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The dissatisfaction with the Reformation and the Reformers did not lead to further chronological study going backwards. I did study Anglicanism and the Anabaptists a little, but I did not study much prior to the Renaissance. Ironically, at this point I jumped to studying the early church rather than looking at Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism – at the time, like many Protestants, I just assumed that they would not be satisfactory either. I was thinking more along the lines of the emerging church movement – like much of my generation, moving away from evangelical denominationalism and established churches.

I started studying the early church – in the Biblical texts, histories and the early church fathers. Of course I had studied the Bible quite a bit; I had read through all sixty-six books over a dozen times in many different English translations and had studied Biblical (Koiné) Greek for a few semesters. Also, I already had a passing familiarity with Augustine, Josephus and Philo. I had read the deuterocanonicals, the apocrypha, most of the new and old testament pseudapigrapha and most of the dead sea scrolls while in college. I had read excerpts, but had never sat down and read the Apostolic Fathers. As I began to read texts like the Didache, I Clement, the Shepherd of Hermes and the writings of Ignatious, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian the early church sounded more and more… for lack of a better word, Catholic.

Dr. Frank Beckwith was reconciled with the Catholic church and resigned his post as president of the Evangelical Theological Society earlier this year (May 5th, 2007). He had come to the same conclusion, which he articulated very well on his blog. He writes, “However, in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries. Moreover, much of what I have taken for granted as a Protestant—e.g., the catholic creeds, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Christian understanding of man, and the canon of Scripture—is the result of a Church that made judgments about these matters and on which non-Catholics, including Evangelicals, have declared and grounded their Christian orthodoxy in a world hostile to it. Given these considerations, I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed Christ’s Apostles.”

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The realization that sola scriptura was not Biblical brought me to study the Reformation and the Reformers in more detail than I had before. I had perused their commentaries on pertinent books during my study of the solas, and I had read some primary sources during high school and college so I turned to these first. I reread Calvin’s Institutes and I reviewed some of Luther’s works like his First Principles of the Reformation, Small Catechism, Large Catechism and, of course, the infamous 95 Theses. I also read the Book of Concord and as many primary sources as I had access too.

I also began to study histories and included secular and opposing works to gain a more balanced understanding. Two books that stood out were The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700) by Jaroslav Pelikan and Early Christian Doctrines by J. N. D. Kelly.

In Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church Volume VII he writes, “Luther refused to recant in the crisis at Worms, unless convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures and ‘cogent arguments’.” We find that this is accurate. Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe in neither the Pope nor councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures that I have adduced, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God; and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.” (72. WA, 7, 836-38. Luther – Diet of Worms). As you can see, Luther’s theological arguments were based on what he “adduced” – his personal interpretation of the scriptures. Luther’s accusations of error and contradiction were not substantiated, and he did not prove that he was free from error or contradictions. Without the authority of the church, people interpret the Bible according to their own ideas, and Biblical interpretation is subjected to the tyranny of syncretistic relativism.

Throughout my study I was also dissatisfied with the character of the reformers and the reformation itself – it was no “Great Awakening” of spiritual revival and renewal! I began to ask myself questions like the following: Are we to obey the authority God has established, or do what is right in our own eyes? Did Christ teach doubt and rebellion, or faith and submission?

A few years later I would read the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), “The saints, as we said, are the true reformers.”

We are saved by grace alone as the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation attests:
“[3.] 15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

This joint declaration also clearly attests that our salvation is sola Christo (in Christ alone). These truths lead us to proclaim together soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)!

Both faith and works are gifts of grace.

We are justified by the grace of God through faith and works. We have seen that faith and works are inseparable. We see the futility of works without faith in Matthew 25. We see the futility of faith without works in James 2. However, both the faith and the works are gifts of God’s grace. We see the grace emphasized in Ephesians 2.

Faith is never isolated from obedience, but it is separated from works of the law and the idea that we can boast.

The Catechism quotes Augustine in the portion on Grace and Justification, “The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, “since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:

Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.” (CCC 2001)

So we see that our faith requires grace, too.

Throughout the New Testament, in passages like Acts 11 and Acts 15, we see controversy between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. The primary means of salvation had been through God’s chosen nation – Israel. So many of the early Jewish Christians thought that the Gentiles had to become Jewish (i.e. be circumcised and follow the law) in order to be saved. Time and again we see the Apostles refuting this to show that Christ is the Messiah for Jew and Gentile alike.

Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, but he was Jewish. Prior to his conversion he was known as Saul and he persecuted the Christian church in his zeal for the Jewish law (Romans 11:13; Phillipians 3: 4-6).

Throughout Paul’s epistles we see him using the legal terminology of the Jewish law to demonstrate that justification is by faith apart from the works of the Jewish law. We see baptism fulfilling and replacing circumcision and faith fulfilling and replacing the works of the law (cf. Romans 3, Galatians 3 and Ephesians 2).

As Paul writes in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “Circumcision means nothing, and uncircumcision means nothing; what matters is keeping God’s commandments.” (I Corinthians 7:19 – NAB) Paul also writes, “…Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phillipians 2:12b – NAB).

This is not a salvation apart from works – it is salvation apart from works of the law. We see this not only by paying attention to the verses about faith and works in their context, but also in the clear teaching of James’ epistle, “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 – NAB)

I used to misunderstand the passages about faith and works in books like Romans and Galatians to be talking about faith vs. works. I had been told this time and time again – almost every time before reading the passages. In reality they are talking about faith vs. works of the Law.

The difference is critical to accurate interpretation. A more studious reading of the passages involved shows that faith is contrasted to works of the law. While it is clear that justification comes by faith, the Bible doesn’t teach that justification comes through faith alone. Remember James 2.

Sola Fide

It is important to note that the words, “faith alone” only appear once in the Bible. It is written, “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24 – NAB – italics added)