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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sola Fide

by Jason Bradshaw
“Faith is being exalted so high today that men are being satisfied with any kind of faith, just so it is faith. It makes no difference what is believed, we are told, just so the blessed attitude of faith is there. The undogmatic faith, is better than the dogmatic, because it is purer faith—faith less weakened by the alloy of knowledge.”
-J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism
It wasn’t more than a few months (June 20th article) ago that Danny posted the story of the woman priest who considered herself both Muslim and Christian. As blaring as these contradictions may seem to be, there are many who now pick and choose parcels from the religious smorgasbord for their spiritual diet—a slice of eastern mysticism with a few sides of Christianity. To be sure, spirituality is in.

On the other side of this coin is the attempt by the leaders of major world religions to synchretize their faith with other, formerly contradictory faiths. The rise of the Common Word document would seem to be a prime example; Islam and Christianity offering olive branches under the guise of a joint interest in responsibility to love God and love people. Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) produced a document a few years back, stating the common ground held between Protestants and Catholics.

It would even seem that faith has even become an issue for the presidential ticket. If you go to Chrisitanity Today’s website right now, you will find a feature article on the faith of Hilary Clinton (insert joke here). GOP candidate Mitt Romney recently gave an address in regard’s to his Mormon faith (insert joke here). And, of course, all of this has not even acknowledged Mike Huckabee and President Bush’s not-so-hidden faith.

All of these examples would seem to center around faith. While many evangelicals have seen fit to celebrate these movements toward faith as victories, I remain hesitant. This, it would seem is the fatal error of evangelicalism; always expanding, never defining. Truly this has been the church’s history after the era of the Puritans- to include on the basis of commonly held beliefs but to ignore doctrinal distinctives.

Consequently, our world has taken to a faith that has no definition—a belief in the smoke and mirrors of religion. Like Todo pulling back the curtain of The Great Oz, these belief systems will one day be shown for what they truly are—a pathetic attempt to be something they were never meant to be. We Biblicists know that there is only one true faith, one true reality as defined by the Scriptures themselves—that is, that righteousness is only available through faith in Jesus Christ.

Dedinition of faith came when man needed it most. The Catholic Chruch had long placed an unattainable expectation upon men. Consider JI Packer’s assessment:
So, where Rome had taught a piecemeal salvation, to be gained by stages through working a sacramental treadmill, the Reformers now proclaimed a unitary salvation, to be received in its entirety here and now by self-abandoning faith in God's promise, and in the God and the Christ of that promise, as set forth in the pages of the Bible. Thus the rediscovery of the gospel brought a rediscovery of evangelism, the task of summoning non-believers to faith. Rome had said, God's grace is great, for through Christ's cross and his Church salvation is possible for all who will work and suffer for it; so come to church, and toil! But the Reformers said, God's grace is greater, for through Christ's cross and his Spirit salvation, full and free, with its unlimited guarantee of eternal joy, is given once and forever to all who believe; so come to Christ, and trust and take!

It was this conflict with the mediaeval message that occasioned the fivefold "only" in the slogans quoted above. Salvation, said the Reformers, is by faith (man's total trust) only, without our being obliged to work for it; it is by grace (God's free favor) only, without our having to earn or deserve it first; it is by Christ the God-man only, without there being need or room for any other mediatoral agent, whether priest, saint, or virgin; it is by Scripture only, without regard to such unbiblical and unfounded extras as the doctrines of purgatory and of pilgrimages, the relic-cult and papal indulgences as devices for shortening one's stay there; and praise for salvation is due to God only, without any credit for his acceptance of us being taken to ourselves.
It was in this conflict with The Roman Catholic Church that texts like Romans 4 became pertinent. Righteousness was no longer earned, as a wage, but was credited in line with one’s faith. Faith did not make one able to be righteous, as Rome had held, but rather, it gave one the righteousness of Christ. This emphasis on the dikaisune Theou (righteousness of God) became a point of separation. Previously, Luther had seen this as that which was condemning—a fearful thing. Now, in reinterpreting Romans, the righteousness of God was credited to us through faith. Writes Luther:
But the true gospel is, that the works of charity are not the ornament or perfection of faith: but that faith itself is God's gift, and God's work in our hearts, which therefore justifieth us, because it apprehendeth Christ our Redeemer. Man's reason hath the law for its object, thus thinking with itself: this have I done, this I have not done. But faith being in her own proper office, hath no other object but Jesus Christ the Son of God, delivered to death for the sins of the whole world. It looketh not to charity: it saith not, what have I done? What have I offended? What have I deserved? But what hath Christ done? What hath he deserved? Here the truth of the gospel answereth thee: He hath redeemed the from thy sin, from the devil, and from eternal death. Faith therefore acknowledgeth that in this one person, Jesus Christ, it hath forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. he that turneth his eyes from this object, hath no true faith, but a fantasy and a vain opinion, and turneth his eyes from the promise to the law, which terrifieth and driveth to desperation.

Wherefore those things which the popish schoolmen have taught concerning the justifying faith being furnished with charity, are nothing else but dreams. For that faith which apprehendeth Christ the Son of God, and is furnished with Him, is the same faith which justifieth, and not the faith which includeth charity. For a true and steadfast faith must lay hold of nothing, but Christ alone, and in the terrors of consience it hath nothing else to lean upon, but this diamond Jesus Christ. Wherefore he that apprehendeth Christ by faith, although he be never so much terrified with the law, and with the weight of his sins, yet may he be bold to glory that he is righteous. How or by what means? Even by that precious pearl, Christ Jesus , whom he possesseth by faith.
Now, faith had found definition once again in contrast to that which Rome had held. We possess Christ as we possess faith—and Christ is our righteousness. This is stated best in 2 Cor. 5:21 where Paul concludes his argument by saying that “He (God the Father) made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ).”

In response to the false faith which they had seen in Catholicism, Luther and Melancthon saw three aspects to saving faith; notitae, assensus and fiducia. Notitia refers to the content of the gospel—the 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 necessities of the gospel. Christ had died, been buried and was raised again, according to the Scriptures and did so for the sins of mankind. Assensus would seem to point to the idea of belief, not just the comprehension of notitae but a step further toward belief. And finally, fiducia refers to the commitment to the gospel, a trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. To possess only two of these three was not saving faith.

Such distinction to the concept of faith was meant to contradict mere mental assent to ideas of faith and promote reliance in the work of Christ. This gospel was laden with ideas of repentance and trust, a far cry from our modern understanding of faith.

Hebrews 11 tells us that faith is being sure of what we hope for, “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Of course, the postmoderns among us love this verse because, on the cover, it seems to speak of mystery. But note that the author does not call faith unknowable but rather simply “not seen”. There is certainly mystery in Christianity—I don’t understand how God is one but also three—but yet there is also, definite, real truth.

The Reformers had a very real understanding that the important thing about faith was it’s content. The box for my wife’s engagement ring was very nice, but nearly so nice as the ring which was inside it. Such is the state of faith—it is only valuable when it is centered in Christ. All of our other “faiths” fall short.

In fact, if we look closer at Hebrews 11:1 we find an interesting paradigm. Faith is the conviction of “things”—that is real, existent. Therefore, if our faith does not hold to this real, true faith, it ceases to be faith at all. (In one of life’s many ironies, this word for “thing” is a form of the word pragma, from which I can only assume we would derive our word pragmatism.)

If faith does not treasure Christ, it is not faith—this is what the reformation brought back to the church. This is what was carried on in the line of the Puritans, and this is what God has desired that we carry on in His church today.

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Jason's article provides the last installment of my guest reformation posts. His article really wasn't as far behind as it seems...I held onto this one for a while. However, the content of his post seemed to fit much of the discussion on this blog lately. Jason Bradshaw serves Greenville Grace as our Music Pastor and resident theologian.

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