Friday, January 05, 2007

Sola Fide Hijacked - Misunderstood

sola fide was a slogan that originated with Luther and the more I dialog with modern evangelicals (calvinists and all sorts etc.), the more I am convinced that this is where the misunderstanding is coming from.

It is funny but in my internet wanderings I would be accused of being a hyper-Calvinist (duh??! I am Lutheran and no longer Calvinist so I can not even be a hyper!) . But some accused me of being antinomian at the same time they rebuke me for having a morbid paranoia with guilt and sin. Now if you stop for a moment, surely this is enigmatic and contradictory, it should have rang some bells.

I figured since these wild suggestions stem from Protestants in line with our confession's rooted assertion that God supplies all things that he demands from us, like faith, the understanding of sola fide must be lurking there somewhere. But once again, like many early Lutheran ideas, the term sola fide has been borrowed, massaged, mangled and mis-represented differently and quite foreign to the way Luther defined it. More precisely I observe

a.) Those who rally the slogan more often than not have presented faith as a type of work.
b.) They think that sola fide means that there are no sacraments (Baptism and Supper).

I have said much on a.) lately but part b.) is where people criticise what they do not understand. They should have studied more the Lutheran confessions rather than taking the ball, running with it, playing with it without out even realizing first the rules of the game.

When Lutherans cry sola fide (as I observed) they do not mean faith without sacraments (of Baptism or The Supper), rather they see the sacraments as the means the Holy Spirit uses to produce and sustain faith, ie they are the same as the Gospel but wrapped in water and in the bread and wine as Jesus taught. Case b.) takes time to understand but it is understandable if one gives a solid ear and a search for it in Scripture is undertaken.

It is a shame that some groups have the Word but they have no Sacraments, others have the Sacraments but no Word. Both are made hungry in the end, it just takes time to realize that such poverty is there.


Steve said...

Great post. I have noticed that Calvinist add their own fifth "Fida" of "God's Glory Alone" which reflects their view of salvation and election.

I have also noticed that many "Evanglicals" view faith as something that is generated internally by the person so that they believe. Many fail to realize that even faith is a gift of God. We are given faith. A spiritually dead person cannot generate faith on their own, it must to given to them from an outside source. This source is the Holy Spirit.

The concept of the "Means of Grace" is foreign to most Christians.

Kelly Klages said...

Hey sir, may I add you to my blogroll some time soon?

That opening bit you said about how some view you as too antinomian and some view you as too preoccupied with sin reminds me strongly of Chesterton's memorable image in his book Orthodoxy. A man of average height is described by the short person as a giant, where the extremely tall person sees him as very short. It means the man is just right. :o)

I posted something to this extent on my own blog recently:

I think that once people become more comfortable with the idea of the Word itself being sacramental, the other sacraments become easier to understand and explain. Quite a few Christians believe that God's Word actually accomplishes things, that it delivers things of a spiritual nature to us. Not many stop to realize that this Word comes wrapped in earthly grammar, language, ink, paper, sound waves, etc. If we don't have a problem with the "stuff" of God's Word, why have a problem with the effective spiritual value of the other earthly stuff God wraps his Word in?

L P Cruz said...


I would be blessed if you do put me in your blog roll.

The sacraments are one the reasons I started thinking about my evangelicalism. About 10 years ago I was in a Lutheran list and I remember being corrected by one pastor on my view of baptism because at that time I could not see things through, I was one of those who misunderstood sola fide. I was steep in revivalism, and if one gives an ear before they start protesting they would see that the sacraments are treasures that God gives to us as a Father gives good gifts to his children.

Also I am beginning to see that the sacraments are a way of Jesus fulfilling his promise - Behold I am with you always.

What a lovely friend of sinners!

L P Cruz said...


By the way the term Soli Deo Gloria the Calvinists insists on I think is also not original to them, it appears there are records that it was Bach (another Lutheran) who would put S. D. G. at the end of his music score.

Calvinism is monergism with out means of Grace. Although they use the term means of grace they have re-interpreted it with subjective concepts. For example, to the Lutheran prayer is not a means of grace because prayer is not objective. Only Word and Sacraments are objective.

Steve said...

You hit on a good point. Does one look internally for proof of salvation or does one look externally for proof of their salvation?

Most "Evanglical" Christians look within themselves which is always subjective. This can lead to wanting a "spiritual" experience as a means to proving their salvation. The historic Lutheran position is to look to Christ and at his work and his promises. This is an objective measure. Many "Evanglicals" consider Lutherans and Lutheranism as a "dead" Church since we focus on Christ's work and not our own.

The means of Grace, Word and Sacrement, are outside of ourselves and this is something that many don't get.

L P Cruz said...

Yes Steve,

They always want to assert the Resurrected Christ rather than the Suffering Christ. They are not impressed with our pre-occupation to the Cross. They do not like Good Friday, they like Easter Sunday, in fact they hurriedly skip over Good Friday. Sunday is ah comin!

They do not get it because there is dominance of their own mindset. You have to be at pains to explain and be patient, but their arrogance and judgemental attitude run me down.

But with those who dialog and are really thinking pursuing to understand why we are thus, I am happy and do take time to explain because there is much blessing in the Sacraments.


Pastor David said...


Sola fide ... but whence cometh faith? --- God!

Luther was insistent on this. If faith becomes a work it is no longer grace. And how is faith (often) initiated, strengthened, and sustained ... by the gifts and grace God offers us in the community of faith, in the word proclaimed, and in the sacraments.

Excellent post, thanks.

L P Cruz said...

Thanks for dropping by Pastor David,

God is into gifts, and to this all Glory and Praise indeed go to him. He is our God and he rescues us, we see how by looking at our Jesus.

Jeff Tan said...

Hi Lito, thanks for inviting me to take a look. The theory I've had for a long time is that there are probably two sources of suspiciousness and maybe hostility towards the notion of sacraments:

- it betrays a mysticism, akin to magic and such;

- it is an irrational holdover of the dark ages, akin to suspicion.

I can sympathize with both reasons, although they are incorrect when applied to the proper and orthodox understanding of *Christian* sacraments.

Magic, shamanism, fortune telling, etc. are forbidden because they are forms of idolatry: when the source of the power effecting what is supernatural is not God. But understood correctly, Christian sacraments are not idolatry because the grace and the power are from God.

And the ones who usually cite superstition and such objections to sacraments are usually guilty of foisting the enlightenment, reason, science, *their senses*, etc., as their idol. Blessed are those who have not seen but believe. Do they really need to see the bread and wine appear as real flesh and as real blood before they believe? If that is what they require of the sacraments, then what do they require before they believe in God?

Actually there is a third basis for looking negatively at the sacraments: a distaste for the physical universe, including our humanity. Nestorius, for example, had exalted the divinity of Christ in his Christology, that he made it impossible to believe that it was Christ who suffered and died on the cross. It made it impossible for him to believe in the Word Incarnate as one person because, to him, Heaven forbid that God would actually -- ick! -- become flesh, get hungry, get tired, suffer, bleed and die. They forget that God said creation was *good*. They think that there is something inherently bad about the physical universe that God cannot walk, talk, eat, sleep and, yes, touch us through that physical universe. To have such a low regard for creation including water, bread, wine, oil, etc., is to forget that those were created by God, that He called them good, and that they were made anew in Jesus Christ.

They need a long, careful and prayerful consideration of two things, I think: the Incarnation, and the Eucharist. Two sides of the same coin. When they throw out the latter, they risk throwing out the former.

Just my two cents. :-)

Jeff Tan said...

eep! I meant this:

"- it is an irrational holdover of the dark ages, akin to **superstition**"

That'll teach me to review my comments before posting. Sorry!

L P Cruz said...


The difference though with us is that the Supper is not a means for us to be forgiven of our sin on its own, because the forgiveness we receive (from our point of view) is the same forgiveness which was given 2000 years ago.

Jeff Tan said...

Methinks I forgot to click on "post" earlier when I thought I'd left a reply.

By your last post, Lito, I assume you refer to the Catholic perspective? We do not see the Eucharist as a means of obtaining forgiveness, but of sanctifying grace, in partaking of the life of Christ. In fact, we take very seriously (at least by dogma, sadly not by the practice of cafeteria Catholics) St. Paul's warning not to partake of Communion "in an unworthy manner." We do say, however, that those with venial (minor) sins are encouraged to the Eucharist because Christ's grace from the sacrament heals to our sinful nature.

L P Cruz said...

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for this good clarification, I am learning a few things I have forgotten since from my RC upbringing.

The modern evangelical view complies with the idea that the Supper aids in our holiness. Though the bodily presence is denied by them, yet they comply with this understanding too so Jeff, they are really functioning RC. More importantly this is not a bad thing to believe because I believe sanctification is one of the benefits too.

From the paleo Protestant view, it is seen as the evidence that our sins are forgiven, the same forgiveness that was won for us by Christ 2000 years ago. It (from our perspective) links us to the Cross, so we are not being given new forgiveness (in a sense, it is hard to explain and forgive my lack of precise articulation), it is the same forgiveness won by Jesus - free without any works of our own. The job has been done, it is finished - so Jesus said.

I am so thankful for your good articulation of your RC belief here.


Sch├╝tz said...

Perhaps it might be helpful to view things using the other word for forgiveness: Reconciliation. The Eucharist is a celebration of, reminder of and true encounter with the reconciling cross of Christ. However, as even Lutherans will agree, one should not approach the sacrament of the altar if one is not reconciled with God (it would make a mockery of the nature of the sacrament). Thus, Lutherans require true repentance and faith as prerequisites for receiving the sacrament. In effect, this is what Catholics also require when they say that someone who is in mortal sin should be formally reconciled to God through Christ and his Church through the rite of reconciliation (Private Confession). Not even in Lutheranism is the sacrament of the altar considered to be forgiveness in the sense of formal absolution. Anyone, for eg., who has been formally excommunicated in the Lutheran Church must be formally reconciled through Confession and Absolution before being readmitted to the sacrament. On the distinction between mortal and venial sin in Lutheran tradition, see the excellent article by Dr Adam Cooper (Lutheran Pastor of Geelong) in the latest Lutheran Theological Journal (unfortunately, not available on the web, but I am sure he would email it to you if you asked him. All Lutheran pastors in Australian can be contacted with the email address of You will thus be able to contact Adam on

L P Cruz said...


I am not so sure where you are heading with the post because Protestants of all sorts that I know specially when I was in evangelia do not deny the proper attitude of the communicant in the Supper. I do not think that there is any suggestion in my post that repentance is not required.

What does God use as His basis for forgiving you of your sins, is it in you, or what you have done? Does God forgive you on your own because you confessed, or made works of repentance etc.

I assert that the basis of God forgiving you is the same one - the finished work of Christ 2000 years ago. I assert that in promising to us forgiveness when we confess, as in 1 John 1:9, God applies the finished work of Christ to us.
This is also cleear in the Apology.

While we were yet without strength Christ died for the ungodly, the scrpture declared.

I am aware of that there are those in the Lutheran Churches that speak about mortal and venial sins.

Correct me, I think you think that due to Vatican II the Lutheran protestations no longer apply?

Jeff Tan said...

"From the paleo Protestant view, it is seen as the evidence that our sins are forgiven"

Yes, that is an excellent way of putting it. It remains a tradition among the peoples of the desert in the East (so I've read) to share a meal to celebrate peace. At the Lord's table, we share the holiest of meals to celebrate true Peace.

", the same forgiveness that was won for us by Christ 2000 years ago. It (from our perspective) links us to the Cross, so we are not being given new forgiveness (in a sense, it is hard to explain and forgive my lack of precise articulation), it is the same forgiveness won by Jesus - free without any works of our own."

Again, this is excellent. The words "links us to the cross" is exactly how I'd answer someone like Jack Chick when he charges Catholics (or Lutherans???) with re-sacrificing Christ in the Eucharist. No, it's the other way around. We link ourselves to Calvary 2000 years ago on that once and for all sacrifice. Of course, we can't physically go back in time, but Christ mystically brings us together at the foot of the cross where water and blood were shed for love and to wash away the wages of sin in us.

"Correct me, I think you think that due to Vatican II the Lutheran protestations no longer apply?"

Pinch me when the Lutherans can, as one, consider the reformation successful -- and let us begin anew, sharing the same Eucharist at the Lord's table.

Then we'll see if we can get uber-Calvinists at the table, too. :-)

L P Cruz said...


Almost there but the hold off is that way of speaking which carries weight, you say We link ourselves to Calvary 2000 years ago on that once and for all sacrifice

This is where the difference lies when you penetrate this statement some more. The emphasis is that we are the ones linking ourselves, the focus is on me. But I do not believe this is how the scripture speaks.

The Bible says that God was (past tense, he is the actor) in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses (2 Cor 5:19)

With that wording of emphasizing and accenting on us, or we, then you can look at the Supper as a work - whose work? Your work, it is you linking yourself. Thus in the end Jeff, this is like the modern evangelical view, for them, when they take communion, they are working it and making Jesus happy. They are obeying a command. No. We are getting a gift, receiving a gift. It is from heaven going down, not from earth going up. This is like the manna, it is always coming from above - grace.

We have already been linked to the Cross of Christ in many evidences - through the Gospel declaration, through Baptism and here too, in the Supper.

I hope you see why from my perspective this is the best news since slice bread. The good news is better than what we think. Our sins have been forgiven, past, present, future on account of the work of Christ - He said it is finished, and he says - Father forgive them, they do not know what they do.

And so you may ask, then we are free to do whatever right? I answer Romans 6 to that question. We can not because we died with him in our baptism too.

Jeff Tan said...

"The emphasis is that we are the ones linking ourselves, the focus is on me."

Hmmm.. I didn't mean that we do this of our own volition (faith is a gift, after all) nor by our own capabilities (which are worth nothing by themselves). Note how I also said:

"Of course, **we can't** physically go back in time, but **Christ mystically brings us together** at the foot of the cross where water and blood were shed for love and to wash away the wages of sin in us."

I shall have to watch what I say in the future...