Response to “Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?” by Mark Hausam


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read and comment on your blog post, “Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?” Your post is thoughtful and engaging as is usual from you. At the risk of being overly succint, I offer a response in the form of the following points:

1. You mix sanctification and justification. It is vital that they be understood distictly, otherwise no ground is left for assurance of salvation, for “in much we offend all”, even as regenerate Christians. A justification in part based on our own righteous works, (albeit works the Holy Spirit is producing in us) is but a house built upon sand, because we are still sinners.

2. Our good works cannot be the forensic and juridicial basis for our right standing before God, and our full acquittal for having broken his holy law, because they are still quite tainted by sin. By that standard, we would perish, even by the works that the grace of God produces in us. It is not enough to obey somewhat in sin-tainted works. The law requires perfect obedience, not partial obedience.

3. Even if Christian perfection were something that could be attained in this life, as Wesley and some others have (erroneously) taught, this would be entirely insufficient as a basis for a standing of righteousness before God’s law-court.  Once one has offended, one doesn’t make up for it by doing good works–even sinless good works.  One offense is sufficient to bring condemnation.  Furthermore the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity imputes sin and its guilt to them, and this is alone sufficient to prevent anyone from being justified by the most sinless, perfect good works (if it were possible for us to do such works.)

4. God promises in Scripture to reward the good works of the saints, not because of some instrinsic worth in them inducing him to be pleased with them, for in every good work we yet have the taint of sin, which is naturally a stink to his nostrils. He has promised to reward them not of merit, but of grace, through the Mediatorial intercession of Jesus Christ, forgiving even the iniquity of our good works and accepting them for the sake of Christ’s own righteousness.

5. It may still be possible for a loyal Roman Catholic to hold to a monergistic soteriology as did the Jansenists, Augustinians and Dominican friars, but this is questionable since the Council of Trent, which adopted a Jesuitical semi-pelagian view that seemed to the then pope to contrast better with the Protestant Reformers.  But this is not justification.

6. In answer to your question, as you demonstrate in your post, the Roman Catholic view is justification, not by faith alone, but by faith, hope, and love.

7. An imputed alien righteousness is no more a “legal” fiction than citizenship status conferred to an adopted child, recognized by courts of law.  What is external is made internal in time, by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.  Justification is a declaratory and forensic declaration of righteousness by imputation.

8. While it’s true that “without holiness shall no man see the Lord”, this is not a part and parcel of justification, but its fruit. It’s not that the justified sinner lacks any legal or forensic right to be accepted in God’s presence–it’s just a matter of practical fitness, since God is holy, and there can be no sin in his presence. Furthermore, it is the goal of his grace to make us holy, so that we will on that day be fit to dwell in his presence. Eph 1:4

9. I recommend that you and others studying justification read carefully the OPC Report on Justification, which makes important distinctions in these topics we’re discussing in response to some new and romanizing teachings on justification in Reformed circles, namely the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul:

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What is Reformed Theology?

66719If, as William Ames put it, theology is the “science of living blessedly forever”, Reformed Theology is its most self-consistent and biblical expression. Forged in the ancient struggles of the church fathers against pernicious heresies, formed in the 16th century struggle to rescue the true Church from her Babylonian captivity, and bathed in the blood of the martyrs, it consists of a series of doctrinal loci (derived entirely from the sixty-six books of Scripture,) and their logical interrelation. It fits together as a seamless system, but no one particular doctrine overshadows the rest; the whole counsel of God in Scripture is summarized and systematized without any artificial construct or over-emphasis of one over the other. The starting point for theology is God Himself, and His self-revelation both general and special. From there His decrees are understood, and His means of carrying them out (in Creation and Providence.) From there we understand Man, the Covenants, the Fall, and Christ the Mediator. These loci are more or less expressed commonly by all the major Reformed theologians who wrote systematic theologies from Calvin to Turretin, Dabney and Hodge. They are furthermore clearly expressed in the Reformed confessions, as sources of instruction but also protection for the Church, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, the French Confession of Faith, the Scots’ Confession, the Heidelberg catechism, etc. Reformed theology has been tested and tried, and has corrected much false teaching in Church history. It must continue to be refined, but must never alter or remove those landmarks that have been established based upon careful reflection on the Holy Scriptures. Reformed theology is Christianity come to its own, its fullest and most consistent expression. It magnifies the grace of God over the pride of man, humbles the sinner, and comforts the penitent. It is powerful medicine to cure the spiritual condition of everyday people that we meet. It is motivation and an effective tool for evangelism. It is a powerful method of discipleship. It is what every true Christian would like to know and believe, even if they do not know it yet.

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A Fervent Prayer for Help in Keeping God’s Commandments–Psalm 119 Devotional (Tau)

ת Tau

169 Let my cry come before You, O LORD;
Give me understanding according to Your word.
170 Let my supplication come before You;
Deliver me according to Your word.
171 My lips shall utter praise,
For You teach me Your statutes.
172 My tongue shall speak of Your word,
For all Your commandments are righteousness.
173 Let Your hand become my help,
For I have chosen Your precepts.
174 I long for Your salvation, O LORD,
And Your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise You;
And let Your judgments help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
Seek Your servant,
For I do not forget Your commandments.  Psalm 119 nkj

The psalmist cries to the LORD for help, but in what?  He asks God to teach him His statutes.  There is a teaching through the ear.  When we hear the word of God, like when it is preached, we are being taught.  Likewise also when we read it.  But there is an inner teaching of the Holy Spirit as well, that all those who are born again (from above) enjoy.  We notice 5 things mentioned by the Psalmist:

  1. He has sinned against God terribly and possibly often. (v176a)
  2. He remembers God’s commandments. (v176b)
  3. Despite his sin, he desires to follow the law of God and delight in it. (v174, This is a characteristic of those who are born again of the Holy Spirit.)
  4. He prays a fervent prayer for the inner teaching of the Holy Spirit to make him to understand and keep the law of God–to go and do good instead of sin, obedience instead of rebellion. (v169, 170)
  5. He praises God for the answer to prayer, when he is enabled to keep His commandments.(v175)

Let us follow the example of the psalmist.  We are sinners.  If you can relate to the confession, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep,” you’re like every other Christian.  If we hear, read, and delight in God’s law, as all those who are born from above will do, then let us pray fervently to ask God to give us understanding to keep it: His statutes and commandments, and to give us victory over sin in our life.  And praise Him for the gift of repentance that He gives in answer to prayer.

This brings us to the end of Psalm 119.  If you’ve been blessed by these posts, send me a message and let me know, as I consider whether to continue with other Psalms.  You might also consider subscribing to this blog by entering your email address in the widget on the right side of this page to receive new posts directly.

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The Word of God is our Peace and Treasure–Psalm 119 devotional (Shin)

שׁ Shin

161 Princes persecute me without a cause,
But my heart stands in awe of Your word.
162 I rejoice at Your word
As one who finds great treasure.
163 I hate and abhor lying,
But I love Your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise You,
Because of Your righteous judgments.
165 Great peace have those who love Your law,
And nothing causes them to stumble.
166 Lord, I hope for Your salvation,
And I do Your commandments.
167 My soul keeps Your testimonies,
And I love them exceedingly.
168 I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies,
For all my ways are before You. Psalm 119 nkj

The word of the Lord is such a blessed thing for Christians, that we have “great peace” because of its commandments and promises, no matter what else life brings, even if the rich and powerful come after us for no reason.  The word of God is worthy of perfect praise.  Seven is the number of perfection in Scripture.  Those who have it have found a great treasure or “spoil” (KJV).  Far more than the loot or booty that the world may offer those who seek after it, the word of the Lord brings security and satisfaction to those who trust in Him as He has spoken in it.  We are blessed as Christians in America to have a glut of Bibles printed–and not only do we have Bibles, there are still faithful churches to be found, much more than in most other parts of the world, where the Bible is faithfully preached for our learning and understanding.  Meditate on God’s word, thank God for it, treasure it, and be at peace today and everyday.

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The Baptism of Pocahontas, courtesy of @visitthecapitol and Speaker John Boehner

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The Word of God is Truth–Psalm 119 devotional (Resh)

ר Resh

153 Consider my affliction and deliver me,
For I do not forget Your law.
154 Plead my cause and redeem me;
Revive me according to Your word.
155 Salvation is far from the wicked,
For they do not seek Your statutes.
156 Great are Your tender mercies, O Lord;
Revive me according to Your judgments.
157 Many are my persecutors and my enemies,
Yet I do not turn from Your testimonies.
158 I see the treacherous, and am disgusted,
Because they do not keep Your word.
159 Consider how I love Your precepts;
Revive me, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness.
160 The entirety of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. Psalm 119 nkj

Every word of God is truth.  Though the world does not believe this, it is a truth that one day every tongue will acknowledge.  The world hates believers because it hates God, and in fact it has a hard time getting along with anyone in general, even unbelievers.  The wicked heart of man creates strife and conflict in this world.  In the meantime, Christian, in the midst of this unbelieving world, where treacherous enemies and persecutors are many, stick to the word of God.  Read it.  Hear it.  Meditate on it.  Read it together with others.  This word is your source of strength in a topsy-turvy world.  Those who trust in it, because of the Lord who gave it, will have inner life and peace no matter what the world brings.  It is a characteristic of those who are on the way of life, on their way to heaven, that they love the word of God.  The Holy Bible in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments is our only sure guide that God has given for us to know him and serve him in this life.  Know it, believe it, obey it, and rejoice in it.  He will deliver all of those who trust in His word.

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A Desperate and Manly Cry for Help Brings Deliverance–Psalm 119 devotional (Qoph)

ק Qoph

145 I cry out with my whole heart;
Hear me, O Lord!
I will keep Your statutes.
146 I cry out to You;
Save me, and I will keep Your testimonies.
147 I rise before the dawning of the morning,
And cry for help;
I hope in Your word.
148 My eyes are awake through the night watches,
That I may meditate on Your word.
149 Hear my voice according to Your lovingkindness;
O Lord, revive me according to Your justice.
150 They draw near who follow after wickedness;
They are far from Your law.
151 You are near, O Lord,
And all Your commandments are truth.
152 Concerning Your testimonies,
I have known of old that You have founded them forever. Psalm 119 nkj

The Christian life is one of a struggle against the sinful flesh.  Even as redeemed children of God, trusting in His Son Jesus Christ for salvation, we commit sins daily, and these sins bring consequences.  God acts as a loving father to discipline his wayward children, and often it’s the cruel mercies of the wicked that come against us when we have failed to walk in obedience.  But the psalmist’s manly and desperate cry for help to God is our expression hope in Him for deliverance in these trials in life.  We cannot hope for deliverance from the cruelties of this world, or for victory over the sin that reigns in our bodies, unless we genuinely cry out to God for it.  Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6

Be like the psalmist, and cry out for help against sin reigning in your life today and everyday.  And go in faith that God will answer your desperate prayer.

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The Tender Mercies of the Wicked are Cruel, but the Lord’s Mercy is Good–Psalm 119 Devotional (Ayin)

ע Ayin

121 I have done justice and righteousness;
Do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Be surety for Your servant for good;
Do not let the proud oppress me.
123 My eyes fail from seeking Your salvation
And Your righteous word.
124 Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy,
And teach me Your statutes.
125 I am Your servant;
Give me understanding,
That I may know Your testimonies.
126 It is time for You to act, O Lord,
For they have regarded Your law as void.
127 Therefore I love Your commandments
More than gold, yes, than fine gold!
128 Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things
I consider to be right;
I hate every false way. Psalm 119, nkj

The Lord is good.  His mercy can be relied upon, but “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” Proverbs 12:10  The world oppresses and marginalizes, especially Christians that it sees as different and other.  In the midst of cruelty and oppression, the psalmist cries out to the Lord, where he knows he will find refuge.  Are you turning to the Lord with Life’s problems and hardships, or to something or someone else?  His hope is that the Lord will right all wrongs, especially violations of His law.  It is up to God to punish and not to us.  Leave that to Him.

The greatest blessing that the Lord gives to His people, is that He writes his law upon their hearts, His statutes and commandments.  Trouble in life is often caused by our own sin.  God’s grace teaches us to obey him more faithfully, so that we do not repeat the same sins that got us into trouble.  It is a grace from God.  Starting your day, pray and ask God to teach you His statutes, and go trusting that he will answer your prayer.





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On Women in the Office of Deacon

protesting-suffragettes-early-1900s1The following is an excerpt from a paper presented to the Candidates and Credentials Committee of the  Midwest Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) on October 27, 2014:

Deacons are officers in the church set apart by ordination to lead and manage the church’s ministries of love and material provision, and to exhort and stir up the congregation to love one another in practical ways. They have the same spiritual qualifications as elders.  They were first ordained as recorded in Acts 6:6, after a controversy had arisen from the Greek-speaking Christians in the Church at Jerusalem, who contended that their widows were neglected while the Aramaic-speaking widows were not.  It is notable that the seven first deacons, apart from being male, appear to also have Greek names.  The context indicates that they were to perform a portion of the same duties that the apostles were fulfilling, (yet perhaps providing for the Greek-speaking widows, with the apostles continuing to serve the Aramaic-speaking widows.)  (Examples of deacons preaching authoritatively, as Stephen in Acts 6:10 and Philip in Acts 8:4-6, also warrant further investigation.)  If we are to follow this original institution and apply it to the Church today, deacons are assistants to the spiritual leadership of the Church, helpers to the session in the context of a local church, performing functions that the session would otherwise do themselves if there were no deacons.  If elders must be male, then it follows logically that those office-bearers who assist them by performing some of the same duties that they themselves would perform as elders, it follows that deacons must also be male.  If it is not proper for elders to delegate these duties at all unless their particular assistants aka. deacons are available, and if they must otherwise perform the duties themselves as elders, then this same headship qualification of being a male must apply to deacons as it does for elders.

1 Tim 3:11-12 “11 γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως σεμνάς, μὴ διαβόλους, νηφαλίους, πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν. 12 διάκονοι ἔστωσαν μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρες, τέκνων καλῶς προϊστάμενοι καὶ τῶν ἰδίων οἴκων·”

The late Rev. Christian Adjemian took “γυναῖκας” in 1 Tim 3:11-12 as a reference to women deacons, arguing that it would make more sense that verse 11 would follow verse 12 instead of preceding it, if the reference were to the wives of deacons. He argues that it is unnatural to take “γυναῖκας” in verse 11 as “wives.”  I do not agree.  In the literary form of a letter, of which 1 Timothy is an exemplar, the structure is more extemporaneous and conversational than would be the case in a work that was edited and went through several redactions and revisions.  It seems quite natural that after referencing bishops or overseers earlier in the chapter, where the wives of the same are not given specific qualifications, but referenced in that the bishops are to be “husbands of one wife” and govern their families well, the wives of deacons would now also come to mind.  (The qualifications given for deacons’ wives are not specifically applied to bishops’ wives, but this should be inferred as an implication by good and necessary consequence from the chapter, i. e. that the same qualifications hold for the wives of the bishops.)  Now, having mentioned and given qualifications for the wives of deacons, the thoughts of the apostle writing this letter would naturally light upon the marriage and family life of the deacons with their wives.  There is nothing unnatural about this flow of consciousness.  It must be noted that a pastoral epistle is not written in the most precisely logical order possible, as if it were a doctoral thesis or a work of systematic theology.  It is a letter.

Dr. Leonard Coppes, in his book, “Who Will Lead Us”, notes that “γυναῖκας” in 1Tim3:11 is found in parallel contrast to “Διακόνους” in verse 8, suggesting that here a different group separate from the deacons is in view (p. 137.) This suggests the correct understanding is that it either refers to the wives of the deacons, or some other group of women who were not a part of the diaconate mentioned in verse 8.  Probably the former interpretation is likely, since this passage does not mention any other group of individuals in the church other than bishops, deacons, and the wives of both, (although Coppes prefers to understand them as an unordained class of women in the church who may have been used to tend widows and women who were ill.)  As noted by B. B. Warfield [(The Presbyterian Review, 10.38, pp. 283, 284.)] and others, Romans 16:1 and its reference to Phoebe is not a conclusive basis on which to build a definition of a distinct office in the Church, given the range of meaning of the term “διάκονον” variously rendered as deacon, minister, servant, etc.

The qualifications given for deacon in 1 Timothy 8:10 are the identical spiritual qualifications given for bishop in 8:2-7. If elders must be male, it follows that deacons must be male.  It is notable that the RPCNA itself did not ordain women deacons until the 1880s, a turbulent time when the early feminist movement was pushing for equal rights for women in many spheres of life, and that around the same time a measure to bring deaconesses into the [Presbyterian Church (USA)] was defeated, as noted by Rev. Brian Schwertley (“A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons”, p. 1).  This timeline suggests that perhaps the impulse to bring women deacons into the RPCNA was more political than exegetical.  It should also be noted that although now and then in church history an office of “widow” or “deaconess” arises, at no time in history, not in the early church, or any other age until the nineteenth century, were women admitted to an identical office with that of the deacon to rule with them over the administration of mercy ministry as members of the diaconate.  At least, in none of the sources that this author has examined, including those provided [by the committee], no such argument has been made.  All the various historical sources concur on this point.  The offices of the church are appointed by Christ the head for the good of the body (Ephesians 4:11-12), and based on the regulative principle, the church has no more right to innovate in the offices of the church than it does in the polity (presbyterial) or worship commanded in Scripture.

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How the West Was Lost, by the Presbyterians


The smallness of the Reformed/Presbyterian community of churches in comparison to the larger evangelical American context is largely a consequence of a failure to plant and maintain churches among those Scot-Irish Presbyterians who settled in the Appalachian mountain chain and kept heading west from there.  It’s no secret that the Presbyterians lagged far behind the Baptists and Methodists, not to mention new groups like the Cambellites, in planting churches where people had settled in the west. They saw the problem, and tried to remedy it by forming a Plan of Union with their Congregationalist cousins to the north for planting churches in the West.  It didn’t work.  Perhaps nothing more could be done.

It’s just that the Presbyterian/Congregationalist emphasis on an educated ministry slowed the rate of growth on the frontier based on the number of licentiates that were available.  Meanwhile the Baptists and Methodists would find a young man with gifts, give him a Bible, two or three more books, and send him on a horse off to preach wherever he found people who would listen.  Who could compete with that speed and agility and maintain doctrinal integrity?

If you trace the areas where the Scot-Irish and their descendants (who were almost all Presbyterian in the beginning) settled first in America, and shaped the culture that newcomers would find and assimilate into, it extends from western Pennsylvania down to the western Carolinas, and west from there through southern Ohio, south Indiana, sKentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, South Kansas, and the North Texas Hill Country. Not to mention that these people were dominant in the initial settlements all over the far west extending to eastern Oregon. Now imagine if the dominant Christian churches over this vast region were Presbyterian.

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