On July 23, 2006 the World Methodist Conference signed a consensus document on justification with the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church. However, the official position of the Catholic Church, as stated at the Council of Trent, pronounces anathema on all who teach justification by faith. Rome cannot undo what a previous ecumenical council decided, it can only reinterpret received truth. The question is whether they now have a better understanding of justification or whether the doctrine has been compromised in the name of ecumenicism.
It appears that the Protestants have accommodated Rome at three points. First, imputed righteousness is dropped in the consensus document. For Rome, sinners are justified after they are made righteous. Yet the Protestant doctrine is that we are justified while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8).
Second, the doctrine of sanctification overlaps into the doctrine of justification, which results in some measure of holiness required as the basis of justification. However, Romans 4:5 teaches that the faith of the ungodly is counted as righteousness.
Third, the statement fails to adequately affirm that justification is “by faith alone.” Yet, Romans 3:21, 24, and 28 all imply that justification is by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone.
James Arminius declared that “faith, and faith only, is imputed for righteousness. By this alone are we justified before God, absolved from our sins, and are accounted, pronounced and declared RIGHTEOUS by God, who delivers his judgment from the throne of grace.” John Wesley declared that justification by faith was the article of doctrine by which the church stands or falls. Two years after his Aldersgate experience, Wesley explained that he had wandered many years in the “new path of salvation by faith and works,” but about two years ago it pleased God to show us the “old way of salvation by faith only.”
Wesleyan-Arminians, however, understand the faith which saved to be a present tense faith. We also believe saving faith to be a faith which produces obedience (Rom 1:5; 16:26). In Romans 10:16 Paul also equates obedience with faith. Douglas Moo is correct when he commented, “Obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience.”
I come to God as a sinner with no righteousness of my own. Yet by trusting in Christ I am justified and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to my account. Romans 4 teaches that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. However, we not only have peace with God through justification by faith (Rom 5:1), he also pours out the Holy Spirit into the heart of the justified (Rom 5:5). The love of God was poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us when we were justified. Justification and the gift of the Holy Spirit both occur at the same time—having been justified and having been given both occurred at the moment of saving faith.
Therefore, God does not impute grace without imparting grace. To justify means to make just. Justification is not a constant forgiveness for constant sinning. For God to impute to us what he does not impart to us amounts to legal fiction — the charge Roman Catholic theologians make of Reformed theology. God declares us to be without guilt and imparts his righteousness. Yet the Catholic error is to put sanctification prior to justification, meaning that we must first become righteous before God will declare us righteous. This can never happen if our sinful nature renders us completely unable to perform such works of righteousness.
Therefore, we accept the Protestant doctrine of sola fide, which means “by faith alone,” but we reject solifidianism. John Fletcher explained that “solafidianism” is a softer word for antinomianism. Solafidians not only hold that sinners are justified solely by faith in the day of conversation, but that because faith is the sum total of salvation, they deny the final justification by works of faith at the day of judgment. However, scripture teaches a final justification by works. Thus, as James 2:17-24 taught, saving faith will produce good works.