Thursday, April 19, 2007

Faith Alone

Acts 11:15-18
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, `John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life."

This is St. Peter speaking of his encounter with Cornelius in the previous chapter. The connections in this tight little remark are legion.
1] What happened to them is revealed to be the superior baptism to that of water.
2] It is the same as the disciples encountered at Pentecost.
3] It was God's response to their belief.
4] This baptism of the Holy Spirit in response to faith is labeled "repentance unto life."
5] It was convincing enough a salvation that the Jews concluded that Gentiles could be saved.
6] Someone rejecting the obvious is trying to "withstand God".
7] This marvelous work of faith and grace, 'repentance unto life", occurs before they were water baptized.

Let us look at the event itself, shall we? See chapter 10"43-48 (St Peter is speaking)
"To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, "Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

As St Paul says in Romans 10, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of Christ".
1] St Peter preaches that "belief" gains "forgiveness" in Christ
2] Since it is while telling them to believe for forgiveness that they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (in chapter 11 identified as "repentance unto life") we can declare that they believed and were saved right then.
3] Believing Jews could tell.
4] A believer obviously regenerated is the most natural claimant to water baptism. (Conversely, one could say that the most natural disqualification would be the reverse, no belief and no evidence of regeneration.)
5] Soooo, these people were saved by God's grace, who responded to them for only belief.
6] They had already been good (see 10:34-35) but good wasn't enough.
7] They had not even time, before God mercifully saved them, for even an immediate baptism let alone a lifetime of smells and bells ritualism or works righteousness. Uh.. you know, grace.

If someone can be given saving grace with only their faith in view, what graces are brought by the additional works, rites, ideas, theologies, sundry hoop-jumping-through? Are those folks just "more" saved? Repentance-unto-Life XPPro? Or do they get a special decoder ring?
In spite of the obvious, drop you on your head, qualities of this passage, baptism is often, still, the most offensive addition to the Gospel. It occurs in the highest of the high church sacramental followers of Baal and it frequents the bo-hunkus theology of places like the Church of Christ.

As I thought about these who get more confident when wet, and their ecstasies of bowing and scraping before the muttering of eunuch priests, I gathered that they were admitting something they knew not. Priestcraft makes up for failures of faith. If faith is all God needs to proceed to your salvation, those who belief that you must be baptized as well are not only in danger of damnation for the falseness of their gospel (see Galatians 1). They are in danger because the addition of works to faith is a measure of their faith. Like St James says of works (of righteousness not ritual), it shows your faith. But bad works show what kind of faith as well. If I abuse others, I show that I don't believe. If I practice ritual I admit my faith (which I know can bring me salvation all by itself because I read Acts 10-11) can't stand on its own feet. These are not people who merely "like a little beauty, thank you" in their services. These are people who tell you that their salvation depends on it. They don't object to belief alone saving someone. This is not, despite protests to the contrary, a theological fight. They've seen salvation happen, not only in Acts 10-11 but in people they know. They look at their own faith and realize, standing on its own, it is nowhere near what God requires of faith ("assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen"). They don't actually believe, at least, they know, not enough. A temple narrative in which they can suspend their disbelief, in which the aromas and robes beguile their senses into thinking, dear God, that they believe this malarkey. They have found what mankind can never, in his unbelief, give up, the elemental spirits of the universe.

Galatians 4:8-11 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.

Colossians 2:16-19 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

People have been suckers for it in Galatia, in Colossae, and the U.S. of A. They are, perhaps, incapable of a saving faith. But they can know and fear enough of the import of religion and the gods.

"No faith, you say? I'll call this ritual my faith. I'll tell myself the story over and over again that this action, this muttering of the Trinitarian abracadabra gets me membership in the club of Christendom. Sure it is a physical religion but we call it "incarnational living". Makes the narrative more plausible to the dim bulbs. This is what every one who is anyone has been doing for the last two millenia. All the saints, I'm tellin' you. How could it be wrong? Now you are tellin' me that there is some sort of secret society within all this information regarding Jesus that knows Him and is known by Him through faith without the doodads? Call it the "New Covenant" do they? Damn heretics!"

I Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,


Matthew N. Petersen said...

I don't really have time to comment on this much right now, but it would be good if you could at least use precise termonilogy. Every Catholic theologian and every Orthodox theologian asserts that salvation is by grace alone. Grace means giving what is undersrved. If a Catholic or Anglican or Lutheran or Orthodox etc. believes we undeservedly receive Christ when he washes us with water, they are not denying justification by grace alone.

Second, "faith alone". I believe a good deal of the logic of your post lies on this point. "It is not by Christ physically acting on us, but by faith we are justified." But this is again a confusion. Lutherans for instance, believe in justification by faith. But for a Lutheran this is inseperable from the sacraments. You could at least do your opponents the honor of understanding what they mean before tilting against straw-men. Perhaps a quick illustration will serve. When the sick came to Christ he told them "your faith has made thee whole." By this he did NOT mean that their faith in itself saved them, He saved them. He also did not oppose their faith with their comming to Him. They were one and the same. He could have just as easily have said "because you have come to me, you are saved." It means precisely the same thing. But if anyone believes in the Sacraments they believe Christ actually acts in the Sacraments, so opposing justification by faith to justification through the Sacraments is like opposing "your faith has made thee whole" to "I have made thee whole" and "Your comming to me has made thee whole."

The Oracle said...

Considering Acts 11, (and please do before responding) does God bring salvation to Cornelius by a faith "separated" from water baptism?

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I see several points in your post.

Ad hominem attacks.

Confusion of issues.

A couple of real arguments based on Acts, Colossians and Galatians.

1) Ad hominem attacks. “As I thought about these who get more confident when wet, and their ecstasies of bowing and scraping before the muttering of eunuch priests… Priestcraft makes up for failures of faith.” This is not appreciated, or appropriate. Particularly as I have consistently maintained that the sacraments (something accepted by Lutherans who believe in the priesthood of all believers) are not priestcraft, but actions of Christ. Perhaps they are priestcraft. But to presume we have evil motives is nothing but an ad hominem. And as your father would tell you, presuming motives is not only dirty argumentation, but a crime against charity.

2) Confusion of issues. You don’t understand your opponents' position. For instance, consider the following quotes: “men are incorporated in Christ by faith.” “Faith...was always necessary.” “God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly.” Your argument from Acts is: “God’s power is not tied to visible sacraments, therefore the sacraments are nothing.” But all these quotes are from two questions on Baptism from the Summa. So your argument is “I agree with Aquinas on point A, therefore he is wrong on point B.” Perhaps you should look and see how St. Thomas reconciles the two points? Again, this is not merely poor debating (which it is), but it is moreover, uncharitable. If you are condemning heresies as damnable, you have an obligation before God to not deceive your followers by attacking something no one believes.

As I pointed out above, you insinuations that non-Anabaptists deny justification by grace, and justification by faith. This is simply false. If you were not preaching, you would only be wrong. But you have had ample opportunity to understand the issue, I have several times pointed out to you that you are confusing the issue—Catholics believe in justification by grace alone, Lutherans in justification by faith alone, which is for a Lutheran, justification by the Sacraments alone. Thus you are guilty of bearing false testimony, and of preaching lies.

“If we confess our sins…”

Perhaps on the third point of confusion you are not sinning. But your arguments are nonsense. Consider the parody formed by substituting “reading of the Bible” for sacrament etc. “If someone can be given saving grace with only their faith in view, what graces are brought by the additional works, rites, ideas, Bible readings, sundry hoop-jumping-through? Are those folks just "more" saved? Repentance-unto-Life XPPro? Or do they get a special decoder ring? In spite of the obvious, drop you on your head, qualities of this passage, reading the Bible is often, still, the most offensive addition to the Gospel. It occurs in the lowest of the low-church bibliolatrous followers of Baal…” Now of course this argument is invalid, but just as it is invalid when “bible reading” is used, so it is invalid when “receiving the sacraments” is used. (If this is not sufficient, try substituting “confess our sins.”)

3. Substantial arguments. I sense two fundamental arguments. First, Cornelius was given the Holy Spirit before baptism. Therefore God does not usually give the Holy Spirit through baptism. This argument is completely inept. Evan ran when the Big Haus was on fire. Therefore Evan is not sedentary. And as in the example of your running, there are certainly many mitigating factors here. Does the fact that Christ wished to prove to the Christians that gentiles could be saved count for nothing? If there would ever be a reason for God not restricting himself to the Sacraments, this is it.

But consider elsewhere in Acts. Where was St. Paul saved? Ananias has to say to him “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” But St. Paul already knew the testimony of the Christians, was praying to God, and recognized Christ as Lord. So was his prayer still the prayer of one who rejected Christ?

Or take St. Peter’s presentation of the gospel. Would you ever preach “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins”? But the Apostle himself links them.

Moreover, both Ananias and St. Peter link faith and baptism, so there is scriptural evidence that your pitting the two against each other is not merely uncharitable, but unscriptural.

Galatians and Colossians: You argue that the sacraments are roundly condemned in Galatians. But the Galatians were tempted to become Jews. The Jews did observe physical feast days. But you assume this is the very essence of Judaism. Which is to beg the question against your opponents. We assert that the Galatians should not have become Jews. We assert there is no longer life in Judaism. But this is because Christ, its fulfillment has come. Judaism is lifeless because it says “Christ will come”, but Christ has come. And thus to be Jewish is to be subject to the elemental principles. Christ is not there. But the Colossians passage condemns you. Subjection to anything that is not God is subjection to the elemental principles. “But the substance belongs to Christ” “in whom all the fullness of Godhead dwells bodily.” But your religion rejects the physical as “diddly”, which is to say, rejects Christ as diddly.

The gospel St. Peter preached was “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” Presumably this was the same gospel St. Paul preached to the Galatians. “If I or an angel from heaven…”

The Oracle said...

You were raised an evangelical and, I imagine, came to Christ under the evangelical preaching of the Gospel. Now, your lack of understanding what that Gospel is has left you offended when it is defended. Who, besides the Vatican, has bewitched you? If you were baptized in the Holy Spirit when you believed, what made you call that insufficient?
It is at times like these that St. Paul challenged St. Peter to his face, rebuking him. An apt skirmish between the “first pope” and the apostle of grace to the Gentiles. At least the first pope could be brought to remember the Gospel.
“You foolish Galatians”
“I wish those who would unsettle you would mutilate themselves!”
I know it was not appreciated but it was appropriate to defend the Faith (and I don’t mean Christendom).
And now for the real problem in your thought. It begins with your appeal to my father. You live by a magisterium and you expect everyone else to do so as well. You can’t seem to understand the Scriptures without them and once with them , who needs to approach the Scriptures. All of the rest of us are to run around holding our views up to Aquinas, Luther, Jim Wilson, and C.S. Lewis. In fact, without cogently, and in outline form, considering all that each of your masters has said, (include footnotes and an index, please) no thought of God and Christ and the Gospel is valid. You have wandered on a basic aspect of the New Covenant. Your church mocks, with some regularity, the “just-me-and-my-Bible” set of believers. There is wisdom in all these men but they are judged by the Bible not vice versa. It is also an invalid sophistry to say “come back when you’ve done your outlines of Aquinas” when I never spoke of Aquinas, I spoke of you. If Aquinas agrees with me, well and good. Roman Catholicism does not and is apostate.
Jeremiah 31:34 “And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
I John 2:26-27 “I write this to you about those who would deceive you; but the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.”
I don’t have to give an answer to Aquinas on the Last Day nor the Lutherans. Did I believe what God has said in the Scriptures? In your case, did you ever even consider all the passages on baptism, concluding what the apostles thought and then judging Aquinas and Luther? I tell you what the Scripture says and you, like the scribes, say “Don’t you know that you are insulting the Lutherans?” Learn to think in submission to what the Bible says, not what the cult of Christendom has affirmed because you don’t seem to “know the Scriptures nor the power of God”.
If you think that baptism is merely the “higher church” prayer of confession and is a real work of Christ, not the priest. Why then, do they baptize infants who neither know sin nor repentance. Are they inconsistent or are you wrong about what they think is happening. Pick one.
And Matt, don’t be a child so easily deceived. Of course they claim faith, grace, and even “born again”. Sounds to me like the excuse made for icons. “Its not an idol, I use it to focus my prayers. “ or of the host in the sacrament “And we believe that it is not idolatry to worship the bread and wine for we believe that it actually is the body and blood of the Lord.” I had that last from a priest. You know perfectly well that the Roman Catholic Church teaches a path to salvation which is not the same path (regardless of the words used to describe it) as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are God’s graces mediated by apostolic successors through church ritual or individual belief and request. We are not “really all saying the same thing”.
Do they believe what I believe with a little decorative and symbolic ritual? God bless them and they are welcome to my fellowship.
Do they believe that what I believe is not enough. Rituals must be undergone that express it. And it doesn’t even have to be believed by the recipient but must be what the church believes and perhaps the doting parents standing by, awaiting the damp amulet for their child’s salvation.
Matt, do you believe that I, like Cornelius, became saved without reference to any ritual of the church? Were you? Isn’t God wonderful?
So, if the sacraments don’t serve a salvific need, what need do they serve?

Matthew N. Petersen said...

My point is two-fold. First, you condemn me, but you do not listen to me, or consider what I say. You ascribe motives. you mock and cajole. But you only deal with straw-men. You appeal to faith alone. There is a (rhetorical) appeal to a magesterium in using these words. But to use them such is either slanderous (as when you pretend Catholics do not believe in grace alone) or misleading, for Lutherans (for instance) believe in sacraments, and faith alone.

You quote what the scriptures say, may assumptions about what certian terms mean, and then condemn people as danmable heretics for something they do not believe. This is uncharitable. If I were to attack openness, would you like it if I attacked it for something it is not? Then do to others as you would have them do to you.

Thus I quoted authorities (except your father) because you are preaching that these men, my brothers, are damned heretics. But you are damning me and them for something neither of us believes. If you want to attack someone, particularly if you want to attack them as damnably wrong, by God, attack what they believe!

Yes, I have looked at what the apostoles say about baptism. Uh...with one or two exceptions, every time baptism is mentioned it is either explicitely water baptism, or deals with amazing claims about baptism. "Burried with him in baptism." "As many of you as were baptized have put on Jesus Christ" etc. But I am not arguing offensively, but defensively.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I said "Evan ran when the Big Haus was on fire." A friend pointed out that this would usually mean "Evan ran away..." Actually Evan ran to put out the fire. The point is that Evan (who rarely even walks fast) was actually hurrying. Forgive me for the sloppy use of language.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Looking back at my post yesterday, I realized it is not quite so pointed as it should have been. I stand by my denunciations and my defenses, but I should have saved the reply and posted it today. Apologies.


Joshua Gibbs said...


This post seems very unlike you. If I didn't see your name alongside it, I might give you a copy of "How To Be Free From Bitterness" because this doesn't look or behave like a free verse theological essay, but a rather biting and harsh response to unnamed persons. It's always bothers me when Doug gives the anonymous backhand of grace on his blog, and it bothers me just as much to see it here.

"Obvious, drop you on your head, qualities..." "bo-hunkus theology... "these who get more confident when wet..." Rant all you like, but you're going to have to kiss the privelege of talking smack about superior Christ Church/Credenda attitudes goodbye. You've lost that high ground, sir.

What say you?


The Oracle said...

Josh and Matt,
I love you guys. My heart and my home is always open to you. I apologize for the subjective language that got in the way of my communication.
Matt, whatever your reasons for wandering from the Gospel of Jesus Christ be aware, without the distraction of subjective language, that your are embracing apostasy.
Watch your soul. The Gospel is not to be adjusted merely because a close friend committed apostasy.
Galatians 2:4-5
But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage -- to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Joshua Gibbs said...


Apology accepted, thank you.

I'd like to add to this discussion the fact that very little of what convinced me of my current position on sacraments came from the teaching of the Church.

Almost two years ago, when I could not defend my positions on infant baptism to my wife, I resolved to believe nothing on the matter (so much as that kind of thing can be done) until I'd carefully examined the Scriptures in full. As of last week, we looked through the contents of our NIV and could find only two or three OT prophets that we had not read together. My persuasions regarding the Lord's Supper and baptism have largely come from personal devotion and study of the Scriptures, not to the pointless traditions of men.

I would also strongly encourage you to look a little further into the matter. It seems as if there is some assumption that the beliefs of Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics, etc. are all just pulled from thin air and have no Scriptural basis at all, or rather, that we've got three tiny little passages of Scripture that have been inflated into an entire paradigm.

In the many number of things that you've convinced me of over the last ten years (namely, the changing mind of God- a belief that has opened up how I view God and enabled me to understand Him as a personality and not just a gracious machine), I always had to first assume that you weren't mad or nutty and that you had good reasons for saying what you said. That's an assumption I take into this conversation as well, and would ask you assume the same of those you speak to and about.

As always, thank you for your open door and for looking out for my interests. I know you are not a vindictive person and believe that your comments are directed toward my edification and Matt's, however strongly we might disagree.

I will try to smoke with you soon.

Warm regards and much love,


The Oracle said...

Thank you, Josh, for your grace,and a hearty "Amen" to that threat of smoking together sometime soon.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I also wanted to say I accepted your apology. Part of my reason for comming over yesterday was to restore fellowship on this topic--perhaps this goal was interrupted by the surprise Lewis reading--but I meant to accept the apology, and show that I did by resuming cordial relations.

The Oracle said...

And thank you Matt.