Sola Fide

In order to properly be brought up to speed on this little debate, you might read an initial post made by FTN, then a response by me with comments by Christian Husband (known here as XH). Then I responded with a post, and then Christian Husband responded with several posts, but specifically addresses Sola Fide here.

Before I address Sola Fide, I need to address a few points of history. It’s important to note that XH referred to his particular theology as “Pre-Enlightenment.” It is a funny label but that really is probably the best spin one could put on that period of time. Pre-Reformation would be too obvious (and too Catholic) and medieval is just…well medieval! But, in fact that is exactly what pre-enlightenment was. It was the dark ages. What made it so dark? Well, the feudal system, for one thing. The poor basically worked to the benefit of the nobility. The nobility kept the poor in line with the help of the church. They used and abused their authority to keep certain folks in power. In return for power and privilege, the church got funds and lands. In all fairness, there were parts of the church that worked on behalf of the poor. But the church in Rome was very politically corrupt and morally bankrupt. The inquisition was in full swing, the sale of indulgences was on in order to raise money for more cathedrals.

Basically, an Indulgence was Salvation for Sale. During the crusades, one could win salvation by going to battle for the sake of the church. By the 16th century, all you had to do was pay some money. And if you sinned again, all you had to do was buy more grace. An Indulgence was a license to sin.

And this is a natural progression within the framework of salvation by works. Jews, Muslims and Catholics all believe that salvation comes primarily through what you do. This is why a Pope could offer salvation through a crusade and why a Muslim cleric can offer salvation through Jihad. The Muslims sweeten the pot considerably by offering 70 virgins. I’m betting a Pope or two slapped his foehead, “D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that?!?” This is also what makes excommunication such a dire threat to a Catholic. The church has the power to either let you in, or keep you out of Heaven based on what you do. Keeping you from the sacraments is sufficient to keep you out of Heaven. And if no priest gives it to you, you ain’t gettin’ it. Because it can only be administered through apostolic succession.

XH rightly attributes Sola Fide – by faith alone – as the chief cornerstone of every other facet of the church. As Luther said, the church either stands or falls on that one precept. Either the church can by and sell indulgences against past (and even future) sins or not. Luther’s attack on the church’s authority (and purse) did not go unnoticed. The response was swift and decisive. He was excommunicated within a few months of his challenge.

The history of the time really is interesting. But Sola Fide is totally Biblical. Contrary to XH’s assertion, it comes mostly from the writings of Paul. He first applies it in Acts 16:39-40 when he and Silas are rescued from jail by an earthquake that happens to open all the cell doors and cause all the chains to fall off. The poor jailer, knowing that allowing prisoners to escape was a capital offense was prepared to kill himself when Paul shouted, “HeY! Don’t do it! We’re right here!”

“What must I do to be saved?” the jailer asked.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved– you and all your household.” That was it. No preconditions, no sacraments. Just believe in Jesus. Paul spends most of Romans and Galatians expounding on what he preached to the jailer that night. XH goes to great lengths to cut the legs out from under Paul’s teaching but you can read it for yourself.

Jesus never taught specifically about when and where justification comes from as explicitly as Paul does. But it is addressed throughout His ministry. Cocotte brought up the thief on the cross, and XH summarily waived it off by stating Jesus was God and could therefore violate whatever rule He wanted. XH stated this behavior was an exception to the rule. But was it? Most people Jesus healed were healed out of their faith. Because they believed. There were no preconditions to it, it just happened. We have a centurion and a Phoenician woman who get help. They were not even Jews! And both were commended for….their faith.

Jesus only taught about justification one time explicitly in Luke 18:9-14. Here we have a pharisee and a tax collector. They both went to the temple to pray. The pharisee begins his prayer by thanking God that he is not like the tax collector. He lists all the things he does; he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all he gets. Meanwhile the tax collector can not even look up. He beats his chest and prays, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!” Who went home justified? It was not the guy doing all the wonderful works. It was the guy crying out for mercy. Justification through works always creates a hierarchy where people begin to regard themselves as better than others. The pharisees always considered themselves more righteous than anyone else. If anyone could make the claim to self-justification (which is what faith-by-works is) it would be the pharisees. Jesus did not object to the works of the pharisees, He objected to them counting their works as cause for their justification before God. This is the error of pretty much every cult and other religion. They always have to bind justification through works in order to bind their converts to them and their authority. Sola Fide is unique to Christianity because it is the only way that the redemptive power of of the cross and resurrection remains undiluted. Anything less than sola fide is another gospel, whcih Paul warned against in Galatians. The issue of circumcision and special diet were central to the question of sola fide.

So does that mean that actions do not matter? Indeed not! Paul spends most of his letter to the Romans talking about why actions do matter. Sola fide is not a license to licentiousness. The grace of Christ does not require more sinning in order to obtain more grace. Paul’s teaching makes no sense if grace is obtained through works. Paul makes it explicit and direct. However, XH attempts to discount this teaching by inserting ideas that simply are not there. So much for speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent! Either Paul meant what he said or he didn’t. XH tries to confuse it by saying that what Paul said was not really what he meant and that he meant something else besides what he said. The salvation is by faith is so that no one can boast. Not a tax collector and not a pharisee.

Pretty much every single religion places a premium on works. The Buddhists and Hindus, with their karmic wheel of fortune, the Muslims, the polytheists and their insatiable desire to please multiple gods. The Catholics are not alone in this as several restorationists also went this route including the Seventh Day Adventists, the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses as well as the Churches of Christ. The apostasy that is faith through works goes against the entire grain of the New Testament. If you can gain your own salvation through your own works there is no need for a Savior. However, most of the apostate groups take it a bit further. Salvation is accorded only with the approval and blessing of the church authorities. It’s no secret that those who cling to faith through works are the most controlling and oppressive of all sects. Faith through works lends itself to political control of its members.

That’s because in this system, you do not get to decide which works merit furthering your salvation, and which do not. You don’t decide the value of your works, so while you may be thinking you are making a great sacrifice, you may find out that that it might not be valued so much. Even in churches which give lip service to sola fide, we often find a never ending treadmill of obligations which involve keeping the machinery running. There are all the fundraising projects in order to buy new church furniture or a new sound system or more lighting. And then there needs to be money to support the various music ministers, youth pastors and other programs. There’s the time required to volunteer for all the programs that are all designed to keep the club members happy. But if we keep all the club members involved and busy, they will feel like they are doing something productive and useful. They will earn the praise of men.

Jesus Christ came to address the problem of sin. That is not a problem that can be cured or treated through anything we can do with human hands. We are helpless against it. It is through grace…and ONLY through grace…that we can be justified. Works are the sign of the interior regenerative work that takes place when we are saved…when we are born again. Indeed, when we step into the light and turn from the darkness, all can see our deeds clearly and that they are done in God.

How can anyone who claims to be a Christian teacher be ignorant of such things? As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

We can see sole fide in action all the way back in Numbers 21:4-9. I’m sure one people were bitten by snakes they tried everything including salves, ointments, sucking the poison out, saying incantations and finally crying out to Moses. God told him to make a bronze serpent. So what did the people have to do? They just had to look. They looked at the bronze serpent and lived. When Nicodemus visits Jesus, this is the teaching He presents. It is no coincidence that the remedy for sin in the time of Moses was confession and faith just as it was for Nicodemus and just as it is today. In the end, our opinions don’t mean very much because it is the judgment of Jesus Christ that ultimately decides.

You can see the wikipedia for Sola Fide here. I did not use it for this post, but you can see that the scriptural case for both sides is EXTENSIVE. XH and I will not settle this question. We can agree to disagree, and/or damn each other to Hell. Let God sort us out.

I did borrow more heavily from this article by John MacArthur. He is a very solid evangelical theologian who I do trust in such matters.

I also read some of this article by Dr. J.I. Packer on the subject before writing my post.

Most of my reading on the Restoration Movement occurred here

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5 Responses to “Sola Fide”

  1. Desmond Jones Says:

    Just to clarify a point – an Indulgence is a ‘full or partial remission of sins’ given by the church, ie, as in the Sacrament of Penance. Indulgences are sometimes granted for certain prayers said, or pilgrimages made (the Wikipedia article on Indulgences gives a decent account).

    Indulgences are not, of themselves, ‘Salvation for Sale’. The ‘sale of indulgences’ was one of the things that ‘touched off’ the Protestant Reformation. In order to finance the construction of the new St. Peter’s in Rome (the building which exists today; it was built in the 15th/16th centuries to replace the old St. Peter’s, which dated back to the 4th century), indulgences were granted for those who contributed to the ‘building fund’. Which Martin Luther construed as ‘Salvation for Sale’. Not completely without justice; but perhaps a bit ‘muddier’ of a situation than the story I grew up with. . .

  2. xianhusband Says:

    If that’s what you believe you had better go ahead and tear the books of James and Hebrews out of your Bible. Because your views cannot be reconciled on any level with the clear and unambiguous teachings there in. Some have tried, of course, but the attempts are laughable — pick up MacArthur’s commentary on Hebrews sometime to see. He has to spend the first 30 pages inventing from his imagination a clearly invalid interpretive framework all to make it not say what it clearly does. It is doing anything and everything he can think of to try and make it teach the opposite of what it so clearly does.

    As for the rest, you seem to have a marked tendency to take a story and cut out all those parts that don’t fit your point of view. The Phillippian Jailer, for instance, you conveniently left out vs 33, “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.”

    No sacraments? Wow. Whatever.

    Same thing with John 3. Yes, we all know vs 16. You seem to have forgot the beginning of the conversation where Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

    The entire message of the New Testament is testimony to the same basic gospel: Christianity is a religion not of externals only, nor of internals only, but of internals and externals working together — James 2: faith and deeds working together; Matthew 23, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Etc.

    You are absolutely correct that these are blatently different gospels. One comes from God and Christ and the Apostles, and is taught in the scriptures, and thus has the power to save. The other is not and does not.

    Considering the intellectual gymnastics one must do to try and shoe-horn sola scriptura into the Bible, and considering its obvious historical novelty — it does not predate the 16th century and is nothing like what the 1st and 2nd century church believed — the choice of which is right and which is not is clear.

  3. thereseinheaven Says:

    Your post seems to pit sola fide against solus opus (works alone) which has never existed in the Christian faith. You don’t come out and say that, but the examples you give really make that the implication. Yeah, the buying and selling of indulgences was wrong. I think we can alll agree with that. But the Catholic Church has never actually taught that works were the only thing needed to get into Heaven, nor that works were superior to faith. This isn’t to say that people within the Church haven’t at times pushed this agenda for personal power, but Catholic theology NEVER separates faith from works. It just feels dishonest, Digger, to make your side sound more reasonable by distorting the other one or by using exceptions to prove the rule. And, as XH said in his comment, he isn’t advocating a “works without faith” means of attaining salvation either. I don’t think anyone is.

    I would appreciate you elaborating on this comment a bit.

    So does that mean that actions do not matter? Indeed not! Paul spends most of his letter to the Romans talking about why actions do matter. Sola fide is not a license to licentiousness. The grace of Christ does not require more sinning in order to obtain more grace.

    If Christianity is all about God’s salvation, it seems to me that if you think works aren’t necessary for being given eternal life, then they really can’t matter much at all. Exactly how do they matter if they aren’t related to getting into Heaven?

  4. xianhusband Says:

    Also, this entire analysis is predicated on the idea of a “Great Apostasy,” because while he may not accept the historical evidence that the views I presented on my blog ARE the original Christian faith (and the evidence is really unequivocal) but nobody can deny that this was the central form of the faith for a thousand years. Those “dark ages” he dismisses out of hand so easily.

    If he believes that sola fide is the original faith then this mean the entire Christian world went apostate, and it was up to the likes of Luther to bring it back.

    And that idea runs into a lot of problems when one actually looks at scripture. Because it says that for over a thousand years there WAS no church on Earth. If this gospel is different from his — and it is — and his is the original, then that means the entire Christian world was in apostasy and was therefore condemned. No Christians = no church.

    Which, from a scriptural and faith standpoint, cannot be correct. Daniel prophesied that when the Messiah came he would create “a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” (Dan 2:44) That “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan 6:14) Christ said the same thing when, in He said He would build His church and “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matt 16:17) That statement was not about YOU or any individual, that was about His community.

    Ultimately, if you look at any point in history and, because of the doctrine you wish was true, look and say the entire church was wrong and therefore there WAS no church then you make Christ out to be a liar. He said the gates of hell would not overcome His church. To say the entire church was apostate is to say that hell did exactly that.

    That is why you cannot dismiss the historical church or its historical witness. The church has always existed from the time of Christ until now. It hasn’t gone away. It hasn’t disappeared. It hasn’t been destroyed. Man cannot destroy it — it is Christ’s church and ultimately He is the one in control.

    An ecclesiology based on a Great Apostasy and a human restoration centuries later, then, cannot be held if one, by faith, believes in Christ’s promises.

  5. diggerjones Says:

    Therese, if you would read XH’s posts and comments from my admitted bias, you would see that he employs the exact same type of rhetoric (only in much larger quantity). He wants to co-opt everything written by Paul in order to support his side, which is clearly not the case. But I easily tire of academic rhetoric, posturing, arguing and the whole pissing contest. So let me answer you from my own personal perspective, even if it lacks theological sophistication.

    I am an addict. Or at this point a recovering one. Everyone is infected by sin, but I have the onerous addiction in the form of nicotine. I don’t consider myself any better off than an alcoholic or a crack addict. That stuff had a hold on me like you would not believe. It occupied and consumed my thoughts in ways you would never believe. I would always be thinking about the next cigarette. How could I get it without my wife and kids seeing me? How long until the next one? Do I have enough money to buy more?

    I have done stupid and terrible things because of that addiction. I have struggled with this thing that grips me for over 20 years. I am ashamed of what it has done to me. Parts of my personality have been stolen…no…I gave it away.

    The entire time I was smoking, I was gong to church and paying my tithe and doing all of the things I should be doing (as dictated by my own faith). It wouldn’t matter if I was Catholic or anything else or not. I had a secret life.

    People think that sin is all about whooping it up and having a blast. It always looks like that…in the beginning. But it always takes you further than you wanted to go, for a lot longer than you ever wanted in ways you would never desire. I professed my faith in Jesus Christ 25 years ago. I could have keeled over and went to Heaven. But grace is not simply about just doing what it takes to get into Heaven. It is about applying the remedy for sin that Christ offers TODAY and everyday. In Acts, The doors came open and the chains fell off but Paul and Silas stayed put for the sake of that Jailer. The jailer was the one who needed to be set free and Paul showed him the way to do it. The subsequent baptism was an act of obedience; the outward sign of the inward grace.

    Everyday, I must choose, Therese. Last week, while my wife and kids were gone, I was sorely, sorely tempted to buy and smoke those cigarettes. It would have been so easy. My flesh was positively raging for those things. The nicotine chatter just went on and on. It’s hard to explain to someone who has never experienced this type of thing. Smarter people than me have not been able to withstand it. But I’m still clean and sober by the grace of God.

    I’m not sure if this answers your question or not. XH can poke all the holes he wants into my arguments. I do know that what I do is important for my wife and kids. Yes it would be a lot easier to just die off and go to Heaven right now and leave the suffering behind. But it is only within the work of Christ that my suffering has any meaning outside of myself. It is not a penance…I can absolutely NOT justify myself in any way shape or form. I can’t diminish the sins I have committed. Works can absolutely not go at the front end of grace. Just as the cross had to come before the resurrection, so faith must come before the good works. It is the redemption of Christ that makes the work good, as any and all our human best looks like rags and rubbish in comparison. I understand that in a way that only someone who has been through (and caused) suffering can truly grasp.

    Anyway, I felt like I needed to give an account or at least a spirited defense on XH’s many and unceasing attacks. However, I am simply not going to match him on volume and his many words. Proper arguments for both sides can be found in the links at the end of the post. If you’re interested in learning, you can check them out. If you’re interested in arguing, go elsewhere.

    This post is now closed.

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