ECT's The Gift of Salvation
is Part 3 of a series that explores the ECT - Evangelicals and
Catholics Together – and its basic tenets. Click here
to read Part 1 on the "Origins of Evangelicals and Catholics
Together." Click here for Part
2 on "ECT and the Doctrine of Justification."
In our last
article we defined the biblical doctrine of justification by faith...
KEY DEFINITIONS REGARDING THIS DOCTRINE:
Cause of Salvation - God's compassion and love
for lost sinners
Cause of Salvation - Christ's substitutionary atonement
on the cross
Cause of Salvation - faith alone in Christ alone
Cause of Salvation - imputation of Christ's righteousness
to the sinner and the imputation of the sinner's guilt to
a result, God declares the person to be just or righteous solely
for the imputation of Christ's righteousness and received by faith
doctrine of justification has long been a dividing point between
Protestants and Roman Catholics. The participants in the dialogue
between Catholics and Evangelicals Together (ECT) recognized that
agreement on this doctrine was vital:
statement, commonly referred to as ECT noted a growing "convergence
and cooperation" between Evangelicals and Catholics in many
public tasks, and affirmed agreement in basic articles of the
Christian faith while also underscoring the continuing existence
of important differences... At a meeting in the fall of 1996,
it was determined that further progress depended upon firm agreement
on the meaning of salvation, and especially the doctrine of
justification (italics ours). 
second document produced by ECT, entitled The Gift of Salvation,
is an attempt to reach agreement on these differences. Dr. Timothy
George, one of the Evangelical signers of the document, is enthusiastic
about the results:
rejoice that our Roman Catholic interlocutors have been able to
agree with us that the doctrine of justification set forth in
this document agrees with what the Reformers meant by justification
by faith alone (sola fide). 
paper will evaluate The Gift of Salvation by what we outlined
as the doctrine of justification in the last article. We will do
this by comparing the statements of the ECT document with the four
causes of justification enumerated above. These causes, taken together,
give us the Evangelical doctrine of justification by faith. It is
impossible to subtract or modify any one cause without the entire
doctrine being changed.
us first note the moving cause of justification. Gratefully,
we can find nothing with which to disagree in this section of the
statement. The document speaks of the purpose of man's creation
to enjoy fellowship with God. But sin has changed this and a strong
case is made for the inability of man to rectify the situation.
Note the following words:
members of the fallen human race, we come into the world estranged
from God and in a state of rebellion. This original sin is compounded
by our personal acts of sinfulness. The catastrophic consequences
of sin are such that we are powerless to restore the ruptured
bonds of union with God. Only in the light of what God has done
to restore our fellowship with him do we see the full enormity
of our loss..."God so loved the world that he gave his only
Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal
statement is equally clear that the meritorious cause of
justification is the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross for sinners.
Note again the following words:
it is clear that the work of redemption has been accomplished
by Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross. "Christ redeemed
us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Galatians
is in the following words of The Gift of Salvation that
we see a shift from the teaching regarding the nature of justification.
One of the charges brought against the Church of Rome is that she
has confused the doctrine of justification with the doctrine of
sanctification. Some of the benefits of salvation listed in the
document including restoration, adoption, and heirs of the Kingdom
apply to the doctrine of sanctification more than they do to the
doctrine of justification.
is also little that can be disagreed with regarding the fact that
the instrumental cause of justification is by faith. After
quoting Ephesians 2:8 the document reads:
faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and
freely adhere to the Gospel, the good news of God's saving work
for us in Christ. By our response of faith to Christ, we enter
into the blessings promised by the Gospel. Faith is not merely
intellectual assent but an act of the whole person, involving
the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life.
We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with
what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by
faith alone (sola fide). (Italics ours) 
words in italics above make a stupendous claim. Taking them at face
value, they declare that agreement on the doctrine of justification
has been reached between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals and both
parties declare their assent to justification by faith alone. What
had separated Catholics and Evangelicals for nearly five hundred
years has now been reconciled if the above statement is true.
lest we become too sanguine regarding this agreement, the actual
state of affairs presents a more sobering view. Professor George
sounds a cautionary note:
we believe, is a major step forward, but it still does not resolve
all the differences between our two traditions on this crucial
are some of the differences that need to be resolved? After giving
salutary warnings against distortion of the doctrine that could
lead to antinomianism and easy believism, Dr. George addressed concerns
that Evangelicals have regarding teachings of the Roman Catholic
Church relative to the doctrine of justification:
the Reformers, justification was the criterion by which they evaluated
the piety and teaching of the medieval church. This led them to
call into question purgatory, relics, indulgences, the excesses
of Marian devotion, and the invocation of the saints - issues
that still divide Catholics and evangelicals today. These and
many other matters that are not even broached in this document,
such as the role of the papacy and Scripture and tradition, are
"necessarily interrelated" with what we have affirmed
here together. 
what has been set forth in the document The Gift of Salvation
agrees with what the Reformers meant by justification by faith alone,
why are there so many issues remaining to be resolved?
answer to this question lies with the differences regarding what
we have termed the formal cause of justification (what
actually justifies the sinner). The formal cause of justification
is the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the sinner. God declares
the sinner to be righteous because the righteousness of Christ has
been imputed, or put, to his account. Luther called this imputed
righteousness of Christ an alien righteousness because
its origin was from outside of the individual. The individual contributed
nothing to this justifying righteousness; it was Christ's righteousness
alone. The instrumental means of receiving Christ's righteousness
was by faith. It was an adequate means because faith looked to Christ
alone. This brought together two Reformation statements: Christ
alone (solus Christus) and faith alone (sola fide).
failure of The Gift of Salvation is that it does not address
directly the issue of imputation of Christ's righteousness. It is
possible to believe in the moving cause of justification
(the love of God for lost sinners), the meritorious cause
of justification (the work of Christ on the cross) and the instrumental
cause of justification (faith) and still come short of what
the Scriptures teach concerning the nature of justification. It
is critical to state accurately the basis of the sinner's acceptance
before God. Is it the sinner's own righteousness, the imputed righteousness
of Christ, or a combination of the two?
ECT document excludes the person's own righteousness as the basis
of the sinner's acceptance before God. This is the clear teaching
of Scripture. See Ephesians 2:8-9. Such teaching was also condemned
at the Synod of Orange in AD 529.
there is a subtle nuance connected with this topic. Because of the
Roman Catholic Church's view of the sacraments, it teaches that
the sacrament of baptism infuses the righteousness of Christ
into the person. As the person co-operates with this infused righteousness
it increases until the point in time when the person becomes righteous
and is accepted by God. This is the reason for the charge that the
Roman Catholic Church combines the doctrines of justification and
is over the question as to whether the righteousness of Christ in
justification is imputed or infused that the differences emerge.
Evangelicals do not deny that there is an infused righteousness
in sanctification. However, the question under discussion refers
to justification, a person's legal standing, and not sanctification,
a person's moral condition. The Gift of Salvation does
not make a clear distinction between an imputed and infused righteousness.
As a result, the door is left open to the individual's own righteousness
contributing to his justification. This is a denial of the Scripture's
teaching that it was Christ's righteousness alone that formed the
basis of the person's justification.
George gives us insight into the reason for the vagueness of the
statement. He mentions various issues that remain matters of debate
between Catholics and Evangelicals. They include indulgences, relics,
purgatory, etc. It is our reasoned opinion that if the parties had
been speaking of an imputed righteousness for justification, there
would have been no reason for these things to remain as matters
of debate. The reason for this is simple. If the righteousness of
Christ had been imputed to us, there would be no need of any additional
assistance from indulgences, relics, or cleansing in Purgatory because
of the sufficiency of Christ's righteousness.
The tragedy of the document, The Gift of Salvation, is
that it is ambiguous where it needs to be explicit: whether the
righteousness of Christ for justification is imputed or infused.
Because this vital distinction regarding the formal cause
of justification is not stated clearly, we must disagree with the
claim that the statement agrees with what the Reformers meant by
faith alone (sola fide). If the parties wish to make good
on their claim that the document agrees with the teaching of the
Reformers, let them state unequivocally that the formal cause
of a sinner's justification is the imputation of Christ's righteousness
(solus Christus) and the instrumental cause is
faith alone (sola fide).
Editors' Introduction, "The Gift of Salvation," First
Things, January 1998, n.p.
Timothy George, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A New
Initiative," Christianity Today, December,1997, p.
"The Gift of Salvation," op. cit.
Timothy George, op. cit.
Ibid.titled The Gift of Salvation.