What Must I do to be Saved?

The title, of course, is an allusion to the Philippian jailer’s question to Paul and Silas in Acts 16:30. A rather important question.

A pressing need of Christians is to understand their faith as a system that makes sense. A rational system, as it were. A system that makes sense of all aspects of reality, from the mundane to the cosmic. A system that brings order and meaning to all we observe and do.

Of course, man’s rationality by itself is not sufficient to validate Christianity. Man cannot begin with sense perception, empirical knowledge, and logic, and then derive all of Christianity from these premises. Man must also submit to what he receives via God’s Word, the Bible.

But rationality has its role to play. Martin Luther referred to the magisterial versus the ministerial use of reason. For the Christian, human reason (that is, human intellectual power and humanly-derived knowledge) can never be a magistrate over Christianity, standing over it and judging it. In that case, we get liberal pseudo-Christianity.

But reason can be a minister of Christianity to the Christian, helping him to understand how the facts revealed in the Bible are organized into an intellectually coherent system and are consistent with humanly-derived knowledge.  Human reason cannot generate the most important truths of the Bible such as the Trinity of God, the Atonement, or divine Providence. Nor can human reason by itself generate the faith in Christ that saves, or the obedience that gives glory to God. But our powers of reason must be deployed to understand these truths as more than just religious clichés, and to organize them into an intellectually coherent and satisfying system. Call it “faith seeking understanding.”

As I am Protestant, this post will present Protestant teaching, specifically Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) teaching. But note that about 98 percent of Calvinism agrees with the rest of Protestantism, and at least 90 percent of it agrees with Catholic and (capital O) Orthodox teaching. The differences matter, of course. But the different Christian traditions have much in common, and we can learn from our differences.

In the Reformed churches, there is a tradition of the catechetical sermon, generally delivered at the Sunday night service. In contrast to the Sunday morning sermon, the catechetical sermon focuses on an article of one of the Reformed confessions or catechisms such as the Westminster Confession of Faith (for Presbyterians), the Heidelberg Catechism (for Reformed Churches) or the London Baptist Confession (for Reformed Baptists.) The catechetical sermon primarily seeks to explain how Christianity is a rationally articulable and understandable system, based on premises found in the Bible.

How then is a man saved from God’s wrath? Confessional Protestantism—that small branch of Protestantism that formally adheres to one or more of the Protestant creeds and confessions that spell out the actual content of what Christians [OK, Protestants] ought to believe—is often criticized for its emphasis on salvation from God’s wrath by faith alone.

(Technically, it’s justification by faith alone, with justification meaning God regarding the sinner as being sinless, and therefore worthy of Heaven instead of Hell. But justification is the engine of salvation, as it were.)

The critics include non-Christians, Catholics, Orthodox and even sloppy Protestants, and their complaint is generally simple: Salvation by faith alone appears to say that how you behave is irrelevant to God’s calculation. Faith is (allegedly) just a small set of intellectual beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, man and salvation, and other than that, the Christian allegedly has a get-out-of-Hell-free card that he can display after he dies when he stands before God’s judgment seat.

We must point out here that Catholic and Orthodox Christians also believe in the necessity of an individual having faith in the God of the Bible in order to be saved. Catholic and Orthodox doctrines also teach what might be called salvation by faith; the Protestant distinctive here is salvation by faith alone. But Catholics and Orthodox must also answer the question “What’s faith got to do with salvation?”

With all that as introduction, here is an excellent 47-minute sermon by Reformed pastor Movses [pronounced “Moses”] Janbazian laying out what the Bible says about how individuals are saved from the wrath of God. It explains the “mechanism” of salvation, as it were. The recording also includes a Q&A session. [Around the 18:30 mark, the pastor offers a brief prayer, and then continues to the second part of his lesson.]

Here are some of Pastor Janbazian’s main points:

Man needs a Savior because he sins. Sinners must be punished, although the penalty can be paid by a substitute. Jesus is the substitute for some, but not for all, because not all are saved.

How does a man have his sins paid for by the blood (i.e., death) of his substitute, Jesus? By having faith in Christ.

Faith is not what you do to earn salvation. It is the evidence of God’s favor and the instrument through which He connects you to Jesus your Savior.

Faith manifests itself in knowledge (of the things of God), assent to these truths (for one can know a doctrine without assenting to it) and trust that you are saved (for even the demons know and assent to the things of God.)

What is the knowledge that is necessary (but not sufficient!) for salvation?  The elements of the (lower case c) catholic faith, as summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. Of course, this summary needs to be “unpacked,” but it is there in condensed form in the Creed.

True faith always leads to a desire to obey God’s Law, and therefore faith leads to good works. Faith is not opposed to works; it leads to them. But justification (having a right standing before God) is by faith, not works.

One could say this is the bottom line of Christianity:  Why should I be a Christian? Because it is the only way to avoid the wrath of God against your sins. And how exactly do Christians avoid this wrath? This sermon gives a very clear and accurate answer.  And it does so by reference to Scripture, the highest (earthly) Christian authority.

79 thoughts on “What Must I do to be Saved?

  1. “Why should I be a Christian? Because it is the only way to avoid the wrath of God against your sins.”

    As an Orthodox Christian, this would be the wrong question to ask. Within the 5-10% that separate us (according to your estimation with which I disagree, but let’s not go there) this is one major disagreement.

    Without going into too much detail let me say, Orthodox Christians see sin as an ailment of the soul that needs the healer to restore it the former healthy existence. We are created as perfection and our goal, Theosis, is perfection. However, our fallen existence leads us into sin. God is the healer. He alone can restore our soul to the former perfect state. Now by this, you will understand that “wrath” does not come into the equation. If you go to your physician to find healing, do you expect his wrath or his loving attention to your ailing body?

    Thus we consider the church the hospital and God the healer. There is no punishment or scolding involved here. God may prescribe a bitter medicine, but He does this out of love and wisdom about what is needed to heal you…

    • But Romans 1:18 reads “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Here, and in many other places, the Bible makes it clear that God is angry with sinners, and that He punishes those whose sins are not forgiven in Christ.

      Of course, God also bestows blessings on all men, but there is a Last Judgment coming.

      • Here is what the Orthodox Church teaches – you may take it or leave it – I find it a highly unsatisfying exercise to refute false teachings over and over again. But here we go…

        The “wrath” of God is His righteous and holy judgment. It involves no loss of temper or self-control; it is calm and impartial, free from emotion and bias, and is based on the truth. God’s wrath falls on those who knowingly and willfully suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Although sin has wounded the ability of humanity to relate to God, even the most terrible sin cannot destroy the image of God in us.(The Orthodox Study Bible, 1993)

        “….but there is a Last Judgment coming.”
        Yes there is, however not by an “wrathful” (i.e. angry), but rather a just and loving Father. The sinner, by suppressing the truth in his unrighteousness, has condemned himself. He rejected the medicine the healer prescribed. God did not condemn, He accepted sadly the sinner’s choice …

      • I would not disagree with what Joseph says. My point about the wrath of God was to emphasize that there is a penalty for sin, and that there is a specific way to avoid it.

  2. Yesterday was Pas’cha (Orthodox Easter):

    Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

    A Happy Pas’cha to all my Orthodox brothers and sisters!

  3. I hope this thread remains mature, without devolving into a trainwreck, because I’m genuinely interested to see the Catholic response. I have tremendous respect for Rome but the answer to “What must I do to be saved?” is the one large elephant keeping me Evangelical.

    Faith is (allegedly) just a small set of intellectual beliefs about God,

    I’m glad you detailed later that this is *not* what faith is. I often introduce my side of this issue with the explanation that the Greek word we translate as “faith” means faithfulness, or loyalty to God.

    • I’ll have some fuller thoughts tomorrow (bearing in mind that I’m no expert on theology and more brilliant minds, like bonald or Kristor, can probably be relied on to give sounder answers), the Catholic answer to the question “What must I do to be saved?” seems to match up pretty closely with Christ’s words:

      “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

      • We must indeed be perfect to be saved. But as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:9-20, and quoting various Psalms, nobody is righteous, and he concludes by saying “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

        If we must be perfect to be saved, but we are non-perfect by nature, how can we be saved? By Christ removing our sins through His crucifixion, and by His perfect righteousness being imputed (credited) to us. For example:

        Genesis 15:5,6: And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him [Abraham], “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned [credited] it to him as righteousness.

        Abraham’s faith causes God to credit him with being righteousness. In the New Testament, the general principle is made explicit:

        Philippians 3:8, 9: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,

        Romans 4:5: But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

        God demands perfect righteousness, but He also supplies the righteousness we need, if we have faith in Christ.

  4. I have never quite understood why there is such a big controversy over faith versus works. I mean, I understand the arguments on both sides, but it seems obvious to me that they are all fully resolved, satisfied and reconciled by the reflection that good works, properly so called, can only be effected by those who are perfectly faithful to God’s Logos – who are perfect, as Matt. 5:48 would have it. The faithless can be the occasion of good events, but only in the way that a broken clock can be accurate twice a day. To the extent then that an act is truly good, and truly an act of the person whose salvation is in question, that can only be so by virtue of his prior faithfulness to the Word (whether or not he himself even recognizes that faithfulness as such). Good works, then, are the sequelae – the fruits, as Jesus called them (Matt. 7:16) – of salvation, rather than its cause.

    There is a like reconciliation between the Western understanding of atonement as effected by Christ’s penal substitution for man – atonement as redemption – and the Eastern understanding of atonement as effected by the healing of man – atonement as, literally, salve-ation. I started to work up a post on this reconciliation, hoping to have it ready for Holy Saturday (in either the Western or Eastern calendars), but it’s a big, big subject, calling for a lot of groundwork, and I couldn’t get it together in time. Maybe next year. In the meantime, and in a nutshell: the suffering of the sin-sick soul is what it is like to feel the wrath of God’s judgement that sin is, in fact, sin. God is not going to be able to change his mind about sin, after all; sin is ineluctably sinful, as 2 + 2 = 4 is ineluctably truthful. God’s judgement that man’s sin is sinful is felt by man as wrath; but really, this is nothing more than the sinful creature’s apprehension of the changeless nature of God. The sinner apprehends that nature as tormenting wrath; the saint, as salving love. Christ’s death makes good on man’s debt of sin, redeeming him; and this makes man good, so that he is able by his faithfulness to the Logos to enter into the Kingdom.

    The trickiest bit for me of the whole atonement>salvation operation is the part right in the middle, where man repents. Is the repentence a work of man? If not, then there is nothing that we can really do, and so there is no reason for us to concern ourselves with salvation. This is clearly a perverse result. If so, and given that repentance is the means by which man becomes perfect *so that* he is capable of good works – such as the work of repentance – how is it possible for a depraved, faithless man to effect a truly good and therefore sufficient repentance? It’s a real stumper. Closest I have come to a solution is that repentance is effected by the *cessation* of creaturely action, so that Christ may be all in all.

    • Kristor, you ask “how is it possible for a depraved, faithless man to effect a truly good and therefore sufficient repentance?”

      With man, this is impossible. With God, all things are possible. Repentance, like faith, is a gift of God. For example:

      John 6:44: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

      Acts 11:18: When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

      II Timothy 2:24,25: The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.

    • This actually gets very near what I was going to say: that faith is simply the adherence of the intellect to revealed truths, and that, to the extent the will follows the intellect (as it always does), faith will tend naturally to produce good works, i.e., sinlessness, or keeping the laws and walking in the way of the Lord. Insofar as Christ supplies us with all the graces necessary to achieve salvation for those who keeps God’s laws and walk in his way, this suffices, on our part, to be saved. So, as Alan has said in characterizing our position, faith is necessary to salvation but insufficient. But neither is faith entirely irrelevant to salvation, because I don’t see it as entirely irrelevant to good works. A man who says to his wife “I love you, I love you, I love you” but cheats on her constantly is either lying or deluded; his love is, in any event, at the very least radically deficient if not completely false.

      The question of what leads to repentance has always been a troublesome one for me, though. I didn’t choose to apprehend the necessity of it but was led to it by something outside myself (and I led a reasonably depraved life beforehand). That something does not appear to be leading everyone to repentance, or at least is not doing so successfully. I’ve posted about this before on C:TB; it bugs me, to say the least.

    • Alan: yes, I am with you on that. But it seems to me that it kicks the can down the road. Repentance is the fruit of acceptance of the gift of faith, granted; so much so, indeed, that I view repentance as nothing other than the actualization in life as concretely enacted of a prior, spiritual act of acceptance. But this just translates the question to the following: how can a depraved man enact a truly good and effectual acceptance of the gift of faith?

      How, in other words, can a sinner adequately say, “nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done, O Lord”? How can a sinner say the Magnificat with a whole heart? It can’t be that God *does the accepting for him,* for in that case the acceptance wouldn’t be the sinner’s acceptance at all, properly speaking, so that, not having himself accepted the gift, the sinner would remain in a state of sin.

      Again, the only thing I can come up with is that acceptance of the gift of faith is effectuated when the sinful creature simply stops volunteering any contribution of his own to his action. By ceasing himself to act, he ceases to deprave the flux of Grace.

      More straightforwardly, the acceptance happens when my “Yes, Lord, but …. ” becomes simply, purely, “Yes, Lord.” But even that unmitigated “Yes” cannot be an inner utterance. It must be an inner silence.

      Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
      And with fear and trembling stand;
      Ponder nothing earthly minded,
      For with blessing in His hand,
      Christ our God to earth descendeth
      Our full homage to demand.

    • Man is never good. Only God is good. Any “good” that man “does” is done through him by Christ. We have an imputed righteousness; it is not ours, it is the righteousness that Christ gives to us — it is His righteousness. We are saint and sinner this side of heaven: saint because we are “in Christ,” and the Father sees us through the robe of righteousness, Christ’s righteousness, that Christ has given to us who believe. Sinner, because every “good” deed we do is tainted with a selfish, sinful motive.

      “All your righteous deeds as are filthy rags.” Isaiah, somewhere.

      What must I do to be saved? Believe that Christ died for your sins. End of story. If you continue to live as though you do not believe, then you are still dead in your sins because by your actions you reject the One who redeemed you. We die daily to our sinful nature. We remember daily our Baptism — our sins are buried with Christ in His death. I John: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

      There is no perfection this side of the grave. Be ye holy as I am holy merely means that we CANNOT be holy but by Christ’s holiness being imputed to us.

  5. Salvation is not something we achieve. It is something that was accomplished for us by Someone else. That Someone else is Jesus and that is the reason we call Him the Saviour. He accomplished our salvation by dying for us on the cross and rising from the dead.

    It is only when we grasp the above, that justification by faith makes sense. If Jesus is the Saviour, if He is the One Who saves us and not we ourselves, if salvation is His work and not ours, not even something we contribute to, then the only thing left for us is to place our whole faith in Jesus Christ. Faith, or pistis in the Greek, means trust or confidence. Faith is only as good as its object. Confidence placed in our own efforts to please God – in our love for Him, our obedience, our doctrinal orthodoxy, or our repentance from sin – is misguided confidence, because none of these things, or all of them taken together, is enough to save us. Our best efforts are not good enough and never will be. Jesus, on the other hand, is a sufficient and effective Saviour for all who place their trust in Him.

    It is only when we so place our faith in Christ and not in our own efforts that our efforts begin to please God. For the only works we can do that are acceptable to God are works that we do because we love Him and wish out of that love to please Him. Works that we do because we wish to obtain God’s favour and avoid His wrath are never acceptable to Him. When we place our faith in Christ, when we trust Him to make us completely acceptable to God apart from our own efforts, that frees us to finally do works of love which are acceptable to HIm.

  6. What Must I do to be Saved?

    It is sufficient to both be validly Baptized before your death and to receive valid Confession between your last mortal sin and death. The only “good works” which (directly) save you are those two. And they don’t require much of the person receiving. For adults, baptism only requires consent of the person being baptized. For infants and others incapable of giving consent, not even that. Valid Confession requires a priest, the desire to avoid Hell by “confessing your sins, doing penance, and amending your life,” the confession of all mortal sins, and the words of absolution (by the priest).

    Except for the sad case of those afflicted with scrupulosity, Catholics tend not to be especially worried about whether or not they are saved. This was true back when it was reasonable to believe they mostly were saved, and it is true now when it is reasonable to believe they are mostly damned.

    I don’t find the faith-alone / faith-and-works distinction very useful. What is “faith” in the formula and what is “works?” As Alan points out, the faith in sola fide can’t be mere intellectual assent else Satan would be saved. So, there is intellectual assent plus something. Thus, Catholics and Protestants differ over the exact content of the something, though not particularly over what the something is about. The something is about laying claim to the salvific power of the Most Precious Blood, once you believe that it is there.

    Catholics think the something is the sacraments of Baptism and Confession. That these particular external acts were ordained by God as both symbols of the spiritual laundry that Jesus’s Blood offers and as the very spiritual laundry that they symbolize. Sacraments are symbols which deliver that which they symbolize (to paraphrase a common formula).

    I find the Protestant explanations of the something else to be generally nebulous and difficult to follow. Above, Alan says that the something else (beyond mere intellectual assent) is “trust that you are saved.” If this trust is an act of the will, then it sure seems like a work. This is the way I normally take “faith alone.” Protestants, like Catholics, believe in faith-and-works salvation, but Protestants believe in the need for an interior work, here called “trust.”

    Protestants who are really attached to the sola fide formula can get away from this by saying, as Alan seems to above, that trust is not an act of the will at all. “It is the evidence of God’s favor and the instrument through which He connects you to Jesus your Savior.” That, instead, trust is thrust upon the believer without any particular act of the will like consent—the “I” in tulip, as it were. This has the advantage of saving the formula but at the apparent expense of dispensing with free will or at least with the entanglement of free will with salvation.

    • Where does the Bible say that you have to “receive valid Confession between your last mortal sin and death” in order to be saved? nowhere that I’m aware of. On the other hand, the Bible says repeatedly that you need to have faith in Christ to be saved.

      • Where does the Bible say that it is the sole source for knowledge of the Faith? Nowhere. Where does the Bible talk about “faith alone?” One place: to condemn it as an error.

      • Bill, “sola scriptura” does not mean the Bible is the sole source of information. As defined by the Reformers, it means the Bible is the highest authority, and the sole infallible authority, on every subject it speaks of. Being the Word of God, it must necessarily be the highest authority.

        And the Bible does not condemn faith alone. See Ephesians 2:8,9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

      • We agree, apparently, that the Bible does not teach sola scriptura. How could it? Jesus left a Church, not a book.

        We also agree that the Bible is not “the sole source of information.” Why, then, demand of me a proof-text from the Bible?

        As defined by the Reformers, it means the Bible is the highest authority, and the sole infallible authority, on every subject it speaks of. Being the Word of God, it must necessarily be the highest authority.

        Who could disagree? But “highest” means “there is no higher.” It does not mean “there is no equal.” God speaks through His Church: sometimes by canonizing texts, sometimes through sacred Tradition, sometimes by convening councils, sometimes by issuing bulls, etc.

        Sola fide is not discussed in the passage you quote (the words “alone” or “only” being missing), but is condemned in the one place it appears, James Chapter 2: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

      • Bill quotes James 2:24: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” [New American Standard Bible.] But this does not prove his point, for several reasons:

        Several biblical passages do say justification by faith alone. E.g., Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” If, therefore James is saying that we are not justified by faith alone, then the Bible contradicts itself. But since God does not contradict himself, James is saying something else.

        And the word “justified” has another meaning: “proved.” James is saying that a man’s faith is proved by his deeds, not that a man’s right standing before God is based on his deeds.

        And in the verse right before, James says that we are reckoned righteous by faith apart from works: “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” (James 2:23)

      • Bill also says “Jesus left a Church, not a book.” Actually, he left a body of teaching and a group of Apostles, not a specific human organization. Since the Apostles are dead, no human person or organization can outrank the Book of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.

      • ” Since the Apostles are dead, no human person or organization can outrank the Book of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.”

        My question to you is, who decided what constitutes “the Book” since it was canonised (put together into the form we know today) several hundred years after the last Apostle fell asleep in the Lord?

        Obviously somebody outranked the non-existing Book during those years?(yes I know that the first of the Holy Scriptures was written about the year AD 60. But I am talking about “The Bible” of today).

        Well, my answer is it is the Church that was there before the Bible. It was the Bishops and Holy Fathers who obviously outranked the not-yet existing Bible. It was the Church, the Bishops as the successors of the Apostles, who under the guidance of the Holy Spirit selected the manuscripts that constitute the canonical Holy Scriptures of today…

      • Says Joseph: “”Who decided what constitutes ‘the book’?…the Church…was there before the Bible. It was the Bishops and Holy Fathers who obviously outranked the not-yet existing Bible”

        At first glance, his case appears strong. After all, we must rely on some sort of tradition to tell us that these particular books are Scripture. And so the church (or the Church) apparently “outranks” the Bible.

        But for one thing, Scripture existed before the church: the Old Testament.

        Here is a more substantial objection: To think that the Church “outranks” the Bible is to commit a basic error, the error of confusing how we know something with why it is true. If the Bible, and not some other collection of ancient texts, is God’s Word, it is so because God superintended the writing of just these texts, so that only these texts are God speaking to us and intended by Him to be Scripture.

        That’s why the Bible is God’s Word. How we know it is an entirely different process. We must rely upon the knowledge gained over the millennia by our ancestors in the faith, and we must have enough faith to reject the lies told by Satan’s emissaries who tell us that the Bible is just another collection of ancient, man-made books.

        Think of it this way: The church, when it declares the Bible to be God’s Word, is not like a legislature, but rather like a scientist. A scientist applies his expertise to discover and tell about a reality he does not create. A legislature has the authority to create laws that did not exist before. If the Church, given the evidence, had no choice but to declare the books of the Bible (and no other ancient texts) to be Holy Scripture, then it was acting like a scientist, in which case the Bible is a higher authority than the church.

      • Several biblical passages do say justification by faith alone.

        Then cite one.

        “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law

        Shrug. Unless you are arguing that this is a bad translation, it does not say what you claim. It says “man is justified by faith” (which nobody is disagreeing with here) “apart from works of the Law” (which is one kind of work, not all kinds of work.) And it is a particular kind of work: a work performed pursuant to the recently-superseded Old Covenant, i.e. “the Law.” As I said, you get “faith alone” once: to be condemned.

      • Since the Apostles are dead, no human person or organization can outrank the Book of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.

        Which strong assertion seems curiously lacking a proof-text. Of course, to even be relevant, it would have to say “equally rank” or “authoritatively interpret” rather than “outrank.”

    • It is sufficient to both be validly Baptized before your death and to receive valid Confession between your last mortal sin and death. The only “good works” which (directly) save you are those two. And they don’t require much of the person receiving. For adults, baptism only requires consent of the person being baptized. For infants and others incapable of giving consent, not even that. Valid Confession requires a priest, the desire to avoid Hell by “confessing your sins, doing penance, and amending your life,” the confession of all mortal sins, and the words of absolution (by the priest).

      In fact even this may be more than what is required: simple, sincere contrition (paired with the intention to confess) suffices to erase the guilt of mortal sin. And there is at least some revelation indicating that God will, through extraordinary means, make sacraments available to those after death who have need of them and would have availed themselves of them in life if they’d had the opportunity.

      Protestants who are really attached to the sola fide formula can get away from this by saying, as Alan seems to above, that trust is not an act of the will at all. “It is the evidence of God’s favor and the instrument through which He connects you to Jesus your Savior.” That, instead, trust is thrust upon the believer without any particular act of the will like consent—the “I” in tulip, as it were. This has the advantage of saving the formula but at the apparent expense of dispensing with free will or at least with the entanglement of free will with salvation.

      As a Calvinist, I’m pretty sure this is what Alan actually does believe, and it makes him more respectable than most other Protestants, who can’t seem to face the logical consequences of sola fide.

      • In fact even this may be more than what is required: simple, sincere contrition (paired with the intention to confess) suffices to erase the guilt of mortal sin.

        I think you mean perfect contrition (i.e. “I’m sorry ’cause I’m afraid of Hell” is only good enough in the confessional; whereas, “I’m sorry ’cause what I did offended You and I hate that because I love You” is good enough on the way to the confessional).

        As a Calvinist, I’m pretty sure this is what Alan actually does believe, and it makes him more respectable than most other Protestants

        Yes, I agree. At least Calvinists are honest when they say they have a real, qualitative difference with Catholics about salvation.

      • Is the perfect/imperfect contrition distinction still in use? I thought for clarity’s sake it had come to be simply contrition (once “perfect contrition”) and attrition (once “imperfect contrition”). That’s certainly how I was using it, but if my understanding is off here, I apologize for the confusion.

      • Huh. I didn’t know of the contrition/attrition distinction. I’d always heard the perfect/imperfect distinction. They are both in the CCC. I think I like perfect/imperfect better. It conduces to believing that perfect contrition is rare, which seems right to me. Sorry for my sins only out of the motive of loving God? For the saints, maybe, not for me.

  7. A. Acts Of Apostles 16

    Then calling for a light, he went in, and trembling, fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas. [30] And bringing them out, he said: Masters, what must I do, that I may be saved?

    [31] But they said: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. [32] And they preached the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. [33] And he, taking them the same hour of the night, washed their stripes, and himself was baptized, and all his house immediately.

    B. Luke 10

    And behold a certain lawyer stood up, tempting him, and saying, Master, what must I do to possess eternal life?

    [21] He rejoiced in the Holy Ghost: That is, according to his humanity he rejoiced in the Holy Ghost, and gave thanks to his eternal Father.

    [26] But he said to him: What is written in the law? how readest thou? [27] He answering, said: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself. [28] And he said to him: Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

    C. Acts of Apostles 2

    [37] Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart, and said to Peter, and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren? [38] But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. [39] For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.

    D. All of the above

    • The problem with option B is that we cannot do it, as scripture and personal experience make clear. Thus we need to have our sins forgiven through repentance and faith. As for baptism, the thief on the cross was not baptized, yet Christ announced that he would be in paradise. Ordinarily, Christians must be baptized, but it is not an absolute requirement.

      • Yes — the thief on his cross passage is not relevant to the discussion of Holy Baptism. First, we don’t know that he *wasn’t* baptized — after all, we read in the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel that “all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to [St. John the Baptist] and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” No, of course I am not saying that this proves that the thief had been baptized. I’m just saying we actually can’t assume he hadn’t been. I realize too that St. John the Baptist was not baptizing in the Triune Name and so there is some ambiguity about the sacramentality of his baptism. All I mean is that we are not told that the thief hadn’t been baptized, so it is unwise to make this passage do service in a discussion one way or the other. Second, and in my view more importantly: Our Lord Jesus spoke to this man and said *he* would be with Him in Paradise. But where do *we* hear Our Lord say that *we* shall be with Him? Well, we read and hear that “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3), that in Baptism we are buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6 — clearly Baptism is not an outward sign of an otherwise effected burial and resurrection, but rather confers the same), and so on.

      • Romans 6 reveals that baptism is in the likeness of Christ’s death. We are buried with Him in baptism, and raised to walk in newness of life. Therefore, we see that Christian baptism has a two-fold purpose. First, we confess through submitting to baptism that we believe that Jesus Christ was buried and resurrected, a central confession of the Christian faith. Second, we appeal to God to bury the old man and raise up a new man cleansed of sin, ready to lead a new life.

        The thief on the cross could not confess that Jesus Christ was buried and resurrected, because these events had not happened yet. Therefore, he would not be a proper object of a Christian baptism in the first place, and obviously God would make no requirement that such a person submit to Christian baptism. I am amazed that the thief on the cross is continually used in this kind of debate. I call him the “poster child of the anti-baptism movement.”

        The subject of baptism is interesting and I don’t propose to discuss it fully in the comments section of a thread on another topic, but we can at least lay to rest this old misunderstanding.

  8. There is the question here of whether repentance and faith are “works.” It depends on what you mean by a “work.” Generally, when the topic is salvation, “work” means something you do that makes you worthy of salvation. Something that is “meritorious.” In this sense, repentance and faith are not works. They don’t give you heavenly points leading to salvation.

    On the other hand, a work can mean just something you need to do. After all, we Protestants believe the Bible teaches justification by faith alone, not justification by nothing alone. You do need to do something: repent and have faith.

    Before a man is saved, he does not desire to repent and have faith. So he doesn’t. But God gives these desires to some people as gifts. To the man who repents and has faith, it feels as if, one day, he just does them. Previously, he couldn’t. Then, one day, he could.

    Bill says above that according to Protestants, trust (the most important part of faith) is not an act of the will, because, being a gift of God, it is allegedly thrust upon the believer without consent. But that’s not how it works:

    From a purely human point of view, some people choose to repent and have faith and others don’t chose to do so, and the ultimate cause seems mysterious. Aside from what the Bible reveals about the cause, all we can say for sure is that for some mysterious reason, some repent and believe.

    But the Bible says that those who repent and believe do so because God decided to give them the gifts. Before receiving these gifts, they didn’t want to repent and believe, and therefore they had no ability to do so. Nobody is able to choose something he doesn’t want. But God acts in the hearts of some, giving them the desire to repent and believe. And once people want to repent and believe, they do. This is how God draws men to Christ.

    Think of your own life. There is a good chance that at one time, you were not a Christian. You didn’t want to repent and believe, and you didn’t want to want to repent and believe. But then something changed. You did not experience this change as some outside force compelling you to move in a direction you didn’t want to go. No, the way you experienced it was that something once repellant was now attractive. You just changed your mind, and the change seemed natural. In the Bible, God reveals that He caused your mind to change, in a way that seemed to you like a natural development rather than “divine rape.”

    And God does not impart these gifts by just “waving His magic wand.” He imparts them through the instrument of His Word, Scripture. When the Gospel is proclaimed, some respond with repentance and faith.

    • Generally, when the topic is salvation, “work” means something you do that makes you worthy of salvation.

      The Church does not teach that this kind of “work” is required or even possible. Neither the baptized’s actions in Baptism nor the penitent’s actions in Confession make them worthy of salvation. Rather, grace stored up by the sacrifice to the Father at Calvary is drawn upon via the relevant sacraments to scrub away the unworthiness—it is the Holy Spirit’s actions which make the penitent worthy, not the penitent’s. Thus, if we adopt this definition of “work,” we get the conclusion that Protestants are deluded or dishonest when they claim that Catholics believe in faith+works salvation.

      But the Bible says that those who repent and believe do so because God decided to give them the gifts.

      What does this mean, though? When you ask me “Why did you come in to supper,” I may answer “Because Mom called me.” But this in no way contradicts the claim that I came in to supper because I willed that choice. God calls and permissively wills us to accept. But we decide whether or not to accept.

      Bill says above that according to Protestants, trust (the most important part of faith) is not an act of the will, because, being a gift of God, it is allegedly thrust upon the believer without consent. But that’s not how it works:

      I don’t actually say that. Rather, I follow the Protestant’s claim that he believes in faith alone while the Catholic believes in faith+works and see where it leads. You don’t agree with where I got to, but that seems to be because you are using a definition of “work” which renders the Protestant’s initial claim false.

  9. 39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
    40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
    41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
    42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
    43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

    Jesus said directly that guy would be in Heaven with him that very day. What did he do? Answer that and you have your answer if you believe the bible.

    • This doesn’t tell us much, though. Obviously Alan will say that Dismas’ faith saved him. And we Catholics would respond that Dismas, if he was unbaptised, was baptised by virtue of his desire, and so died without the stain of mortal sin and, with the additional graces supplied by Christ’s death, was made worthy of Heaven. (And if he had been baptised, then his contrition sufficed to absolve him of his sins).

      Herein is the major problem: the Bible is not in fact sufficient because there must be an exegetical authority. Sola scriptura has not, in fact, revealed to us the one true, complete, full set of truths but a series of never-ending internal schisms (the number of Protestant denominations is in the mid-five digits range, no?). You’d have to believe, in essence, that God was a God of chaos, unreason, and disorder if this arrangement were reflective of the truth; and Luther, in his defense, actually *did* believe this, because he was a nominalist and so instinctively distrusted natural theology.

      • Indeed, my point of quoting multiple, and arguably conflicting, scriptural answers to the question of “What must I do to be saved?” (and we could go on and on and on…) was to show just how insufficient scripture alone would be. Without an authoritative interpreter, scripture can be used, in fact is more often than not so used to prove whatever the heck someone wants. So in answer of the question: what must I do to be saved?, the only conclusion that can be reached is find the dwelling of the authoritative interpreter… and get ye into it.

      • I’d say he was unbaptized, period. The current economy of salvation was not in place pre-Resurrection. You didn’t need baptism to be saved before the Resurrection.

      • Disagreement occurs primarily because men don’t want to acknowledge what the biblical text says, and not primarily because men do not want to acknowledge the existing authorities. Catholicism, for example, contains within itself at least as much disagreement as Protestantism, and therefore the existence of an authority is not sufficient to put an end to squabbling. Disagreement will always exist, the question is where to find an authority who speaks persuasively about the matter.

        (Although the Bible is the highest earthly authority, man needs secondary authorities such as creeds, councils and church officials. But these, to have legitimate authority, must accurately affirm and teach what the highest authority teaches.)

      • Proph, you asked, “the number of Protestant denominations is in the mid-five digits range, no?”

        I’m an adherent of the Lutheran Confessions with some interest in Roman Catholicism and much interest in Eastern Orthodoxy. I couldn’t say how many times I have seen this point made by RC and EO controversialists. It doesn’t impress me for two reasons:

        1. The apparent multifariousness of Protestantism is just that — apparent, not real. There are lots of Protestant denominations, but I assure you that they are not anathematizing one another as the Roman church did not Luther. If you are a member of the Free Methodist church, for example, you will be welcome to worship with, participate in the Lord’s Supper with, etc. members of the Church of the Nazarene, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Wesleyans, etc., I’m quite sure. The statements of faith of such denominations are very close or virtually identical.

        The reality is that there are just a few really distinct “Protestant” traditions. So the remark you make ought to be honestly retired.

        2. The variations between the Orthodox churches are, I assume, pretty small, although try telling an Old Calendrist that it’s no big deal, etc. But I will grant the idea that the Orthodox show great consistency.

        But the Roman church — !! Surely there is about as great an exhibition of differences within the Roman communion as there is within most of Protestantism. If I ever became a Roman Catholic, perhaps the single biggest challenge for me would be to accept the staggering diversity within the communion. One can be an “extreme” traditionalist, or a traditional Catholic like the attractive homeschooling Catholic family I know, or a Kennedy-type Catholic, or a Jungian nun, or … it goes on and on. I am skeptical about saying that these differences don’t reflect actual diversity within the Roman communion, but just the patience of the authorities with people of imperfect belief. When those of “imperfect belief” write their books, consecrate their priests, confirm children, administer the Sacrament, etc. etc. through a long and, I suppose, untroubled career, then protestation that Roman Catholicism is one thing in unconvincing indeed. To me, that is; you don’t have to agree with me.

        I hope no one will take my remarks as indicating that I despise Eastern Orthodoxy or the Roman communion. As I said I’m quite interested in the former, and I never feel closer to the latter than when I see the kind of troops that assault it. (Troops of people for whom Christ died….)

        There you have my 2c.

      • Hi Dale. This doesn’t seem like a terribly interesting objection, I’m afraid. My point isn’t that there’s x number of exegetical traditions in Protestantism but that x, whatever it is, is greater than 1, so clearly the Bible does not lend itself unambiguously to one interpretation. Unless you genuinely believe God is not overly interested in His followers understanding Him, His plan, and what we need to do to be saved, I don’t see how you can reconcile this fact with the claim of sola scriptura’s truthfulness. Alan’s remark that “Disagreement occurs primarily because men don’t want to acknowledge what the biblical text says” strikes me as unconvincing because it seems like a bad-faith attribution to all who deny what he probably regards as the one obviously true (Calvinist, natch) understanding of the Bible. I don’t think he believes that, but I don’t know what else he could mean by it, either.

        Of course there is absolutely no doctrinal or dogmatic diversity in the Catholic Church (I cannot comment on the Orthodox as I know next to nothing about them). There is doctrine and dogma (orthodoxy) and there are those who deny doctrine and dogma (heresy) and substitute it within nonsense borne of pride, ignorance, and leftism (but I repeat myself!). For the orthodox, there is one set of truths; for the heretics there are a seemingly infinite number of untruths. Where there is diversity in the Church it relates to things like liturgy, that are important but do not immediately touch on soteriological or ethical questions. You can’t conflate the Church’s fecklessness in dealing with the renegades in its midst with doctrinal endorsement of their beliefs.

      • Hi Proph,

        When I said “Disagreement occurs primarily because men don’t want to acknowledge what the biblical text says,” I was giving a true slogan, not an argument. Obviously uninstructed people find the Bible hard to interpret, and their interpretations naturally vary greatly. What I was getting at is the biblical text is not as mysterious as skeptics say it is. A properly-trained person can easily see the major themes in Scripture.

        Also, Protestants appear to have a fundamentally different orientation toward Scripture than Catholics or Orthodox. For Protestants, the biblical text is understandable in and of itself, provided the reader has some knowledge of principles of interpretation, the general worldview prevalent in the biblical author’s time and place, and some of the “big picture” of the Bible. If the meaning of a text is not clear, Protestant scholars study it harder, whether by consulting more biblical commentaries, learning more about ancient literature, or whatever. Catholics and Orthodox, in contrast, consult their authorities (Magisterium or Tradition).

        Aside from atheists and other non-Christians, who have a commitment to an opposing worldview, the main problem with people interpreting the Bible is not misunderstanding what the text says. Atheists understand the Bible to say that God is real. They don’t misinterpret it, they reject it. Arminians understand the biblical texts that plainly say “God predestines some to salvation,” but they find this assertion repellant so they find ways to interpret it differently.

        There is also the fact that the Bible does appear to contradict itself. For example Ephesians 2:8-9 says salvation is by faith and not works, and then James 2:24 appears to say that salvation is not by faith alone. But if God’s Word does not contradict itself, then we have to work out the details of how the statements can be harmonized, and some people do not like this. They would prefer to emphasize one verse and ignore or downplay the other. With certain rare exceptions that do not bear on major doctrines, the problem is not that biblical statements are hard to understand. The problem is that they are hard to accept.

        You also say “Of course there is absolutely no doctrinal or dogmatic diversity in the Catholic Church.” That’s not what I see. I see Catholic authorities disagreeing endlessly, so how am I to know which authority really speaks for Rome, and which is only winging it? In a confessional Protestantism denomination we have the Bible as the highest authority, the ecumenical creeds and the specifically Protestant confessions as secondary standards (possessing authority only insofar as they are accurate summaries of biblical doctrine) and the various ongoing church councils as tertiary authorities. But how am I to know what Rome teaches?

        You also said that the Catholic Church has not changed its mind on doctrinal matters, once they were defined as such. Even so, it is still the case that the church changes its doctrinal content: At one time Doctrine X was not obligatory, now it is. That’s change.

        And when the council decided to make Doctrine X obligatory on the faithful, what standard did they apply? Any standard they applied would be a higher authority than the council itself. They clearly would not say “Because we [or any other human authority] say so.” So they would have to say that God revealed it: either by a clearer understanding of Scripture (as at Nicea, when the Arian controversy was formally settled), or in some other way. But in neither case is the Church’s authority the deciding factor. The Church only has the authority to say what God says.

        But if the Church is not just clarifying Scripture, that would make the Church a prophet, and prophets must be tested, for many prophets are false. And against what standard are they to be tested? You know my answer, so I’ll just wait for your response.

  10. In order to receive the ‘gift of faith’, one must study the Word. Study the scriptures and then believe. We cannot expect to be chosen without effort and thus to receive an arbitrary gift.

  11. Although the Bible is the highest earthly authority, man needs secondary authorities such as creeds, councils and church officials. But these, to have legitimate authority, must accurately affirm and teach what the highest authority teaches.

    The “highest” earthly authority is the Church! The Church is the living body of Christ. The church speaks through the Ecumenical Councils, the Holy Fathers and the communion of her Bishops. Within the Church is Holy Tradition and within Holy Tradition there is the Bible. The Bible is not the sole source of our faith, but a marker against which the faith must be measured and cannot be in opposition.

    “This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe!” from the Synodikon of Sunday of Orthodoxy (1st Sunday of Great Lent)

    The Bible outside of the Church and Holy Tradition is merely a literary master piece….

    • The problem with saying “The ‘highest’ earthly authority is the Church!” is that the church changes its mind and disagrees with itself. The Bible does not have these defects.

      • This objection doesn’t seem any less fatal to Protestantism, and at any rate the Church (at least the Catholic Church, I know next to nothing about Orthodox history) has not in fact changed its mind about anything. There has been logical developments in some teachings (i.e., the death penalty) and refinements in the way others are expressed but as near as I can tell the body of Catholic doctrinal and dogmatic teachings, once defined as such, have been consistent over the years.

      • Has anyone else read Mathison’s The Shape of Sola Scriptura? I thought it was an interesting discussion about variations on the topic of Scripture and authority. Mathison writes as a Reformed Protestant. He sees his position of sola scriptura as different from the common modern Protestant view of “solo scriptura,” i.e. the believer and his Bible as the authority.

        I’ve already quoted elsewhere here at The Orthosphere this passage from the revered Lutheran teacher of the Church, Martin Chemnitz:

        This also is certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: “The Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation.” And whoever twists the Holy Scripture so that it is understood according to his preconceived opinions does this to his own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). The best reader of the Scripture, according to Hilary, is one who does not bring the understanding of what is said to the Scripture but who carries it away from the Scripture. We also gratefully and reverently use the labors of the fathers who by their commentaries have profitably clarified many passages of the Scripture. And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church. [Examination of the Council of Trent, Vol. 1, 208-9]

      • Alan, I wrote also that the Church is the living Body of Christ. In matters of the Faith, the Church NEVER changes its “mind”, it NEVER disagrees with itself. Does Christ change His mind on His revelations? Does Christ disagrees with Himself? Yes the Church is made up also of fallible men, but in order to keep them on the straight and narrow, we have within the Church, within Holy Tradition, as a guidepost and a measuring stick Holy Scripture.

        I also said: “The Bible is not the sole source of our faith, but a marker against which the faith must be measured and cannot be in opposition.”

  12. We still have the problem of the multiple “non-christian” faiths; those people are just as loved by God. My favorite story is Matthew 25:31-46; the sheep and the goats. It seems to answer the question of what happens to people who do not know Christ as “Christ”, but are still deemed to be one of the “sheep”.

    • MGM,

      “We know where the Church is, we do not know where she is not.” That means only God decides who is worthy, only God can see into a man’s heart.

      We do not know who will be saved, God does. He will save those He chooses…

      Our duty however, is to strive for Theosis within our Christian faith….

  13. Pingback: Father Knows Best: Orthodox Edition « Patriactionary

  14. I believe, on the great Catholic authority Paul of Tarsus, that we are saved by faith. Faith is all-sufficient, in the sense that there is no need for anything extraneous to faith that must be added on for salvation. My Protestant friends are to be praised for defending this principle so jealously. We Catholics who declared Pelagius a heretic certainly don’t think of salvation as a sort of final exam where those with more good deeds than bad earn their way to heaven.

    I do not, however, think that the defence of faith’s sufficiency requires us to separate out some bare minimum, some “faith and nothing else”, and call the rest “works” that are not necessary. In the hunt for “works-righteousness”, theologians sometimes end up identifying as “works” spiritual acts like prayer and contrition (and their sacramental embodiments) that our predecessors rightly regarded as core aspects of the life of faith. Remember, one of our disputes with post-nominalist philosophy is its tendency to define a thing by the bare minimum one needs to qualify as that thing, whereas realists tend to define a thing by its fulfilment. A man who has lost his legs is still a man, but when a whole man is in an otherwise empty room, we don’t say “That room contains a man and two unsevered legs.” Rather, we say “That room contains a man, and nothing else.” Similarly, a man brought to redemption in faith, hope, and charity is saved by, and lives by, “faith alone” if we understand the “alone” in its proper, realist sense.

    This reduction of meanings to their bare minima also leads some to misunderstand what we Catholics and Protestants mean when we say we are justified by faith. The Orthodox are right that salvation is not simply a matter of God choosing to ignore our offences against Him. It is a new birth, an elevation into divine life, an indwelling of the Trinity in the soul. However, neither Catholics nor Protestants imagine otherwise. True, we do emphasise our sinfulness, the fact that we are not only separated from God, not sick men with no responsibility for our own weaknesses, but separated from Him through our “own most grievous fault.” God, being a just God, abhors our sins, and there is no way back to Him save repentance and accepting the sacrifice of His Son. That’s not Western guilt-mongering; that’s what the Bible plainly says. Nevertheless, the effect of grace is not to restore us to unspoilt pure nature, but to elevate us to supernature. Catholics and Orthodox can be scandalized by the way Protestants talking about justification sometimes sound like it were a juridical fiction; God chooses to see in us Jesus’ holiness rather than our own wickedness, but that’s just a matter of pretend. Really, we’re as depraved as before. I suspect this is usually a misunderstanding, born of a lack of charity toward our separated brothers, who do, after all, also believe in sanctification. How God sees us is how we most deeply are. Christ does become the core, the ultimate truth, about a justified man. The sinful nature remains (who could doubt it?) but as a sort of inauthentic residue, a thing to be cast off as the new nature becomes more perfectly present. Even the Lutheran image of a dung heap covered with snow should not necessarily be objectionable, so long as we understand that it’s the snow that is the saved person’s truest self. The dung is real in the sense that it really exists, but not real in the sense of being essential (as in the “real you”).

    • Hi Bonald,

      On the whole, I agree with what you say here. Christianity is a “package deal.” But I would add that identifying a “bare minimum” can be necessary when false teachers are teaching that salvation requires something which is not really required. The paradigmatic case is the Epistle to the Galatians, where Paul opposes those who are teaching that submission to the entire Old Testament Law is required for Christians.

      • Alan, the Judaizers in Galatia weren’t requiring the Gentiles to keep the whole law for salvation. They were requiring them to become Jews, hence the requirement to be circumcised. This was an implicit denial of the new covenant established by our Lord. If the church requires me to do something, i.e., be baptized, and I refuse on the pretext that it is something additional to faith I will rightly be condemned at the judgement. I am conscience-bound to obey the legitimate ecclesial authority that has been set above me. I do not judge what is essential or non-essential; it is the Church (guided by the Holy Spirit) that decides what is in conformity with the doctrine of Christ and what disciplines are necessary to edify the body.

      • Andrew, you say “the Judaizers in Galatia weren’t requiring the Gentiles to keep the whole law for salvation. They were requiring them to become Jews…”

        The first sentence quoted above appears to say that the Judaizers required Gentiles to keep the whole law for some other purpose than salvation. But the entire tenor of Galatians belies this. For example, Galatians 3:1,2 read “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”

        “Receiving the Spirit” is salvation; becoming a Christian. Paul contrasts two ways of receiving the Spirit: the spurious way promoted by the heretics Paul opposes, and the correct way, “hearing with faith.”

        As for “requiring them to become Jews:” If one is required to become a Jew, then Jewishenss is required for salvation, Paul opposes this, and my original point stands.

        As for your statement that you do not judge what is essential: You do so judge. You are arguing against me. And it could be that you hold that the real essential is to do and believe what the Roman Catholic Church says to do and believe.

  15. Alan,

    I have personally attended Pastor Janbazian’s group several times and sat under one of his mentors, Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, for five years.

    Here’s my problem. Both Janbazian and Riddlebarger are aligned with a segment of the Reformed community that explicitly rejects the proposition that justifying faith must be a living, active, penitent, and obedient faith.

    In the course of opposing the teachings of Dr. Norman Shepherd, these men have been forced to say that the intellectual content of faith (belief & trust) abstract from any inherent supernatural power of operation is the instrument God uses to justify the sinner.

    So for these men, it is dead faith that justifies.

    This is simply false. Faith abstracted from the energy that animates it (divine charity) is worthless and can effect nothing, not even justification (cf. I Cor. 13: 1). “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision or uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5: 6).

    Going beyond Dr. Shepherd, I contend that faith conceived as the private act or possession of an individual soul does not and can not justify.

    St. Paul teaches that public verbal confession of Jesus’ lordship is necessary (Rom. 10: 9-10). St. Peter preached that repentance and baptism are necessary for the remission of sins (Acts 2: 38). And, St. John teaches that confession of sin is necessary (I Jn. 1: 9). As forgiveness of sins is part of justification, so therefore confession is essential. All these acts (repentance, confession, baptism) are complex phenomena involving outward behavior as well as inward dispositions.

    We cannot camp on instances such as the Phillipian Jailer or the thief on the cross as if these passages exhaustively describe how one is saved without remainder. To treat scripture in this way is to mishandle it. God requires us to take account of every word he has caused to be written.

    Alan, you have distinguished between ordinary means and extraordinary ways of salvation. This is correct. The Church distinguishes between normal baptism and baptism of desire. However, I submit that knowledge of any particular individual’s salvation is dependent on the authoritative witness of the Church founded by Jesus Christ. Contrary to your assertion, our Lord left behind not merely a book, not merely a group of disciples, but a Church.

    Even personal knowledge of one’s salvation cannot be maintained without regular recourse to the sacraments, especially Penance and Holy Communion. An individual who falls into sin subsequent to conversion has otherwise no way of knowing with certainty whether his faith is genuine. The sacraments bridge that immeasurable gap between imperfect faith and the righteousness required by God. The sacraments perfect or “seal” the righteousness that comes by faith.

    A religion lacking objective means to validate private individual experiences serving as THE qualification for membership lacks sufficient resources to identify or enforce the boundaries of that religion’s group. Sola fide destroys religious community.

    This is, for me, the ultimate objection against sola fide. Sola fide renders membership in any body, including Christ’s own, superfluous and uncertain. Sola fide fails to deliver the goods its sponsors claim.

  16. Alan,

    The first sentence of mine you quoted denies that the Judaizers were requiring Gentiles to keep the whole law at all in the sense of perfect obedience. There is no evidence the Judaizers were demanding covenantal perfection on the part of Gentiles. The old covenant had gracious provisions for failure and sin.

    I read Galatians many times as a Protestant and found the Reformational interpretation lacking. The works of the Law are the old covenant ceremonies that previously administered justification (i.e., remission of sins) but which no longer retain this function since our Lord offered his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. To further clarify, works of law are NOT preformances intended to earn eternal life on the basis of human initiative and effort,

    The Galatians received the Spirit by attending to the apostolic witness of the Church (perhaps even observing the Eucharistic sacrifice–“Christ… publicly portrayed as crucified”). The Spirit is imparted through the efficacious works of the new covenant.

    St. Paul opposed requiring incorporation into the Jewish people necessary for salvation. However, why he did so is the issue and where we differ.

    It is true; I make judgments. I judge that faith is essential. The word clearly teaches this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” I also judge that Scripture teaches more to be required for justification than faith (James 2:24). But the details of what more is required I leave for the competent authority to determine. The point of my statement was that when a lone individual determines baptism to be non-essential to salvation he has overstepped the bounds of his competence.

    And yes, the church that Jesus founded and entrusted to St. Peter is the Roman Catholic Church.

    • Andrew,

      I find your assertion that Pastors Janbazian and Riddlebarger “are aligned with a segment of the Reformed community that explicitly rejects the proposition that justifying faith must be a living, active, penitent, and obedient faith” hard to believe. As pastors in the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), they are required to subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity: The Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and the Heidelberg Catechism. These confessions clearly spell out that real faith is always accompanied by penitence and obedience, inter alia. There is no such thing as “dead faith,” for faith, by definition, is “alive.”

      I think you are, in general, making things too complicated. Yes, faith is multifaceted. But it is wrong to teach, or to appear to teach, that anything other than knowledge, assent and living trust is required for salvation. Throughout all of church history, up to this day, there have always been teachers within the institutional church who have taught that salvation or blessing requires specific activities: obeying the Old Testament ceremonial law, speaking in tongues, tithing, confessing sins to a priest, living a monastic life, and so on. In other words, if you don’t do these things, you are allegedly not saved, or not as holy or blessed as the other guy.

      The existence of these teachings makes perfect sense. We cannot see God forgiving our sins and imputing Christ’s righteousness to us, and so we want some visible sign that we are saved. The desire for a visible sign is not invalid in itself, God has given us baptism and the Lord’s Supper as visible signs. But the desire for a visible sign becomes sinful when it leads us to overturn the overall testimony of Scripture that salvation is initiated by God, not man, through the means of repentance and faith. In other words, doing stuff (other than repenting and having faith) does not cause you to be saved, because the work that causes salvation is God’s, not man’s.

  17. Several Catholic commenters have said “Protestantism leads to confusion, therefore we need an authority over Christendom. Our organization is that authority.” But this assertion requires proof. An authority does not have authority just because it says so. The “keys of the kingdom” passage is ambiguous; it does not necessarily mean that Rome has the authority it says. The existence of confusion does not prove that authority X is the proper authority to restore order. So how do we know Rome’s authority claim is valid?

    • We Anglican Catholics find authority in the undivided Church of the first millenium. “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” with particular emphasis on the first 1000 years.

  18. Alan, I was not singling out the URCNA, which I was a member of for about five years. I was pointing out that Janbazian and Riddlebarger are associated with a group of theologians and pastors who comprise a movement John Frame calls the “Escondido Theology.”

    These Christian teachers exhibit common characteristics and commitments such as: redemptive historical preaching (a particular school of preaching that disparages practical application in general and holding up the godly example of the biblical saints for emulation), suspicion of Puritan experimental piety, Meredith Kline’s intrusion ethics, Lutheran Law-Gospel hermeneutics, as well as general hostility to American Evangelicalism and the “Christian Right.”

    The Escondido School was formed in the crucible of the Shepherd controversy, battles over contemporary application of the OT judicial law (i.e. Theonomy), as well as recent battles over the Federal Vision Theology.

    Recently, this theological school, by no means representative of the entire Reformed tradition, has come under scrutiny from various quarters of the Reformed community. Assorted rival redemptive historical thinkers, Kuyperians, Vantilians, “Mercersberg” theologians, covenantors, and theonomists have all weighed in with their critiques of this new school.

    Why is all this relevant? The issue I’m raising in this forum is *not* whether various saving graces and good works inevitably accompany saving faith. It is clear Reformed teachers of all stripes teach this. The fact is, that the Escondido theologians falsely teach that justifying faith is passive, not active, and that it consists of knowledge, assent, and trust alone.

    (This definition of faith is a scholastic theological definition. I challenge anyone to show how it can be proven from Scripture.)

    Further, these theologians deny that repentance *conditions* justification (as taught in WCF 15.3) or that faith must be perfected in the way of good works that the soul may perservere in the state of justification, as St. James teaches. This is the perseverance of the saints.

    These theologians call the plain teaching of scripture “covenantal nomism.” Whatever the proper word for it, Scripture teaches that all sorts of conditions must be fulfilled in order to secure salvific grace and various temporal blessings. I have already listed several.

    Heb. 12: 14- “Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

    God initiates salvation. Absolutely! We can do nothing without him. He sustains us along the pilgrim path to eternal life. Amen! It is grace alone the whole way.

    But let us also acknowledge Scripture when it teaches that cooperation with divine grace is necessary so that we may “make our calling and election sure.”

    • Robert,

      You said

      The fact is, that the Escondido theologians falsely teach that justifying faith is passive, not active, and that it consists of knowledge, assent, and trust alone.

      (This definition of faith is a scholastic theological definition. I challenge anyone to show how it can be proven from Scripture.)

      I can’t say for sure what “Escondido theology” teaches, but I know the Reformation teaching: knowledge, assent and trust can be isolated conceptually, but they never exist in isolation from good works, or whatever elements of Christian piety you regard as also required for salvation. And regardless of his personal convictions, in the linked audio Pastor Janbazian does not separate faith from “works.”

      As for proving the knowledge-assent-trust definition from Scripture: See any good Reformed or Lutheran theology textbook, which will carefully document it from Scripture. The basic answer is that the Greek word translated “faith” means, most basically, “trust,” and trust in the full sense can only be a response to knowledge and personal assent to that knowledge.

      You asked for my views on the essay “Getting Justification Right” by S. M. Hutchens that one of the commenters linked. Here goes:

      Hutchens does not identify his denominational affiliation; he does not even directly identify himself as Protestant. He just says he’s not Catholic or Orthodox, and I had to Google him to discover that he has a Lutheran background. Failing to identify your tradition is a bad sign. A Christian needs consciously to align himself with one of the existing traditions, for otherwise he is prone to go off into theological la-la land.

      Indeed, Hutchens makes little effort to justify (pun intended) his assertions by reference to either Scripture or authoritative confessions. His words may sound good, but they are left hanging in air, so to speak. This is a serious error when addressing an issue that has been studied seriously for about two millennia.

      Hutchens first point, which I therefore presume to be his controlling paradigm, is the necessity of ecumenical cooperation, and how the Reformation understanding of justification makes ecumenism impossible. That’s another bad sign, because if we are to have integrity, our highest loyalty must be to God and His truth. I also think Hutchens greatly exaggerates when he says that confessional Protestantism must view Rome as no better than Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rome gets far more right than these heretical bodies do. I would say that Rome gets everything right, and then it adds more doctrines that have the effect of undermining some of the true doctrine.

      Hutchens argues that justification is by both imputation (the Protestant view) and infusion (the Catholic view.) But it is my understanding that imputation and infusion are mutually exclusive by definition, in which case Hutchens is either aiming at the wrong target or else misunderstanding both traditions. He says many true and important things, but they do not, for my money, add up to an overthrow of the Reformation.

      In one sense, Hutchens seems confused. He sees faith and works as an inseparable mixture, with any attempt to separate them, even conceptually, as leading to error. Better, for Hutchens, to leave it all as a sort of divine mystery. But the Reformers were not impiously trying to do the theologically impossible. They sought to understand exactly what God had revealed in Scripture about the relation of faith and works to salvation. It is not impious to understand and believe what God has said.

      • Hutchens didn’t identify his tradition and chose that controlling paradigm because it was an article for Touchstone. Touchstone is a (conservative) ecumenical journal.

        If I recall he says that the Reformed Protestant view is imputation and the Catholic view is imputation & infusion not just infusion.

  19. Alan, this is Andrew not Robert.

    It’s clear that you and Janbazian both belong to a tradition of Reformed scholasticism. The funny thing is, I don’t see anything in the Reformed confessions that impose the definition of faith you champion.

    Also, I’ve read systematic theologies of Lutheran and Reformed. These theologies are opinions of men, not authorities.

    So far, I haven’t seen a demonstration that logically compels me to believe either:

    a) saving faith is knowledge, assent, and trust only or that,

    b) “scholastic” faith is sufficient for justification.

    For instance, I don’t know why I’m compelled (by Scripture) to believe that hope and charity are excluded from the material of justifying faith, or why baptism can’t be the instrumental cause while faith, hope, and love comprise the formal.

    Thanks for your review of Hutchens. I’d like to know further why you think imputation and infusion are mutually exclusive by definition. Thanks.

    • Andrew,

      First, I want to apologize for calling you by another name. It wasn’t on purpose!

      You ask why I think imputation and infusion are mutually exclusive. Well, if we are infused with righteousness then we would not need it imputed to us. We would have what we need. And vice versa.

      As for the definition of faith, this isn’t the place for a detailed theological discussion. You say that the Lutheran and Reformed theologies are just the opinions of men. But your contrary view is also an opinion of men; the important question is: What opinion is best supported by the evidence, especially the biblical evidence? Our dispute cannot be settled except by exhaustively studying all of the biblical evidence on faith and salvation, and neither of us has the time for that.

      I think we should just agree to disagree, that is, accept that each of us thinks the other wrong.

      • Alan, no problem.

        I’m not going to stake my eternal destiny on a mere opinion of man. I take a theological definition proposed by an ecclesial body such as the Westminster Assembly with much greater seriousness than I do any particular theologian or group of theologians.

        You earlier asked how Roman Catholics know the Roman Catholic Church’s authority claim is valid. In this forum I’m prepared to give only a partial answer. The true ecclesial authority must be able to say at some point, “Thus says the Lord,” or “Let him be anathema,” or “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” A body that cannot claim this power lacks apostolicity and is not a legitimate ecclesial authority in the fullest sense.

        Infallibility is a necessary, though not sufficient feature of ecclesial validity. Because I believe the Bible I believe the Church in the present day must retain and exercise the same powers it possessed at its founding.

        I also believe the Bible when it says “faith is the substance of things not seen.” Biblical faith is a substantial reality and not simply the private possession or act of an individual mind. That’s my opinion. 😉

        As these sorts of discussions always do, the participants end up having to agree to disagree. Thanks for the discussion and God’s peace be with you.

      • We are infused with righteousness but in this fallen world it doesn’t inhere to/in us perfectly. So imputation is necessary as well.

        One could assume that they are (conceptually) mutually exclusive and still believe that both are necessary and are accurate descriptions of what acually happens.

  20. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there will be endless disputations and groundless assertions.

    Oh, wait, that’s not the way He said it . . . Ho hum . . .

  21. Pingback: On Roman Catholicism « Samson's Jawbone

  22. Pingback: The Realm of Divine Power « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  23. Catholics believe baptism is necessary for salvation.
    VATICAN II declared this in #7 of it’s decree Ad Gentes:
    “Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church’s preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself “by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door. Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it.” (Dogmatic constitution by Vatican II: Lumen Gentium 14) Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity.”



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