In-Credible Christianity

Although I’ve been clearly critical of the Manhattan Declaration (MD), I am thankful to God that it has generated a very important and valuable discussion about the boundaries of legitimate cooperation and, using the buzzword of our day, co-belligerence. I am particularly thankful for the many solid expressions of concern and opposition to the kind of co-belligerence that the MD represents. I’ve highlighted a number of these earlier, but I’d like to encourage you to also read this post by Nicholas Batzig.

For more confirmation, in my mind, of what the MD represents, consider what James Kushiner writes at Mere Comments,  “As a statement made by Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians (of many varieties) it does represent the strongest expression of what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called the New Ecumenism, which is, to use the words of J. I. Packer, who also signed the Declaration, ‘those who confess the Creed and mean it.’” In other words, the New Ecumenism acts as if the Reformation didn’t happen and it studiously avoids the issue of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

Assuming that the Creed mentioned is the Apostles Creed, we’re being asked to form union with others on the basis of belief in the forgiveness of sins without agreement about how that is accomplished. Basically, the Reformed Anglican Professor and the Roman Catholic Bishop decide that their agreement about the outcome (forgiveness of sins) can cover over their disagreement about how that happens (justification by faith alone). As is often the case, what they disagree about is what really matters here—there is no forgiveness of sins apart from the good news that God saves sinners on the basis of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

It seems that the almost immediate and constant accusation thrown at those who object to something like the MD is that we are saying that no Catholic or Eastern Orthodox people are genuinely Christian. This, in my mind, is a bogus objection to our, or at least my, view. I’ll not speak for others, but my view on this matter is fully informed by the fact that I cannot see inside anybody else’s soul. I have no regeneration-o-meter that I can wave across someone to tell if he has been born again.

All I can do, and, I believe, all the professing church can do is examine the credibility of a person’s profession of faith. Is the claim to be a Christian credibly made? That means I have to have some biblical basis for evaluating its credibility. Thankfully, God has given us plenty of instruction about this matter, both positive and negative. John’s first epistle alone provides us with incredible pastoral insight about the difference between true and false claims. The evidence of genuine spiritual life (or lack thereof) includes matters of creed and conduct.

Clear biblical texts lay the responsibility on the church to not allow into or keep within it those who reject apostolic doctrine (cf. Rom 16:17-18) and/or live contrary to their profession of faith (cf. 1 Cor 5:10-13). In other words, the church cannot accept the credibility of their claim to be a Christian and part of the true church. We are not capable of making a final determination on whether they really are or not, but we obligated to deal with what we can judge, namely, that their doctrinal denial or unrepentant disobedience make their claim to be a Christian not credible.

So, applying this to the case at hand, I believe a text like Galatians 1:6-9 makes it very clear that if anybody proclaims a gospel which is contrary to the one Paul preached then that person’s claim to be a Christian is not credible. What else could Paul mean by saying “he is to be accursed” (Gal 1:8b, 9b)? Are we to think that Paul would use that language then throw his arm around those who teach such things? No, Paul would want that leaven removed, not embraced (cf. Gal 5:7-12). The church cannot extend fellowship to those who, by faith or practice, deny the gospel without destroying its own credibility.

Is it possible, to borrow a cliché, that the heart might believe better than the head? Even if I grant that, it doesn’t contradict my point—in fact, it proves it. The very fact that we have to create caveats like that shows that we are not sure if that person is saved or not. There is a serious credibility issue. Although not popular to say, I contend that it is wrong, even sinful, to accept as valid anybody’s profession of faith who intelligently and openly embraces a system that teaches baptismal regeneration and denies Sola Fide. To do so sins against both God and man.

The real question isn’t, are there Christians in the Catholic church? It is, is the Catholic church genuinely Christian? Or, to use more biblical terms, is it preaching the gospel that Paul preached or is it under the curse that Paul declared on those who preach another gospel? And, the question that follows from that is, can I accept as credible the profession of Christian faith made by someone who embracing that false system?

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