Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #31

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

For those of you who are on Catholic Answers mailing list, in their new Christmas catalog, they are offering a set of CDs from yours truly which is called “Biblical Apologetics,” or something along those lines. Just so you know, the 3 talks in this set offered by Catholic Answers are not “new” talks. They are talks that are already available on my website (Sacraments and the Bible, Rapture and the Bible, and One Church). I gave them permission to use these talks well over 2 years ago and they’re just now getting around to it. I’m not sure they realize that I now offer all of those same talks for free.

Also, sorry that I didn’t get an issue out last week. I was scheduled to volunteer for several hours on Sunday for a meet that my daughter’s gymnastics group was sponsoring. However, the situation changed at the last minute (Thursday night) and they needed me on Friday instead. So, I didn’t have any time on Friday to work on the newsletter. Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.


This is my response to Dr. Joe Mizzi’s Round 3 comments from our debate. This is not part of the “official” debate since we were each limited to 3 Rounds. For the whole debate, go to the “Debates” page on my website: http://www.biblechristiansociety.com/page/Debates. Remember that there are two related but separate threads to the debate. His Round 1 and 3 comments and my Round 2 comments discuss one thread, while my Round 1 and 3 and his Round 2 discuss another. Not how I would have organized things, but I simply agreed to what he proposed.

What I’ve done below is put his Round 3 comments (again, his reply to my Round 2) in italics, and I’ve interspersed my reply amidst his comments. To get the beginning of this particular thread of the debate, you can look at Issue #29, or go to the “Debates” page mentioned above.


Round 3 – Mizzi

John I accept your apology. Your misunderstanding of sola fide gives me great hope. You are not opposing the biblical gospel but the antinomian pseudo-gospel. In this fight, I am on your side. Moreover, I am hopeful that one day you will understand and receive the evangelical message for your salvation.

Response:Dr. Mizzi either misses, or deliberately ignores, the point of my comments. I have not misunderstood the dogma of Sola Fide – salvation by faith alone – I simply stated that I have different Protestants giving me different definitions of exactly what that dogma is, and I accept that he believes it to mean something different than what most Protestants I deal with believe it means. But, the point is, if I get different definitions, from different Protestants, as to what Sola Fide means, then who do I, a Catholic, turn to for the “official” Protestant definition of this all-important Protestant dogma? What authority within Protestantism do I turn to for a true and precise definition of Sola Fide, when Protestants themselves disagree as to what Sola Fide means? Again, he either misses this point or he deliberately ignores it. I believe he deliberately ignored what I was saying because he has no response to it.

He is almost right in saying that we are on the same side. The difference between us, as I mentioned in my Round 1 and Round 3 comments, is that he believes our works never “merit” anything. As Catholics, we believe our works can merit an increase in justification, an increase in holiness, once we’ve been born again…once we’ve become members of the Body of Christ. We, as members of the Body of Christ, can merit increases in what we have been given. We cannot, however, either through faith or works, merit the initial gift of salvation. Why he tries to portray the Catholic Church as teaching a “salvation by works” on his website, rather than focusing on the main point of our differences, is beyond me.

Your rebuttal deviates from our subject, Justification, to the field of epistemology. Important as that is, we must keep to our topic. I will not attempt to give a full answer; suffice it to say that the historic Protestant doctrine is recorded in the historical confessions (Thirty-nine Articles; Belgic, Augsburg, 1689 Baptist, Westminster, etc). Protestants do not agree on everything (do you?), but it is gloriously true that God granted us perfect agreement on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as the Protestant confessions testify.

Response: I am not deviating from the subject. The subject here is the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. He claims I have misrepresented that doctrine. My question to him is, how am I to know what that doctrine is, if different Protestants give me different definitions of it? Exactly what is the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide? Who decided it? Is there a Protestant Catechism I can turn to for “official” Protestant belief? Is there a Protestant Council I can turn to for “official” Protestant belief? Not just on the dogma of sola fide, but on any Protestant teaching?

His only answer to my questions is to refer to what could be called pseudo-councils for Protestants, when he mentions the Confessions (statements of faith) of various Protestant denominations: Thirty-nine Articles (Anglican – 1563); Belgic (Christian Reformed – 1561), Augsburg (Lutheran – 1530), 1689 Baptist (Baptist – 1689), Westminster (Methodist – 1646), etc. But, in so doing, he merely helps to make my case.

He states that we can find the “historic protestant doctrine” of Sola Fide in these various confessions of faith from these different early Protestant denominations. Yet, the “historic protestant doctrine” in these various confessions of faith, does not always agree. For example, the 3 confessions of faith from the 1500’s that are mentioned, by Dr. Mizzi, agree that Baptism is a sacrament, and that through Baptism a person is regenerated, in other words, they are born again through Baptism. Dr. Mizzi does not believe this. Why not? This is historic Protestant doctrine.

He apparently agrees with only certain “historic Protestant doctrines,” but not with others. Which goes to the point I was making in my Round 2 comments…if Protestants disagree as to what is and isn’t correct Protestant doctrine, who can I go to for an authoritative decision on the matter? Apparently, the answer is: Dr. Joe Mizzi of Malta. Dr. Mizzi has, in essence, installed himself as the Pope of Protestantism. He can authoritatively say that the Lutherans, the Anglicans, and the Reformed Christian Churches all got it right regarding the dogma of sola fide, but that they all got it wrong regarding the doctrine of Baptism.

Apparently it is okay for Dr. Mizzi to believe in certain “historic Protestant doctrines,” while rejecting others, but God forbid if any other Protestants do that! If you don’t agree with Joe, you gotta go!
Either Joe is the Protestant Pope – his decisions about faith and morals are binding on all – or he is a first class example of a cafeteria Protestant. He gets to choose, based on his own whim, which “historic Protestant doctrines” he will accept, and which he will reject.

And please notice, both of the 17th century confessions of faith that Dr. Mizzi mentioned (Westminster and Baptist) disagree with the three 16th century confessions of faith mentioned by Dr. Mizzi (Augsburg, Belgic, and the 39 Articles), when it comes to Baptism. Hmmm…it seems “historic Protestant doctrine” changed in less than a hundred years, doesn’t it?!

Something else to note: Dr. Mizzi does not believe in Infant Baptism. Yet, all of the confessions of faith he cites, except the last one – the 1689 Baptist Confession – say that Infant Baptism is a good thing. Why doesn’t Dr. Mizzi accept the “historic Protestant doctrine” of Infant Baptism? And, by what authority did the Baptists change this “historic Protestant doctrine” in 1689?

He tries to fluff over these differences by saying “Protestants do not agree on everything…but it is gloriously true that God granted us perfect agreement on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.” Wait just a minute! He cites 5 historic Protestant confessions of faith. These confessions are each giving us the basic beliefs of those denominations…not the extraneous parts of their beliefs, but the basics…the fundamentals…the really important stuff! And he basically says that they all got it wrong in some areas, but we know they got Sola Fide right because they all agree on that one. So, by his reasoning, if I were to ask a group of my 4-yr. old’s classmates what 5 + 5 equals, and they all said 6, then I could be certain that they had gotten that one right, even if they had disagreed on several other questions I had asked them? What a load of garbage that is!

We have here a perfect example of the failed dogma of Sola Scriptura. Each of these 5 historic Protestant denominations, when setting forth the basic tenets of their faith, all of them going by the Scripture Alone, come up with something different. Each comes up with a different interpretation of Scripture. And we see a perfect example of how the later Protestant denominations started changing the beliefs of the earlier Protestant denominations. Well, if the Baptists could change “historic Protestant doctrine” in the 17th century, why couldn’t someone else change it in the 18th century? Well, they did. And, why couldn’t someone else change it in the 19th century? Well, they did. And, why couldn’t someone else change it in the 20th century? Well, they did. And that’s why you have tens of thousands of Protestant denominations and that is also why Joe’s appeal to “historic Protestant doctrine” doesn’t mean diddly. He only accepts those “historic Protestant doctrines” that agree with him. Why can’t anyone else reject “historic Protestant doctrines” that don’t agree with what they believe? Which gets back to my question…who do I, as a Catholic, go to in order to get an authoritative decision regarding Protestant doctrine when Protestants disagree among themselves?

The answer: There is no authoritative source within Protestantism that I can turn to. Each individual is, essentially, their own Pope, their own pastor, their own theologian…as we can quite easily see in Joe’s case.

Back to our subject. I must emphasize that sola fide is not:

Faith = Justification minus Works

That’s antinomianism, making works unnecessary or optional in the Christian experience. Heretical!

Sola fide includes works as a necessary aspect of God’s salvivic purpose. Sola fide is:

Faith = Justification plus Works

Response: Which, is actually, the antinomian position Dr. Mizzi claims to not believe. Look at his formula. Faith = Justification + Works. So, re-arranging the formula by putting faith and works on the same side of the equals sign, what do we get? Faith – Works = Justification. With all due respect, but Dr. Mizzi simply does not know what he is talking about.

We believe that a person is justified by faith alone, apart from the merits of personal works, on account of the righteousness and blood of Jesus. We come to God empty-handed, without merits, and appeal for mercy and grace, asking God to give us what we do not deserve. By faith we rely on Jesus Christ alone for our justification, being convinced that his sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to cleanse us from all sin.

Now God’s purpose is not only our liberation from guilt and condemnation; he also determined that his people should be zealous for good works. The same faith that justifies, uniting us to Christ, also results in a godly and holy life. Good works follow justification – as one historic Protestant confession states: good works ‘do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

Yet we do not dream on relying on those works for our justification. For justification we believe in Christ – in Christ alone!

Response: Again, he misstates Catholic belief. Catholics do not “rely on” our works for our justification. We rely on God’s grace and on His mercy. However, as God makes very plain in the Scriptures, once we have been justified…once we have been saved…through Baptism – by God’s grace – we then have to continue to “abide” in Christ in order to be saved in the end. How do we abide in Christ? By taking the Eucharist (John 6:56), taking Christ’s very life – His body and blood – into our bodies and by producing good fruit (John 15:1-6) – which we can do when strengthened by the life of Christ, God’s grace, that we receive from the Eucharist.

Does the fruit we produce “merit” anything? Well, Scripture tells us in several places that God “rewards” our good works. What is a reward? My dictionary says it is “something given in return for service, merit, etc.” Hmmm. Now, when we do these good works, does God have to give us more grace? Does He have to reward us? No. He does so, again, out of His Goodness and His Mercy…which is all we can rely upon. We do not rely upon our good works. And, again, the only reason our good works can merit anything, is because after our initial justification, we have become members of the Body of Christ. To quote the Protestant Belgic Confession of Faith: “We do not deny that God rewards our good works, but it is through His grace that He crowns His gifts.” Amen! That’s what we believe.

To sum it up, we are justified by God’s grace and God’s grace alone. However, in order to stay in a state of justification, to abide in Christ, we need to do the good works which God has prepared for us beforehand (Eph 2:10). However, the only way we can do these good works and merit an increase in grace, an increase in justification, is because as members of the Body of Christ, we receive grace to do so. It is Christ, the Head, working through us, the Body, to crown His gifts with grace. We, the Bride, have become one with the Bridegroom. But, we can truly be said to merit, because when united to Christ, as Bride to Bridegroom, we do not lose our individual identities. And Christ can only work through us with our permission and our cooperation. He will not force Himself upon us. But, again, it is only by God’s grace that we can cooperate with His grace.

But, apparently Dr. Mizzi is either unable or unwilling to accept this. He continues to say that Catholics rely on their works for their justification. I accepted his definition of salvation by faith alone, I didn’t want to tell him what he believes; yet, he will not accept our definition of salvation by faith and works; rather, he insists on telling us what we believe.

How does this compare with the Catholic doctrine? Catholicism also has works as a necessary factor in the formula, but there is a fundamental difference. Catholicism teaches:

Faith plus Works = Justification

Response: Again, he simply makes up what he wants about the Catholic Faith, regardless of what the Church actually teaches, as is clearly evident in the quotes I cited from the Council of Trent in my Round 1 and 3 comments.

God’s Grace Alone = Initial Justification + Faith and Works = Final Justification. It is by God’s Grace Alone that we are justified, and this is seen no more clearly than in Infant Baptism. The child can have neither faith nor works, yet, when he is baptized, God freely bestows justification upon him. So, Catholics actually view justification as more of a free gift than do any “faith alone” Protestants.

Faith is important; Catholicism does not teach justification by works alone. Yet faith is insufficient to secure a right standing before God according to Catholic teaching. The merits of personal works performed throughout the Catholic’s life, must be added so that at the end he will be accounted to have fully satisfied the divine law and merited eternal life. I hope you can appreciate the difference between the Catholic and evangelical message.

Response: What he should have said is that Catholics believe faith “alone” is insufficient to secure a right standing before God. We don’t believe it because God never taught it. And, with all due respect, Dr. Mizzi doesn’t believe it either. What has he said throughout our debate? One cannot be saved if one does not have works. So, even though he tries to be clever and make up formulas like: Faith = Justification + Works, his formula makes no sense whatsoever. He says on the one hand that works are necessary for salvation, but his formula, when re-arranged, says Faith – Works = Justification. It’s what I always say: the more you get these folks talking, the more they’re going to contradict themselves.

Good works, like a kiss, could be the sign of opposite things. Good works are the Christian’s kiss of love and gratitude to the Saviour. But good works could also be a Judas kiss betraying the grace of Christ. For pretending to believe in Jesus, many religious people will not completely trust in him for justification, but work and toil to merit what God gives freely for Christ’s sake alone.

John I appeal to you, and to the readers of this debate, to examine your deepest motives. Do I trust completely in Jesus Christ alone for my justification? Is there concrete evidence in my life, good works, that my faith is real? And finally, am I doing works out of love for Christ, or for the purpose of meriting justification?

Response: Isn’t what he said here very interesting? “Is there concrete evidence in my life, good works, that my faith is real?” In other words, Protestants need to worry about whether or not there is sufficient evidence that their faith is real. How much evidence is enough? 1 good work? 5 good works? 10 good works? How many works do Protestants have to do to be sure that they have a “real” faith? How can they be sure that they’ve ever done enough works to evidence a “real” faith? Hmmm…I’d be a little worried if I were them…

In Conclusion

I’ve just returned from Temecula, California (outside of San Diego) on the red-eye flight. I’ve only had about 3 hours of sleep out of the last 36 or so. In other words, I’m pretty tired as I write this. So, if you spot something that doesn’t quite make sense, let me know.

And, if you want to forward this to Dr. Mizzi, please feel free to do so. I don’t want him to get to feeling too lonely.

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Apologetics for the Masses