There was a very interesting Marty Minto show recently. His Catholic producer, Shaun "Powerball" Pierce, received a booklet by R.C. Sproul called "Justification by Faith Alone". In it, Sproul examines what justification is according to Scripture, compares the Roman Catholic and evangelical stances on this core doctrine, and discusses the relationship of faith and works–all to show why "by faith alone" is so essential. As Sproul puts it, "The crucial issue of infusion versus imputation remains irreconcilable. We are either justified by a righteousness that is in us or by a righteousness that is apart from us. There is no third way." Pierce’s Catholic sensibilities were offended and a two-page response was the result. I’ve obtained his permission to reprint it here. I’d like to hear your reactions to it.
Sola Fide/ Sola Scriptura
The issue of Sola fide or justification by faith alone has caused a great divide between Christians. The concept that faith in Christ is both necessary and sufficient for sinners to be granted salvation is very inviting and inclusive, while at the same time it is dangerously misleading. For it is the very question of how we obtain salvation. Sola fide is at the core of evangelical Christianity and it is the very thing that flaws the beliefs of Christians who embrace the concept, despite the best of intentions.
Faith is necessary for salvation but not sufficient. Anyone who claims Sola fide is an error because, in addition to believing, God also requires obedience as a prerequisite for acceptance into his kingdom, and for eternal life. Multiple examples of this are found throughout the Scriptures. (Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven., Matthew 19:16-21, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Revelations 22:12)
When any ecclesiastical body accepts Sola fide as it is commonly understood; it divides itself from the historical true church as well as God. The outward appearance may be one of true believers living a Christian life; however, essentials of the faith are abandoned and disregarded by human authority and not divine guidance. This produces a corruption of the Christian faith.
The relationship between faith and good works needs to be closely considered by all Christians. We must understand, the further one strays from the true church, the less defined these issues become as our ability to recognize truth becomes clouded. We then unknowingly place our own beliefs, interpretations and opinions above God. For even at the start of the Reformation, differences appeared. The Epistle of James proclaims the importance of good works. This was rejected by Martin Luther. John Calvin wrote of the necessity of good works as a consequence of faith. This differed in ways from Luther’s belief.
You can quote scripture both for and against Sola fide. Acts 16:31 tells us "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." That seems clear until you read James Chapter two: "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?" James asks the question "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?"
It must be made clear that no doctrine saves us. It is ultimately Christ who saves us. All Christians would agree on this. However, do not fall under the assumption that just because you have a personal relationship with Christ you are saved. Remember, even the devil has a personal relationship with Christ. We are even warned of this in scripture:
1 Corinthians 10:12 "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
In order to fully understand how we are truly justified and saved, you must understand and accept that authority and the basis of Christianity comes not only from scripture but also from Christian tradition through the Church. It is this tradition passed down through the ages along with the Bible that is the source of authority.
Nowhere in the bible does it say "by faith alone" yet this accepted by those who claim Sola Scriptura, or the scripture to be the exclusive authority and not the Church. Traditionally the church has been the interpreter of Scripture. The faithful were taught scripture by the church established by Christ and his followers. Once one abandons the original Church and it’s traditions in exchange for their own interpretation through Sola Scriptura, they reverse the order that was originally intended and thereby distort the ability to determine what is or is not acceptable as Christians.
It is important to note that Sola Scriptura did not originally reject the authority of the Church, rather it sought to regulate the teaching of the Church and it’s traditions through the use of scripture. This was done in an attempt to shield the church from the influence of man. Ironically, the Sola Scriptura concept itself brought into Christianity the influence of man and opened the door to the very thing it sought to avoid.
The Reformation movement challenged the Roman church and targeted the traditions and central issues of the Christian faith. The Church declared that Scripture itself was handed down through its traditions and therefore could not be a single and exclusive authority. Old and New Testament Scripture were handed down through oral presentation, writing and documents produced and collected by the Church. The proper interpretation was and remains the duty of that church. It was men who were now demanding the church change. To do this would have meant the Church would acknowledge it had no divine guidance as it bowed to pressure, it would have lost all credibility with the faithful and it would have invalidated it’s teaching over the ages. In essence, to concede to the Reformers would have meant a total distortion of Christianity.
From the beginning, the Reformers sparked a destructive force that divides those seeking Christ today. There was no agreement or consistency among the various Protestant movements. The attempt to gain control of the faithful and abandon the traditional church in favor of a new church based solely on Scripture failed and continues to fail. The result is Protestants not only against the Roman Church but against each other with very different views on tradition and scripture. The reformers could not establish a single group with shared common beliefs and so the fragmentation that began, continues with the thousands of denominations today.
The Bible is not meant to be privately interpreted. If it were we would all have a universal belief. We are all to study and know the word of God but to rely on our own interpretation without the guidance of the church is arrogant and irresponsible. To do so means we must be infallible and believe that divine truth has been revealed to us and not the original Church. This results in each person believing different things based on the same scripture. For without the Church in the position of authority, there in an inconsistency in interpretation among Christians. To determine the correct interpretation of Scripture, we must refer back to the original Church authority to learn how the Church has believed through the ages. The Church becomes the final authority on Scripture.
If one openly examines Sola Scriptura they will find it to be at best a theological assumption. Yet the very same scripture does not tell us that it is sufficient, self-authenticating or self-interpreting. Under this assumption many Christians claim the Bible as the only source for the faith. They have recklessly abandoned many traditional Christian beliefs not because the are forbidden by the Scriptures, but because they are not found in the Bible. While scripture tells us that not everything is found in the bible. (John 21:25 "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.")
So today we face the results of the Reformation. The authority of the Church has been challenged, we all claim to know the truth and the disunity, destructive rhetoric, and division among all Christians is no doubt beyond the wildest intentions of the men who sought to reform the church.
For those wondering, Minto’s reaction was to say that to reject sola scriptura was to put one’s salvation in jeopardy. In an email, I informed him that such a notion was nonsensical.
Either we are justified by faith alone or we are not. Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and members of some other churches do have faith in Jesus. We have faith that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He is the Way, the Truth, and Life, and that none shall see the Father except through Him. We recite and believe the same creeds he does.
If, as he says, faith alone is enough for salvation, then we who have faith are saved. To say otherwise is to imply that faith alone is insufficient. Evidently, to him we are justified by faith in Christ and belief that faith alone is enough. This is paradoxical and makes no sense. If I believe that I must work out my salvation with fear and trembling, will I not do more than what he claims is necessary, not less? You can’t say, "You are saved if you have faith, unless you believe that faith is insufficient and that salvation can be lost."