Justification By Cherry-Picking

My recent post on the differences between Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy stirred the ire of Cyril Jenkins, whose response has now been reprinted on a number of Orthodox blogs. He makes a number of claims that are problematic, but among them is a particularly vexing canard about the doctrine of justification that I hear most often in Roman Catholic apologetics, though it appears that it has migrated to Orthodox circles as well. The argument goes like this: The Catholic/Orthodox apologist will say, “Do you know that there is only one place in all of Scripture where the phrase ‘justification by faith alone’ is used?” “No, I did not realize that,” replies the unsuspecting Protestant. “Where is that verse, pray tell? In Romans? Or Galatians?” “Why no,” says the apologist. “It’s James 2:24, which says, ‘A man is justified by works and not by faith alone.’ So you see, the only place in the Bible where this phrase is used, it is being refuted.” “Wow,” replies the unbelievably biblically ignorant Protestant. “I never saw that verse there before! I guess I can earn my salvation after all! Semipelagianism rules! Thanks for setting me straight.”

I have pointed out before that if you read verse 24 in the context of the rest of the chapter, it actually affirms the doctrine of justification by faith alone rather than rejecting it. But leaving that aside for the moment, let us examine the claim that this is the only place in the New Testament where justification by faith alone is mentioned.

If we are going to look for New Testament evidence of the doctrine of Justification by faith alone, it would help to know what that doctrine actually teaches. Article XI tells us that “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings.” Faith is not the cause of our justification. Christ is. The heart of the doctrine of justification is that human beings are so corrupted by sin right from the start that we have no ability to save ourselves, no ability to bridge the gap that exists between God and us. Or, as Article X puts it, “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God.” We cannot climb up to God, so He comes to us, dying in our place and covering us with His righteousness, changing us from the inside out. Faith, understood primarily not just as belief but as trust, is the instrument through which we receive that covering. Faith is not a decision that we make to follow Jesus, but a gift that God gives to those whom He has elected.

So is this idea, that Christ alone is the source of our salvation, absent from the New Testament? Hardly. The great expositor of this teaching is Paul. It is difficult to read more than a few lines of Paul without encountering it. For example, Romans 3:20-26 says this:

For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

This is, of course, seven verses instead of one, but sometimes Scripture requires more than one verse to say something, particularly given that at the time that Paul wrote this letter he was not separating it into verses. Still, if a pithier example is preferred, we could turn to Galatians 2:16 which says:

Yet we who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.

Just one verse, but it’s a pretty long verse, so perhaps we would be better off with something like Ephesians 2:8, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” Nice, simple, to the point, and if we really want to drive it home we could throw in verse 9 which adds, “not because of works, lest any man should boast.” There’s stuff like this all over the Pauline corpus.

If Paul is not your cup of tea, though, there is always Peter who says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Or John, who says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Or even James, who says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” But if all else fails, we could always just go with Jesus, who makes reference to the doctrine in this little obscure passage:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:16-21)

Far from being a doctrine invented by the Reformers, the doctrine of justification by faith alone finds light throughout the Scriptures. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists are able to score points by saying that James 2:24 is the only place where the phrase “justification by faith alone” is used. But it’s a word game, a sleight of hand used to hide the fact that they have no answer for the many places in the Bible in which this doctrine is made manifest. It is much easier, presumably, to cherry pick a verse that sounds like it validates your position than to dig into the vast swaths of Scripture that slowly and carefully provide the details of a doctrine that you do not want to accept. Ironically, this is also the approach of many American Evangelicals who cut the Bible up into bite size chunks that support any number of contradictory ideas rather than allowing the Word of God to speak for itself.

Of course, the real tragedy is that the symmetry between this doctrine and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understandings of justification and sanctification are not as far apart as Reformation era rhetoric (from both Protestants and Roman Catholics) would lead us to believe. Both Anglicans and some streams of Lutherans have an implicit understanding of theosis, as exemplified by figures like Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, and even Luther himself. And the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation shows how ecumenical dialogue and the evolving understanding of both traditions has laid to rest the divisiveness of this issue. Yet the apologists continue to pounce on it, trying to stir up again the very battles that led to the fracturing of the Church centuries ago. There is plenty that can be accomplished through dialogue and even vigorous debate on these issues. We should, by all means, hold each other accountable. But word games are a cheap trick that accomplishes nothing. We get nowhere by assuming that our debate partners are stupid.

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144 Responses to Justification By Cherry-Picking

  1. gonzalezcaa says:

    Can I get an Amen?! Well done, Fr. Jonathan. I read the response from Mr. Jenkins the whole time thinking, “I am not impressed. This doesn’t disprove anything on Conciliar Anglican, just repeats all the same stuff that was refuted in that post.” Also, not to say that those other things (the filoque, the place of holy Tradition in the life of the Church catholic, what the one holy catholic and apostolic Church is and looks like) are not very important and crucial to our understanding of the faith, but I’m glad you gave a quick response to this particular issue. Justification by faith alone through grace alone is the doctrine on which all that other stuff stands or falls.
    Can I get an Amen?! Well done, Fr. Jonathan. I read the response from Mr. Jenkins the whole time thinking, “I am not impressed. This doesn’t disprove anything on Conciliar Anglican, just repeats all the same stuff that was refuted in that post.” Also, not to say that those other things (the filoque, the place of holy Tradition in the life of the Church catholic, what the one holy catholic and apostolic Church is and looks like) are not very important and crucial to our understanding of the faith, but I’m glad you gave a quick response to this particular issue. Justification by faith alone through grace alone is the doctrine on which all that other stuff stands or falls.

    Don’t mean to make you blush, but this is why I check your sight often, greedily waiting for the next post.

  2. Richard Tribe says:

    Very interesting indeed. But we must also remember that the works of our faith our essential to our salvation. True it is that one can not “work their way into heaven” but yet it is also true that faith without works is dead. The works we do are not a means to earn salvation for it is only the ever present sacrifice of Christ Jesus that is our hope an salvation. But our good works show a living faith. An how does one expect to see God and be recieved in to the kingdom of heaven without a living faith?? For all in Christ are alive, for he is life everlasting.

  3. MichaelA says:

    I will second that Amen! I think Article XII is also useful, because it is so clearly based on James 2:14-24, that “faith without deeds is dead”:

    “Article XII
    Of Good Works
    Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.”

  4. The disagreement for a long time on both sides has been the definition of faith and justification. Believing the Gospel is an object of faith, and acting on it is an act of faith, and therefore an action.

    Justification takes place when the object of faith is acted upon. This has nothing to do with the fact that we save ourselves apart from God or the cross.

    • gonzalezcaa says:

      No one is saying you can’t act on faith… Quite the contrary. We are given instruction after instruction on how to act in faith. But we are not *justified* by “acting on faith,” since only God in his mercy-objective with regards to our cleanliness-can grant it. Only God-before we can act or even choose to act-can justify us. You should read Fr. Jon’s post on Baptism, he puts it a lot better than I can.

      *Disclaimer* I’m very vehemently NOT talking about Calvinism. Whether or not I am or you are a Calvinist has nothing to do with the plane and simple teaching of Scripture with regards to the doctrine of Justification by faith alone.

      • Those who argue that we are justified by acting on faith, are not leaving out God. Since God grace is the source of this to begin with.

      • Pete says:

        But here’s the part your missing: Are you justified by YOUR act of faith that God provided (direct actor), or are you saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone, which you act on after the fact (passive recipient).

        God didn’t open the door and call to me to come in. God opened the door, picked me up, and carried me through.

      • Pete says:

        Man. I have got to start checking my spelling before I post. ;)

      • I am trying to say that God is the prime mover or the first cause. This is something Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants can all agree on.

        On the other hand, Go gives us free-will and won’t forcefully carry us if we do not want to go.

      • Pete says:

        Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” – Deuteronomy 1:29-31

      • Anglican admirer of Orthodoxy says:

        20Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

        Rev. 3

      • gonzalezcaa says:

        This verse absolutely does not talk about evangelism or being justified. Sorry. The audience of this verse was a church-a group of people who already were called out of the world and assembled to worship. If this was supposed to refute something, it didn’t, because this was given to people already justified. They *were* justified by faith alone through grace alone, now that we have been animated in the Spirit let’s do some Way-following.

      • A Modest Proposal says:

        Everyone inside the seven churches that verse was addressed to were justified? Are you arguing for “once saved always saved”?

      • gonzalezcaa says:

        Go read the verses. I’m not going to argue semantics. The message was sent to the churches, which we can assume was made up of God’s people, since the that is what a church is. Are you arguing that those verses only apply to people in those churches who weren’t saved, even though absolutely nothing in those verses indicates that?

  5. Wesley says:

    Thanks Fr. Jonathan. This is a good response. Anytime a Roman Catholic or Orthodox uses James 2:24 or Galatians 5:6 in an attempt to refute sola fide, you know that person simply does not understand what sola fide is or what the issues really are. The problem is that we are often talking past each other, misunderstanding what we mean by the terms and phrases we utilize. Orthodox and Roman Catholics need to realize that we Protestants really do agree with St. James that mere intellectual belief absent of mercy and good deeds is dead faith that is vain and cannot save. We really do agree with St. Paul when he says that the only thing that counts is faith working through love. Paul is saying the same thing as James: faith that does not work through love, faith that is not active in mercy and good works, does not count before God; it is no better than the faith of a demon. Protestants agree! It is simple ignorance on the part of Orthodox and Roman Catholics when they imagine that these texts in James and Paul are evidence against justification by faith alone.

    I think it would be especially helpful for Roman Catholics and Orthodox to see a quotation from a Church Father on the relationship of faith and works that we Protestants can fully agree with. One of the best I have seen is from St. Diadochos of Photiki in The Philokalia. St. Diadochos, a 5th Century Greek Bishop who took part in the Council of Chalcedon, said, “Faith without works and works without faith will both alike be condemned, for he who has faith must offer to the Lord the faith which shows itself in actions. Our father Abraham would not have been counted righteous because of his faith had he not offered its fruit, his son. He who loves God both believes truly and performs the works of faith reverently. But he who only believes and does not love, lacks even the faith he thinks he has; for he believes merely with a certain superficiality of intellect and is not energized by the full force of love’s glory. The chief part of virtue, then, is faith energized by love.”

    The gospel of the Reformation believes and teaches the same thing. You will notice St. Diadochos alludes directly to both Galatians 5:6 and James 2:21-24, and we agree with his interpretation and understanding completely. So Catholics and Orthodox should stop quoting those passages as though we don’t believe them, don’t like them, or have never read them before. We have read them, we love them, and we believe them just as St. Diadochos interprets them.

  6. Good response. I couldn’t help but think in Cyril’s piece, that one of his main criticisms was that Anglicans seem to disagree on theology and practice, therefore it’s all just a chaos and we should throw up our hands and make an exodus into Orthodoxy (with the implication being that Orthodoxy is not like this at all.)

    But is it really surprising at all that theologians within one particular denomination would disagree? And is the implied claim that such things don’t happen in Orthodoxy true at all? Frankly, I think disagreement while remaining in communion is part of the lifeblood of the Church. By disagreeing and yet remaining together, we can “sharpen each other” in our journey of understanding. The Church is not supposed to be a collection of nodding heads, and in fact we see already in the Book of Acts that the Church had disagreements from the very beginning. Yet they remained in communion with each other.

    So the point about Jewel, Dix, Cranmer, et. al. seemed a bit contrived to me. As if Cyril was implying that such a thing could never happen in the true church (an implication that is patently false if one examines modern Orthodoxy.)

    • MichaelA says:

      That is a very good point, CTB. Some of the most incisive and practical theology has emerged from disputes between great theologians – it seems at times that the dispute itself sharpens their wits and hones their grasp of the truth.

    • Cyril Jenkins says:

      You need to reread what I wrote. It is not that there are disagreements, but that there are disagreements over fundamental issues. Neither Dix nor Mascall accepted the Reformation doctrine of Justification by Faith alone. Further, you need to go back and look at all the polemic in the Gorham case in the nineteenth century: you will get a good idea of how essentially different the two sides saw Anglicanism. Finally, could you give me an example in “modern Orthodoxy” of sides so opposed as Jewel and Dix?

      • Well, I was thinking specifically of the varying positions regarding the ecumenical movements. Frankly, this doesn’t seem that small of an issue either. Many Orthodox, including Patriarch Bartholomew, see it as a good thing and they also do NOT see it as compromising Orthodoxy’s unique position or claims. But there’s a broad spectrum in Orthodoxy, which runs all the way to those who think ecumenism is heresy. The Mount Athos monks for one, who are regarded by many as a safe fortress of Orthodoxy. Or, in the same vein, when the Lutheran church in Germany voted a female bishop to be president of their council for a term, the Russian Orthodox Church broke off all conversational ties with the German Lutheran church. No one asked them to accept female ordination or anything. Just to remain in conversation. Other Orthodox jurisdictions have not taken such actions when women are present at a conversation table. This is why I think this one, particular issue is rather big. You’ve got two wings of the church, one of which is firmly convinced that what the other wing embraces is heresy.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        It’s a bit unfair to ask for a juxtaposition in “modern Orthodoxy” in comparison with the differences between Jewel and Dix, two men who lived three and a half centuries apart.

      • Cyril Jenkins says:

        But Fr. Jonathan, let us then substitute you for Bishop Jewel. I am afraid dom Gregory would not be happy either. And as for ecumenism, there is one monastery on Athos that has broken communion with Barth over this, not the whole mountain. But more importantinly, while I find his All Holinesses meeting with the WCC odious, it is not in breach of any canons. What is more, conversation is not communion. If Moscow breaks off all conversation with the German Lutherans, this is not some admission that the Phanar is excommunicate. We don’t get to pick and chose how we attend to the canons. Ecumenism is a miserable thing. I would much rather have it with you than with E’C’USA., for at least (I am not saying this to be sassy) you believe in absolute truth and revealed religion and the supremacy of Christ. I must, I am afraid, leave your kind conversation until I can get some time. I have to finish a rather large project in the next few weeks, so I must “go dark” (sounds like a LaCarre novel). I will post a few things on my blog.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I think it is safe to say that Bishop Jewel had a much firmer grasp of Anglicanism and a greater desire to defend it than Gregory Dix. I dare say, no one has unwittingly done more to serve the advancement of modern liberalism in the Anglican churches than Dix did with his rather dubious liturgical scholarship.

  7. G.R.M.Anderson says:

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

  8. Minor correction: “sleight” not “slight.”

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thanks, correction made. Having a new baby at home has made my spelling atrocious. I sent an email two days ago talking about “not for prophet” organizations. I suppose there are many less than prophetic groups that would count, but that wasn’t exactly what I meant!

  9. I forgot to add: a very well-formed response. I’ve seen these sort of attacks on JbF on Orthodox and RCC blogs, but they’re weak gruel for the educated Protestant.

  10. tony phelps says:

    Great response! Thanks for defending the heart of the Gospel, JBFA, without which there simply ISN’T any good news for sinners. And don’t forget Romans 3:28, a couple verses down from the passage you quote, which literally concludes that section of Paul’s argument: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith APART FROM THE DEEDS OF THE LAW.” Can we justly paraphrase that, “by faith alone”? Yup.

  11. Anglican admirer of Orthodoxy says:

    Wow,” replies the unbelievably biblically ignorant Protestant. “I never saw that verse there before! I guess I can earn my salvation after all! Semipelagianism rules! Thanks for setting me straight.”

    This statement confuses me Fr. Are you claiming the Orthodox are SemiPelegians?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I suppose that was a bit under the belt, wasn’t it? I’m not sure I would want to say definitively, across the board, that all Orthodox are semipelagians. It does seem to me, however, that much of Orthodox and Roman Catholic apologetics against the Reformational doctrine of Justification is grounded in semipelagianism.

      • The opposite charge is also false, that the other two do not care about faith, but think they can work their way into heaven. If you had not posted that about Orthodoxy, they would be not response back.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I never said that the Orthodox or Roman Catholics “do not care about faith,” nor do I think that to be the case. Obviously, Romans and Orthodox believe in the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation. The problem comes in what gets added to that. Any time you say that we contribute to our own salvation, even if we say that we need Christ and that His death does the majority of the heavy lifting, we are ultimately saying that the work of Christ on the cross was insufficient.

      • Anglican admirer of Orthodoxy says:

        What would Classical Anglicans say about St. Paul’s admonition to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?

        It always sounds as though Anglicans fear Orthodox deny justification by faith when actually they agree on faith being required. However, this is one side of “the coin of salvation”. The other side of that coin is theosis. Salvation is incomplete without faith that leads to faithful works in Christ which leads to our healing by the Great Physician.

        This avoids the bickering back and forth and fully encompasses the two sides of the coin of salvation.

        I am being simplistic bit truly it seems as those most Anglicans and Orthodox allow polemics to win the day and cause an unhealthy separation of faith and theosis equaling salvation

  12. Dear Fr. Jonathan,

    This is all a nice restatement of everything one could hope to find in Luther’s The Freedom of the Christian, or Calvin’s Reply to Sadoleto, or the Institutes III.9-13, or Vermigli’s Commonplaces, or any one of the Reformers. But Paul in neither Romans nor Galatians uses the term works in an absolute sense, but instead restricts the term to “works of the law,” and “deeds of the law,” that he is comparing the Christian economy to that of the Jews. Further, I never quibbled about justification by faith, I happily affirm it, but I feel like Inigo Montoya: “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” What the word faith meant to Paul is something wholly other than what it meant to post Ockhamite humanists (and I use the term humanist in its Renaissance sense). If we want to say justification by faith, well, Savonarola, Erasmus, cardinal Pole and Contarini could all talk about Justification by Faith and sight the very passages you do (and they did). Does that mean that they were Calvinists, or Protestant Agustinians? Citing those verses doesn’t tell me whether what St. Paul meant by faith has a univocal sense with what Luther and Calvin meant by faith. How could it since the epistemology of agent intellect, which we see at play in both St. Paul and the Church Fathers (and was very part of their epistemic make-up) had not been held since Boethius, or more properly Johannes Scotus Eriugena (though I am less well versed in him than in Boethius). All you need do to see this played out is ask whether St. Augustine would have written a response to Gaunilo. In the cases of Pole, Contarini, et al, there was no importation of Melanchthon’s and later Calvin’s doctrines of imputation (something also wholly unknown before them). They also had lost the doctrine of agent intellect, but they had not lost the doctrine that natures don’t change without ceasing to be the natures that they are. I am not arguing about justification by faith, but the protestant doctrine that it is the means alone whereby we fully obtain Christ. If you don’t like it that love perfects it and is greater than it, then we are not speaking at all about the same thing.

    • Did Luther, not use Ockham’s razor too? To separate faith and reason. Leading to swinging between either materialism or spiritualism?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Dr. Jenkins,

      You’ve thrown around a lot of complex philosophy in a very short space, to the point that I cannot entirely follow what you are trying to say. That said, a few brief things of note.

      1. The point of my post is not that it is impossible to make a theological (or in your case, philosophical) argument against the doctrine of sola fide, but that RC and (apparently) Eastern Orthodox apologists try to do this on the cheap by suggesting that the only place in Scripture where justification by faith alone is mentioned is James 2:24. It’s a kind of “gotcha” move that makes about as much sense as when radical Protestants say that we cannot call priests “Father” because of Matthew 23:9.

      2. It is a rather tortured and narrow view of Paul to suggest that his only interest in Romans and Galatians is to keep formerly Jewish Christians from thinking that the finer points of the Torah continued to apply to them. Paul says that “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12). Not much room left here for us to somehow justify ourselves by works, even if they are works apart from the Jewish law. But of course, Romans and Galatians are not the only places where Paul articulates the doctrine of sola fide, nor is the proclaiming of this doctrine limited to Paul, as I have mentioned above.

      3. It never fails to surprise me how quickly these conversations turn into attacks on the clarity of Scripture. Of course, as recent RC posters have tirelessly pointed out, Scripture needs to be interpreted. Everything needs to be interpreted. If I write something as simple as the direction, “Put the book on the table,” even assuming that you know which book and which table I mean, you still have to feed the signal to your brain that processes and interprets what I’ve said as speech or else it will just sound like gobbledygook. But it does strike me as rather odd that we would suggest that the Holy Spirit would not be able to cut through that and make the Word of God plain to us.

      4. I fail to see the relevance of the concept of agent intellect to this, regardless of whether or not it was a distinction that Paul was familiar with. While James tends to use pistis in the narrow sense of meaning belief, Paul’s usage is generally in line with trust, It is not an intellectual exercise at all for him, but a state of being joined with Christ by “putting on Christ” (Romans 13:14).

      5. I have no argument with 1 Corinthians 13:13 and Paul’s beautiful teaching that, out of faith, hope, and love, “the greatest of these is love.” Certainly, Christ’s own teaching is that love is what we were made for and what we are ultimately called to live into. It is His new command, that we love one another as He has loved us (John 13 and 15). But it is impossible for us to love God or each other without His changing us. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us…” (1 John 4:10). We cannot simply choose to love and then become righteous before God. We have not the capacity to love until God makes us righteous.

  13. Joshua says:

    Thank you Fr. Jonathan!

  14. Joshua says:

    Lutheran satire says it well!

    • Joshua says:

      Wrong video!

    • gonzalezcaa says:

      Where is there an admin when you need one… this post is random and has nothing to do with this post…

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        gonzalezcaa, did you watch the video? It’s about grace and the two ways that Rome defines it. Not exactly what the post was about, but much closer than a good deal of other conversation. I think you’ll find it amusing. I did.

      • Joshua says:

        I thought it had something to do with it.. Shows how much I know. I am learning lots from studying this blog though. You have to go to the playlist and find Papist Christmas. I found it amusing too. As a convert to Anglicanism from Lutheranism, I still use Lutheran articles of faith provided they do not contradict classical Anglicanism.

      • gonzalezcaa says:

        Maybe I’m missing something. The video just looks like it’s about the parallels between the Mormon church and Islam…

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        It worked when I clicked on it the first time, but now it’s just cycling through all his videos. The one you actually want is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeJZAb-kS-c

      • Cadog says:

        The admin is probably already at church tending his flock. As I should be (at church, not tending …) As a new dad and busy rector, it is a wonder Fr. J gets around to as much as he does on the blog … but I am sure enjoying it!

    • Cadog says:

      Amusing … and thought provoking. Thanks Joshua.

  15. Ian says:

    Fr. Jonathan, I have loved reading The Conciliar Anglican for the past couple of weeks now. I have been considering becoming Anglican for a while, and your posts have been a great source in finding what historic Anglicanism teaches. I’m very thankful!
    I want to throw my two cents in this conversation, because to say that James 2:24 isn’t a big deal bothers me. And here’s why.

    If I am going to be Anglican, I am to hold the doctrine of the supremacy of Scripture. The Bible is the supreme authority of the Christian, and whatever it says I am to hold on to. The Scripture is God breathed and it is the measuring stick that determines what is truly apostolic. If anything contradicts it, I am to reject it.

    Now, if Paul never says, “We are justified by faith alone,” but James does say, “We are not justified by faith alone,” wouldn’t it be wise to use the same words the inspired authors used to express their ideas?

    James does say: “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”
    If I am to be true to the Scriptures, shouldn’t I use faith alone to describe non-justifying faith? The Holy Spirit—not just James—chose faith alone to describe a faith that is dead. Shouldn’t I as well?

    Now Paul articulates justification by faith in these ways: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28), and “Yet we who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified” (Gal 2:16). And I will also throw in Eph. 2:8, even though the word “justified” is not in the text, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not because of works, so that no one will boast.”
    None of these texts say justification is by faith alone. If I’m to hold Scripture as supreme what should I do? Should I use Luther’s semantics or Scriptures?

    (Now the question must comes up: what are works of the law? Without getting into too much detail, I would say it is the ceremonial works of the law and moral works of the law. It is not ceremonial because Abraham was justified apart from circumcision [Romans 3-4]. And it is not by moral works of the law because Paul says, “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” [Romans 3:20]. In other words, the law does not justify because it shows us our faults; no one can keep it perfectly. Does this sound right?)

    To summarize: Shouldn’t we use the actual words of Paul to summarize justification by faith? Biblically, “faith alone” means faith that does not justify. Biblically, “faith apart from works of the law” means faith that justifies—so why use faith alone to talk about justifying faith?

    Isn’t using “justification by faith alone” rhetoric not only unbiblical but anti-biblical? This is not how the Holy Spirit has spoken to us. So why talk this way?

    So maybe what the Roman Catholics and Orthodox are saying has a more weight then you think?

    Thanks again Fr. Jonathan.
    And may grace and peace be with you through our Lord Jesus, the Christ.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Ian,

      I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think it is important to make distinctions between apologetic tactics and scriptural exegesis. I do take very seriously what James says in 2:24, but I believe that when that verse is read in context, it does not contradict sola fide as a doctrine, any more than “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4) contradicts the doctrine of the Trinity. These verses cannot be read alone, like slogans, but must be read in the wider context of the chapter they exist in, the book they exist in, and even in relation to the wider corpus of Scripture as a whole. It is very easy to cherry pick one verse and interpret it to your advantage to score points in an argument, especially if the one you are arguing with is not all that educated on the subject. It is much harder to actually work out what the Holy Spirit is truly saying through careful study and reflection. Cheap apologetic tricks cut off the discussion before it can even begin (and yes, such tricks are employed by all manner of Protestant apologists too).

      Moreover, while I take your point about sticking with biblical language where we can, we also have to consider that how we name a particular doctrine has a larger, historical dimension. The word “trinity” appears nowhere in the Scripture, nor is there a single verse that says, “God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet one God.” Yet properly understood, that is exactly what Scripture reveals to be true. Could we come up with another way of describing that doctrine that didn’t use the term “trinity”? Sure, but it would be a mistake to separate what we are describing from the historical doctrine and pretend as if they’re two different things, casting all those in the past who believed in the doctrine as heretics. There are, I’m sure, other ways of describing the doctrine of sola fide other than by saying “faith alone” or even “justification by faith alone.” In truth, the doctrine of sola fide is only partially about faith, because what lies at its core is the conviction that Scripture teaches that the sole source of our salvation is Jesus Christ, not Jesus plus anything else. Sola fide is shorthand for, “We are justified by Christ alone, through His grace alone, which is given to us by means of faith alone.” Of course, even that is shorthand of a sort, since each of those pericopes require unpacking to be fully understood. But the gist of it is, it ain’t about us, it’s about Him. So maybe we should just call it the doctrine of Christ alone? Or perhaps, the doctrine of “faith only” since that is a phrase that appears in Scripture (“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” – Galatians 5:6).

  16. Stephen says:

    Some suggest that all one needs to do is make a public affirmation of receiving Grace in order to be ‘saved’.
    So, I must ask; could even this affirmation be considered a ‘work’?
    If we must ‘receive’ and ‘affirm’ this saving Grace, doesn’t that, in some degree, constitute a ‘work’ on one’s part?
    If not, where do you draw this line then?

    • Some Protestants also argue that main-line Protestant churches, RC’s and Orthodox are false, because of the sordid things their members or clergy do. This is simply projecting their views of grace, unto others, that they are not saved, hence they act this way.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Stephen,

      You’re quite right to point out that there are some modern Protestants, particularly Baptists and “non-denominational” folks, who talk about salvation as if it is a decision that one makes. All you have to do is pray the “Sinner’s Prayer,” tell God how much you love Him, and you’re in. I think your criticism of decision theology is valid. It is, in many ways, much more worthy of being labeled as “works righteousness” than Roman Catholicism.

      Reformational Christians have never adopted a decision based theology. You won’t find too many Calvinists or Lutherans or Anglicans knocking on doors, handing out pamphlets and asking you to make some kind of emotionally charged decision to follow Jesus (at least, you wouldn’t have found that historically… today, unfortunately, some folks in each of those camps try their best to imitate their Baptist neighbors rather than to follow their own traditions).

      Classical Anglicanism teaches that faith is the means by which God gives you the grace of His Son Jesus. Faith itself is a gift, given by the Holy Spirit, through the hearing of the Word and through Holy Baptism.

      I did a series a while back on the Doctrine of Election which you can find in the side bar under “Special Series.” It goes into much greater detail about how Anglicanism views these matters.

      • Cadog says:

        Father J — “Sinners Prayer” conversions may not enjoy a lot of biblical, historic, or even theological basis (though of course theologians in those camps would disagree) … but non-denominational and evangelical churches are in many cases experiencing growth that other traditions (including TEC) are not experiencing. Churches such as Saddleback, Willow Creek, Joel Olsteen’s church, and many lesser known examples that for better or worse mimic these mega-churches’ growth tactics. I may not line up with them theologically — particularly those of the so-called “prosperity gospel” variety — but I don’t believe I or anyone else should question their salvation. Maybe that is not what you mean but it might be taken as a line you are drawing as to who is “in” or not.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Hi Cadog,

        I’m not questioning their salvation or the authenticity of their faith. I am saying, however, that their faith is a gift from God like everyone else’s and that it has everything to do with their hearing of the Word and their baptism and nothing at all to do with a decision they have made.

      • If we look at the sacraments, we are in agreement that it’s God who established them, therefore it’s God who acts through them. In this way, RC’s would be closer to Anglicans in their understanding of faith, than with Evangelicals, who in fact see faith as an action where they take the first step and not God.

      • Cadog says:

        Evangelicals (having been one) would generally argue that they in fact do NOT take the first step — that God does (by “inviting” them — this is another vernacular expression for what happens in, for example, a evangelistic crusade after the gospel is presented — an invitation is then issued for people to “follow” Jesus. None of my ” ” are intended as disparaging — just trying to frame their perspective). But it is indeed an action, arising out of (as they would say) THEIR faith or, as they would say, “putting their trust in Jesus”. The contrasting Anglican understanding of salvation by faith alone was a distinction of Anglicanism that appealed to me, personally.

        Within protestantism, this whole area is marked by endless debate between those of Arminian perspective on the one hand, and those of Calvinist or Reformed on the other (I am using the narrower sense of the latter, not the “everything that is not Roman Catholic” sense). Again, out of my experience, Anglicanism made that whole distinction less relevant, and the sacramental approach to belief is one of the reasons why.

      • I do agree about the sacramental approach to belief, and Catholics do share the same views as Anglicans that Baptism re-generates us. But, we hold that the sacraments still belong to the church, and that an Evangelical who believes that the Eucharist is the real presence, still cannot make it present, only a validly ordained priest can.

        They bear fruit in us, when we receive them with the right deposition.

        131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

        I am interested in Anglican views on this issue.

      • Cadog says:

        OK … I think I understand. Your comments re Baptists, pamphlets, and emotion had me wondering … but now I have to go back and re-read your “Sweet, Pleasant, and Unspeakable Comfort” post. Many years of the Arminian/Calvinist arguments in my evangelical background make this a somewhat bewildering array of issues/concepts, which I only can only reconcile by taking the larger body of Scripture in its overall context (e.g., your Jas.2/Deut. 6 comment to Ian), rather that individual texts (proof texting) to support one position or the other.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Taking the Scripture in a larger context is always a wise course. I can see how the Arminian/Calvinist debate could be tiring, though I’ve not really experienced much of it outside of the internet. It’s not nearly as much of a live wire in Anglicanism, except amongst a very small subset that I like to call Anglo-Calvinists. Classical Anglicanism is neither Calvinist nor Arminian on Election, though we have a few things in common with both.

  17. Faith is the first step, For justification to be real, it must lead to sanctification or being made holy, which manifests itself in good works.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I think that it is fair to talk about Justification and Sanctification as two separate things, but only with the caveat that they are in reality quite wrapped up in one another. Prior to the Scholastic period just before the Reformation, the distinction between the two was not made very often. One would be hard pressed to find such a distinction, for instance, in Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo?

      The real question, though, is not so much about the mechanics of salvation as it is about the source of it. Undoubtedly, in order for us to be saved, we must be both justified and sanctified, and the latter is not fully complete this side of death. Moreover, no one would argue that Christians should not do good works. But the question is, was the sacrifice of Christ on the cross sufficient to save us? Or is there something that we have to do on top of that, to make it real for us or to get the benefit out of it? Is it all God or is it mostly God but with our help?

      • But the question is, was the sacrifice of Christ on the cross sufficient to save us?

        Yes, it was.

        “Is it all God or is it mostly God but with our help?”

        God has done it all, but we are not zombies. God waits for our free participation.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        But what does that mean, “our free participation”? If God has done it all, than why would we have to do anything except receive His grace?

      • Yes, receiving his grace is us being open to it. We need to open our heart to this grace.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        But how can we open our hearts to receive His grace if we are dead in sin as Ephesians 2:1 tells us? And if we can, than doesn’t that mean that a) Sin isn’t really all that bad, and b) Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross really isn’t sufficient to save us alone since He requires our action in order to allow Him to save us?

      • You are contradicting yourself. It’s true that unconfessed sin is a blockage. This is why we have the sacrament of confession.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I’m just asking a question. How can a person who is dead in sin, with no power to save himself or even to look favorably in God’s direction, make a choice to accept Christ? How can he make a choice to repent of his sins before he has faith?

      • savvy says:

        I don’t disagree. This is why I said, and the RC teaching is that faith is the first step.

      • Yes, faith is the first step. When Council of Trent speaks of faith, it means that faith to be real is not opposed to hope and charity. Luther assumed they were adding to it, but were not.

        “If anyone says that the godless are justified by faith alone . . . let him be anathema” (Trent, VI, canon 9). Again, “For faith, unless hope and charity are added thereto, neither unites one perfectly with Christ nor makes one a living member of his body” (Trent, VI, ch. 7).

      • Stephen says:

        Or, (more to the faith issue) how can one be saved by a ‘dead’ Faith?
        James 2: 14-16,
        What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (THE BIG QUESTION….)
        If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
        Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

  18. Joshua says:

    When I talk to my nondenominational friends at work, they always start in on the “when I got saved bit”. I then ask them when it was they got saved and they always reply “when I accepted Jesus into my heart.” I then reply “So it was something that you did?” They do not really no how to reply and I think they believe that i am just a more evangelical version of a Roman Catholic. When I speak of God regenerating me in Baptism they roll their eyes. At this point they go into a hate speech about Rome being the whore of Babylon. I respectfully disagree and point out that in many ways I think the Roman Catholics are doing a better job than many of the modern churches. This is not something that they want to hear. The irony in all of this is despite their hate speeches and anti-catholic ways, they are still stuck right in the heart of medieval Roman Catholicism. Its all about their decision or their love or opening their hearts. Their whole theology is based around them saving themselves with Gods help. I don’t know about you guys but when I study the Ten Commandments and recognize that I am guilty by thought, word, and deed, I am not doing very well. I am done on thoughts alone. We don’t even need to get into deeds. If my salvation is based on my acceptance or my love, then I am fairly confident that you will not see me in heaven.

    • Joshua,

      I do not disagree with you. Those in sacramental churches would agree that it’s God who does it, but how do you reconcile Matthew 25?

      31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,
      32 and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
      33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
      34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
      35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
      36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
      37 Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
      38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
      39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
      40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
      41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
      42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
      43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
      44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
      45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
      46 And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

      • Joshua says:

        One could certainly point to the many other clear passages of Scripture that teach salvation by grace alone through faith. In Ephesians 2:8, St. Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” In Romans 3:28, the Apostle writes, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
        However, even verse 34 makes it clear that eternal life is not earned. Look at what Jesus will say on the Last Day: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” He refers to an “inheritance.” Inheritances are never earned. They are a gift, given by the will of the testator. The fact that this inheritance has been prepared since the creation of the world also excludes human participation in earning life with God.

        The faith of a Christian shows itself actions as believers address the various needs that they find in the lives of those around them: providing food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, shelter for the homeless, clothing for the needy, care for the sick, and concern for the imprisoned. All of those actions are demonstrations of love, for love finds a need and addresses it, without concern for cost to self. It would be easy to take up residence in our own little worlds with our own personal needs, but the Christian’s faith shows itself in caring for others, even if that means parting with some of our money, our time, or our energy.
        Additionally, the Christian shows his faith in Jesus as his Savior by failing to keep track of these deeds of love as somehow meritorious. Verses 37 to 39 indicate that God’s people consider such deeds of love as simply a response to God’s greater love and merely the Christian’s duty. (St. Luke 17:10) Knowing that every deed is ultimately sinful because the sinful nature gets its hands on everything we do (Isaiah 64:6), the Christian doesn’t bother to keep a list of works to present to God. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone.

      • Joshua,

        The link you gave me seems to indicate that non-Christians who do the same things, will be condemned because they do not have faith in Christ. I find this hard to believe. Trent makes more sense when it says that real faith will never be opposed to hope and charity.

      • Joshua says:

        Christ is the sole justifier and we are lost without Him. I do have hope for those who never knew Him but scripture declares we need Jesus and that is where I stop. I will not attempt to manufacture something and say that it is the Word of God as some have done. I do have personal beliefs in this area but they are mere opinion.

      • Joshua says:

        It is God who creates faith in the heart. So for example a infant dies before baptism, God could certainly create saving faith in the heart of the infant. God is not bound by what He binds us. But we have to recognize that we are in fact bound. I am not always comfortable with this either. A long time ago I threw my hands up and said that God is God whether I want Him to be or not, and His will, will happen whether I like it or not. This runs contrary to our sinful human nature and thus is harder than it seems.

      • My biggest problem of faith without works is that you have to ignore
        Christ’s own words in Matthew 25 in favor of a specific interpretation of
        Ephesians 2:8-10. I cannot do that. I believe that we are saved by Christ
        but we are judged by Christ as well. This is what He said.

      • Joshua says:


        How does it ignore it? Faith has to show itself it works but these works do not justify us before a holy God. They are none the less necessary. You cannot have true faith if it is not showing itself in works. Christ looks to our works as evidence of our faith. I am not here to talk about what I like or do not like. In my sin there are a number of things that I would do differently, but I am not God. I realize that He will do what He will and he knows best and has the right to declare whatever He wants to. My problem with works justification is irrelevant. I personally like the idea, until I look at my sin. What is relevant is that it runs contrary to everything scripture teaches. Christ is the sole justifier. There is nothing you can do to justify yourself before God. If we could, then why not just do it? What did Jesus have to die for?

      • I am not denying that Christ is the sole justifier, but that Jesus himself said, that not everybody who calls me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.

      • Not everybody in my family has the gift of faith, even though some of them are way better people than me. So, yes I know that faith is a gift of God, that he gives to whom he chooses, but at the same time I do pray for others in my family, because if they are good without God, think of how much better they would be with his grace.

        So, could it be that this faith vs works is just semantics on both sides. We have spent too much time trying to rationalize this and attack each other over it.

      • Joshua says:

        I certainly acknowledge the fact that Roman Catholics are fellow Christians and will inherit the kingdom of heaven, but I do not believe they are looking at this correctly. It is important to be as accurate as possible because one false belief can lead to many false beliefs. I sympathize with what your saying about your family I have the same thing in my family. I also pray for my family because I am not sure of their salvation. This is not something that I would do to my children. When i die they will know that I am at peace. When my family dies and people ask me questions like “were they Christians” all that i can say is “I hope so!” I cannot judge their hearts but their faith is certainly not showing itself in actions. Also being a good person before men does not make us right before God. Without faith in Christ we cannot really do anything good. Some peoples hearts are so hard that they reject the Holy Spirit every time He tries to change them. They are rejecting pure love. I have family that is basically agnostic as far as i can tell and in many ways are better than I am. This does not make them saved.

      • Joshua,

        The issue is that we cannot judge the state of people’s hearts. Only God can. And if the ten commandments have been written on the hearts of all people. i.e. natural law, then even an unbeliever knows that doing certain things is wrong. It’s called a conscience, but conscience needs to be formed with the truth. The relativism of our age, makes this very hard because we are being told that truth is relative to each person. Call Jesus the saviour of humanity and you are accused of being exclusive.

        If God is objectively true, then we should be able to discover this through reason.

        Aquinas and the early church fathers held these views.

        I personally find Protestantism less objective, but I do not want to get into this.

        The issue is that you cannot have objective morality, without objective truth.

        Leah Lebresco the recent atheist convert to Roman Catholicism, says that her conversion was first intellectual, before it became based on faith. She was in search of the truth and was willing to follow it wherever it lead.

  19. Joshua says:

    Fr. Jonathan might be able to add something more to this. I am a recent convert to Anglicanism. The majority of my knowledge is Lutheran based. I was baptized, raised, confirmed, and schooled in Lutheranism. I accepted Anglicanism for a couple of reasons but I am no Priest and do not have a perfect knowledge of everything yet. When I was discerning Anglicanism, i had the pleasure of speaking with an Anglican Bishop who had been an LCMS Lutheran Pastor for five years. He said something to me that did not make any sense at the time, but he said “I cannot explain everything to you, but worship with me for a year and a day and it will be clearer to you.” I am glad he said that because to often we rely on trying to read ourselves into understanding instead of praying ourselves into understanding. People are not really united behind confessions, they are united behind the liturgy. Not to get to far off point or anything.

    • MichaelA says:

      Its a good point Joshua.

      I think Anglicans are rather unique among reformed churches, in that our formularies are said to consist of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Articles of Religion, and the Edwardian Ordinal. Other reformed churches tend to have very detailed statements of faith, as compared to our Articles, but the Articles have to be read with the Prayer Book and Ordinal to get the full sweep of Anglican patrimony.

      (the above is not meant as a criticism of other churches by the way, just an observation about the way we look at things).

  20. Joshua says:


    I do not see anything that you have written that raises a red flag for me. What I will say is that if people are worried about those outside of the Christian faith, then they had better get/stay within the bounds of it. I cannot judge a persons heart but we have to be honest and say that scripture does not really paint a pretty picture for those who are not Christians. I mean where do we stop? If an non christian can get into heaven doesn’t than mean that Christs death was not that important? Why argue about faith alone vs. faith and works when it does not even matter? This has fed into universalism and has led the way to full blown Atheism. just be a good person and try your best they say. The problem I am seeing is that God demands perfection and not merely the best we can do. This perfection is only given through Christ crucified and raised from the dead on the third day for the remission of sins. God is not bound by what He binds us, but we are in fact bound. God can save whomever He chooses. This is for God to decide and not us, but His plan for salvation has already been given. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God has revealed to no other plan.

    • Joshua,

      I do not deny that Jesus is the only saviour, that even unbelievers will be saved by him, if they do get saved. Since there is only one God and saviour. Salvation is both objective and subjective. There are atheists who are not relativists, but there are many Christians who are. Are you saying that churches that support abortion etc, are going to heaven, just because they profess that Jesus is Lord?

      A true universalist would not reject the concept of truth.

      The concept of spirituality without morality is very new age. The scripture tells us that even demons believe there is a God and tremble. The fallen angels fully knew who God was and yet chose to reject him.

  21. Joshua says:

    I agree! Faith equals trust. I am not sure that the Churches that believe in abortion have faith. Because how can you have trust in Jesus and yet believe this way. I think the majority of them have lost their faith even though they “confess” (not really) Jesus as Lord. Now we are all sinful and will fall from time to time. But to persist in sin like this is faith destroying! I do not think a Christian would be able to do something like this. To agree with abortion and call yourself a Christian does not go hand in hand. They have either been severely mislead or they do not have faith at all. I would say that most of them have fell away. Any time these pro Abortion folks get a chance to follow God or themselves, they will almost always follow themselves. So how can they say they have faith in Christ?

    If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.
    Saint Augustine

    • Joshua,

      People rationalize a lot of things. I have come across Christians who believe in the Apostles Creed and support abortion etc. The argument is that scripture does not explicitly deal with these scientific issues etc. it’s true they have been mislead, but the question is how?

      The old adage lex-orandi, lex credendi is very true. This is why we hold that the sacraments/liturgy are objective not subjective. We adapt to them, forcing them to adapt to us is forcing God to worship us. In non-sacramental churches, worship is often what one makes of it.

      But, the church since earliest times had a liturgy. I have come across fellow RC’s who say that being concerned with liturgy is pharisee-like, we need to focus on helping the poor etc, but they miss the point. God always comes first.

  22. Joshua says:

    I agree. To answer your question about how the churches who allow this have been mislead. I do not know that the Priests have. I genuinely think that they have lost their faith. I spoke with one episcopal priest who said that he could write a book and it would have as much authority as any of St. Paul’s letters. A completely heretical statement that may have gotten him stoned at St. Paul’s time. How did they fall away? The devil, the world, and their sinful flesh. We have a wretched culture about us and it has infiltrated the Church. Jesus has been thrown out of the schools. Women are allowed to murder their babies in their womb. Gay pride parades march through the streets blowing up condoms and handing them to children. We have people that I go to Church with that are proud that their daughter is living out of wedlock with her boyfriend. Just 40 years ago this kind of thing was shameful. The parents would actually get involved and separate them. Today it has almost become the norm in all circles. It is shameful! But if we study scripture this kind of thing was happening at that time also. The Apostles did not come to turn the world upside down. The world was already upside down and they were given the impossible task of turning it right side up. And you go to these Churches today (Anglicans included) and they really never mention the gospel. They give you some crap sermon about some thing irrelevant and the congregation hears nothing that moves them to repentance. As soon as we stop talking about sin, we do not deserve to live on this earth at all. I am tired of the Priests not doing their jobs out of fear that they might make somebody that throws money in the plate mad. We could all take a note from Fr. John Corapi formerly of EWTN. I do not know if the accusations were true or not but he was one fine Priest when it came to preaching.

    • Joshua,

      Sin is considered negative and bad news today. It was the defrocked ex- dominican Matthew Fox, he’s Anglican now, who came up with the term original blessing, instead of original sin, because it was more positive. He also promotes pantheism and the cosmic Mass, where all religions are welcome.

      Good priests today, are in eternal combat. A seminarian friend told me that once you get ordained there is a hole in your head, a bullet mark, because the devil is trying to use everybody to take you down.

      • Joshua says:

        Yeah, I have heard of him. That is an odd character there. I know the Lutherans in Sweden were doing the same crap.

    • MichaelA says:


      Great post.

      “A completely heretical statement that may have gotten him stoned at St. Paul’s time.” – I think St Paul would have rebuked the priest and had him put out of the church, but he never advocated stoning anyone! :o)

    • 40 years ago, when parents had a child born with a developmental disability, they would often give them away to live in dehumanizing institutions. So I cannot accept that 40 years ago everything was much better than it is now. We are always surrounded by a wretched culture, because it is made up of wretched and broken sinners like you and I. Jesus came for all these wretched folks, not for the righteous. Who among us is not guilty of murdering children indirectly at least, through the actions of governments or corporations that we support? 40 years ago, the people of the United States were sending planes to dump napalm on Vietnamese children. There may not have been legal abortion at that time, but there were comparable evils.
      There will always be struggles and there always have been. I think it is unlikely that there will be any relief in this world. Thank God for loving us all now, as we are.
      Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us sinners. Amen.

      • I am in partial agreement with you. Sin is not different today it’s just more sophisticated. the ancients left unwanted infants to be eaten by dogs, we just tear them to pieces in a hospital. It’s not openly violent so we get away with it is the difference.

        Children with disabilities are still targets of the abortion industry, the same with euthanasia. The language is changed, it’s now packaged as “taking away their suffering” which is an indirect way of saying that your life is not worth living.

      • Joshua says:

        Fair enough! Does not mean that Jesus tolerates sin. Continuing openly in sin leads to unbelief and thus damnation.

  23. Back to Justification. Aquinas said, “God does not justify us without ourselves, because whilst we are being justified we consent to God’s justification [justitiae] by a movement of our free-will. Nevertheless this movement is not the cause of grace, but the effect; hence the whole operation pertains to grace.”

    • Everything I said was about Justification. I realize that I am not as smart as you fellows, and what I am asking is for you to show me how all this back and forth pertains to the lives of regular folks, who may not understand all of this talk. Recall, if you will, that Jesus spent little time with scholars and Pharisees, and much more ministering to the poor of all kinds.
      I agree that our sin has become more sophisticated, and I agree that we much more politely tell people that their lives are worthless now. So explain to me now, exactly how to communicate this idea of justification to someone who is considering aborting their disabled child because they are in an abusive relationship?
      How is someone with a severe mental and physical disability justified? I don’t know. I am sincerely asking you or someone to explain it to me, so far no one has. But I feel certain that until the Church can start clearly explaining that and living it out, people will not come back to the churches.

      • I agree with you. You can’t tell someone in a abusive relationship that they are considering an abortion, because they lack being saved by faith alone. You have to give them other options such as practical help to get out of the relationship.

        Circumstances doe lessen the accountability for the sin, but the nature of the sin itself does not change.

        God will not those who are under the age of reason or those with disabilities accountable the same way he holds others accountable.

        At the end of the day, Catholics and Protestants both agree that faith has to manifest itself in good works to be effective. The back and forth arguments that this takes away from Jesus work are just semantics, because God is the cause of both.

      • Joshua says:

        1 Peter 3:21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.[a] It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

        Just be baptized!

      • MichaelA says:

        “At the end of the day, Catholics and Protestants both agree that faith has to manifest itself in good works to be effective. The back and forth arguments that this takes away from Jesus work are just semantics, because God is the cause of both.”

        Very good point!

      • MichaelA says:

        Hi Prayinganglicanlayman,

        “How is someone with a severe mental and physical disability justified?”

        I’m not entirely sure I understand your question, so I am going to be very cautious about responding, and probably others feel the same.

        That is not in any way a criticism of you, its just that it seems clear to me that your concern about this issue is both very deep and very genuine – I don’t want to end up giving a trite or shallow answer to a question like that.

        For what its worth, I believe that the Lord relates to everyone on their own level, and that he can (and frequently does) save those with profound mental disabilities. I don’t know if that helps, and my apologies in advance if it doesn’t.

        There are a number of posters on this site who are experienced priests and can probably respond to your concern much better than I can.

  24. Joshua says:

    Aquinas is more of a Roman Catholic theologian than an early Church father. He was a big supporter of infused righteousness if i remember correctly. I disagree because we are fallen creatures unable to participate in our Justification. Once we say that justification has something to do with our consent or our action then it ceases to be a free gift and becomes something that we have earned or deserve. Justification is imputed and sanctification is infused.

    • Joshua says:

      Once God comes to us through word and/or sacrament we are entirely free to reject Him at anytime but we cannot come to him.

      • Joshua says:

        I may have said that wrong. We can reject the gift but it does not require our acceptance. we simply receive it and can then reject it. John 1:11-12

    • Joshua,

      You seem to subscribe to the doctrine of total depravity. One’s cooperation does not take away from the fact that justification is a work of God, just as Christ’s human nature does not diminish his divine nature, and just as the Bible being authored by human beings is not inconsistent with it being God’s Word.

      If you look at the lives of the saints, you will find that justification and sanctification are not two separate things.

      • Joshua says:

        Justification is the initial act by which God in His love and mercy makes us the children of God and inserts us into the Life of the Holy Trinity. Justification is the beginning of the process that ultimately leads to our sanctification and union with God. It is the act of God’s grace that unites us to the Incarnation, Passion and Glorification of Jesus Christ and confers upon us divine sonship. But it is only the first and initially necessary stage or phase of what we usually call ‘salvation.’ We are justified, made righteous before God, by the grace and merits of Our Lord: we are justified by grace apart from the works of the Law, as Saint Paul declares. We are justified by grace through the gift of faith. But beyond justification comes the Christian life of holiness and transformation, which is usually called sanctification. In sanctification God calls us to conform our lives to His and to grow in faith, hope and love through worship, prayer, repentance and good works pleasing to God. At the end of the process of justification and sanctification is ‘salvation.’ Yes, it is all one great mystery, the sweep of God’s love and our response to it, but it is helpful to distinguish these realities. They are distinguished intellectually but never separated.

      • Joshua says:

        On total depravity Fr. Jonathan answers that here: I would say that Anglicanism doesn’t have the same kind of articulation of “total depravity” as one finds in Calvinism or Lutheranism, but Anglicanism isn’t necessarily incompatible with that understanding. What the formularies state plainly and firmly is that we are inheritors of the sin of Adam, that this sin does in fact poison our “nature,” and that we have no power on our own to find God or to do anything pleasing to Him. All of that would resonate with the total depravity hypothesis. Nevertheless, there is less of an emphasis on the absolute deadness of our souls in Anglicanism. It is not spelled out clearly whether we are being rejuvenated or rebuilt from scratch. And, as you say, there is a great deal in the writing of the Reformers and Divines that suggests that salvation is medicine for a sick soul, as the Fathers tended to put it, rather than the assuaging of punishment from a profoundly wrathful God.

        Personally, I think there is some usefulness to total depravity understood in a certain light, but not if by total depravity we mean that there is nothing of the Imago Dei left in the human person after the fall. To be properly biblical, we have to be able to say simultaneously that we are born evil but created good. To deny the former is to underestimate the seriousness of original sin, but to deny the latter is to underestimate God.

  25. Stephen says:

    We are justified by Faith. However, Faith is the beginning, not the end.

  26. MichaelA says:

    Hi Joshua,

    For what its worth, many Anglicans believe that when we are truly saved, i.e. truly regenerate, God has hold of us and will never let us go. No-one will snatch His sheep out of His hand, etc.

    This should not be confused with “easy believism”, because on this view, justification, sanctification and regeneration all work together.

    I don’t think either the Articles of Religion or the BCP really go into the issue, which may well be why there is some variety of belief among Anglicans on it!

    • Joshua says:

      The Prayer Book and Articles of Religion, which embody the ancient Catholic faith of the whole Church, reject the Calvinist doctrines of the Fall of Man and double predestination, and with them, the view of ‘once saved, always saved.’ We believe man is saved solely by the grace of God which is freely received and lived in human freedom.

      • MichaelA says:

        Well, I think you will find that many Anglicans disagree with you on some of those points.
        On the others, I don’t know if we agree or not, but whatever, I hope that any reader will come to know the reality referred to in Article XVII:

        “… Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity. …”

        Mercy is the source of grace, and I think we all agree that we need a lot of it!

  27. Thank you MichaelA, for your sensitive reply. I suppose what I am getting at is that to me where we need to start when it comes to Justification and Salvation is the very least of all of us, if I can use that term. For a long time, I was a Quaker and I thought that by working for peace and environmentalism I was somehow doing something good for God. As I got older and started praying more deeply, I ended up leaving Quakerism (very liberal Quakerism I might add, many of whom weren’t really “that into” Jesus Christ) because I started to realize that the model I was following meant that people who were unable to do good things for God were either not going to be going to Heaven or that they were somehow less worthy than me or less than human or something. I just couldn’t believe either.
    What I am confused about it the faith vs. faith and works issue. I’m afraid you guys are sort of leaving me in the dust here, due to my own ignorance. I see that faith without works is dead as St. James says. But I also know that certain people are completely unable to perform good works on their own. I’m thinking here of people who need to be fed, bathed, toileted etc, who cannot speak and have difficulty communicating. Not that they can’t communicate, I think that is a real misconception, because there are definitely ways of communicating that are very deep and genuine that don’t involve words. But they certainly can’t say “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth…” or something like that. I am very sensitive to dehumanizing people with disabilities, even in a “positive” way like “they are like angels” or something sort of saccharine like that.
    I suppose I just get frustrated and distressed because I feel that we shouldn’t be worrying about these questions of how we are justified too terribly much. Not that it isn’t an important topic, but as Christians can we just let it be God’s concern who is justified? Maybe we can try and help one another humble ourselves before God rather than worry about how exactly we are going to be saved. On the other hand, I find it so hard to believe that God would, in his mercy grant us life and keep us alive for however long just to send us to hell forever, just because we happened to be gay or have some other difficulties with various sins. I don’t know.

    • Joshua says:

      Hello praying,

      The grace of Christs cross is imputed to us at Baptism. This is not our work, but the work of the Holy Spirit. It does not require our action. Salvation is outside of us, it is all of Gods work and none of our work. It works in an infant the same exact way that it would work in someone who is mentally retarded. Your primary concern is the really important one: do these diseases rob a believer of saving faith in Jesus Christ or give us cause for concern about their faith-life until death? Here we happily report that saving faith is not at all the same as mental knowledge, or the ability to memorize and articulate information about the Savior, or even the power to memorize and repeat truths about Jesus to other people. Faith is ultimately the product of the Holy Spirit who creates and maintains reliance on Jesus Christ in a person’s heart.

      Usually this work of the God involves the accompanying use of a person’s mental and emotional abilities, as in the study and learning of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses the written and spoken gospel to give and sustain saving faith. But he is also fully able to work saving faith in infants and small children through the instrument of Baptism; and this divine, gracious working is beyond our ability to comprehend. It is also beyond our ability to discern or recognize with our senses. But because God promises that infants and little children can indeed be brought to saving faith (see Matthew 18:6,10 and Acts 2:38-39) we take him as his word and entrust the little ones to his care. Similarly, we do the same with those who have been rendered unable to express themselves or articulate their Christian faith.

      On the issue of homosexuality. There is a difference between being tempted with a sin and living in sin knowing what God says about it. One sin is not greater than another although some sins pull us further away than others. I doubt a homosexual can help the fact that he is attracted to those of the same sex. This does not however nullify what God teaches about sin. Is it possible for a Christian to stumble and fall into the sin of homosexuality? The answer again is yes. Scripture does not classify sinful actions into “sins that believers commit” and “sins that only unbelievers commit.” The fact that someone sinned sexually with a person of the same gender does not, all by itself, mean that the person isn’t a believer, any more than would an act of heterosexual immorality, drunkenness, reckless driving, or cheating on one’s taxes.

      Can a person remain a practicing homosexual in defiance of God’s Word and also be a believing member of the church? The answer is no. Believers agree that what God calls “sin” is sin. They turn from their sin, receive God’s forgiveness, and battle against the sin in their lives with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.

      • I have been thinking about your view of someone living in a sinful relationship for some time now. I understand your point of view to some degree, I’m not sure I agree however. If the sin is the act of homosexual intercourse, what if that doesn’t occur very often in a particular relationship? What if the couple regularly confesses their sins? For myself, that would be more acceptable than a person who is heterosexual, but lives off the fruits of usury (which I believe much of the modern banking system to be based on) which is a sin that never ceases. I think financial sin is another area the church needs to look closely at.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Prayinganglican, as the father of an autistic child with fairly severe communication issues, I sympathize deeply with your desire to ensure that those who are disabled are remembered in our conversations about how God is at work in the world. I have some other thoughts about this bubbling up from reading this conversation, but I’ll save them for a future post.

    • MichaelA says:


      Glad if I can be of any help at all. Your last post made me think of something else: It seems to me that a message which comes to us very strongly throughout the scriptures, is that the Lord looks on the heart, with a clarity that we humans can never achieve. Even where a person is locked inside a “useless” body or a “useless” brain and entirely unable to communicate, the Lord sees into their heart in a way we never can.

      I have found these two examples helpful for myself at times:

      (a) The thief on the cross could not move or do anything except writhe in pain, soil himself and, after a few days of torment, die. He could not participate in the life of the church and probably never had done so in any sense whatsoever. His knowledge of theology (even Old Testament theology) was probably extremely limited. All we know is that he understood he was a sinner and needed a saviour. The only thing he could do was look at Jesus and say “remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

      Jesus’ response to him was clear and with no qualifications whatsoever: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” [Luke 23:43]

      In my view it is consistent with this passage and Jesus’ teaching, that if the thief had been unable to speak, yet Jesus would have heard the cry of his heart and answered it in the same way.

      We often don’t know what is in the minds of those with mental or communication difficulties, but we do know that God is all-powerful and able to save, and that he looks with great compassion on the weak and helpless (Jonah 4:10-11).

      (b) The poor widow:

      “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on”.” [Mark 12:41-44]

      It seems to me that if a person who has negligible mental capacity or ability to communicate can only reach out to the Lord in an inarticulate cry that nobody else can see or understand, yet we have every reason to believe that the Lord hears and responds in mighty power and love. My two cents!

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        It’s also important to remember that we are not saved by our own efforts to reach out to the Lord, but by what He did and does to reach us. This is where having a proper sacramental theology becomes so important, because we can take comfort in knowing that a person is baptized and that God has thereby made a promise.

  28. Cadog says:

    This is actually for Joshua to his 9/7 2:10 am comment (for some reason I no longer see a “Reply” button after the second reply to the original post):

    Joshua, this is a really excellent analysis. You underscore an aspect ot both Calvinist and Arminian teaching that makes it hard for all but the most diehards on either side to embrace. I have heard that, for example, many Presbyterians are at most maybe 2-and-a-half point Calvinists (I am of course referring to the 5-point TULIP formulation — the T being for total depravity). It does seem that sometimes, as PrayingAnglican observes, we work a principle, concept, and belief so hard that we embrace “one-verse theology” and often find ourselves divided in unuseful arguments with other believers who don’t quite see it the same way. Fr. Jonathan’s summation that classical Anglicanism is neither Calvinist nor Arminian validates where I sat long before becoming Anglican … to the annoyance of my friends who tried to pigeon hole me on either side.

    • Joshua says:

      Hi MichaelA,

      I have no doubt that some Anglicans disagree with me, but with what?
      People who have been born can die. People who have been born again can die again. The Bible speaks often of people who have fallen from faith. The Bible says both that people can fall from faith and that God will keep us safe. We have to let both of these truths stand.

      Among the many passages about this are Galatians 5:4 and Matthew 13:18-22. These passages do not say that the people who fall are just out of fellowship for a while, it says they have fallen from grace. We have to remain with what the Bible says, not with what our theory requires. See also Hebrews 6:4-6. Article XVI, “Of Sin after Baptism,” says that a man who has received the Holy Ghost and fallen into sin may rise again: “After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives.” This article contradicts the Calvinist teaching on Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints. Calvinism would say that should we fall into sin after we have received the Holy Ghost we “will arise again,” rather than “may arise again;” and denies that Christians “may depart from grace given.” In fact, “In 1572 the Puritans addressed certain admonitions to Parliament complaining of the inadequacy of the Articles and their dangerous speaking about falling from grace”

      • MichaelA says:

        “We have to remain with what the Bible says, not with what our theory requires.”
        Joshua, I agree entirely. Too often all of us can fall into the mistake of valuing our system of theology more than the scripture which is its foundation. These are my thoughts on the scripture passages and Puritan interpretation of Article XVI to which you referred:

        Galatians 5:4 has to be read in context of the surrounding passage. As I read it, Paul is not discussing whether those who have been justified can fall into an unjustified state later, but rather warning his listeners not to think that they can be or have been justified by complying with the law. His warning in effect is that any person who tries to attain justification this way will fail. He castigates his readers for falling away from the truth (e.g. in 5:7) but, unlike the Puritans to whom you refer, I don’t read this as meaning that Paul thinks those of his listeners who have been justified are now headed for hell because of this new wrong belief. Paul exhorts them to return to right belief, but not because the mere holding of a wrong belief has taken away their salvation.

        I am glad you brought up Matthew 13:18-22 (the parable of the sower) – that is one of the main scriptural justifications for those who believe that God never lets go those that are truly saved:

        Those who receive the word of God onto stony, thorny or shallow ground (hearts) have not received it properly. The eventual failure of that word to produce fruit in their lives is inevitable. Similiarly, if a person receives the word of God onto good soil (a receptive heart), his perseverance in faithfulness and good works is inevitable from that point:

        “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (verse 23)

        Now of course, seed can be sown again. A person who hears with a hard, stony or thorny soil (heart) today might yet hear with ploughed soil (heart) tomorrow. But the point is that until they do hear with a ploughed heart, the word of God will never take permanent root – its failure is inevitable. But once they do hear with a ploughed heart, the success of the Word of God is inevitable.

        I don’t consider this to be the same issue as predestination (but I appreciate that some modern “Calvinists” claim that the issues cannot be separated).

        Re Hebrews 6:4-6 – does that really help your position? Whatever it means (and I agree that it is one of the few truly difficult passages in scripture), one thing seems clear: there is NO return from the state to which it refers. A person in that state is gone and will never return, whether by repentance or any other means. It is the antithesis of Article XVI.

        Finally, as I read Article XVI, it does not refer to eternal salvation, but whether a person is living a life consistent with their profession (with all due respect to the views of the Puritans to whom you refer). We find this throughout scripture – exhortations given to all listeners to repent and live a life worthy of the Lord, without the writer making a judgment as to the actual state of the heart of each listener. That does not mean that the writer thinks that his listeners are saved by works, any more than it means he thinks the salvation of those who are truly saved is imperilled by individual acts of sin.

  29. Joshua says:

    You give some very compelling evidence. My only other question would be who in the Church before Calvin believed this way? Scripture seems to speak in two minds on this. So I return to the fathers and how they understood these passages. The fathers throughout the centuries of the Church called falling away “apostasy”.

    • Joshua says:

      It was equally unthinkable to predestinarian thinkers, such as Augustine, who, just two years before he died, taught in his book The Gift of Perseverance that not all who were predestined to come to God’s grace were predestined to remain with him until glory. This was, in fact, the teaching of all the high predestinarians (Augustine, Fulgentius, Aquinas, Luther)—until the time of Calvin.

    • MichaelA says:

      Very good question. I will see what I can find.

  30. MichaelA says:

    Hi Joshua,
    In response to your query about teaching on perseverance in the church fathers. I just want to make one comment first, about the apparent paradox found in scripture – The Bible teaches: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” [John 6:40]; yet it also teaches: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” [Galatians 6:9] (And as I am sure you are aware, each of these two verses are representative of many others that say the same)

    The key to the conundrum for me is to remember that not all who profess faith in Christ are truly believers. No man can see into another man’s heart in the way that God can. Its true that we can know a tree by its fruit, yet we cannot know for certain what is in another person’s heart, or where they truly stand with the Lord. Hence why Christ will respond on the last day to some who did mighty works in the church: “I never knew you”, which is not the same as, “I knew you once, but then you failed to act righteously, so now I don’t know you any more”. [Matt 7:21-23]

    The Bible’s warnings to us, that we should act in accordance with our profession, apply to both true believers and those who have professed but do not truly believe. Augustine explores this in his work “On Perseverance”. He notes the teaching of Cyprian and Ambrose that perseverance, like justification, is a gift of unmerited grace. He then goes on:

    “Let the inquirer still go on, and say, “Why is it that to some who have in good faith worshipped Him He has not given to persevere to the end?” Why except because he does not speak falsely who says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, doubtless they would have continued with us.””[Chap 19]

    In quoting 1 John 2:19, Augustine indicates that those who did not persevere were never true believers in the first place. He then goes on to point out that the church includes both those who are good believers, and those who only appear (to their fellows) to be good believers:

    “But it seems to men that all who appear good believers ought to receive perseverance to the end. But God has judged it to be better to mingle some who would not persevere with a certain number of His saints, so that those for whom security from temptation in this life is not desirable may not be secure. For that which the apostle says, checks many from mischievous elation: “Wherefore let him who seems to stand take heed lest he fall.”” [Chap 19]

    Augustine later notes a scripture passage commonly cited in support of perseverance, Romans 11:29:

    “From all which it is shown with sufficient clearness that the grace of God, which both begins a man’s faith and which enables it to persevere unto the end, is not given according to our merits, but is given according to His own most secret and at the same time most righteous, wise, and beneficent will; since those whom He predestinated, them He also called, with that calling of which it is said, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” [Chap 33]

    He then again drives home the point that not all who appear to be true believers (because of their profession) are so – note the key words in the first sentence below, “by men”:

    “To which calling there is no man that can be said by men with any certainty of affirmation to belong, until he has departed from this world; but in this life of man, which is a state of trial upon the earth, [Job vii. 1] he who seems to stand must take heed lest he fall. [1 Cor. x. 12] Since (as I have already said before) those who will not persevere are, by the most foreseeing will of God, mingled with those who will persevere, for the reason that we may learn not to mind high things, but to consent to the lowly, and may “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” [Phil. ii. 12, 13] [Chap 33]

    In view of the above, I don’t think Augustine had any difficulty with Church Fathers who warned their flock to work hard and avoid sin, in order to secure their salvation (and after all, those fathers were citing scripture for that point anyway). But he points out another dimension to this, one which is also found in scripture, that those who truly believe will persevere. He thus preserves the impact of Christ’s teaching: “Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”. [John 10:25-28]

    An apology: I contended above that the teaching on perseverance was unconnected with predestination, but I note Augustine in “On Perseverance” regularly connects the one with the other.

  31. Joshua says:

    It makes sense however, I am not fully convinced of this though. I mean we see this all the time. Someone who was at one time a very devout Christian and later becomes an Atheist. We cannot judge a mans heart. Maybe he was never truly believer, but it seems more like He was and then fell away later. I do not know but this belief seems more Presbyterian than Anglican. i do not believe that this separates anyone from salvation but I think it makes us feel a little too secure. Why go to Church if I am saved anyways. Why strengthen my faith when God promises that I will come back regardless. Granted we are not saved by works, but when we reject the faith entirely it seems as though we are turning our backs on God and are in serious danger of falling into unbelief. Let me clarify that I hope i am wrong on this, but at the same time you are the first Anglican that I have found who believed this way.

    • Joshua says:

      This is a good question for fr. Jonathan. Do Anglicans believe in once saved always saved? Is this teaching within the boundaries of the formularies? Is it optional? is it Biblical?

    • MichaelA says:

      Joshua, please don’t think I consider this an easy subject – I doubt it is for any Christian, no matter what their views. I also doubt that I can do justice to your questions. Reading Augustine’s “On Perseverance” can be helpful as, even if you disagree with him (which is no crime!) he does anticipate many of these questions and explain his view on what the scriptures say about it. There is a good version at a Roman Catholic site: http://www.romancatholicism.org/jansenism/augustine-perseverance.htm, where they insert helpful cross-references to his scripture passages. And, whatever our disagreements or agreements on issues like this, I have no doubt that we will see each other in Glory, where all will be fully explained!

  32. Joshua says:

    What about baptismal regeneration? How does that fit into this? The fact that the BCP teaches this cannot be denied. Once the baby is baptized they are saved. So are you saying that they can never fall away? Even if they are never brought up in the faith and confirmed?

  33. Fr. Jonathan says:


    A lot of this is ground that I tried to cover in my series on Election. You bring up exactly the right point, which I tried to bring up in that series, which is the very clear Anglican teaching on baptismal regeneration. If those who fall away were never “real Christians,” then what grace was given to them at their Baptism? Scripture says that Baptism saves us, not that it saves some of us and does nothing at all for others.

    Unfortunately, with various time pressures today I cannot give as full an answer as I would like, but the bottom line is that the teaching of “once saved, always saved” leads indirectly to the very works righteousness salvation that the doctrine of sola fide teaches us to avoid. Both Calvinists and Anglicans would agree that salvation is an action of God and that He elects whom He will, but Anglicans have held that the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is a sure means of grace and a sure sign of our election, which allows us to know assuredly that we are saved and that God’s will is to create faith in us through His Word, regardless of how we may feel, what we’ve done, or what doubts we’re struggling with at any given moment. On the other hand, if we believe in a “once saved, always saved” framework that denies the efficacy of Baptism to save us, we are constantly left asking, in despair, “Am I a real Christian or am I just faking it?” And so we pray all the more fervently and work that much harder, hoping beyond hope that we can convince ourselves that we really do believe. Pastorally, I’ve seen the damage that this sort of thinking can cause.

  34. MichaelA says:

    Fr Jonathan,

    For what its worth, I think I disagree with you on a number of points, and I think so would most Anglicans (naturally I don’t personally know the views of more than a tiny fraction of the 80 million Anglicans in the world, but my impression is that most follow what I would call an orthodox evangelical Anglican view). I write “I think” because I appreciate that we often find that disagreements end up being about modes of expression rather than actual beliefs. But, that said, where I think I differ from you:

    * The *correct* version of ‘once saved always saved’ does not lead in any sense to reliance on works. Quite the contrary. That indeed was the whole point of Augustine’s treatise on Perseverance.

    * Unfortunately, too many people these days confuse the reformed and patristic teaching about perseverance with a form of “easy believism” which barely differs from anti-nomianism (and sometimes not at all), which is not what I am writing about.

    * Baptism “saves” us in a sacramental sense. It is a seal or sacrament of salvation, but it is not salvation itself. Like Holy Communion, it only becomes effective to save us when joined with true faith. Conversely, a person who is baptised and rejects Christ’s saving work has no hope of salvation until they truly repent.

    I appreciate that differences on these things are not going to be resolved by argument, which is not the purpose of this post. But I think we should be clear on where our differences lie.

  35. Joshua says:

    I do not understand. How does baptism save us in a sacramental sense, but not save us? True faith is a gift from God and not something that comes from us or our decision. I think this is what Fr. Jonathan means when he says that it leads to us relying on our works. If the grace of Christ’s cross is given in Baptism then it does save us.! http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/CofE1928/CofE1928_Baptism.htm


  36. Joshua says:

    On your second point about Baptism, If faith is a gift from God and in Baptism Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God, then how can you say that it is not true faith? You then say that they can fall away after Baptism and I agree. I do not disagree with what you have written here, but I do not know how you can speak this way and still believe in the once saved always saved doctrine. If you mean that Baptism does nothing until we make a public profession of our faith or make a decision for Christ then you are believing in works justification. The modern Evangelical argument of “how can an infant have faith” is easily dispelled. Faith is a gift from God and not something you are doing in your brain. God saves us in Baptism. The grace of Christs cross is imputed. The baptized infant or mentally challenged person is just as righteous in the eyes of God as those educated theologians (If not more so)!

    • Joshua says:

      I just read up on “easy believism” and I do not think you are saying that at all. I would agree that, that view is incorrect. My issue is that your saying that once you become a believer, then you can never disbelieve or fall away. I do think anyone here would suggest that you accept ‘easy believism”. The issue is once saved always saved. I am not confusing them.

      When were you saved? What is the point of Baptism?

      • Joshua says:

        Going back to what you said on XVI. The point of Baptism is to give us our salvation. That is its only purpose. If you said that you believed in Total depravity I would understand it and say that this is inline with the 39 articles because whether total depraved or a very deep wound we are unable to turn to God without Him doing something beforehand. It does not really matter much. The Orthodox leaning Anglicans will stress the very deep wound over total depravity but it is kind of irrelevant. I do not think we can hold top perseverance of the saints without ignoring what article XVI clearly states. If we go to the Catechism and what is stated about Baptism, it is pretty clear that Baptism gives us what it signifies. Question. What is the outward visible sign or form in Baptism?

        Answer. Water; wherein the person is baptized, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

        Question. What is the inward and spiritual grace?

        Answer. A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness: for being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace.

  37. MichaelA says:

    Re: “If you mean that Baptism does nothing until we make a public profession of our faith…”, I can see my words above were ambiguous, so I had better clarify my position:

    1. I do not believe that “A profession of faith” by itself will help a person, with or without baptism. Passages like the parable of the sower, James 2:14-17 or 1 John 1:6 emphasise that a mere profession of faith does not justify us before God if it does not reflect the state of our heart. So the issue is whether we have truly believed and repented of our sin. This then leads us to the scriptures which say: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” [Mark 16:16] or “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” [Luke 3:3] or “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” [Acts 2:38].

    2. But neither do I think that baptism “does nothing” if it is administered before a person has repented (e.g. in the case of an infant, or an adult who gets baptized only because of family pressure). In Colossians 2:11-12, a direct link is drawn between baptism and circumcision, which draws in all of the sacramental teaching in the Old and New Testaments: circumcision was the “sign and seal” of God’s covenant with us and our children (Genesis 17:7-8), and therefore so is baptism. That covenant includes that our children are holy (1 Cor 7:14) and will follow in the path they are taught (Proverbs 22:6). But like circumcision, baptism alone will not save any person if they do not repent and believe (Romans 4:12).

    3. For what its worth, Romans 6:4 also says that baptism enables us to live the new life, so it seems that baptism plays a part in our sanctification as well as our justification.

    Re Article XVI, I have never had an issue with it. I don’t read it as dealing with perseverance, either for or against, but rather with the heresy that Christians after baptism cannot sin.

  38. Joshua says:

    It sounds like your agreeing with the concept of believer Baptism and that faith is coming from your heart instead of from God. God uses Baptism to put His Name on us (see Matthew 28:19). God uses Baptism to give us “new birth,” that is, faith in Christ (see John 3:5 and Titus 3:5). God uses Baptism to give us forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:28 and 22:16; Ephesians 5:26). God uses Baptism to connect us to the death and resurrection of Jesus (see Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:11-12). God uses Baptism to clothe us with Christ (see Galatians 3:27). God uses Baptism to save us by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection (see 1st Peter 3:18 & 21). First, Scripture clearly teaches that infants and children CAN have faith. In Psalm 8:2 we see that infants can give praise to God. In Psalm 22:9 we see that David trusted in the Lord when he was a breast-feeding infant. In Matthew 18:6 Jesus teaches that “little ones” can believe in Him. Jesus is speaking about the “child” mentioned in Matthew 18:2. The Greek word for child is “paidion” which can also refer to infants. For example, the plural form of “paidion” is used in Matthew 2:16 for the children who were 2 years old and younger. Also, in Luke 18:15-17 we see that Jesus uses babies as examples of sincere faith. The Greek word for babies is “brephos” which means infant. In addition, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb (Luke 1:15 & 39-45). The fact is that Jesus holds up infants as ultimate examples of faith (Matthew 18:5-6 and Luke 18:16-17). Second, Scripture clearly teaches that faith is MORE than a conscious knowledge of facts about God. Faith is trust in God that flows from a heart made new by the Holy Spirit. If faith is ONLY a conscious awareness of God’s Word, then does one lose his or her faith when asleep or in a coma? What about those with mental disabilities? Third, those who say “Infants can’t have faith!” must either 1) say that infants who die are damned or 2) say that faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation. Scripture clearly teaches that humans are conceived in sin. However, unbelieving infants have one advantage over unbelieving adults. Infants do not yet have a rebellious reason! Scripture teaches that we are conceived in sin and if we grow up as unbelievers we develop a conscious reason that is hostile to the Gospel. So, unlike infants who are in a position to receive the Gospel, adults need to have their reason humbled through the preaching of God’s Word. Adults must become like “little children” or “spiritual infants” before they can receive Holy Baptism. I use the following analogy: Unbelieving infants are like a plowed field. They do not have the “seed of life” but they are in a position to receive it. In contrast, unbelieving older children and adults are like a field with hard soil (covered by weeds and rocks) that needs to be broken up and cleared out before it can receive the “seed of life.” This explains why infants are baptized and then taught, whereas older children and adults are taught and then Baptized.

    • MichaelA says:

      Hi Joshua, most or all of your points I would agree with. I hope I haven’t given the impression that I think faith “is ONLY a conscious awareness of God’s Word”, because I was trying to state the opposite!

      • Joshua says:

        Is baptismal regeneration in line with once saved always saved? If not, what do we do with the parts of the BCP that teach Baptismal regeneration? It seems to me that the Calvinists reject baptismal regeneration for this very reason. Not that i have a problem with the evangelical emphasis, but it has to be held in a way that it does not contradict what the BCP teaches. The same goes for Anglo Catholics trying to reject sola fide. If we read the formularies of Anglicanism, it becomes more than obvious that Anglicans believe in both Sola Fide and Baptismal regeneration.

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