Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sola Fide and Baptism

This is a really good paper. Phillip Cary contrasts the "standard Protestant syllogism" with the Lutheran syllogism.

Here's the standard Protestant syllogism:

Major Premise: Whoever believes in Christ is saved.
Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.
Conclusion: I am saved.

Here's Luther's syllogism:

Major premise: Christ told me, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
Minor premise: Christ never lies but only tells the truth.
Conclusion: I am baptized (i.e., I have new life in Christ).

There is a huge practical difference between these two syllogisms. The first focuses on my subjective faith. If I question my subjective faith, then I question my salvation. If I see that my faith is weak, then my salvation is in doubt.

Luther's syllogism, on the other hand, focuses on Christ's trustworthiness or faithfulness. If my faith is weak, I look to Jesus on the Cross rather than to my own faith. For on the Cross God superlatively demonstrates his trustworthiness, going to his own death in order to keep his promise.

This is also why the question of whether Gal 2.16 (and 2.20) should be translated as "faith in Christ" or as "the faithfulness of Christ" takes on added significance. One translation points to our own faith, the other points to Christ's faithfulness.

There's a good discussion of this point in Concordia Seminary Professor Arthur Just's paper here.

The upshot, though, is that it is through the sacraments that we receive the blessings of God's faithfulness in Jesus Christ. Our trust in Christ only reflects Christ's trustworthiness. So when I doubt, I need simply took to Christ and his work to strengthen my faith.

In contrast, when "faith" is an act of will, as it is so often presented among other protestants -- and superlatively so in the prosperity gospel, but more generically throughout almost all of non-Lutheran protestantism -- then my salvation stands on the strength of my will rather than on the strength of Christ's faithfulness.

Further, as Cary points out, in the standard protestant view, assurance requires not merely faith in Christ, it also requires that we have knowledge of that faith. As Cary explains:

"Indeed, because the content of the promise is conditional, explicitly making everything conditional upon faith, I am in no position to say the Gospel promise is about me until I can say, 'I believe.' For most Protestants, this is a really big deal. The hour I first believed, the moment when I can first say 'I truly believe in Christ' is the moment of my salvation, of my conversion and turning from death to life. What matters is that moment of conversion, not the sacrament of baptism, because everything depends on my being able to say 'I believe.' For only if I know that I truly believe can I confidently conclude: I am saved."

In contrast, for the Lutheran, the Gospel promise is about me because "I" have been baptized. That is the condition of my salvation. My faith that I am saved through baptism only reflects the character of my God, who never lies.


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