Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, Part 5

My Response to The Obnoxious Mormon, His Response, and My Reply

TOM, I admit to hesitating in my reply to your comments. The reason is simply that I haven't known how to begin. I am not entirely certain why, in dealing with Protestant Christians, I can be direct, to the point, and perhaps even forceful in my disagreements, without fear of being offensive (though I may be offensive after all--I simply don't find myself worrying about it); but with you, I find myself worrying that I might, in disagreeing with you, offend you at the same time.

If I analyse this peculiar emotion, I see it could stem from 3 or 4 things (I list them in order from least forceful to most):

1) I've interacted with these particular Protestants before. This reason is quickly discounted, though, because my reply to Ryesin is the first time I've communicated with him, and is perhaps the most forceful of my above comments.

2) I used to be a Protestant, so I feel I have at least some measure of understanding or sympathy to their position. Never having been a Mormon, and only knowing what I know of Mormonism second- or third hand, I fear that I might misrepresent your faith. But again, this hardly seems a "good" reason, since I'm not here forwarding an apologetic against Mormonism in general, but only your expressed views on Justification.

3) In reading the discussions that have taken place at the forum on this topic, I often found myself more in agreement with your perspective, than those of the Sola Fide Protestants. We both, after all, agree that our works contribute to our salvation. Thus, when faced with the prospect of countering your statements on certain other, though related, aspects of Justification, I feel as though I am suddenly turning on an ally.

4) Many Mormons consider their faith to be a valid interpretation and offshoot of orthodox Christianity, whereas orthodox Christians (and in this appellation I include orthodox believers of Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions) do not consider Mormonism "Christian" but a pseudo-Christian cult. It is in this reasoning that I most greatly fear offending you, because many Protestant Christians do not consider me, as a Roman Catholic, to be truly a Christian--a belief and accusation which still does not cease to be offensive to me. Thus again, in this common plight, I feel as though I am turning on an ally.

These, then, are my reservations about simply launching into an apologetic against the description of Justification which you provided above. I hope that you take my words, then, in the spirit which I mean them--one of charity and an earnest desire to demonstrate the Biblical teaching on this subject, and not simply as an attack on those who have thus far contributed to the discussion. And while I did not say similar things to Peter and Ryesin before replying to them both (here, here, and here), I hope as well that they'll take my words to them in that same spirit. I am not trying to pontificate--only to share what I believe to be the truth of the matter. I am humble enough to know that I could very well be wrong, and welcome the chance for further discussion. Now that all that is said, I will begin my response to TOM's view of Justification.

We have an interesting definition of justifications. We say that justification is bringing our lives in harmony with God's and setting it on the right path. Once we are on this path, having been justified by the Holy Ghost, we can then allow Christ's grace to take us the rest of the way.

I believe that by repenting and living a good life and keeping the commandments, I am on the path to Heaven and allow Christ to wipe myself clean from sin.

As no unclean thing can enter the Kingdom of God, I try to stay on the strait and narrow as much as I can.

I might be repetitious, but this is a summary: through good works and repentance I am justified (that is brought into harmony with God), which enables Christ to make up for all my faults and weaknesses.
As I mentioned above, TOM, in past discussions, there was often very little of what you said on this issue that I disagreed with. The same goes for this brief description. On the whole, I agree with what is said. It is what remains unsaid and assumed that disquiets me. Especially since I seem to recall past comments from from you that fill in those unspoken blanks--a reaction on your part to the work of grace in the process of Justification. If the way I read what you do not say is correct, then your view of Justification is the same as the ancient heresy, condemned by the Church, known as "Semi-Pelagianism."

Pelagius was a priest who taught that man is not by nature evil, and, in fact, quite good--to the extent that his turning from God was not so devastating that he could not find his way back. Denying the effect of Original Sin in cutting off the supernatural life of Grace within us, Pelagius taught that we could be saved through our own efforts to live a godly life. Christ, Pelagius said, came, lived, died, and was resurrected, not to save us from sin, but to be an exemplar, in order to show us how to live the way we ought. St. Augustine, among others, showed his error, and defended the truth that, through our sin, we are completely cut off from God's Grace, and unable to save ourselves. It was only by God's Grace given to us anew, through the Death and Resurrection of Christ, that we could respond in a manner that would save us.

However, Pelagianism would not so easily be defeated. Followers of that doctrine modified it, and taught that the Grace that Christ gives us, makes us able to live that righteous life in order that we might be justified. On the surface, it sounds very like the Catholic view, but the difference is that the Catholic says: Without Grace I can do nothing. The Semi-Pelagian says: Without Grace I'd have a harder time of it, but could manage, perhaps, nonetheless.

This view was again condemned by the Church, most forcibly at the Council of Trent, in the Canons on Justification:
CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema. (Canons of the Council of Trent, On Justification)
In your above description of Justification, TOM, you seem to be saying that it is our own duty to bring ourselves to repentance, in order to put ourselves into right relation with God, that we may then be justified by the Holy Spirit, and after that receive Grace from Christ to persevere until final salvation. Now, if I have misunderstood--if you meant to say, but only assumed, that this initial repentance leading to reconciliation with God, justification by His Spirit, and further Grace through His Son, is itself all flowing from and a result of God's Grace, which enables us to have faith and to repent--if that is what you meant, then please let me know, and we will have no further disagreement (well, about Justification, anyway. There are plenty of other issues over which we could find to disagree--such as the Trinity--which are not part of the present discussion).

On the other hand, though, what you said makes it seem as though our salvation is first and foremost something we accomplish, or at least, something that we instigate and only afterward God finishes. It seems to say that we are able to have the faith, to do the works, that lead to our repentance and justification. But this position is precisely backwards--or, rather, inside-out.
CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema. (Canons of the Council of Trent, On Justification)
Rather, our Salvation is caused by God's Grace first. It is God, who, through His love for us, reaches out to us with His Grace ("prevenient" in the Canon, means "coming before"--that is, before we make any sort of move). This Grace gives us both the ability to have the necessary saving faith, and also to be able to truly choose to have that faith in God or to reject Him. Paradoxically, God gives us the Grace to reject His Grace.

That God's saving action must come before our repentance and desire for salvation is clearly seen from the Scriptures:
'No one can come to me
unless drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise that person up on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
"They will all be taught by God;"
everyone who has listened to the Father,
and learnt from him,
comes to me.' (John 6:44-45)

And since it is by grace, it cannot now be by good actions, or grace would not be grace at all! (Romans 11:6)

And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins which used to make up your way of life when you were living by the principles of this world, obeying the ruler who dominates the air, the spirit who is at work in those who rebel. We too were among them once, living only by our natural inclinations, obeying the demands of human self-indulgence and our own whim; our nature made us no less liable to God's retribution than the rest of the world. But God, being rich in faithful love, through the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, brought us to life with Christ--it is through grace that you have been saved--and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift of God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
The final passage lays things out crystal clear. It is not that we turned from our sins and approached God, who forgave us, justified us, and strengthened us to continue in righteousness. Rather, while we were still dead in our sin, or, as Romans 5:10 calls us, "God's enemies", that He gave us His gift of Grace in order to change an enemy into a friend--a sinner into a saint.
I might be repetitious, but this is a summary: through good works and repentance I am justified (that is brought into harmony with God), which enables Christ to make up for all my faults and weaknesses.
In light of Scripture, then, your summary is not in keeping with the Christian view of things (as Mormonism is not Christianity, this isn't surprising to me; but as Mormonism claims to follow the Christian Bible--as well as the Book of Mormon--it should give you something to consider). We are not justified by "repentance" or good works, but by faith. This faith cannot ultimately save us apart from good works, but it is neither faith nor good works that produce some need in God to grant us Justification. It is simply His free gift to us. But like any gift, we must unwrap it (faith), and then use it (works). Otherwise, the gift does not benefit us at all.

If I have in any way misunderstood your description above, and you do believe that Grace precedes our ability to repent and do the works necessary to attain to final salvation, please let me know!

In sum, between replying to Peter (and here), Ryesin, and TOM, I hope that I have demonstrated the Catholic perspective of Justification by Faith accurately, fairly, and charitably.

God bless

The Obnoxious Mormon rather swiftly replied to my comments to him:

Thank you Gregory. Before I start my reply I must add that I am not nearly so compelling a writer as you, so please don't condemn me for the inability to express myself adequately. I tend to repeat myself and contradict myself. If I seem contradictory, please understand that I have given this issue a lot of thought and all of Mormon (or LDS) doctrine makes perfect sense to me--you might say that it "tastes good." Having said this, I will commence.

I would first like to give condemnation to the concept of Semi-Pelagianism and Pelagianism. Without Christ we are nothing. I cannot dispute that.

With that said, I will now (for real this time) launch into my response to your critique on justification, grace and works. When I wrote my original comment, I did not expect this to turn into the debate it has; but I am glad it has.

You say I said that we bring ourselves into harmony with God. That is true--without conscious effort on our part, we cannot have our God given free will. Jesus cannot force us to come to Him. Keep in mind that he said "knock and it shall be opened unto you;" we must ask Him into our lives. However, He does play a role in this conversion, this justification. He sends the Holy Ghost to prod us in the right direction. This is what you called "prevenient." He invites us to come to Him--in effect reaching out His hand to us--and it is our duty to catch hold. You cannot save a drowning man without his consent.

In summary (and if this description is inadequate let me know; I will be happy to expound), we believe that God gently nudges us onto the path with His Spirit given through grace. But we must heed these promptings and step onto the path; God would cease to be God if He compelled us. Once on the path, Christ does the rest. I'm sure we can agree on that last point--the journey is impossible on our own.

And Gregory, have you read the Book of Mormon? It expounds much greater on these doctrines. I would encourage you to do so--somehow these ancient prophets inspired by God say this much more clearly than I am capable of doing.

P.S. If you'd like, let's start another thread on the Godhead. I feel more comfortable with that topic--I've done more studying up on it than grace.

I reply:
TOM, thank you for your praise of my writing. I'm considering writing books someday. But that's hardly relevant. You yourself, from what I have read, do indeed express yourself clearly. I am glad for your clarifications; very glad that you condemn Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism as well as I. I recognise that you were being incomplete and only summarising your views above--and reacting, particularly, to the notion that our works don't matter in our salvation. Looking at the broader scope (what comes before our works, and our justification, as well as afterward), I see we are in agreement after all. You have, as a matter of fact, summarised well in one post, what I laboured at length to say in four.

If I seemed to emphasise God's actions in saving us, to the minimising of our response, in dealing with my reply to you, I trust you read my replies to Peter (2) and Ryesin as well, where I accented much more the necessity of our response to that same Gracious act of God. It's about balance between the two poles--neither doing nothing on the one hand, nor doing everything on the other.

If it wasn't for God's prodding, His prevenient Grace, we would not be able to respond to Him in the faith we need. On the other hand, if we will not respond, that Prevenient Grace will never become Justifying or Sanctifying Grace. We will not be saved purely by God's action--yet nevertheless, in the final analysis, it is only by God's acting within us that we can act at all. This is the paradox, the mystery of faith, and we'll never be able to describe it fully.

As to a discussion of the Godhead, I would love to debate the Catholic vs. Mormon conceptions of God, the Trinity, "As God was, man now is; as God is, man can become," and all the rest of it. However, I won't be able to dive into it so readily as I'd like, due to certain circumstances of unemployment and the resulting strain on my marriage that that has brought. Hopefully within the next few weeks to a month, we can sit down and discuss it more fully.

I admit that I have not read the Book of Mormon, and that my knowledge of Mormonism is second- and third hand, as I said earlier. Most of what I know comes from a former Mormon priest who now tries to show Mormons the truths of Christianity. Apparently he's rather infamous in the Southern Ontario Mormon community. I hope that he was not fudging facts at all, or that I have not forgotten any crucial elements. I may not (or never) agree with you, but I would hate to misrepresent you (or anyone else for that matter). The only result is anger and error--which is helpful to no one. I know from personal experience.

It may be that we agree on a great many things--but on this issue at least, we seem to be in accord. Of course, since this is a secondary issue (not in importance, but in logical sequence) we may end up disagreeing later (how can we agree on how God justifies us, if we disagree on who God is?). But as long as we can proceed in an amiable manner, I look forward to it.

God bless

It seems an odd thing, to disagree with two Christians, and to agree with a Mormon. On the whole, though this dialogue hasn't demonstrated it, I would agree more with the Christians than with the Mormon, I am sure.

If Peter and Ryesin take the time to reply to my arguments to them, I will post them here. If not, this dialogue seems to be at an end. I hope that my arguments have been compelling to demonstrate that salvation by faith alone is not only not biblical, but actually contradicted in the Bible. If anyone who reads this disagrees, or doesn't find my arguments compelling, feel free to comment and engage me in the discussion. It is an important discussion--Martin Luther said that the Reformation rises and falls on this belief in Sola Fide. If it isn't true, then there are many outside the Catholic Church for a rather wrong reason.

God bless

(Category: Soteriology: Justification.
The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and non-Christian religions)

Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, Part 4

My Response to Ryesin

After rereading through your post, Ryesin, I find that I as a Catholic have very little disagreement. What disagreement I do have, I will engage you in discussion over.

Personally I believe that as Christian Horses said we can only be saved through God's grace.
As it stands, I have no disagreement with your summary of Christian Horse's description either. As I said above to Peter, as a Catholic, I wholeheartedly believe that we are saved by Grace alone. But then, there are some slight differences in definitions of certain concepts. I believe that when these concepts are properly defined according to the respective theologies, many perceived differences will vanish, and the real differences will come into sharper focus.
Personally, I don't believe we can do anything to be saved.
I both agree and disagree with this statement, again, because of definitions. By "saved", a Reformed Protestant such as yourself would, I take it, be referring to that moment of embracing Christ as Lord and Saviour by His Grace, through your faith. What you term "saved", I term "initially justified", and, so far as those terms are synonymous, Catholics and Protestants are in perfect agreement. Until that moment when Christ's grace infuses us, there is absolutely nothing which we can do that will merit our justification (our "salvation" as it were).

The problem, however, is that the Reformed view of "being saved" in that sense isn't quite equal with the Catholic view of Initial Justification, because of that pesky notion common among most Reformed Christians that I have met (following Calvin) of Once Saved, Always Saved, whereby this Initial Justification is so indelible in the life of the believer, that he can never reject that Justification. Along with that, the notion of Imparted rather than Infused Righteousness eliminates in some circles the notion that one can reject Christ through persistent, wilful sin, since it is not our righteousness, but His, which keeps us in God's Grace, and His Righteousness is imparted to us as a gift that never really becomes our own. The alternative that I've come across is that Christ truly does infuse us with righteousness, but in such a way that is irresistible, and so, if one does not continue in sanctification, but backslides, was never really a Christian to begin with (thus preserving the OSAS doctrine, but in the same breath, logically--though never admittedly--eliminating the very Assurance of Salvation that OSAS was designed to protect. For how does one know, from one day to the next, whether he will in fact continue in his faith?).

The Catholic notion I have tried to outline in my responses (1st and 2nd) to Peter: We are initially justified by an unwarranted act of God's Grace, made available through the death and resurrection of Christ, which we respond to in faith (the faith needed for initial justification may or may not be accompanied by works. In fact, the faith may not even be that of the person justified, as in the case of Infant Baptism. That is the nature of the Covenant--both Old and New). Once we are Initially Justified (which in a limited sense is rightly called "being saved"), we are infused with God's Grace, enabling us to share in Christ's righteousness--not simply veiled by it, but possessors of it, so that it is at the same time ours and Christ’s. We are therefore enabled to do the good works that God has ordained should make up our way of life, but it is us who do them, and not us, as Christ within us does them. There is no real distinction, as C.S. Lewis explains,
Now I am going to suggest that strictly causal thinking is even more inadequate when applied to the relation between God and man. I don't mean only when we are thinking of prayer, but whenever we are thinking about what happens at the Frontier, at the mysterious point of junction and separation where absolute being utters derivative being.

One attempt to define causally what happens there has led to the whole puzzle about Grace and free will. You will notice that Scripture just sails over the problem. 'Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling' -- pure Pelagianism. But why? 'For it is God who worketh in you' -- pure Augustinianism. It is presumably only our presuppositions that make this appear nonsensical. We profanely assume the divine and human action exclude one another like the actions of two fellow-creatures so that 'God did this' and 'I did this' cannot both be true of the same act except in the sense that each contributed a share.

In the end, we must admit a two-way traffic at the junction. At first sight, no passive verb in the world would seem to be so utterly passive as 'to be created'. Does it not mean 'to have been nonentity'? Yet, for us rational creatures, to be created also means 'to be made agents'. We have nothing that we have not received; but part of what we have received is the power of being something more than receptacles. (Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, chapter 9 [emphasis in original].)

I believe that man is so decadent by nature, that we can't do anything good. This comes from the passage below.
As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."[c]
Romans 3:10-12 (Based From Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20)
Here is the beginning of where I fundamentally disagree with Calvinism: the doctrine of Total Depravity. I mentioned it briefly in my last post, in my reply to Peter, and is the main reason I decided to engage your comments, Ryesin. I find Total Depravity to be a dangerous untruth with some staggering implications for the Character of God, our personal culpability for sin, and Christ's ability to save us (no small matters, these!)

The first problem that I see (purely an exegetical one) is that St. Paul is quoting poetry to make his point. And the particular lines of poetry which he quotes are self-evidently hyperbolic. Paul's use of it is not even to make the point you are trying to make, but simply to show that the very Law that the Jews tried to keep, told them that they could not keep it, and that they were in as bad a shape as the Gentiles who didn't have the Law. In fact, he makes the point implicitly in verses 19 and 20 (and explicitly elsewhere) that those who have the Law are even worse off, since they should have known better.

Turning to the text(s) quoted themselves, do they in fact literally mean what they say, or are they in fact poetic hyperbole?

Examining the entire Psalm 14 (and 53, which is virtually the same, with some minor exceptions), we see the phrase, "there is no one who does good, not even one" in verse 3. While the Psalmist claims to be speaking about all "the children of Adam" (v.2), he in fact really has in mind the principle subject of his poem, "The fool" who says in his heart, "'there is no God'" (v.1). This fool it is who does no righteousness, and as Psalms 14 and 53 go on, are sinful, violent, and oppressive (v. 4).

The interesting thing is when we get to verse 5 of Psalm 14. It ends with "for God takes the side of the upright." But wait, if verse 3 is to be believed, there is no one upright! Who then does God take sides with? Evidently, David has in mind some who are righteous after all. In Psalm 53:5, the Psalmist glosses, "God scatters the bones of him who besieges you." He makes the abstract 'upright' of Psalm 14 into a personal 'you'.

Returning to verse 2, "there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God" (as quoted by St. Paul in Romans 3:11), this is also clearly hyperbolic, since David himself seeks God (and was a man after God's own heart). But he was not the only one. Consider the Wise Men (whose epiphany we celebrated this past Sunday). They certainly sought for God, for the Messiah-King! They weren't even looking in the right place, being astrologers--but nevertheless, through God's grace He used even that to lead them to the truth. "In order to please God, one must first believe that He exists, and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Whom then does God reward if "there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God"? Thus I reject this passage as a proof for "Total Depravity".

Now, I also said that there were three doctrinal aspects that fall apart if Total Depravity, that is, Man is Sinful by Nature, is accepted. I shall outline these, and then present the alternative.

If Man is Sinful by Nature, then God is Author of Evil. Since God specifically creates each and every human soul at the moment of conception, man can either not be inherently evil or sinful, or God cannot be all-good, since He creates a sinful soul. In order to avert this dilemma, many Total Depravitists claim that a person inherits his sinful nature from his parents (whose procreative act creates the physical matter of the person in question). This description though cannot be correct, since "sin" is not specifically a matter of the body, and not the soul. The notion that we are pure souls within sinful bodies is a Gnostic heresy, not a Christian belief. Further, the worst sins are those which are committed by the spiritual part of man (Pride, lust, envy, etc). If the human being is evil by nature, then that evilness must extend to his soul, since a human is a composite of body and soul, not simply a body with a soul, nor a soul encaged in a body. If Total Depravity is true, God is the author of evil. Since God is not the author of evil, total depravity cannot be true.

If Man is Sinful by Nature, then we are not truly culpable. If it is our nature, who we are as people, to sin, then we cannot be held guilty of sinning. This, obviously, is the argument of those who justify homosexuality by saying "I was born this way." Well, we are all born sinful, but if that is taken to mean we are all born sinful by nature, then we truly do not have either the choice nor the opportunity to overcome sin or do good--in fact the suggestion is meaningless and absurd. Salvation, then, would not be making us more human--restoring us ultimately to the glory of Adam and Eve before the fall--but would be completely changing us so that we could no longer be called "human", for a defining characteristic of "humanity" would be our sin nature. However, when God created humankind, He called them "very good" (Gn 1:31). Salvation is not the process of becoming less human, but more human, more "in God's image and likeness". If we are sinful by nature, that is saying that we are supposed to be this way. If we are supposed to be this way, we are not sinners; God is imposing an unjust morality on us. If we are supposed to be this way, we cannot be guilty of violating an impossible and imposed morality. But we are not supposed to be this way. Therefore, Total Depravity cannot be true, and we are truly responsible for our actions.

If Man is Sinful by Nature, then Christ could not have Saved Us. Christ, being God, was the only person worth enough to satisfy a debt against the Infinite God--an infinite debt. Since Christ is God, only He could pay that debt. But God is not the debtor, and therefore had no right to pay that debt. We owe the satisfaction for our sins. Therefore, God, in His love, justice, mercy, and wisdom, became a Man in Christ Jesus, to pay that debt on our behalf. As a Man, He could stand as representative of us. As God, He could fully pay the debt that we owe. However, in order to pay the debt, Christ had to fulfil the Law. He had to be sinless. Hence Hebrews: "Christ was tempted like us in every respect, except sin" (4:15). Christ became fully human, but yet not sinful. If we are sinful by nature, either Christ would have had to become sinful by nature (and thereby incapable of satisfying our debt), or He would have had to remain sinless by not becoming quite Human (thereby incapable of paying the debt on our behalf). The fact that Christ was able to become fully human, as we are, yet not sin nor have a sinful nature, shows the error of Total Depravity. Total Depravity cannot be true, because Christ has indeed saved us!

What then is the alternative? We see that since Adam, we are subject to sin (enslaved, as it were), and therefore unable to on our own perform the good works requisite for remaining in God's Grace. We are not wholly good. On the other hand, we are not wholly evil, for the reasons outlined above. What is left? Simply this: Our sinfulness is not our "nature", but our "state".

Through the sin of Adam and Eve, their state of being, of possessing those qualities of innate righteousness and spiritual life, were lost to them, and to us. We were born in the state of sin, which is spiritual separation from God. But our nature is still good, and thus, we can do good things. Yes, because our state is sinful, we have what's called "concupiscence" or the desire to sin. The unregenerate person is a slave to this concupiscence, because he is devoid of the necessary spiritual life to really fight against it. But those times that he does a good thing, it is good, and not sin (and it is in these times that still, mysteriously and mercifully, the grace of God is causing the goodness. It's called "prevenient" or "beforecoming" grace, because its grace that God bestows before we come to Him).

When I refer to Adam and Eve's "innate righteousness" that we later lost, what I mean is that, in their state of Created Grace, in the fullness of the Spiritual Life that was conditional on their obedience (thus, not a part of their nature, since what we are by nature is not conditional on obedience, but on existence), they did not have to choose to act righteously. They simply were righteous, because they were innocent and pure and sinless. This state of innocence, as I said, was conditional upon their obedience. It could be lost, and it was. But that did not make them by nature evil, because what is natural to something is reproduced in procreation. Since procreation literally means cooperating in creation (with God), and since God creates all things good, our nature must therefore still be good. However, through Adam and Eve's disobedience, we are born in a state of slavery to sin. As such we are born devoid of the spiritual communion, the spiritual life, with God that was our state, dependent upon obedience. We were also born subject to Concupiscence, which is the inordinate desire within us to seek our own wills before God's. But concupiscence is never so powerful as to eliminate our free will to choose. However, we will only really want to choose God's will over ours through an act of His Grace. This grace, given before we are saved, is known as "prevenient" grace, because, it comes "before" regeneration.

"State" and "nature" are not the same thing. Take an example from nature: water. Water is by nature two hydrogen atoms combined with one oxygen atom. It is by nature colourless. However, water can exist in three entirely different states while retaining (to a more or less obvious degree) those three qualities of its nature. As a solid (ice) water is still H2O, and it is still colourless. As a liquid, water is still H2O, and still colourless. As a vapour, water is still H2O, and it is still colourless. In all three states, the nature of water remains the same.

Similar to the natural example of water, we as humans have a nature (that which makes us human), but we exist in different spiritual states (three, in fact, just like water). Our nature is a physical body and a spiritual soul, created in the image and likeness of God, and created "good." The three states are Innocence, Sin, and Grace. In the Innocent state, Adam and Eve were as I described them above. The state of innocence was contingent upon their obedience to God's will, just as water's existing in the state of vapour is contingent upon its temperature remaining above 100 degrees C. However, when Adam and Eve sinned, they forsook that state of innocence, and became subject to the state of Sin, due to their separation from God--just as water becomes ice when its temperature, in the absence of heat, drops to below 0 degrees. However, we are still by nature a body and a soul, created in God's image, and created "Good". But we are trapped in the cold, hard, deadness of sin, unable to free ourselves--unable to draw closer to the heat of God's love. But God came to us, through Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sin, and redeem us out of the state of slavery to it. Our responding to His Grace melts that ice and brings us into the State of Grace, where our Spiritual Life is restored. However, we are not yet perfected, and still must struggle against concupiscence and the desire for sin. But through God's Grace, we can be obedient and remain in the State of Grace, just as water is liquid when it is above 0 degrees, but not yet vapour until it is above 100 degrees. In the final Consummation of our lives, either through our death or the Last Judgement, we who have been faithful droplets of Graced humanity, alive in Christ, are again brought to the State of Innocence, or the State of Perfection, where sin no longer will have any hold on us!

(The above comments, beginning at "Through the sin of Adam and Eve" are from a previous debate that I had about Total Depravity, with a fellow named David Blissett. I would encourage you to read through, and offer comments, on the discussion--which goes further than what I've said here, and complements my arguments here quite ably--by visiting Three Nails: At It Again....)
What I believe is our actions do that we have faith.
I assume you meant, "our actions show that we have faith." This is true, yet the full context of James 2:18 show that they do more than simply "demonstrate" our faith. They, in a sense, are our faith, or at least so inseparable from it that the distinction is almost meaningless, just as is the distinction between Body and Soul when discussing the human person.
We are a slave to sin. Man can not stop sinning on his own.
Exactly right. But as I detail in the article that I linked to, "slavery" is not a part of our nature, but our state. We were not meant to be slaves, but sons (cf. John 8:34-35; 1:12).
However, once we accept Christ through God's grace we then become "slaves" to righteousness. We are able to genuinely do good works. We are not saved by good works, for it is only at the point of salvation that we can then do good works.
With this, I quite agree (except to caution that when Paul says we are slaves to righteousness, he expressly states that he is not being quite literal ["I am putting it in human terms because you are still weak human beings" Romans 6:19]). The only other slight disagreement would be with the phrase "the point of salvation", which translated into my vocabulary means Initial Justification, as I established by my clarification of definitions above. I won't belabour that point except to say that we can genuinely do "good works" without being justified, but even then it is only through God's "prevenient" grace, and they are still not salvific. When we actually come into God's justification, the grace He gives us fully empower us to do "genuine good works". But these good works do contribute to our salvation (understood as I defined it above), since Scripture explicitly tells us to "work out our own salvation" (Phil 2:12), and, at the same time tells us that God is the one performing those works and giving us the will to perform them (Phil 2:13).

As to the Scripture that you quote, I dealt with Romans 3:28 and James 2:18 and their contexts in my replies to Peter. This post is long enough already without me reiterating that point (first of my replies to him). As to Romans 6:16, I discuss that above (and in my debate at Three Nails). The slavery metaphor that Paul uses supports the "state" concept much more than it supports the "nature" concept. Slavery is always an imposition on us, not something inherent to us.

I hope I have made clear from Scripture and Reason why it is that I disagree with (and quite despise) the doctrine of Total Depravity. I hope it is not offensive to anyone that I say that I despise the doctrine. It does not mean that I despise those who hold to it. But because of the logical implications about God, Christ, and our salvation, it truly is something that I cannot abide.

I will next reply to TOMormon. I've loved replying, because the cross-section of theology (Protestant-Catholic-Mormon) keeps my middle of the road views on this from being emphasised to far in one direction or the other. If I seem to have gone too far in reply to Total Depravity arguing for our innate goodness, that will be corrected, I'm sure, as I respond to our Mormon friend's comments.

God bless

(Sorry for the length. I sure wrote a lot in a post stating that I had very little disagreement...)

(Category: Soteriology: Justification.
The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, Part 3

My Response to Peter--Part 2

In my last post, I attempted to demonstrate from contexts, the meaning behind Romans 3:28 and James 2:20. From the context, we see that when Paul says we are saved by faith, he is contrasting that with "works of the [Mosaic] Law," and not "good works" in general. Thus it is that Paul has a specific Law in mind that he is saying faith saves regardless of. Thus, it is not correct to insert "alone" into this text, as Martin Luther did. Paul, in saying "not by works of the law," did not thereby say, "not by any good works whatsoever," which truly would equate to faith alone. Rather, he said that faith works in us to save apart from that one particular God-given Law of Moses.

James, on the other hand, while appealing to the Law of Moses (since it is a God-given standard), does not therefore bind Christians to it in a legalistic sense when he tells us that faith without works is dead. Rather, he takes us beyond the Law of Moses to the Law of Liberty, where mercy (love) is the chief command and the chief reward. With this Law, he and Paul are in complete agreement, for elsewhere Paul writes: "Let everything you do be done in love" (1 Cor 16:14); or, in another place: "Since in Christ Jesus it is not being circumcised or being uncircumcised that can effect anything--only faith working through love" (Gal 5:6).

In particular, this last phrase ties Romans and James together perfectly, in an Epistle that is even more severe in its warnings against legalism and trying to fulfil the old Law. Paul says quite specifically that it is not our relation to that Law (being circumcised or being uncircumcised) that will save us, but rather our faith working through love. The Roman Catholic denial of Faith Alone, and assertion that faith must be accompanied by good works, is firmly rooted in this assertion of St. Paul, and in the understanding of Love being something that goes beyond emotional good feelings towards someone, but to a choice of the will and an action. Thus it is not strictly speaking the Mosaic Law which Catholicism holds up as what we must accompany faith with. Rather, it is any and every action of love that we can do to honour God. That Catholicism (and James) reference the Mosaic Law and the 10 Commandments specifically is because they then become great practical guides for the right exercise of love--no longer constraints, but truly the Law of Liberty. Thus Jesus Himself said to love God and neighbour fulfils every point of the Law.

From here, then, I shall move on to answer Peter's specific objections and questions from the first post.

The dying thief on the cross beside Jesus was told when he repented that "today you will be with me in paradise". I would be intrigued to find out how if works are needed that thief could get to Heaven that day? He couldn't do a single thing! All he could do was depend on the grace that was lavished unto him from Jesus!
There are many, many things assumed by Peter in this objection, that a careful exegesis will show to be rather misleading. The first assumption is that God always works the same way with every person, or, in other words, that God limits Himself as to how He can or will save people, without exception. In the case of the thief, the fact that he is an exception (provided the rest of Peter's assumptions are accurate) proves the rule rather than negates it.

The second assumption that Peter makes about the thief is that he would be in heaven on that day. But nowhere is this stated in the passage. Jesus does not say, "Today you will be with Me in Heaven, but rather, Paradise." One might argue that the terms are synonymous, except for one thing: Jesus said "You will be with Me." Yet, when Jesus died on the Cross, He did not go to Heaven. In fact, it was not until 40 days after His Resurrection that He finally ascended into Heaven. That's forty-three days between His Death and His Ascension! If Paradise referred to Heaven, then Jesus would need to say, "In forty-three days, I'll meet up with you in Heaven. I have to take a detour first." But of course, that's not what He said.

So Jesus did not go to Heaven, but said that the thief would be "with Him". Scripture tells us that when Jesus died, He went "to preach to the souls in prison." In the Parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 19:16-31), Jesus refers to this as "Abraham's Bosom". It was here, before Jesus' atoning sacrifice, that the souls of those who had died in God's Grace went, before Heaven was opened to them. And it is here that Jesus referred when He said, "Today, you will be with Me in Paradise."

The final assumption that Peter makes is that the thief on the cross did not do anything. However, this also is not quite true. The thief in fact did three distinct things that each showed his faith in Christ to be genuine.

First, he rebuked the other, unbelieving thief for his mockery of Jesus. Second, he confessed his faith directly to Jesus and asked for His grace, and third, he submitted to his punishment as justly deserved, rather than, with the other thief, asking to be saved from his cross. In these three things, the thief did in fact "show forth works befitting repentance" (as John the Baptist would say, cf. Luke 3:8). In his rebuke of the other thief, he proffered to the world the Word of Life, thus working out his own salvation in fear and trembling, as Philippians 2:12-16 instructs. In pleading for Christ's favour, he confessed Him as Lord, as Romans 10:9-10 teaches. And in submitting to his suffering and punishment as just, he (quite literally) took up his cross and followed Christ, as Christ said in Matthew 16:24.
Another example is spread throughout the Bible when people are being told how to be saved.
"What must I do to be saved?"
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved-you and your household" (Acts 16:31)
"Repent and Believe" was Jesus' message in Mark 1
To reply briefly to Acts 16, note that while Paul never made it explicit with his words, he did take time to baptise each member of the jailer's household.

As to the "Repent and Believe," you defeat your own case of Sola Fide in this very citation! "Repent" implies action! Again, as John the Baptist proclaimed, "show forth works befitting repentance" (Luke 3:8, again). Every time Scripture calls us to "repent" it is calling us to act. Repentance is not simply a mental action, but a turning away from sin to follow Christ. Just as sinning is an act (at least of the will, if not of the body), so is repentance, and the works that show it, an act.
and when the Jews were saying circumcision was needed Paul said in Acts 15 "No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
Absolutely! No one (except perhaps our beloved Mormon friend) would deny this! But again, Acts 15 does not propagate or promulgate Sola Fide, but Sola Gratia, which is something that Catholics and Protestants agree on 100%. Paul does not actually speak of faith here (don't be confused by his statement, "We believe..." He is not claiming to believe that it is by believing, but is simply stating his belief).

Here is the thing: without the Saving Grace of God, none of the good things we can do are worth anything towards our salvation. Contrary to what Ryesin said in the first post, the good we do without grace still is good. However, unless that good is energised by God's Grace, it cannot save, and might as well be filthy rags, as the Prophet said. Note that Isaiah did not say our works are filthy rags, though (the error of total depravity). Rather, he says, they are as filthy rags. Compared to God's supreme goodness, our goodness is nothing at all. But objectively, good is still good. It just might not be "good enough".

But when grace enters our lives, it enables us to have faith and do works that do indeed merit greater justification. Our works do not merit grace, ever. But through God's grace, we are initially justified, and thus come to life. And our response of faith and good works appropriates that justification, and clings to it. But the thing of it is this: the faith and good works that further our justification, while it is our response (we must choose to make it, and can choose not to), is really God's performance! "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" "So work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who, for His own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the ability to act." (Philippians 4:13; 2:12-13).

Thus, we are saved by grace, and without grace can do nothing. But through the grace of God which saves us, we both can and must respond to that grace through our faith and our works.
None of these examples say you must believe and do good works or that we must repent believe and do good works.
To the contrary, the opposite is true, as I have demonstrated above.
Yes I fully believe that faith without works is dead. But how can one become a Christian straight away like many characters in the Bible if one has to have works?
Works do not save us, or merit our salvation. We are saved by Grace alone, through Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. However, that grace, once lavished upon us, must be accepted by us (it can be resisted and rejected), and that acceptance takes the form of faith, and of works, or, perhaps more accurately, it is the form of faith-works.
Paul did not do good works so he could become a Christian and be justified.
Indeed not! I believe he was on his way to commit murder! However, after that he certainly did live a life of good works! And the notion that he must always strive in those works in order to maintain (not originate) his salvation, he outlines in Philippians 3, "Brothers, I do not reckon myself as having taken hold of it; I can only say that forgetting all that lies behind me, and straining forward to what lies in front, I am racing towards the finishing-point to win the prize of God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus" (vv.13-14).
And if one is justified over a time period, then how can the dying thief be assured of Heaven?
Normatively, justification happens initially, over time, and finally (eschatologically): when we first come to faith, as we live our faith, and finally, as we die in our faith and are ultimately saved in Heaven. Typically, Protestants refer to ongoing justification as "sanctification", divorcing it from initial justification. This flows, in their theological structure, from a notion of imparted rather than infused righteousness. That is, Protestants believe that when we are saved, we "put on" Christ's righteousness like a cloak, though we ourselves are not righteous. Sanctification, for the Protestant, is much like "growing into" the cloak of righteousness.

Catholics, on the other hand, believe that at the moment of initial justification, Christ infuses us with righteousness. In other words, we are actually made righteous. It is only after that, that we continue to live a sometimes sinful life, and tarnish that initial justification, and therefore need the ongoing justification or sanctification. And depending on how well we persevere in that (always through God's grace and our response to it), we will be finally justified and go to Heaven (and of course, for Catholics, that sanctification can take a little longer than our lifetime, if we haven't outright rejected it, but nevertheless, haven't wholly participated in it. This is Purgatory).

Thus the thief, who was justified and made righteous while he suffered on the Cross, had no opportunity to need ongoing justification, since he had no opportunity to sin, and so his infused righteousness was still intact when he died, and as such was able to be received into Heaven (once Christ's mission to "paradise" was fulfilled, and His Resurrection opened the door to heaven--on the third day).

The mystery, for me, is how a system that denies infused righteousness can claim salvation for a man who dies not truly sanctified, but only hidden by a cloak of righteousness. After all, nothing impure can enter God's presence (cf. Revelation 12:27), and a person who is not sanctified is still impure, no matter what "clothes" he is wearing. For God to accept such a one into His presence is for Him to invent a "legal fiction" whereby through the cloak of Christ's righteousness, which is not truly the Christian's, God calls the Christian nevertheless righteous. God, in a nutshell, would be lying to Himself. Protestants, then, are more in need of the doctrine of Purgatory than Catholics are.

In my next post, I'll address Ryesin and deal more in specific with the notion of Total Depravity, as defined in the Calvinist system.

God bless

(Category: Soteriology: Justification.
The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, Part 2

My Response to Peter--Part 1

Peter cites Romans 3:28 in the last post, and cross-exegetes it with James 2:20. He is right to say that a) they seem contradictory, and b) they are both Scripture and therefore both true. He then tries to show how they are in fact not contradictory, and how each is to be interpreted. He does so in a manner that preserves the Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide (in other words, Peter reinterprets James to relate to Romans, rather than suggesting an alternative interpretation of Romans to relate to James).

The issue, however, is, as usual, one of context. In the contexts of Romans 3 and James 2 (and, for that matter, all of Romans and all of James, and ultimately, all of the Bible together), are we correctly understanding Romans 3:28 and James 2:20 to boil down to "Faith alone with works keeping that faith alive" or some such formulation? In other words, is Romans 3:28 the Rosetta Stone, by which all other texts regarding justification must be interpreted, or does it itself require interpretation?

To answer this question, I will examine the immediate contexts of Romans 3 and James 2, and then briefly outline the arguments of Romans and James. Finally, I will examine the remainder of Peter's arguments and questions.

Romans 3:
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every man be false, as it is written, "That thou mayest be justified in thy words, and prevail when thou art judged." But if our wickedness serves to show the justice of God, what shall we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my falsehood God's truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?--as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:
"None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands,
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
no one does good, not even one."
"Their throat is an open grave,
they use their tongues to deceive."
"The venom of asps is under their lips."
"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood,
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they do not know."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation 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 prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
The bolded portion is the verse in question. Chapter three is outlining the effects of sin in the lives of people, and the place of the Law to save them from that sin. And it is over that word, "Law," that the whole point hinges, and it is that same word, "Law," that lets us know the meaning of Romans 3:28, and its relation to James 2.

But the thing about the book of Romans, which many people to whom I talk seem to fail to grasp, is that Paul is writing this letter all of a piece. It flows through a masterful soteriological argument from chapter 1, verse 1, until chapter 16, verse 27. Chapter three, by itself, is nearly incomprehensible without chapters 1 and 2, and 4, and probably 5. And 4 and 5 and 6 build on chapter three, etc. Thus, taking chapter 3, verse 28, and ripping it out of the context of Romans as a whole, and saying, "See? Sola Fide! It doesn't get any clearer!" is, in fact, muddying the waters quite a bit.

So, what is this "Law" to which Paul is referring? When we look back at chapters 1 and 2, we see the argument thus: Ch 1: The Gentiles have turned away from the natural world around them, which points to God, and instead worshipped the world itself instead of God, and so he gave them over to sin and condemnation. Ch 2: The Jews, tempted to feel some pride at this, because God gave them the Law, are actually worse off, since in their failure to keep the Law, they have actually done worse for themselves in sinning. In fact, according to chapter 2, God judges us according to how much knowledge He has given us, and in theory, it is possible, even easier, for a Lawless Gentile to be saved through almost accidentally keeping that law of conscience, than for the Jew to be saved by keeping the Law of divine revelation. Thus we come to chapter 3. In the beginning verses, Paul clearly tells us what exactly he is referring to throughout the chapter (and especially in verse 28), by reference to "the Law". It is, specifically, the Mosaic Law. Paul is not referring to an abstract "natural law" that we should all know and follow, or to a general idea of morality and "good deeds". He has in mind specifically that codified list of morality found in the first 5 books of the Old Testament. This is demonstrated specifically by his discussion contrasting circumcision and uncircumcision, which, as a sign of inauguration into the Old Covenant, stands for having to keep that Law (and thus bringing us to a fuller comprehension of Paul's discussion of Baptism in chapter 6, the New Covenant parallel to Circumcision).

Paul finally contrasts obedience to the Law with faith, telling us that slavish obedience to this code can never save us, but rather, that code teaches us how impossible it is for us to be saved through our own efforts at obeying it. Thus, Christ has come to remit the guilt of our failures to keep the Law, and that, through faith, we now enter into that salvation which he brings. Paul then moves on to the discussion of Abraham as a model of Christian faith, since Abraham was accounted righteous through his faith in God before the Law ever came into effect. I could go on with an outline of the argument of Romans, but what I have laid out is sufficient to demonstrate the meaning of Romans 3:28--specifically that Paul is juxtaposing faith with obedience to the Mosaic Law, not good deeds in general.

If Paul's argument pitted faith against the necessity of good works, then his whole argument would fall apart into self-contradiction, since in chapter 2, he says it is possible for those with or without the Law to be saved, so long as they seek after that salvation through good works (Romans 2:6-7). His argument here presupposes that the person doing the works has faith that those works will be rewarded with eternal life, and thus he exercises that faith through his works (cf. Hebrews 11:6).

In chapter 4, in his discussion of Abraham, Paul again implicitly shows how good works and obedience must go along with that faith in order for it to save, because Abraham's belief that God would grant him a son had to be accompanied by an action--specifically, sex with his wife. He could have sat back, and waited for this son to show up, but if he never took the act of faith, by having relations with Sarah, that son would not have shown up. And, as we know from their particular geriatric circumstances, it was certainly an act of faith to even attempt sexual relations, let alone expect any fruit from them!

Therefore, Romans 3:28 does not, in fact, teach Sola Fide, but a saving faith that is not dependent on absolute obedience to the Mosaic Law. Let us now turn our attention to James:
James 2
My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme that honourable name which was invoked over you? If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself," you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," said also, "Do not kill." If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment.

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God.

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.
James, here, seemingly is writing to those who interpreted Paul's words in Romans to equal an antinomian Sola Fide doctrine. And so, James writes his epistle to remind Christians of their duty to live a moral life of good deeds. He begins with a discussion of an application of the Mosaic Law in the life of believers, showing how if they break one point of it, they are guilty of all of it (similar to Paul's point of "all have sinned, etc."), but then James turns around and points out that he is referring to the principle behind the Mosaic Law, and reminds his readers that we, on the other hand, must be obedient to a different law, which he terms the Law of Liberty--a law whose chief commandment is to show mercy to others, and whose chief reward is having mercy shown back to us, therefore Mercy triumphs over Judgement.

Having established the New Law as his thesis, James goes on to the famous Catholic proof text against Sola Fide. And really, it is very straightforward. Objections to James' teaching come only, it seems, from the misunderstanding or misinterpretation of Paul's words in Romans 3:28, and the doctrine of Sola Fide created from it. Protestant polemics involving James 2 seek to rework it into the Sola Fide framework, but it never really succeeds.

The main way they do this is by making a distinction between the kinds of faith that James is writing about--saving faith and "dead faith". They quote the end of James 2:14, "Will that faith save him?" to demonstrate that "that faith" is different than "this faith". The problem is, if you closely re-examine the text as quoted above, from the RSV, it does not say "that faith" but "his faith": "Can his faith save him?" In fact, the original Greek doesn't even say "his faith". It simply asks, "Can faith save him?" James is not making a distinction between two types of faith: saving faith and dead faith, or good faith and worthless faith, or some such. He is talking about "Faith", and says that "Faith" has works, or it is dead. He brings that home at the end of chapter 2, by saying that just as a body without a spirit is dead, so is faith without works. Note what he is saying: not that it is possible to have "dead faith". There is no such thing. There is simply faith, which can be dead or can be alive, depending on whether its spirit remains in it: and that spirit is "good works."

James gives examples, and one of the examples is the same person that Paul discusses, but at a different point in his life. The principle is the same, though: Abraham's faith was manifested by his works, and without the works, Abraham really wouldn't have had faith at all. Thus, as James says, Abraham was justified by his works, while Paul says, Abraham was justified by his faith. There is no difference, since each are emphasising an aspect of Abraham's justification over and against the opposite extreme error. Paul, against legalism; James, against antinomianism. The truth, as is usual, is in the middle: Faith and Works go together and together only do they justify us.

This leads us to the second way in which Protestants tend to get around this truth and make Sola Fide out of James' writing: Saying that James is saying that works justify faith, while faith justifies the person. In other words, Faith saves, but works show that that faith is saving faith, or that the works prove that the person is saved by faith.

But the logic here breaks down. For if a person is justified by faith, but that faith needs to be itself justified by works, then it is evident that ultimately, works justify the person. It is faith and works, together, which justify, and the way that Protestants tend to rearrange the order to retain Sola Fide leads to logical inconsistencies that actually place works in the primary justifying position. It would be better to maintain that works justify a person, but faith justifies those works. Here, faith has the primary operation, but here, at the same time, Sola Fide is most obviously not present. In fact, this is closer to the Catholic view of faith and works!

I've said nearly all I have to say at this point about the relationship between James and Romans, and how they in fact neither contradict, nor teach Sola Fide. There is, of course, more I could say about Romans and James, but I will address that if and when people ask questions. Otherwise, I may as well just write a book ;)

My next post will deal with answers to the other passages, arguments, and questions which Peter raised in the last post.

God bless

(Category: Soteriology: Justification.
The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, Part 1

Recently, a friend of mine (who comments here as Hidden One) started a discussion on a forum (linked to in the title) on Salvation and Justification. My friend is a former Presbyterian who is ardently researching Catholicism, and, unless he is somehow convinced of the veracity of the Protestant system, will likely convert to Catholicism sooner than later. As a result, he has tried to start and participate in dialogues between Catholics and Protestants, in order to see who makes the more biblical and reasonable case for their beliefs.

I chose to participate in this particular discussion, and since I put rather a lot of work into defending my beliefs, and because the discussion has, so far, been very amiable, I wanted to reproduce it here. As the discussion is still ongoing, I may post further parts at a later date.

At this time, there have been five participants besides myself, listed in order of appearance, and in the colours in which their words will be reproduced here: Hidden One (who posts there under the moniker "A Faithful Servant"), "Christian Horses", "The Obnoxious Mormon", "Ryesin", and "Peter".

In part one, by way of introduction, I will post here the beginning of the discussion, ending before my own replies. The subsequent parts will be my responses, first to Peter, then Ryesin, and finally The Obnoxious Mormon. If the discussion progresses beyond what it was at the posting of these articles, I will add it to these at that time.

Before I begin, I'd like to mention that I thought it would be good to reproduce the dialogue here, since with a Catholic, two Calvinists, a Mormon, one of unknown Protestant affiliation, and one uncertain, it provides a fairly good cross-section of Christian (and pseudo-Christian) thought on the subject of Salvation; particularly the belief in Justification by Faith. As such, I am able to present the Catholic faith from a variety of perspectives. So, without further adieu:

AFS: Anyway... what are your beliefs on Salvation and Justification?

CH: We are not justified by our works, only by our faith in Jesus Christ. Besides accepting Jesus there is nothing we can say or do to gain salvation.

A brief note. I never bothered dealing with CH's statement, in part because A Faithful Servant did a pretty thorough job of it already, and partly because it was a statement of her opinion, with no argument given to support it, and finally, because she never returned to the discussion.

AFS: I disagree with the idea that we are saved by Faith Alone (Sola Fide), because faith alone does not justify. (James 2:24)

I do not believe that works alone save me; though Works do justify me. (James 2:24)

Faith alone does not save me because Faith, without Works, is dead. (James 2:17)

Therefore, a simple logical conclusion is that Faith, with Works, is not dead. And this Faith, a living Faith, saves me. For Faith saves. (Romans 10:9)

I am saved by the grace of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one gets to the father but through Him. (Acts 15:11, John 14:6)

I believe that I must confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead and be baptized for Salvation. (Romans 10:9, Mark 16:16)

I believe that anyone who is not Saved will go to Hell. Regardless. (John 14:6, Mark 16:16)

As to whether I am Saved (already)...

As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13).

TOM: We have an interesting definition of justification. We say that justification is bringing our lives in harmony with God's and setting it on the right path. Once we are on this path, having been justified by the Holy Ghost, we can then allow Christ's grace to take us the rest of the way.

I believe that by repenting and living a good life and keeping the commandments, I am on the path to Heaven and allow Christ to wipe myself clean from sin.

As no unclean thing can enter the Kingdom of God, I try to stay on the strait and narrow as much as I can.

I might be repetitious, but this is a summary: through good works and repentance I am justified (that is brought into harmony with God), which enables Christ to make up for all my faults and weaknesses.

Ryesin: Personally I believe that as Christian Horses said we can only be saved through God's grace. Personally, I don't believe we can do anything to be saved. I believe that man is so decadent by nature, that we can'tdo anything good. This comes from the passage below. What I believe is our actions do that we have faith. We are a slave to sin. Man can not stop sinning on his own. However, once we accept Christ through God's grace we then become "slaves" to righteousness. We are able to genuinely do good works. We are not saved by good works, for it is only at the point of salvation that we can then do good works.

10As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
12All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."[c]
Romans 3:10-12 (Based From Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20)

"28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." Romans 3:28

"16Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" Romans 6:16

"Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do."
James 2:18
Peter: I couldn't help but join in. Seemed to be about the only thing round here I hadn't joined in on. I'm still waiting for someone to answer my q's if possible on the other thread but no worries for the moment.
"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." Romans 3:28
So if this is true, how can this be true?
"Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?"
Well quite clearly since they are in the Bible both have to be true. It clearly states that a man is justified by faith and not by serving the law (first verse). Note that it does not say that man is justified by faith and works. It even goes as far to say "apart from observing the law" so that no-one can argue differently. It is a fact. Can it be taken to be any other meaning? I think not, but feel free to suggest differently.

However the second verse stated that appears to contradict the first verse as it clearly states that faith without works is useless. But my question would be whether it is contradictory at all? In believing that a combination of works and faith/grace get us to Heaven one is going against the first verse. However if one applies this to mean that works is a sign of the faith we have established on God's grace, it makes sense!

Is it saying works is necessary for justification? No, it saying a faith without works is dead/useless. Maybe this is a little ambiguous but I'll use an example. The dying thief on the cross beside Jesus was told when he repented that "today you will be with me in paradise". I would be intrigued to find out how if works are needed that thief could get to Heaven that day? He couldn't do a single thing! All he could do was depend on the grace that was lavished unto him from Jesus!

Another example is spread throughout the Bible when people are being told how to be saved.
"What must I do to be saved?"
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved-you and your household" (Acts 16:31)
"Repent and Believe" was Jesus' message in Mark 1

and when the Jews were saying circumcision was needed Paul said in Acts 15
"No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
None of these examples say you must believe and do good works or that we must repent believe and do good works.

Yes I fully believe that faith without works is dead. But how can one become a Christian straight away like many characters in the Bible if one has to have works? Paul did not do good works so he could become a Christian and be justified. And if one is justified over a time period, then how can the dying thief be assured of Heaven?

Hope I didn't go at things too bluntly!
Sorry if I did.

It was at this point that I entered the discussion, replying to each of the three major participants (TOM, Ryesin, and Peter) in the reverse order of their initial posting. Thus, my next post here will be my reply to Peter, specifically dealing with the discussion of Romans 3 and James 2. The following post will continue my reply to Peter, and will deal with his other objections to the necessity of works in salvation. From there, I will turn to replying to Ryesin, and finally to The Obnoxious Mormon, including a follow-up reply from him and response from me. As the debate continues to progress, I will update it here.

God bless

(Category: Soteriology: Justification.
The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations.
The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and non-Christian religions.)

Ode to Adam

Thank you

For introducing me
To Jesus Christ

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which has purchased for us so great a Redeemer! --Exsultet