On the Sinfulness of Calling Apostasy...Apostasy
James R. White
Some comments were made regarding the ever-developing Beckwith saga (including Frank Beckwith posting canons from the Council of Orange) here. Beckwith dares to reduce the issue of Rome's gospel to mere theories regarding imputation versus infusion. Another comment was left by a Mr. Bauman, accusing anyone of sin who would identify Beckwith as an apostate. I provide here the comment I at least attempted to leave on the blog. It begins with a citation of Mr. Bauman:
You're missing the point, Shane. Despite your repetition to the contrary, Frank Beckwith has not denied the gospel. The gospel is salvation through faith in Christ. The gospel is not assent to sola fide. Frank has moved away from your (and my) view of justification. Movement from that is not movement from the Christian faith. One begins to think that you, not Frank, has forgotten gospel content: Salvation comes by faith in Christ, not faith in sola fide. He has it, and he has it just as clearly as anyone you or I know.
No, Frank does not need me to speak for him; nor has he asked me to. But then, he doesn't need you to speak TO him. He already gets it. He's a Christian, a man with faith in Christ. To call him an apostate is a serious wickedness on your (or anyone's) part, and an exercise in bearing false witness against your neighbor.
In reviewing your letter to the churches of Galatia, we, the modern men of the 21st century, have come to the conclusion that you truly missed the point in your very pointed and, may we say, unloving comments regarding the faithful brothers with whom you had but a minor theological difference. We are in particular offended that you would identify men who clearly confess faith in Christ and who have risked their lives for their faith "false brethren." Who are you to make such a harsh judgment, in light of their many evidences of faith? These men are Christians, and to call them false brethren is a serious sin! You are bearing false witness against them! And to dare to read the intentions of their hearts so as to say they were "sneaking" into the fellowship is simply beyond the pale. You should be ashamed of yourself! All you disagree on is a minor point of theology! They believe in Christ! They believe in His resurrection! They simply believe one should be circumcised so as to be a part of the covenant people of God! How narrow of you to exclude them from the fellowship of faith simply on the basis of such a minor thing as this! Why won't you focus upon the areas of agreement you have? Why focus only upon differences, the negatives? Don't you realize you will never win people to your views if you continue to act in this fashion? We seriously request that you apologize to the faithful brothers you anathematized in your ill-advised letter to the churches of Galatia. By this, true peace and unity might be achieved!
Mr. Bauman says that it is "a serious wickedness on your (or anyone's) part" to say that a person who moves from confession of the solas to that of Rome is an apostate. May I ask what then constitutes apostasy in Mr. Bauman's world? Evidently, the gospel is no longer a part of what defines the Christian faith? So now we only identify as apostates those who engage in formal heresy regarding, say, the Trinity? Hopefully the resurrection? But now it is "OK" to confess that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice that can be approached 20,000 times without bringing perfection, that celibate priests can be called "alter Christus" in their ordinations and that they can, by sacramental power, render Christ present upon Rome's altars, that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ and infallible in teaching authority, that no grace accrues to anyone outside of Mary by God's design, and that Mary was Immaculately conceived and Bodily Assumed into heaven, and that if you die with temporal punishments of sin upon your soul you undergo satispassio in purgatory, and it's all just a slight difference over imputation versus infusion? All these dogmatic definitions of the gospel itself are just so much minor theological drivel, so that one can confess them, or not, and all is well? This is the clarity of modern theology?
Let me make it plain and clear: if I ever confess such things, and deny the perfection of the work of Christ in my behalf, consigning my Lord and Savior to the role of merely making salvation possible if I cooperate enough, please, I beg of my brothers in Christ, have the intestinal fortitude and love of God and His gospel to call me what I would be: an apostate. To refuse to do so is to show that you fear the face of men more than you honor God Himself.
Do we have such a low view of Scripture that we do not believe the gospel has been revealed with sufficient clarity to identify Rome's abomination for what it is? Can we be so easily duped as to think that the difference between Rome's religion and the gospel is merely a matter of a theory of imputation vs. infusion? Are we so blind?
I suppose we can surely admit that Rome does not add to the clarity of the situation given the massive confusion that now reigns in the highest halls of her leadership. Inclusivism and universalism exists side-by-side with "old time Rome" so that identifying Rome's current orthodoxy is next to impossible. And it surely makes it challenging to attempt to hold Rome's apologists to any consistent standard, for they can switch back and forth between various positions as the need arises.
Dr. Beckwith posted a number of canons from the Council of Orange. I'd like to provide another citation and see if Dr. Beckwith likewise accepts this one:
It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart "into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church. (Denzinger 714).
I would invite Dr. Beckwith to examine the context, historically, of these words.
Look at the beliefs of the men involved in writing these words. What they mean is obvious. So, does he believe these words? Does it really sound like the Council of Constance viewed the difference between Rome and "schismatics" as a minor thing? Surely, this came before the Reformation, but to try to reduce the differences between the Reformation and Rome to a mere difference of "theory" regarding justification is not only laughable, it is, in my opinion, simply reprehensible. To refuse to see Rome's view of justification within the full context of Rome's soteriology is either deceptive, or just plain ridiculous.
Since it has been said that it is sinful to identify a convert (or revert) to Rome as an apostate [and please note, I have often said that I do not know if Dr. Beckwith is actually an apostate, since I have yet to find any solid evidence that he ever abandoned Rome's views of man and grace to begin with], let me say that I believe it is sinful to accept the calling of God's people in a truly Reformed congregation, swear fealty to such Reformed standards as define that faith, and then at the same time refuse to have the honor and integrity and love for truth to speak the truth plainly regarding Rome's false gospel.
If you do not believe the gospel is clear enough to distinguish from Rome, then I suggest you are not Reformed, period.
Please stop adding to the confusion by saying you are. It would be much appreciated.