Archive for June 3rd, 2008

I thought this comment by new commenter, Chad, was rather insightful, demonstrating a truth I’ve tried to convey in the past, though much more ham-handedly than he has elegantly phrased.  In answer to the question “what would you consider ‘heresy’”, he writes:

Making works necessary for salvation. I would qualify this, though, by saying that our Roman Catholic friends are not heretics in this regard. When I say “works as necessary for salvation” it is to say that grace is being denied as free gift (or more to the point, that there is no need of grace), that God in Jesus has not done something to open the door to heaven.

I am quick to point out that many of my protestant brothers and sisters are no different than our RCC brothers and sisters – they have simply changed the system of “works” from one of penance to one of mental assent to a set of propositional truths or doctrines. While not “heresy” I consider it to be a departure from orthodox understandings of grace (gift!).

In the early church, particularly those with a Jewish background, the separation of “works” from “faith” was inconceivable.  In this mindset, one physically cannot have a belief system that is not demonstrated.  Sin, itself, is a demonstration of a belief that God cannot provide.  As most of the world, and the church along with it, was Hellenized it began creating abstract compartmentalizations which separated ones “faith/belief” from one’s “actions”, leading to the church schizophrenically pitting one against the other.

We see the seeds of this already planted in the book of James, and the schizophrenia fully realized in Luther’s desire to strike it from the canon, since it appears to stake out ground somewhere between legalism and sola fide.  To paraphrase James, “faith” (mental assent) really isn’t faith (mental assent) unless it is demonstrated.

And all of this is independent of grace, which is freely given.

As you survey the online landscape of Christianity (in which the relative percentage of Evangelical vs. Reformed vs. Catholic is skewed far differently that represented in living, breathing human beings), you can’t help but wonder why so many people are busy defending a 450-year-old church split, looking for the devil in the other party.  One need only examine the wailing and gnashing of teeth anytime a Protestant church reintroduces a Catholic tradition.  What you end up seeing is extra-biblical whining in condemnation of extra-biblical tradition (noting that I used ‘extra-biblical’ and not ‘unbiblical’ or ‘anti-biblical’).

It’s no wonder Jesus’ criticisms were almost exclusively about the religious class, always eager to demonstrate their righteousness while condemning anything that didn’t fit their own narrow traditions.

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