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Question and Answer

How should we judge the teachings of a church?

Question:

Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). This shows that the teaching of the Catholic (or Orthodox) Church is true, because when you compare the lives of Catholic (or Orthodox) saints to the lives of Martin Luther and John Calvin, you will see that the Catholic (or Orthodox) saints were more holy. “You will know them by their fruits,” therefore, one should follow the teachings of the Catholic (or Orthodox) Church and not the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin!

Answer:

First, I would ask what those sinful actions were and how those “sins” are defined. Are they being biblically defined, or from the opinions of men?

Second, I would turn to Galatians 1:8–9, ”But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” In other words, it’s not the preacher who matters, but the Gospel which is preached. Is it the apostolic Gospel described in Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”?

So long as the apostolic Gospel is preached, we can agree with the Apostle Paul when he writes, ”Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: the former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Phil. 1:15–18).

I would respond that the “fruit” to which Jesus refers in Matthew 7 is the apostolic Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The bad fruit of Matthew 7:17–18 is produced by false prophets who preach a false gospel (Matt. 7:15). Their bad fruit is the faith which will not survive the storms of the final judgment (Matt. 7:24–27). Those who hold to such a faith will be cast out as workers of lawlessness (Matt. 7:21–23). 

On that day I shall be glad I do not agree with the Roman Catholic Council of Trent’s Twelfth Canon on justification: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.” Instead, with all the apostle, I will boast in Christ alone. Will you?

As Paul put it, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:30–31).


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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