Is the Preoccupation With Personal Salvation viz "Sola Fide", Selfish, Self Absorbed & Incompatible with Loving Neighbor?

It has occurred to me that the bulk of Protestant Theology is formed around a forensic/legalistic Justification model (sola Fide) that at its core seems to me to be very contradictory to undisputed core Christian tenants. That is the Protestant’s tend toward a predominant focus on personal salvation (e.g. “Personal Lord and Savior”) over any real notion of community salvation and “Christian Charity” (which Catholics define as “Loving God and Neighbor”). Don’t misunderstand me here - I am not saying Protestants do not participate in community charity - but there does seem to be high focus on personal salvation.

Catholics are also guilty of this to some degree since afterall Catholics are all taught that we must cooperate with God’s grace to gain our sanctification (theosis) so that we may individually gain heaven and enter into an eternal relational beatitude with God. But the difference with Catholics is that we also draw on the strengths and needs of the community of believers in The Church as well as in the community of Saints for support as a core aspect of our theology. We look forward to joining the “heavenly family” and I believe we think less in terms of “individual salvation” (though this is subjective opinion here). As well, Catholics see works, especially active charitable works, as fruits of grace that form an integral and necessary part of our sanctification process which benefits both Church, self and society at large (even if society is not particularly supportive of us - “loving even those who hate and persecute us”).

So I wanted to solicit feedback and provoke some dialog and thought in this area and see if Protestantism passes the “common sense” test as being compatible with the social aspects of the Christian message for the larger “human family”. My intention frankly, is to challenge some thinking on Protestantism’s key sola - sola-fide and see if it really is a self-centered justification model that over emphasizes a “personal salvation” perspective. Is it deficient and incompatible with the prime Christian directive of “Charity” (loving God & Neighbor above self). As well I want to see if I can impress how critical it is for Christians to have a communal relationship with Church and humanity at large that is more than just a “fellowship” and social relationship - and is actually a burden since we do have an obligation to help get your neighbor into heaven with us. I want to see if I can get Protestants seeing the importance of The Church as integral with salvation as Catholics believe.

Here is an interesting related article from a Protestant Source: Demythologizing the Gospel

Would appreciate thoughts and comments.


Bumping thread:

Here is a provocative quote from the referenced articled"

*In the following discussion, the case is made for a unified gospel that encompasses the spiritual as well as the social. **We maintain that to believe in Jesus **is more than a matter of getting into heaven. In fact, we will challenge this common portrayal of the gospel as being fundamentally flawed and mythical. However, our ultimate goal is to be fully biblical and, if need be, to disabuse our minds of a conflicted gospel that leads to the tragic loss of spiritual power, on the one hand, or the disastrous depletion of compassionate concern for the world’s poor and oppressed, on the other. *

More here: Demythologizing the Gospel

Is merely “just believing in Jesus” really sufficient and just what does it mean to “believe” if we have mythological views of who and what Jesus really was? How can one “believe” if one has a parochial view of Jesus that was formed in a stressed context of opposition to Catholic orthodoxy and on mythological and contrived middle-age views more so than it was formed on a realistic and holistic view of what it was Jesus was really all about? In other words - if one’s belief is formed on “debating points” that are lined up against Catholic belief rather than on a holistic bible view of Jesus - do we all really believe in the same and real Jesus or do we believe in a man-made heterodoxy formed around a debating contest?

Would Jesus “believe you” in your belief about who He is and what He really taught?

Here is a link to another recent OP of mine that suggests that the Protestants are finally starting to “get it” (e.g. A New Perspective on Paul) that there is more than a self focus on salvation in Jesus’ teachings and one really can’t equate “justification” as equivalent with “salvation” viz sola Fide without also believing in the Christian community formed on a universal Church and each other. More Here: CAF OP: Protestant “New Perspective on Paul” About to Radically Change Protestantism & Promote Reunity With Catholics?


I respond to your thread with trepidation as you and have not had the most charitable of relationships in the past. Pray that will change.
One of the difficult things for me to completely grasp is the Catholic relationship between justification and sanctification, and therefore I expect that sometimes Catholics have a hard time with ours (meaning specifically Lutheran as I cannot and will not speak for other communions).
So, I am going to post a quote from the Formula of Concord. Let me know if this responds to your question.

We believe, teach, and confess also that good works should be entirely excluded, just as well in the question concerning salvation as in the article of justification before God, as the apostle testifies with clear words, when he writes as follows: Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin, Rom. 4:6ff And again: By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast, Eph. 2:8-9.

8] 3. We believe, teach, and confess also that all men, but those especially who are born again and renewed by the Holy Ghost, are bound to do good works.

9] 4. In this sense the words necessary, shall, and must are employed correctly and in a Christian manner also with respect to the regenerate, and in no way are contrary to the form of sound words and speech.

10] 5. Nevertheless, by the words mentioned, necessitas, necessarium, necessity and necessary, if they be employed concerning the regenerate, not coercion, but only due obedience is to be understood, which the truly believing, so far as they are regenerate, render not from coercion or the driving of the Law, but from a voluntary spirit; because they are no more under the Law, but under grace, Rom. 6:14; 7:6; 8:14.

11] 6. Accordingly, we also believe, teach, and confess that when it is said: The regenerate do good works from a free spirit, **this is not to be understood as though it is at the option of the regenerate man to do or to forbear doing good when he wishes, and that he can nevertheless retain faith if he intentionally perseveres in sins. **


Thanks for contributing Jon. “Works” as part of sanctification is not the real thrust of what I want to get to - although its related to a charitable obligation that DOES pertain to what I am after here in this OP. I note that the fragment from the Concord Formula that you give here does slightly touch on one aspect of what I am trying to get to though.

What I am after may come down to the underlying semantics of the word “ye” in the scriptural verse referenced in the Concord Formula which to me should really be a pluralistic rendering of “you” - as in “you people” rather than a personal “you” as in "you Jon MUST do such and such to be saved’ (itself a work even if its only the labor of a belief).

Here let me state it:
*By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest **any man **should boast, Eph. 2:8-9. *

Notice that the usage here is PLURAL - the singluar is used only in the negative of the lone individual who would dare to isolate himself to boast.

I might reword it thusly to demonstrate the idea:
*By grace are ALL together saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest **any man **should boast, Eph. 2:8-9. *

I don’t dispute that there is a personal relationship with Christ - but I do say that there is a familial relationship with Christ as well which demands we never put personal relationship over community relationship - that is perhaps a sin against unity and is not consistent with charity.

Is it by grace WE are saved through faith or is it by grace YOU are saved through faith?

It comes down to a fundamental difference in outlook - personal salvation or community salvation as The People of God?

It was the context of the covenantal relationship of the Jews that Paul spoke in when he made his statements. ALL Jews thought in terms of The Chosen People - it was not so much that individuals were saved - the ENTIRE Jewish People were going to be saved by the combined Faith of the Jewish community. No Jew thought only of himself in a vacuum seperate from God’s People. It is only after the Protestant uprising that this context changes from Church or “People” to INDIVIDUAL. This in my opinion is a marker of the Zeitgeist of the times rather than true spiritual enlightenment - a time in Europe where the common man (peasants) wanted to toss off the yoke of authority and grasp at the apple of personal freedoms. That was the major secular movement of the time that is not completely contrary to Christian ideals except in the sense it promotes self-actualization as sacrosanct over any sense of moral obligation to the community of Humanity at large (which is incompatible with Christian Charity in the extreme).

Do you see what I am saying?

From this fundamental change from Church or community to personal focus we get to the current popular salvation slogans like “Do you know Jesus as your PERSONAL Lord and Savior?”. The article I reference resonates with my own views that THIS is NOT the social context that Paul ever had in mind. He saw The Church as the means of salvation FOR ALL - and we each individually as part of The Church received salvation in and through The Body of Christ with Christ as its head. We do not achieve salvation in any context that implies a personal lone ranger sort of excursion from the flock.

Is salvation possible outside of the communion of The Church? I say no since belief in Jesus (sola Fide) necessitates that we understand who Jesus is and that He is NEVER seperate from His Church or His People.


Table B-VIII displays rates of volunteering by religious family. Remember our analysis is
confined to the religiously active, who can be meaningfully defined as part of a given religious
family. Leaving aside as always the two small and internally diverse categories of Other
Christians and Non-Christians, three conclusions stand out. First, volunteering is much less
common among active Catholics (35 per cent) than active Protestants (58).

On the Catholic side, the most striking finding in Table B-XIX is the incredibly low rate of
volunteering in religious activities among those who are religiously active (8 per cent). Even
among weekly attenders their volunteering rate rises in a religious context to only 12 per cent.
Not only do very few Catholics volunteer in their own church, but we see in Table B-XX that
the hours they devote to religious volunteering (26) are less than half the national average for
religious actives (61) and only a quarter of religiously active Conservative Protestants (111).

Thanks for your contribution Brian. I wasn’t really trying to get into a contest of what faiths donates more to charity since Catholics world wide contribute more, hands down, than any other institution – and I think even more than nations such as the USA. It may all depend on how one defines charity. We Catholics don’t count free condom distributions and financial aid at reducing world population by aborting/murdering children as licit charity.

I rapidly skimmed your data - and its interesting. Of course you do know that your data is for Canada only and that is hardly representative of the Catholic presence. Canadians are known for their forced charity viz heavy social taxation levies. But I didn’t know your governments required the churches to report all their internal charity spending to have a reliable source for knowing how each church spends its collection proceeds and make these kinds of reports. That’s a bit spooky if that is where the data came from. But I seem to recall reading a statement that this report was made by a Philanthropic organization using “volunteered” survey data. Do we really have any way to know if larger numbers being reported by denomination is more a measure of how “exaggerated” one denomination stretches the truth over another? :smiley:

There are other factors that skew the results too. For example here in the USA Catholics at large have less spendable income because to escape the immoral teachings of secularized America we are forced to pay a high tax burden for public education but then pay AGAIN when we send out children to Catholic schools to “just say no” to bad education and decrepit moral standards. So after paying twice for education you can see that there is precious little residual income to donate to charity - we make it up in advancing more Catholics into the work place to influence social conscience in our social-networks and often give a lot of charitable personal time which is much preferred to simply giving impersonal cash. Who can value how much a person’s donated time is worth when one’s real occupation is a highly compensated doctor but his time donated to free medical is not tabulated against his true hourly rate?

Anyway - this comparing of dollar donations as a metric for charity is not the objective of this OP. I am trying to get more into a philosophical domain to assess if there is a fundamental flaw and incompatibility with a theological doctrine that is conspicuously focused on personal salvation (sola fide) over the necessity of salvation through The Community of The Church. Should we be self focused or Church focused when we profess our faith in Christ?

Is it:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…
or is it:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…

Do we seek salvation for our selves as if it were a cracker jack prize without regard to who gets left behind or do we seek an eternal communal relationship with Christ all together as one Family of Believers?



I’m Catholic, but was Protestant. My wife is Baptist. Looking at the tables above, I think one of the reasons Catholics don’t volunteer in “religious” activities is that they hardly exist at the local level.

My wife’s Baptist Church runs home groups (Bible study groups), kids club, young adults, youth group, and has a thriving music ministry. During school vacation they usuallly put on some sort of activity for kids, and they run English language classes. They are very missionary focused.

But all this takes place largely at the local church level.

My church has musical talent, but it is haphazard in its approach. There is no real youth group, nothing like a kid’s club, no vacational activities are offered for local children, and there are certainly no Bible groups or home groups. When we support missionaries, it is done on a national level via Caritas or some other group; we have a Care and Concern group, and we support St. Vincent de Paul (and we’re struggling to get members too). So there is little sense of local identity.

There is then no real feeling of belonging to a particular parish church. I also think Protestants are, overall, more sincere and enthusiastic. I think the answer is not to decrease the universal church’s organisation, but for more local activities based around the local parish.

But since a lot of Catholics have already gone through 12 years of school in the Catholic tradition, I suspect more than a few of them have had a gutful of “religion” by the time they get to adulthood, particilarly if their parents are non-practising or nominal Catholics.

So they drift away.

This sparked some research and I came across something interesting. From the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Nicene Creed:

The following is a literal translation of the Greek text of the Constantinopolitan form, the brackets indicating the words altered or added in the Western liturgical form in present use:

We believe (I believe) in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. (God of God) light of light, true God of true God. Begotten not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no end. And (I believe) in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and glorified, who spoke by the Prophets. And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We confess (I confess) one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for (I look for) the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen."

I find in interesting that from an early stage our creed was using the plural, forming a community. But also interesting that the “I” still needs to be mentioned and according to the CE is of western origin and influence.

This topic is a good sight above my head and I know I am not grasping all the concepts but like I already stated I just found this interesting and I thought I would posit it for some consideration if it warrants it.

Thanks SkinnyJ. I note that the shorter Apostle’s Creed, an earlier pre-scholastic creedal (before we understood all the Christological natures), is also expressed in the singular context. It is derived from the more primitive & earlier Old Roman Creed - both used the singular personal expressive beginning with “I”.

All the forms of the Catholic Creeds were prayed in the context of the liturgy of the mass collectively with fellow Christians or during one’s baptism as a profession of faith. So it was simultaneously an expression of personal belief and faith as well as communal belief.

The only examples in the Catholic Church history where there is some focus on “personal salvation” that is even slightly seperate from the community of Church are in those very religious who elected the eremitic life or monastic life to become hermits; individuals who personally consecrated themselves in their persons to God. But even these had a discipline and rule of order subject to & approved by Church authority (the pope & bishops). In general all such monastic orders had provisions for both personal or private contemplative prayer taken together with specific times for combined worship with their fellow religious in ordered-community worship. The Rule of St Benedict was one such popular rule of order that many monastics followed (There are others as well: Rule of Saint Augustine, Rule of Saint Basil, Columban Rule, Rule of the Master, Rule of St. Albert etc.).

Even today, all monastic orders are always explicitly attached to the dominion of a particular bishop through an order’s local “master”. So even in consecrated monastic life there is always a direct linkage to The Church community at large through the ecclesial authority of The Church and greater Catholic community. All these monastics also participate daily in the Catholic Community’s common prayer called The Liturgy of the Hours (aka Divine Office). Catholics (and perhaps Orthodox) in fact are the only Christian faith that still religiously conform to the Liturgy of the Hours and it is required of all clergy and consecrated lifestyles (and now regaining popularity among laity now too - who historically used the rosary as a means for abbreviated participation). This Prayer Liturgy is an extension of the Catholic Daily Mass (said world wide daily in most all parishes) and serves to link every Catholic worldwide in prayer with the Catholic Community at large wherever they may be on the planet through community prayer - 24/7. So each person participating in the Divine Office has 7 daily opportunities to join their fellow Catholics world wide in prayer with confidence that there are many other fellow Catholics reciting the same prayers along with you at any hour of the day. Now THAT is true community that affords one a personal relationship with God as well as REQUIRES a communal relationship with the body of believers of God’s Faithful people.

So even though the Creed has a personal context in the Latin tradition I think we can safely say that the Catholic Church ALWAYS has insisted on the necessity of a communal relationship with God while also respecting and encouraging each individual person to draw as close to God as they dared in private prayer/mediation to “work out one’s salvation with God with fear and trembling”. Some few Anglican and Episcopalians still retain the Catholic traditional practice of the Liturgy of the Hours since these are all Catholic derivative faiths - but very few of their members do so anymore.

Bottom Line
I think it safe to say that The Catholic Church has consistently always taught and believed in the necessity of a “community of believers” as an essential aspect of Christian faith and salvation. We are all expected to work together to help the larger community of humanity at large improve its social and moral condition while encouraging more and more of our fellow man to draw into the community of true believers for the mutual benefit of all our combined salvation and human welfare. The Catholic Church has always insisted that each one have a “personal relationship” with God and Savior through daily prayer as part of our sanctification process (theosis). But it has NEVER encouraged any one to do so by wandering off too far from the flock in a sort of lone ranger personal salvation model to become self-absorbed with one’s own salvation. In Catholicism all spiritual gifts and talents are seen to be given for the benefit of The Church and our fellow Christians.

I note that Christendom really only witnesses this evolving preoccupation with “personal salvation” (e.g. “me, my bible and Jesus”) seperate from The Church as a progressive and peculiar phenomena AFTER the Protestant uprising. Is this ecclesial “individualism” simply mirroring the “secular spirit of the age” (zeitgeist) or is it a legitimate Christian concept? Since I know of no early Church traditions that ever taught a personal salvation seperate from the community of believers (The Church) I believe that this modern day focus on personal salvation through personal faith separate from The Church is an “innovation of this age” and is disordered and not really Christian in spirit.**


I do see what you are saying, and it is interesting. Is salvation outside of the communion of the Church possible? Well, none of us are in a position to be sure, and to say that Jesus is never separate from His Church doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t be found away from His Church.
But I agree with you, if this is what you are saying, that if we are outside the Church (separate ourselves from the Church), the important means of grace (sanctifying grace) that Christ placed in the Church, the sacraments, etc, are not available to us, and neither is the community of believers - the two or three gathered in his name.
So, it is a dual condition, I (personally) am justified by grace through faith in Christ, equipped and called to do good works, and this by a measure of necessity takes place within the context of the Church, The Communion of Saints.

Someone mentioned that the Apostles Creed starts with, “I believe…”. It is noteworthy that it is usually said aloud, in unison, by the communion of believers present. This is true of Corporate Confession, as well.


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