Thursday, August 05, 2010

More On the Five Solas

A blogger by the name of John Samson posted the following article.  He and I have had a bit of an exchange going on at his blog, but this is too large for a combox reply, so I am replying in full here.  His words are left unedited and intact - mine are inserted in this color and font.

The Main Issue of The Reformation - The Necessity v. The Sufficiency of Grace

I posted the following article here on the blog back in December 2005... - JS
There is no doubt that the 16th century witnessed the greatest ever split in Church history. 

sw:  This is not quite a true statement.  In 1054ad when Eastern Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church split I would say this was a much greater split, but without a doubt, "the greatest ever split in Church history" is when Christendom erupted out of Judaism and the Jews rejected their Messiah.  Some 600 years later there was the birth of Islam under the false "prophet" named "Mohammed."  To look at the 16th century when Protestants split from the Catholic Church as "the greatest ever split in Church history" is quite an egocentric view of history on the part of Protestants.

JS: Some view the Reformation as a sad or even an evil episode. Others see it as a time when God restored the one true biblical Gospel back into the hands of the masses. But what exactly were the issues back then? And what are the issues in our own day? Was this a mere tempest in a tea cup?

sw: Now let us consider that the Will and Desire of God is that we be ONE, just as the Father and the Son are One, John 17:11, when a group of "Christians" decides to NOT BE ONE with the group which Jesus Christ Himself founded and built upon the 12 foundations of the Apostles - then would you not join me in declaring this "division" to be "evil?"

JS: I suggest that the issues then and now are exactly the same - who or what speaks for God, and what exactly is the Gospel?
In the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church believed (and still does today) that justification is by grace, through faith, because of Christ. What Rome does not believe is that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. According to Rome, justification is by grace plus merit, through faith plus works; because of Christ plus the sinner's contribution of inherent righteousness.

sw: In actuality, it is the Catholic Church which adheres to Scripture here!  St. James makes it explicitly clear - in the ONLY PLACE where the words "faith" and "alone" are used together in Scripture (James 2:24) that we are NOT justified by faith alone!  Mr. Samson (and every Protestant apologist since Luther) argues AGAINST SCRIPTURE in demanding justification is by faith alone.  I believe it is important to quote, verbatim, St. James words here and let Mr. Samson (or any other Protestant apologist who would also dare to contrast their view with Scripture) respond to:  "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."  It is actually quite interesting, and would be humorous if not so tragic, to see how Protestant apologists dance all around this issue and specifically this quote from St. James.
JS: In contrast, Martin Luther and his Reformers had 5 main slogans, all using the word "sola," which is the Latin word for "alone." It was this word "alone" that designated the biblical Gospel and set it apart from all other pretenders. The cry of these Reformers was not simply "FAITH!," "GRACE!," "CHRIST!," "THE SCRIPTURE!," or "THE GLORY OF GOD!" All embracing a false Gospel could do that!

sw: At this point, let us draw attention to the very factual statement Mr. Samson has stated here.  The "Five Solas" he (and others) refers to are nothing more than unscriptural slogans!  Well, four out of the five are unscriptural - with the fifth being found in Scripture - but in explicit denial of the "sola" he (and the others) affirms!  Of course I refer to "sola fide" and the scriptural reference to James 2:24 quoted and cited above.  My point being, these are slogans which come not from Scripture, but from extra scriptura sources, primarily Martin Luther, and thus someone who adheres to one of those "solas" (sola scriptura) should flat out REJECT the "Five Solas" on this premise alone!  

JS: The cry was "FAITH ALONE!," "GRACE ALONE!," "CHRIST ALONE!," "SCRIPTURE ALONE!," "THE GLORY OF GOD ALONE!" With Scripture alone as the sure foundation, the Reformers affirmed that justification is by grace alone, received through faith alone because of Christ alone — to the glory of God alone.
The central or material issue in the 16th century controversy was Justification by faith alone (Latin: Sola Fide). Yet often overlooked is another issue which was equally as serious for the life of the Church. The formal issue (the structure in which the whole debate ensued) was the issue of final authority - who or what speaks for God? It was here that Luther and the Reformers believed that Holy Scripture alone is the infallible rule of faith for the Church.

sw: To be accurate here, the "central issue" for Martin Luther was over the "sale" of indulgences - which we would affirm today was abused by folks like Tetzel.  Sure the "solas" came about, but a bit later in the scheme of things, but the "match that lit the fire" was over the sale of indulgences.  Keep in mind, that whole matter was one of discipline, not doctrine.  Luther's objection was not over indulgences, per se, but the sale of them.  But again, his revolt resulted in separation from the Church - and in this separation there was a void of authority now.  Where there was the Church, he could not turn to that, for he rejected it.  A new and "different gospel" had to be introduced - and THEN came the "Five Solas," and chiefly for authority - sola scriptura.  

JS: Sola Scriptura, means Scripture alone. This did not refer to simply "me and my Bible in the woods" so to speak, or interpreting the Bible in any way we choose to do so. This doctrine did not seek to negate the authority of the Church and of biblical eldership. Scripture teaches us to submit to godly leaders who have the rule over us (Heb. 13:17). Nor did it refer to Scripture in isolation. What sola Scriptura referred to was the idea that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church.

sw:  As so many Catholic apologists have pointed out - Scripture NO WHERE says Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church!  NO WHERE!  In fact Scripture points us to OTHER SOURCES!  Specifically, in Matthew 16:18-19 Jesus imparts infallible authority upon Simon, whom He renames to Peter (a name which means "rock") but more to the point here - He tells Peter, "whatsoever you shall bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven."  Unless you can imagine error being bound or loosed in Heaven, this is infallible authority!  Two chapters later, Jesus gives this infallible authority to our first bishops, the Apostles, as a group (Matthew 18:18). 

JS: Though God has set teachers and other offices in the Church, they are not to exercise dominion over the Bible, but to submit themselves to it.

sw: Again, where does Scripture say teachers and other offices in the Church are not to exercise dominion over the Bible?  I'm not saying they should, but again Mr. Samson has gone into extra scriptura to make a point.  Going extra scriptura pretty much defeats the concept of sola scriptura - and this while he's defining sola scriptura!

JS: Only the Scripture is theopneustos or God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), and every idea, thought and doctrine needs to have its foundation in Scripture to carry the weight of Divine authority and bind the human conscience.

sw: While I would not deny 2 Tim. 3:16 says Scripture is God breathed, it does not say that Scripture is the ONLY thing God breathed!  Again, Mr. Samson leaves us begging the question of "sola."
JS: Regarding false prophets and false teachers, Isaiah 8:19, 20 says, "When they say to you, "Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter," should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn."
The law and the testimony is a reference to the Scripture. If a false teacher says something that cannot be substantiated by sacred Scripture, he/she may claim to be bringing new light, but actually there is no light present there at all. It is the entrance of His Word that brings light.

sw: Actually, Isaiah 8:19-20 doesn't say what Mr. Samson attempts to impute upon it.  The passage says "according to this word..." and to be in "accord" with something does not mean you're going to find every teaching, word for word within it!  No, to be in "accord" simply means a teaching cannot be contrary to "this word."  That's a far cry from "sola."
JS: The material principle of the Reformation was Sola Fide, meaning "by Faith alone." This was the material or substance of the preaching of the Reformers. The formal principle "Scripture alone" was the principle that Scripture alone (and not Church tradition) is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church. This was the principle by which "Faith Alone" is affirmed, as well as the other solas. That is because these doctrines are the doctrines of the Bible.

sw: We've already shown sola scriptura to be a farce and exposed that NO WHERE does Scripture alone teach the doctrine of Scripture Alone, that is purely a man-made doctrine, and now we move to sola fide - Faith Alone.  The ironic part of THIS doctrine is that not only is it NOT TAUGHT IN SCRIPTURE, but Scripture, in the ONLY PLACE the words "faith" and "alone" are used together is in flat out DENIAL of sola fide!  "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."  (James 2:24 NASB)  Many Protestant apologists will avoid this verse completely when talking about sola fide, those who do not avoid it (as we shall soon see from Mr. Samson) engage in double-speak with "faith alone, but not a faith which is alone."  Face it folks, sola means sola - or "alone" - so either faith is "alone" or it isn't.

JS: Against the background of a Europe filled with the traditions of men, including priestly absolution, penances, indulgences, pilgrimages, prayer to the saints, etc., Luther and the Reformers made the bold cry of "Faith alone."

sw: So, is it really "alone" or is it? 

This did not mean faith in isolation, or a dead faith that produced no works. This referred to a vibrant, living faith, for only a living and not a dead faith would result in justification. Faith without works is dead, and a dead faith will not save anyone (James 2:17).

sw: Ah, so "living faith" is NOT ALONE!  Faith which IS alone is DEAD and cannot result in justification.  Faith alone is clearly testified to be contrary to Scripture.
JS: Sola fide then was the belief that faith alone is the instrument of justification without any meritorious works of man added to it.

sw: Hmmm, the previous statement agreed with Scripture, that faith alone is dead, but now Mr. Samson goes out of context to St. Paul - who speaks against "works of the Law."  Works of the Law do not save, Catholics AGREE with that!  Likewise, Catholics would also say that for the same reason that faith alone cannot justify/save - neither can works alone.  Faith and works work together for justification.  

JS: In Romans 3:28 the Apostle Paul declared, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." Romans 4:4-5 says, "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."

sw: I have already answered for Romans 3, now as for Romans 4... keep reading!  The chapter is about circumcision - a "work of the Law" and speaks to how circumcision is the sign of the faith (see verse 11) thus in this example we're still seeing faith WITH something else.  Now circumcision alone cannot justify - nor can faith alone. 
Many other scriptures would affirm this as the heart of the Gospel (Rom. 3:21 - 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 3:9). Martin Luther called the doctrine of justification "the article of the standing or falling Church." That is, in his estimation, a church preaching the doctrine was "standing," and one not preaching it was, or had already, fallen.

sw: If justification means by "faith alone" - then the church preaching that has already fallen.  Again, what we find in churches which actually defend sola fide, it is "a faith which is not alone" which they defend. 
JS: Sola Gratia means Grace alone. Surely everyone who had a Bible would affirm this truth at the time of the Reformation. Well firstly, not everyone had access to a Bible, and secondly, no, that is not the case at all.
A pure Pelagian (a follower of the British monk Pelagius) would argue against grace as a necessity, believing that man, apart from God's grace, had the inherent power within himself to raise himself up by his bootstraps to become pleasing to God. But surely Rome would agree with Grace alone, wouldn't it? No, not at all.

sw: One has to wonder if  Mr. Samson is aware that it was through the authority of the Catholic Church that Pelagius and Pelagianism was condemned by the Christian community?  Scripture alone was not the authority by which Pelagius was condemned.
JS: The religions of man are usually comfortable with the idea of God's grace being necessary. Rome has always believed that, as do the Mormon Church in our day (2 Nephi 25:23), but as my friend Dr. James White states so well, "The issue has never been the necessity of grace. It has always been the sufficiency of grace!"

sw: I have to wonder what the source is of White saying that, in fact on his own website we find him saying the opposite!  "I’ve seen Him open eyes to the depth of sin, and the absolute necessity of grace. That’s my confidence, and it is truly my prayer that you will be the recipient of His grace even this hour."  (White responding in a debate with an LDS member).
JS: The question is this: Is grace able to save or is it merely a help to save, with man's will being the final deciding factor?

sw: The "final deciding factor" is GOD!  God is the JUDGE!  Now ask yourself, is God judging man - or is He judging Himself?  OR - as monergism would have has believe if we take this to a logical conclusion, "judgment" is not even part of the picture - for it would have already been "decided" by God upon whom He would give His Grace to.  
JS: The Reformers affirmed that grace actually saves. Grace alone meant grace at the start, grace to the end, grace in the middle, grace without fail, grace without mixture, grace without addition, grace that allows no boasting, grace that precludes all glorying but in the Lord.

sw: So where does "faith" enter into the picture?  Or more importantly, HOW does faith work in the scenario Mr. Samson has just presented?  This is why I say the logical conclusion of monergism eliminates faith from the picture - if we accept how Grace Alone is presented here - there is no room for faith, much less "saving faith" which necessarily would be accompanied by works done in faith (not works of the Law).
JS: It is here that we get into the arena of monergism (one working) v. synergism (more than one party working) regarding salvation. All the Reformers were monergists, believing that God's grace is the essential deciding factor that enables a person to believe. Both Roman Catholicism and Arminianism would affirm God's grace as necessary but insufficient in and of itself to save. One can readily see why a later generation of Reformers viewed the doctrines of the Arminians as the first steps on a synergistic highway back to Rome.
"So then, it is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy." Rom. 9:16
"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:12, 13
"For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" Phil 1:29
Apollos "greatly helped those who had believed through grace." Acts 18:27
"So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." Romans 9:16
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Eph. 2:8, 9
"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." Rom. 11:6

sw: Again, these are all answered by the fact that St. Paul objects to "works of the Law" which are different from what St. James is talking about when he said "we are justified by works, and NOT BY FAITH ALONE."  However, there IS a Catholic way to accept "sola gratia!"  Our salvation is due entirely to the Grace of God, and specifically to the finished work of Jesus Christ who took our sin upon Himself, suffered death and then rose victorious over sin and death and it is by GRACE that He freely gives the GIFT (grace) of everlasting life to ANYONE who will ACCEPT the gift.
JS: The next sola was Solus Christus, the affirmation that it is Christ alone who saves. It is not Christ plus someone or something else. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."John 14:6
"by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead - by this name this man stands here before you in good health. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."Acts 4:10, 12
In all reality the doctrine of justification by faith alone is really theological short-hand for justification by the work of Christ alone. There was a double function at work in this regard. Christ not only died an atoning death for our sins, but we need to remember that He also lived a sinless life. If all that was necessary for our justification was the death on the cross, Christ could have come to earth on Good Friday, died on the cross for us, and three days later, rise again. However, for more than 33 years, Christ was tempted in every way like us, yet He was without sin (Heb. 4:15). Christ is the only One who can say that He loved His Father perfectly in life, with all His heart, soul, mind and strength.
At the cross then, all our sins were laid on Him (though of course, He remained the holy and spotless Lamb of God, in and of Himself) and as our sin bearer, He was punished in our place.
As the angel declared to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, "you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
"He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree" 1 Pet. 2:24).
Isa 53:5, 6 says, "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."
But that is far from all that took place. There was a double imputation. Not only were our sins imputed to Christ and He bore their punishment for us, but positively, the righteousness of Christ was imputed to us. The punishment due to us came upon Him, and the pleasure of God due to Jesus' obedience to every jot and tittle of the law came upon us. That is because the righteousness of Jesus Christ is one that has fulfilled the entire law of God. 2 Cor 5:21 declares,"He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ)."
The righteous demands of the law (the requirement of total obedience) was met by Christ alone who becomes the righteousness of the believer (1 Cor. 1:30). The work of Christ is perfect in every respect, and perfect in every aspect. The righteousness now enjoyed by the believer is an alien one (one that comes from outside of himself) for it is the righteousness of Christ Himself. It is a gift, not something earned (Rom. 5:17), and is the cause of our rejoicing in the direct presence of the Lord. As believers in Christ, we've been made righteous with a righteousness that has never known sin. Hallelujah!
"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." (1 Cor 1:30, 31) We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

sw: Well, a couple things need to be mentioned here.  1) Catholics do not oppose a view of Christ alone being the cause and reason of our salvation.  2) Mr. Samson stops a bit too early in his defense of Christ as the reason!  If it were merely His death (which is all that Samson alludes to above) then there is little difference between Christ's Sacrifice and that of the countless "spotless lambs" which were offered previously.  The real difference is not merely the perfect Sacrifice - but that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, victorious over death and Satan.  It is in His Resurrection that we have hope in our own.

JS: The final sola was Soli Deo Gloria, which means "to God alone be the glory!" Again, wouldn't everyone agree with this?
Well, no, because at the time of the Reformation there was much attention given to Mary, to the saints, to the lighting of candles, etc.. In Medieval Catholicism there was massive confusion due to the plethora of idols, who for all practical purposes, became almost minor deities.

sw: Protestants like to point to the "honor" given to Mary and the Saints as idolatry, but they don't consider that the word "honor" in the English has many levels of meaning.  If we turn to the Latin terminology (still the official language of the Church for all official documents) the honor given to God is called "latria" whereas the honor given to Saints is "dulia" (with that which is given to the Blessed Virgin being called "hyper-dulia").  The point is, the honor given Mary or the Saints is not the same honor given to God Almighty, and it never has been nor ever will be.  I know that Protestants will immediately try to dismiss this and say "honor is honor," but that's simply not true!  Scripture even tells us to "honor" our father and mother!  So, "honor" is not reserved to God alone - but there is a level of honor we reserve for Him alone - and that is properly called "latria."
JS: Even the young Luther, in 1505, in the midst of the thunderstorm that threatened his life, prayed to Saint Anne. As a lightning bolt struck just feet away from him, in fear of his life, he shouted, "Save me Saint Anne and I will become a monk." Saint Anne was the patron saint of miners, and seeing that Luther was from a mining family, it seemed natural to him to pray to her to save him from impending death. Luther, in surviving the storm, kept his vow, gave up his studies to become a lawyer (much to the anguish and consternation of his father, Hans) and joined the monastery. The young Luther's devotion to the saints (before his conversion to Christ) was typical of that era.

sw: Again, keeping things in a proper perspective is important.  Merely asking for assistance from St. Anne is not the same as showing latria to her.  We need to add, Luther broke his "vow" when he left his vocation as a monk and married a former nun, who also broke her vow.  Keep in mind, these vows were made before God.
JS: God will not share His glory with another (Isa. 48:11). Salvation was designed to give God's glory the maximum amount of exposure. It redounds to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:6), according to the riches of His grace (v. 7), to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory (v. 12), with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory, (v. 14). Only God gets the glory for our salvation. Human merit (or works) plays no part in a person's salvation but are merely the by-product, or fruit, of a relationship with God, established by God's grace alone (Eph. 2:8-10).

sw: Again, we do not share God's glory with anyone else.  God, and God alone receives our latria.
JS: The five solas are relevant in all ages, because they are truths that can be clearly demonstrated from sacred Scripture. To many, these doctrines are mere historical novelties - interesting milestones and beliefs of a former era. Yet, as far as I can see, it is very much apparent that we need these same biblical, Holy Spirit inspired correctives in our own day.
sw: Except, as we have already seen - sola scriptura is not found in Scripture and sola fide is contrary to Scripture - so while Protestants often say the Five Solas are found in Scripture - that's simply not true.
JS: The 16th Century is one very different to our own. We may strongly disagree with the burning of heretics at that time, and perhaps even be shocked by the very hostile rhetoric that flowed freely between those who disagreed on these issues. Yet at the same time, we must try to understand a culture so removed from ours where people believed the Bible was the Word of God; that heaven and hell were real places; and that doctrine actually mattered.

sw: And we must not ignore the fact that both sides participated in such things as "burning heretics" and the "hostile rhetoric...between those who disagreed."  Protestants don't get a free pass on this.  Such things were part of the culture of the time.
JS: Today, many want to hear a positive or affirming message when they come to a Church. They certainly don't want to hear about the majestic holiness of God, or the wrath of God against sin. I am not sure how popular the Apostle Paul would be if he was enabled to preach on Christian television in our day and taught from Romans Chapters 1 - 3. What do you think?
In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul gave Timothy this charge:
"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

sw: On this, I agree with Mr. Samson.  While it is true that God is love - we cannot ignore that He is also just.  He has freely given mankind the gift of salvation through His grace, those who reject that gift will pay dearly for eternity.  

JS: Perhaps the greatest sign that all is not well in our day is the fact that God may well be giving the people what they want - preachers who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear (verses 3, 4 above). Could it be that this, by itself, is God's judgment? I'll let you, the reader decide. What I am sure of is this: God is calling the Church back to the proclamation of these doctrines that once shook the world.

sw: Interesting speculation, but the reader should also remember that the proclamation of these doctrines was unheard of for over 1500 years!  The objective reader should see these proclamations as the proclamation of a "different gospel" and flee from them - especially in light of the fact that sola scriptura is not even mentioned by Scripture and sola fide is flatly denied by Scripture.  The one who truly follows Christ will follow the Church He built.  He established His Church on bishops - the Apostles - and without a valid succession to those bishops - Protestantism has nothing but an impostor church preaching a different gospel.



Keep in mind while posting:
1) Please respond ON TOPIC to the article at hand.
2) Posts more than 4 weeks old are set to automatically save new comments for moderation - so your comment may not show up immediately if you're responding to an older post.
3) The "Spam Filter" is on - and randomly messages get caught in that filter. I have no control over which messages get caught in the spam filter and those that do must wait for me to mark them as "not spam." A message caught by the spam filter may show up for a moment, making you think it posted, and then disappear. Do not assume I have deleted your comment, it's probably just the spam filter and it will show up.