,” and goes on to list the sixty-six books that Protestants believe make up the Bible.

But this belief cannot be proven from Scripture alone. The Apostles did not write down a list of books to be accepted as canonical, nor did they provide criteria by which to do so. In fact, even if such a list was found in the Bible, we would require something other than Scripture to prove that the book it belonged to was itself Scripture.

For example, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture. Someone might say that this proves from the Bible that Paul’s letters are Scripture. But that’s only true if 2 Peter itself is Scripture. And if we are going to believe that 2 Peter is Scripture, then we must establish that belief, too, from the Bible alone. But whatever book we would appeal to for evidence would itself have to be shown from the Bible alone to be Scripture. And we would find ourselves jumping from book to book to book until we have no Bible left at all.

For that reason, the Belgic Confession doesn’t appeal to Scripture in support of article 4. Rather, it appeals to the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Other Protestants will appeal to the testimony of history, making arguments from the evidence of the early Church. But the testimony of history and the internal testimony of the Spirit are not the written testimony of Scripture. The fact remains that Protestants hold to a belief that cannot be proven from Scripture alone, the very thing they denounce the Catholic Church for.

Or, along the lines of a question Christ put to His accusers, Catholics can ask Reformed people: does the doctrine confessed in article 4 of the Belgic Confession come from men or from God? If the answer is “from God,” then the Reformed must admit the existence of divinely revealed truths found outside the Bible. If the canon of Scripture has been divinely revealed, but isn’t in the Bible, then it must have been revealed elsewhere. Or, if the answer is “from men,” then they must admit putting their faith in a human opinion also not found in the Bible. Either way, they are trumped by their own trump card. They are holding to a belief that cannot be proven from the Bible alone.


But more to the point, the trump card itself cannot be proven from Scripture. And when I say “cannot be proven,” I don’t mean that it isn’t explicit in Scripture, in the way that the Trinity isn’t explicit, or the two natures of Christ isn’t explicit. What I mean is that it simply isn’t there. The Apostles did not tell us anywhere that we should believe only what can be proven from their writings alone.
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King David’s Clean-Heart Gospel Passion

What does it mean to be saved? The answer to that question drove the Reformers away from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and continues to keep Reformed people away today. I received an email from a Reformed person sympathetic to key parts of the Catholic faith, but who said that the Reformed doctrine of justification was “too powerful” for him to become Catholic.

Here I want to present a simple, scriptural argument against the Reformed position. I’ll first briefly summarize the Reformed and Catholic answers to what it means to be saved. Then I’ll compare the two answers by looking at how salvation is described in the Psalms. What kind of good news did the Holy Spirit inspire King David to yearn for in his writings? Did David yearn for the good news as described in Reformed teaching, or for the good news as described in Catholic teaching?

Read the rest of the post over at Called to Communion:



Don’t Let Your Hatred of the Catholic Church Be Greater Than Your Love for Christ

The martyrdom of Saint Margaret Clitherow, March 25, 1586.

A reader writes,

It sends shivers down my spine to contemplate the sheer wickedness of you uniting with those who persecuted and killed my ancestors for the good confession of their faith.

We have received similar comments from others, too, referencing the persecution Protestants experienced at the hands of Catholics. That persecution was, indeed, contemptible. I have no intention of disputing that. Wes Bredenhof recently posted a letter from the Reformer Guido de Bres to his wife on the eve of his execution by hanging. It is a powerful testimony to the sincerity of de Bres’ faith, and reading that letter as we do, from within a world where executing someone for heresy is unthinkable, it is difficult not to be incensed with those who killed him.

The problem, though, as demonstrated by the above comment, is that this standard is too often applied only one way. In Proverbs 11:1 we read, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight” [ESV]. That clearly has implications beyond buying and selling, and is no less instructive for our words and judgments. Do we use the same weights for all actions, or only for those that benefit our cause?

For example, John Calvin, during his ministry in Geneva, had a man named Michael Servetus executed for his beliefs. Servetus was a heretic from any Christian perspective, and considered himself a free thinker. There are many people today who would call themselves free thinkers, and who would identify with Servetus’ cause and ideas. If one of them were to convert to the Reformed faith, would my correspondent make the same appeal to his spine shivers, and comment on the “sheer wickedness” of a free thinker joining with those who once executed his ancestors for their beliefs? Of course not.

But let’s bring this closer to home. When the English crown embraced the teachings of the Reformers, the Protestant authorities set about hanging, drawing, and quartering any priests found practicing their faith. This wasn’t a quick, neck-breaking hanging like the one de Bres would have had. No, this was a slow hanging, in which the priest was strangled to death. And while he choked, his executioners would cut off his genitals, slice open his belly, and burn his intestines in front of him. After his death, they would decapitate him, chop his body into four pieces, and send the pieces to various parts of the realm to be put on display. That was the cost of being a Catholic priest in Reformed England. Is your spine shivering?
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More Work than It’s Worth?

I’ve entered into a busy season of life, having started in September a full-time position as the senior theology and religious coordinator at a Catholic high school. There is so much I’d like to write about, and hopefully will write about, especially now with the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation putting the Catholic/Protestant divide at the forefront of people’s minds. I thank my readers for their patience, and I appreciate all the correspondence that has come my way over the last year. I ask that you would continue to be patient, and take the time to study and pray about these issues. The devil hates the truth, and hates the pursuit of the truth, making it seem like it’s more work than it’s worth.

But the truth has a human Face. And in that Face we find “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” [He.1:3], words almost too wonderful to grasp. Seeking the truth is why we were conceived and born to begin with, for seeking the truth is seeking communion with the Father through the Son. And in the light of that fact, the devil’s sniveling attempts at obscuring the truth and making it offensive are simply pathetic. Those attempts seem intimidating at first, but that is merely to disguise the fact that they are devoid of power. They are lies, opposed to the truth, and as such have no substance at all. The truth has been revealed from on high for all to know, that all may be drawn out of sin and rebellion to the glory of the Father, and that truth has a name: Jesus Christ. He is the reward for all who seek Him in faith.

It’s because of these things that I have argued here for the Catholic Faith. I believe that it’s the truth, and that when all the evidence is laid out on the table, all the arguments considered, and all the objections answered, the truth of it is overwhelming, for it is nothing other than the truth of Jesus Christ. To that end, I plan to post answers to some of the questions and objections I’ve been challenged by over the last year. Arenda had done that in her “Becoming Catholic” post, and it proved an effective way to directly address the questions Reformed people have. People have asked me about the papacy, Catholic and Protestant editions of the Bible, worship, justification by faith alone, and Mary, among other things. If you have specific questions, feel free to email me. But again, I ask your patience as I address these issues.

On Becoming Catholic

Here is Arenda’s account of becoming Catholic, from her blog, The Upcast Eye.

The Upcast Eye

The winter of 2015-16 was one of the strangest seasons of my life. Jeremy was halfway through his fourth and final year at seminary, and the end of seven long years of studying was finally within sight. Up to that point, everything had led us to believe that Jeremy would make a good pastor, and he was being contacted by various churches who were interested in calling him when he completed his Master of Divinity. We were looking forward to some stability in life: a steady income, knowing where we’d be living for the next five years, and getting to know the congregation Jeremy would be pastoring.

But by the end of 2015 that vision of the future had crumbled. Rather than discussing questions like, “Which of these calling committee inquiries sounds more interesting?” and “Would you ever consider moving to Australia?” I was wondering, “Can I really believe in…

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Flashes, Thunders, and Shakes: The Bible on Prayers to Saints

I was having a discussion recently with a Reformed person about the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints. It’s this doctrine that informs the Catholic practice of venerating and praying to saints, especially to Mary. But this Reformed person insisted, as Reformed people all insist, that this practice is unbiblical.

I aim to show here that this simply isn’t the case. But first, what does it mean that something is “unbiblical”? Or what does it mean that something is “biblical”? It is certainly true that the Bible never commands us to seek the intercession of Mary and the saints. The Bible says very little about what to think about the faithful departed at all. Yet the Catholic Church teaches that this practice is indeed biblical; and what’s more, it’s a practice that Christians since the early Church, including the Church Fathers, believed was biblical. So, what do we mean by the word, “biblical”?

My Reformed conversation partner also brought up the topic of children who die in infancy. According to Reformed teaching, believing parents whose children die in infancy, regardless of whether those children are baptized, can be certain that those children are in heaven. However, the Bible does not say this. In the same way that you will search in vain for a Bible text that teaches that we ought to pray to Mary, so you will search in vain for a Bible text that teaches that believing parents of unbaptized children “ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy” [Canons of Dort, I.17]. The reason Reformed people believe this, though, is because of what they believe about the covenant. They draw conclusions from Scripture about the covenant, and from those conclusions they infer that children of believers who die in infancy, regardless of baptism, will go to heaven.

I mention this because of its significance for the meaning of the word, “biblical.” The Catholic Church teaches that prayers to saints are biblical for the same reason that Reformed people believe that canon I.17 is biblical. That is, while there is no text that commands praying to saints, from everything the Bible says about the communion of saints the Catholic Church infers that the saints in glory hear our pleas for their intercession and bring those intercessions before God. That’s how the Catholic Church has always understood the word “biblical” – as referring to a teaching that isn’t necessarily mentioned in Scripture, but that nonetheless follows from, and is in perfect accord with, everything that is mentioned in Scripture. Just like Reformed people believe about canon I.17.

I. On the word, “prayer.”

Before looking at the biblical evidence, I should say something about the verb, “to pray.” It often causes confusion in these discussions, and no discussion can be successful without defining our terms. When Catholics use the verb “to pray” with regard to saints, they are using it the way it was once always used in the English language, back when people might have said to each other, “Please pass the pottage, I pray you.” That is, the word “pray” in English means “ask,” or, “petition.” You can find this usage of “prayers” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit:

“But help came swiftly; for Bard at once had speedy messengers sent up the river to the Forest to seek the aid of the King of the Elves of the Wood. . . But the king, when he received the prayers of Bard, had pity, for he was the lord of a good and kindly people. . .”[1]

That’s the meaning Catholics use when they talk about prayers to saints. I realize that prayer can also mean much more than petitioning. Time spent in prayer with God is often a time of worshipping Him and basking in His love. But my point here is that the word “pray” doesn’t necessarily entail worship – it has (or had) a much more pedestrian use in the English language, and that’s the use that is relevant to this discussion.
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