Is the Protest (Ant Reformation) Over?

Ken Copeland, Rick Warren, Beth Moore, and Many Lingering Evangelicals Apparently Think So!

By Orrel Steinkamp
The Plumbline, Volume 21, No. 1, Mar/Apr 2016
Used by Permission

David F. Wells wrote an insightful book in 2008 entitled "The Courage to be a Protestant." What was true in 2008 is many more times true today. Beginning with Chuck Colson's effort called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," Evangelical protestants began a journey of defacto recognition and unity with Rome which has greatly intensified in recent years. Regrettably, because of the work of Colson and Catholic convert John Nauhaus any organized attempt to evangelize Catholics has essentially disappeared except for a few diehards. Most evangelicals consider committed Catholics as simply a different version of fellow believers. The ECT document did maintain that there were still lingering disagreements. Among the disagreements are such things as Marian worship, indulgences, intercession of Roman saints, purgatory, etc.

But still many seem to see Catholics as just another denomination ….This is all happening in a post-modern culture that is somehow driving many evangelical leaders to strive for ecumenism at all levels. Precisely what is driving this ecumenical frenzy is hard to know but it is very palpable. The most unlikely celebrity evangelical leaders are full on to overcome any barriers to "unite or die" despite huge doctrinal differences with Rome. It appears there is something in the water causing those evangelical leaders to unite and crossbreed openly. Oh! It's been around for a while but is now endemic. Perhaps it is because we do not bother to understand the actual Catholic teaching of salvation. Many are thrown off by the Catholic insistence that their sacramental salvation is claimed to be initiated by God's infused grace. Nevertheless, grace cannot be initiated by sacramental action and sacramental grace has no shelf life whatsoever. Sacraments need to be repeated.

Years ago, Billy Graham disappointed many conservatives by allowing responders to the Gospel who had a Catholic background to be counseled and given over to the Catholic Church at his rallies. Now Franklin Graham has invited Catholic prelates to publicly open his rallies in prayer. This was and is a powerful ecumenical display. Indeed, if what seems to divide us is simply cosmetic like prayer beads and crucifixes and crossing ourselves, there is no real issue. But we believe there are more than cosmetic differences. In fact, it is the biblical Gospel that divides us. It was the Gospel itself that was artfully papered over at ECT which dismissed the doctrinally significant word "alone" with regard to justification by faith. We simply cannot ignore the basic issue of the Gospel. Namely, what has God fully accomplished once for all in his atoning death that effectively saves sinners, regenerates them, and gives them the Holy Spirit providing them lasting peace and assurance of salvation.

Catholic teaching on justification (being right with God) regrettably has a limited time frame. One can only feel to be right with God (justified) temporarily. The central teaching of the church is the Mass. This Catholic Church invention teaches that a priest can, as it were, call down from heaven Jesus to be changed into a communion wafer (transubstantiation). Then Jesus can be re-sacrificed on the Catholic altar in a non-bloody sacrifice for sins. The Catholic faithful then eat that sacrifice of the wafer and drink the wine in their version of communion.

But the Scriptures not only state Jesus died once for sin (Hebrews 9:26) but his death was also sufficient to take away our sin, in one sacrifice, once for all at Calvary. There is no such thing as repetitive justification. Conversely, Catholics believe they must be sacramentally justified repeatedly in each mass until the next repeated sacrifice of Jesus at another mass.

The Catholic says that the only way a sinner can be saved is having the sacrifice of Jesus poured into them by sacramental action and then for a short period of time they may feel inwardly righteous, even if it doesn't last until they return home. They say that the grace of Jesus' death given sacramentally is actually repeatedly put into their soul. But their only hope is that they will gradually grow more righteous for a longer period of time. This sacramental righteousness never is finally theirs. The Scripture and the Reformers contested this so-called on again/off again righteousness via the re-sacrificing of Jesus in the mass. The Reformers called for the work of Jesus as one completed sacrifice which occurred once and was sufficient to bring God's acceptance once and for all time. There is no longer any need to suffer after death in a mythical place called purgatory to finish purging away any still remaining unrighteousness by masses of Catholic faithful on the earth. The difference regarding Jesus' sacrifice could not be starker. There is no finality of peace in the Catholic teaching of salvation. But to the Lord be thanks, the Reformation recovered the biblical gospel in Jesus only and once for all sufficient death at Calvary. In that one sacrifice, not only were our sins purged once for all time, but the actual righteousness of Christ was imputed to believers. We are counted righteous before God (His righteousness put to our account) rather than a supposed on-going sacramental righteousness that never lasts.

How did the Sacrificial Death of Jesus Provide Sinners a Once For All Gift of Righteousness?

The biblical teaching that was recovered in the Reformation is that Christ's righteousness and sinless life was "imputed" to the believer at conversion and regeneration. The pity is that the biblical word "imputation" is virtually unknown or not understood by 99% of evangelicals today. Indeed it is a biblical word (Romans 4:1-6; 2 Cor. 5:21). The basic meaning of impute means to "count" or to reckon something that is declared to be transferred to another. In biblical teaching, the sinless righteousness of Jesus' life is applied or transferred to the record of a repentant believer. Consequently, in God's sight Jesus' perfect sacrifice and life of obedience to God's law was credited (a bookkeeping term) to the sinner at the time of regeneration/conversion. The bible calls this the "gift of righteousness" (Romans 5:17). This gift of Jesus' righteousness, however, is not something engrafted into us internally. Nor is it something that happens within us. Rather it is a new legal heavenly status we can rejoice in because it was accomplished once for all at Calvary….(this gift) cannot be rescinded... it is extro-nos…(outside of ourselves) …something which is, in God's sight, legally true and that is because Jesus paid the penalty of our sin and was perfectly righteous. As Paul asserts, Jesus is "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). Consequently, we cannot gain more or less righteousness. It is a completed "gift of righteousness" imputed (reckoned) to our legal record in heaven.

Nevertheless, Catholics in the Catholic system attempt to attain an internal righteousness feeling by sacerdotal means. But whatever feeling they gain is quickly lost as are most feelings. They are forced then to repeat and repeat again (the mass) getting internally infused with sacramental righteousness only to lose it again.

Does this mean that believers can sin and never need to experience a new life of personal holiness? Never need to be inwardly changed? In fact, it was Paul's self-righteous critics who challenged Paul by saying, "should we continue to sin so that more grace can be given" (Romans 6:1)? Paul's emphatic reply was: No indeed! A believer has a new life in Christ. He is to consider his old life of sin to have been crucified with Christ in His death and his new life as having been raised with Christ from the dead. The new believer, then, out of GRATITUDE FOR THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS imputed and credited to his or her account, feels a "want to" to live pleasing to his redeemer. The indwelling power of the Spirit produces an inward desire to please God. That new life might not be a perfect sinless life, but it is consonant with our status granted at conversion and is based upon the fact that the perfect righteousness of Christ has already been IMPUTED to our record. We then grow in grace, by the Spirit that indwells us. But we never have more righteousness or less righteousness because it is recorded to our legal account in heaven and it is the righteousness of another, attained for us once for all at the cross. Before God, our imputed status of "not guilty" does not change or waver. The shelf life of our righteousness never degrades. Indeed, we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, but it will not be a court room procedure. Rather, it will be a sort of heavenly rewards ceremony. Some will fare better than others according to how we grew in grace in our personal life. But all true believers remain legal members of the kingdom of heaven forever sealed for us at Calvary.

But very few evangelicals even know what imputation means. When asked, it is possible someone might reply: "What did you say? Amputation?" It is a pity because the joy and assurance that the imputed righteousness Christ brings is truly a gift Jesus died for and gave to us at our conversion and continues to do so through our growth in grace. But today, evangelical celebrities and bible colleges are tripping over each other to experience Catholic monastic contemplative spirituality. Go figure! Our secure standing needs no Catholic mystical experiences of voices impersonating Jesus, etc. As the old gospel song says: "The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago."

Plumbline Ministries, 74425 County Road 21, Renville, MN 56284
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Orrel Steinkamp
74425 County Road 21, Renville, MN 56284
Email: orrelsteinkamp@hotmail.com

Theological Studies
Contemporary Concerns
Deception in the Visible Church