By Pierre Bruneau (1689 London Baptist Confession)
I just finished watching the debate between Dr. James White (the Protestant debater) and Peter D. Williams (the Roman Catholic debater) on the topic of indulgences. Throughout the debate both sides claimed to believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and the sufficiency of grace. I am not surprised by this because Rome has historically claimed to teach these things. What does this mean, that both sides have reached a kind of consensus or agreement? Absolutely not! The debate between James White and Peter D. Williams clearly demonstrated that while Roman Catholics and Protestants often use the same words and phrases they mean entirely different things by them. The difference between the two debaters can be summarized as follows: Peter D. Williams was saying that grace is sufficient to make our salvation possible but that we then have to do certain things to make it a reality, and although Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient we must do certain things for it to become effective or remain effective. Dr. White, on the other hand, was saying that grace not only makes our salvation possible, but an accomplished reality that requires no work on our part, and that it is on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice alone, which has actually removed the debt of all punishment and given us peace and access to God on that basis alone. You see, for Rome grace is only sufficient to make salvation possible, while the Reformation has always taught that it is sufficient to make it an accomplished reality. There is a vast difference between the two!
A good way to illustrate this is to use an illustration used by Peter D. Williams during the debate. I will summarize it here but you can watch the debate to listen to his full argument. He likened God to someone who provides all the necessary funds and materials to build a building, but the builders still have to build the building. But the analogy breaks down when you bring it to the light of Scripture, because if the builders have to build the building, it means that they have to work, but Scripture clearly tells us that “if it is by grace it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6). Not only that, but if the builders are working, then they deserve a wage, and if the funds provided are analogous to God’s grace or Christ’s merits, then the builders would be earning God’s grace and Christ’s merits! Is this the conclusion Peter D. Williams intended us to come to? Did he not realize how such horrible blasphemy can be communicated through his seemingly innocent illustration? But the reality is that the Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly asserts that we can use grace to earn further grace, and the Council of Trent and many other official Roman Catholic Church documents have consistently claimed the necessity of works for salvation (for example see the CCC section 2010 and the 6th session of the Council of Trent). But to make any kind of work necessary for salvation is to make God out to be our debtor, as Scripture says, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor but as what is due. But to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…” (Romans 4:4-5).
Towards the end of the debate Mr. Williams also plainly denied the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. While he affirms substitutionary atonement he denies its penal nature. Again, I am not surprised by this because I have heard and read many Roman Catholic apologists say the same thing. Although Dr. White responded adequately to this and other arguments made by Mr. Williams during the debate, I would also like to point out the passage of the suffering servant where it says that “he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but YHWH has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him” (Isaiah 53:5-6), and it goes on to say that this was “for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due” (53:8), and it says very clearly that “YHWH was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief…” (53:10). Anyone who fails to see that God is punishing Christ for the sins of his people in this text is clearly wearing a blindfold of false presuppositions!
I will not summarize the whole debate between Dr. White and Mr. Williams here, but I recommend that people watch it because it clearly shows the difference between Roman Catholicism and the biblical gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria!