Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sola Fide or Sola Fidelity?

by Wes White

The Federal Visionists want to replace the great sola fide (faith alone) of the Reformation with a doctrine of sola fidelity (justification by faithfulness alone). What’s wrong with a doctrine of sola fidelity? The answer is simple. If we adopt or allow the Federal Visionist sola of sola fidelity, then our justification becomes primarily about what we bring to God and not what we receive from Christ. This eviscerates our doctrine of justification.

Let me illustrate this point. The FV doctrine is that trust is loyalty or faithfulness. It is one thing to say to my wife, “I trust you.” It is something entirely different to say, “I will be loyal to you.” The former is about what I receive from my wife; the latter is what I give. When we turn faith into faithfulness, justification becomes about what we give to God instead of what we receive from Him.

That does not mean that “faithfulness” is unimportant. Faithfulness has its proper place in the Christian life but not in our justification before God. Antifreeze, motor oil, and gasoline are all important to your car’s proper functioning; but you’ve got to make sure you put each one in the right place, or you will have disastrous results.

This is not the first time that the Protestant doctrine of sola fide has been attacked in this way. In the 17th century, the Socinians, an anti-Trinitarian group based in Poland but which later spread throughout Europe, re-defined faith to include works. Here was their definition of faith in their catechism, the Racovian Catechism:
You include then in that faith to which alone and in reality salvation is ascribed, not only trust, but obedience also ? I do so . . . it is necessary that the faith to which alone and in reality salvation is ascribed, or which alone is necessarily followed by salvation, should comprehend [include] obedience.
Now, contrast this with the Westminster Standards:
These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith (WCF, 16.2).
In the Reformed system, obedience is a fruit and evidence of true faith but does not constitute it. This is the difference between justification by faith and justification by works.

Now, are the Federal Visionists really teaching a doctrine of sola fidelity?  Let me provide you a few illustrations.

Peter Leithart says:
Faith is allegiance to the Son, taking His side in the great war that is human history. Faith is keeping faith, being loyal to the troth that is plighted in our marriage to the Son. (The Baptized Body, 85)
Norman Shepherd says:
We must not set faith and faithfulness over against each other as antithetical and mutually exclusive principles of gospel and law when it comes to the justification of a sinner before almighty God. (A Faith that Is Never Alone, p. 72).
The faith he [Abraham] had was reckoned to his account as righteousness. Faith and the obedience flowing from faith are of piece with one another and together they constitute the righteousness of Abraham.
Jeffrey Meyers was asked specifically by the Missouri Presbytery investigative committee whether he believed that trust (the principal act of saving faith) includes loyalty, and he affirmed that it did:
To describe saving faith as “personally loyal faith,” as the JFVP does, simply draws out the “volitional element” (fiducia) in classic Reformed definitions of saving faith. Saving faith has three marks in most Reformed theological treatments: 1) knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia).
This is what TE Meyers has taught for years. In a post from the Wrightsaid group, re-posted yesterday at God’s Hammer, TE Meyers wrote:
It seems pretty clear to me that the first word of the decalogue (not commandments) has to do with trusting Yahweh alone. The language of “having” or “possessing” no other god is marriage language. Israel, the bride, is to cling to Yahweh, her Husband and Lord, in faithfulness. What is this but salvation by faith? How is that wrong?
Meyers is right that the bride is to be faithful to the Lord, but he is wrong in saying that this is salvation by faith. This is nothing other than justification by faithfulness. It is a doctrine of sola fidelity.

In conclusion, let me try once more to make these two different systems of justification as clear as I can. Picture a sinner who sees himself condemned by the wrath of God and incapable of delivering himself out of a sinful condition. There is a big difference between saying to such a person, “Simply trust in Jesus,” and “Be loyal to Jesus.” Again, in the first, salvation is about what Jesus does for me. In the second, it is about what I do for Jesus. Clearly, we are dealing with two different doctrines of justification, the one justification sola fide and the other justification sola fidelity.


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