Answering John Martignoni: Assurance of Salvation

vine and branches

This will be the first installment of a series of articles where I will give my answer to questions asked by John Martignoni in his newsletters. But before we get to the question on assurance of salvation, I would like to briefly share my encounter with John Martignoni.

In January 2009, John Martignoni responded to an article I wrote where he asked me a barrage of questions in response to my criticism of his assertion that oral tradition is responsible for the canon of Scripture. I was happy to answer all his questions sincerely and honestly. Since in his newslettesrs John tends to ask a lot of questions to his Protestant opponents and then berates them for not answering them, I wondered how he was going to respond to someone that addressed each and every one. But much to my surprise, I never heard back from him. I suspect the reason was that he was too nervous about being called out on the false information he presented to his some 30,000 newsletter subscribers.

I wrote the article in response to a debate John had with Joe Mizzi, an evangelical who runs a Catholic outreach website called, Just for Catholics. In that debate John asserted that the fourth century council of Rome “received by word of mouth that the canon they were passing on was indeed apostolic in origin.” My article referred to his claim as ignorant and refuted it with explicit historical facts, all clearly referenced for readers to examine for themselves. In response, John ignored the evidence and stood by his claim saying this:

“My quote is quite factual. Your response to that quote, however, does indeed represent your inability to accurately read, interpret, and respond to my argument.”

From there he just bombarded me with questions; never once addressing the facts I presented in my article. Notice that he accused me of not being able to accurately read, interpret, and respond to his argument, yet he didn’t respond to one single point I made in my article, not one!

If John Martignoni knew the history of how the canon of Scripture was formed when he made his statement then he was deliberately deceiving his 30,000 readers. But if he didn’t know the history, he had no basis for insisting that his remarks were factual. His remarks were not factual and that can be easily proven and in fact was proven in my article.

John Martignoni cannot explain why he believes that oral tradition, which was passed down over a 300 year period, proves that all the works contained in the canon of Scripture are “indeed apostolic in origin.” He cannot explain it because it is not true. Take 2Peter for instance; The oldest extant work we have that mentions 2Peter is from the theologian, Origen, who in the late second century referred to it as “doubtful.” If we go back a little further in time to the later mid second century, we find a list of conical books from the church in Rome, called the “Muratorian list,” which makes no mention of 2Peter. And as we go through the third century, we find the authenticity of 2Peter constantly in question. Yet somehow in the minds of some apologists, Like John Martignoni, 2Peter was known to be of apostolic origin by the assurance of “oral tradition”?

History tells us that other books of the New Testament went through similar scrutiny, doubtfulness, and even rejection. In fact, the western church never accepted the book of Hebrews as apostolic until the middle of the fourth century; so much for sound oral tradition.

John’s claim that oral tradition confirms the apostolic origins of the canon of Scripture is outrageous, but the fact that he assumes that “Bible-believing” Christians’ only source of truth comes from within the pages of the canon, and that we reject all oral tradition is even more ridiculous. Oral tradition is part of the history of the canon, no doubt, but it certainly is not the catalyst for apostolic authorship or inspiration as John Martignoni claims it is.

Since the time John responded to my article I have made a couple attempts to ask him questions, but I have not succeeded in getting his attention. When you have 30,000 subscribers to your newsletter I can imagine that it is difficult to handle the large number of emails that must accompany that following. So I thought; rather than bugging a busy man like John I should gather some of the questions he asks Protestants in his debates and answer them here and hopefully by doing so it will benefit my readers in the process.

My posts may be an answer to one question or several depending on how in depth the answer is. Today’s post will answer just one question and it comes from newsletter 194. The question addressed in this post is regarding assurance of salvation.

If assurance of salvation is true, then how can one be severed from Christ by being circumcised? (Gal 5:4)

The short answer is they can’t. And that is not what Paul said or implied in his letter to the Galatians.

By asking this question, John Martignoni is insinuating that any Galatian who became circumcised was severed from Christ. If that were true, Paul would have been wasting his time exhorting them to the truth. The reason is because one cannot be severed from Christ and then later return to the fold. As a Catholic, John Martignoni would understand being severed from the Lord as a possible temporary state. In the Catholic system, if one commits what’s called a mortal sin they are considered to be no longer in a state of grace. This means that they are severed from the Lord. The Catholic sacrament of penance, AKA sacrament of reconciliation, however, allows one who is in a state of mortal sin to be reconciled to the Lord through confession to a priest and by doing whatever “penances” the priest bestows on him.

The fact of the matter is we don’t know the spiritual state of those Galatians that were deceived into believing the Judaizers. But for the sake of argument let’s suppose they were mature fruit-bearing believers. Could we not argue in that case that they are Christ’s sheep, and that God used Paul to rescue them? Let’s recall the promise Jesus made to all those who are in Christ: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (Jhn. 10:27-28) If Christ’s sheep in Galatia did become circumcised, then because of the promise, we can say with certainty that they were not severed, but rather they were corrected and brought back to the fold like stray sheep rescued from a ditch.

Although Christ’s sheep in Galatia might have been deceived for a time, they would have responded to Christ’s voice in Paul’s letter. Any Galatians that refused to heed Paul’s warning and refused to obey the truth could not have been in Christ’s fold to begin with. If we say that those who continued to be justified by the Law were severed from the fold, then we would have to conclude that they were taken out of Christ’s hands. That conclusion would run contrary to the promise of our Lord. What we can conclude is that any Galatian that continued to seek justification by the Law after Paul’s warning, was not recognizing the Shepherds voice and was, therefore, not of His fold.

Furthermore, Paul did not say that any of them were fallen from grace for being circumcised; he said whosoever thinks he is justified by the Law is fallen from grace. That distinction must be understood. It’s not the fact that they had been deceived that might have severed them from the fold; it would have been because they refused to respond to the Shepherds voice, which would have proven they were not in the fold to begin with.

So what does it mean to be severed from the Lord? Let’s use Jesus’ parable of the vine and branches as our example. When a branch is severed from the vine it is because the branch bears no fruit, and if the branch bears no fruit, it is cut off and burned. Since a dead branch cannot bear fruit, it makes no sense to graft it back into the vine. As we read in Hebrews 6:4-6, Christ is not sacrificed a second time meaning that once someone believes and accepts the Gospel, receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, then later rejects it, there is no returning.

So what does it mean to reject the Gospel? What does it mean to walk away from Christ? It means putting Christ to open shame after having known Him (Heb. 6:6). It means to trodden under foot the Son of God (Heb. 10:29), and literally ripping Him from your heart where He made His abode. This in no way describes the Galatians that were deceived into being circumcised. It would make no sense for Paul to tell them to walk in the spirit if they had been severed from the Lord.

Who fits the description of knowing and then rejecting Christ; Judas perhaps? Didn’t Jesus tell the Jews in John 6 that those who come to Him are given to Him by His father? Did He not tell His disciples the reason they knew who He was is because the Father revealed it to them? So why do Catholics believe that Jesus didn’t really promise that our salvation as a believers in Christ is assured. Are they suggesting that God makes mistakes?

Several Catholics with whom I have had discussions have told me that I cannot know that I will never walk away from Christ; therefore, they say I cannot be assured of my salvation. Doesn’t that sound like the enemy saying that Jesus didn’t really promise that He would keep us in His hand? They tell me to look closely at Jesus’ words in John 10. They point out that Jesus said, “Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” They say that this implies that someone else cannot take us out of Jesus’ hand, but because of free will, we can take ourselves out of His hand. In other words, they are telling me that I might one day choose to rip Christ from my heart. I don’t think that anyone who knows what it means to be spiritually alive would ever contemplate wanting to be spiritually dead. These Catholics clearly do not understand how we are kept in Christ’s hand in the first place and as a result they attempt to make void His promise.

How we are kept in Christ all boils down to one four-letter word, love. We are kept in Christ by love, and I am not talking about Christ’s love for us because He clearly demonstrated His love for all mankind by His sacrifice; I am talking about our love for Him. Our relationship with Christ is a matter of the heart. Christians who are in Christ intuitively know they are kept there through love. If our lives were changed by our belief in the Gospel it is because we love the Lord and we inevitably bear spiritual fruit. And if we bear spiritual fruit we will be pruned so we can bear more fruit.

All branches of fruit trees grow offshoots that compete with fruit production. By pruning the offshoots, a branch will not only bear more fruit, but better fruit. And what are life’s offshoots? Offshoots are all those things in life that distract us from our relationship with Christ. If we believe in Him, love Him, and care about obeying Him, we will bear fruit, but at the same time struggle with sin and distractions, maybe even for extended periods of time. But know that all God’s children will be corrected, strengthened, and returned; and nobody can successfully take them away from their Lord.

So why did John Martignoni, having absolutely no knowledge of the spiritual state of the Galatians, so easily conclude that those who were circumcised were severed from Christ? The answer can be understood through a Catholic doctrine that runs counter to Christ’s parable of the vine and branches.

The Catholic doctrine of penance insists that believers can be cut off by sin, and then grafted back into the vine through the sacrament of penance over and over again. The doctrine implies that a fruit-bearing branch can be cut off rather than pruned if the offshoot is of a certain character. It further implies that a fruit-bearing branch can be cut off, thrown into a pile to be burned, but then removed from the pile and graphed back into the vine upon certain men’s approval. When compared to the parable of the vine and branches, the Catholic doctrine of penance is proven to be insanely corrupt.

The sacrament of penance serves no purpose in God’s kingdom and only serves to intimidate believers into obeying the laws of a church. The doctrine is unbiblical and pointing to Scripture to support the doctrine only demonstrates a lack of understanding towards that Scripture. If the doctrine had been taught by the apostles, we should be able to read about it in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. After all, Paul didn’t personally visit them and he fully intended for his letter to be the correction they needed. Instead of reading about confession to the elders and penance, we read that Paul simply exhorted them to walk according to the spirit.

457 Responses to Answering John Martignoni: Assurance of Salvation

  1. Kevin says:

    Bil, with all due respect, you seem ignorant on the early church position on Mary. The Fathers indeed believed Mary suffered scandal at the passion, the sword of doubt piercing her heart. This is documented well at the site ” Out of His mouth” whitehorse blog. Turtullian believed Mary and Jesus brothers were guilty of unbelief at one time, coming to Him and interupting Him being outside His sermons. The Roman Catholic view of Mary was indeed a late 4th century swelling and today, its flat out worship. K

  2. Bill says:

    I do indeed know that some in the early Church, especially the eastern fathers, did believe that she had sinned at venially, so I’m not as ignorant as you might expect. Another thing they debated was when exactly she became full of grace. Some said from the beginning, some said not until later. And when I give an answer you say, “Sorry, I don’t buy it.” I give a Catholic response and you tell me my response is wrong, even from a Catholic point of view. It’s hard to have conversations with people who tell you even how you believe your faith is wrong. I know the difference between latria and dulia, I know what the Church teaches on it, yet you still say, “Sorry, you worship Mary.” How can I argue against anyone who tells you you believe in something you don’t. Kevin, I apoloigize if it wasn’t you, it may have been Brian. I got like 6 responses in my inbox and I am just responding to this one. But in the end it doesn’t matter who I’m saying it to.

    Let me bottom line this for you: Nothing I say is going to change your mind, and nothing you say will change mine. I asked asked if the early Church wasn’t Catholic, what was it and where is that Church today? Where is the Church that still sacrifices, that still confesses its sins, that baptizes to regenerate the soul, that believes in the Eucharist, that celebrates liturgically, that anoints the sick, where is it if not in the Catholic church, cuz that is what I see in the early Church. I got no answer. I meant what I said, that if someone pointed out to me and said, “That church there teaches all you see in the early church,” I would at least check it out. I’m open minded enough to do that. I asked about the development of doctrine and got nothing.

    If you are looking for reasons to hate the Church, in 2000 years I suppose you’re gonna find enough. There’s been some pretty bad people come through its doors in that time. But the Godly people who love the Lord and do HIs will far outnumber the bad ones. You look for the bad. I look for the good, and the time Ive been in the Catholic Church has been nothing but good for me and I’ve done more in the cause of Christ since I’ve become Catholic than I ever did as a fundamentalist Protestant.

    In the end I tried to answer your questions. Maybe not well, but I tried. But the questions I asked got glossed over or ignored. THAT is precisely why I left Protestantism. This will be my last post, as it seems that you, Kevin, and Brian can now argue amongst yourselves.

  3. Bill,

    Keven had no business butting in here and I hope he will stay out of this for now. I plan on responding to you, but I’ve been too busy today. Stick around and you’ll hear from me by tomorrow.

    God bless. Brian

  4. Kevin says:

    Brian, sorry. Your right. K

  5. Brian, no, I absolutely don’t have a beef with you. I like you. Im sorry i jumped in, I didn’t realize ( and should have) that you were in an ongoing discussion with Bill. But I must disagree with this assessment ” Rome would not be reformed, therefore, from the perspective of the church it failed.” I don’t believe Rome was ever the real church, even thru the dark ages. But yes it is part of the so called visible church. Nowhere is the concept of visible church ever taught in the NT. Church was a metaphor Paul used for the body of believers. Visible churches don’t connect us to God, He comes in the gospel by His choosing ( ” The Spirit blows where and how He wills”). No church owns God. The church is not the same as Jesus Christ in the world. No church can replace Christ’s uniquely finished atonement, usurping His finished work as the agency of redemption thru the acts of the church. But I digress. You are correct that the Reformers tried to reform the church from a micro view, but from a macro view ( God’s true church of the elect) it was one of the greatest work’s of God in the history of man. It identified antichrist, and preached the true gospel to men. When Trent anathematized the gospel, it excommunicated itself from the true church. The second reformation was certain of that. And that is why I say Protestantism is a success. Just my thoughts. Please accept my apologies fro jumping you. K

  6. Hi Bill,

    Regarding Origen’s homily, you pointed to an excerpt to indicate that the sacrament of penance existed in the ante-Nicene church. What I am trying to tell you is that no such sacrament or practice existed at that time. Origen was simply giving a homily where he wanted to compare the various sacrifices for sin in the Old Covenant with various remissions of sin in the New Covenant. If you had something other than Origen’s comment in mind you didn’t say so.

    The consensus in the early church was to confess to one another. The Didache chapter four indicates such a confession. It also indicates that the offering of a pure sacrifice is that of praise and thanksgiving. The occasion where one confessed to the bishop or presbyter was when one had been put out of the church and wanted back in. According to my studies this seems to be centered almost entirely on persecutions. In the case where someone knowingly denied the faith while facing the threat of torture or death, they would be put out of the church. The only way they could return was to go before the bishop and demonstrate their repentance. There were also other situations that involved moral sins that were publically known and dealt with by the church for the sake of moral (but that is the nature of any church). But it is an absolute fact of history that there was no sacrament of reconciliation in the early church. These sorts of things were handled in various ways throughout the church. The early church did not look Catholic in this regard.

    On the Eucharist, I hope you will oblige me and tell me what you believe it is, and the reasons why you reject your old church’s view of it. I think this would be a good discussion point.

  7. Kevin says:

    Brian, i absolutely agree with your description of public confession in the early church. Rome offers false forgiveness in the confessional. Im sure you know this but Jerome made a magor contributuion to RC theology by misinterpreting the word for repentance to penance. Most Catholics dont know the level to which he and Augustine didnt know hebrew and greek. When Erasmus brought greek translations from the East, the latin vulgate was exposed. K

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