Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Note on Faith and Works

I was going through the Youtube account of an old acquaintance of mine. He had converted to Roman Catholicism some time back (after having gone through all sorts of other positions previously), and is now on fire for his newfound allegiance, posting several apologetic videos defending his faith and critiquing other worldviews (especially protestantism). One video I want to address in particular is his critique of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide.

Now, I would like to be rather blunt when making my examination: He isn't really putting anything new on the table, but is merely repeating all the standard proof-texts Roman Catholics use against the Protestant position. Also, he badly mischaracterizes Protestants by saying that they "hate works and traditions"*. While he would like to think that he has successfully refuted the "anti-biblical heresy" of Sola Fide, the video just misrepresents the position, and I will explain:

First off, neither the reformers nor Protestants up to the present day advocate the sort of antinomianism that is being assumed in the argument. In fact, Martin Luther wrote an entire treatise explaining the importance of good works. John Calvin also devotes chapters 11-18 of his Institutes to explaining the meaning of justification by faith. I think that if one is going to critique a certain belief, one ought to know what the formulation of the belief is first in order to make sure that you're not attacking a straw man.

Second, to merely throw out James 2:24 without provide a proper exegesis for the text is simply not a good way of attacking Sola Fide. In fact, if you've seen my past post regarding arguments Roman Catholics should not use, this is listed as number #11 on the list:

Do not jump to James 2:24 in order to counter every Protestant proof-text for justification by faith alone. Given that Catholic theology is true, it ought to be able to account for every text of Scripture on its own terms and in its own context. Hence, there is no escaping the duty to do exegesis, even of, especially of, Romans. It will not satisfy any Protestant to object to his proof-text that "it can't mean that because then it would contradict this other passage over here." The Protestant will have his own understanding of that other passage over there as well. Again, there is no escaping the duty to read the Protestant proof-texts closely and carefully and to furnish justified interpretations which are consistent with Catholic dogma. (link)

The exegesis of James 2 has been explained time and time again. If you insist on using that passage in arguing against the Protestant position, then please, take into account the exegesis provided by Protestant theologians/scholars as you do (this will be the explanation that is given in the paragraph below).

Third, it must be explained that good works are not something that is done in addition to faith, but rather something that flows from faith, that is to say, is produced by faith and is proof that it is a living faith, not a false, dead faith. Saint Paul said it best when he said that it is believing that results in righteousness (Romans 10:10), and that it is actually God who is at work in us (Philippians 2:13). Taking all of this into consideration, it may be shown that all of the passages which speak of the importance of works do not refute the position that salvation is attained by grace alone through faith alone. Even Rome agrees with the Protestants that good works are the fruit of justification, not something that is added to attain it. This is explained in the joint Catholic-Lutheran declaration on justification, where it says in paragraphs 37-39:

We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit. Since Christians struggle against sin their entire lives, this consequence of justification is also for them an obligation they must fulfill. Thus both Jesus and the apostolic Scriptures admonish Christians to bring forth the works of love.

According to Catholic understanding, good works, made possible by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, contribute to growth in grace, so that the righteousness that comes from God is preserved and communion with Christ is deepened. When Catholics affirm the "meritorious" character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts, or far less to deny that justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace.

The concept of a preservation of grace and a growth in grace and faith is also held by Lutherans. They do emphasize that righteousness as acceptance by God and sharing in the righteousness of Christ is always complete. At the same time, they state that there can be growth in its effects in Christian living. When they view the good works of Christians as the fruits and signs of justification and not as one's own "merits", they nevertheless also understand eternal life in accord with the New Testament as unmerited "reward" in the sense of the fulfillment of God's promise to the believer. (link)

So in conclusion, I see nothing in the video posted above that refutes the Protestant position of Sola Fide. I would heartily agree that the scriptures show that good works are important. But this does not necessitate that we must add good works to our faith, for good works flow naturally out of living, saving faith.

*-This is something that applies equally to all sides of a debate. Of course there have been numerous times in the past when less knowledgeable Protestants have misrepresented Roman Catholic doctrines. However, this does not justify Roman Catholics doing the same when critiquing their Protestant counterparts.

No comments:

Post a Comment