Friday, January 9, 2009

Sola Fide and other Reforming Thoughts

I got to thinking about Ephesians 2:8-9 the other day. These are the verses commonly quoted in defense of the Reformation's Sola Fide.
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. (Eph. 2:8-9)
And a passage occurred to me as a refutation to the doctrine of Sola Fide. Not St. James' memorable perfect inversion:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? [...] For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:14-22, 26)
Not that, but this:
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)
Naturally, and somewhat unfortunately, this line of thought led me to the Reformation. Unfortunate, because I must of necessity inflict my thoughts on you, my heretofore faithful reader.

Sola Fide is one of the most famous cries of the Reformers. Here is the complete list, the five pillars of Protestantism, as it were.
Sola Scriptura! [Only Scripture is the standard.]
Solo Christo! [By Christ's work only are we saved.]
Sola Gratia! [Salvation is by [God's] grace alone.]
Sola Fide! [Justification* is by faith alone.]
Soli Deo Gloria! [All is to be done for the glory of God alone.]
*Because justification is by no means a word in popular parlance, I offer the following definition, from The Catholic Encyclopedia:
Justification
(Latin
justificatio; Greek dikaiosis.)

A biblio-ecclesiastical term; which denotes the transforming of the sinner from the state of unrighteousness to the state of holiness and sonship of God. Considered as an act (actus justificationis), justification is the work of God alone, presupposing, however, on the part of the adult the process of justification and the cooperation of his free will with God's preventing and helping grace (gratia praeveniens et cooperans). Considered as a state or habit (habitus justificationis), it denotes the continued possession of a quality inherent in the soul, which theologians aptly term sanctifying grace.
Please note that I don't find this much more helpful than you do.

Dictionary.com says that justification [by faith] is "the act of God whereby humankind is made or accounted just, or free from guilt or penalty of sin". This is better.

...

I have noted repeated queries posted on this blog as to the position of Orthodoxy on several tenets central to Protestant theology. This is mildly frustrating, as it is akin to a journalist asking a nomad from the Moroccan hinterland what he thinks of Jennifer Aniston's latest dress. I mean, we aren't talking the same language any more - the obsession of the one isn't even on the radar of the other.

But it goes beyond the bridges of language, distance, and lack of familiarity. The nomad, even if he could understand what an actress was, who Ms. Aniston was, and what role fashion plays in the West, he probably couldn't care less. Why? Because he has to live, find water, and feed his goats.

Similarly, your average Orthodox is rather preoccupied with trying to fast, trying to pray, and trying to give alms as asked him by his Lord. Or maybe just trying to love God and his neighbour. When he wants to learn theology, it generally doesn't touch on the five solas of the Reformation, or how justification differs in the minds of 16th century Protestants and Catholics. Figuring out the nature of God, trying to understand the mystery of the Incarnation ... these are usually enough.

So I don't have much in the way of answers. Here is what I can say, based on my limited knowledge (more experienced theologians are welcome to cut in):
  • Orthodoxy is most emphatically not the negation (or reassertion) of a series of bullet points. It cannot be understood by comparing it to the priorities of either Protestants or Catholics. It is not defined in contradistinction with any other body. Orthodoxy is, as best as I can say it in a single sentence, the maximalist, poetic response of many nations to the salvation from death, sin, and the devil offered them by Christ their God, and it is the simultaneous repentant running towards God by those who are being saved by Him.
  • Sola Scriptura? The standard for Orthodox is Holy Tradition, from the oral traditions collated by Moses in the Pentateuch through the unfolding revelation of God to the Jews as found in the rest of the Septuagint, to the unrecorded words and deeds of Christ and His apostles, the Gospels (and Acts) that were written to record some of these words and deeds, and further yet through the letters of St. Paul - last of the apostles - to the letters and then councils of the early Church. This is an unbroken Tradition that continues to this day. St. Vincent of Lerins famously said this of Holy Tradition: "quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus credituni est." True Tradition is what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. ... Holy Writ (and the 7 Councils) get pride of place within this Tradition, but as it is Tradition that has given us the Scriptures, it is not the Bible that interprets Tradition, but Tradition interprets the Bible.
  • Solo Christo? By Christ are we saved, but we must labour with Christ. Colossians 1:24 speaks of something lacking in the afflictions or suffering of Christ, a horrifying concept to a Reformer, I would think. Hasn't Christ done all the work? Orthodox understand this to mean that we need to participate, to share in the suffering of Christ. This strikes to the heart of the matter ... our salvation is not complete unless we assent to it. (A helpful analogy might be the physician. For healing, it is not enough that we believe in medicine or that we go to a physician, but we must take the treatment he prescribes.)
  • Sola Gratia? I have heard it said that Orthodox do not ask what is God's grace, but who is God's grace. Answer: Jesus Christ is the Grace of God, period.
  • Sola Fide? See St. James' letter, above, for a very Orthodox understanding of faith and works. Referencing my quotation from I Corinthians, one might argue that "the greatest of these", love, is the source or wellspring for the works mentioned by St. James.
  • Soli Deo Gloria? And while "all must be done for the glory of God alone" sounds really good, it also sounds very grandiose, and where matters of theology come into play, may detract from the very earthy and practical commands to love, to give, to serve, etc. My personal opinion.
  • That addresses the five pillars of Protestantism. As for predestination, double-predestination, etc., these are not doctrines that have ever occurred to Orthodox. Instead, Orthodox tend to see these doctrines as the extreme end of some iffy teachings by a suspect theologian (Augustine of Hippo), and the logical source of atheism. I refer the interested reader to this post and to this speech (credit: Les of Whippleshire).
- V.

3 comments:

Stephen said...

V - I appreciate your passion and zeal for truth. Naturally, I think you are mistaken. Nevertheless, I do enjoy reading your posts.

I am surprised that you have quoted from Corinthians to argue that since hope is greater than faith therefore no one is saved through faith alone. Paul in Corinthians is no speaking about salvation. He is simply making the same point that Jesus did. Love is the greatest. Love fulfills all the commands.

However, we are not saved by our love for God or our neighbours or else we would be saved by works and Paul's arguments throughout his many letters and the testimony of the whole of Scripture in this regard would fall flat.

Reformers have said from the very beginning (excepting perhaps Martin Luther who like some Protestants today seems to have over-reacted against works salvation) that salvation is by grace through faith alone. HOWEVER true and saving faith is never alone (see James for example and the Sermon on the Mount and Paul at the end of Corinthians etc.)

What then does it mean to say that salvation is by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone? The answer is that a person born dead in sin (and a child of wrath) and alienated from the life of God and uninterested in God nor even seeking Him (see Ephesians 2 and 4 and Romans 3) can NOT please Him. God, then, must do a work of regeneration. “But God who is rich in mercy for His great love wherewith He loved us EVEN when we were dead in sins hath quickened us together with Christ (Ephesians 2).” Faith is knowledge, assent and trust... it is cognition passed into conviction passed into confidence: “as the sinner cognitively, affectively, and volitionally transfers all reliance for pardon, righteousness, and cleansing away from himself and his own resources in complete and total abandonment to Christ, whom he joyfully receives and upon whom alone he rests entirely for his salvation.”

Please note that faith is not a ‘psychic’ act. Warfield says, “The saving power of faith resides...not in itself, but in the Almighty Saviour on whom it rests. It is never on account of its formal nature as a psychic act that faith is conceived in Scripture to be saving, - as if this frame of mind or attitude of heart were itself a virtue with claims on God for reward [here is where Catholics and Orthodox miss the point because they are still thinking in terms of works rather than grace]... It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ...It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith;... we could not more radically misconceive [the biblical representation of faith] than by transferring to faith even the smallest fraction of that saving energy which is attributed in the Scriptures solely to Christ himself.”

Reformers see no conflict between Paul and James. Only the regenerate (born again) person can produce the good works that James speaks of. There are those who rely on their ‘psychic’ faith or their intellectual assent to a scheme or some other kind of faith (the kind Demons have when they shudder) and James rebukes them because their ‘faith’ has no saving power and the evidence is in the fruit (see Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount). True and saving faith is a gift from God and it is not the faith itself that saves but God who saves by grace through the instrumentality of faith.

Thus the order of salvation as I see it in Scripture and as recognized by Reformers... Redemption having been accomplished by the life, death and resurrection of Christ, it must now be applied to the elect. Here is the order in which it is applied. This I believe is the key to understanding the role of faith in salvation:

A. Outward call (Divine-Human) – this is the preaching of the gospel
B. Inward and effectual call (Divine) – this the Spirit of God effectually calling the elect to Himself
C. Regeneration (Divine) – remember that Scripture says we are born spiritually dead. Regeneration is God giving us spiritual life, and it is God opening the heart and mind to receive spiritual truths
D. Repentance unto life (Divine-Human) - CONVERSION
E. Faith in Christ (Divine-Human) - CONVERSION
F. Justification (Divine) – we are accounted righteous
G. Union with Christ (Divine) – we are mystically united by the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ
H. Definitive Sanctification (Divine) – we are declared saints
I. Adoption (Divine) – we are adopted into God’s family
J. Progressive Sanctification (Divine-Human) – we grow from glory to glory
K. Perseverance in holiness (Divine-Human) – we continue to grow and we are kept from falling
L. Glorification (Divine)

V - you commented, “I have noted repeated queries posted on this blog as to the position of Orthodoxy on several tenets central to Protestant theology. This is mildly frustrating, as it is akin to a journalist asking a nomad from the Moroccan hinterland what he thinks of Jennifer Aniston's latest dress. I mean, we aren't talking the same language any more - the obsession of the one isn't even on the radar of the other. But it goes beyond the bridges of language, distance, and lack of familiarity. The nomad, even if he could understand what an actress was, who Ms. Aniston was, and what role fashion plays in the West, he probably couldn't care less. Why? Because he has to live, find water, and feed his goats. Similarly, your average Orthodox is rather preoccupied with trying to fast, trying to pray, and trying to give alms as asked him by his Lord. Or maybe just trying to love God and his neighbour.”

I am sorry that equate Protestant theology with Aniston’s latest dress. You say that like the nomad you do not care but you take the time on occasion to refute aspects of Protestant/Evangelical and/or Reformed Theology that frustrates and/or angers you. Clearly, then, you do care. Furthermore, what do you mean by “just trying to love God and his neighbour”? Who is this God and what is He like? How do you love Him? What does it mean to love Him? What does it mean to serve and glorify Him? How can I deepen my relationship with Him and know Him and be known by Him? What does He require of me? And who is this neighbour (a question once asked of Jesus) and how do I love him/her? These are all questions of theology. There are many Mormons and Jehovah witnesses and Hindus and Oprah’s ‘just trying to love God and... neighbour’ but God is not glorified in any of that. You and I are both passionate about loving God and neighbour (though likely not as passionate as we ought to be) but in order to truly and properly love and glorify Him we must have some grasp of theology. Like you I have NO interest in Aniston and her latest dress. I have no interest in such trite and trivial and profane matters. Like you I am a nomad preoccupied with real concerns; preoccupied with fasting, trying to pray and trying to give alms... and so I am interested in theology and curious as to how other nomads (like yourself) do it.

Let me add that if you weren’t at all familiar with theology you wouldn’t even know how to begin to refute Protestantism – but you have proven yourself here.

V – you added, “When he [the Orthodox Christian] wants to learn theology, it generally doesn't touch on the five solas of the Reformation, or how justification differs in the minds of 16th century Protestants and Catholics. Figuring out the nature of God, trying to understand the mystery of the Incarnation ... these are usually enough.”

Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”. Whatever you may think of Protestantism keep in mind that it is not a cult. I would think that at the very least every Orthodox believer should be ready with an answer... and perhaps you who were once Protestant especially. Many will wonder why the change. It will be helpful for them if you have an answer.

les said...

Since Catholics were mentioned in this discussion and I have been given credit for the reference to the River of Fire, (an excellent description of the nature of hell, by the way, despite the somewhat erroneous credit given to Catholic teaching for the rise of atheism) I’ll wade in here. “Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s a gonna trouble the water.” I love that old black spiritual.

It seems to me the Sola Fide debate most often involves people talking past each other.

This debate always reminds of the illustration of the small boy who greatly desires to give his father a birthday gift, but has no money of his own with which to buy it. So he goes to his father and asks for the money, $5 we’ll say, receives it and heads off to buy the gift. When he returns with the gift, the father is pleased, and gives the boy a big hug. And the boy is happy to see the pleasure of his father. Beautiful scene, yes?

So did the boy give the father anything he didn’t already have? No. Did the boy already love his father? Certainly. That is obvious in his desire to give him the gift. Did the father already love the boy? I think we can infer that in his indulgence in giving the boy the $5. Did the boy in this circumstance have any power to give the father anything outside of the father’s power, or did he have any power to make the father love him more, or even love him in the first place? No. If we then are a Reformer, might we say that this gift on the part of the boy was totally unnecessary? The father loved him already, was instrumental in giving him life in the first place. Yet what is he pleased with in the child? It is the love of the son for the father that is a creative thing. It seeks action, it wants to express itself, it wants to do something for the father. The response of the father is to further enhance this relationship of love. He has all the power in the situation yet is pleased with the voluntary, the free will desire of the son to express his love. The gift is worth $5 but is priceless to the father because it comes from the heart of the son. For the son, to love is to act, and yet the father sees that the action comes from the heart.
Why can we not see that it is not necessary to separate the love and the action of the love? So too, why is necessary to parse this issue of faith and works? Scripture doesn’t do so. It shows us, on the contrary, that the two are inextricably entwined.

At the very barest minimum, any Christian who believes in evangelization, recognizes something so natural that it is unstated. If it is not necessary for us to respond to God’s love, his grace, the urging of the Holy Spirit, the piquing of the conscience by the Holy Spirit; then God will just select those he wants to save, save them, and we can pack up our things and go home. But if it is necessary for us to respond, to give the assent of faith to the open arms of our Saviour, the “Yes” that he waits so patiently to hear from us; then right out of the gate, we have some input on whether we are saved or not.

On the common sense practical level it must be the case that we have that free will because God asks for our love. How is it possible to love someone without having the choice to do so? Without choice it is not love. But then, once we have responded to Christ in love and he has washed our sins away, quite literally as Scripture teaches, not just covering them up, does he then remove our free will from us? If that was the case, all this talk of sanctification and growing in holiness is a sheer waste of time. We couldn’t sin if we tried without free will. Is there a degree of free will then? Perhaps we can sin but if we are truly saved we cannot reject God entirely at some later time. But could we get so mired in sin that we commit the unpardonable sin, that is, believing that we cannot be forgiven? Some will say, well that person was never saved in the first place. But then where is the assurance of salvation, if that person believed at the time that they were saved?

Even St. Paul, the author of so much of the New Testament was concerned that he might run the race and at the end lose the prize.

There is an idea that the fear of falling, for those like me who have an aversion to heights, is really the fear of jumping. We don’t trust ourselves. And we Catholics, like St. Paul, have no fear that the Lord is there for us, every minute of every hour of every day. He offers us an abundance of grace, grace overflowing. He is not stingy, he is generous. His love is unbounded. But if we fall, if we lack grace, it is only because we do not ask for it. “You have not because you ask not.” And if we stop asking, if we stop the action of love, if we walk away from God, he will let us go. Why? Because he loves us so much he will not violate our free will, even while he is speaking to us, urging us to return.

So if we Catholics are inclined to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, it is because we are afraid of ourselves, not of God. And sometimes, in the greatest irony of all, we cling to our free will, thinking we will lose it if we get too close to God, when the exact opposite is true.

Stephen said...

Thanks Les for your thoughtful response. I think we are agreed on a number of levels. First, both of us recognize that without works there can be no salvation. Indeed without holiness no one shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Second, Scripture and common sense instruct us that there is such a thing as free will [although you and I would likely differ over the nature and capacity of that free will]. Third, God desires relationship. Furthermore, faith without love (or works) is nothing.

You asked, “So did the boy give the father anything he didn’t already have?” You answered, “No.” Next you asked, “Did the boy already love his father?” Here you answer, “Certainly.” I would argue, however, that no person is born with the capacity or even the desire to love God. Scripture seems to treat faith as a gift given to men and women born dead in sin (Ephesians 2), alienated from the life of God (Ephesians 4), and yet not even seeking a Saviour (Romans 3)... until God does something wonderful to us and in us.

You asked, “Why can we not see that it is not necessary to separate the love and the action of the love? So too, why is necessary to parse this issue of faith and works? Scripture doesn’t do so. It shows us, on the contrary, that the two are inextricably entwined.” The two are, indeed, entwined. Still, there is a fundamental difference between us. Roman Catholicism teaches that men and women are saved by faith + works. Protestants like myself believe that a person is saved by faith alone... even if true faith is never alone [still the distinction is an important one as the Reformation proved]. While I am not saved by my works, it is by my works that I testify that I truly have been saved.

What is the relationship between faith and love? John Davenant [a Puritan] wrote, “love does not...render the act of faith meritorious, or acceptable to God: but on the contrary, the power of meriting... ie. of rendering our actions acceptable, is placed more especially in faith than in love. For without faith it is impossible that the act of loving can be acceptable to God. Also the regenerate man renounces his own understanding through faith, before he does his own will through love. Love therefore is not the form, but the offspring of true faith.”


I like what you say here: “At the very barest minimum, any Christian who believes in evangelization, recognizes something so natural that it is unstated. If it is not necessary for us to respond to God’s love, his grace, the urging of the Holy Spirit, the piquing of the conscience by the Holy Spirit; then God will just select those he wants to save, save them, and we can pack up our things and go home.” Reformed theologians make a distinction between Redemption accomplished and redemption applied. Christ has already accomplished salvation for all the elect. However, that redemption must be applied by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the word. I believe that the inward effectual call of the Holy Spirit is preceded by the out ward call of the gospel through people like yourself. I believe that the Sovereign God will apply salvation the elect, but I recognize that He has chosen to work through the means of evangelism for example. I do not believe that a single person can be saved until the gospel of Christ is presented to them... but I also have confidence that God will ensure that that message is carried to those who belong to Him.

V has often accused Calvinists with being “strenuously logical” and slaves of reason. The Orthodox, however, are celebrated for their willingness to embrace mystery. So I thank you for pointing out some of the logical difficulties that Calvinists have to accept: “On the common sense practical level it must be the case that we have that free will because God asks for our love. How is it possible to love someone without having the choice to do so?” I am a convinced Calvinist not because I find it the most reasonable system. Rather, I find Calvinist doctrine in Scripture. To me the glory of grace is that God gives us the very things He requires from us. If that were not true I would be forever and hopelessly lost.

I know a number of Arminian theologians who talk about “As If Theology.” They argue that theology is good only if you can live ‘as if’ it were true [See Clark Pinnock in Most Moved Mover]. Reformed theologians don’t base their doctrinal convictions on those kinds of tests. I think we are much more willing to accept the mystery of God than we are sometimes given credit for.

How do Roman Catholics see themselves? What role does reason play?

Les – I hope you don’t mind my lengthy reply. I enjoy these discussions, and I welcome your comments in return.