We deny to claim "any Superiority to ourself
to defyne, decyde, or determyn any Article or Poynt
of the Christian Fayth and Relligion,
or to chang any Ancient Ceremony of the Church
from the Forme before received and observed
by the Catholick and Apostolick Church."

Norman Simplicity

Norman Simplicity
Click image for original | © Vitrearum (Allan Barton)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Litmus Test

It would be nice if "traditionalists" could find more "common ground" in rejecting "the heresies of the revisionists in ECUSA and the CofE" instead of re-animating the theological controversies of the past. From my humble perspective, one major stumbling block is the erection of a theological litmus test, as in the following:

If it only weren’t for the latter’s rejection of the claim, often attributed to Martin Luther, that justification by grace alone through faith alone “is the article by which the church stands and falls.” Because that article, to us Protestants, constitutes the essence of the Christian Gospel.

It seems quite obvious that Luther and his followers -- the Lutherans -- take a very hard line here:

The doctrine of justification by faith alone was considered by Luther and his followers as an incontrovertible dogma, as the foundation rock of the Reformation, as an "article by which the Church must stand or fall" (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesia), and which of itself would have been a sufficient cause for beginning the Reformation, as the Smalkaldic Articles emphatically declare. Thus we need not wonder when later on we see Lutheran theologians declaring that the Sola-Fides doctrine, as the principium materiale of Protestantism, deserves to be placed side by side with the doctrine of Sola-Scriptura ("Bible alone", with the exclusion of Tradition) as its principium formale — two maxims in which the contrast between Protestant and Catholic teaching reaches its highest point.

But I am no Lutheran. Nor can I affirm that this "doctrine" -- which cannot be dogma (it is not in the creeds) -- "constitutes the essence of the ... gospel" for nowhere do I find either Jesus or Paul enunciating that it alone constitutes that which is identifiable as "the good news."

If justification by faith alone was indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Reformed theology claimed, then wouldn’t we expect it to have been taught by Jesus himself, somewhere? Moreover, wouldn’t John have taught it, too? And Peter, and James? Shoot, wouldn’t Paul himself have taught the imputation of alien righteousness somewhere outside of just two of his thirteen epistles?

Having realized that I was using a few select (and hermeneutically debatable) passages from Romans and Galatians as the filter through which I understood everything else the New Testament had to say about salvation, I began to conclude that such an approach was as arbitrary as it was irresponsible. I then sought to identify a paradigm, or simple statement of the gospel, that provided more explanatory value than Sola Fide did. As I hope to unpack in more detail eventually, I have come to understand the gospel in terms of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, who causes fruit to be borne in our lives by reproducing the image of the Son in the adopted children of the Father. If love of God and neighbor fulfills the law, and if the fruit of the Spirit is love, having been shed abroad by the Spirit in our hearts, then it seems to follow that the promise of the gospel is equivalent with the promise of the New Covenant that God’s law will no longer be external to the believer, but will be written upon his mind and heart, such that its righteous demands are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And again unsurprisingly, when I turned to the early Church fathers, and especially Augustine, it was this very understanding of the gospel that I encountered over and over again.

What is now required is a sense of mutual purpose, even if that involves the shared sacrifice of bracketing other issues.

... “disarmament,” that is, the end of polemics and counter-polemics among various conservative-to-traditional “factions” or “camps” within the Church in the interest of combatting the greater malady: liberalism (also known as “progressivism”). This means, for the time being, setting aside or suspending important and reasonable disagreements concerning liturgy, spirituality, and theology ....

And, finally, we need to be able to express ourselves as for something and not so much against something. Without common cause, we shall, nonetheless, find ourselves all sequestered together in the re-education camps of tomorrow. Let's start talking now.

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