Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"The tree is known by its fruit"

Last week Russell E. Saltzman, formerly a Lutheran, now a Catholic, in "Trashing Luther," objected to certain "hyper-Catholic" criticism of the man, including what Luther once wrote about the book of James:
.... Among the assertions was that Luther referred to the Letter of James as an “epistle of straw.” Yes, he did, once.

In his original preface introducing James in his German translation of the Bible, Luther said exactly that. He complained the book wasn’t Christological and therefore possibly not Apostolic. He had good company.

...[I]n the same preface Luther nonetheless noted it had many good sayings, adding, “I praise it and hold it a good book.” The “straw” remark was removed by Luther in subsequent editions.

The blog post also said that Luther taught that “doing good works was not necessary for salvation.” No, not quite so. Luther taught they were not necessary for “justification” through Christ. There is a difference. Salvation itself is an unmerited gift through the merits of Christ, given exclusively in God’s love. But you might want to say thank you.

There’s good works—tending to your neighbor and family, for instance. Our works then become a thankful response to God’s love received in faith. Good works are the fruit of a justifying faith. .... [more]
Today, in "James Is, You Know, in the Bible," Rick Phillips, a Calvinist, writes:
.... Both initially and finally, faith alone remains the instrumental condition of our justification. But if we ask how a believer occupies himself between conversion and final glory, i.e. how he attains to salvation, James answers that faith is active in and finds its expression through works. So essential is this relationship between faith and works that James famously insisted: "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (Jas. 2:17). It is in this sense that James concludes not only that our faith is justified by works but that "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jas. 2:24). Here we see the necessity of works, not only as evidence of true faith but as characteristic of the justified believer, such that a professing Christian without works has no basis to consider himself justified. .... This person remains a sinner, of course, who stands justified before God only in Christ through faith. But being in Christ through faith involves a necessary and organic connection to good works (see also Eph. 2:8-10).

I can think of few messages more urgently needed by our worldly churches today than the necessity of pursuing practical holiness through obedience and good works. I realize that many even of our Reformed brothers would rather ignore James' teaching than work through its challenges, both doctrinally and practically. But as my friend insisted, "James is, you know, in the Bible."  [more]