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April 26, 2008 / vivator

Evangelicals and Tradition, part 2

This is the second post based on from what I read from of a book by D.H. Williams Ph.D., Professor of religion in patristic and historical theology at Baylor University. 

One and perhaps the main issue that divides Catholics and Protestants is Justification.  Is Justification a process through which we are made righteous where our righteousness comes from infusion of God’s righteousness through Christ in us (Catholic position)?  Or is it one time event where we are declared righteous through and only by faith in Christ where His righteousness is imputed on us (Protestant position)? To express the difference in other words: Does Justification comprise faith and Sanctification (Catholic position) or is Justification by faith alone, which then must be followed by Sanctification (general Protestant position where Sanctification is separated from Justification but these two must come together)?

The author noted that the early Reformers believed they were seeking to restore the faith of the early church (page 120). Both Luther and Calvin claimed that they learnt justification by faith from patristic Christians, notably from Augustine (pages 122-123). Yet the author wrote on page 128: ‘As long as the sixteenth-century Reformation is viewed as the restoration of apostolic Christianity and the bar by which the rest of church history is judged, then patristic and medieval Christianity are incomplete or inadequate attempts at expressing the gospel (underlined emphasis added) and on page 139: ‘the theologians of the early church did not articulate soteriology [teaching/study of salvation] in the same way as the sixteenth-century Reformers, nor should we expect them to have done so.’  Based on his study on early Christianity the author further concludes: ‘Making firm differentiations between justification and sanctification was not the essence of doctrinal discourse for them’; ‘a definitive conversion was important, but the majority of early fathers stressed that God’s work in the life of a Christian was more a process than a point’ and ‘the early fathers believed that God’s salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ meant providing a believer with the means to perceive God and thereby share in his divine life. That is, salvation was supposed to culminate in divine theosis or deification – becoming transformed according to God (page 140, underlined emphasis is added).  Finally in page 144 the author wrote: ‘The Protestant principles of sola scriptura and sola fide do not themselves constitute orthodox Christianity, nor do they constitute the very heart of the historic Christian faith. These were originally intended to subsist under the umbrella of the ancient tradition. The purpose here is not to mitigate their place or force within Protestant Christianity; it is to insist that the proper way to assess their value is to situate them within the broader contours of catholicity. The ancient rule of the church’s faith is better suited to designate the central identity of historic Christianity than the Protestant solas, just as the tradition remains the foundation on which these later Protestant ‘traditions” build.

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