Monday, June 05, 2006

The Fallacy of Sola Fide or 'Faith Alone'

Imagine my surprise when talking to a Protestant pastor, when upon informing him that I was converting to Catholicism we began talking about justification and he was almost entirely ignorant of the substance of James chapter 2. I didn’t really care to beat around the bush so I headed straight for the conclusion in plain terms of the whole matter which is found in James chapter 2. I explained to him that I rejected the ‘faith alone’ heresy on the authority of James when, in the only place in the entire bible to use the phrase ‘faith alone’ he says explicitly:

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
- James 2:24

The pastor said “the bible doesn’t say that”. I said yes it does. He wouldn’t believe me. So later, I found the reference and gave it to him. He quickly replied “Well you’re taking it out of context.” But I couldn’t possibly be reading MORE in context. ‘Context’ too often becomes a theological buzzword that we toss around when we want to utterly change the meaning of a verse.

Well what is the context of James? Many have claimed that before Martin Luther no one had ever even considered “faith alone’ as an acceptable means of salvation. (Pro Luther scholar Heiko Oberman made this statement)(1) While it is signficant that no one held this view in the 14 centuries preceeding Luther, I have to disagree with the notion that it NEVER came up before then. I think it’s clear if you read James, that there were some at that time who were apparently taking Paul’s emphasis on faith (as opposed to works of the law) to the extreme and believing that faith (or belief) was all that was necessary. I hardly see how it could possibly be any more obvious:

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
- James 2:19

He says: You believe? Good for you! So do the demons. James says that faith without works is dead(2). Another way to say it: faith alone is dead. Yet Protestants believe and teach that not only is faith without works not dead, but it is the principle and only means by which you can be saved!

Ken Hensley points out that throughout the whole of Scripture, from Genesis down through Revelation, we consistently see faith accompanied by obedience. We never, not even in one case see faith contrasted with obedience. Remember, even in Paul’s writings, we never see the idea of “faith alone”. Paul does of course contrast faith with works of the law. He criticizes those who believe that since they are Jewish and keep the law meticulously that they will be justified. But he never says “you don’t have to obey like they do, just believe”. When the crowd asked Peter what we should do, Peter said ‘repent and be baptized’(3). He gave them actions that needed to be done. He didn’t say “just believe”. This case is not an anomaly.

A thorough reading of the bible will reveal time after time that justification is dependent on obedience.

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.
Genesis 22:15-17

The Catholic teaching is in line with the Scripture on this teaching much more than the Protestant deviation. Also see Sola Fide Smackdown Part 2.


1 Hensley, Ken. Martin Luther - The Rest of the Story

2 James 2:17

3 Acts 2:38


Pilgrimsarbour said...


Wow! I wish you'd speak to a "Pastor" who knows enough about Scripture to give you a reasonable answer to your question about James! Of course, not every Minister or Joe Christian will be able to answer all questions immediately at all times, but I mean, really! That guy would never make it past the Presbytery for ordination in my denomination. Be that as it may, the Reformers put it this way: "Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith which is alone." What they meant by that is that faith, by definition, is more than merely "belief." True faith without works is dead, that is, no faith at all. Works are the evidence of one's faith but are not in themselves meritorious, that is, salvific. To the Reformers, faith is belief coupled with the evidence of belief. They cannot be separated. The fiduciary element of faith is trust. This trust is trust in the person of Jesus Christ and His faithfulness in active obedience to the Law of God, by which He merited salvation for His people (the Church) in His atoning work on the cross. As Adam's sin was imputed to all mankind, so the righteousness of Christ, the second Adam, is imputed to His people. This is at odds with today's "easy believism" which is so prevalent in American Evangelicalism today.

All God's Best,


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Yes there is much more agreement on this issue between both sides than either likes to admit sometimes. I think a lot of the argument (not all) is merely semantic.

A few years ago, the Catholic bishops (in America I think) released a joint statement on justification with the Lutheran Church.

Catholics most certainly believe that God's grace is what saves us. We cannot merit the initial calling and by faith we accept it. But for Catholics, this is just the beginning. The Holy Spirit works in us 'perfecting in us' the "good work which He began". Thus, we may not be "found sleeping" when the "owner of the house" returns.