Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sola fide

Sola fide ("by faith alone")

Let's see how wikipedia explains this one:

"Sola fide is the teaching that justification (interpreted in Protestant theology as, "being declared right by God"), is received by faith only, without any mixture of or need for good works, though in classical Protestant theology, saving faith is always evidenced by good works. Some Protestants see this doctrine as being summarized with the formula "Faith yields justification and good works" and as contrasted with the Roman Catholic formula "Faith and good works yield justification."

However, this is disputed by the Roman Catholic position as a misrepresentation; they claim it is better contrasted with a comparison of what is meant by the term "justification": both sides agree that the term invokes a communication of Christ's merits to sinners, where in Protestant theology this is seen as being a declaration of sinlessness (while not yet necessarily being objectively so — "simul justus et peccator"(simultaneously justified and yet a sinner) for Luther). Roman Catholicism sees justification as a communication of God's life to a human being, cleansing him of sin and transforming him truly into a son of God, so that it is not merely a declaration, but rather the soul is made actually objectively righteous. "
... and the debate goes further on and on ...

I can't help think we are mostly just splitting hairs here, debating only over the best way to put into words a concept that we all agree on.

To simplify it to something a child can understand.
We need to believe and follow Jesus.
Catholics and protestant children can agree to that - and aren't we to have child-like faith?

Let's look further at some verses.

Justified by Faith:

Gal 2:15-21

"We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified."If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (NIV)

Gal 3:24

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

Rom 3:28

"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." (NIV)

Rom 5:1
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (NIV)
Justified by Works

James 2:24
"You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."
James 2:17-18
"In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do."
Matt 7:21
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.".
Matt 25:34-35
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'"
I find it interesting that the the words "faith alone" are only found in James 2:24, and are making the point that we can not be saved by faith alone. Supposedly Luther had added the word "alone" to his translation of Romans 3:28, but it does not show up in any current translations that I can find. So to be fair to all scripture I will not use that language in ways protestants have. I believe justification is through faith which leads to works. You can't have one without the other.

In practice there are likely many who call themselves catholic, who are hoping to get to heaven based on some steps they've taken, who shouldn't have that assurance. There are likely also many from protestant churches who have believed as a child and said a prayer, and have been told they are saved. But if they have gone on with their lives rejecting Christ, they also should not have that false assurance. Faith without works is not real faith.

Here is the wording that the lutheran church and catholic church now agree on in their 'Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification':

(3.15) "By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."
And more from that joint declaration:

(37) "We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit."
I can agree to these statements too! I see nothing here that I would personally protest.

I think we are not far off from their official doctrine on this. In practice there may be a large gap between these teachings and how many who call themselves Christians live their faith... but then we should be there to encourage them in their walk with Christ.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with those statements too Jon. I would also agree that any person who embraces those truths with their lives, according to the Scriptures, would be true followers of Jesus (Catholic, Protestant... whoever). I also agree with you that we need to demonstrate great love and respect for those of other beliefs - regardless of their beliefs. That respect and love however, needs not water down our person convictions of what the Scriptures teach as truth or muzzle us when we see falsehood being propagated. I think it then behooves us to speak the truth in love, exposing falsehood that could potentially be eternally damning. Not to do so, would absolutely be the unloving thing to do.

Now, back to the quote from Joint Declaration between the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Although I am in agreement with the statement you quoted above, there are further definitions on the meaning of justification, faith and grace in the same manuscript that seem so very contradictory to what you have quoted. Let me also say, that the Lutheran position in this paper isn't a whole lot different than the RC position which doesn't come as a surprise at all (and I know many Lutherans who would disagree with these teachings too), but nonetheless is disconcerting.

"Persons are justified through baptism as hearers of the word and believers in it. The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace, which makes us children of God."

"Catholics hold that the grace of Jesus Christ imparted in baptism takes away all that is sin "in the proper sense" and that is "worthy of damnation"

A few quotes from the official teaching of the RC Church Catechism:

978 "When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them.

1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.59 He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.60 Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.61 The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

1263 By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin.65 In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.

1265 Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte "a new creature," an adopted son of God, who has become a "partaker of the divine nature,"68 member of Christ and co-heir with him,69 and a temple of the Holy Spirit.70

1268 The baptized have become "living stones" to be "built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood."73 By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light."74 Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers.

1274 The Holy Spirit has marked us with the seal of the Lord ("Dominicus character") "for the day of redemption."85 "Baptism indeed is the seal of eternal life."86 The faithful Christian who has "kept the seal" until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of his Baptism, will be able to depart this life "marked with the sign of faith,"87 with his baptismal faith, in expectation of the blessed vision of God - the consummation of faith - and in the hope of resurrection.

1277 Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord's will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism

So my question than Jon is: what is it - am I justified by faith or the act of baptism? Are my sins forgiven through faith in the finished work of the cross or in my baptism? Do I become a child of God when I receive Jesus through faith or when I'm baptized?

I wish I could embrace those quotes you mentioned above as the final word on the subject of Sola Fide, but as you can see, there are too clear statements made about the need for my actions or the actions of my parents to make me acceptable before God and give me entrance into heaven.

mrjhutton said...

More from the roman catholic catechism:

(1226) Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household," St. Paul declared to his jailer in Philippi. And the narrative continues, the jailer "was baptized at once, with all his family."

(1236) The proclamation of the Word of God enlightens the candidates and the assembly with the revealed truth and elicits the response of faith, which is inseparable from Baptism. Indeed Baptism is "the sacrament of faith" in a particular way, since it is the sacramental entry into the life of faith.

I see their point that baptism is connected with faith. Nobody should get baptized or have their children baptized if they do not have faith. Faithful catholics would agree that it is not right to just go through the motions - just getting baptized (or having their children baptized) without having faith.

Isn't this step similar to the protestant step taken by saying a prayer which is often considered the moment of conversion? Are their certain words we can say in a prayer that will make us right before God? Is it the act of saying a prayer that brings justification? No, it is an act demonstrating the faith we have - so it is with baptism.

Christina said...

Hmmm....I think I'm going to pipe up and chime in! You guys sure have brought up some good points:-) By the way, I've been appreciating your feedback, Steve:-) Jon and I sure have been dialoguing about these things a lot lately...and in a good kind of way, seeking God and His Word each step of the way and not feeling as tossed by the "waves" of theology as last time round! I can't shut the guy up lately as he talks my ear off :-) LOL! (Loving it by the way, Jon:-)

When I personally dug into a lot of these same questions a couple years ago I was a mess, as you likely well remember, Steve! Everything seemed upside down! My faith could no longer be contained in a safe little box:-)

But God is so merciful and faithful and good and has certainly has taught me (and Jon) a lot through the journey we've been on. And I can definitely say that our faith has grown MUCH stronger as a result, with much deeper roots, with a much greater understanding and appreciation of His Word and more intimacy with Him! I can definitely say this journey has brought loving God and loving people right to the forefront for us.

We're still seeking God and His word in this and are still learning and growing and still asking the tough questions.... And we still both feel God desiring us to promote unity of all God's children.

So...baptism and 'the prayer' come up. I've wrestled with this whole concept. When is one "saved" is probably a better question? When do we offer "assurance of salvation" is another question? When a child prays "the" prayer at sunday school or camp do we give them assurance? When an adult prays "the" prayer at a Franklin Graham conference do we give assurance? When a baby is baptised (in whichever church) should they receive assurance? What about the Christian who had true faith but then falls away from the faith? Because each and every one of these "works" is not necessarily evidence of true faith we well know!

However I've often wondered if there is a possibility that God honors the prayers and intent of parents, or of the convert, and is like that good shepherd who seeks out HIS lost sheep.

I know one of my good friends who was baptised as an infant in the lutheran church, didn't attend church except for special occasions and yet it seems that God just didn't let her go throughout her lifetime...and I can't help but wonder if that "work" of her parents, that good intent, was in fact a prayer that God has honored.

My feeling (which I'm not sure I can base on solid evidence at this point) is that the Catholic church seems to contradict itself to a degree with regards to baptism...because it seems that they also believe that faith and works are a double sided coin as talked about earlier. If a person has faith, but doesn't follow through and do God's will they would deem their faith is not necessarily true and their salvation not guaranteed (which I think we have come to a degree of agreement on...of course it is God's GRACE that does the saving...but the works are like the litmus test of true faith).

I find the catholic theology on this a bit muddled I must admit. And I can't help but think that the main message of the Catholic church is not that baptism itself gives any guarantee of salvation...but rather God's grace and that double sided coin of faith/works that has been discussed in other posts more adequately is what saves.

Okay, those are my two cents. Not sure if they make any sense:-) My thoughts seemed to make sense until I got them out:-) Just thinking out loud here!

Anonymous said...

Good points all around guys. Christina, I understand what you are saying, so no need to question if it makes sense or not :) I also agree with you Jon (and Christina) that "the prayer" for salvation likely has led people (evangelicals) to a false sense of salvation... because I said "the prayer" at camp when I was 7 (but have lived my whole life for myself since then and for the last 50 years) I must be saved. It has everything to do with our heart - the faith / confidence that we are putting in Jesus to deal with our desperate need for forgiveness of sin.

But this faith thing, this heart confidence, is a personal issue... not something that my parents can do for me - like baptizing me as an infant (and yes, there is a huge difference theologically between that act and what we would practice as Child Dedication). I have been to countless RC funerals over the years (particularly in PEI), and never once have I heard a reference to a person's faith being the means for confidence for heaven and not once have I ever been to a funeral where the confidecne of enterance into heaven wasn't placed directly on the act of their baptism as an infant (usually goes something like: "...receive Joe Shmoe into Your Kingdom through the waters of his baptism").

That's then the concern - where am I placing my confidence. If it's in baptism, I'm wrong... if it's in a prayer I said, I'm wrong... If it's my faith in the substitutionary work of Christ on my behalf - that is biblical.

Good dialoging guys - mercy & grace...

mrjhutton said...

I guess there is two issues we're talking about here. Infant baptism, and adult baptism.

With adult baptism, I see no issue with how they have it worded. They say "Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith", and that "the response of faith, is inseparable from Baptism". Then baptism is not really a "works" but an action of faith.

If it is faith that is motivating an action, I don't see that as being in opposition to justification by faith. If it is an action with no faith, then yes it is a problem.

The infant baptism is another issue... I'm not sure if the protestants have a clear systematic theology on what to do with infants and justification either. But for catholics with infant baptism we must also consider that they see justification as process not just as a one time event. They do not believe "once saved always saved" when they are thinking infant baptism. In my understanding the infant baptism is the step needed with infants, but then there are other steps (demonstrating their faith) needed throughout the other stages of life.

Sorry Steve, I just don't see the gap you're seeing. I think we're dealing with two languages talking about similar faiths.

God bless.

Michael Gormley said...

Sola Fide, Can It Work?

Many protestant sects teach that all that is needed for salvation of their souls is Faith Only...

Sola Fide, saved by faith alone.

All they need is to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and savoir and no matter what they do after; they are assured they will go straight to heaven.

Jesus Christ paid the price for all sins, past, present, and future. Jesus Christ took the test for us all and gave each of us a grade of 100%.

Now doesn't that sound good? Just think, you can do anything you want for the rest of your life and your irrevocable ticket to heaven was paid for with the blood of Christ almost 2000 years ago. What a gift! What a great blessing! What nonsense!!!