Thursday, October 9, 2008

Faith & Works

As Protestant Christians, we Wesleyans have always held to the belief that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. However, unlike some of our sisters and brothers in other traditions, we have been careful not to open ourselves up to the trap (and heresy) of antinomianism (i.e., lawlessness.) Instead, we have been careful to give "works" their proper place within the faith.

Charles Wesley poetically expresses the position in Part III of his four part hymn(s) on The Love-feast. It is listed as hymn #507 in The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 7. There he says:

v. 3 Plead we thus for faith alone,
Faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies,
Only faith the grace applies,
Active faith that lives within,
Conquers earth, and hell, and sin,
Sanctifies, an makes us whole,
Forms the Saviour in the soul.

v. 4 Let us for this faith contend,
Sure salvation is its end;
Heaven already is begun,
Everlasting life is won.
Only let us persevere
Till we see Our Lord appear;
Never from the rock remove,
Saved by faith which works by love.

Key to Wesleyan theology is that "God it is who justifies." We do not bring about our own justification. Rather, it is God's work; God's grace. Further, we are saved by "faith alone," and "only faith the grace applies." That is to say, we are saved by God's grace alone through faith alone.

And yet, for the faith to be true Christian, biblical faith, it must be "faith which by our works is shown." It is "active faith that lives within." As Wesley says in the last line of the hymn, we are "saved by faith which works by love." Those words, of course, echo St. Paul in the sixth verse of the fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatians: ". . . the only thing that counts is faith working through love" (NRSV). This position also reflects St. James when he writes, "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2:17, NRSV).

It is not that we are saved by works. By no means! But rather, it is the case that true biblical faith cannot help but express itself through works. Faith working by love.


As a bit of a side note, it should be mentioned that The World Methodist Council (of which the Church of the Nazarene is a member denomination) is a co-signer, along with The Lutheran World Federation and The Roman Catholic Church, of the landmark, breakthrough document known as the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification." This document was developed by the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics, and the WMC became a third signer.

While the Church of the Nazarene, as an individual denomination, has not officially dealt with the document (despite my efforts!), it is a denominational member of the WMC, which endorsed it, and all of the Nazarene delegates to the WMC voted in favor of adopting the document.

Perhaps, at some point in the future(the distant future!), I will write a post covering more information on "The Joint Declaration."

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