Last night I sat in a Starbucks here in Portland talking with one of my best friends about the Synoptic Problem, the unique perspective of the Gospels, and the person of Jesus. We marveled together how the differences found in the Gospels show us a Jesus who was so amazing and complex that one perspective would not suffice. As brothers who have been adopted into the family of God by the Holy Spirit we share the confession that Jesus has been made both Lord and Christ.
My friend is JohnDave Medina who is Roman Catholic. I consider myself to be an evangelical. While we have differing views on everything from Ecclesiology to Mariology to the Eucharist this doesn’t prevent fellowship in Christ. I have no doubt that JohnDave is a Christian and he has no doubt that I am a Christian. Neither of us are skeptical about the other’s standing before God in Christ.
So when I read “Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel” by Matthew Barrett I couldn’t take him seriously. He celebrates the Reformation and the work of Martin Luther. That is fine and dandy. Luther did some good things and I think I would have reacted similar to how he did if I would have seen the injustices that he saw. What concerned me is that Barrett and many, many others have not updated their calendar to 2011.
That one is a Roman Catholic is not grounds for automatic dismissal, yet Barrett writes:
“Others argue that evangelicals and Catholics, while remaining distinct, can now join together in light of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Joint Declaration on Justification. Many believe the rift between Protestants and Catholics has been at least substantially resolved. Hence Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s book, Is the Reformation Over?. (See Scott M. Mantesch, “Is the Reformation Over? John Calvin, Roman Catholicism, and Contemporary Ecumenical Conversations” Themelios, August 2011.)
“But as Michael Horton has recently argued (and R. C. Sproul before him), the Reformation is far from over. “There has been no material change in the Roman Catholic position on the issues that led to the excommunication of the Reformers. Even the Joint Declaration overcame the central doctrine of controversy only by embracing a Roman Catholic definition of justification as forgiveness and actual transformation (i.e., sanctification).” Rome continues to reject the evangelical affirmation of justification by grace alone through faith alone. I agree with Horton when he states that it is not about Luther, it is about the gospel.”
Apparently he does not like the idea of Protestants and Catholics seeking common ground in Christ. Apparently our understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith supersedes what happens when one is justified by faith (and please, please do not use rhetoric that assumes all Roman Catholics are legalist who think they save themselves because this is false).
The doctrine of justification by faith is a secondary argument used by the Apostle Paul most explicitly in his Epistles to Rome and Galatia defending the unity of Jews and Gentiles because both have faith in Christ and therefore both have been filled with the adopting Spirit of God who guarantees resurrection life in the age to come. What Paul fought was exclusion from the body of Christ based on claims that one had to become a Jew by means of circumcision, purity laws, and the like. For any Protestant to say justification by faith is not a possibility for people who have faith in Christ but who have different views of how the sacraments function or the unity of the church seems to me to not understand Paul. Likewise, I say the same of any Roman Catholic (I can swallow Vatican II language that we Protestants are some sort of outside circle, even though I disagree, strongly).
Jesus prayed that we would be one, not that we would understand the doctrine of justification by faith. If our understanding of the doctrine doesn’t lead to us seeking unity then is there any sense in which we understand it? Can we say we understand Paul?
But this is all secondary because Barrett betrays a misunderstanding of the Gospel. He conflates justification by faith with the Gospel. It may have been the Gospel of the Reformation, but it is merely a subcategory or consequence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not going to trek over ground that has been covered again and again by those who have emphasized that the Gospel is the proclamation that the Kingdom of God has been established in Jesus Christ. If Roman Catholic bow before Christ they have responded to the Gospel. If Protestants bow before Christ they have responded to the Gospel. I will let the King sort the goats from the sheep.
If a Roman Catholic dismisses me then there is nothing I can do about that. I see them as siblings in Christ none-the-less. Obviously, I disagree with them on many, many things, but we share Christ and that is what matters to the Father and what brings the Spirit into our hearts.
So no, to abandon reformation as Barrett understands it is not to abandon the Gospel. To disagree on some aspects of justification by faith is not to abandon the Gospel. To abandon the Gospel of the Kingdom in Christ is to abandon the Gospel.
So JohnDave, I’ll see you next week, and we’ll celebrate a result of believing the Gospel–fellowship as children of God the Father, adopted brothers with Christ, those who have been given the same Holy Spirit.