In 1999 Protestant church denominations signed an agreement with the Catholic Church confirming what core doctrine they are agreed upon regarding basic salvation and becoming a ‘Christian’ - the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
The idea sounds appealing in an effort for more ecumenical ‘unity,’ and when you read parts of this common statement of faith, it sounds legitimate.
However, in reality, there are huge differences that have been missed. Plus, when you look at biblical prophecy in the book of Daniel, for example, you’ll see God warning about Roman Catholicism being ‘anti’ true Christianity in the sense that there are alternatives to Christ’s full justification of sinners.
Regarding this particular document, here is one core statement that neatly summarises the gist of this shared-doctrine is:
“Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us unto good works.”
There are three issues to address; with biblical references:
1. Adding on Sanctification
Whilst the last part from “while equipping…” does explain what the consequence of true born-again Christianity is, this is technically Sanctification, not Justification.
“But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:” – 1 Thessalonians 2:13
This comes after salvation, has nothing to do with how God first justifies us; therefore, it’s best to miss out to save confusion.
2. Grace Comes After Faith
Grace and the goodness of God is the driving force of course behind salvation and the desire and actions by God to reconcile sinners back to Him.
But grace alone means nothing unless individuals come to God by faith to receive the atoning sacrifice of Christ and God’s grace.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” – Romans 10:9
“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” – Ephesians 2:8
Plus, grace in this statement is not stating that it’s God’s – it could be interpreted in Catholic theology as grace and merits from others like Mary and the saints.
3. Christ’s Atonement, Not Saving Works
This is critical and yet so subtle. Yes, Christ is our Saviour, but His sacrifice and spilled-blood and dead-body have accomplished this to appease the wrath of God and pay the price for all our sins.
“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” – Matthew 26:28
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;” – Romans 3:25
“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” – Hebrews 9:22
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” – Ephesians 1:7
An atoning sacrifice was needed for our sins, not just saving or good works. No matter how ‘good’ Christ is (of course, absolute goodness and love), this vast amount of ‘goodness’ in itself did not pay the price.
God’s grace and compassion sent His Son to specifically die for His blood to be our atonement, not banked-up good deeds in any Treasury of Merit.
Therefore, here is a proposed change to this statement to more clearly state the true protestant Christian faith.
“Together we confess: By faith alone, in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts”
The question is, will the Pope and Roman Catholicism agree to this? I suspect not.