Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sola Fide

    I fear I have plunged into waters over my head... in brushing up on the marked differences between Christianity and Roman Catholicism on the role of faith in justification, I was again astounded by the complexity and sheer volume of material on the subject by men far more qualified than I.  Thankfully, the further back you go historically, the more concessions we find for ignorant simpletons such as myself:  the doctrinal teachings of the Roman Council of Trent around 1563 are followed by black-and-white, cut-and-dry statements ("canons") so that the common man can know exactly where they stand.  And even better, there are several large passages in the New Testament that are the basis for the Christian position (protesting against Rome, hence the label "Protestant").
     As I admitted last time, much of what Rome teaches sounds good and orthodox;  she stresses the importance of faith and that "...And this translation, since the promulgation of the the Gospel, can not be effected, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof, as it is written: unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God."  But that's not all the Scriptures say about faith, about how precisely we are justified and made right with God.  So our questions from last post are "what is faith? or where does it come from?" and "is faith alone enough to save us?" So by the numbers...
"You gotta have faith.... BABY!!!!"

  The term faith is not foreign to our ears;  we regularly speak of believing in something or someone.  But you'd have a pretty hard time convincing me that George Michael was trying to communicate the centrality of faith for our forgiveness with God... you can obviously use the word "faith" to have different shades of meaning and different objects.  So what does Roman Catholicism mean when they talk about it?  Here's one of the paragraphs I marvel over...
"For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of his body. For which reason it is most truly said, that faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. This faith, Catechumens beg of the Church—agreeably to a tradition of the apostles—previously to the sacrament of Baptism; when they beg for the faith which bestows life everlasting, which, without hope and charity, faith can not bestow: whence also do they immediately hear that word of Christ: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Wherefore, when receiving true and Christian justice, they are bidden, immediately on being born again, to preserve it pure and spotless, as the first robe given them through Jesus Christ in lieu of that which Adam, by his disobedience, lost for himself and for us, that so they may bear it before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life eternal." (The Council of Trent, 1563, Chapter VII)
     Got it?  You see why my head twirls about like a top while I try to "test the spirits" (1 Jn 4:1) and measure this teaching with Scripture.  Let's narrow it down a bit:  as best I can tell, in the Roman  point of view, all mankind is given a measure of grace, specifically "prevenient grace".  This allows people to respond positively to the gospel;  you could call it free will.  Assuming one receives the gospel according to Rome, a person receives faith by being baptized (or is "baptistically regenerated") and must now exercise that faith by doing good works, partaking of the Mass, acts of charity, etc.  To become justified and acceptable in God's sight, one must earn a certain amount of merit, that is then added to the merit of Christ, and when one achieves true righteousness, God then acknowledges them as just, ushering them through the Pearly Gates.  So it's evident why being baptized early is so desirable:  one can't begin accruing merit without it.  The problem with this rosy picture is sin, specifically continuing sin in the believer.  The lesser sins are called "venial":  crimes of omission or sins committed with intent or knowledge.  The official Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of personal penance to remedy this:  prayers, alms and fasting.   But there is another category of transgression that is so serious, it is considered terminal or "mortal";  these crimes are considered "soul-killing" and "destroy charity in the soul", abolishing the regeneration granted by baptism. This must be atoned for in an earthly sense ("temporally"), requiring confession to an apostolic representative, a priest who usually assigns so many prayers and acts of penitence, depending on the Padre's mood that day.  The range of mortal sins are interesting:  in addition to the 7 biggies, the Catechism lists blasphemy, divorce, masturbation, having an abortion, and until recently, skipping Mass.  The defining characteristics of this category are the severity of the sin (as determined by Rome), knowledge of it as sin, and a personal, deliberate decision to sin.
     So, Rome would define faith not only as "fiducial" (a word you'll never hear on TBN... they mean that one trusts in Christ and His work for them), but also confessional (you must believe and accept everything the Roman Church teaches) and the means by which we become righteous; a lifelong process that's painfully slow, under our own steam in a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of way.  And I hope I've made one thing clear:  according to Rome, faith is most definitely not enough...
"If any one saith that by faith alone the impious is justified, in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will, let him be anathema."  (The Council of Trent, 1563, Canon IX)
     And the Protestant position based on the authority of Scripture?  I can let God speak for Himself:
"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."  But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them."  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal 3:10-13)
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." (Rom 3:23-28)
Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?"  Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:28-29)

     There are many other texts that outline the impossibility of a sinful man being made righteous in any way by his own efforts (Isa 64:4-6, Eph 2:8-9, Tit 3:5).  In contrast, the only text I know of that can be construed to support Rome is James 2:14-26:  if you cherrypick certain phrases, and ignore his reference to Gen 15:6, and neglect to notice the context, you could detect an emphasis on works-righteousness.  But to take such an approach causes Scripture (and thus the Holy Spirit) to contradict itself.
     Ultimately, the question is who do you trust?  Catholics trust their church, embodied by a "humble pope".  Christians trust the Bible, which is another Sola for another time.  Who do you believe?

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