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The Heresy of “my Faith Alone Saves”

devotional/discussion thought of the day:

22  You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23  And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24  So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
James 2:22-24 (NLT)

7  This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace. 8  Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; 9  not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. 10  We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:7-10 (NJB)

It was one of the cries of the men who tried to reform, to re-focus the Catholic Church.  Faith Alone, Sola Fide in Latin. It is still the point of contention between the Roman Catholic Church and a few of the protestant denominations. Even as I pray that the Church would be visibly one, hole, catholic, and apostolic; I struggle to see that this issue would be ever resolved.

There is a twist to this issue now, one that might be distinctly American, or perhaps it simply originated here. It cuts across all of the church, and it may be more destructive than anything the Great Schism or Reformation/Counter Reformation has spawned.

It is the addition of the little pronoun “my” to either “saved by faith”, or “saved by faith alone”.  To add that skirts the border of heresy, and it bows to the idol of narcissus.  It puts the glory and the credit for salvation, not in the God in whom we trust, but in the “me”.  As if in some way, faith originated in me, by my own reason, by my own intellectual/spiritual/holy prowess.

Perhaps this is why we take every attack on Christianity so personally, as if ISIS, or the atheists, or whomever, is attacking us directly.  Perhaps it is why we avoid martyrdom and suffering, instead finding our shields up, our notions of self defense well exercised.  It is why we can justify missing church, despite what scripture says, because after all, this religion, this belief, this faith is mine.   Such a personal faith focuses on our knowledge, or our work, on what we have gained or achieved.  It can then grow into Gnosticism, or Agnosticism, for as long as faith is “my faith”, as long as it focuses one me, it will lead to emptiness, and more searching out for that arcane bit of knowledge that will justify me. At least it will justify me in my own sight.

Which is what really matters today, at least in the our own view.

Self-righteousness, self-justification, as if in “my faith” it is also “my judgement” that needs to be appeased.

I mentioned that this idea borders on heresy, but I didn’t say which side of the border.  It is across the border, I believe, from both historic Catholic and Protestant perspectives. Because it ignites that faith is more than a doctrinal statement, more than a set of core beliefs.  It is more than knowledge.

For you can’t have faith without having faith “in” someone/something.  It is a verb, not a noun, and it requires an object.  Going back to the Latin, we see the root of the word “confidence” (that is with faith)  My confidence doesn’t save me, it is that we have confidence in the love and mercy of Christ which saves us. Not the confidence, but the love and mercy is what saves us.   We see this in the Creeds, the “I believe IN”, I have faith IN”.  Faith is simply the reception, the trust, the dependence upon the God who is revealed to us, revealed to be working in/on/upon and through us. That faith, trust, dependence radically changes us, not just how we think bu how we live.  For that transformation is the promise.

That is why faith can never be “my” faith, it must focus on the object, the Lord whom we trust in to do what He promised, to do what He has done.  To have faith in God means we abide in Him, we find refuge in Him, we recognize His work in making us His children, His people.

He has had mercy, He loves.  Trust Him, have faith in Him, and know He saves you!

AMEN!

Lament and Prayer: An Option to Dealing With Others….

Devotional Thought of The Day:

Featured image37  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! 38  And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty. 39  From now on, I tell you, you will never see me again until you say, ‘God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’ “ Matthew 23:37-39 (TEV) 

14  “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. 15  I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. 16  When that day comes,” says the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’ Hosea 2:14-16 (NLT)

In the last few days, I have seen behavior that causes me to mourn.  That needs to be rephrased, I see behaviours hat cause me to mourn, and indeed, cause me to want to pray.

It starts with someone who writes or proposes something that is heretical, or so close to it that it does not matter.  In a couple of these cases, (there isn’t just one) it has been pastors or professors who have denied Christ’s existence. Yet would stay “in the ministry” because it is not about Him.   It is about the people, he claims.  Not about God and His people.

The pain they cause is real.  Even from a distance, those who value their relationship with Christ, the hope gained by knowing and trusting Him, feel immense pain.  The reaction is to strike out.  We find ourselves judging such men, mocking them, condemning them in our hearts and attempting to in the court of public opinion.  We feel their betrayal of God as a betrayal of all we stand for, and we do not know how to respond.  I’ve even read of some praying, no, cursing them in the name of God. 

So we meet evil head on, by doing evil in return. Like in days of old we symbolically rip our clothes, and consdier them dead to us.  We shun them.  Okay, really we don’t – we try to get close enough to “kill” them with our words, to do battle with their viewpoint and crush it under our superious knowledge, and if that doesn’t work, by our castic wit. 

I have an option for dealing with our pain, with the betrayal, with those who have thrown away and tried to crush our Spirit.

Rather than react to them, I suggest we weep and mourn for them.  We cry out to God the Father, just as jesus did!  We need to lament and pray and intercede, that they would know God’s love, that they would find healing as the Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens them. In order for a person to come to a heretical position or notion, something has broken.   Something has deluded them, something is holding them in bondage. Something they are most likely blind too, caught up in the darkness.  To mock and curse them is like putting tripping hazards before a blind man.  

It is a sin.

Can we mourn for them, can we weep and intercede fo them in prayer?  Can we desire their reconciliation to God? Can we like Hosea’s chasing after Gomer, as the Father’s sending the Son to die, can we go beyond our brokenness to engage them, to confront them directly, in love?  

Can we encourage those who would judge, mock condemn and curse them to pray for them, to be prepared to even sacrifice time to pray, and if led to , to lovingly confront those who are erring?  

Which reaction testifies to God’s glory and action in our lives?  Which option tells others of our confidence in the mercy and love of Christ?

We need to learn to lament, to pray, to plead for their souls…. and to love them.  It is for this that we’ve been called, that we would walk in the steps of Christ.

AMEN.

Why fighting false teaching is not a oneman job.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
19  Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?20  So Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21  However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. Matthew 17:19-21 (NKJV)

Again you say, “The temporal power is not forcing men to believe; it is simply seeing to it externally that no one deceives the people by false doctrine;85 how could heretics otherwise be restrained?” Answer: This the bishops should do; it is a function entrusted to them86 and not to the princes. Heresy can never be restrained by force. One will have to tackle the problem in some other way, for heresy must be opposed and dealt with otherwise than with the sword. Here God’s word must do the fighting. If it does not succeed, certainly the temporal power will not succeed either, even if it were to drench the world in blood. Heresy is a spiritual matter which you cannot hack to pieces with iron, consume with fire, or drown in water. God’s word alone avails here, as Paul says in II Corinthians 10[:4–5], “Our weapons are not carnal, but mighty in God to destroy every argument and proud obstacle that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and to take every thought captive in the service of Christ.”[1)

Over the last few days, I’ve given a bit of thought to how to deal with those who promote heresy or heterodoxy, and to those who attempt to deal with it.  It is a bit of a focus in the higher echelons of my denomination presently.  Or at least some are making the case that it is, and they are struggling to determine how to deal with it, or not deal with it.

Yet in the parish, we have to deal with both heresy and heterodoxy.  It may be someone who has strayed into it.  It may be someone who deliberately comes into the church, or posts something on FB.  So how do we approach those who would lead people away from the mercy of Christ?

The question, no matter the situation, whether large and prevailing, like Arius, or the lady who watches Joel Oseteen, is whether we can confront is love, and call the person to repentance.  This is why force cannot be used, or power and “authority”.  That is not the pastoral approach, nor is tt that of Matthew 18, where it is not the individual or the elders that deal with the sinner, but the community of God.

Why does this work this way? Simple, because as faith  and prayer, leaving it in the hands of God.

You see, when you fight heresy by your own strength, by your own will, what you are doing is falling into heresy, for you have created a idol out of your position.  Worse than heresy is this… for it is blasphemy.

You see, when dealing with history, one must be pastoral, one must care for souls.  Doing so is critical, to have the people of God be the correcting source, the church is the one who has the witness.  Not just any one man has the ability to defeat heresy or heterodoxy.  You see, dealing with it through force, through authority doesn’t evangelize, either the heterodox or heretical, or those who are watching the confrontation.  You see, they need to hear the clear gospel as well, those who would challenge it. By using authority, by using force to bluntly crush heresy and heterodoxy, you fail in that regard, you don’t show the people the true gospel, the light that will always shatter the darkness, that will reveal clearly Christ.

That’s what is important, not seeing them crucified, but seeing them crucified with Christ.

This is ministry, it isn’t easy to bear this cross, and not everyone is able to….. but this is how He did it, embracing, reconciling transforming….

That is what those who follow Him pray to see… not to win a battle, but as we see Christ victorius over sin and satan and death.

May we pray for all souls.. even as we desire to see all reconciled.

(Side note – seeing the church work together in this – also allows for the humility that corrects us when we go astray…)

85 On Luthers approval in another connection of the position here rejected, see Kawerau (ed.), Kötlin’s Martin Luther, I, 584.

86 Cf. Titus 1:9ff.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 45, p. 114). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

When Something Excellent Turns Bad…the Challenge of Teaching in the Church

Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

4  Teach me your ways, O LORD; make them known to me. 5  Teach me to live according to your truth, for you are my God, who saves me. I always trust in you. 6  Remember, O LORD, your kindness and constant love which you have shown from long ago. 7  Forgive the sins and errors of my youth. In your constant love and goodness, remember me, LORD! Psalm 25:4-7 (TEV)

5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. 6  Remember the LORD in everything you do, and he will show you the right way. 7  Never let yourself think that you are wiser than you are; simply obey the LORD and refuse to do wrong. 8  If you do, it will be like good medicine, healing your wounds and easing your pains. Proverbs 3:5-8 (TEV)

Deliver me from self-trustfulness, In the frequent days in which I must do battle with my self as foe, arm me with a constant trust in Thee. (1)

 

Heresy is not so much a new doctrine, but an Orthodox doctrine that is overemphasized. (2) 

A sincere resolution: to have faith in God always; to hope in God always; to love God always… he never abandons us, even if we are rotting away as Lazarus was.

When I read the quote in blue above, from the biography of a man who personally impacted how I preach, it stunned me for its simplicity, and its truth.

I could give example after example of when man’s reason and pride joined together to subtly and slowly twist doctrine, or the reaction to that heresy which caused a quicker reaction that threw them off the cliff in the other direction.

One example is in the discussion of how faith and works are related.  If one overemphasizes the doctrine of justification, he may end up teaching that works and piety are not needed in the Christian life. A reaction to that would be an overemphasis on the doctrine of sanctification, where certain works/gifts/charisms once seen as a reaction to grace now become legislated and those who don’t practice or show those works are taught to question their salvation.  The two sides meet, they harden their position, defending what they see as a true doctrinal position, to the extent that only that doctrine matters.

When I read the quote on the plane, 30 such issues came to mind.  (examples include the Sacraments, the Commandments – especially the Sabbath,  Religion versus Relationship, the Work of the Holy Spirit, Worship Wars, Evangelism/Mission versus Orthodoxy)   Several that friends of mine are dealing with, or have dealt with in recent years. I tucked it away in the back of my mind.  This morning my regular devotions (from which the other four quotes come)  brought up the problem again, and the answer to it.

Hence the blog this morning.

The issue is one of sin, specifically the sin of pride and the exaltation of man’s ability to reason.

We know the danger of man’s reason apart from God, but do we realize that we still fall prey to the pride which exalts our reason, our understanding?  That makes us believe that we know all we need, even more than those around us?  Do we realize we are still but the children of God, that we don’t know it all, and even more importantly, we can’t apply all that we do know?

It is, as the quote in green above states, the battle of self idolatry.  Proverbs reiterates the same thing, our need not to be able to understand, but to trust God, to lean on Him, to continually refer back, not just to man’s wisdom, but to scripture, to prayer. Psalms reiterates this theme of trust, of walking with God.

The challenge is that doctrines are beautiful, there is something overwhelming about those “aha” moments when something life-changing is realized.  But that one doctrine cannot become the defining doctrine of our life.  Even the study of all doctrine cannot be, for doctrine itself doesn’t save us, Christ does.  Doctrine may instruct us in how our souls are healed in how reconciliation occurs, of how the means of grace deliver that precious grace.  The wisdom of God being revealed is a wonderful thing.

But it isn’t our God.

Imagine studying about marriage,  You’ve read every sociological book, every psychological book, every book describing the intimacy that a husband and wife share, physical, spiritual, emotional.  You look at your own marriage certificate, memorizing it so well, that you could reproduce it from memory…even the crinkle in the seal.  You invest every moment of your time in such learning about marriage that many consider you an expert.

But you’ve done so, at the expense of time with your spouse…..

How well can you really know what the union of two souls are?

Same thing with God.

The key to avoiding heresy is not managing to juggle and keep in balance all the doctrines that are taught in scripture.

The key is abiding in Christ.  Of walking with God, of realizing that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Of knowing the dimensions of His love for you and all His people. To receive His mercy, His forgiveness and the healing of our souls. It is then you can hear His voice, it is then you know His love and mercy and grace.  It is then you treasure its words, for what it reveals about God and His people.  It is then that doctrines aren’t just a matter of knowledge, a matter of the mind.  But then that they are a description of our life as thise who trust God.

It is then, that these words, in bold colors above, resonate with us, because they are our prayers.

God’s peace to you… and know that you are kept, your heart and mind, in that peace. by Christ.  AMEN.

 

(1)  From Celtic Daily Prayer, Aidan Readings for 10/25, credited as from Hebridean Altars

(2)  Ortiz, Juan Carlos (2011-08-09). From the Jungles to the Cathedrals: The Captivating Story of Juan Carlos Ortiz (Biography: Great Leaders of Our Times) (Kindle Locations 1717-1718). Vida. Kindle Edition.

(3)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 924-925). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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