Friday, February 18, 2011

Faith And Works (UPDATE)

We do not, therefore, reject good works; on the contrary, we cherish and teach them as much as possible. We do not condemn them for their own sake but on account of this godless addition to them and the perverse idea that righteousness is to be sought through them; for that makes them appear good outwardly, when in truth they are not good. They deceive men and lead them to deceive on another like ravening wolves in sheep's clothing.
The discussion of the relationship among the Bible, faith, what constitutes a life of faith over at Dan's continues. It has led me to turn back to some basic statements of Protestant faith. First up is Martin Luther's short pamphlet, "Freedom of a Christian". My edition is included in the Fortress Press publication Three Treatises, which also includes "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church" and "To The Christian Nobility of the German Nation". Written as part of a last ditch effort at reconciliation between Luther and the Roman Church, at the behest of several intercessories sent from Pope Leo X, the tract, along with an introductory letter Luther penned to the Holy See, was really the final nail in the coffin.

In this short treatise on Christian anthropology, Luther defends the contradictory view he sets forth in the two theses at the beginning:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
While not worked through thoroughly, nor fully determined in any philosophical way - is the relationship temporal? ontological? ontic? merely heuristic? - the central point is summed up near the end, in a paragraph that begins, with some relevance to our discussion at Dan's, "[S]omething must be added for the sake of those for whom nothing can be said so well that they will not spoil it by misunderstanding it."
There are very many who, when they hear of this freedom of faith, immediately turn it into an occasion for the flesh and think that now all things are allowed them. They want to show they are they are free men and Christians only by despising and finding fault with ceremonies, traditions, and human laws; as if they were Christian because on stated days they do not fast or eat meat when others fast, or because they do not use the accustomed prayer, and with upturned nose scoff at the precepts of men, although they utterly disregard all else that pertain the toe Christian religion. The extreme opposite of these are those who rely for their salvation solely on their reverent observance of ceremonies, as if they would be saved because on certain days they fast or abstain from meats, or pray certain prayers; these make a boast of the precepts of the church and of the fathers, and do not care a fig for the things which are of the essence of our faith. Plainly, both are in error because they neglect the weightier things which are necessary to salvation, and quarrel so noisily about trifling and unnecessary matters.
The bulk of the pamphlet concerns a definition of faith, and the freedom the Christian is granted in faith. Luther writes: "Here we shall answer all those who, offended by the word 'faith' and by all that has been said, now ask, 'If faith does all things and is alone sufficient unto righteousness, why then are good works commanded? We will take our ease and do no works and be content with faith.' I answer: not so, you wicked men, not so."
Although, as I have said, a man is abundantly and sufficiently justified by faith inwardly, in his spirit, and so has all that he needs, except insofar as this faith and these riches must grow from day to day even to the future life; yet he remains in this mortal life on earth. In this life he must control his own body and have dealings with men. Here the works begin; here a man cannot enjoy leisure; here he must indeed take care to discipline his body by fastings, watchings, labors, and other reasonable discipline and to subject it to the Spirit so that it will obey and conform to the inner man and faith and not revolt against faith and hinder the inner man, as it is the nature of the body to do if ti is not hot held in check. . . .

While he is doing this, behold, he meets a contrary will in his own flesh which strives to serve the world and seeks its own advantage. This the spirit of faith cannot tolerate, but with joyful zeal it attempts to put the body under control and hold it in check, as Paul says in Rom. 7, "For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin," and in another place, "But I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified", and in Galatians, "And those who belong to Christ Hesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

In doing these works, however, we must not think that a man is justified before God by them, for faith, which alone is righteousness before God, cannot endure that erroneous opinion. We must, however, realize that these works reduce the body to subjection and purify it of its evil lusts, and our whole purpose is to be directed only toward the driving out of lusts. Since by faith the soul is cleansed and made to love God, it desires that all things, and especially its own body, shall be purified so that all things may join with in loving and praising God. Hence a man cannot be idle, for the need of his body drives him and he is compelled to do many good works to reduce it to subjection. Nevertheless the works themselves do not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things.
For anyone not paying attention, I have been accused, in setting forth an understanding of the role of faith in the life of the believer, that would give license to any act whatsoever, because it is by faith through grace alone that we are made clean before God. This long quote, in particular, should be clear enough that, in fact, the exact opposite is the case. I wouldn't have included here the central point that works flow from faith, are a requirement of it, but are not necessary for salvation, if I believed in any manner, fashion, or form that faith gave us license.

Of course, I have never said it, have explicitly stated that I do not, and would never say, nor believe, such a thing. Yet, the accusation remains. I do so hope this clears things up.

UPDATE: After reading through Wesley "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection", I have turned back to Luther, in his epistolary debate with Erasmus on the free will and salvation. The edition from Westminster/John Knox Press is edited by Cambridge Church Historian E. Gordon Rupp, whose introductory essay on Erasmus is a treasure trove of information. Included are two quotes from the Acts of the Council of Orange in the late 6th century, which, Rupp notes, were lost to the High Middle Ages, only discovered during the Council of Trent.
Canon 5: If anyone says that not only the increase of faith, but also its beginning and the very desire for belief, by which we believe in Him who justified the ungodly and come to the regeneration of holy baptism - if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proofthat he is opposed to the teaching of apostles.
Canon 6: If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when apart from His grace we believe, will, desire, strive, labour, pray, watch, study, seek, ask or knock, but does not confess that it si by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, will or the strength to do all these things as we ought, and thus subordinates the help of grace to human humility or obedience, without acknowledging that our very obedience and humility is a a gift of grace itself, he contradicts the apostle who says, 'What has thous that thous has not received?" (1 Corinthians 4:7) and "By the Grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Cor 15:10).
Rupp notes in his introduction to these canons that they are both Augustinian and, proleptically, Lutheran, in their emphasis on the role of grace in turning the believer in to one such.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More