Where was the Gospel before Luther?


Much Reformation Day propaganda revolves around the unstated idea that the gates of hell prevailed against the church for 1500 years (Matthew 16:18). The question is often asked "Where was the Gospel before Luther?", but this question confuses justification by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone with salvation by the further theological precision brought by the Reformation1.

While the church had an increasingly complex set of rituals, God remained sovereign, thus, salvation was still received through the Word, applied by the Spirit. In our appreciation of the Reformation, we need to be careful not to contradict this by stating that salvation requires active study and doctrinal purity -- that's not "by faith alone". The faith the grabs ahold of Christ is a gift from the Spirit, not a reward for passing a theological exam2.

Though it would be foolish and sinful to avoid seeking to know God and understand your salvation better, study is a result of salvation, and has never been a requirement for salvation in any form of Protestantism. Making explicit the distinction between salvation and rightly understanding salvation should correct a deeply flawed understanding in the minds of many.

The question of the "gospel before Luther" is sometimes answered by the "trail of blood" theory which supposedly helps us identify true Christians by looking for those persecuted by the institutional church. However, aside from having the feel of a conspiracy theory, it engages in gross revisionism and, again, seeks to define the gospel in terms of doctrinal purity.

That way of answering the question is also not new: the 1542 Chronicle of Caspar Braitmichel "placed the fall of the church at A.D. 150. In this view, the entire church, including the first three centuries after the apostles, fared very ill".3. This is also the fundamental idea behind the "restored Gospel" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints (i.e. Mormonism) and all resulting offshoots.

A more viable strategy for answering the "before Luther" question is to couple it with another: are Protestants and Roman Catholics one big family? With this connection in place, we do actually find a point where we can see an absolute rift take place. The ultimate crux of both questions comes down to the fact that, whereas the Gospel could not but persist for millennia, there was no dogmatic understanding of salvation until the mid-16th century4.

This rift is the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Talking about the "Roman Catholic Church" or the seven sacraments as dogma before Trent is entirely anachronistic5. It's a misrepresentation of the status quo in which Luther lived. We need to avoid buying into Papal mythology and propaganda by letting them establish the terms of discussion.

While it's true that the Church did widely accept the idea of the seven sacraments and did generally consider the mass to be a sacrifice, these aren't codified as official dogma until the Council of Trent.

General Understanding vs. Codification

Evangelicalism doesn't typically take into account this all-important distinction between something that's merely widely accepted and something that's officially codified6. Indeed, general evangelicalism doesn't even have a concept of "officially codified". So, it's no wonder that much of evangelicalism asks where the Gospel was before Luther: there's no real agreement on what were even talking about.

This idea of official codification is vital to the life of the Church, both local and more broadly. We will discuss this a bit more in-depth later. However, it's worth reiterating time and time again the fact that this has absolutely nothing to do with the salvation of the individual. Salvation is by faith alone, not my agreeing on the details of theology or assenting to articles of faith.

There simply is no quantifiable "minimum" number of theological articles one must accept to be a Christian7. Though faith must have true content, this content is the one who raises you from the dead. Christ is the object of our faith. Not a general "spirit" or a pious idea, but the one and only crucified and risen Christ. Yet, not precisely any specific details about this Christ. As a result of the Father raising you in Christ, you will be driven to understand your faith.

The deity of Christ is vital to salvation, and denial of it does eventually qualify as evidence of being an unbeliever. Nonetheless, precision on details is not the point of the initial point of salvation. This is the difference between infused theology, which we receive in our salvation, and acquired theology, which we obtain by study in pursuit of gloring God and to grow in our salvation8 (see also Duby9).

Those who are saved by Christ must have their faith nourished by the ordinary means of grace: word, both read and preached, the sacraments, and prayer. One must be given the sign of the community of faith (Baptism) and one must eat and drink the elements of the Lord's Supper. Withholding any of these pending agreeement to articles of faith can easily be demonstrated as spiritual abuse10. Being saved by Christ, thus being able to confess "I believe that Christ alone saved me", isn't an objective article of faith, but an objective statement of a subjective (i.e. personal) reality.

Therefore, in what follows, we must not identify official theological codification as the separator between Christians and non-Christians, but as that which gives a collective theological group definition. It's this definition that's needed for us to have any chance at answering questions about theological groups.


Lutheranism, the Reformed faith, and Anglicanism each ground themselves in reality by establishing codified confessions of faith which define the legitimate boundaries of the faith as the definitional dividing line between right theology (orthodoxy) and deviation from it (heterodoxy11). The confessions "define truth and fence off heterodoxy and heresy while allowing a degree of doctrinal latitude within the boundaries of the confession."12

The confession is, in the words of John Murray, "the bond of fellowship, a bulwark against the incursions of errors"13. The written confession is a unifying personal, heartfelt confession14. It also gives each group a solid litmus test by which one may identify imposters who merely "self-identify" as being part of the group. "Who is Reformed?" is equally as simple and objective as "What is a woman?"15.

In contrast to the DNA of the faith in the form of confessions of faith, evangelicalism, including the predestinarian stream we call "Calvinism", generally describes itself in terms of social contract theology, the elevation of popular theologians16, and cherry-picked ad hoc doctrines with zero respect to the minimal-viable complexity required for theological accuracy17 (e.g. not every soteriology is compatible with every understanding of God).

Beyond local statements of faith, which differ congregation to congregation, Evangelicalism has no codified confessional boundaries. To overcome this, over the past century evangelicals have been working to rewrite history by retroactively inventing a confession consisting of the TULIP and the "five Solas"18. Attached to this piece of revisionism is the "semper reformanda" banner, even though this "and its variants... are most probably all twentieth-century inventions, employed for the sake of justifying doctrinal change."19. These isolated ideas are pushed back onto the 16th century to recreate the Reformation in the image of contemporary evangelicalism20. This is no different than the Roman Catholic revision that forces everything after the Apostles into its own image.

Instead of truly being in line with the Reformation, much of today's contemporary evangelical identity is from the perspective of the Radical Reformation. Instead of reforming the church, the goal became rebuilding it. This inherently schismatic methodology is a theological forerunner of the more philosophically-focused enlightenment. In reality, the Spirit himself defines the faith, but this isn't saying much as everyone everywhere agrees with this. How is this manifested in reality?

The process of church theologizing can't be by each person coming to private conclusions regarding the foundations or scope of the foundations of the faith, each voicing a different creed (Latin: credo, "I believe"). This places visible fellowship as more foundational than word fellowship. This is the path to and the first evidence of theological liberalism. Without a codified "bond of fellowship", there's an illusion of unity based on general understandings with each individual confessing a different creed. This isn't a focus on the Bible; rather, "apart from a confessional anchor, the individual theologian or pastor be comes the bar of doctrinal orthodoxy."21.

Man's remaining sin necessitates the Spirit's intervention, which will come in the form of individual, but also corporate illumination22. It's done via the wider church gathering (Synods) codifying foundational written conclusions in the forms of creeds that result from the Spirit's sovereign work of iron sharpening iron23. It will always be rooted in the sufficiency of Scripture, and iron will continue to sharpen iron in future theological refinement. Its interpretation will never be molded by the individual or local congregation as there's simply no room for the wax nose (i.e. privately molding Scripture to fit a specified shape)24.

Thankfully, evangelicalism hasn't cut itself off from reality entirely as all evangelicals do seem to agree on the codification of the 66-book Biblical canon. This creed is seemingly agreed on implicitly and universally. This gives us a solid foundation upon which one may continue biblical theologizing toward further creedal foundations and confessional codification. The firmer we establish a common, written foundation, the more actual, concrete Christian unity is actually possible.

Biblical Theologizing

In addition to enabling the possibility of theological fellowship, codification reminds us that theology really requires serious diligence. As Christians, we approach live's problems in the context of Christ's domain; as such, we approach life's challenges by prayerfully applying theology. Issues of health and finance are theological issues that take place in the reality created by God and over which Christ is ruler. Yet, we can't simply cite Ex. 20:13 ("You shall not murder") or Ex. 20:15 ("You shall not steal") to settles issues. Therefore, another preliminary topic we need to discuss is how theology is built, and why iron sharpening iron over the centuries is so vital.

Theological liberalism has nearly entirely won the battle of Scriptural hermeneutics by trying to turn everyone into an archeologist: instead of letting the message of the Bible control itself, methods now control the Bible. Without diminishing the importance of asking basic literary questions relating to such things like a book's authorship and audience, we must maintain that the content of the Bible, must always take precedence over any particular methodology. Objective neutrality is precisely the opposite of Christ-centered.

While John 3:16 is an excellent summation of the Biblical message, the clarity of Scripture (perspicuity)25 enables us to say more. What the Spirit placed into our hands is profoundly vast: it speaks on an incredible range of topics, but not in topical isolation. The deep interpenetrations of these various aspects of revelation demonstrate a perfect internal coherence that shows the flawless unity of the Biblical message across Scripture. This is exactly what one would expect from the God who is perfect coherence itself.

The primary message of Scripture is plain, but even as God accommodated himself26 to our creaturely, finite limitations27, the deeper structures of the faith can be as complex as astrophysics or mathematics28. The clarity of Scripture implies that humanity as a whole can understand Scripture; perceived obscurity "is surely not due so much to Scripture as to the feebleness of our intellect".29 Scriptural clarity does not do away with the need for humble diligence30.

Many of the problems we run into in Scripture come from forgetting that, while the Scriptural concepts are established by God, the verse isolations are entirely man-made. So, this vast ocean of revelation isn't to be understood by crass, isolated proof-texting or cross-referencing. A more meaningful path forward shows itself when we constantly remind ourselves that God isn't merely the editor of a 66-book volume with myriad authors, he himself is the true, primary author. This authorship implies unquestionable validity and an interpenetration of writings across time that one can implicitly trust. We must correlate Scriptural meaning, not verses directly.

As a direct result of God's primary authorship, at the core of hermeneutics are two indepensible princples that can orient our Biblical hermeneutics at both a micro and macro-level. The first of these is the fact that Scripture interprets Scripture, which has been historically dubbed the analogy of faith (analogia fidei)31. We don't want to lose the forest for the trees; we need to look at forest of Scripture from the top down as a whole to see the entirety of the redemptive message in its full expression. In other words, the analogy of faith an be simply understood as the fact that we read the local texts in light of the previously established global understanding across the whole of Scripture.

This enables us to read Moses' words in Genesis 2-3 as God actually intends: by reading it through the lense of Paul's account of the same events in Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15. This Pauline interpretation isn't an Apostolic rewriting of history, but a true explanation of the original Genesis events. The same can be said any time a New Testament author writes about Old Testament events. They're not changing the meaning, but clarifying their inherent meaning32.

The second vital principle is the fact that, unlike man's inability to control every possible accidental implication of his words, God's authorship means that he controls more than just the expressed words, but also the implications: that which is by good (legitimate) and necessary consequence deduced from Scripture is just as authoritative as the expressed words the page33. This concept is referred to as good and necessary consequence, and is so vital to the New Testament, that readers have little chance at understanding Old Testament references with it34. One of the simplest examples of this process is still fairly complex: the Trinity35. In fact, without the concept of good and necessary consequence, we only have a set of independent verses, not anything resembling a developed Trinitarian theology36.

Though there are myriad excellent examples in the New Testament, perhaps the most popular example of good and necessary consequence is Matthew 22:23-34 where Sadducees confronted Christ about a woman who had seven husbands who died37. They ask "in the resurrection... of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her?" His answer to their question was to refer to Exodus 3:6 and point out an implication already in the text: Christ stated that God said "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" and that God "is not God of the dead, but of the living". This silenced the Sadducees (v34).

The reason this entirely closed the case was because resurrection is always either for both body and soul or neither, so if there is a resurrection inwardly ("soul") there is one outwardly ("body"). The idea of living disembodied spirits is an idea best left to Greek mythology and cartoons. The fact that God is the God of the living directly implies that there's a bodily resurrection. The Sadducees were put to shame because they completely missed such an obvious point38.

Instead of giving an exegetical argument on the resurrection from the Psalms39 , Christ told these Bible scholars that they don't know the Scriptures. Though they knew the entirety of the Scriptural text from a life-time of study, without seeing the implications of the text, they're knowledge is merely surface level40. According to Christ's standard, that doesn't qualify as knowing the Scriptures. That which is by good and necessary consequence of a text truly is indepensible to the text.

Today, good and necessary consequence and the analogy of faith are used in day-to-day theological arguments, but not merely contexts that are explicitly theological. Let's not forget that politics, finance, and health discussions are inherently theological discussions as God has given us a tremendous amount of revelation for each. Clayton Williams gives us a common example:

What is the church to say about abortion? There is no passage of Scripture that says, in so many words, “abortion is wrong.” It simply was not a pressing issue in the days of Moses or Paul. But by the use of good and necessary consequence we can arrive at the will of God on this matter:

1st Premise: It is a sin to murder another human being (e.g. Exodus 20:13).

2nd Premise: Children in the womb are human beings (e.g. Psalm 139:13-16).

Conclusion: It is a sin to murder children in the womb.41

Far from being a way of allegorizing the text, good and necessary consequence is a protection against it. Without the ability and mandate to legitimately infer true implications of a passage, we may be tempted to infuse unlegitimate or unnecessary meaning. Additionally, without good and necessary consequence extra-biblical authority often swoops in to fill a theological void42.

These concepts are not merely individualistic endeavors. Scripture interpreting scripture doesn't merely happen in our private studies from scratch, but across the whole of the church over the centuries: each generation is interpreting Scripture through the lens of the whole of the Church's understanding of Scripture43. That is, the analogy of faith cross the centuries, not merely the pages of Scripture. The profound, vastness of God's revelation makes any individualistic endeavor foolish at best44.

Together, these core principles make untenable any surface level accusation of something being unbiblical. You must cite Scripture, but as part of a larger coherent edifice with a profound internal architecture45. Many outside the Reformed faith look at various Reformed concepts such as the Covenant of Works, the Sabbath, and, for most, infant baptism and stare in bewinderment at how one could find a single verse to come to such ideas. The entire point is that concepts don't tend to come from single passages, but from correlating the meaning of passages with each other in order to obtain a logical conclusion.

It's not feasible for each person to develop the entirely of all, or even most, of the complex concepts in Christianity. We have to write it down and agree on it. We should avoid an evangelicalism that seeks to be a "sort of iconoclasm that destroys the doctrinal and exegetical traditions of previous eras"46. Truly, "he who ignores the creeds under the slogan of going to the Bible does despite to the Spirit who has led the church into all truth."47. This doesn't just mean the appreciation and use of great commentaries, but also standing on foundational confessional codification.

The notion that the Bible is our only authority is solo (not sola) Scripture48and has no home in the church49. This idea, also called biblicism, is a reification of a Roman Catholic caricature of sola Scriptura. That which separates solo Scriptura from true sola Scripture is that the latter includes healthy church tradition and subordinate (creedal) standards as authorities50.

This should only sound strange to Protestant ears if we lack an understanding of our own history and we forget that everyone has a creed they use to interpret the whole of life, including the Bible. Reading and studying Scripture without being conscious of this is the essence of the wax nose problem. Everyone has a creed, so the question is this: is your creed private, therefore schismatic and entirely untestable by Scripture or is it public and shared, therefore, a possible basis for visible fellowship?51

Our primary purpose in this life is to glorify God an enjoy him forever. Later we will do this by sight, but now we do so by faith by seeking God in his word (2 Cor. 5:7) by his Spirit. Yet, this word, again, isn't merely the expressed words, but also the implications and concepts synthesized across the whole of the wider Scriptural corpus. We are to use and reuse the Spirit's illuminations deposited into the church to this end. Recreating the whole of theology in each generation isn't the goal of the church52. This is theological schism, not reformation. True reformation is expressed via confessional codification, and further reformation is done by further confessional refinement53.

The Westminster Confession of Faith ("WCF") is the preeminent example of true reformation and a strong, healthy reliance on good and necessary consequence and the analogy of faith. It's explicit expression of the Covenant of Works, the Sabbath, and sacramentology are not based on a surface-level understanding of statements or crass proof-texting, but based on a faithful trust in God's word: in the direct text, in his control of implications, and in his authorship of the whole of Scripture.

In both content, built by healthy methods of theologizing, and purpose, to codify the faith, the WCF qualifies as the crown jewel of the reformation54. It is, per Warfield, the "ripest fruit of Reformed creed-making"55. Furthermore, as part of the standard baseline of codification in the Reformed faith, WCF includes explicit statements regarding the clarity of Scripture, the analogy of faith, and good and necessary consequence.

With this understanding of codification and Biblical theologizing in place, let's rewind a century from the codification of the WCF to one of the earliest attempts at church reform by the only means by which reformation can happen: theological codification.

Justification and Regensburg

Calvin, Luther, and Bucer are great contributors, but, the greatness of the Reformers comes from their efforts in codification in the form of confessions and education in the form of catechisms. To avoid the accusation of schism, we can't elevate an individual over the corporate56. Our focus must be codified confessions, not individuals. Even the theologians as great as Augustine or Cyril must be tempered by iron sharpening iron.

None of this is the same as the "councils". Frankly, protestants shouldn't ever speak of "accepting" a council. We don't need to do extensive analysis to conclude which church councils to accept. When you're not part of the institution in question, you don't "accept" councils. You accept, affirm, and confess creeds, catechisms, and confessions.57 You can accept the creeds as creeds just as you can accept the theology of dyothelitism without "accepting" the Third Council of Constantinople or it's judgements (aka canons). The "acceptance" of the judgements (i.e. Canons) of Dort are not an exception to this: rather, these are an extension to the Belgic Confession providing the authoritative interpretation of it. They don't stand on their own.

The distinction between a council and a creed isn't a mere technicality; rather the distinction allows for both a strong foundation for Christian unity and the potentiality of further theological development. Take, for example, the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, which created and updated the Nicene Creed. Then there's Council of Chalcedon which established a creed we call the Chalcedonian Definition; however, its ambiguities left room for much improvement.

Then there's the Council of Ephesus where the Antiochene and Alexandrian schools debated the two natures in the one person of Christ. Though many think it closed the case on the issue, no creed was established, thus the issue was left open. The issues at Ephesus were picked up again during the Reformation with the Lutherans and Reformed developing their Christologies differently from each other and each differently from Rome58. After the initial local reforms, the Reformers (Luther, Zwingli, Oecolampadius) needed to ensure their local efforts were all on the same page, a page that would most definitely be a confession of faith59.

Perhaps the most famous instance of this was the Colloquy of Marburg (1529) where Luther famously slammed his fist in protest of Zwingli's radical view of the Lord's Supper. Luther was vocal that he would never compromise on the corporeal presence of Christ in the Supper60. As a result, no reformation confession was produced. The next year, however, the Augsburg Confession was codified as a foundational Lutheran document with a non-Lutheran, Swiss61 confession (the Tetrapolitan Confession) coming that same year. A richer Swiss confession, the First Helvetic Confession, came a few years later.

Though Marburg was a attempt to unify the reformation movement, it wasn't quite what can be referred to as a reformation of the church. Because there was no formal separation at this point, theologians representing Rome needed to join to present a case in order to establish common ground. We see exactly this at the Colloquy of Regensburg (1541) where Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon met with Cardinal Gasparo Contarini, Johann Gropper, and Johann Eck. Melanchthon and Eck were the least likely to compromise on any theological point62, and Melanchthon was strictly bound by the Augsburg Confession63. Moreover, though there are two people named Johann Eck during the reformation, the Eck present at Regensburg is the same Eck that debated Luther at the Leipzig Disputation in 1519.

It's at this point we can reorient ourselves to the original questions relating to the Gospel before Luther and familial Protestant-Roman relations. To this end, we may observe the, perhaps shocking, incredible amount of agreement was established between the protestants and the existing institutional theologians. Included in the list of agreements were statements with distinctively protestant language relating to imputation, such as:

by this faith that we are justified (i.e. accepted and reconciled to God) inasmuch as it appropriates the mercy and righteousness which is imputed to us on account of Christ and his merit, not on account of the worthiness or perfection of the righteousness communicated to us in Christ.

Later, we read:

...living faith is that which both appropriates mercy in Christ, believing that the righteousness which is in Christ is freely imputed to it, and at the same time receives the promise of the Holy Spirit and love.

These statements in the "Article 5 on Justification" were possible because there was no codified theology surrounding justification. Potential confessional and institutional unity fell apart over transubstantiation, which was written in stone in 121564, and the authority of the church65, which was just recently intensified in the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517).

In order to understand Rome's formal separation of itself, we need to look closer at the core concepts involved. To start, let's remind ourselves of the strict protestant distinction between justification and sanctification: Justification is binary and forensic, relates to your declared status, and has to do with you being reckoned righteous via imputation. Sanctification on the other hand is analogue and renovative, relates to your state, and has to do with God making you righteous via infusion. Justification is black and white; sanctification is grey. In the latter, you're made right, in the former, you're made right in the eyes of God66. Justification is on a person's account, while sanctification is on the person.

To help avoid word games and to streamline our terminology, we will, except for quotations, try to maintain the terminology of status for the first concept and state for the second. If something is a change to the person, not the account, it's state. Regardless of chosen terminology, if the concept is renovative, it's state. You can safely ignore an author's chosen terms, such as "justification" and "sanctification", by focusing on the concepts: simply identify the concepts as status or state67.

Additionally, we need to make explicit a boundary condition that's a logical result of the concept of state in a theological model where a person is born in a state of death in Adam. While state has a gradation like a color wheel, in this model, it also has a concept of zero. The special case in question is where a person's state moves from zero to non-zero. This is binary, but it relates to a person, not to an account. Additionally, it's renovative, and organically related to further renovation. Therefore, it's state, not status. This change in binary state is a manifestation of sovereign grace that enables good works such as belief. Today we typically refer to this as regeneration. This is the only time state is binary, as it's the only time one moves from death to life. With this made explicit, let's move forward equating in our minds state with analogue and status with binary.

We meet a terminological and conceptual development on this point in the mid-16th century to early 17th century that's important to take note of to make any sense of the historical literature. Early in the Reformation, the term "regeneration" simply related to state generally. This is how Calvin used the term (see Institutes 3.3.1: "Regeneration by Faith"). Article 24 of the Belgic Confession even states "We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin." Here we read explicitly that faith precedes regeneration. Without taking into account further context, it's no wonder that the Remonstrants thought the Belgic Confession was in line with their theology.

Part of the intent of the 1618-1619 Synod of Dort was to judge the theology of the Remonstrants. As a result, the judgements (canons) of Dort clarified how the Belgic Confession was to be read: regeneration precedes faith. This doesn't contradict the Belgic Confession; rather it codifies a much needed point of clarity regarding a broader and more narrow broad use of the term: the latter is the binary zero to non-zero move while the former is the later analogue increase. Both are of the same species which we categorize as state. To maintain an honest understanding of the Belgic Confession or of Calvin, nuance is required68.

With this level-set, we see that the snippets from Article 5 definitely do qualify as protestant statements regarding status. However, the results of Regensburg were given different assessments by Luther, Calvin, and Rome. Luther, with his typical pessimism, saw it as a patchwork of inconsistency. Calvin, on the other hand, was encouraged. In a letter to Farel, he wrote:

The debate in controversy was more keen upon the doctrine of justification. At length a formula was drawn up, which, on receiving certain corrections, was accepted on both sides. You will be astonished, I am sure, that our opponents have yielded so much, when you read the extracted copy, as it stood when the last correction was made upon it, which you will find enclosed in the letter. Our friends have thus retained also the substance of the true doctrine, so that nothing can be comprehended within it which is not to be found in our writings; you will desire, I know, a more distinct explication and statement of the doctrine, and, in that respect, you shall find me in complete agreement with yourself. However, if you consider with what kind of men we have to agree upon this doctrine, you will acknowledge that much has been accomplished.69

The responses of the reformers acts as a thermometer regarding the theological status quo of the day. However, neither they nor anything coming out of Regensburg provided any ecclesiastical codification. In fact, Regensburg was the beginning of the end for theoretical compatibility. Despite the localized agreement at Regensburg, Rome was never going to codify it as dogma. Something this big would require something much larger than a meeting between a few representatives.

What Regensburg ultimately tells us is that there was no official church position on justification which would have put an end to all debate. Indeed, the church at the time had a vast range of views on justification. The monastic orders and universities of the day represented a wider array of viewpoints acceptable within the walls of ecclesiastical codification. In a sense, the different orders and universities might view each other as odd as a Reformed person views a dispensational premillenialist who binds demons and is constantly seeing the end times in the news and how a dispensationalist views a Reformed person who seeks to "improve" his baptism and seems entirely disinterested in hearing about the coming rapture.

The wider views of these orders and universities were accounted for when Rome put together its formal response to the Reformation: the Council of Trent. This wide audience represented a vast array of possibilities on justification. The Dominicans had a different position that the Franciscans, and within the Franciscan order "Bonaventure and Scotus represent very different understandings of the doctrine of justification"70.

What Righteousness?

It's tempting at this point to rush to a conclusion about a before-and-after of Trent to to establish the before-and-after of the Gospel in the western church, but without further details on this Gospel, the subject under consideration isn't entirely clear. We can see this from two directions: First, Papal theologians of the day objected to various specifics of salvation in Protestantism, which has caused unnuanced overreaction ever since. Second, evangelicals fighting on Facebook seem to pride themselves on the most superficial understanding of what they call the "gospel". Evangelicalism has become something of an actualization of Papal strawmen (i.e. solo Scriptura). So it's important to add clarity to the topic to ensure we're distanced from Papal theology and common contemporary extremes.

The most important codified detail that came out of Trent was the idea that "justification" in this life is process71. In fact the term "justification" is ultimately the final goal in justification. Bellarmine, arguably, the most influential of the Reformation-era Papal apologists writes that "justification undoubtedly is a certain movement from sin to righteousness, and takes its name from the terminus to which it leads"72. In contrast to this, the terminus in Protestantism is at the start of the Christian life. Eschatology (ultimate goal) is realized in time.

So, while justification is status in Protestantism, it's analogue state in Rome. The essence of their justification in this life is inherent righteousness without imputed righteousness; that is, it's righteousnessly truly in the person without a righteousness credited to their account. The Papal theologians even thought that "the concept of imputed righteousness was widely regarded as something approaching an irrelevance", asking "if God made people righteous in justification, what was the point of imputed righteousness?"73

Rome's lack of imputed righteousness is a fatal problem, but entirely reversing everything Rome says is also dangerous. Let's look closer at some of the core issues involved to help correct common evangelical misunderstandings and dispel Papal myths.

Spirit-Forged Union and Christological-Pneumatology

While the Reformed didn't always follow Calvin, they did follow his understanding on the importance of taking seriously both state and status. The Papal theologians noticed a flaw in the logic of binary status preceding analog state: if status precedes state, there would be a situation where God rekons the righteousness of Christ to your account (status) without any corresponding righteousness in or related to the person (state). That is, God's proclamation of your righteousness, even though truly on your account, is just an accounting procedure: a "legal fiction"74.

There are actually quite a few variants of the "legal fiction" problem, some more serious than others. Most instances result from a disconnect between the status and state, which occurs when we treat theology more like philosophy. Once you've disconnected salvation from Christ himself, and you start talking about transferring between accounts, you're doing philosophical accounting, not Christian theology.

Yet, even today protestants, many of whom claim to be Reformed, attempt to counter the charge by merely repeating the accusation louder: "it's real imputation!"75, which Rome hears as an affirmation of a real accounting procedure. The antidote to a fiction is a reality; we need justification of God according to truth76. Not merely philosophical truth, but the one who is Truth who took on our flesh, thus entirely removing abstract philosophy as the basis for salvation.

To understand this, let's look closer at the words "sola fide". One common way to understand is by a paraphrase of Luther in the Forumula of Concord: "Faith and good works well agree and fit together [are inseparably connected]; but it is faith alone, without works, which lays hold of the blessing; and yet it is never and at no time alone." 77. We similarly see this in Calvin's response to Trent: "it is... faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone". Let's expand to the even larger quote:

Faith alone in this question, we are not thinking of a dead faith, which worketh not by love, but holding faith to be the only cause of justification. (Gal. 5:6; Rom. 3:22.) It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.78

Calvin's metaphor helps us understand how status and state are established in reality. In this metaphor, the inseparability of heat and light is an image of the inseparability of status and state, the sun being a symbol of Christ himself79 -- but the righteousness of Christ doesn't "shine" on us automatically as with the rays of the sun; rather, the Spirit applies Christ to believers.

Calvin referred to the inseparability of status and state as the duplex gratia Dei (twofold grace of God)80. Unless we have Christ, no benefits he has matters for us (see also Turretin81); we need Christ, not just his gifts82: "we do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body"83. He himself is the greatest gift84. In both order and priority, his presence precedes his presents.

Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706) puts it more explicitly:

First, we receive Christ so that we may have him (Ps. 73:25–26), or so that we may be united with him, that he may be in us (Eph. 3:17) and we in him (Eph. 1:13). Second, we receive Christ so that in and with him we may obtain every kind of saving goods (Rom. 8:32), so that from his fullness we may receive grace upon grace (John 1:12; cf. v. 16), to such a degree that we may be perfect in him (Col. 2:9–10), no different than the way that from the conjugal union flows communion of goods. For this reason it is also said that he who has the Son has life (1 John 5:12).

This is union with Christ, but, despite the name, it's not an entity in and of itself, nor is it modern evangelicalism's "personal relationship with Jesus Christ". It's also not any type of theosis in the sense of a participation in the divine nature in an ontological sense or anything relating to the "energies" of God. This is simply that fact of the reality of the presence of Christ in the believer and the believer in Christ85.

All attempts to address the "legal fiction" problem by emphasizing the reality of imputed righteousness simply moves the accounting procedure. The reason justification isn't a "legal fiction" is not because "it's real imputation", which is undoubtably true, but because Christ, who is the source of all righteousness, is truly vitally bound to the believer by the Spirit. Imputation isn't a mere accounting procedure when you have not only the righteousness on your account, but the person himself vitally bound to you86.

Because we're talking about the real person of Christ, marriage is often a better analogy than bank accounts, but even then, something gets lost in metaphorical translation. The point is that the exalted Christ himself is the source of imputation, infusion, and everything else. He's the basis for status and state. He's the fullness of the treasury of benefits87. He's the only source of righteousness in any sense88, and, he himself is truly transformative (cf. Luke 8:43-48). Union with Christ is simply this: the presence of the Spirit is the real presence of Christ in the believer, which is the basis for state and status89.

Sinclair Ferguson summarizes this presence:

Having the Spirit is the equivalent, indeed the very mode, of having the incarnate, obedient, crucified, resurrected and exalted Christ indwelling us so that we are united to him as he is united to the Father.90

Christ, as the endless storehouse of righteousness, can and does impute his infinitely infinite righteousness to believers' accounts, and imputes their finite infinite sins to himself91. Parallel to this "great exchange"92 of double imputation is the one way (Christ to man) increase in state by the "powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God" (WLC 75). Out of our Spirit-forged union with Christ, we also obtain a filial status in that we "receive the adoption of sons, and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace"93 (WLC 39) and the beginnings of glorification in this life94 (cf. WLC 83).

The union of Christ and the benefits of Christ are part of the application of redemption, which is only possible because of the once-for-all accomplishment of redemption. Indeed, our own redemption is the application of the person and completed work for Christ (WCF 8.8), thus accounting for the incarnation, perfect life of Christ, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost is each vital to understanding status and state. While the ascension is something that Rome, Lutheranism, and the Reformed faith each take seriously, Pentecost has a particularly important place in the Reformed faith that requires special mention.

By way of summary, the resurrection without the cross provides no atonement, but the cross without the resurrection implies that nobody anywhere is raised (1 Cor 15). Furthermore, the bodily resurrection isn't a "separate" resurrection; rather there's only one two-episode (already and not yet95) resurrection harvest, of which Christ's is the first fruits96 (1 Cor 15:20). Yet, redemption isn't complete until Pentecost97 where Christ came to be permanently with his Church by the Spirit98. This is the delivery of redemption to mankind where redemption is bound to spacetime by the giving of the Spirit as down payment99, applying Christ to each of the elect from Adam, through Moses, to the events in Revelation on their own place on the created timeline (cf. WCF 7.5, 11.6, 27.5).

This real presence is established by the fact that "Christ on his ascension came into such complete possession of the Spirit who had sustained him throughout his ministry that economically the resurrected Christ and the Spirit are one to us."100. Despite the naive way in which theological categories are separated in many books, there is no independent pneumatology101: something the Westminster Assembly understood quite well when they dedicated nine chapters in the Confession to the work of the Spirit's application of Christ102. This real presence in the believer of the one and only crucified-and-risen Christ by the presence of the Spirit is the source your salvation.

The real presence of Christ in the believer by the presence of the Spirit not only solves the "legal fiction" problem against Rome, but it also allowed Calvin to counter the Lutherans in sacramental debates103. To the contemporary evangelical mind, this is an entirely different topic, but the fact that it relates to state combined with the fact that the Supper and salvation share an identical underlying architecture in the Reformed faith means that understanding one helps to cement the other. Salvation and sacramentology are linked in the Reformed faith just as they are in Lutheranism and in Rome104. Indeed, in the Reformation, the Supper acted as a concrete way to understand a group's conception of salvation.

It may be easier to understand the Reformed model if the Lutheran one is set out first. Evangelicals and the Reformed tend to misunderstand this to the point of spreading 9th commandment violations. Regarding misrepresentations by the Reformed, Lutheran Franz Pieper writes that "arguments are passed from generation to generation without any scrutiny."105. This is a result of reading Lutheranism using Reformed paradigms instead of letting Lutheranism define itself106.

Lutheranism maintains a particular Christology that couples the two natures of Christ in a manner which enables them to speak of the presence of the Son of God as being the presence of Christ. Without qualification, if the Son is present, Christ is present in his human nature, and because the Son is omnipresent, Christ's human nature is omnipresent. However, there four modes omnipresence: circumscribed (how Reformed and evangelicals typically think of Christ's body), illocal (taking up no space, like angels), repletive (not bound by space), and sacramental.

Omnipresence according to the human nature is a concept larger than the Supper, and, despite how it's typically portrayed, it wasn't "reverse engineered" from a particular view of the Supper, but is based on Scriptural exegesis107. It's based on exegetical arguments, not philosophical implications108. In fact, it would be entirely wrong to read the first three modes into the Lutheran Supper. Christ's repletive omnipresence according to both natures is said to explain passages such as Matthew 18:20, Ephesians 1:23, and Matthew 28:20, but presence in the Supper it's actually sacramental presence through the words of consecration. Muller, though Reformed, explains the Lutheran Supper as follows:

That presence is bound to a particular promise of God given in the words of institution. Thus Christ is present, repletively, in every place and at every meal, but present definitively and sacramentally only in the consecrated elements of the Lord’s Supper.

For our purposes, it's important to understand that core to the Lutheran Supper is ultimately word and Christology. The consecration of the elements leads to objective sacramental presence, meaning that even unbelievers eat the real body and blood of Christ. The Formula of Concord Solid Declaration states that "the Word, by which it became a sacrament and was instituted, does not become false because of the person or his unbelief"109.

We can now compare this with the Reformed conception of the Supper. Despite how it's repeatedly described, the Reformed Supper is not "spiritual presence" in the sense of the deity of Christ. Omnipresence already has that covered. Presence that's only "spiritual" in the sense of the deity of Christ can't even be denied by memorialists: all Christians accept the omnipresence of deity.

The term "spirit" is overused in Hebrew, Greek, English and myriad other languages. It can refer to deity, but also angels, and, before our understanding of neuroscience and chemical reactions, it also refered to the mind. It's a term accommodated to our limited understanding often used to explain the unseen, thus in Hebrew and Greek the term is shared with "wind"110.

In the case of the Supper, we should take care to capitalize the "S" in Spiritual to add clarity: it's the presence and active work of the Spirit, because, in the Reformed faith with its Christological-Pneumatological infrastructure, the presence of the Spirit is the presence of Christ111. Yet, again, in a manner that speaks of more than bare deity.

Lutheranism is right to have a strong focus on the human nature of Christ. It's hard to overemphasize the fact that salvation is only possible by Christ according to both natures. To claim salvation, either status or state, by bare deity is to proclaim the futility of the cross. To have access to the Father, we go through the Son whose crucified and risen flesh covers us. Our union with the Father is by union via the incarnate and exalted Christ.

We're saved by both natures (WLC 38-40), yet not via the corporeal presence of Christ. In the same way, we truly eat and drink the real body and blood of Christ according to both natures (WCF 29.7, BC 35; cf. WLC 170)112, yet not in a corporeal, Lutheran manner113. Frankly, the Lutheran concept of "mode" entirely disallows them from critiquing the Reformed at that point. If they can claim manners or modes of omnipresence, we can claim manners or modes of presence. The mode is by the Holy Spirit by faith. We might say that the Reformed Supper is the result of viewing the Lutheran Supper in light of a catholic Christology114.

Regarding the physical elements, neither they nor the serving tray benefit from the blessing of the Supper. There is no real presence on the tray. After being explicit about feeing upon the body and blood of Christ (his deity has neither), WLC 170 is explicit about personal application, stating that "by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death". In the words of the Belgic Confession we receive the true body and true blood of Christ "by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls" (BC 35). This real crucified and risen presence in both natures is to the believer in the Supper in the same way that Christ is truly present in the believer115: by the Holy Spirit who bridges the distance to the locally circumscribed exalted Christ@@footnote@citation:calvin/spiritbridgingdistance@@

When it comes to salvation or the Supper, there can be no question that we must always emphasize the presence of Christ according to both natures. We also can't have a different model for the Supper than we do for salvation: the Supper strengthens our bond with Christ, and that strengthening can't be of a difference species than how we're made alive116. The Supper is the visible Word117. As Bavink writes, "Christ is truly and essentially present with his divine and human nature in the Supper, only in no way other than he is present in the gospel."118.

While Rome provides extensive detail on the mechanics of transubstantiation, Lutheranism and the Reformed faith are much more comfortable with mystery. The Reformed simply state that the manner "in which [the Spirit] does it goes beyond our understanding and is incomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God’s Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible." (BC 35) We don't need to try to explain it119. We need only say that the presence of the Spirit is the presence of Christ.

If pressed, we'll add that, because we're not speaking of a corporeal mode, there is no "replication" or need for the omnipresence of the body of Christ: the "mechanics" of Spirit and faith are already established when we describe salvation, we simply reuse that in the Supper. Simply core to the Reformed faith is the "conviction regarding the economic identity of Christ and the Spirit"120. Some prefer to speak of presence by the vitrus (power) of the Spirit presenting the body and blood of Christ to the believer, thus the term "virtualism". This term could easily be applied to our union with Christ as the Supper nourishes that union.

Infusion, Inherent Righteousness, and Good Works

A common accusation from Rome comes from the misunderstanding that the Reformed accept only imputed righteousness, not inherent or infused righteousness. Protestants also sometimes get confused on this point when they ignore the distinction between salvation and justification. It's simply not accurate to describe Protestant salvation as being via imputation and Roman salvation as being via infusion of grace. The corrective to this comes in the form of a corollary of christological-pneumatology.

It's vital to make explicit the fact that our status relates to imputed righteousness and our status relates to infused righteousness. This is explicitly codified in the Reformed faith in both the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Larger Catechism. Dort (CD 3/4.16) even directly rejects the denial of infused grace, citing Jer. 31:33 for support121. It's worth reading WLC 77:

Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?

A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

This also means that inherent righteousness isn't a mere Roman Catholic concept. Turretin writes:

The benefits of justification and sanctification are so indissolubly connected with each other that God justifies no one without equally sanctifying him and giving inherent righteousness by the creating of a new man in true righteousness and holiness122

Recall that the inseparability of status and state is as inseparable as heat and light. Thus, Turretin can write without holding back that "We hold these two benefits to be inseparable: that no one is justified by Christ who is not also sanctified and gifted with inherent righteousness (from which believers can truly be denominated holy and righteous although not perfectly in this life)."123. Much of the confusion on this point stems from simply conflating justification with sanctification or collapsing the entirety of salvation into justification.

No discussion of salvation, Rome, and the Reformed faith is complete without stating what may be considered one of the most foreign concepts of contemporary evangelicalism, but one that's vital to understand regarding any comparison or contrast with Rome: the role of good works in the Christian life. Though it may seem only tangentially related, the Larger Catechism touches on this in one of its richest answers:

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant? A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.

In this answer, we see God's free provision of grace and a mediator, the conditionality of faith combined with the Spirit working that faith in us "unto all holy obedience", as 1) the evidence of the truth of their faith, 2) thankfulness to God, and 3) the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.

This is yet another place where the Reformed faith is misunderstood: we have absolutely no room for an antinomianism that treats "good works" as mere "love notes to God". Not only are they evidences and expressions of gratitude, but they're explicitly said to be the way to salvation. This shouldn't really be too surprising given the Bibles strong emphasis on the fact that we're to be judged by our works (2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 16:27; Jn. 5:28-29; Gal. 6:7-9; Rev. 20:13; 22:12)124.

Mark Jones writes:

Good works, prepared in advance by God (Eph. 2:10) and done in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9–14), are consequent conditions for salvation. In other words, to insist that believers perform good works only as their thankful response to the triune God for all that he has done for them may give the impression that they are not actually necessary for salvation. But as a consequent condition, following from receiving Christ, believers are required to do good works (Rom. 8:13).125

This fact is so ingrained in the Reformed faith and so ignored in evangelicalism and Rome that it can act as one of the quickest ways to identity someone as a "Calvinist" instead of a Reformed believer. Before and around the time when this was codified in the WLC, we find the theology in the works of theologians across the whole of Reformed space and time such as Calvin126 (16th century Geneva), Davenant127 (pre-Westminster English), Rutherford128, Tuckney, Owen (Westminster English), Witsius129, van Mastricht130 (Dutch), Turretin131, and Pictet (17th century Geneva). Turretin sums it up as follows:

Faith alone can have a place because it alone apprehends the righteousness of Christ, by whose merit we are freed from the condemnation of the law; in this, works also are required as the effects and signs of faith, by which its truth and sincerity are declared against the accusation of unbelief and hypocrisy. For as faith justifies a person, so works justify faith.132

Confusion on this point tends to be evidence of a collapsed status and state. This can be done in either a Roman Catholic manner in which everything is state, or in a pseudo-evangelical manner in which only binary status matters. This latter manner would be expressed in unnuanced statements such "God cannot love you any more than he does right now". In reality, good works are a "means to the end" where "there is the highest and an indispensable necessity of good works for obtaining glory. It is so great that it cannot be reached without them"133.

However, once we distinguish the immutable love of God in himself (love of benevolence), God's love in time (love of beneficence), and God's love in his inclination toward a holy creature (love of complacency), we have enough flexibility to speak more accurately134.

These nuances translate roughly to God's eternal love, God's redemptive love, and God's rewarding love, which is nothing more than reading WLC 77 in light of a solid theology proper: God is love, his love is static in justification, and dynamic in sanctification. With these distinctions in place, Mark Jones can write:

Christ requires our good works, not simply as thanksgiving, but out of a necessity that has principally in view his glory as the Mediator who comes to see the fullness of his work as the church is conformed to his image. The incarnation allows us to think in this manner. In fact, the incarnation requires that we think in this way, so that we will have a proper perspective on why we do good works.135

Anthony Tuckney, who contributed to a significant portion of the Westminster Confession of Faith as well as both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms writes that:

we ought freely and fearlessly to assert both the doing of good works and their necessity, not indeed for acquiring or earning salvation by their merit, but by their intervention as God’s Royal way, graciously to be approached.136

The testimony of the Reformed faith is fairly uniform on this, but the dividing line is the confessions. We've already seen WLC 32 on this, but see also WCF 16.2 in which their end is established:

These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

Furthermore, not only are good works required for eternal life, they do truly please the Lord137, and they have associated rewards. See 16.6:

...the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.

The Belgic Confession also weighs in. Article 24 connects faith to good works in such a way where they're inseparable: "it is impossible that this holy faith be unfruitful in man". It then proceeds to clarify the boundaries: it's not for justification, only sanctification.

Next, BC 24 states that "we do not deny that God rewards good works, but it is through His grace that He crowns His gifts", which is a direct reference to Augustine138. Immediately after this, BC24 again clarifies that our salvation isn't founded on good works, as our works cannot be the basis for our salvation. Altogether BC 24 is effectively saying to Rome: good works aren't for status in the eyes of God because "still the remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them"; rather they're relating to our state, which can be improved, and, in agreement with Augustine, will lead to rewards.

We can't say, with antinomianism, that status makes personal obedience, therefore state, unnecessary, and we can't say that any level of state makes a perfect, imputed status unnecessary, as Roman Catholicism implies139.

Rome's accusation of licentiousness in the lives of those justified by faith alone has no basis in the Reformed faith. Their inability to distinguish status from state blinds them to understanding the Reformed position on good works and for heavenly rewards. Yet, in practice, evangelicals share Rome's confusion. Turretin speaks to both when he writes:

Although works may be said to contribute nothing to the acquisition of salvation, still they should be considered necessary to the obtainment of it, so that no one can be saved without them.140

No discussion of good works and rewards are complete with touching on the concept of merit. The Reformed uniformly deny that the rewards associated with the good works required for salvation are in any way meritorious. We've already touched on this when we see how BC24 refers to Augustine, who wrote "God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts". These good works are, per Turretin, "gratuitous and not a due reward"141.

Passive and Active Obedience

When we speak of imputation, we need to be explicit about the fullness of the righteousness credited to our account. Beyond the righteousness relating to Christ's suffering (latin: passio), or passive righteousness, we receive a positive righteousness as well. Though the concept wasn't part of the early Reformed codification, controversies after Calvin142 ultimately led the Synod of Dort to update the Belgic Confession.

In article 22 (The Righteousness of Faith), the words "and in our place" was added at the end of "But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place."143. In Christ, we receive the status from both Christ's sufferings and his perfect life.

Stated covenantally, "the first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience"; however, by the fall, man "made himself incapable of life by that covenant" (WCF 7.2). Nonetheless, "the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace" (WCF 7.3). Whereas the imputation of the passive obedience of Christ accounts for the penalty of sin, the imputation of the active obedience of Christ ("IAOC") grants us that which would have been given to Adam had he not disobeyed God. This imputation of Christ's righteousness isn't merely to keep us out of hell, but to grant us eternal life.

All theologians understand the importance of accounting for eternal life. However, there have been some, otherwise excellent, theologians in the Reformed tradition who dissented from this idea of the IAOC. A common proposal was the idea that there's just no neutral ground: the imputation of the passive obedience of Christ directly implies being right with God and can be with God144.

It's not that the dissenters ignored the sine qua non covenantal structures of the Reformed faith; rather, they lacked a concept of the stability of law145. Without this stability, God is said to alter his requirements for righteousness, so that now it's entirely of grace: "the gospel appears to supplant the legal framework with a new form of attaining righteousness (not only of receiving it); the legal form of attaining life through perfect obedience is now defunct."146.

This stability is often entirely lacking in contemporary evangelicalism and "Calvinism" today. The most obvious evidence of this is the transformation of the Sabbath into a practical matter to allow for worship and physical rest. This alteration of the moral law after Pentecost is only possible without a framework of legal stability.

The Sabbath precedes the existence of ceremonial and civil law; it even precedes marriage and the creation of humanity. With the stability of the law, the Sabbath exists because of God's rest at creation (Genesis 2:2-3). We rest, because God rested, and our rest will mirror his. It's not about fatigue or cessation of labor148, as God has neither. Indeed, God still works (John 5:15-17), so our work is simply transformed: acts of worship, necessity, and mercy. We rest from ourselves to rest in God (Isa. 58:13-14).

The law is an expression of the character and stable will of God, so the stability of the law is rooted in the immutability of God. The law remains stable as his character remains stable. With this stability, the gift of the Sabbath remains, as does the the demand for perfect righteousness in the garden remains. Muller writes:

The stability of the law, guaranteed in the divine maintenance of the terms of the covenant of works, points not to a legalistic view of salvation but to the fullness of Christ's work of satisfaction and to the totally unmerited character of the salvation provided by grace through faith to believers.149

In other words, what Adam failed to do, Christ came to do for us. This amplies the righteousness granted to us in our justification. Our status isn't merely not "unrighteous" in a neutral manner, but positively righteous due to the imputation of both Christ's passive and active obedience150.

Understanding the status-state distinction and how it's backed by the reality of Christ himself is vital. Furthermore, it's important to understand state, not merely in a theoretical manner in which one simply appreciates your own status more, but in a manner that understands that we are commanded to grow in the Lord, and we will be graciously rewarded for it.

The more we understand the greatness of status in this life the more we can see the dark shadow that the Council of Trent cast over the church and how it's the embodiment of everything contrary to Christian truth. We can now look slightly closer at this event which directly caused the second great schism.

The Council of Trent

One isn't saved by theological precision, thus it's entirely inappropriate to condemn to hell those who hold to the altered gospels of Arminianism and the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). They're justified by faith alone, despite their errors at nearly every level. Even Lutherans, and some Reformed theologians, while inconsistent on state and status, don't actively try to place binary status after analogue state in a manner that turns the salvific plan into a ladder to heaven. Yet, even if they did, individuals aren't saved by getting theology right. Errors are not typically a barrier to entry.

Edward Leigh (1602-1671) describes three levels of error: First, "citra" errors which are within a theological tradition such as disagreements on Church government which don't strike at the theological foundations. Second, "circa" errors which pervert the foundation, such as Lutheran Christology. Third, "contra" errors which are against the foundation like Rome's denial of Christ's once-for-all completed work.151.

Rome's placement of state prior to status is a problem due to the evils of sin in light of a meaningful theology proper: sin against the infinite God, demands infinite justice. This is only payable by the infinite God himself, but also only by one who shares in a nature with humanity: thus the perfect God-man (WLC 38-40). Anything less than an infinite righteous state must never be said to precede an infinitely righteous status. We dare not be seeing with the perfect status that is a manifestation of us hiding in Christ (WLC 69).

While defending our inherent righteousness in our state, Turretin rightfully writes that it's entirely insufficient for our status because inherent righteousness only "can neither remove the offense to God or the guilt springing from it"152 Without the status of perfect righteousness credited to our account, no improvement in state matters: you'll always be seen with sub-infinite righteousness.

By consciously seeking to treat justification as state, Trent has codified, not merely a separate theological tradition, but a new religion by which one is saved, not by faith alone, but by, albeit grace-aided, faith-oriented, a "ladder to heaven" to achieve a status, which includes the purification to be continued in purgatory. Paul's Gospel isn't about aides toward a status, but the gift of the status combined with the gift of state. Consequently, at Trent, Rome condemned itself by actively codifying a salvific model that is in direct opposition to Scripture's most basic message.

Here we must ask ourselves: are we not claiming a requirement for theological precision? While it may seem so, the point is less about the articles of faith, and more about the blocks that Rome places in the road for potential believers. While theology does have a rich internal theological architecture, our salvation is simply by reliance on Christ. Adding theological requirements is spiritual abuse, but adding salvific steps goes further by actively preventing simple reliance on Christ by faith. Rome explicitly tells believers that salvation is not by faith alone. This affects the pursuit of acquired theology, but also initial infused theology as Rome sends people in the entirely wrong direction at the inception point of the salvation.

Regarding faith, we speak of faith as having three components: notitia, assensus, and fiducia153. You must know of Christ and His events (notitia): knowledge which all demons share, and you must believe it (assensus). The demons have both of these components: in fact, they saw the events take place and have no reason to doubt their own witness. Reliance on Christ (fiducia) is the final Spirit-applied component which instrumentally unites the new believer to Christ and causes an actual change beyond mental assent in the person.

Faith provides no salvation itself, and is in no sense righteousness itself, rather it's the instrument used to apprehend Christ. In the Reformed faith specifically, faith is a sovereign gift given by the Holy Spirit as one of the two bonds of our union with Christ (the other being the Spirit himself)154. This establishes state and status in our union with Christ155. Fiducia is the all-important trust in Christ that separates salvific faith from a mere human faith156 (See also Owen157).

In Rome, faith is initium (beginning), fundamentum (foundation), and radix (root) of "justification" (salvation). That is, it's an absolute sine qua non of the faith, but it serves more than an instrumental purpose. Referring to Roman Catholicism as a faithless system of works is as baseless as the claim that they worship the bread and wine158. Nonetheless, at Trent, Rome has nothing good to say about fiducia:

Yet it should not be said that sins are forgiven, or ever have been forgiven, to those who boast of their confidence (fiduciam) in and certainty of the remission of their sins and rest on that alone. For this vain and ungodly confidence (fiducia) may exist (and in our day does exist) among heretics and schismatics and is preached with great vehemence in opposition to the Catholic Church.159

In other words, the truth that represents the essence of "faith alone" is actively denied. But, to get ahead of a common misconception, let's also look at another part of Trent:

See also:

Neither is it to be asserted that those who are truly justified must settle within themselves, without any doubting whatever, that they are justified; nor that no one is absolved from sins and justified unless he believes for certain that he is absolved and justified; nor that absolution and justification are effected by this faith alone— as if anyone lacking this belief doubts God’s promises and the efficacy of Christ’s death and resurrection.160

While this may sound like they're condemning faith itself, the description is actually closer to what we call assurance. The former is the instrument to apprehend Christ while the latter is not of the essence of faith, but "a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it" (WCF 18.3). Both faith and assurance are called infallible, because faith is a perfect gift, and assurance is not based on probabilistic arguments, but on God's speech. Even so, assurance is from man's perspective as a psychosomatic (body and soul) unity161.

Salvation is not by the strength of your assurance, but by faith in Christ. Rome, like much of evangelicalism today, misunderstood the Gospel at this point: you are not saved by the strength of your faith. The presence of saving faith is binary, but faith and assurance share a species. Mastricht writes "Faith is said to increase (2 Cor. 10:15), to be established (Col. 2:7), to grow exceedingly (2 Thess. 1:3), all the way to full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:22)."162. Faith apprehends Christ, while Christ leads to assurance through a lifetime of taking seriously the ordinary means of grace and the blessing of the Sabbath.

When it comes to the Supper, Rome, like the Reformed faith and Lutheranism, links the sacraments to salvation. In a sense, they do so more consistent than Lutheranism, because whereas Lutheranism has a disjunction between the mode of eating (corporeal) and mode of salvation (spiritual, by faith), the fact that Rome's entire model of salvation is based on state, not current status, enables it to not only keep soteriology and sacramentology close, but to collapse sacramentology entirely: salvation is based on the corporeal presence of Christ. While wonderfully consistent, this re-enforces the fact that everything, including the mass, is part of analogue state leading toward a future status, meaning that this is soteriology in a hopeful sense, not in the sense of a realized, true righteous status in this life.

Much of the attacks on the mass are misguided, not because the mass is Biblical, but because nearly every comment about it is slightly altered, making every comment a strawman. The mass is evil enough on it's own. It doesn't need to be mispresented. Specifically, while the mass is not the "re-sacrifice" of Christ that it's often claimed to be, it's still not the application of the once-for-all finality of salvation.

It's easy to get bogged down with the details of the mass. Yes, it's idolatry: even though the bread and wine are Christ, worship-via-proxy is idolatry. Not even Hinduism has a concept of "worshipping idols", they're worshipping using idols (cf. Exodus 32:4). They can claim "re-presentation" of the one sacrifice, but once we ignore words and focus on concepts, the sacrificial concept (and wording163) shows itself164.

However, these concepts were established as dogma centuries earlier and were already sustaining attacks prior to Luther. The point at Trent was the tie of the mass to the newly established conception of salvation. While Lutheranism and the Reformed faith place the Supper is on the path of state within a perfected status, Trent explicitly states that the mass on the path of state toward a status - it can be no other way, because Trent establishes that everything relating to salvation in this life is state.

The mass is undoubtably faith-oriented, but even if it weren't crass idolatry, it could never be accepted by the Father outside the context of Christ himself as he clothes us with his Gospel, granting us perfected status. Christianity is not first and foremost about Christ's benefits or his path to salvation, but it's about Christ himself.

Our progressive state isn't our defense in the eyes of God, our perfect, positive righteous status is, but never outside of Christ. Furthermore, though we currently have a measure of communion in glory with Christ (WLC 83), after death we will be "made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens", thus with a perfected state. There we will "behold the face of God in light and glory" (WLC 86) by immediate vision (not the bodily eyes).

Without being clothed in Christ (union) and his righteousness (status), there's simply no salvation. Whereas Christianity relates to putting on Christ and his garments (binary status), the Roman Catholic model of salvation is more akin to the Spirit guiding the individuals in sewing classes (analogue state). No amount of Spirit-assisted, faith-oriented effort on our part will enable us to reach the infinite status required to be seen before the Father. The seriousness of this is summarized by Turretin:

Truly while among men the comparison holds good; each one supposes he has what is of some worth and value. But when we rise to the heavenly tribunal and place before our eyes that supreme Judge, then in an instant the vain confidence of men perishes and falls and conscience is compelled (whatever it may have proudly boasted before men concerning its own righteousness) to deprecate the judgment and to confess that it has nothing upon which it can rely before God. And so it cries out with David, “Lord, if thou marked iniquity, who can stand?”; and elsewhere, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, because no flesh will be justified in thy sight.”165.

Much more to our ultimate point, though, is that fact that Trent went on an anathematizing rampage, which entirely cut itself off from everyone else. More than anything else, this is the component that glued the qualifier "Roman" onto the word "Catholic". It's as if they're saying: we and we only are the true establishment of Christ. Whereas the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 80 condemn a concept, Trent condemned those who hold to certain concepts. For example, in Canon 13.1, we read:

If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.

Despite Trent's condemnations of others, Paul spoke first, and he spoke with authority: "even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8-9). Though, as already noted, we need to be careful in applying this to other groups whose wording of the Gospel seems slightly different: not everything is positively self-condemning. There's no reason to attack people on social media for not stating every aspect of the salvation (e.g. justification, repentence) every single time they mention the gospel.

Furthermore, many people don't understand the depths of the evils of Rome. They simply assume all negative descriptions are libelous attacks, when they may, in fact, be direct quotes from Trent. While Tridentine theology would truly prevent someone from being saved, most people aren't following through that faithfully. Many Roman Catholics are truly saved by Christ, despite being influenced by one of the greatest enemies of the faith. Additionally, due to the extensiveness of Roman Catholic anathemas, many Roman Catholics qualify as being anathemetized by Rome without being aware of it. We must pray that they're delivered.

The Reformation created the Roman Catholic Church in the same way that the 1054 Great Schism created Eastern Orthodoxy. In the Reformation, Trent positively defined salvation in a manner that wasn't merely unbiblical, but in a manner which actively anathemetized the Biblical position. Similarly, the Great Schism, while also including unbiblical issues on both sides, was caused by mutual excommunications between the East and the West. Being Biblical may seem objective given the objectivity of Scripture, but institutional schism will be defined by institutional events such as formal excommunications and anathemas.

Before Trent, before their crass condemnation of themselves, there was still hope for the Gospel in Rome. It's only at this point when we can ask the questions of "where is the Gospel?" and "Are we one big family?" The Gospel was still safe before Trent, but, after this moment, unity is impossible, even with Rome's terminological updates in Vatican II (1962-1965).

The Gospel has always been in the church, but, no, we're not one big family. However, it's not safe to leave the matter there. What does it mean to not be "one big family"? For this, we have to answer the implied question "Where was the church before Luther"?


Further clarity on this will help us understand the continuity from the Apostles, through Luther, to our own day. The traditional protestant distinction on this point is the ecclesiological invisible-visible church distinction, which is part of the overall concept of catholicity.

To understand this, we need to set in stone a vital principle: let's avoid translating "catholic". Gospel is more than "good news", and, despite how it's typically rendered, "catholic" is more than "universal". This rendering loses vital connotation and moves the question, arguably making things more confusing: universal in what sense? Are we not particularists, not universalists? More importantly, the moment you get away from the word, the Roman Catholics control the paradigms relating to Christ's Church.

The concept of catholicity isn't directly definable in a simple statement, it's a concept that takes care to tease out its multiple layers. We can gain the first of these layers by looking to WCF 25 describes the catholic church as invisible, but also as visible. This contradicts the truly confused notion in contemporary evangelicalism that equates the "catholic church" with the sum of all true believers (e.g. the invisible church).

The theology of catholicity may be easiest to understand by comparing it to Reformed baptism: as Baptism is the sign of union with Christ, the catholic church is the visible embodiment of the body of Christ. The distinction between the visible and invisible church exists for the same reason that Baptism and union with Christ do not overlap absolutely: sin. On this side of the return of Christ, there will be a distinction between the visible or the sign and the invisible and the reality.

The catholic church is the one, holy, and apostolic church founded by Christ. No Roman Catholic would disagree with this. However, the Reformed should be quick to point out that the catholic church didn't establish a permanent hypostatic union with a specific name to make the church incarnate with two natures (visible and invisible). On the other side, it's neither merely the collection of all true believers nor merely the sum of all personal confessions or local congregations.

The church is an organism with the sacraments, the people, and a developed, deposited, growing theological backbone. We've already touched on the heart of catholicity when we discussed tradition, but we see this formally codied in WCF 25.3 where we read that "Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God" to the "catholic visible church". In fact, WCF 25 only speaks to the invisible church in a single point, reserving the rest of the chapter to the visible aspect.

Beyond this, WCF 25.4 speaks of the church as being "sometimes more, sometimes less visible". This visibility is somewhat proportional to purity and level to which "the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed". 25.5 gets summarizes this saying that the "purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error"; yet, there is a core essence that may be eliminated, entirely invalidating the visibility of a particular congregation to the point where they "become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan".

This final point brings into view the point: has Rome deterorating to that point? It may seem easy to throw Rome out entirely, but doing so buys into Rome's own hierarchical ecclesiology. While independency must be frowned upon, we do nonetheless need to judge local congregations according to their own viability; furthermore, from a Presbyterian perspective defined by the existence of Presbytery, we can look at the diocese. In either case, there is a remnant of a theological core in the form of the creeds and sacraments which allows us to speak of Rome as a visible church containing true, albiet wildly confused and misguided believers. Recall, the search isn't for absolute purity, but for the theological remnant.

The Reformation was both a reformation of the western institution as well as of the whole catholic church itself. Trent was the signing of the divorce papers in the western institution. However, while Trent created the Roman Catholic Church, it didn't cut the institution off from the catholic church. While Rome's official dogmas no longer contain any possibility salvation, they still have the word, the creeds, baptism, and an attempt at the Supper. These are the core backbone of the catholic church. Though not creedally established, we should heed the conclusions that came out of the Donatist controversy at this point: we must not invalidate the true graces offered, simply because the one doing the visible offering is outside the faith. Rome's explicit schism does not invalidate her as part of the one holy apostolic catholic Church.

This is often confusing, but Reformed, and in a sense all Christian, parents have an analogous concept: are our small children Christians? It depends. In an evangelical sense where "Christians" relates to your true status and state in union with Christ, then, no, they're not. We should leave the concept of "implicit faith" to Rome. Furthermore, covenant is merely the context for salvation, not salvation itself166. When the confessions speak of the salvation of infants, it merely reminds parents that the issue is in God's hands (CD 1.17 and WCF 10.3).

Yet, the question remains: what are Muslims to make of our family? Are we a Christian family or not? How are we to confess Joshua 25:15? Unless we try to force the concept of a physical domicile into the word "house", the statement must be understood as: as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. As Joshua's infants were Israelites, regardless of the state of their heart, so are our children Christian in that same sense. Similarly, Roman Catholicism is both Christian and deeply, profoundly anti-Christian.

To avoid catholic schism, we should accept their baptism while warning everyone against attending their idolatrous mass or entirely man-made worship, and at all entertaining their official "other" gospel. After the Fourth Lateran Council, the transubstantiation of the mass was established, but it was only at Trent that the Gospel itself was entirely condemned. These are qualitatively different issues. Attempts at institutional unity were possible in a way prior to Trent that's not possible afterwards. Yet, the sacraments remain.

Reformation must be defined by confessions. Trent did exactly this by updating their self-identity in such a way that it dug a deep mote around its newly founded theological island, thus doing everything it could to destroy catholic fellowship. Though there was an existing reformation effort before Luther167, this effort was focused on morality. At Trent, the outward offense in the Counter Reformation began with the updated "confession" being "sent out" (e.g. via persecution).

On the positive side, the Protestant Reformation at an early stage in the Germanic territories could be labeled the Lutheran Reformation culminating in the Book of Concord. Partly parallel and partly subsequent to the Lutheran Reformation, taking a fairly mature launch point from Geneva was the Reformed reformation. This reformation flourished via the continual flow of migrants and theological works in a triangle with the verticies of England168, the Netherlands169, and France170, culminating in the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism, with the "ripest fruit" coming in the Westminster Standards.

The Lutheran and Reformed reformations are true reformations of the one, holy, and apostolic catholic church. They're defined by the confessions, and tied to the historic church by the creeds, word, and the sacraments.


When we think about the question of the gospel before Luther, it's easy to buy into Papal propaganda about Rome having millennia of theological continuity. In this model, many seek the gospel outside the institution: perhaps the gospel was represented by persecution in the woods, or perhaps it was an underground movement within the organization that needed a second outpouring of the Spirit to re-awake God's people.

These naive ideas can easily be avoided once we make proper distinctions between codified theology and general understandings. The Church simply just didn't have a codified understanding of justification. Different groups, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, had different models of how to explain it, but even within their own groups there was disagreement.

Without theological codification, there's not enough definition for accurate critique. This leads to the endless strawman arguments such as we see today on social media where people are attacked for having a Gospel that looks event slightly different than theirs, when they themselves have no actual codified definition of the Gospel.

By turning to the codified confessions, we see that the life of the Christian isn't defined by a single event ("The Sinners Prayer") without implications, but a life defined by the Spirit's application of Christ immediately granting perfected status, and progressively increasing state where the believer grows in God's ordained means of grace, including the sacraments, and in line with the purpose for which we were saved: to glorify God and enjoy him forever, which will undoubtably be manifested by a life of good works.

At every point we need to make sure that we're not wholesale copying post-Tridentine Roman Catholic paradigms. This means being careful to avoid equating the church institution and the church organism. We need to maintain a strong catholicity, so that we don't kick Roman Catholicism outside of the only holy apostolic catholic church. While they do not have the gospel, they do have the sacraments. They don't have that which the sacraments point to, but they do have the pointers.

Much confusion today comes from naïve approaches to church history and the history of theological development where hagiographic descriptions of famous individuals are elevated over the codified confession. This will continue until a solid generation after everyone realizes that evangelical institutions such as Ligonier Ministries have been producing misleading historical and theological resources for decades.

Where to go from here? You should be getting your church history and historical theological resources from Reformation Heritage Books, Reformed Forum, and church historians such as Carl Trueman, Richard Muller, Todd Rester, Mark Jones, Martin Klauber, and Chad Van Dixhoorn.

Works Cited

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Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003)

———. Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation,, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008)

———. Our Reasonable Faith, trans. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016)

Calvin, John. Tracts Relating to the Reformation, V3 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851)

———. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011)

Cho, Youngchun. Anthony Tuckney, Theologian of the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017)

Clark, Scott. Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (Phillipsburgs, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2008)

Davenant, John. A Treatise on Justification: vol 1., trans. Josiah Allport (London: Hamilton, Adams, 1844-46)

de Campos Jr, Heber. Doctrine in Development: Johannes Piscator and Debates over Christ’s Active Obedience (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017)

Ferguson, Sinclair. The Reformed View, in Donald Alexander, ed., Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1988)

———. The Holy Spirit, ed. Gerald Bray, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996)

———. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance: Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016)

Fesko, J.V.. Reformed Confessionalism v. The Genius Theologian "New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Jan. 2023"

———. The Theology of the Westminster Standards : Kindle Edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014)

Formula of Concord. Solid Declaration https://bookofconcord.org/solid-declaration/#sd-vii-0025

Gaffin, Richard. Justification and Union with Christ, in Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes, eds. David Hall and Peter Lillback (Philippsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008)

———. Resurrection and Redemption: How Eschatology and The Gospel Relate, Modern Reformation (Philadelphia, PA: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 1999)

———. Resurrection and Redemption (Philippsburg, NJ: Baker Book House, 1978)

———. In the Fullness of Time (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022)

———. Pentecost and the Work of the Spirit Today - Pentecost and the Gospel BB Warfield Memorial Lecture Series

Garcia, Mark. Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008)

Garner, David. Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2016)

Giles, Kevin. The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012)

Jones, Mark. "Foreword," in "By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, Second Edition", Richard Gaffin (Phillipsburg, NJ: PR Publishing, 2013)

Kruger, Michael. Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012)

Lane, Anthony. Regensburg Article 5 on Justification: Inconsistent Patchwork or Substance of True Doctrine? (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2020)

Leigh, Edward. A Treatise of Divinity (London, UK: E. Griffin, 1646)

Letham, Robert. Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019)

Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformations, 2nd Edition (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)

Manetsch, Scott. "Is the Reformation Over? John Calvin, Roman Catholicism, and Contemporary Ecumenical Conversations," Themelios 36, no. 2 (2011): 200

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Muller, Richard. Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003)

———. The Covenant of Works and the Stability of Divine Law in Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodoxy: A Study in the Theology of Herman Witsius and Wilhelmus à Brakel , CTJ 29 (1994): 97

———. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms : Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017)

Murray, John. Tradition Romish and Protestant, in Collected Writings of John Murray, V4 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982)

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———. The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 9 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.)

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Trueman, Carl. The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012)

———. Calvin IV, The Reformation, Westminster Theological Seminary Westminster Theological Seminary

———. Claims of Truth: John Owen's Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2021)

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Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997)

van Mastricht, Petrus. Theoretical-Practical Theology: Prolegomena, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Todd Rester, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019)

———. Theoretical-Practical Theology [Latin Edition] (Ambersterdam: W. van de Water, 1724)

Van Raalte, Theodore. The French Reformed Synods of the Seventeenth Century, in Martin Klauber, ed., The Theology of the French Reformed Churches: From Henry IV to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014)

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Warfield, Benjamin. Introductory Note in Abraham Kuyper. The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), xxvii

———. The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, vol. 6 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008)

Williams, C. J. Good and Necessary Consequence in the Westminster Confession Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal 1.2 (Spring 2015).

Witsius, Herman. Conciliatory or irenical animadversions on the controversies agitated in Britain: under the unhappy names of antinomians and neonomians, trans. Thomas Bell (Londom: W. Land, 1807) 161-162



The post "Justification by Precision Alone?" by Mark Jones is helpful on this point: https://www.reformation21.org/blogs/justification-by-precision-alo.php.


Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 172


James Bradley and Richard Muller, Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2016), 10


Anthony Lane, Regensburg Article 5 on Justification: Inconsistent Patchwork or Substance of True Doctrine? (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2020), 9


Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 2nd Edition (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 11


Solid Reformed individuals often fall into the trap of looking for "general understanding" as well. While correctly defining the faith by the confession, these theologians will sometimes appeal to a "classical" understanding to establish one potential stream of the confessional faith as the only stream. This is entirely inappropriate. We need to talk about confessional theism, not "classical theism". You may think the "classical ordo salutis" is the only path forward, but the realization that various confessional authors, such as Thomas Goodwin, had a different understanding, should end this type of thinking. "General" and "classical" understandings are irrelevant; only the wording of the confession matters. J.V. Fesko while constantly trying to establish what he views as the one and only "classical" understanding of the priority of justification, when writing on covenant theology, correctly notes that the Westminster Assembly addressed multiple views on covenant, and only explicitly rejected one in the words of the confession. It was "silent with regard to the other views held". J.V. Fesko. The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Kindle Edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014), 28 This is a better way to view the confession than what is proposed by Patrick Ramsey ("In Defense of Moses: A Confessional Critique of Kline and Karlberg", Westminster Theological Journal, 66 2004, pgs 373-400). His proposal is that we examine the debates themselves to come to our own conclusions. While this seems like it gets to the spirit or intention of the confession, which is undoubtly vital, as the letter without the spirit is the essence of liberalism, it ignores the fact that the confession was intentionly, explicitly compromising. As distasteful as the Karlberg hypothesis is, the confession allows for positions rejected by internal debates. This is where further synodical work, such as seen in the 2016 OPC Report of the Committee to Study Republication, can be incredibly helpful. This pattern of Westminster debates, final confessional form, and further synodical study is replicated regarding the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. See the 2006 OPC Report on Justification.


Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 614.


Ibid 611.


Steven Duby. God in Himself (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 21-22


"It would seem to me to be inappropriate that people be required to finely parse the communication of attributes in the person of Christ prior to becoming a member of a church." Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 172. Many of these same local congregations require membership in order to access the Lord's table.


Heterodoxy is to be taken seriously and flushed out, but the overton windows has shifted so far left that, not only is heterodoxy given a blessing, it's given the euphemism of someone merely "taking an exception" to the standard or they subscribe "insofar" as the confessions are Biblical; the latter is particularly strange since we can do the same to the Roman Catholic Catechism. You can agree "insofar" as anything is Biblical. You can agree with a preacher "insofar" as he is in line with the confession. Hetereodoxy isn't benign; it's a form of dishonesty that's no different than a politician "taking an exception" to the US constitution or maintaining them "insofar" as they promote liberty. This defeaths the entire point of the standard. These attitudes are what standards (e.g. the Westminster Standards, the US Constitution) are meant to correct. There's no standards of integrity when this is blessed; indeed; hetereodoxy is a form of 9th commandment violation.


J.V. Fesko. The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Kindle Edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014), 27


John Murray, "Tradition Romish and Protestant," in Collected Writings of John Murray, V4 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 264-273


Scott Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 115


Scott Clark. Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (Phillipsburgs, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2008), 0


J.V. Fesko, "Reformed Confessionalism v. The Genius Theologian." New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Jan. 2023, 6


Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 18


Scott Manetsch, "Is the Reformation Over? John Calvin, Roman Catholicism, and Contemporary Ecumenical Conversations," Themelios 36, no. 2 (2011): 200.


Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms : Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985), 170


Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation, 113


Fesko, Reformed Confessionalism v. The Genius Theologian., 7


Michael Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 146


Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation, 109


Ibid 115.


Mark Thompson, A Clear and Present Word (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 169-170


John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 1:13:1


God being simple and his revelation being complex may seem ironic, but consider an analogy of the simplicity of a circle. In elliptic geometry, a circle is what we would call a mere straight line. It's the simplest of geometric structures. However, when we talk about a circle in our day-to-day euclidean geometry, it requires an infinite number of sides. Infinite simplicity is revealed as infinite complexity.


Vern Poythress, A Biblical View of Mathematics, ed. by Gary North, Foundations of Christian Scholarship (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 1976), 199


Petrus van Mastricht. Theoretical-Practical Theology: Prolegomena, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Todd Rester, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 232


Thompson, A Clear and Present Word, 108


Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 90.


Richard Gaffin, In the Fullness of Time (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), 44


Ryan McGraw, By Good and Necessary Consequence (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 0








Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: A Complete Body of Divinity, ed. Samuel McMillan, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2023), 32.


McGraw, By Good and Necessary Consequence, 0






Clayton Williams. Good and Necessary Consequence in the Westminster Confession, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal, 1.2 (Spring 2015), 57-58


Ibid .


McGraw, By Good and Necessary Consequence, 0


Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 107


Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation, 120


Youngchun Cho, Anthony Tuckney, Theologian of the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 84


Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1979), 135.


Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 270


Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 53-54


Muller, PRRD, 2:345


Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 15


Bavinck, RD, 1:493-494


The two most obvious example of further reformation in the church are the minor updates to the Belgic confession at the Synod of Dort, the officially codified interpretation of election in the Belgic Confession (the Canons of Dort), and the American revisions to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The last of these is arguably the most popular example of healthy further reformation: the updates merely removed European cultural components that shouldn't have been in there in the first place (e.g. kin marriage restrictions, forced vows).


@ More accurately, the WCF is the crown jewel of the second reformation. The first Reformation was primarily the planting of doctrinal seeds while the second reformation was the fruit of that doctrine as expressed in Reformed piety, worship, and practice. The crown jewel of the first reformation was the Belgic Confession. The Belgic and Westminster confessions don't "compete" in terms of Dutch vs. English theology, but represent the status quo of the first and second reformations. The fact that they were established in contexts with different controveries makes them nicely complement each other.


Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, vol. 6 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 58-59.


Fesko, Reformed Confessionalism v. The Genius Theologian., 7


Rome's mockery of Protestantism's "cherry picking" of the councils is as bizarre as secularism's mockery that "cherry picking" of Old Testment laws: American Christians aren't bound my ancient Isaelite civil law -- why would they be?


See Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Chris, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 256-259 and "communicatio idiomatum / communicatio proprietatum" in Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms : Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 128-130


Muller, PRRD, 2:80-81


Mark Garcia, Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008), 150


When speaking of the early "Swiss" theologians such as Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Zanchi, we need to be careful in how we use the term "Reformed". This term only relates to those who hold to the Reformed confessions. Unlike the Lutherans who still maintain the same Augsburg Confession today, the Reformed confessions were still developing. At this in the early development of the tradition one can be said to be part of the Reformed tradition, but with qualification. Here the scholastic distinction between secundum quid and simpliciter comes to the rescue. In the former, something is said to be the case by qualifications, while in the latter something is said to be without any qualifications. Someone born in North Korea in 1812 can only be said to be born there secundum quid, since North Korea didn't exist yet; however, someone born there in 2002 can be said to be born there simpliciter. Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Zanchi are Reformed secundum quid, and, would probably have to do some study, or even recant a few things to pass a contemporary ordination exam. Calvin is an interesting case, because he's one of the guys who the confession underlying the French Confession, which strongly influenced the Belgic Confession. Nonetheless, he too would have to study up on further 17th century developments on the moral law to establish an orthodox position on Sabbatarianism.


Lane, Regensburg Article 5 on Justification: Inconsistent Patchwork or Substance of True Doctrine?, 15


Of course, we're talking about 1541, which is after the Melanchthon's Variata update to the Augsburg confession, so his confessional stance on this point is questionable. The Lutherans are right to object to the existence of a contradictory document going by the same name ("Augsburg Confession"), especially when when by the same person. This is the filioque controversy all over again: right theology, wrong method.


Lane, Regensburg Article 5 on Justification: Inconsistent Patchwork or Substance of True Doctrine?, 30




The 2011 translation of the Heidelberg Catechism by the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) includes some confusion at Q61: "Q. Why do you say that through faith alone you are righteous?" At one point it states that Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness "make me righteous before God". This sounds like state language, not status language. The 1978 translation from the Reformed Church of the United States (RCUS) has "is my righteousness before God". The question is speaking about how we're seen coram Deo, not how we actually are. We need to be extra careful in our status-state language.


John Gerstner infamously stepped on a rake by claiming that Thomas Aquinas was a protestant (Tabletalk, May 1994). While Aquinas isn't nearly the enemy of the faith that evangelicalism makes him out to be, Aquinas very much thought about "justification" in terms of state, not status. This means that he's in line with Tridentine Roman Catholicism, not Protestantism. See Robert Reymond, Dr. John H. Gesterner on Thomas Aquinas as a Protestant, Westminster Theological Journal, 59 (1997), 113-21


We won't use the category "definitive sanctification". There may be better ways to speak of the "initial break with sin" than using this 20th century concept. However, the idea that sanctification comes from justification is a non-starter as this makes justification renovative. We shouldn't think of the Holy Spirit as the Trinity's janitor sent out to "clean you up" for your union with Christ. The concept of state as a single species of renewal in different contexts (initial and analogue) may already account. Furthermore, linearizing the "ordo" is merely convention that need not be taken literally. Salvation should probably be viewed as a simultaneity of all "events" (including receiption and "use" of faith) or as having a a multi-aspect union. See also Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 484-488.


John Calvin, Letter LXVII: To Farel (Ratisbon, 11th May 1541), ed., Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 260.


Alister McGrath. Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification - 3rd Edition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 322


The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) made the regrettable decision that "Q&A 80 can no longer be held in its current form as part of our confession". They did this because, in the course of their research they found that "in Roman Catholic teaching the effect of the Mass on those who die in the Lord lies not in the area of justification but of (final) sanctification. Rome has no status-state distinction: both are their justification, and everything is sanctification. The CRCNA theologians should have known better. See Cornelis Venema: Rome, Justification, and Sanctification


Robert Bellarmine, "De Justificatione," 1.1 Opera [1858], 4:461–62, quoted in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 634.


"Although demonstrating a near-total ignorance of the historical origins of the doctrine of duplex iustitia, there was a general conviction that the concept of iustitia imputata was a theological novelty, unknown to Catholic theology throughout its existence. Furthermore, the concept of imputed righteousness was widely regarded as something approaching an irrelevance, on account of the renovation of humans in justification; if God made people righteous in justification, what was the point of imputed righteousness? It seemed to be completely redundant theologically." Alister McGrath. Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification - 3rd Edition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 333


Roman Catholic James Akin writes that Roman Catholics "go beyond this and say that God gives us more than merely forensic righteousness—that the righteousness he gives us is more than a legal fiction, more than just an accounting procedure." Justification in Catholic Teaching, accessed November 15, 2023, https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/justification-in-catholic-teaching-1063


R.C. Sproul is a prime example of this. He saw the problem of the "legal fiction" as an accusation of something not being true or not legal. He said that imputation is actually a "legal reality" (Justified by Faith Alone, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 43-45), but that's not the point. If there's no actual grounding in Christ himself, the righteousness isn't grounded in reality. As Calvin says, to have righteousness, you need Christ first.


McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification - 3rd Edition, 271


Formula of Concord - Solid Declaration III.41 https://bookofconcord.org/solid-declaration/righteousness-of-faith/#sd-iii-0041


John Calvin, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, V3 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 152


John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 798.


Richard Gaffin, "Justification and Union with Christ," in Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes, eds. David Hall and Peter Lillback (Philippsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 262


Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 16.3.5, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 647.


Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 798


Ibid 736–737.


Mark Jones, "Foreword," in "By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, Second Edition", Richard Gaffin (Phillipsburg, NJ: PR Publishing, 2013), x.


As with all truly vital theological concepts, such as the Trinity and deity of Christ, one can get to the reality of union with Christ in various ways. One that's arguably more popular comes from a synthesis of Romans 5 with 1 Cor 15: as all are in Adam, thus have the sin of Adam imputed to them, when we've moved from being "in Adam" to being "in Christ", we receive the imputation of Christ righteousness, instead of Adam's sin. This way of stating it makes it structurally explicit why imputation flows from being "in Christ". However, this alone with the explanation of the true presence of Christ by the Spirit has the feel of merely a legal issue. Both explanations should be held together as the one and only true explanation. See Gaffin: "it is hardly helpful, and will only serve to distort Paul’s teaching, to think in terms of two unions in the application of redemption, one legal and representative, and the other mystical and spiritual in the sense of being renovative. That viewpoint, understandably and properly concerned that the difference between the legal and the renovative (i.e., justification and sanctification) not be blurred or otherwise compromised, loses the integral unity of Paul’s outlook. There is but one union, with distinguishable but inseparable, coexisting legal and renovative aspects." Richard B. Gaffin Jr., By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, Second Edition (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 43.


Sinclair Ferguson, "The Reformed View", in Donald Alexander, ed., Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1988), 58


Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, trans. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 380-381.


Turretin, IET, 2:668


Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?, 58


Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, ed. Gerald Bray, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 71.


Isaac Ambrose, Looking unto Jesus (Shippensburg, PA: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1856), 331


John Owen, Discourse XVII, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 9 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 598.


David Garner. Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2016), 310


van Mastricht, TPT, 2:47


Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: How Eschatology and The Gospel Relate, Modern Reformation (Philadelphia, PA: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 1999), 24


Richard Gaffin. Resurrection and Redemption (Philippsburg, NJ: Baker Book House, 1978), 89


Gaffin, In the Fullness of Time, 162


Richard Gaffin, Pentecost and the Work of the Spirit Today - Pentecost and the Gospel, BB Warfield Memorial Lecture Series, 2015


Gaffin, In the Fullness of Time, 139


Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 54


Gaffin, In the Fullness of Time, 158


Benjamin B. Warfield. "Introductory Note" in Abraham Kuyper. The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), xxvii


Garcia, Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology, 170


Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 568.


Francis Pieper. Christian Dogmatics, V2 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1951), 290


Ibid 274.


Ibid 302.


The wooden literalness of Lutheran hermeneutics in Christology often seems to mirror the literalness of the hermeneutics of contemporary dispensationalists.


Formula of Concord - Solid Declaration VII.25 https://bookofconcord.org/solid-declaration/#sd-vii-0025


Petrus van Mastricht. Theoretical-Practical Theology (Ambersterdam: W. van de Water, 1724), 704-705


Gaffin 2015


WCF 29.7 states that we "receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death". The key here is "Christ crucified": there's no salvation -- in terms of justification or sanctification -- outside the cross. The Belgic Confession is even more explicit: the redeemed "do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ's own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood—but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith" (Article 35).


Garcia, Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology, 153


Carl Trueman, Calvin IV, The Reformation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2013


As the Reformed typically misunderstand the Lutheran Supper, Lutheranism formally misunderstands the Reformed Supper. The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration states that the Reformed "understand this according to His divine nature alone, and not of His body and blood". That's just as wrong as the Reformed saying that Lutherans hold to a "stretching" of the human nature of Christ; however, the Reformed never codified such a crass caricature in any confession. However FCSD does better when it states that "the body of Christ is united with the bread sacramentally, or significatively, so that believing, godly Christians as surely partake spiritually of the body of Christ, which is above, in heaven, as they eat the bread with the mouth"


Bavinck, RD, 4:577


Ibid 567.


Ibid 577.


While some Reformed streams, following an off-and-on tendency in Calvin himself, do seek to explain it by speaking of our "hearts being raised up to heaven" (sursum corda) where Christ nourishes us, but there are problem in making this the "explanation of the mechanics" of the Supper. However, there are a few problems in making this the primary Reformed understanding for eating and drinking itself. First, it brings us closer, but it doesn't nothing about the "last mile" problem where Christ is still outside of us, thus, Lutheran criticisms stand. You must still be explicit about eating and drinking the real body and blood of Christ by faith; even then, Christ delivers: he did so in your salvation, so he does so in the Supper. Next, if the intent of the sursum corda is to explain mechanics, it's based on misunderstanding of what the Spirit is doing: he is not moving the body and blood of Christ across spacetime. The entire point is that we can eat and drink the real body and blood of Christ by faith by the Spirit doing that which we don't need to and cannot explain. It's probably safer to avoid using the term "wormwhole", but there's no reason at all to think that the Spirit has to bridge a huge distance. Let's leave the rationalizations to Rome and the Lutherans. Finally, and most importantly, while sursum corda can help add to the Supper a theology that mirrors the fact that in our salvation we are "seated in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 2:6), it's not the conception of the Supper that's codified in our Reformed confessions. It's great for liturgy, meditation, devotion, and as the context for the Supper, but not as a theological explanations for eating and drinking itself. The understanding of sursum corda may be obvious to everyone familiar with the discussions, but sounds, and has always sounded, contradictory to Lutherans, Romanists, and the memorialists. See also Joel Beeke: Christ Comes Down to Us


Garcia, Christology, 439


For more information see J. V. Fesko, "Aquinas's Doctrine of Justification and Infused Habits in Reformed Soteriology," in Aquinas Among the Protestants, eds., Manfred Svensson and David VanDrunen (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2018), 249-265 and R.T. (Dolf) te Velde, "Effective and Divine: The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Canons of Dort," in The Synod of Dort: Historical, Theological, and Experiential Perspectives, eds., Joel R. Beeke and Martin I. Klauber (Gottingen, DE: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2020), 206-215


Turretin, IET, 2:638


Ibid 649.


See also Mark Jones "Judgment According to Works, accessed November 27, 2023, https://www.reformation21.org/blogs/judgment-according-to-works.php


Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?, 64


Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, 787


John Davenant, A Treatise on Justification: vol 1., trans. Josiah Allport (London: Hamilton, Adams, 1844-46), 293


Samuel Rutherford. A survey of the spirituall antichrist: volume 2 (London: Unknown, 1647), 37-38


Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or irenical animadversions on the controversies agitated in Britain: under the unhappy names of antinomians and neonomians, trans. Thomas Bell (Londom: W. Land, 1807) 161-162


van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, 704-705


Turretin, IET, 2:714


Ibid 676.


Ibid 705.


Benedict Pictet. Theologia Christiana (London: R. Baynes, 1820), 72-72


Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?, 77


Anthony Tuckney, Praelectiones Theologicae (Amsterdam: Stephani Swart, 1679), 234


Turretin, IET, 2:708


Augustine, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 450.


Owen, Works, 3:621


Turretin, IET, 2:703


Ibid 714.


Heber de Campos Jr, Doctrine in Development: Johannes Piscator and Debates over Christ’s Active Obedience (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 8


For details of this at the Synod of Dort see Nicolaas Gootjes, The Belgic Confession (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 152-154.


de Campos, Doctrine in Development: Johannes Piscator and Debates over Christ’s Active Obedience, 161


Ibid 213.


Ibid 158.


"Piscator apparently believes that God changed the manner in which one is justified, or the legal structure was never meant to actually give life, but just to function pedagogically to lead to Christ." Heber de Campos Jr, Doctrine in Development: Johannes Piscator and Debates over Christ’s Active Obedience (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 159


Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 139-140.


Richard Muller, The Covenant of Works and the Stability of Divine Law in Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodoxy: A Study in the Theology of Herman Witsius and Wilhelmus à Brakel, CTJ 29 (1994): 97


For details on further developments, the covenantal structure, and where this relates to the Westminster Standards see Whitney G. Gamble, Christ and the Law: Antinomianian at the Westminster Assembly (Reformation Heritage Books: GrandRapids, MI, 2016), Jeffery Jue, "The Active Obedience of Christ and the Westminster Standards", in Scott Oliphint, ed., Justified in Christ (Great Britain: Mentor Imprint, 2007), and Alan Strange, "The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ", Drawn into controversie: reformed theological diversity and debates within seventeenth-century British Puritanism (Göttingen ;Oakville, Conn. : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).


Edward Leigh. A Treatise of Divinity (London, UK: E. Griffin, 1646), 88


Turretin, IET, 2:643


Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms : Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 193


Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, 538


Those familiar with the "traditional" ordo salutis know that the Reformed faith supposedly places regeneration before faith, but this only makes sense when you realize that "regeneration" is the "Dort" word for "effectual calling". Faith brings you life, but that life comes from the application of Christ, who is the life-giver (1 Cor 15:45), and that application of Christ comes by faith, therefore, faith precedes new life in this sense; however, effectual calling, as seen visually in the raising of Lazarus, precedes any of our actions, including faith.


Bavinck, RD, 1:516


Owen, Works, 4:49


In transubstantiation, the bread and wine become the body of Christ. They cannot be said to be worshipping the bread and wine: they are not Christ. The idolatry comes from the fact that worship-via-proxy is idolatry. Not even Hindus claim to be worshipping idols: they're using them to worship god. See also Exodus 32:4


Lane, Regensburg Article 5 on Justification: Inconsistent Patchwork or Substance of True Doctrine?, 30




Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance: Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 219-220


van Mastricht, TPT, 2:48


"1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner... this sacrifice is truly propitiatory." Roman Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), para. 1367. See https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/346/


For more details, see Cornelis Venema. The Lord's Supper and the Popish Mass (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015)


Turretin, IET, 2:639-640


This is true regarding the infants of believers just as much as it's true for ethnic jews: contemporary Israel doesn't have a path of salvation outside of Christ. The group of people written about in Romans 11 are defined by Romans 2:28. Neither infants of believers nor ethinic jews get a "free pass".


Luther's epistilary rival, Erasmus, is considered a catholic reformer. He would have joined the Reformation, but he was too faithful to Papal power. The Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517) also addresses some much needed reforms. Furthermore, Dante placed three popes (Nicholas III, Boniface VIII, and Celestine V) into hell in his Inferno.


Donald Sinnema, "The French Reformed Churches, Arminianism, and the Synod of Dort (1618-1619)", in Martin Klauber, ed., The Theology of the French Reformed Churches: From Henry IV to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 101


Carl Trueman, Claims of Truth: John Owen's Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2021), 21


Theodore G. Van Raalte, "The French Reformed Synods of the Seventeenth Century", in Martin Klauber, ed., The Theology of the French Reformed Churches: From Henry IV to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 93-94