Friday, December 09, 2005

Faith alone in Christ alone


So, Steve, when I hear you saying this: "Lutherans like McCain put their faith, not directly in the Savior, but in the sacraments. They are not looking to Jesus, but to the wafer and the font. By contrast, Reformed Baptists do trust in Jesus alone," I just have to scratch my head. RBs are more authentic confessors of solus christus than lutherans (and by implication, anyone else who views the sacraments as a means of grace)? Wha---? If RBs really believe that, more's the pity. But you said you move freely between the different versions of the calvinistic tradition. You seem theologically knowledgeable. Do you believe your confession is closer to the RBs than the Lutherans? If so, I'm just dumbfounded. Jus is probably right: I'm "clueless."


1.First of all, I find it amusing that some folks (not necessarily you) have taken offense at my statement about Lutherans.

To begin with, I rarely discuss Lutheran theology. Critiquing Lutheran theology has never been one of my priorities. Since Lutheran theology is a seaworthy vessel which can get its passengers safely to the heavenly harbor, I prefer to direct my attention at leaky vessels or vessels headed in the wrong direction.

I only waded into this debate because Paul McCain chose to launch a public attack on Calvinism, in a particularly blistering and ill-informed fashion.

BTW, if Lutherans want to criticize Calvinism, that’s fine with me. They’re perfectly entitled to point out whatever they think is wrong with Reformed theology. They would be doing us a great favor if they could prove that Reformed theology is unscriptural in this or that respect, and correct our errors. But by the same token, I reserve the right to reply in kind.

Lutherans believe that they’re closer to the truth than Calvinists. That’s why they’re Lutherans. Calvinists believe that they’re closer to the truth than Lutherans. That’s why they’re Calvinists. One could say the same thing about fundamentalists and Anabaptists.

Lutherans believe that they do greater justice to the grace of God than Calvinists. And this is very much bound up with their sacramentology—which their belief in baptismal regeneration and the real presence.

I’m not the one who’s putting so many of my chips on sacramental realism. It’s McCain and Pieper and Lutheran Orthodoxy.

Lutherans are the ones who invest so much of their spiritual stock in the efficacy of the sacraments, not me. They’re the ones who vest so much of their assurance of salvation, to some extent of salvation itself, in the efficacy of the sacraments.

So the question is a simple one: is their faith well-placed or misplaced? This question is entailed by their own position. The question is unavoidable. Everyone has to answer one way or the other.

If they’re right about sacramental grace, then their faith is well-placed; if they’re wrong, then their faith is misplaced.

The logic of the Lutheran claim is reversible. If you take the logic of the Lutheran position seriously, then the conclusion is only as good as the premise, and if the premise is false, then that falsifies the conclusion. This consequence is as important or unimportant as Lutheran theology chooses to make it.

2.Irrespective of Lutheran theology, there is a perennial danger of shifting the assurance of salvation from faith in Christ to faith in some proxy, some external rite or ritual. Almost every theological tradition is prey to this, whether it’s: I know I’m saved because I was baptized, I know I’m saved because I’m a covenant child, I know I’m saved because I went to the altar, I know I’m saved because I speak in tongues, I know I’m saved because I observed the Sabbath on the seventh day, I know I’m saved because I observe the Regulative Principle, and so on and so forth.

All we’ve done at this point is to replace the mediation of priestcraft with another set of man-made intermediaries. Once again, Christ ceases to be the only mediator. Anything but faith in Christ alone as the immediate object of faith.

There’s a logical relationship between unmediated faith in Christ, and Christ as the only mediator of the faithful. I oppose all attempts to shortcut the assurance of salvation by bypassing faith alone in Christ alone.

3. I regard the sacraments are parables in action. Object lessons of faith. They remind us of what Christ has done for us—like types and shadows.

4.I have nothing to say in response to Alastair (if that’s who you were alluding to) since JD and I have already anticipated most of his objections.


  1. Thanks, Steve. I don't know if any of your other readers thinks so, but this is really getting somewhere IMO.

    With respect to your #1, the Lutheran-RB squabble isn't at all interesting to me. But this is: you said, "Lutherans are the ones who invest so much of their spiritual stock in the efficacy of the sacraments, not me." May I just suppose for a moment that you are an RB? If you were, then this statement makes absolutely perfect sense because you have not only not invested much stock in the efficacy of the sacraments, you've rejected anything whatsoever "sacramental" about baptism and the Lord's Supper. Now, back to the Reformed Steve. If you subscribe to any one of the Reformed standards, do you have the option to divest yourself of the efficacy of the sacraments? I think even the Reformed with the very weakest view of sacramental efficacy (Zwingli?) would say "NO WAY!" More on this at #3...

    2. Assurance of salvation. Again, now that I've moved into the Reformed fold from my earlier years as a tulipy baptist, the examples you offer regarding "I know I'm saved because..." present starkly the difference between what you've written here about unmediated faith (although I thought the subject was grace) and what I understand to be the typical Reformed view of assurance. For example, Calvin:

    "Therefore, there is no doubt that all pious folk throughout life, whenever they are troubled by a consciousness of their faults, may venture to remind themselves of their baptism, that from it they may be confirmed in assurance of that sole and perpetual cleansing which we have in Christ's blood." [my emphasis, hardly needed I suppose]

    Of course, this remembered baptism is a remembering that you were baptized, even if it occurred when you were an infant. I suppose you could say again that Calvin isn't the best representative of calvinism or the Reformed faith in general, but it sure gets curiouser and curiouser the more qualifications that have to be added.

    You wrote, "There’s a logical relationship between unmediated faith in Christ, and Christ as the only mediator of the faithful. I oppose all attempts to shortcut the assurance of salvation by bypassing faith alone in Christ alone." This is just the most amazing statement to me. My assurance rests on my unmediated faith in Christ? Yikes, what a responsibility! If this is true, I'm done for because I'm only too aware of the noetic effects of sin. If my faith is not assured by God keeping His faithful covenant promises through whatever means He ordains, then I would never be able to get off the justification hamster wheel. I can't give you an ontology of the sacraments or a metaphysics of the "seals," but it sure seems to me as if Jesus intended to apply His grace to us as His disciples through physical means. That doesn't bother me at all. I don't understand fully how He does that, but that's where the trust comes in. I don't trust the physical means, I trust Him to keep His word because of that cross up on the hill and that empty tomb over there. If He says "Eat my flesh and drink my blood," then after we get our literalism out of the way, I'm going to take His word for it.

    3. If the sacraments just resemble, represent, signify...something only nominally, then you do indeed seem to embrace the RB position (which is fine with me, just confusing given your earlier profession). In my impoverished research, the typical Reformed position, including the puritans, seems to me consistent with the earliest patristic eucharistic (for example) interpretations that the elements stand in some "identity of actuality" by the operation of the Holy Spirit. I understand WCF 27.2-3, especially the notion of the "sacramental union," to express this ancient view.

    I had posted some comments to your earlier post (you write fast, man), but I can't remember if they are germane to this discussion.

    So am I off the reservation? Am I not Reformed because I do think God grants grace to us mediately through His appointed instruments? Am I in epistemic disarray even though I am trusting Christ to keep His promises through those appointed instruments? Am I in a fool's paradise when I take comfort in remembering my baptism and spiritually (but actually) feeding on Christ during the Lord's Supper?

  2. Christian Library, you have mentioned the centrality of regeneration. This goes back to my earlier point: this appears to me to be the sole (or at least the primary) point of commonality between RBs and the protestant reformation. It's monergism for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. No argument there. Glad the RBs are on board with that. Jus divinum has written a long account of how RBs are on board with way more than that. I'll take his word for it I guess. In all my dealings with baptists of all kinds, however, I've never met baptists who subscribe to the 17th century confession (I guess they don't interact with me since I'm obviously clueless, insane, make incoherent assertions, or probably all three :-).

    The people I know who are (or call themselves) RBs [or insert whatever label is more accurate], would howl in protest at the notion of confessionalism. They also:
    - Believe that God has covenanted with man, but do not frame their theology covenantally (Most RBs I know are dispensational, although that may be in the midst of changing).
    - Considered the view that the sacraments are means of grace as an abomination before the Lord.
    - Considered the very word 'sacrament' as virtual profanity (and blogging RBs do not hesitate to let you know that the words on "that" list are inexcusable, so saying the word 'sacrament' in all seriousness is grounds for a reprimand).
    - Believed that anyone who used the word 'eucharist' was probably unsaved.
    - Had a very long list of what could be ignored or jettisoned as "traditions of men." TULIP, however, is simply a reformulation of the pure gospel.

    CL, you wrote, "These are the only substantial and real things," where, if I understand you, 'these' refers to the promises written to us in the Bible. Now you've got something clenched in your fist waving around that I'd like to address. But I would be most curious to hear whether Steve agrees with you on this given his earlier remarks about faith, grace and the sacraments. I suspect he would given his appeal to his understanding of biblical norms to dispense with the views of those that he thinks misplace their faith in intermediaries. But I'll wait to see what he thinks.

    Now to my objection. The God in whom we have faith consummated his covenant promises by becoming Immanuel, the Incarnate One, Jesus. He lived in a mortal body. He endured all the human embodied limitations, including suffering pain. He died. He rose again, bodily, but incorruptible. He accomplished the Father's grand plan to begin reconciling the world of sinners to Himself (Good News!). This reconciling activity (of grace) occurs while we are yet in the flesh. Why is it then, that the only "substantial" and "real" things are immaterial processes or states of affairs that so easily become a vortex of sheer mental states (and the resultant confusion of faith with belief)? Is it not reasonable (and a consistent testimony of church practice through the ages) that just as Christ became Incarnate for our sake, He also sustains us, restores us, refreshes us, matures us, through material means? So, just as we trust His promises to work inwardly in us to raise us from death to life, so we trust His promises to nourish us through the instruments of material realities that He has ordained, i.e., the sacraments are indispensible for sanctification and practical living?

  3. "Is it not reasonable (and a consistent testimony of church practice through the ages) that just as Christ became Incarnate for our sake, He also sustains us, restores us, refreshes us, matures us, through material means?"

    This is too aprioristic. We have to base our theology of the sacraments on painstaking exegesis, using the grammatico-historical method.

  4. No, it wasn't "aprioristic," it was heuristic. I'm not trying to (re)formulate a whole theology of sacraments from the ground up. I'm trying to invoke historical precendent for understanding the role of materiality in the sacraments that involves God really doing something through them when they are rightly used and faithfully received. I subscribe to the WCF. That is where my theology of the sacraments is expressed. Better men than I handled the exegesis. I'm still working through my understanding of them, especially the crux of their meaning, such as in "sacramental union."

    As for being, commitment to a hermeneutical method such as GHM is inferred...from what? Steve, are you so bored with our investigations into the degree of distinction between the "traditional" Reformed and the RBs that you're going to shift to a philosophical discussion? Very well. But I am still interested in what you might think about the point I was trying to make in Jus's post about the difference being systematic and not inconsequential.