Below is a short presentation I wrote this year for a discussion group I attend locally from time to time. I do not attempt to answer everything here or address objections. I specifically designed this piece to facilitate discussion so as to allow various objections to come out in due course. I did write it as part of a larger argument because I think it gets to the heart of the matter concerning Reformation disputes. That is, the argument is not over epistemological issues (how can we know the correct interpretation of scripture?) but rather normative issues (what interpretation of scripture is binding or obligatory?) So I think that framing the matter in this way helps to clear away much of the confusion over the Reformation’s formal distinctive that is left untouched by most discussions of this topic. I hope you find it profitable.
For readers who do not know, I am a former Episcopalian. My personal history of religious affiliation goes something like the following. I was baptized Catholic but raised in the Episcopal church until my teen years. From then I’d attend the Episcopal church on Sunday and then Calvary Chapel for “Bible study” on Friday evenings with their youth group. This was on account of a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the youth group at the Episcopal church voted that I should leave since I wanted to read the Bible and not have pizza parties and such. The youth directors agreed given that the kinds of questions I was asking really required a “professional” response. This was after I became exasperated with the whole approach of, let’s sit in a circle and go around the room asking what each person thinks such and so verse means “to me.” At the ripe old age of 13 I blurted out, “I don’t care what it means to me, I just want to know what it means!”
To sum up, I eventually ran into the Horton/Riddlebarger crowd when I was about 17 and then became Reformed for a number of years. I then moved towards a more high church Anglican view, returning to what I had been raised with, ending up in the then, Anglican Catholic Church (ACC). Fortunately I met my wife in the ACC, who was also a life long Anglican, though her family had left the Episcopal church (TEC) earlier than I did and joined the then forming ACC. After a few schisms in the ACC and/or theContinuing church movement and a deepening in my grasp of Christology through an exposure to the teaching of Maximus the Confessor, my wife and I were received into the Orthodox Church.
Recently, I was reminded once again why I am not an Episcopalian. The reminder doesn’t explain why I am Orthodox but it does I think point to something that is worth thinking about and discussing. So the reminder came in a post on another blog that I saw through the WordPress blog feature of Tag Surfer. It allows me to see other recent blog entries across WordPress with similar topics as my own.
The post was by an apostatized Baptist of sorts who returned to “Christianity” through the Episcopal church. The post was an expression of his thoughts on “reformulating” the doctrine of the Trinity. What the post was, was in fact not a reformulation, but more an expression of his rejection of the Trinity and an expression of its perceived uselessness. I didn’t take the post to be overtly hostile, (I am sure he’s a nice fellow) but it wasn’t something that amounted to Christian thinking on the subject and that’s the point. This post expresses the typical adoptionistic Christology found among classical Unitarians and contemporary liberals. Jesus is the man who was more open to the divine or “Spirit” and so is a means by which one is in contact with “God” or “Spirit” and so moved or inspired to “social justice.” The other posts on Hell and other doctrines pretty much fall into the typical liberal, that is Unitarian teaching.
“But to one who does not work, but who believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. When an ungodly person converts, God justifies him by faith alone, not for the good works he did not have.”
Pelagius, Commentary on Romans, 4:5
“For those he foreknew. The purpose acording to which he planned to save by faith alone those whom he had foreknown would believe, and those whom he freely called to salvation he will all the more glorify as they work. He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. To predestine is the same as to foreknow.”
“Because they did not know that God justifies by faith alone, and because they thought that they were righteous by works of the law they did not keep, they refused to submit themselves to the foregiveness of sins, to prevent the appearance of their having been sinners, as it is written, ‘But the Pharisees, rejecting the purpose of God for themselves refused to be baptized with John’s baptism’ (Luke 7:30). 4 For the end of the law is Christ, for the righteousness of all who believe. On the day one believes in Christ, it is as if one has fulfilled the whole law (cf. Gal 5:3) 5. For Moses wrote of the righteousness which is by the law. Moses himself distinguished between the two kinds of righteousness, namely the righteousness of faith and the righteousness of deeds, because the one justifies the suppliant by works, but the other by belief alone.”
I didn’t say it was Sola Fide in a Church Father of the Orthodox Church. 😉
As I noted above in Three Strange Days the Lutheran radio program, Issues, Etc. had a three day series of programs on Eastern Orthodoxy now about a month ago. Here I wish to go through the programs and address the arguments given by David Jay Webber and Todd Wilken. The programs are divided up into, Orthodoxy: Strength and Weaknesses, Orthodoxy Today, and The Pelagian Controversy.
In the first broadcast that I heard, Strength and Weaknesses there is the usual attempt to tar Orthodoxy with something very much alien to it, namely the Charismatic movement. The criticism made by Webber is that Charismatics and the Orthodox go to worship for the same thing, namely the attainment of a mystical experience rather than to be slain by the law and revived by the gospel. What constitutes “mystical” or “experience is really left undefined. Consequently it is very easy to mash these two bodies together. The term “mystical” is deployed to connote an experience that is irrational or contrary to reason and that the goal is some kind of absorption into God and a loss of one’s identity. The implication is that Orthodoxy and the Charismatics are modern Schwermers and are really peddling Buddhism in Christian garb.
For three strange days a few weeks ago (June 1-3) I listened to a Lutheran broadcast on Issues, Etc. about Eastern Orthodoxy. The person chosen for the broadcast was David Jay Webber, a Lutheran minister who has spent some time in Russian-Slav world, along with the host Todd Wilken.
Conservative Lutherans continue to blast Orthodoxy with caricature, half truths and material deployed without sufficient explanation and designed to shock the non-Orthodox, specifically into the conclusion that the Orthodox are barely Christian, if at all. Unfortunately this program was no exception. I have gone through the programs in a separate post above. Here I use some space to give some advice to all of the Lutheran critics.
Protestants of the Classical Reformation variety think of Augustine as their historical anchor. When responding to the objection that such and so doctrine was unknown prior to the Reformation, the first name to fall off their lips is Augustine. Such is not the case with justification. Augustine didn’t adhere to the doctrine of Sola Fide.
To be clear, the doctrine is quite specific. Sola Fide is the idea that faith as a virtue is worthless in and of itself before God. It cannot please God, but what it can do is function as a conduit for the transfer of moral credit. Faith then is the means or the highway by which moral credit travels from Christ to me and my demerit travels to Christ. The respective merit and demerit are extrinsically applied and related to their subjects. That means that the merit applied to me is not grounded in my character, actions or nature or my demerit in the person or natures of Christ. This is because my character, actions or nature cannot produce moral credit that is complete and at best only partial. But justification is glossed as an all or nothing deal so that divine justice requires a complete righteousness. So I cannot participate in my own justification. Hence Christ’s righteousness that he merits during his earthly sojourn is applied to me as a label. I am classed as righteous even though I am not so. And because it is complete, justification and its merit cannot increase or decrease.
This merit it should be noted is earned by Christ. It is not the righteousness Christ has by virtue of being the divine person he is. The relation qua righteousness or rather the material relation between Christ and the sinner is therefore contingent. It may be an eternally planned for righteousness or justice, but it is not an eternal righteousness. In this sense this merited righteousness is a created grace and as such it is appropriate to human nature that was created intrinsically righteous or with natural grace. The righteousness on the schema of Sola Fide then that is applied forensically or taxonomically to me is a created intermediary between me and God. That in sum is the doctrine. And that doctrine is taken by Protestantism to be the Gospel so that if one rejects that idea, one is rejecting the Gospel.