Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why Sola Fide Isn't Good Enough For Anyone

John 3:16 and its few parallels are the target of my present discussion. I won't even argue from the context of John 3 which is routinely ignored by proponents of sola fide. In fact, I'm going to approach this from a nearly Protestant stand point (that is, something like NT Wright does). I have argued here that there is far less division between good Protestant doctrine on the issue and the official Roman Catholic position than we typically admit so keep that in mind moving forward.

What I'm concerned with at the moment is Jesus' very command, in and of itself: "believe in Me". We could start by reminding ourselves that one must read "fidelity" while reading "fide" and "faithfulness" while reading "faith". That is to say, fidelity doesn't just naturally and necessarily follow from fide, it is intrinsically part of fide (in the Biblical usage). Faithfulness doesn't just spring from faith, it is true faith! when the Scriptures speak of faith (excepting James 2), we can nearly always read "faithfulness" just as properly in its place. Abraham didn't merely have fide, he had fidelity - which the New Testament proves from several angles. Fide didn't lead to fidelity, (true) fide is fidelity!

So now from here on, when I speak of "sola fide", I'm speaking of the heresy condemned at Worms (not whatever modification of it you may have personally or however your denomination may have improved on it). I'm talking about salvation by grace alone which is manifested by a one time act of mere intellectual assent. Even the reformed fall into this heresy on occasion using such erroneous language as "a saving knowledge of Christ". Do we see now how they have explicitly latched on to the error precisely as condemned by the Church? Knowledge (of any kind) does not save.

Then this leads to my overall point. No one seems to foster a pure "faith alone" doctrine. They say "faith + nothing" but they don't really mean it. It fails on so many levels that even its supporters don't agree with it. Suppose for the moment that it were true - merely intellectually assenting to Jesus Christ as the Risen Saviour would earn me a spot in Heaven; (tossing aside the James 2 argument that this would also merit salvation for the demons), we could rightly use Pascal's logic and say "then it's safer to be Catholic". If James 2:24 wasn't clear enough to convince us whether salvation was by faith alone or faith + works, then we could still take the safe road and say "faith + works". Those who have faith and works have also faith, therefore if faith alone is enough to save, then we'd still be saved regardless of whether faith + works is true or not. In short, if Protestant theology here is correct, Catholics end up being saved as well since they have faith. The reverse may not be entirely true however and the safer road would be the Catholic one.

The anticipated objection is really where I'm going with all this. The objection is "but they are trusting in works instead of Christ for salvation". Aside from the accusation being false, (as this is explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church), the problem lies with them now adding conditions to the "sola fide" we started with. "Faith + nothing" has now become "faith + correct understanding of salvation" (when even that particular "correct" understanding is ambiguous itself and would vary significantly from denomination to denomination and from person to person). This is why I say, sola fide isn't good enough for anyone. Even those who support it, deny it. (Again, I'm not interested in discussing personal or even denominational revisions of the doctrine. I'm just dealing with the doctrine as it was condemned by Worms. You can come up with a workable version of sola fide but only when it no longer becomes recognizable as 'sola fide'. Why do that just to perpetuate an error?)

In reality, when Jesus says "believe in Me", He simultaneously says "have fidelity to Me" and "be faithful to Me". Asking for mere intellectual assent wouldn't even have made sense in that context. The people could see Him in the flesh! They didn't need "faith" (in the limited sense of the word).

But interestingly enough, I think He was simultaneously saying what I have shown the Protestants to be contradicting themselves about - He was saying "have correct doctrine". In fact, I'd take it a step further and say that just as the Lord requires "be perfect as I am perfect", Christ, by saying "have faith in Me" is saying "have perfect doctrine". But how is such a thing possible? It's not only possible, it's easy! Because when He says those things, He is also saying "have faith in My Bride". How can you have faith in the Groom but have no faith in the Bride? If you did have faith in Him, you would have believed Him when He said, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." And if you believed His Word, you would have believed it when it called the Church: "the pillar and foundation of the truth". I will refrain from quoting St. Jerome here (on Church as mother and God as Father).

But it is in this way which it might not only be possible but even rather easy to fulfill this sort of commandment. The Fathers had no tolerance for "diversity" of doctrine in the early Church. They took a hard stand against heretical teachings because the Lord required perfect doctrine from His Church just as from the individuals. It is not enough that we each read the Scriptures for ourself and rationalize our own opinions on theological truth. Jesus is the Truth. If we are to know Jesus, we must know the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. The Church is the only means by which this can happen. That is why again, there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. She alone is privy to the fullness of Truth which she received from Christ Himself. She is His bride, and therefore faith in Christ demands faith in her.

We can accept "sola fide" depending on how broadly we use the term "fide". If we use it to include fidelity, perfect doctrine and humble submission to His Church, sola fide would be just fine. But if we mean mere intellectual assent, the doctrine fails on multiple levels - so much so, that no one actually believes it.

Before the ecclesiological question comes up, it should be abundantly clear that none of this could be true of any so called "Church" except for the visible, Roman Catholic Church. If we were to look for a visible, unified, top-down Church founded by Christ, there is truly only one viable candidate on the table. If we were to look for a Messiah for Israel, there is really only One viable candidate for that position too. If it takes faith to believe in the latter, we shouldn't be surprised in the least that the former requires faith as well. Proponents of the latter may argue of how historically demonstrable it is that Jesus is the Christ; proponents of the former can do the same of the historicity of the Catholic Church. Atheists reject the historicity of Christ without batting an eye and Protestants do the same of the Catholic Church. Protestants can see that it is a lack of faith, not an objective observation of factual data that causes the atheists to miss Christ's power, but they cannot fathom that the same might be true of their own situation regarding the Catholic Church.

The Truth is that Christ came and established a Church (He prophesied that He would do so in Matthew 16 & 18, we cannot call Him a liar). The truth is that faith in Christ must at some level require perfect doctrine and this is possible only through one type of Church. The only Church of that type with apostolic ties also happens to be the one in succession with the See of Peter which Christ prophesies it would be in Matt 16:18. We cannot ignore these facts.

Salvation is de fide. De fide in Jesus as the Christ, De fide in His Word and De fide in His Church.


chad said...

Interesting point of view. Could you provide Scripture to back the necessity of faith in the Catholic Church or the Bible for salvation? Thanks.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Chad, thanks for stopping by. First, we're not going to see any explicit commands to to "believe in the Catholic Church" or "the Bible" in Scripture. "The Bible" per se, didn't exist as it was being written. So when the New Testament refers to "Scripture", what they were talking about in the immediate context would have been the Old Testament.

The word "Church" only occurs three times in the gospels. Once in Matthew 16:18 and then twice in 18:17.

So these are all implicit arguments that I'm making.

I would say first that the Bible cannot be a necessity for salvation aside from the Church. Without the Church, we couldn't even known with certainty what the Bible was. So this point is dependent on the next one but we would also be rightly reminded that Jn 1:14 shows that the "Word became Flesh and dwelt among us", and verse 12 shows that "those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God".

Jesus is the very Truth itself, He is the Word made Flesh. This is a Incarnational theology I'm referring to. We all know that faith in Jesus is required for salvation. But faith in Christ doesn't stop at an intellectual assent that a Man name Joshua lived, died and resurrected 2000 years ago. It only begins there. True faith in Christ, saving faith involves embracing the full sacramental and Incarnational theology that the Church insists on. We cannot truly receive Christ without receiving His Word. His Word is the Scripture - and it is also Sacred Tradition.

Christ says "My sheep hear my voice" (Jn 10:27), and His voice will be heard obviously in the Scriptures but also in the testimony of the Church which He promised He would establish above in Matthew. This will lead us into our next point. For verse 16 says "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd."

Ultimately Christ is the Shepherd of the Church. But He didn't leave the Church without leadership. He didn't have 12 disciples He had many disciples (at least 70). But Mark 3:14 tells us "He appointed twelve, designating them apostles that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons". It is important to pay attention to the last line here, they were given authority to drive out demons. This isn't mere charismatic blessing, this is real authority. In Mark, Jesus' central praxis is precisely that - driving out demons! That tells us that He was anointing them with the sort of unprecedented authority He Himself claimed to have.

Now recalling both Matthew 16:18 "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." and John 10:16 "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." We now turn our attention to John 21:17:

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep"

So we have seen that Jesus established an authority with the apostles and with Peter at the head. Acts 1:12-26 proves that the role "apostle" was not only for Peter, James, John etc.. but was an actual office that was meant to be filled when a vacancy left or in other words - the authority passed down. Thus, the apostles appointed bishops in various cities and those bishops retained the very authority that the apostles themselves had (which in turn was derived from Christ).

Now, I'm looking at Church as the bride of Christ and this imagery is taken both from the great wedding feast of the Lamb in Revelation and from Ephesians 5:22-33.

If Christ's love for the Church is infinitely greater than a man's love for his wife, then what does it mean of the unity of Christ when we know that the Scriptures themselves declare that man and woman have become one flesh in marriage? (Verse 31 for example). So in real life, if you slander my wife, you should know that you're going to have issues with me. If you insult my wife, you have insulted me. It doesn't just make me mad on her account, it makes me mad because you have compromised my very family. If you respect me, then you will respect my wife. If you are loyal to me, you will not dishonor my wife.

Similarly, if you slander Christ's Church, you slander Christ Himself. ("If you've done it unto the least of these, you've done it unto Me" (Matthew 25:40,45) If it's true of "the least of these" then how much more true of His very Bride? This is the profound unity I'm talking about.

In short, faith in Christ is an all-or-nothing package deal. This includes fidelity to and faith in Christ, the Word (Scripture and Tradition) and His body/bride - the Catholic Church.

Hope this has been marginally helpful. Peace in Christ (and His Church).

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Another insightful post from Tim.

Some comments-

Interesting that Tim cites one of the greatest New Testament scholars of our time, namley the Anglican Tom Wright (who has caused a storm of controversy in Protestant circles due to some of his views). Just today I finally (I'm usually reading about 30 books or so coterminously) finished reading "Justification in Perspective; Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges" published by Rutherford House, 2006. An interesting work from mainly Protestant scholars such as Anthony Lane, Simon Gathercole, et al, which treats the issue of justification from different angles, mostly Protestant (Nick Needham's entry on 'Justification in the Early Fathers' is an interesting read).

The entry by Tom Wright is what we would expect, namely his particular view of justification seen through the lenses of the "New Perspective." But what I found fascinating was the admissions of Wright that in effect say, the classical Protestant traditions fudge in a big way when it comes to formulating works in their so called ordo salutis. Let me quote Wright,

"I am fascinated by the way in which some of the most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul's clear statements about future judgment according to works. It is not often enough remarked upon, for instance, that in the Thessalonian Letters and in Philippians, he looks ahead of the coming day of judgment and sees God's favorable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, or because he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work...We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements?" (p.254)

Wright has much to say about the weakness of Protestant formulation of justification via sola fide. On the other hand I would not embrace what he presents as the correct definition of justification as God's declaration of covenantal membership. Unfortunately, bishop Wright falls into the same autonomous hermeneutical trap of his forefathers, semper reforma taken to it's logical conclusion. He believes he has found the "correct" understanding of St. Paul that has been fumbled by thousands of years of the greatest minds of history (St. Augustine and St. Aquinas) and a meaning that even escaped the reformational fathers (Luther and Calvin). Needless to say, apart from the shortcomings of Wright's presentation, he gives us a manifestly honest penetration of Protestant thought on justification.

Continuing on, I have a lot of problems with the slogan - sola fide for the following reasons;

1. If it is to be understood literally it is plainly refuted by the overall panoply of Scripture. In other words, by definition it is not faith apart from anything else (as Tim showed) that is a correct understanding of Biblical faith.

2. Some of our brighter Protestant brothers have argued that it is not a sole faith that saves, but a "working faith" (sola fide nunquam sola). Ok, why then the misleading label "sola"? (Which means alone in Latin). Why the equivocation? Why not just from the start given it a more balanced title such as, "salvation that must be worked out?" (paraphrase of Phil 2:12-13).

Sola Scripturaists find themselves in an interesting conundrum. They claim to go by the words of Holy Scripture alone but Scripture plainly teaches a very active role in works in the life of the believer, so much so as Wright points out above that we will be judged based on the works of our lives.

R.E. Aguirre
- regulafide.blogspot.com

George Weis said...

A little off subject (this post is to heavy for me this hour of the night)

Tim, I know you wanted a new blog design. We just launched Tekeme's blog, and it has a contest for a free site or blog design. Swing by my site for the link.

Also leep an eye on Aguirre's blog!

In Him,

Tim A. Troutman said...

Mr. Aguirre,

Good points and I like that quote from Wright. It reminds me of Dave Armstrong's recent paper demonstrating that of the 50+ mentions of final judgment in Scripture, not a one of them have anything to do with faith alone but all have to do with works.

George, I put my name in the hat (crosses fingers). If do you get the time, I'd be interested to know your opinion of my line of thinking here.