So I got a few responses to the comment that I posted this week on our Facebook Bible Study. The focus this week is Romans 1-4. Among the responses I read, this one stood out as the most coherent:
I beleive Martin Luther was gifted from God not for this principle [Faith Alone] but because he saw the way the roman catholic church of the dark ages was requiring offerings (I can't remember the specific name right now)but you were practically charged a fee because of this practice to go to church. In addition they required confession to a priest. Jesus has been and always will be our high priest. He paid the price through his death on the cross so that we no longer have to go to a rabbi or priest to confess our sins. As for the faith alone doctrine. In the book of hebrews (which I know we aren't reading) it says that "abraham had faith and it was accounted to him as righteousness." It was his faith alone that justified him with God. However we also know from the text in Genesis that Abraham because of his faith believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. It was his faith that lead him to action. Not his actions that lead him to faith.
She offers here some classic examples of Protestant complaints against the Catholic Church: confession of sins to a priest; and indulgences (the word she couldn't think of). But on indulgences she is off base - "you were practically charged a fee because of this practice to go to church."
Notice that these things are really just an attempt to avoid addressing the real issue - Faith and Works. When backed in a corner, Protestants like to throw out these quick accusations in order to change the subject (notice that she even leads with these attacks, and only then follows up with a halfhearted attempt at defending Faith Alone). So in my reply I was sure to begin with the topic at hand. Let's address "Faith Alone"...then we can clean up some of the side issues:
As for “Faith Alone” - I know that there are other passages (such as the one you mentioned from Hebrews) which are used to support “Faith Alone.” The problem I am having is that none of these actually say that Faith *Alone* is what you need to be saved. Romans, for example (which we are currently studying and which is often cited to support Faith Alone), has many good things to say about Faith. Don’t get me wrong… Faith is EXTREMELY important. I value my faith. I always seek to strengthen and inform my faith. Faith certainly is an important factor in our salvation. The Bible is clear about that. Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, and God looks likewise on our own Christian faith…but that does not mean that faith *alone* saves us. The Bible does not say, “Faith Alone” saves us.
In other words, the Protestant doctrine of “Faith Alone” goes a step beyond Scripture. Yes it is true that Faith is important and it does affect our salvation. But are we justified by Faith *Alone*? Because that is what the Protestant doctrine claims.
James 2:21-24 says this: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
The Bible is God’s Word. I think we can agree to that. James is speaking God’s Word to us here. And God’s Word tells us that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Paul certainly stresses the importance of FAITH. And there are many other passages which tell us that faith is important. But the Bible (God’s Word) never says that Faith ALONE is what saves or justifies us. So the Faith Alone doctrine clearly goes against the Bible. Can you show me how that is not the case? Are you saying that James is wrong? I know you think that Martin Luther was gifted by God with great wisdom…but perhaps Luther was wrong on this point. Luther wanted to remove James from the Bible. Should we trust God’s Word or Luther? Could you explain how the “Faith Alone” Doctrine is true when James so clearly speaks out against it?
Now…about confessing our sins: I’m sure you’ll remember that the Jews grumbled against Jesus for forgiving men’s sins because the Jews believed that only God could forgive sins – not men. The idea that we can confess our sins to someone else and then that person can offer forgiveness was a strange idea for the Jews. But Jesus (as he did with many things) turned that idea upside-down. Jesus gave men the power to forgive the sins of others: “…He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:22-23)
And Scripture tells us that the practice of confessing sins became a part of the Christian community: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16)
So Christians have been given the power to forgive (and retain) sins through the Holy Spirit. And we have been commanded to confess our sins to one another. So the Catholic practice of confessing sins is very Biblical. (Note: I asked about this when we studied James last week, but no one replied.)
Also…the word you were looking for, I think, is “indulgences.” But an indulgence is not “payment to go to church.” The issue is more complicated than what we can discuss here. Martin Luther was right in pointing out the abuses that were going on with indulgences. But indulgences are still a part of Catholic practice. The abuses were corrected. We could discuss this more in depth outside of this Bible Study, if you would like. But [the leader of this Bible Study] would probably prefer that we stick with the topics at hand. It is an interesting issue though, and you are right to point out abuses such as this.
She is right to point out error and abuses in the Church. I think that's fine. So I try to give credit to her for that, and I do accept that some members of the Church have been guilty of grievous sins and bad leadership. But in this context these abuses are way off topic. I mean, really, it's just a distraction.