Salvation by Faith – Evangelical Doctrine and the Fruit it Produces

Salvation by Faith – Evangelical Doctrine and the Fruit it Produces

 

I once received an email advertisement for a cyber-church that read, “We’re tired of the double standards and hypocrisy we see in traditional churches across the country. We’re tired of the backbiting and judgmental attitude that is so prevalent in the church today.” The advertiser didn’t bother to offer any evidence for this “hypocrisy” and “backbiting.” He figured we all already knew. Charles Colson bothered. In an attempt to describe the state of the modern church in his bookThe Body, he told a story about a fistfight between a pastor and his deacons during a church service in Massachusets. These things should alarm us, but, astonishingly, they don’t.

We have grown used to the state of things. “Going to the church of your choice” is seen as something good today, even though Jesus said that it would be the unity of his disciples that would prove to the world that he was sent by God (John 17:20-23). I once saw five church buildings in a row lined up on the south side of Loop 323 in Tyler, Texas. Five different denominations, all competing for the attendance of local Christians, two of which would likely have been considered non-Christian by the other three. No one was alarmed by this. It is simply the state of things.

Jesus once said that no one could be his disciple without some rather extreme qualifications. We need to “hate” our parents, children, siblings, and even our own life, he said. We need to bear our cross, which in his day was the most tortuous method of execution in common use. We need to forsake all our possessions. Those who do not take such extreme measures cannot be his disciple. He said it was necessary to consider all these things if someone were to try to follow him (Luke 14:26-33).

We no longer consider these things. There are reasons for that. One of the primary reasons is the example set before us. Few Christians consider or talk about such things. We claim to be Bible believers, but it’s very easy to explain away verses, or even whole sections, of the Bible. One easy way to explain away Luke chapter fourteen is to teach that Jesus was still under the Law of Moses; he was still a Jew, and he hadn’t died yet. These things do not apply to us who came along after Jesus’ death. For those Christians who object to this sort of thing–ignoring the words of Jesus as inapplicable to us today–there is always the argument that not all Christians are called to be disciples. The rest of us can just be “believers.” Many, if not most, Evangelicals use one of these two arguments, if they pay attention to Luke chapter fourteen at all.

The problem is that in the Bible the members of the church are almost exclusively referred to as disciples or saints, not believers. For example, in the Book of Acts, the members of the church are called “disciples” 29 times and believers only once. They are called saints four times.

Another reason that Evangelicals don’t consider the “cost” of discipleship is because we have been taught that there is no cost. Salvation, we say, is by faith alone. The doctrine of “faith alone” is at the very heart of the Evangelical faith. It is on this subject that I want to look at Jesus’ statement, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20).

The doctrine of salvation by faith alone cannot be found in the early history of the church. It was invented by Martin Luther in the early 1500’s. Clement of Alexandria, for example, the teacher of new Christians at the church in Alexandria, wrote in A.D. 190, ” ‘For by grace are we saved,’ but not, indeed, without good works. Rather, we must be saved by being molded for what is good, acquiring an inclination for it” (Miscellanies, book V, chapter II). He was not alone in such sentiments. Polycarp, a leader of the church in Smyrna who was appointed to that position by the apostle John, wrote in a letter to the church at Philippi that God would “raise up us also, if we do his will and walk in his commandments . . . keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness” (Letter to the Philippians, chapter 2).

These facts are dismissed as irrelevant by Evangelicals because we believe that the church prior to Martin Luther was exclusively Roman Catholic, in behavior if not in fact. However, it was not. There was no hierarchy over multiple churches until at least the early fourth century, almost 300 years after Polycarp lived and over 100 years after Clement taught in Alexandria.

Polycarp and Clement used the Bible for their teaching just like we do today, yet they drew much different conclusions on the subject of faith alone than we do. So did all their contemporaries. In fact, so did everyone until Martin Luther came along fifteen centuries after Christ. Was everyone prior to Luther wrong?

The only place in the Bible that we read the phrase “faith alone” or “faith only” is in James 2:24, where James writes, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” This is not exactly a rousing testimony for our doctrine of salvation by faith alone. How did Martin Luther justify his stance against James? In the introduction to his German translation of the New Testament, he referred to the letter as “an epistle of straw” and said, “There’s nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.”

We’ve matured over the years. We no longer write James off as someone who doesn’t understand the Gospel. Instead, we have developed complicated explanations that manage to interpret James as saying that salvation is by faith alone despite the fact that he said exactly the opposite. No matter how brilliant such an explanation is, it can hardly be convincing.

But Jesus didn’t tell us to test our teachers by our interpretation of the Scriptures anyway. He told us to test them by their fruits. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” he said in Matthew 7:20. So what is the fruit of our following of Martin Luther?

One pastor, in a writing disagreeing with the doctrines of the church I am a part of, had to admit, “In stark contrast to the petty backbiting and self-centeredness that characterizes so much of the church today, this gathering of Christians is a living testimony of what the church should be; a harmonious body of believers loving and laying down their lives for one another.” The fruit of our doctrine of salvation by faith alone is that “petty backbiting and self-centeredness . . . characterizes so much of the church today.” This is the testimony of the pastor of one of those churches!

The apostle Paul once wrote that he was “confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Can we Evangelicals be confident of this same thing? Would it not be more true to say, “We are confident that he who has begun a good work in us will perfect at the most about 10% of us until the day of Jesus Christ”? Any of us who has spent time in Evangelical churches knows that this is so. I don’t need to prove it to you. You can see it yourself.

What about the fruit of Polycarp and Clement of Alexandria? Is it any better? A contemporary of Clement’s, a man by the name of Irenaeus who had been a disciple of Polycarp’s in his younger years, described the Christianity of their day:

The church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She believes these points just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart. She proclaims them, teaches them, and hands them down with perfect harmony, as if she possessed but one mouth. . . . As the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. (Against Heresies book I, chapter 10, paragraph 2)

Another contemporary of Irenaeus and Clement, named Athenagoras, wrote a letter to the emperor of Rome defending Christians. His description of the church of his day is as follows:

But among us you will find uneducated persons, artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth. They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves. (A Plea for the Christians chapter 11)

It seems clear who bore good fruit. Is it really a good idea for Evangelicals to ignore the people who came before us? Should we ignore the teaching of men like Polycarp, who was trusted by the apostle John enough to be installed as the leader of the church at Smyrna? Shouldn’t we learn from those who have succeeded at the things that we are failing at?

Don’t misunderstand me. I do not want to argue that salvation is only by works. Paul did say something that seems to be the very opposite of what James said. In Romans 3:28 he wrote, “We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” This is difficult for us. In fact, Martin Luther once offered his doctor’s cap to anyone who could reconciled Romans 3:28 with James 2:24. He made that offer because he considered it impossible. It is not impossible, however. Polycarp, who said–as we saw above–that God will only raise us up if we walk according to God’s commandments, also said that we are saved by grace and not by works (Letter to the Philippians chapter 1). These ideas did not seem contradictory to him like they do to us. He, like the rest of the early Christians, knew that in our future we will face a judgment that is according to works, just as Paul said (2 Corinthians 5:10). However, the only way we will do those good

Christian Doctrine And Normalized Evil

Science & Reason on Facebook: tinyurl.com “Christians And Normalized Evil” is a clip from The Atheist Experience #642 (“Hymns. Tracie and Russell look at the twisted lyrics of common hymns”) with Russell Glasser and Tracie Harris. — Please subscribe to Science & Reason: • www.youtube.com • www.youtube.com • www.youtube.com • www.youtube.com — What is TheAtheist Experience? The Atheist Experience is a weekly cable access television show in Austin, Texas geared at an atheist and non-atheist audience. The Atheist Experience is produced by the Atheist Community of Austin (ACA), a nonprofit educational corporation to develop and support the atheist community, to provide opportunities for socializing and friendship, to promote secular viewpoints, to encourage positive atheist culture, to defend the first amendment principle of state-church separation, to oppose discrimination against atheists and to work with other organizations in pursuit of common goals. • www.Atheist-Experience.com • http • www.NonProphetsRadio.com Watch The Atheist Experience live • Ustream: tinyurl.com • Channel Austin: tinyurl.com (Sundays 4:30 to 6:00 pm CST / 22:30-24:00 UTC) Support the ACA (donations/membership): • www.Atheist-Community.org • www.Atheist-Community.org • Blog: AtheistExperience.blogspot.com • Wiki www.IronChariots.org • DVDs atheist-community.org • Blip.tv: atheistexperience.blip.tv • Cartoons Atheist-Community.org • E-mail: tv@atheist-community.org .
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Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine

Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine

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Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine provides students of theology with precise and condensed summaries of the concepts and arguments from the fields of theology and doctrine.

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The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Foundations of Evangelical Theology)

The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Foundations of Evangelical Theology)

With America’s confidence in the Bible at an all-time low and the strength of her spiritual convictions waning, it is essential for Christians—especially Christian leaders—to be well-grounded in biblical theology. To have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the key doctrines of evangelicalism.

In response, professor and award-winning author Bruce Demarest has made plain God’s glorious plan of salvation, his provision for the human dilemma through Christ’s work on the cross, and the application of saving grace to unbelievers. Demarest’s unique approach defines each topic, identifies its most pressing issues, examines the ways in which the doctrine has been understood historically, and interprets the Bible’s revelation. The result is a clear and carefully constructed doctrinal statement that you can defend, live out, and communicate to others.

This singular, comprehensive treatment of one of Christianity’s essential doctrines gives definitive, Bible-based answers about salvation and the cross—and about related theological issues such as grace and regeneration. It’s perfect for clarifying your theology and gaining deep understanding of this foundational theme.

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Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

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This introductory textbook has several distinctive features: a strong emphasis on the scriptural basis for each doctrine; clear writing, with technical terms kept to a minimum; and a contemporary approach.

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On Christian Teaching (On Christian Doctrine)

On Christian Teaching (On Christian Doctrine)

“On Christian Teaching” or “On Christian Doctrine” is a classic religious exposition by Saint Augustine of Hippo which includes four books that discuss how to interpret and teach the Holy Scriptures. This work is a basic outgrowth of Augustine’s early frustrations with interpreting the Scriptures. In interpreting the Scriptures one must decide whether a literal or an allegorical interpretation is most appropriate and Augustine discusses this matter extensively in an effort to help Christian teachers and preachers to discover the truth in the contents of the Scriptures, to teach the truth from the Scriptures, and to defend scriptural truth when it was attacked. This important religious work written around the turn of the 5th century is a must read for all who wish to gain a greater confidence in interpreting Holy Christian Scripture and overcoming the difficulties that lie therein.

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