In what seems to be a life or death situation, some Reformed scholars have gone so far as to say that justification by faith is the gospel. You wouldn’t expect such language from reputable professors who are embedded with the tradition of Calvin and Luther. But they have become so opposed to unity that they have opted to bring in their theological armory to the final battle of Armageddon. I wonder if Paul would have gone that far since in the New Testament “justification” does not seem to be his central concern, but one among many. But since when has the church learned to focus on majors? You see, when justification by faith alone becomes the judge of whether one is authentic or a non-authentic believer then we might as well eliminate 1600 years of Church History and limit regeneration to a very insubstantial amount of time in our history.
When I mentioned yesterday that I do not believe in justification alone alone, (double “alone” is purposeful) I meant that the doctrine itself is correct, but the doctrine alone does not encompass nor does it define Christianity. Justification by faith alone is the heart of the gospel, but no one lives with a heart alone. We need much more to exist. The gospel finds its root even earlier than Luther’s rediscovery of Pauline theology, it is summarized clearly for us in the Creeds of the early church. Both the Nicene and Apostle’s Creed expand on what the gospel represents, but neither make any reference whatsoever to “justification by faith alone.” These were the Creeds that united us in the past and continues to unite the Orthodox Church today.
Some in the New Perspective arena have clearly denied the truth of justifcation by faith and denied that it can even be found in Pauline writings. With this I clearly disagree. However, I am not prone to praise a doctrine (though precious) that has not been a historical part of the church. To do so, would be ignorance.
The Gospel needs to be elevated not minimized to whether one believes he is saved by faith alone or not. There are many who profess this truth but inwardly reject it nor live by it. There are some in the Roman catholic faith who embrace this doctrine with much more firmness than some evangelicals. In the end, the stress of a particular definition of the gospel hinders its very power. It is my understanding that justification by faith alone is essential to true gospel , but not the only doctrine that formulates our faith.
In recent controversies (AAPC and NPP – though I agree with proponents of both in some cases) justification by faith has been attacked. Some have attempted to obliterate the very concept in order to find more in common with those of other faiths. Some have elevated this doctrine so high that unless one subscribes to every jot and tittle of their definition of this doctrine he is condemned already. This sounds more like idolatry than love for the truth. I think the proper response to these debates is to realize that the gospel does not rest in the arms of faith alone, rather it rests in the arms of Christ alone as Lord and Savior.
The gospel is simple indeed, but also deep indeed; enough to cover the waters of the sea and to triumph over the enemies of the earth. It is redemption applied and redemption lived. We are justified as a community and individually. Will we learn individually to love the community? Will we learn communally to love the gospel in its completeness? But again, does unity in the body matter anymore? As long as popes continue to speak from a less than pure chair, these questions will have no relevance.