Sola Fide- arguing the same point?


#1

I am currently in an apologetics discussion with a protestant (Christian Reformed). We seem to be arguing the same point about sola fide.When I give my case for faith and works, she agrees with me, but says that the works will come out of faith. She does not think works are a conscious act, but happen when someone has true faith. Is this typical Calvinist theology, and do we actually agree on sola fide, but are using different terminology?


#2

[quote=j9house]I am currently in an apologetics discussion with a protestant (Christian Reformed). We seem to be arguing the same point about sola fide.When I give my case for faith and works, she agrees with me, but says that the works will come out of faith. She does not think works are a conscious act, but happen when someone has true faith. Is this typical Calvinist theology, and do we actually agree on sola fide, but are using different terminology?
[/quote]

I’m a bit puzzled about the comment, “she doesn’t think works are a conscious act” . . . I presume she does not believe that salvation by grace through faith leaves one in a perpetual stupor, in which one spends one days doing good works as if while sleepwalking?

Arminians and Calvinists believe that God takes the initiative in salvation and that salvation is ultimately the gracious gift of God to an undeserving sinner. Arminians believe that God enables all sinners, universally, to accept Christ and to serve Him, but that only some actually do so. To the Calvinist this appears to negate the point that Scripture makes that faith is not of ourselves but is a gift of God–and that no one would have grounds to boast. If I have been saved because I chose God where someone else was equally ‘enabled’ to choose God but chose Him not–there must have been something of myself, something of which I could boast, which caused me to choose God.

Calvinists say that the will and the intellect are utterly corrupt and that of ourselves NO ONE CAN CHOOSE GOD. God must not only enable us to choose but cause us to choose–because by nature we are at utter enmity with Him and will ever and always reject Him. Since God is utterly sovereign and owes his creatures absolutely nothing–He is in no sense under any obligation to save all. He is absolutely free to choose and one cannot even invoke moral principles in order to say that He ought not to choose only some and not others. Also: no implication is being made that God is choosing some ‘for no reason at all’. He does have His reasons–those reasons simply do not inhere to anything virtuous, desirable, or needful inherent within the individual mortal whom He elects.

Having elected a human, God also is the One who sanctifies and preserves the person. It is the sanctification and preservation which we normally think of as good works. The right beliefs of a person, as well as the ordinarily-virtuous character of his or her life, are evidences of their salvation but not proofs of it. The person who wishes to be saved must first know that he or she has thrown themselves utterly upon the mercy of God through faith in Christ and then walk in good works to the best of their ability, not trusting in those works to save but in the mercy of Christ–but ever mindful that one who would abandon virtue for vice bears forth bad fruit as evidence that they were not ever one of the Elect. Yet, even a good tree can sometimes bear bad fruit: therefore one can never be fully certain of one’s standing before God. One can only continue to put one’s trust in God.

If this is the general direction of your friend’s argumentation, she is a Calvinist and her views on this topic would be dramatically different from those espoused by Catholics since Tom Aquinas. Augustine, of course, was Calvin’s schoolmaster in the topic of predestination but relatively few Catholic theologians embrace Augustinianism these days. See also “No Place For Sovereignity” by Lloyd McGregor Wright for a fuller discussion of Calvinism and it’s historic roots.


#3

[quote=j9house]I am currently in an apologetics discussion with a protestant (Christian Reformed). We seem to be arguing the same point about sola fide.When I give my case for faith and works, she agrees with me, but says that the works will come out of faith. She does not think works are a conscious act, but happen when someone has true faith. Is this typical Calvinist theology, and do we actually agree on sola fide, but are using different terminology?
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I have no idea how the rest of the conversation has gone so I forgive me if I am off base. But perhaps the reason you are having problems discussing works is that you have not yet agreed on salvation. Both Catholics and Reformed believe that salvation is by grace. Works should be seen in relation to grace, not in relation to faith.

Her position on works being a product of grace (through faith, as she would probably say) is typically Calvinist. You neither can nor should agree with sola fide.h


#4

This is all great information, thank you so much. It seems to me that some of the problem lies in the fact that (in my opinion) she may not really know what she believes. She says that according to scripture,“anyone who is baptised and believes in Jesus will be saved”. But she does agree that we must also be good people, but that people with true faith will automatically do good deeds. (She emphasizes “true” faith) She gets very flustered when I rebuke her points, but still is adament. Anyway, I will discuss this further, and I will discuss salvation with her, also. thanks!


#5

I may be misunderstanding the “sola fide” position, but when they say that those who are saved just naturally do “good works” does this mean that they believe that the saved no longer have free will? That’s what it sounds like to me.


I also wonder if Catholics and Protestants have different ideas of what constitutes the “works” of James.


#6

Maybe what has been posted in the thread “Catholic Faith alone” (forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=5393) will help you see the problem.

Luther taught that faith without works is dead in the sense of being non-existent. If you have faith, then that faith will cause you to do good works. If you don’t do good works, then you obviously don’t have faith. However, he also taught that the good works we do are only the work of God and therefore don’t justify us in any way. It is in this way that we are only justified by faith - because we are essentially non-participants in our good works.

This is not the same as Catholic teaching. The Church teaches that we are completely justified by the Grace Christ won for us on the Cross (as do Protestants). We can only have faith by God’s grace and our positive response to that grace (resulting in our faith) justifies us. We can also only do good works by God’s grace and our positive response to that grace (resulting in our doing good works) also justifies us. This is the essential difference as I have come to understand it.


#7

[quote=j9house]I am currently in an apologetics discussion with a protestant (Christian Reformed). We seem to be arguing the same point about sola fide.When I give my case for faith and works, she agrees with me, but says that the works will come out of faith. She does not think works are a conscious act, but happen when someone has true faith. Is this typical Calvinist theology, and do we actually agree on sola fide, but are using different terminology?
[/quote]

I have had the same thoughts about this terminology and believe that the end result is about the same.

The thing is though, I know Protestants who think that good works are not necessary, and Catholics who think faith is not necessary. I’m glad the Catholic Church teaches in a way that even idiots who reject faith can still be decent members of society.


#8

[quote=j9house]This is all great information, thank you so much. It seems to me that some of the problem lies in the fact that (in my opinion) she may not really know what she believes. She says that according to scripture,“anyone who is baptised and believes in Jesus will be saved”. But she does agree that we must also be good people, but that people with true faith will automatically do good deeds. (She emphasizes “true” faith) She gets very flustered when I rebuke her points, but still is adament. Anyway, I will discuss this further, and I will discuss salvation with her, also. thanks!
[/quote]

I have a family member that adheres to this position completely. The idea is that if someone comes to believe in Jesus and really truly believes in their heart, this will naturally lead them to good works. In a manner of speaking that is true. It is grace that saves us, it is grace we receive when we believe, and it is grace that leads us to good works.

The only objection I have is this - what about those that have fallen away? We all know people who have had a conversion experience only to find themselves back in their comfort zones of sin. Once we give in to sin, it leads to death. We are all susceptible at any point in time. It only takes moving slowly in that direction and before we know it, we find ourselves walking down a path so far from God and we don’t even know when it started. We are no longer in a state of grace.

When I ask about this, I get the usual “well, they didn’t really truly believe in the first place.” However, I find it difficult to believe that anything that person did prior to falling away was of no value. I do not understand how anyone can say that they were never really truly saved. I know a lot of Christians and very faithfilled ones at that. So if this were true, how can I know who really means it?

I find it difficult to see how it can be an either/or situation. We have free will, we are fickle, and we must be obedient and persevere. It is the same with marriage. It takes work to keep it good. Just because I said “I do” does not guarantee my marriage against failing. With God, while He is faithful, we are not. We have to do our part constantly.


#9

[quote=Britta]I do not understand how anyone can say that they were never really truly saved. I know a lot of Christians and very faithfilled ones at that. So if this were true, how can I know who really means it?
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You have a natural gift for theology. You have identified one of the key weaknesses of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine.

We have free will, we are fickle, and we must be obedient and persevere…We have to do our part constantly.

This could be the point of divergence between a Catholic and a Protestant: just what is “our part”?

If we receive the free gift (the “grace”) through faith, I believe that “our part” is to continue in faith. Not because faith earns points, but because it is the “power cord” through which the life of Christ flows to us.

Some things, indeed, are destructive to faith and must be avoided; but I’d never say that I was causing a light bulb to glow by virtue of the fact that I had not cut the power cord or unplugged the cord from the electric socket. No, the electricity is the cause of the light bulb glowing. It is my part to stay in union with the power source.

That is what I think is taught in 1 John 5:11-13:

The testimony is this, that God gave to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has the life. He who doesn’t have God’s Son doesn’t have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.


#10

[quote=Catholic4aReasn]I may be misunderstanding the “sola fide” position, but when they say that those who are saved just naturally do “good works” does this mean that they believe that the saved no longer have free will? That’s what it sounds like to me.


I also wonder if Catholics and Protestants have different ideas of what constitutes the “works” of James.
[/quote]

Humans are free–in a Calvinist understanding–only within the limits of their nature–which is by nature sinful and at enmity with God. It is no more in our nature to behave in a maner satisfactory to God’s standard of righteousness than it is in the nature of a canine to compose a Shakespearan play. We nonetheless remain fully culpable for our sins and God in no wise is responsible for our sins: God, Who cannot lie, has told us this. We have no right to question Him on the matter, nor is it our right to impute to Him what we have done. For our manifold sins and wickedness we merit nthing less than total and eternal separation from Him. Furthermore–it is what WE, in our human nature covet most earnestly above all else. Although we have a ‘God-shaped hole’ in ourselves–we want that God to be made in OUR image, and we by nature despise the God Who really Is.

God, in His mercy, for His own purposes, and without need, compulsion, or obligation on His part, chooses to transform the natures of and Elect number of us. Those who are the Elect carry two natures within them: one which wants to please God and one which does not. God will act to empower the Elect to perservere and He will preserve them. To some measure, the Elect cooperate with God by doing what is right and shunning what is evil–but those ‘good works’ are without merit from God’s point of view except insofar as He inspires them and enables the individual.

For James–works are an ‘evidence’ of salvation, not a means of grace and certainly not a means of self-atonement.

Hope this helps. This is a really abstract area of theology, and it cuts against the grain of our fallen human nature. People want to believe that the God of Calvinism is a ghastly monster, losing sight of the fact that as creatures we don’t get to draw into question God’s decisions, motives, or nature: our only privilege is to accept or to reject the free gift of salvation He has offered to us.


#11

The Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church just recently —last couple of years— signed a historic document in Augsburg, Germany, on their basic agreement on “Justification” ie how Humanity is declared righteous before God through the obedience of Christ, “salvation by grace through faith for Christ’s sake” While it wasn’t exactly “kissing and making up” it was certainly a step towards better mutual understanding and reconciliation—and in the historic city where the German princes first presented the Augsburg Confession to the Emperor. I’ll see if I can find the document.


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