Reply to James White on the Papacy & Soteriology

Reply to James White on the Papacy & Soteriology March 7, 2017

. . . His So-Called “Review” of My Book, The One-Minute Apologist

One-MinuteApologist (396x613)

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Previously, I wished to press home a point of not responding to White’s critique unless and until he was willing, for a change, to have a bona fide discussion about it. But since he has made it clear (I’m so surprised that I almost fainted) that he will not (“Armstrong . . . is beyond dialogue or discussion”), my gripe about rudimentary discussion method (understood by the overwhelming majority of sentient adults, let alone “thinkers”) has been decisively illustrated. Congratulations to Mr. White for again showing his true stripes, as he invariably does.

I think it is also important, though, to highlight the ongoing double standard whereby James White (so he has proven by his actions — or inactions — 150 times), has no responsibility or “apologetic [intellectual] duty” to defend his own arguments and papers against critique. None of his adoring fan club seems to be willing to publicly urge him to do this. Ah, but for some strange reason, he and his sycophants assume that everyone whom he critiques, does have this burden, on pain of being mocked and accused of cowardice if they don’t comply with the double standard demand.

Therefore, I will make my reply, in order to highlight the profound difference in method between myself and Bishop White. It never was (contrary to the anti-Catholic nattering nabobs) an issue of ability on my part. Of course I can respond. I routinely defend my points of view. White routinely fails to defend his own, unless he is dealing with folks who are exceptionally ignorant (such as Dave Hunt’s pathetic critiques of Calvinism, which are as bad — if that can be imagined — as his critiques of Catholicism).

I will cite the actual arguments made by Bishop White, and edit out the potshots, low blows, and derogatory comments about my alleged profound stupidity in Matters Theological and Biblical, etc. Those can be found in my last post, for the record. It’ll be tough (like trying to separate all the spices and pepper from a spicy salad), taking out insults from the veritable King of Internet Ad Hominem, but we’ll do our best. White’s words will be in blue.

* * * * *
For example, on page 17, Armstrong attempts to present a “Protestant” objection relating to the offices of the church:

The Bible teaches that bishops, elders, and deacons are all synonymous terms for the same office: roughly that of a pastor today. It doesn’t indicate that bishops are higher than these other offices.

Just who believes this, I wonder? I have never read any work by any Protestant theologian of any note who has ever made this argument. So, is Armstrong just ignorant of Protestant ecclesiology, or, has he run into some tiny sect someplace that has come up with some new wacky viewpoint? Given that he was once non-Catholic, it is hard to believe he could be so ignorant of the reality regarding the fact that bishop and elder refer to the same office and are used interchangeably in the New Testament, but that this office is clearly distinguished from that of the deacon.

This is a case of a poor choice of one word (minor point) in the midst of a perfectly valid overall argument (major point); in other words, “majoring on the minors” (something White is extremely good at doing, as a first-rate sophist and obscurantist). It is true that this was an unwise use of “deacon”. If I had left out that word, the argument, coming from the hypothetical Protestant, would have been virtually identical to White’s own ecclesiology, since we see above that he equates elder and bishop (and has done so before, notably in this quote):

I am an elder in the church: hence, I am a bishop, overseer, pastor, of a local body of believers. (10 January 2001)

In fact, this utterance is the reason why I have taken to calling White “Bishop White.” He said it; I am simply following his own protocol. I believe what I had in mind was somewhat related to the thought that I have expressed in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

As is often the case in theology and practice among the earliest Christians, there is some fluidity and overlapping of these three vocations (for example, compare Acts 20:17 with 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with Titus 1:5-9). But this does not prove that three offices of ministry did not exist. For instance, St. Paul often referred to himself as a deacon or minister (1 Cor. 3:5, 4:1; 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23-25), yet no one would assert that he was merely a deacon, and nothing else. (p. 252)

The argument in the present context would then be that some Protestants (I am not implying in any of my vaguely Summa-like “objections” in the book that all Protestants would believe what is portrayed; that is rarely the case with anything) adopt this more fluid and primitive New Testament ecclesiology and use the terms interchangeably, whereas Catholics follow a far more developed ecclesiology. But I concede that “deacons” should not have been in this statement of the “objection” because most, if not all Protestants, do distinguish their office, as Bishop White pointed out.

And I recognized the distinction myself (so much for the claims of my profound ignorance), in the same section of the above book (completed in 1996):

Bishops are always referred to in the singular, while elders are usually mentioned plurally. The primary controversy among Christians has to do with the nature and functions of both bishops and elders (deacons have largely the same duties among both Protestants and Catholics).

Some species of Baptists probably come the closest to using “deacon” interchangeably with “elder” or “pastor”. For example, see the Wikipedia article on “Deacons”; section on Baptists (bolding added):

Baptists have traditionally followed the principle of the autonomy of the local church congregation, giving each church the ability to discern for themselves the interpretation of scripture. Thus, the views among Baptist churches as to who becomes a deacon and when, as well as what they do and how they go about doing it, varies greatly. Baptists recognize two ordained positions in the church as Elders (Pastors) and Deacons, as per 1 Timothy, third chapter. There are Baptist churches where the deacons decide many of the church affairs. There are churches where deacons serve in a family ministry only. There are Baptist churches (especially in the United Kingdom, but also in the U.S. and elsewhere) where women are allowed to be deacons; while many Baptist churches would never consider allowing a woman.

Of course, the far greater burden lies on White, to establish his novel ecclesiology of bishops in the New Testament having no higher status than a mere elder or pastor of a local church (i.e., what he himself is). Hierarchical episcopacy is most apparent in the New Testament in the Council of Jerusalem. Again, I wrote in my first book, Appendix Two on ecclesiology:


The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29) bears witness to a definite hierarchical, episcopal structure of government in the early Church. St. Peter, the chief elder(the office of Pope) of the entire Church (1 Peter 5:1; cf. John 21:15-17), presided and issued the authoritative pronouncement (15:7-11). Then James, Bishop of Jerusalem (rather like the host-mayor of a conference) gives a concurring (Acts 15:14), concluding statement (15:13-29). That James was the sole, “monarchical” bishop of Jerusalem is fairly apparent from Scripture (Acts 12:17, 15:13, 19, 21:18, Gal. 1:19, 2:12). This fact is also attested by the first Christian historian, Eusebius (History of the Church, 7:19). (pp. 254-255)

In a recent combox comment I also noted how this council provides explicit biblical evidence for infallibility of Church councils:

Infallibility is plainly taught in Acts 15:28-29. This was a council that was led by the Holy Spirit and therefore infallible. The Church was absolutely bound to it’s decisions. Part of Paul’s missionary preaching was to proclaim the infallible decisions of the council (Acts 16:4).

I wrote in another piece of freelance writing that I happened to be working on yesterday:

The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) was a meeting of “apostles and elders” (15:2,4,6,22) and “the whole church” (15:22). This council issued a proclamation binding on all Christians (16:4), under the guidance of the Holy Spirit:

Acts 15:28-29: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

Paul and Silas even proclaimed this decision as part of their missionary activity (Acts 16:4). This, then, provides an explicit biblical model of how Church government and authority ought to function.

The Jerusalem Council was quite contrary to the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura, or “Bible Alone” [as the only infallible authority] because it involved human cooperation in interpreting the Bible, and this group effort was indeed infallible (Acts 15:28) and binding (according to the Apostle Paul himself) upon all Christian believers (Acts 16:4). This historical fact alone (part of inspired revelation) is quite sufficient to refute sola Scriptura. Interpretation of the Bible must occur within the Church, as a result of its deliberations in council (bishops and elders), not simply as a function of the “priesthood of scholars” or private interpretation (2 Peter 1:19-21) or denominational relativism.

I have written at length about this very topic of the Jerusalem Council, in reply to Bishop White in the past (ignored by him, of course). Protestant Bible scholar James D.G. Dunn sees more than a little bit of “catholicism” and bishops in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles:


. . . Timothy and Titus . . . begin to assume something of the role of monarchichal bishops, with authority over the community . . . theirs is the responsibility to keep the faith pure (I Tim. 1.3f.; 4.6ff., 11-16; etc.), to order the life and relationships of the community (I Tim. 5.1-16 — Timothy has the authority to enrol a widow or to refuse enrolment, apparently without reference to others; 6.2, 17; Titus 2.1-10,15 — ‘with all authority’), to exercise discipline and mete out justice not least in the case of elders (I Tim. 5.19ff. — Timothy is the court of appeal, above the eldership), to lay on hands (I Tim. 5.22 — a function already reserved to Timothy?), and to appoint elders (Titus 1.5). There is also a concept of ‘apostolic succession’ beginning to emerge — Paul to Timothy to ‘faithful men’ to ‘others’ . . . With such evidence it would be difficult to deny that the Pastorals are already some way along the trajectory of early catholicism.

(Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 2nd edition, 1990, 352)

For further related information, see:

The Biblical Evidence for Priests

Apostles Can Become Bishops (Apostolic Succession)

Bishops in the New Testament and the Early Church



And now back to White:

But, he does not show any knowledge of the biblical arguments in his presentation in this book (though any brief review of my debate with Mitch Pacwa on the subject of the priesthood would have provided him with a very useful outline).

And any brief review (and ultra-rare interaction) with the above papers would provide the good bishop with useful outlines for discussion as well. I provide my information for free.

I will demonstrate the circularity and failure of his arguments for the priesthood later. But in the majority of presentations, Rome’s position is assumed, not actually demonstrated. The circularity of Armstrong’s writings is plain for all to see. He falls into the category of apologists who believe that arguing for the possibility of Rome’s position is sufficient to establish her ultimate authority claims. But that kind of argumentation is only effective for those who already want to believe and are simply looking for a reason to continue to do so. It surely has no impact upon the one who continues to demand some kind of substantive response.

The One Minute Apologist illustrates the same problem I have documented in the majority of the rest of Rome’s apologists: they do not have any desire to interact with the strongest criticisms of their position, but, for some reason, are more than content to repeat the same worn out arguments that have been offered, and refuted, over and over again in the past. And when they represent the “objections,” they do not present the best, the strongest, but the most mundane, the least compelling, as normative for “the other side.”

For example, Armstrong does not even seem to be aware of fundamental and fatal objections to his favorite arguments. He repeatedly asserts that Jesus gave the keys to Peter alone. On page 34 we read, “Peter alone is given the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’–a symbol of stewardship and supervisory capacity over the house of God, or the Church.” A footnote is attached pointing us to Matthew 16:19: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” But there does not seem to be any recognition on his part of what I brought out over a decade ago in The Roman Catholic Controversy:

This statement is followed by the promise to, at some time in the future, give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter, so that what he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. I emphasize this is a promise, for the verb is future in tense.[1] Yet, when we see this authority given in Matthew 18:18, it is given not to Peter alone, or even primarily, but to all the apostles, and that using the exact same language,[2] regarding binding and loosing. If someone wishes to say that Peter receives the keys in distinction from the other apostles, as their superior, they are also forced to admit that the giving of these keys is never recorded for us anywhere in Scripture, a strange thing indeed for something supposedly so fundamental to the constitution of the Church.

[1] Greek: dw,sw, future of di,dwmi
[2] Note a comparison of the words of the Lord Jesus in Mathew 16:19 and 18:18. The only differences are due to the use of the singular in 16:19 and the plural in 18:18; the root words are identical:

Matthew 16:19: o] eva.n dh,sh|j evpi. th/j gh/j e;stai dedeme,non evn toi/j ouvranoi/j( kai. o] eva.n lu,sh|j evpi. th/j gh/j e;stai lelume,non evn toi/j ouvranoi/jÅ

Matthew 18:18: o[sa eva.n dh,shte evpi. th/j gh/j e;stai dedeme,na evn ouvranw/|( kai. o[sa eva.n lu,shte evpi. th/j gh/j e;stai lelume,na evn ouvranw/Å

So I took the time to scan Armstrong’s materials to see if he had addressed this issue elsewhere. I checked his The Catholic Verses and found that the discussion of the Papacy (55-61) is almost identical to what is found in this new book, but there is no recognition, or discussion, of the fact that you cannot cite Matthew 16:19 as indicative of Peter alone receiving the keys, and that despite the fact that my book is cited in the bibliography.

. . . So I would ask Armstrong: where in Scripture do we see the giving of the keys to Peter alone, as he claims? We all know this is the Roman claim. Outside of the self-serving interpretations of the bishops of Rome, upon what basis are we to accept this claim? And if Armstrong wishes to be taken seriously as an apologist, why does he not write in such a way as to indicate a growing, deepening knowledge of the critics of the position he espouses?

The first (rather obvious) response to this is what Paul Hoffer wrote on my blog:

[A]t Matt. 16:18, Jesus says to Peter that He “will” give Peter the keys of the kingdom. Is he trying to say that Jesus is not a person that keeps His word because the Scriptures don’t record the actual conveyance of keys later? If one reduces Mr. White’s argument to its logical conclusion, it would suggest that Jesus is not “the Man of His Word (pun intended).

I added:

Yes, I thought this was rather bizarre and striking also. What does it matter what tense the statement was? Obviously Peter was singled out for an extraordinary position and we can assume from common sense that Jesus intended for this to be during his earthly lifetime.

So who cares whether it was a reference to the future? The fact remains that only Peter was promised the “keys of the kingdom.” What God says will happen inevitably does happen. Another fallacy of White is to assume that “binding and loosing” represents the sum total of the responsibilities and prerogatives of the “keyholder.” This is untrue. It involves much more than that.

Plenty of Protestant commentators agree that Peter was significantly unique and held considerable individual powers in the Church.


His own criticism (as so often) rebounds upon his own head. If a Protestant doesn’t care about my opinions regarding the keys, let him consider these scholars (after my own introductory portion):

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . . (RSV)

Isaiah 22:20-22 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, . . . and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Revelation 3:7 [Christ describing Himself]:. . . the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.

The power of the “keys,” in the Hebrew mind, had to do with administrative authority and ecclesiastical discipline, and, in a broad sense, might be thought to encompass the use of excommunication, penitential decrees, a barring from the sacraments and lesser censures, and legislative and executive functions. Like the name Rock, this privilege was bestowed only upon St. Peter and no other disciple or Apostle. He was to become God’s “vice-regent,” so to speak. In the Old Testament, a steward was a man over a house (Genesis 43:19, 44:4, 1 Kings 4:6, 16:9, 18:3, 2 Kings 10:5 15:5 18:18, Isaiah 22:15). The steward was also called a “governor” in the Old Testament and has been described by commentators as a type of “prime minister.”

In the New Testament, the two words often translated as “steward” are oikonomos (Luke 16:2-3, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 4:10), and epitropos (Matthew 20:8, Galatians 4:2). Several Protestant commentaries and dictionaries take the position that Christ is clearly hearkening back to Isaiah 22:15-22 when He makes this pronouncement, and that it has something to do with delegated authority in the Church He is establishing (in the same context). He applies the same language to Himself in Revelation 3:7 (cf. Job 12:14), so that his commission to Peter may be interpreted as an assignment of powers to the recipient in His stead, as a sort of authoritative representative or ambassador.

The “opening” and “shutting” (in Isaiah 22:2) appear to refer to a jurisdictional power which no one but the king (in the ancient kingdom of Judah) could override. Literally, it refers to the prime minister’s prerogative to deny or allow entry to the palace, and access to the king. In Isaiah’s time, this office was over three hundred years old, and is thought to have been derived by Solomon from the Egyptian model of palace functionary, or the Pharaoh’s “vizier,” who was second in command after the Pharaoh. This was exactly the office granted to Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 41:40-44, 45:8).

One can confidently conclude, therefore, that when Old Testament usage and the culture of the hearers is closely examined, the phrase keys of the kingdom of heaven must have great significance (for Peter and for the papacy) indeed, all the more so since Christ granted this honor only to St. Peter.

* * *


In the . . . exercise of the power of the keys, in ecclesiastical discipline, the thought is of administrative authority (Is 22:22) with regard to the requirements of the household of faith. The use of censures, excommunication, and absolution is committed to the Church in every age, to be used under the guidance of the Spirit . . .

So Peter, in T. W. Manson’s words, is to be ‘God’s vicegerent . . . The authority of Peter is an authority to declare what is right and wrong for the Christian community. His decisions will be confirmed by God’ (The Sayings of Jesus, 1954, 205).

(New Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 1018)

In accordance with Matthew’s understanding of the kingdom of heaven (i.e., of God) as anywhere God reigns, the keys here represent authority in the Church.

(Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, rev. ed., 1975, 622)

In the Old Testament a steward is a man who is ‘over a house’ (Gen 43:19, 44:4; Is 22:15, etc). In the New Testament there are two words translated steward: ‘epitropos’ (Mt 20:8; Gal 4:2), i.e. one to whose care or honour one has been entrusted, a curator, a guardian; and ‘oikonomos’ (Lk 16:2-3; 1 Cor 4:1-2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 4:10), i.e. a manager, a superintendent — from ‘oikos’ (‘house’) and ‘nemo’ (‘to dispense’ or ‘to manage’). The word is used to describe the function of delegated responsibility.

(New Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 1216)

My interjection:

For further references to the office of the steward in Old Testament times, see 1 Kings 4:6; 16:9; 18:3; 2 Kings 10:5; 15:5; 18:18, where the phrases used are “over the house,” “steward,” or “governor.” In Isaiah 22:15, in the same passage to which our Lord apparently refers in Matt 16:19, Shebna, the soon-to-be deposed steward, is described in various translations as:

1) “Master of the palace” (Jerusalem Bible / New American Bible)
2) “In charge of the palace” (New International Version)
3) “Master of the household” (New Revised Standard Version)
4) “In charge of the royal household” (New American Standard Bible)
5) “Comptroller of the household”(Revised English Bible)
6) “Governor of the palace” (Moffatt)

Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord puts the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so does Jesus hand over to Peter the keys of the house of the kingdom of heaven and by the same stroke establishes him as his superintendent. There is a connection between the house of the Church, the construction of which has just been mentioned and of which Peter is the foundation, and the celestial house of which he receives the keys. The connection between these two images is the notion of God’s people.

(Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestle, 1952 French ed., 183-184)

In biblical and Judaic usage handing over the keys does not mean appointment as a porter but carries the thought of full authorization (cf. Mt. 13:52; Rev. 3:7) . . . The implication is that Jesus takes away this authority from the scribes and grants it to Peter.

(Joachim Jeremias, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, abridgement of Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1985, 440)

All these New Testament pictures and usages go back to a picture in Isaiah (Is 22:22) . . . Now the duty of Eliakim was to be the faithful steward of the house . . . So then what Jesus is saying to Peter is that in the days to come, he will be the steward of the Kingdom.

(William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, vol. 2, 144-145)

Isa 22:15 ff. undoubtedly lies behind this saying . . . The keys are the symbol of authority . . . the same authority as that vested in the vizier, the master of the house, the chamberlain, of the royal household in ancient Israel. Eliakim is described as having the same authority in Isaiah.

(William F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Anchor Bible: Matthew, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1971, 196)

And what about the “keys of the kingdom”? . . . About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim . . . (Isa. 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward.

(F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1983, 143-144)

White then veers off into subject matter unrelated to the book, from old papers of mine. He wants to discuss Jesus as high priest and the sacrifice of the Mass. But why should I bother with his reasoning now, seeing that I already made a lengthy reply on the same topic over three years ago that White (“surprise surprise surprise” — as Gomer Pyle would say) ignored: Comparative Exegesis of Hebrews 8 / Sacrifice of the Mass. If White will reply to that point-by-point, then I’ll spend valuable time dealing with his present objection.

I have replied to his criticism of my book, which was the purpose of this paper. All he could muster up was two objections: one on a pretty minor point that has now been clarified, and the other one virtually a non-argument, so silly and frivolous is it (as if the future tense makes any difference as to the essence of Jesus’ commission to St. Peter).

White’s additional; “no extra charge” argument is something different. Due to the rarity of such a momentous occasion (the great Bishop White deigning to consider any of my arguments at all, seeing what an utter ignoramus I am) I will reply to this.

The other reference to “future tense” was also interesting:

[ME, in an old paper] Then he goes on in 6:11 to teach that the way out of this is to be baptized (“washed”), justified, and sanctified (past tense, whereas Protestants believe it should be future tense only and – technically – not related to salvation at all). . . .First, note the easy assumption that “washed” is “baptized.”

Based on very extensive cross referencing [see section XI of this linked paper] . . .

Then, Armstrong shows how little he knows of the theology of those he critiques when he says that “sanctified” should be “future tense only and – technically – not related to salvation at all.” This is simply ludicrous. I suppose one might dig up a Hodges/Wilkinite who might come up with something as odd as that, but “Protestants” have been very clear on defining sanctification, recognizing its multiple uses in the NT, and its intimate connection to salvation. One truly has to wonder at Armstrong’s ability to claim to have read meaningful Protestant works of theology and yet remain so functionally illiterate in the subject.

Yes; then consider the following, that is posted on my site, and was compiled by 1994 for the original (later revised) longer edition of my book A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

A. Augustus Strong [Baptist theologian]

Sanctification is that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which the holy disposition imparted in regeneration is maintained and strengthened . . .

Regeneration is instantaneous, but sanctification takes time. The ‘developing’ of the photographer’s picture may illustrate God’s process of sanctifying the regenerate soul . . .

Salvation is something past, something present, and something future; a past fact, justification; a present process, sanctification; a future consummation, redemption and glory . . .

Sanctification is not a matter of course, which will go on whatever we do, or do not do. It requires a direct superintendence and surgery on the one hand, and, on the other hand a practical hatred of evil on our part that cooperates with the husbandry of God . . .

The Holy Spirit enables the Christian, through increasing faith, more fully and consciously to appropriate Christ, and thus progressively to make conquest of the remaining sinfulness of his nature . . .

The operation of God reveals itself in, and is accompanied by, intelligent and voluntary activity of the believer in the discovery and mortification of sinful desires, and in the bringing of the whole being into obedience to Christ and conformity to the standards of his word.

(Systematic Theology, Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1967 [orig. 1907], 869-871)

B. Charles Hodge [Presbyterian theologian]

Justification is a forensic act, God acting as judge, . . . whereas sanctification is an effect due to divine operation . . . Sanctification involves a change of character . . . Justification is complete and the same in all, while sanctification is progressive and is more complete in some than in others . . . . .

The cooperation of second causes is not excluded from the process of sanctification. When Christ opened the eyes of the blind, no second cause interposed between His volition and the effect. But men work out their own salvation, while God works in them to will and to do according to His own good pleasure. In the work of regeneration, the soul is passive. It cannot cooperate in the communication of spiritual life. But in conversion, repentance, faith, and growth in grace, all its powers are called into exercise. At the same time sanctification is supernatural or a work of grace, for the effects produced transcend the efficiency of our fallen nature and are due to the agency of the Spirit . . .

On the subject of the necessity of good works there has never been any real difference of opinion among Protestants. First, it is universally admitted that good works are not necessary to our justification; they are consequences and indirectly the fruits of justification and, therefore, cannot be its ground . . . It is agreed that it is only a living faith, i.e., a faith which works by love and purifies the heart, that unites the soul to Christ and secures our reconciliation with God . . . It is universally admitted that an immoral life is inconsistent with a state of grace, that those who willfully continue in the practice of sin shall not inherit the kingdom of God . . . For sanctification is inseparable from justification, and the one is just as essential as the other.

Although Protestants deny the merit of good works and teach that salvation is entirely gratuitous – . . . solely on the grounds of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ – they nevertheless teach that God does reward His people for their works . . . The Scriptures also teach that the happiness or blessedness which believers will experience in a future life will be greater or less in proportion to their devotion to the service of Christ in this life.”

(Systematic Theology, abridged one-volume edition by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988 [orig. 1873, 3 vols.], 464-465, 471-472)


“Future tense only” was a poor choice of words (no writer who ever lived has ever used only the best words at all times, that would be perfectly understood, so this is a yawner). What would more accurately convey my meaning and understanding of Protestant theology would be “present and future, as opposed to past tense, as in justification.” Speaking of sanctification in the past tense is foreign to Protestant theology, as these citations show (yet 1 Corinthians 6:11 puts it in the past tense). Justification is the past event. Hence, Charles Hodge:

Justification is an instantaneous act and not, like sanctification, a continued and progressive work. (Ibid., 458)


Note that I stated that sanctification was “technically – not related to salvation at all”. This is standard Protestant soteriology. Anyone who knows that theology would know exactly what I mean here (it’s not a poor choice of words this time). But White, in his ongoing effort to “prove” that I am a clueless imbecile in biblical and Protestant theology (and Catholic, too, I imagine he probably thinks), uses a clever technique of sophistry by implying that by saying it is not “technically” (i.e., abstractly) related to salvation in Protestant thought is the equivalent of asserting that it has no relation (in practical terms) or “intimate connection” to justification and salvation at all.

I do not assert the latter. I’ve written many many times about how Protestantism — at least the better forms of it — stresses a close identification of faith and works, though technically separating sanctification from justification and salvation proper, in a way that Catholicism does not. As one example of many such statements in my writing, take, for example, my paper, Martin Luther’s Doctrine Concerning Good Works: Have I Misrepresented It? I wrote:

“Luther thought that works were not technically part of justification by faith alone, which is what saves a person.”

Or another way to rephrase it, following my original words more closely, would be:

“It is not necessary for true saving faith to manifest good works in order to be what it is (because it does not depend on works, but on faith alone).”

This is Luther’s teaching. I did not (and do not) deny that he urges Christians to do good works. I was referring, rather, to the Lutheran distinction between justification and sanctification. Works are not (strictly speaking) necessary in the former category in Lutheran thought, but they ought to inevitably flow from the latter (as also in Reformed theology and thinking).

. . . Luther thinks a man is justified by faith alone. Therefore, by definition, works are not involved in that. But they are involved in the Christian life, as Luther most assuredly taught.

And from A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

Although classic “Reformational” Protestantism most certainly doesn’t deny the importance of good works in the Christian life, it regards them as manifestations or results of the necessary imputed justification, rather than as necessities in their own right. (pp. 28-29)


To back up my statement, I cited no less than four important Protestant sources, in footnote 32 on page 29 (and this material was researched prior to 1994; possibly as far back as 1991):

Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, 869-871; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 464-465, 471-472; Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, ch. 16, sec. 1-4; Augsburg Confession (Lutheran, 1530), section 20.

I’ve cited Hodge and Strong already, so why don’t we hear from James White’s hero, John Calvin. Was I a stupid simpleton when I cited this portion of his work as the basis for how I understood the Protestant doctrines of justification and sanctification? Well, let’s look at what he writes there (bolding added):


1. Our last sentence may refute the impudent calumny of certain ungodly men, who charge us, first, with destroying good works and leading men away from the study of them, when we say, that men are not justified, and do not merit salvation by works; and, secondly, with making the means of justification too easy, when we say that it consists in the free remission of sins, and thus alluring men to sin to which they are already too much inclined.. . . This faith, however, you cannot apprehend without at the same time apprehending sanctification; for Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ, therefore, justifies no man without also sanctifying him. These blessings are conjoined by a perpetual and inseparable tie. Those whom he enlightens by his wisdom he redeems; whom he redeems he justifies; whom he justifies he sanctifies. But as the question relates only to justification and sanctification, to them let us confine ourselves. Though we distinguish between them, they are both inseparably comprehended in Christ.

Now, when I make a statement that sanctification in Protestant thought is “technically – not related to salvation at all” I am referring to exactly what Calvin expresses in the bolded sections. In so doing, however, I do not in the least deny the other sections where he holds them closely together. It’s two different thoughts: apples and oranges. And this is proven in my citation of this very portion from Calvin in my first book.

Likewise, the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord makes a succinct statement of the Lutheran theology of sanctification in its section, “The Righteousness of Faith”:

28] In like manner also renewal and sanctification, although it is also a benefit of the Mediator, Christ, and a work of the Holy Ghost, does not belong in the article or affair of justification before God, but follows the same since, on account of our corrupt flesh, it is not entirely perfect and complete in this life, as Dr. Luther writes well concerning this in his beautiful and large exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians, . . .

29] We concede indeed that instruction should be given also concerning love and good works, yet in such a way that this be done when and where it is necessary, namely, when otherwise and outside of this matter of justification we have to do with works. But here the chief matter dealt with is the question, not whether we should also do good works and exercise love, but by what means we can be justified before God, and saved. And here we answer thus with St. Paul: that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and not by the deeds of the Law or by love. Not that we hereby entirely reject works and love, as the adversaries falsely slander and accuse us, but that we do not allow ourselves to be led away, as Satan desires, from the chief matter with which we have to do here to another and foreign affair which does not at all belong to this matter. Therefore, whereas, and as long as we are occupied with this article of justification, we reject and condemn works, since this article is so constituted that it can admit of no disputation or treatment whatever regarding works; therefore in this matter we cut short all Law and works of the Law. So far Luther.

[ . . . ]

39] 3. That neither renewal, sanctification, virtues nor good works are tamquam forma aut pars aut causa iustificationis, that is, our righteousness before God, nor are they to be constituted and set up as a part or cause of our righteousness, or otherwise under any pretext, title, or name whatever to be mingled in the article of justification as necessary and belonging thereto; but that the righteousness of faith consists alone in the forgiveness of sins out of pure grace, for the sake of Christ’s merit alone; which blessings are offered us in the promise of the Gospel, and are received, accepted, applied, and appropriated by faith alone.

40] In the same manner the order also between faith and good works must abide and be maintained, and likewise between justification and renewal, or sanctification.

41] For good works do not precede faith, neither does sanctification precede justification. But first faith is kindled in us in conversion by the Holy Ghost from the hearing of the Gospel. This lays hold of God’s grace in Christ, by which the person is justified. Then, when the person is justified, he is also renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, from which renewal and sanctification the fruits of good works then follow. . . . This should not be understood as though justification and renewal were sundered from one another in such a manner that a genuine faith sometimes could exist and continue for a time together with a wicked intention, but hereby only the order [of causes and effects, of antecedents and consequents] is indicated, how one precedes or succeeds the other. For what Luther has correctly said remains true nevertheless: Faith and good works well agree and fit together [are inseparably connected]; but it is faith alone, without works, which lays hold of the blessing; and yet it is never and at no time alone. This has been set forth above.

Lastly, Protestant historian Alister McGrath gives a clear summary of he difference between justification and sanctification in Protestant thought:

Whereas Augustine taught that the sinner is made righteous in justification, Melanchthon taught that he is counted as righteous or pronounced to be righteous. For Augustine, ‘justifying righteousness’ is imparted; for Melanchthon, it is imputed in the sense of being declared or pronounced to be righteous. Melanchthon drew a sharp distinction between the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous, designating the former ‘justification’ and the latter ‘sanctification’ or ‘regeneration.’ For Augustine, these were simply different aspects of the same thing . . .

(Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1993, 108)

But the illustrious Bishop White, assuming as always that I don’t know what I am talking about, and was never a true Protestant to begin with (a charge that he stated in our very first exchange by snail mail in 1995) always makes the judgment of cynicism, as if I am over my head and don’t have a clue. I submit that when all the facts are in, White simply appears petty and small. I know my stuff. I know my opponents’ views. And I can prove that I know it, and knew it years ago, and when I was a Protestant as well.

White, on the other hand, shows himself frequently in the dark concerning various Catholic doctrines, and when corrected by someone who knows more than he does about the topic, he simply ignores it, goes blithely on his merry way, only to repeat the same error in the future.

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