May our cry evermore be “Han Alone!”
I’m quite far from being a scholar of any language, let alone Latin, so forgive me for incorrect spellings or word gender disagreement and the like. That being said, the Reformation is famous for its solas, or alones: Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone) Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) and sometimes Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be glory). The first three comprise the Biblical basis of salvation that was recovered during the Reformation. The fourth one is the basis of the first three. The last one is typically added by Reformed believers as an explanation of the others.
For those who saw this post earlier, I made a mistake and I’ve updated the above paragraph. Since there is no doctrinal disagreement (though there is often practical disagreement of interpretation methods) between FE’s and Lutherans on the meaning of Sola Scriptura, I essentially forgot to mention it. I’ve included it now, but my focus is on the original three that I mentioned: grace, faith, and Christ alone. Please let this be a lesson; if you have a theological question, please ask a Lutheran pastor, someone who is qualified to answer!
Issues, Etc. has this week a series on the three solas. I have only listened to Sola Fide, and I highly recommend it. Having listened quite a bit to Issues, Etc. I have no doubt that Pastor Wilken and his guest have given the other solas excellent treatment, and I plan to listen later.
The hosts make an interesting point that I had discovered in my transition out of the FE faith and into the scriptural, historical faith: even though FE’s decry certain trappings of Roman Catholicism, their soteriology, or understanding of salvation, is at times quite Roman Catholic. The first time I said this to my wife (when we were still Baptists), she looked as though she wanted to call me crazy. Once she listened to my reasoning, she understood the deep similarity.
Just this week I had a very short exchange with a FE believer whom I love deeply. This person is concerned that the Reformation solas are a means to lead people to Hell since there then isn’t a focus on works of repentance, and that any person who would preach the solas and call themselves a minister of the gospel is really a minister of Satan. It’s difficult to have a discussion on this topic, as there is actually little common ground to begin. When an FE hears “grace alone,” his functional understanding is “only possible by grace alone, but salvation also requires my effort.” When a FE hears “faith alone,” he understands this as “my decision to submit to Christ’s law.” When a FE hears “Christ alone,” he understands this as “entry into salvation is only possible through Christ, but I must also play my part to be qualified.” As always, you’ll rarely hear a thoughtful FE say that. It’s too unbiblical. Nonetheless, in the FE view, the focus is on one’s self and what we each must do for God to either earn his favor outright or else to continue to be found worthy of our salvation.
The hosts in this episode brought up two things with which I can relate so well it causes me mental anguish.
First, they mention at one point that FE’s (ok, they didn’t use the term fundamentalist/evangelical but the point still holds) know that we’re not worthy of salvation, but since this is in tension with their belief that salvation is synergistic, meaning that it involves multiple parties (as opposed to being an action of God alone from beginning to end —monergism), they must degrade Christ’s work on the cross by saying that God grades our Earthly performance on a curve, not according to his true standard of perfection. I know that most Bible-believing FE’s would disagree with this description, but I’ve heard (with my own ears, in person) FE’s summarize God’s mercy in dealing with our sinful actions as follows: “God understands.”
No mention of our slavery to sin. No mention of our lost (ruined) condition. No mention of Christ coming in our form and living in perfect obedience and suffering anyway the curse of sin: death. No mention of his glorious victory over this curse through his resurrection… all to redeem us. No, these topics are found to be of little comfort because they are “too cold, too theological.”
I’ll agree that there are much better ways to put these truths into words to comfort those distraught by sin and evil, sometimes even outside their own doing. This is a great responsibility of Christians and pastors especially (and I do not envy them, what a tough job!). Yet when the gospel is even once considered to be “too cold, too theological”… well, then there’s a fundamental mismatch with what the scriptures say. It must be understood that the gospel is good news only because every bad circumstance in our lives is predicated upon the sin to which we are enslaved (and to compound the problems, in FE-ism, the doctrine of sin is askew. Sin isn’t seen as a condition and a worldwide curse, it is most often seen as an action or non-action that displeases God. Thus, this last point is likely to be taken as “all bad circumstances are a direct result of specific sins you’ve committed,” which isn’t the point at all.). This gospel, this promise of a resurrection with the one who also died under our curse, why is it so quickly tossed aside?
Secondly, the hosts discuss some of their evangelical friends who have been baptized multiple times.
Yup. That could have been me they were talking about.
Removing the sola from gratia, fide, and Christo, by necessity you’re left with a vacuum to fill by yourself. If salvation isn’t accomplished by God’s grace ALONE, through faith ALONE, on account of Christ ALONE, then that means that there’s something else involved. The something else can’t be another person, for how can they solve my guilt before God? The only actor left once you’ve taken away the rest of the world is an unholy trinity: me, myself, and I.
That’s where I found myself when I was 18 or 19 years old. In the Baptist church, I was taught that baptism is merely a symbolic act we perform in order to demonstrate the work that has been done inside of us. I “asked Jesus into my heart” when I was 7, and I was baptized when I was 12. I then went on to live as any other normal American teenager, with the exception that I was “into God.” Years later, when I was at the end of my teen years, I recognized the pattern of unfaithfulness to God in my life. I discovered this by reading the scriptures and listening to Biblical teachers (who happened to be FE). I also recognized that I was taking my faith more seriously.
So what does one do when sees his sin for what it is, yet he’s not raised in a church that preaches the sola’s as they are meant to be preached? If salvation is accomplished through my agreement to submit to Jesus, then how did I know that I was saved? Is it because of “that prayer” that I prayed when I was 7? What then of all these teachers that had told me that I was not giving evidence of saving faith as long as I was in this “sin” pattern (heh. This “sin pattern” called “life?”)?
I knew that “now” I believed. I knew how weak my faith was before. I saw the sin in my life in those recent years. I then concluded, based on scripture, that I had never truly believed before (because of my prior weak faith, and my continued sin in life). I insisted on being baptized again. After all, if I had never truly believed before and baptism is only for believers, then it stands to reason that I had never been baptized before. I had only been given a bath. I then concluded that had to take this sign again to be obedient to Christ.
The pastor who baptized me the second time knew that this wasn’t proper, but I was insistent. His discomfort in his decision to allow it wasn’t based on any reasonable doctrine of baptism and its effects, because if it was then he would have disallowed it. The only reason he could come up with to not perform the ceremony was “but you’ve already been baptized…” I explained my rational. Eventually he saw it my way. He relented, calling it a “rededication.”
What was the difference between my first and second baptisms? Why did I consider it worthwhile? Whatever benefit that I thought baptism has (even if just my own obedience), how was it going to be conferred to me in my second baptism, as opposed to my first? What was the distinction between my first baptism and the second that made him agree to perform the act? The difference wasn’t the triune name of God or the water, because those were used the first time, too…
The difference was me. The difference was what I had conjured up in my own mind. Jesus hadn’t changed. He was still performing the same role he always has. The difference was something inside me. I was looking to me for my qualification for salvation. Where was my assurance? Not in Christ, though I believed that it was. My assurance was in the strength of my faith, which I believed came from me.
Yet the scriptures just simply do not speak in these terms! Which part of “you can do nothing” did I not understand?
This was a formative event for me. It’s part of why I’ve been so insistent in recent years on believing what the scriptures say: that apart from God’s good pleasure in Jesus we can do nothing, that my faith is simply trusting in Christ by giving up my efforts to save myself and to keep myself saved, and God’s mercy cannot possibly be understood apart from and on account of Christ’s work.
The Biblical question “What must I do to be saved” has only one answer. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Both FE’s and Lutherans affirm this. However, as always, the devil is in the details.
Ought we view faith as an exercise of our own wills? Ought we couple with it our obedience? Concerning our justification before God, do the scriptures encourage such a synergistic, cooperative salvation? No. “Faith” is ” belief” or “trust.” Trusting whom? Trusting Christ. Trusting him for what? That he has satisfied EVERY requirement for our salvation. Trusting that that we add nothing in addition to his work. Trusting that the gospel still works even for Christians who have been believers for ages.
This is the meaning of “faith alone.”
I’m not afraid of being “alone.” It’s too much companionship to give up.