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InterVarsity's Doctrinal Basis and Justification

The Evangelical campus ministry, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, revised its doctrinal basis in 2000. As a Catholic, I do not see anything in its portion on justification with which I would disagree. Here it is the section in question:

[We believe in] justification by God's grace to all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

[We believe in] the indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all believers a new life and a new calling to obedient service.


Thoughts?

(Update: I corrected the ambiguity of the two statements. In the original, the entire doctrinal basis begins with "We believe in" with a series of statements underneath)

(Originally posted on Return to Rome blog)

Comments (23)

Yup, I agree that as a Catholic, you shouldn't see anything there to disagree with. Strict Reformed folks, however, would likely criticize the IVCF statement for neglecting "faith alone" as in "justification by grace alone [check] through faith alone [no check] in Jesus Christ alone [check] (to the glory of God alone, etc.)."

What does the second part mean? It doesn't appear to be a complete sentence. Should it be "The indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all believers a new life and a new calling to obedient service."?

Uhm, I appear to have had a bit of trouble with my tags in that previous comment. I intended to inquire if the sentence should read, "The indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit gives to all believers a new life and a new calling to obedient service."?

Frank:

Agreed. Only the "alone" crowd objects; but there's no magisterial or confessional requirement in evangelicalism for the "alones."


I think the justification part is fine for Catholics.

I would have some reservations about the clause two down from that (the "unity of all believers" clause); the way the "manifest in worshiping and witnessing churches" part is worded suggests an ecclesiology that's not really consistent with the Church of God subsisting in the Catholic Church. At least, I don't see how to reconcile them honestly.

Of course, it's always possible that I'm missing something.

Titus—none of those clauses is a complete sentence. They're all noun phrases, because they all take their verb from the original "We believe in:" up at the top.

Peace,
--Peter

Peter:

Agreed. Note:

"If Christ and his church are one, then a great deal of Catholic doctrine simply follows naturally. In a word, ecclesiology represents the crucial difference between evangelicals and Catholics." That is from Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Baker Academic, 2005), by Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom.

Nevertheless, agreement about justification is an important step forward, as Richard John Neuhaus was wont to stress.

Best,
Mike


That part (on Justification) looks great to me.

As I understand it, a common Protestant position is:
- By grace alone
- Through faith alone
- In Christ alone

...whereas the Catholic position is:
- By grace alone
- Through faith working in love
- In Christ alone

...which lacks the satisfaction of three-way symmetry, but is more faithful to Scripture, notably James chapter 2.

The InterVarsity statement, "Justification by God's grace to all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation," is in fact closer to the Catholic view than to the strictest form of sola fide, insofar as it states a need for repentance -- and any mature Christian will tell you that true repentance is sometimes hard work, and is certainly not mere passivity or intellectual belief.

For these reasons, I find the InterVarsity statement on Justification laudable.

Most Reformed people I know broke with Intervarsity when it adopted this new statement of faith.

Most Reformed people I know broke with Intervarsity when it adopted this new statement of faith
.

Always reforming!

I find the two lines on justification very unsatisfactory. Unlike the words in the first lines of all the other paragraphs (with 'inspiration' perhaps being an exception), 'justification' is a technical theological term needing a definition. The two lines do not even say what this thing is supposed to be that is said to obtain in connection (only?) with those who repent and put their faith in Christ. Is it a forensic declaration of righteousness? A certain state of sanctity? What?

It seems to me that IV's statement highlights a theological dilemma (this being a dilemma for evangelicals in general too, I suppose). If IV has no theological objection to Catholicism (this issue applies to more than just the part on justification; the part on Scripture also seems consistent with a Catholic view of Scripture as not being the only infallible rule of faith), is not IV guilty of serious error in validating Christian communion outside the Catholic church? I see nothing on IV's website (or in my experience with them) leading me to think they encourage people to be Catholic. But if IV thinks that such communion is justified, presumably they think the Protestant Reformation was justified, in which case they must affirm some peculiarly Protestant doctrine. I suppose it is possible for them to do this without endorsing a Protestant view of justification, but this would be an implausible position. But the statement on justification has nothing distinctly Protestant about it at all.

Ironically, I find it quite admirable the degree of seriousness devoted to this matter by certain Protestants here who are not so easily given to compromise.

Unfortunately, this is not at all the case with those who are ostensibly Catholics but are actually willing to entertain the notion of possible membership (whether theirs or other fellow Catholics) into an apparently Protestant organization as this.

Remarkable.

"In a word, ecclesiology represents the crucial difference between evangelicals and Catholics."

This applies equally to Evangelicals and Orthodox; there are quite a few of us Catholics and Orthodox who've been saying this for years.

The issue, of course, is how IV understands and intends these doctrinal stipulations, not whether or not a Catholic can (re)interpret these words in such a way as to sign on. The intention behind these words is fundamentally important. The real question is "What do they mean as intended?" not "What do they mean to me as a Catholic?" Or, put differently, the real question is, "Can a Catholic sign on to these statements -- as intended?"

Further, other doctrinal elements, in addition to the two noted in this posting, need to be considered -- and considered from the IV perspective: Does, for example, IV consider the RCC to be a "worshiping and witnessing church? In the past it did not. Perhaps the organization's view has changed. I don't know. But it doesn't matter if a Catholic thinks the RCC is a "worshiping and witnessing church." It matters what IV means by this statement, and if a Catholic can agreed with that intention.

It matters also what IV means by "Bible" when it says the Bible is uniquely inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative. I doubt that IV includes the Apocrypha as Bible. We'd have to ask. Because a Catholic does include the Apocrypha, and therefore identifies it as inspired, trustworthy and authoritative, a Catholic cannot sign this statement and mean by it what IV apparently does. If IV means "not Apocrypha," then a Catholic cannot sign it because IV and the Catholics mean different things by the word "Bible." Further, if the Apocrypha falls outside the canon, then to call it inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative undermines what IV calls the UNIQUE inspiration, authority, and trustworthiness of the Bible. I suspect by "Bible" IV means the 66 books of the Protestant canon, and that list of books, not some other list, is uniquely inspired, trustworthy and authoritative. IV, I suspect, does not include the Apocrypha when it says "Bible". A Catholic does, and therefore cannot, in good conscience sign on to what IV means. Again, to be sure, we'd have to ask --ask them, not ourselves.

Michael,

There is also the additional issue that the Catholic Church does not consider protestant "churches" to be churches, but rather ecclesial communities (or something to that effect).

I mentioned before that I once read a joint Catholic/Anglican statement on the role of the bishop that refused to refer to a bishop as "he" or resolve the issue of whether Anglican bishops are really bishops.

There is also the additional issue that the Catholic Church does not consider protestant "churches" to be churches, but rather ecclesial communities (or something to that effect).

In their defense, they've finally come around from the whole "burn the heretic at the stake" shtick that they had going on for centuries. I like to think of the Reformation as the moment that institutional Christianity went to its first AA meeting and admitted that it had a lifestyle problem...

I like to think of the Reformation as the moment that institutional Christianity went to its first AA meeting and admitted that it had a lifestyle problem...

Unfortunately, Mike, what you like to think and what is are not the same things.

The Reformation started when a reprobate monk decided that drinking beer, having sex with nuns, and founding a church to suit his own depraved inclinations would be a lot more fun than keeping his vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity.


The Reformation started when a reprobate monk decided that drinking beer, having sex with nuns, and founding a church to suit his own depraved inclinations would be a lot more fun than keeping his vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity.

At the very least, there are actually those here who would bravely attest to the stark differences between our respective faiths and would rather not surrender themselves to some licentious Lutheran lunacy otherwise known as the Reformation.

It matters also what IV means by "Bible" when it says the Bible is uniquely inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative. I doubt that IV includes the Apocrypha as Bible.

You forgot about the old ending of Mark, the woman caught in adultery in John, and the I John 5:7 Trinity passage, all of which are disputed among Protestants.

Here's the rub: if one means "original autographs," then what books belong in will always depend on what counts as the original autographs. So, for example, a Catholic could say, "I understand why you don't believe that I and II Maccabees, Tobit, etc. don't belong in the Bible. But since neither one of us has seen the "original autographs," and since both East and West accepted these books as inspired prior to the Reformation, should not we err on the side of charity and allow both views to count as `the Bible.' There is, as you would agree, no legitimate third or fourth view. So, there's no risk that this principle will degenerate into something else."

I have no idea what could possibly be gained by IV using one definition of "Bible" to exclude Catholics? If Augustine couldn't join IVCF on these grounds, then me and the Bishop of Hippo will have our club. We'll call it the Catholic Church. :-)

Frank,
I did not forget about the disputed passages. They are not the issue. Disputed passages are not the same issue as which books belong in the canon. We may say (and we all do) that Mark belongs in the canon and yet disagree about its ending. That's not the same as saying that Tobit, in any of its textual variants, belongs or does not. Niggling over this verse or that passage is not the same as wholesale rejection or inclusion of a book in the canon. Protestants agree among themselves that I John belongs; they don't agree on 1 John 5:7. The former is an issue of canon, the latter is one of textual criticism. I John belongs no matter what conclusion you reach on chapter 5, verse 7. By the same token, the Phillies belong in the National League East, even if they happened to include on their roster a Cuban refugee who is legally ineligible to play. Inclusion of that ineligible player does not undermine the Phillie's rightful place in the league, just as the inclusion, or exclusion, of a particular verse does not undermine canonicity, either in concept or in practice.

Further, one can say that the autographs were inspired and authoritative even if the autographs are no longer extant because textual criticism of the Bible is now so advanced that we know not only what passages have textual variants, but also what degree of debatability we ought to assign those variants. The upshot is, after decades, indeed centuries, of textual study, we have what amounts to the virtual autographs. The disputes are theologically inconsequential. No doctrine of importance depends upon a textually disputed passage from a canonical book. The same cannot be said of things arising from the inclusion or exclusion of the Apocrypha.

Of course, IV is not trying to exclude Catholics by defining "Bible" the way they do. They are trying to say what they think is true. They are identifying and defining, which sometimes has the effect of excluding, though not the intention. They already know where Augustine stands on various issues, and to them that is not the point. The point pertains to what is true, not to what one or more of the ancients affirmed. Augustine's neo-Platonism (and the conclusions to which it sometimes leads him) is a mixed bag, at best. I know of no contemporary church or Christian that stands with Augustine on all major issues, much less all minor ones. The Eastern churches are even more unhappy with him than is IV.

I know of no contemporary church or Christian that stands with Augustine on all major issues, much less all minor ones. The Eastern churches are even more unhappy with him than is IV.

And that makes their agreement on the canon all the more remarkable. You'd almost have to think that the Holy Spirit was involved, or something. :-)

Actually, I've read that the canon of the OT is still up in the air in the EO Church.

"I've read that the canon of the OT is still up in the air in the EO Church."

Only in the sense that we've never formally, dogmatically defined it. But that doesn't make it "up in the air," any more than it was "up in the air" in the RCC before Trent, despite what some Protestant apologists might say.

"We may say (and we all do) that Mark belongs in the canon and yet disagree about its ending."

And the RCC and EOC would say that the ending is canonical even if it's not in the original autograph. The Church decides, not the textual scholars. Unless you want some new version of the Thomas Jefferson bible.

The appeal to the autographs is a red herring anyways. The fact is we don't have them and we can't get them, and it makes little sense to defend extant imperfect texts by appealing to the notion of non-existent but perfect ones.

Evangelicals hold that the scriptures themselves are the final authority on all matters of faith and practice. Even though we assent to the classical creeds, Anti-Nicene Fathers, and one or more Reformations traditions, we do not limit our encounter with Scripture to these categories. Even thought the Scriptures are inspired and completely authoritative, denominational interpretations are only authoritative to the extent that I submit myself to the denomination. There is great theological diversity in Evangelicalism and in Protestantism in general. Yet, justification by faith alone seems to be a bedrock foundation for Evangelicalism. Even Pentecostals and Wesleyans hold to that view. In the context of his conflict with the Judaizers, Paul emphasizes the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and our need to put our whole faith in him and him alone. Of course, the Jewish believers and the Jerusalem Church did not share Paul’s dogmatism. They never intended for Jewish believers to cease to be practicing Jews. When the missionary apostle to the Gentiles did evangelism among Jews, proselytes, God-fearers and pagans he would not separate the Jewish believers from the “Christians,” (a term reserved for a Gentile believer). Additionally, he refused to require Christians to convert to Judaism or to abide by its traditions. This brought him into conflict with Jerusalem. When we read the Gospels and the non-Pauline portions of the NT to include Hebrews, James, Peters and Revelation, the relationship between faith and works is not as clear as it is for Paul. When the Reformers read Paul, they read it via the lens of their conflict with Rome. Rome became the Judaizers. It was an example of contextual theology. Personally, I hold firmly to the classical Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. I believe that it is an insult to the passion to think that we can add anything to it by means of the works we do before justification. As one who belongs to a sacramental community that baptizes babies and confirms youth, the issue of justification and the operation of the means of grace as they relate to salvation becomes a little unclear.

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