Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Judgment according to works


"The point of my paper and question about it is not to stake out some 'works alone' position (which would, of course, be a Pelagianism that Catholics totally reject as heresy), but to note that it is rather striking that only works are mentioned in the judgment passages, and never faith alone (and faith at all only once out of 50)."

Why should Armstrong be allowed to take Pelagianism off the table? If he thinks a Christian merits the eschatological reward, then he must logically believe the reward (of eternal life) is commensurate with Christian good works. If that’s the case, then why isn’t that Pelagian?

If, on the other hand, the reward is out of proportion to good works, then it isn’t something which the Christian merited.

Or is it his position that we use Jesus’ credit card to finance part of the reward, while we use our own credit card to finance the remainder? Or, if that doesn’t’ cover the entire tab, maybe charge another part of the bill to Mary’s credit card for good measure?

They are thematically related insofar as they are also soteriological, but my 50 passages had specifically to do with final judgment, God's wrath, and eschatological salvation.

i) He’s tried to snow the reader with a blizzard of verses. However, if he really thinks they all teach the same thing or point in the same direction, then they count as one prooftext rather than many. Adding one after another doesn’t add anything to the basic argument. At best, it’s just repeating the same point ad nauseum.

ii) Conversely, if his inference is fallacious, then that systematically invalidates his appeal. If it’s fallacious to infer that works are justificatory because they figure in the final judgment, then quoting 50 verses is a fallacy multiplied by 50. His snowjob melts on contact.

iii) BTW, notice that Armstrong never presents a supporting argument for his inference. He simply asserts, in question-begging fashion, that if works figure in the final judgment, then works must be justificatory. A lonely, isolated conclusion.

John 11:25-26 is of the same nature, and moreover, if we look at it closely, we see that the Greek for "believe" is pistuo, which is considered the counterpart of "does not obey" (apitheo) in John 3:36).

Actually, it would be the counterpart to Jn 3:16f. In any case, he misses the point. Since “disobedience” is being deployed as an antithetical parallel to “faith,” “disobedience” functions as an antonym for belief and synonym for disbelief in the aforesaid Johannine usage. Therefore, it’s not equivalent to a work–much less in the Pauline sense (“works of the law.”)

"Faith alone" is tough to verify from Scripture once everything is taken into account and not just the garden-variety Protestant passages that are always utilized.

When Armstrong keeps repeating the same schoolboy errors, even after he’s been corrected, you have to wonder what his problem is. Is he dense or is he dishonest?

“Faith alone” has specific reference to Paul’s doctrine of justification. We are justified by faith along, apart from, and in contrast to, justification by works of the law. That’s what the phrase has reference to. It is, of course, possible, to see that principle operative in non-Pauline passages as well.

This is classic Protestantism, of course: works are relegated to post-justification status, as part of a separate sanctification and the realm of differential rewards of those already saved.

Well, that’s a revealing way to divvy it up. Since he believes in baptism regeneration and resultant justification, does his opposition to merely “post-justification” good works mean that he subscribes to pre-justification good works? But, in that event, the unregenerate can perform good works. Is that his position?

The problem is that Scripture doesn't teach such a view. The disproofs are already in my paper, in many passages that directly connect or associate salvation with the works that one does: therefore, works are not unrelated to either justification or eschatological salvation, as you claim they are.

i) Note the use of weasel words like “connect,” “associate,” and “relate.” This is so vague that it could be right or wrong depending on the direction in which you develop it.

But, of course, you can relate or associate just about anything with anything else.

ii) Also observe the slippery way in which he elides “justification” into “salvation,” as if these were interchangeable categories in Pauline usage.

Matthew 25:34-36 (RSV) Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; FOR I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

The "for" shows the causal relationship: "you are saved because you did all these works."

i) Notice that this passage describes the kingdom as a royal estate. Something a Christian “inherits”–not merits. Does an heir ordinarily merit his father’s estate? Is that an achieved status? Or is that typically an ascribed status? Something you inherit as a birthright, or by virtue of adoption. Something you have by benefit of your gratuitous relationship with your father.

ii) Also observe the predestinarian language. Their inheritance has been “prepared” for them from the foundation of the world. They were written into the will before they were born.

iii) They’re not saved “because they do good works.” Rather, as Jesus taught in the very same Gospel, a good tree bears good fruit whereas a bad tree is either fruitless or bears rotten fruit. Their fruitfulness or fruitlessness is a sign of grace or gracelessness.

A direct correlation: the ones who do good works are saved; the ones who do evil are damned.

There’s an elemental asymmetry. The damned are getting what they personally deserve. Does Armstrong think the saints get what they personally deserve? Who needs Jesus? We (sheep and goats) both got what was coming to us, on the very same principle. Is that it?

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

Note that simply believing the gospel and knowing God is not enough for salvation. One has to also "obey the gospel" (and that involves works).

No, “Obedience” is being used as a synonym for faith. It picks up on Isaiah’s usage (in the LXX rendering of Isa 66:4). “Obedience” to the “call” of God (Isa 66:4, LXX) or call of the Gospel is equivalent to faith. Responding to what you hear in faith. That is not at all what Paul means by a “work.”

Revelation 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

If we don't do the works, we can lose our salvation; therefore works have to do with salvation; they are not separated from that by abstracting them into a separate category of sanctification, that is always distinguished from justification. That ain't biblical teaching. That is the eisegesis and false premises of Melanchthon and Calvin and Zwingli.

i) This verse is not addressing the individual Christian. Rather, it’s addressing a local church (at Ephesus). A “church” can’t lose its salvation since a church can’t be saved in the first place. A church is a collective. What’s true of parts isn’t necessarily true of the parts, and vice versa (composition/division fallacy).

ii) The lampstand doesn’t represent salvation. Rather, it represents this church’s Christian witness to the world (cf. Rev 11:3-7,10), or loss thereof.

But in any event, bringing out ten, twenty, fifty passages that mention faith does nothing against our position, because we don't reject faith as part of the whole thing.

Paul doesn’t make faith a “part” of a faith-plus-works package. Paul sets faith and works in diametrical opposition where justification is concerned.

Acts 2:38, 41 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Because of the baptism, souls were added to the kingdom. They weren't already in the kingdom, and then decided to be baptized out of obedience. Therefore, the work of baptism directly ties into both justification and final salvation.

i) Notice that this passage doesn’t use “justification” terminology. Armstrong constantly indulges in verbal (and conceptual) bait-and-switch tactics.

ii) There is no fixed sequence between baptism and reception of the Spirit in Acts (cf. 8:12,14-17; 9:17-18; 10:44-48; 19:5-6).

iii) Repentance is a precondition for baptism in this passage. Yet repentance is a gracious disposition in Acts (cf. 3:26; 5:31; 11:18). But if baptism confers regeneration (a la Catholicism), then an unregenerate baptismal candidate would be manifesting a gracious disposition.

iv) Baptism is a concrete metaphor for spiritual purification. The same imagery is used for repentance in 3:19. Therefore, baptism is simply a picturesque figure for God’s forgiveness of the penitent believer. Repentance, not baptism, is what literally results in divine forgiveness. Baptism merely signifies that transaction.

v) In this passage, repentance is a precondition for baptism. Yet infant baptism is the norm in Catholicism. But infants aren’t contrite or penitent. Therefore, Armstrong can’t cite this as a Catholic prooftext without further ado.

Faith and baptism are virtually equivalent in their importance. One is "in" Jesus both through faith and through baptism. Both/and.

Of course, that “virtual equivalence” is exactly what we’d expect in a symbolic correlation between the sign and the significate.

Baptism is not a separate, optional work.

Really? What about the Catholic “baptism of desire”?

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