Apologetics for the Masses #247 - Blue Collar Apologetics (cont'd)

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General Comments

Well, I had a couple of hours this morning before my flight to Beaux Bridge, Louisiana - where I will be giving an apologetics seminar all day tomorrow (November 1st) at St. Bernard's (I think it starts at around 9:00 AM) - so I was able to finish up this newsletter and get it out to you. 


Now, one other thing on God commanding the making of graven images.  In Exodus 25:18-20, God commands the Israelites to make images of cherubim for the Ark of the Covenant - the most sacred item the Israelites had.  In 1 Kings 6, Solomon puts all kinds of graven images into the Temple.  And these were all put in there according to the plan of God that He gave David, who then gave it to Solomon (1 Chronicles 28:11, 19-20).  And this was all approved and consecrated by God (1 Kings 9:3-4).  So, again, the problem is not with graven images, per se, the problem is with graven images that are worshipped as gods. 


Continuing with Chapter 5, on Sola Fide...

Blue Collar Apologetics, chapter 5 - Salvation By Faith...Alone?

The Perspective Provided by History

In the Introduction to his book, “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” John Henry Cardinal Newman - a famous 19th century convert to the Catholic Church from Protestantism -  wrote the following:

"To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.  And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether [Christianity] be considered in its earlier or in its later centuries.”

In other words, the doctrine of Sola Fide, as well as all the other distinctively Protestant doctrines, is nowhere to be found in the writings of the early Christians.  Nowhere is it found in the records of the Church Councils.  Nowhere is it found in historical Christianity before the 1500's.  Christians did not believe it, they did not teach it, and they did not practice it.  


Think about this: The Catholic Church has battled against the followers of many and varied heresies  throughout its history - the Gnostics, Nicolaitians, Ebionites, Montanists, Arians, Donatists, Marcionites, Pelagians, Albigensians, and a whole host of others.  We have the writings of Christians throughout the centuries of the Church that tell us what errors these people believed and taught and how these errors were refuted by the Christian apologists of the time.  The first time, though, that we see the Church responding to the error of Sola Fide, is in the 1500's.


1) Why do Christian writers of the early and middle centuries of Christianity not mention the supposedly fundamental doctrine of salvation by “faith alone?”  
2) Can you reference any Christian writings before the year 1500 that talk of a belief in Sola Fide?  


What history is telling us, is that the doctrine of Sola Fide is only about five hundred-years old.  Yet, Christianity is almost two thousand-years old.


The doctrine of Sola Fide fails the test of history.


The Perspective Provided by Scripture

The doctrine of Sola Fide fails the tests of logic and of history.  Does it also fail the all-important test of Scripture?  Let’s see what the Bible says about this founding principle of Protestantism, this principle of being saved by faith, and faith alone.  


The first passage I want to turn to, is the first passage almost every single person who argues in favor of this doctrine turns to: Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says this, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast.”  “See, it’s not because of works that we are saved, it is because of faith alone.  That proves the Catholic Church is wrong when it teaches a works salvation.”


I always teach people, that if you are ever shown a Bible verse or verses that supposedly “prove” the Catholic Church is wrong on any particular doctrine or dogma, there is one way to respond - you slam your hand down on that Bible and say, “AMEN!  I believe it!  I absolutely believe what that passage says.  As a Catholic, I believe every single verse of the Bible!  I don’t, however, necessarily agree with your fallible interpretation of that passage.”  Because that’s exactly what it is - a fallible interpretation, and a fallible interpretation that is wrong.


There is nothing at all, in spite of what many non-Catholic Christians believe, in these two verses - Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9 - that is contrary to anything in the Catholic Faith.  Nothing!  Let’s look at them closely: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast.”  Catholics, like Protestants, believe in salvation by God’s grace alone.  It is only by God’s grace that we can be saved.  It is only by God’s grace that we can have faith.  It is only by God’s grace that we can do works.  It is only by God’s grace that we can do anything at all...even breathe!  So, yes, it is by grace that we have been saved.  And, we agree, as Catholics, that it is also through faith that we have been saved.  Either our own faith, if we come to Christ after we reach the age of reason, or by our parents’ faith, if we are baptized as babies or infants.  So far, we’re good.  We are saved by grace through faith, just like it says in Eph 2:8-9.  We agree!  


Whoa...wait a minute, John...I thought Catholics believed works play a role in our salvation...in our justification.  Yes, Catholics believe works play a role in our salvation, but this is the thing, our works don’t count for diddly until  after we’ve already been saved, or justified. So you can’t say that we believe our works will justify us, when our works aren’t worth a dime until after we’ve been justified...until after we’ve been saved through Baptism...until after we’ve been saved by grace through faith.  


Let me give you a couple of quotes from the Council of Trent - official dogmatic teaching of the Church - and then I’ll explain a bit more about what I’ve said.  Council of Trent: “We are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God...we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification.”  Here’s another quote from Trent: “If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema.”


So, the dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church, as just stated from the Council of Trent, is that we are justified by grace, through faith, and not by our works, just as Ephesians 2:8-9 says.  So, in that regard, we are in 100% agreement with our Sola Fide brothers and sisters.  However, even though Catholics will have Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9 brought up to them over and over and over again.  We almost never hear someone who believes in salvation by faith alone bring up Ephesians 2, verse 10.  I wonder why?  


Well, let’s read it and see.  Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should...we should!...walk in them.”  So, after Paul tells us in verses 8 and 9 that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, not of works, he then proceeds to tell us that God has prepared certain good works for us to do...that we SHOULD walk in them.  This is very interesting.  Ask this question of any Sola Fide believer: “As a Catholic, I agree we are saved by grace through faith, but, what if we don’t do these works that God has prepared for us and which God’s Word says we “should walk in them?”  What happens to us if we don’t do those works?”  “Are we still saved?”  Good question.   


Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared some works for us to do, in other words, it is God’s Will for us to do these works.  And, these works are undoubtedly different for each and every person, in accord with your talents and abilities.  So, it is God’s will for us to do these works, but, if we don’t do them.  Are we still saved?  If I believe in salvation by faith alone, I have to say, “Yes, you are still saved,” because works have no role whatsoever in my salvation.  The problem is, though, that the Bible tells us the answer is, “No, you are not saved.”  


In Matthew 7, verse 21, it says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father Who is in Heaven.”  So, if it is God’s will that you do these works that He has set aside for you, as it says in Ephesians 2:10; yet, you choose not to do those works, you choose not to do God’s will; are you still able to get into the Kingdom of Heaven?  The answer, quite plainly, is NO!  The very passage that Sola Fide believers go to first, almost every time, in order to “prove” their case and to “prove” the Catholic Church wrong, actually deals a devastating blow to the case for salvation by faith alone, especially when you view it in light of Matthew 7:21 and God’s will.  


But, you might ask, if Catholics believe that works do indeed play a role in our salvation, as I just explained with Ephesians 2:10 and Matthew 7:21, then how can I say, as the Council of Trent says, that we are not justified, or saved, by our works?  Am I not contradicting myself?  Not at all, and here’s why.  And what I’m going to talk about here, is actually the main sticking point, that I have found, for Protestants when it comes to Catholic theology on salvation and works.  So, pay close attention to this.
Let me re-read part of one of those quotes from Trent: “We are therefore  said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification.”


Did you catch that one little word...merit?  That is the main sticking point.  Merit.  Catholics believe that our works can, and do, merit reward in the eyes of God.  That our works can, and do, merit not justification, but an increase in justification, from God.  
Catholics believe, as the Council of Trent teaches, that nothing we do before our justification...nothing we do before we are justified, or saved...can justify us.  Nothing.  No amount of works, not even faith.  We are justified, we are saved, “gratuitously” Trent says - solely by the grace of God.  We can see this most explicitly in the Catholic belief and practice of infant baptism.  The infant can do absolutely nothing that would affect his or her salvation - whether by doing a work or even by an act of faith.  Yet, through Baptism, we believe this infant is saved...saved by the grace of God alone.  


And, for Catholics, it is indeed through Baptism that we receive our justification...it is through Baptism that we are saved...as it says in 1 Peter 3:20-21.  So, we are justified gratuitously by God’s grace through Baptism - through our individual faith as adults, or through the faith of our parents, if we are baptized as infants.  So, we have grace and we have faith, but how do  works come into play?  Once we have been saved, once we have received our initial justification through Baptism, by grace through faith, we then have to set about doing those works that God has prepared for us beforehand, as Ephesians 2:10 tells us.  Now, these works do not justify us, since we are already justified, but they can increase our justification...they can make us holier, in other words.  Is there anyone here who thinks a person cannot increase in holiness?  And, we can indeed merit this increase in justification...this increase in holiness...by our works.  


Does Scripture support us in this?  Indeed it does.  2 Cor 3:18, “And we all…are being changed from one degree of glory to another…” So, we can increase in justification…in glory. But, do we merit anything in this increase in glory?  Heb 13:20-21, “Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that YOU may do His will [Matthew 7:21], working in YOU that which is pleasing in His sight…”  We can be said to “merit” because it is Christ Himself working in us and through us - we are members of His body.  Christ is crowning His own merits manifested in us.  Heb 10:35, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.”   1 Cor 3:14, “If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.”  


Why is the Bible talking about us receiving a reward, if we cannot merit anything?  You receive a reward for something you have done.  Now, there are those Sola Fide believers who say, “Well, yes, our works can merit, but it has nothing to do with salvation...it has nothing to do with being rewarded with Heaven...it only has to do with receiving a higher place in Heaven.  Oh really?!


Let’s look at some more Scripture verses and see if that’s true.  Matthew 5:3-10, from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Sounds like folks will be rewarded “with heaven” for being “poor in spirit,” being “merciful,” being “pure in heart,” and for being “persecuted,” or am I missing something here? They will be rewarded “with heaven” for how they live their lives.  At least, that’s what Jesus said.


Matthew 25:34-40, “Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…”  It seems pretty clear, from the Bible, that the people at the Lord’s right hand are going to “inherit” the Kingdom of Heaven because of their good works.  This doesn’t say anything about being rewarded “in heaven,” rather it is saying that they will be rewarded “with heaven.”  At least, that’s what Jesus said.


Matthew 19:16-17, “What good deed must I do, to have eternal life?...[Jesus said] If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” This doesn’t say that after you enter Heaven you will be rewarded for keeping the commandments…unh, unh…Jesus says, very specifically and very clearly, “If you would ENTER life, keep the commandments.”  People will be rewarded “with heaven” for keeping the commandments.  At least, that’s what Jesus said.  


Imagine asking a Protestant minister who believes in Sola Fide the question, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  Do you think that minister would ever answer you as Jesus answered the rich young man in Matthew?  No, he wouldn’t.
Matthew 19:29, “And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.” Again, as in the Sermon on the Mount, one “inherits” eternal life by doing the things mentioned here.  It does not say, “And every one who has left houses or brothers…will receive a reward in Heaven after they receive eternal life through faith alone.”


Matthew 25:21, the Parable of the Talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.”  What do we see here?  Do we see a servant who receives a reward for his labor after entering into his master’s joy, or do we see a servant who is able to enter into his master’s joy because of his labor?  It’s the latter.  We see a servant who enters into his master’s joy (Heaven) as a reward for his labors.  And he receives this reward because he did something with what his master had freely given him.  We can be sure this is the case because look what happens to the “wicked and slothful servant” who did nothing with what his master had given him.  Does this servant, who simply held on to what the master had given him - Sola Fide - enter into his master’s joy?  No!  But, according to the dogma of Sola Fide, that servant should have entered into his master’s joy based solely on what his master gave him.  That servant, should not have been required to do anything in order to enter into his master’s joy.  Yet, Jesus says otherwise.   


Romans 2:6-7, “For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” The reward for “patience in well-doing,” is not some reward given after you get to Heaven.  Heaven itself…eternal life itself…is the reward.  At least, that’s what Paul says.


Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever your task,work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”  Every Christian knows that the “inheritance” referred to here is eternal life.  This passage directly states that if you do the work the Lord has given you to do, Ephesians 2:10, whatever that work may be, you will receive “the inheritance”…eternal life…as your reward. In other words, this passage completely destroys the belief in salvation by faith alone, that is, if you trust and believe the Word of God.


I could go on and on, as there are many other passages that speak of a reward for what we do.  But, the question that needs to be asked of a Sola Fide believer in regard to these passages is this: How can we receive a reward for our works, if our works do not merit anything? A reward is something given in return for something we do, is it not? 


To sum up what Catholics believe on this: We are justified, or saved, by God’s grace alone, when we are baptized.  We are baptized through faith, but it is not our faith, nor any works we may have done, that merits the grace of justification for us.  It is a gratuitous gift of God - God’s grace that does that.  However, once we have been saved...once we have been justified...we have to then do good works.  The good works don’t save us, but if we don’t do these good works, we can, essentially, lose our salvation.  Plus, as I’ve shown from the Bible, we can merit an increase in our justification...an increase in our holiness...through our works.  

Now, I mentioned earlier in the chapter that I would show you a couple of things from Scripture - that the “Sola Fide” interpretation of Jesus’ last words was a bad interpretation, and that Scripture says that believing is a work.


When Jesus says, “It is finished,” many Sola Fide folks interpret that to mean that Jesus is saying the work of salvation is done...it’s over...nothing left to do.  Well, that’s a bad interpretation, and we can see that from 1st Corinthians 15:17, which says: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  So, if when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He was referring to everything that needed to be done for our salvation, then He apparently forgot that He also needed to be resurrected in order for us to be saved.  Which means the work of salvation wasn’t really “finished” when Jesus said, “It is finished.”  Which means the Protestant interpretation of Jesus’ words is a bad interpretation, unless you wish to believe that Jesus forgot He needed to be resurrected in order for us to be saved from our sins.  


For an interpretation of John 19:30 which fits perfectly with all of Scripture, Old Testament and New, I encourage you to acquire a talk by Dr. Scott Hahn, on CD or DVD, entitled, “The Fourth Cup.”  In this talk, Dr. Hahn explains John 19:30 in light of the Passover meal - Christ’s death on the cross being the fulfillment of the Passover meal.  This is an eye-opening, faith-inspiring talk from Dr. Hahn, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  The Fourth Cup.


Is believing a work?  John 6:27-29, “‘Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you’...Then they said to Him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.’”  Jesus tells His listeners that they should “labor” for the food which endures to eternal life.  If Sola Fide is true, why is He telling them to labor for anything in regard to eternal life?  Then, when they ask what they must “do” to be doing the works of God, what does Jesus say?  He says that believing in Him is the work of God that they must do.  Believing is a work, at least, according to Jesus Christ.  


Some will say, “Wait a minute, John, Jesus says that believing is a work of God, not a work of man.”  Leaving aside for a moment the question of whose work it is, it needs to be pointed out that the Word of God very clearly states that the act of believing is a work.  Which is the point I’m making.  Now, once we’ve made the point, using the Bible, that believing is indeed a work, then the question becomes, whose work is it?  Is it a work of God, a work of man, or a work of God and man?  Using the same logic we discussed earlier, a Sola Fide theological system says it has to be the work of God, since man can do no works that impact his eternal life.  That results, however, in the position that God believes for us...that He has faith for us.  If that were true, then we would have universal salvation because God wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), so He would obviously believe for all men.  Yet what Sola Fide adherent believes in  universal salvation?  None.


It is indeed a work of God, but, as the context of John 6:27-29 clearly shows, it is a work that God does through man and with our cooperation.  Jesus tells the people to labor for the food that endures to eternal life.  The people obviously want to follow Jesus’ instructions, so they ask him what it is they have to do.  Did Jesus say, “Why do you ask what work you can do?  Do you not know that you can do no work to receive the food which endures to eternal life?”  No!  That would be a pretty ridiculous thing for Him to say right after He told them they needed to “labor” for that very food.  So, this “work of God” being spoken of here, believing in Jesus Christ, is a work that man does.  The act of believing is a work of man, but a work of man done by the grace of God.  God’s work through man; man’s work, by God.  Believing is a work.  At least, according to Jesus.


One last point I want to make, is that nowhere does the Bible say that faith without works really isn’t faith.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, a lot of times a believer in salvation by faith alone will say that works are important, they just don’t have anything to do with your salvation, which I've just shown to be false.  They will go on to say something along the lines of, “Faith, without works, really isn’t faith.” Does the Bible say anything like that?  Absolutely not.  In fact, the Bible actually tells us the exact opposite.  James 2:17, “So faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  Does verse 17 say that faith without works really isn’t faith?  No!  It says that faith without works is “dead.”  In the King James Version (KJV), verse 17 states that faith, “being alone,” is dead.  The KJV states very plainly that faith alone is dead faith, it cannot save you.  


Then in James 2:26, it says this: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.”  This is a nifty little analogy that I love pointing out to anyone who says that faith without works really isn’t faith.  The analogy is that works are to faith, as the spirit is to the body.  Just as a body without a spirit is a dead body, so faith without works is a dead faith.  I always ask the question, “Are the bodies down at the morgue real bodies or not?”  Yes, they are real bodies, but they are real dead bodies.  Just so faith without works is indeed real faith, but it is real dead faith.  This verse makes abundantly clear, as both body and spirit are necessary for physical life, then, for the analogy to hold, both faith and works are necessary for spiritual life.  Just as the body alone does not give physical life, so faith alone does not give spiritual life.  This verse does not say, “Just as the body without the spirit is not really a body, so faith without works is not really faith.”

Faith without works, also known as Sola Fide, is indeed really faith, but it is dead faith.  Faith that cannot save, as Scripture plainly tells us.

Sola Fide fails the test of Scripture.



I hope all of you have a happy, and safe, All Hallow's Eve.  I should have another newsletter out to you this coming week...God bless!


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Apologetics for the Masses