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Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Danger of Sola Doctrina

The Biblical and theological argument that many Catholics hear most is that of Sola Fide, Faith Alone. The argument goes that we are saved by faith alone, and anyone who doesn't believe that is not saved.

I will leave aside for the moment, the fact that the word "alone" was added by Luther and was never found in any earlier copy of Scriptures, nor in any original language text of Scriptures. I will leave aside, also, the Book of James, and its admonitions that both faith and works are necessary, and its specific statement that we are not saved by faith alone.

What I want to address today is the fact that the buzzphrase "faith alone" has come, in modern times, to represent a belief that Christians are saved not by faith but by doctrine. I do not want to imply that this applies to all Christians who believe in Sola Fide, but a large enough majority of the Sola Fide apologists do hold to this view that I think it deserves -- and needs -- discussion.

The fact is that salvation by faith alone would not mean salvation by faith in salvation by faith alone. That sounded jumbled; let me restate it. The idea that Christians are saved by faith alone is, though mistaken, not a barrier to an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ (read: grace). The idea that we are saved by faith in the notion of faith alone implies that it is not faith in Jesus that saves, but knowledge in a doctrine. In essence, it becomes a modern-day fundamentalist version of gnosticism; it teaches that we are saved by knowledge and not by faith or works.

What makes it dangerous is that no doctrine can substitute for grace, which is the real point of Christ's salvation. Whether grace occurs by faith, works, or a combination of the two I'll leave for another discussion; but let there be no mistaking that the saved person is the person with grace. Grace is union with Jesus. But the moment we attempt to make a doctrine the point of salvation, we shove grace out of the picture. That is much more dangerous than the idea of salvation by faith alone itself, because it leaves room for the Christian to call himself saved even if he does not have the relationship of grace with Jesus. "I am saved," he can assert, " because I believe in Sola Fide."

I knew someone who beat his wife, molested her child, sold drugs, and used the Bible as an excuse to give her every manner of abuse: verbal, physical, sexual, spiritual. "I have a right," he would say, "because I'm the husband, and you are obliged to submit to me." I won't bother to ennumerate the ways and reasons that his logic was twisted and wrong; but I will say that this man considered himself a Christian, a saved Christian, because he believed in Sola Fide. He had faith that Faith Alone was all that was needed for salvation, so love and a relationship with Jesus were simply not necessary to him.

Behaving as Jesus would want him to behave wasn't necessary; he held the doctrine of Faith Alone.
Treating his marital bed as sacred was not necessary; he had Faith Alone.
Prayer (which could have healed him of his anger, hatred, and cruelty) wasn't necessary for this man of faith, because he held to Faith Alone.

And in his book, the only thing necessary to salvation was faith in the doctrine of Faith Alone. He was saved by doctrine.

To the many Christians who hold to the doctrine of Sola Fide, I may debate you on the subject at some other time; for now I will leave alone the question of whether Sola Fide is wrong or right. But I implore you to reconsider, if you are under the impression that believing in Faith Alone is the litmus test of Christianity. God wants a relationship with us, not merely a bumper sticker announcement of a single doctrine.