Thursday, November 20, 2008

Was Luther Right?

Yesterday, during Pope Benedict XVI's general audience, he said that Martin Luther was correct in saying that we are saved "'by faith alone'[...] if faith is not opposed to charity, to love." See the full story here.

I'm not quite sure how I first came to understand this idea, but at one point I realized that Catholics and Protestants are partly talking past each other when they talk about "faith and works" versus "faith alone." In reality, they are using the word "faith" in a different manner. The Catholic is using the word "faith" to mean mostly "belief in Christ." Meanwhile, the Protestant is using "faith" in a more all-consuming sense which includes works.

Faith is actually used both ways in scripture. In Ephesians we are told, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." But in 1 Corinthians we are told, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." This second quote suggests that love (which bears the fruit of works) is more important to our salvation than faith. But faith is so often described as the thing that saves us, that it seems there can be two meanings for the word, based on context. It also seems that the reality is more complicated than any simple statement such as "faith alone," and that such a statement should not be used to attack those who have simplified the complexities in a different way.

For more information on the contrast between the common Protestant and Catholic understandings of the word "faith," I recommend Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli's Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions.

1 comment:

trice said...

Interesting article. I grew up in a Reformed church (think Calvin, Luther, Knox, the Westminster Confession of Faith...) and the teaching was always clear that the idea that we are saved /sola fide/ - "by faith alone" - was only a beginning. That without the salvation of God we are incapable of loving truly, but that we are saved by faith /to/ works -- that love comes out of faith; that we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to do works of love once we have been saved by faith. I would agree with the statement toward the end of the article from what I understand of scripture and it seems it would agree with everything my denomination and Reformed churches in general teach.

But I think you make another good point too, that different people are perhaps simplifying the complexities in different ways. Remembering both that Christ desires the reconciliation of 'brothers' and that He is the Truth.