Justification by Faith (pt. iv)

Conclusion of Justification by Faith

So the gift of the Holy Spirit is not regarded by Protestants as something definitely imparted by an external sacramental act which may be done by Christ’s human representatives acting in His Name and Person (as e.g. in Acts), but as an inspiration which any man receives in aswer to his own interior desires, which is guarenteed to him by his own emotional and volitional response. So absolution from sin is for Protestants no longer something to be bestowed or withheld by Christ’s representatives (as in John xx) but something which any individual claims to obtain for himself at need in secret from God. So the Gospel rite of unction of the sick (Mk. iv. 13) has virtually been silently banished from Protestant practice, because the whole idea of God acting in response to or through an ecclesiastical material rite to either to give bodily healing or (still more) healing of the soul by the forgiveness of sins (James v. 15) is repugnant to the essential Protestant principle. Earnest prayer by individuals, i.e. prayer made with great psychological ‘attention’ by those praying, would be the only means to which a sincere Protestant would naturally look for such results.

There is left therefore only the organisation of opportunities for corporate prayer and praise as the main field of Protestant Church life. Corporate worship undoubtedly provides and safeguards those particular ‘values’ which indiviual worship cannot easily supply. But by no means all men equally appreciate the need of those particular ‘values’. If they do not want them or if they can find them for themselves in other ways, there is literally nothing which a Protestant Church can do for them which even a believing and religious man may not feel he can equally well do for himself, and which a spiritually slothful or undisciplined man will not claim to do for himself. The Church in such circumstances can have as such no decisive claim whatever on even the Christian life of its members. So far as individual Christians are concerned, it can only be at best or a convenience of the spiritual life for those who find it so. For others, stronger souls, it is something which they may have a duty to help and support, because it needs them, but which for themselves they could dispense with at will.

It is the same with the Ministry. Since the Sacraments do not cause grace in those who receive them but are only ‘tokens’ that the receivers have obtained grace in another (wholly individual) way, the Sacraments can no longer be conceived of as actions of Christ and His Body the Church (or better, of Christ through His Body the Church) really excercising His redemptive work on the receivers. They are actions of the receivers themselves, and only of them. Their administration is a set of ecclesiastical occasions for the edification of individual Christians, many or few, at which these can and should ecxercise their won faith and piety. There is therefore no need, nor indeed possibility, of a ‘priesthood’, of men authorised (as others are not) to act in the Name of Christ and His whole Church to perform these corporate actions of the Body towards individual members. The commission of the Christian Ministry is wholly other than this. They are men set apart to fulfil the function of proclaiming the fact of the Redemption accomplished in the first century A.D., which challenges individuals to make the saving act of faith. This is what the Church is for, and its Minsitry is essentially only a preaching ministry. As Luther said, Ordination is a ‘solemn ceremony for the appointment of public preachers in the Church’. Since the celebration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is in fact only a species of preaching by symbolical actions, it is fitting that they should normally be conducted by those to whom the preaching office is committed. But in doing this they excercise no supernatural power or authority from Christ and His Church which other Christians have not received. All Christians are ‘priests’ (1 Pet. ii. 5). Any confinement of the performance of these actions to the ordained ministers is only for the purpose of seemliness in their administration and the good order of the Christian society. This is the classical Protestant conception of the Minsitry. (But it is right to say that all Calvinists have always laid much more emphasis on the disciplinary authority of those set apart for the discharge of the preaching ministry than have the Lutherand and Independents. And, in Scotland especially, Presbyterians since the seventeenth century have recovered from the Catholic tradition a definite doctrine that minesterial authority is derived from God by their ordination at the hands of othet ministers, and not from the Church by the fact of their choice by the congregation.)

You will see, I hope, how central is the doctrine of ‘Justification by faith alone’ in the whole of Protestant conception of Christianity, and how directly all the rest of the Protestant system flows from it, so that if that is removed the other ideas are left as it were rootless – mere negations.

Dom Gregory Dix OSB

Justification by Faith (Pt. iii)

Part iii of Justification by Faith by Dom Gregory Dix

Thus Protestantism retained the idea of the Church, despite its awkwardness in the Protestant scheme of thought. But the New Testament idea as the ‘Body of Christ’, not only His instrument to proclaim His Gospel, but His Body, one with Him, living with His life, holy with His holiness, energising with His Spirit, so that her worship is His worship of His Father, her mission is His mission to men, her faith is His unclouded vision of God, her action is His Redemption – all this was fatally impoverished. In the New Testament the Church is the ‘fulfilment of Christ (Eph. 1, 23) without which He Himself is incomplete and fruitless, but with which and through which alone He is ‘Redeemer’. A doctrine of ‘Redemption’ which had no logical place for all this, which made the Church only the secondary instrument of a Redemption which is completed in the recesses of the individual’s own mind, in essential independence of the life of Christ in the Church and through the Church, such a doctrine was something artificial and new. It could not regard the Church as the ‘organism’ of Christ, a life into which one must be incorporated to live in Christ at all. It was bound to regard the Church at best as an ‘organisation’ to serve Christ. And there was no sufficient reason why it should not be regarded as ultimately a purely ‘voluntary organisation’ for that end, with which the ‘Justified’ individual could dispense entirely if it did not seem to him to be serving that end; or which he could refashion to do so as seemed to him good, in order the better to proclaim the Gospel as he himself had found it in the Scriptures. In any case such an ‘organisation’ has and can have no further claims on his obedience than he himself chooses to give it.

You see once more how central in Protestantism is its doctrine of ‘Justification’. It leads directly and inevitably to the typical Protestant conception of ‘the Church’, as something to which a man adheres in so far as he finds it helpful to his personal religious life, not as something which embodies the God-given ‘redeemed’ life of souls into which each individual must come to share that life. You see, too, how it leads directly to the untrammelled religious individualism and the insensitiveness to schism which mark Protestant Church life. It leads, too, to the repudiation of all final authoritative standards of doctrine other than ‘the Scriptures’, and these uninterpreted. For the Church’s mission is only to ‘proclaim’  the self-sufficient Scriptures, and no human ecclesial authority can be allowed decisively to limit their meaning by imposing its own particular interpretation upon them.

It is the same with the Sacraments. Few other Protestants have had the courageous logic of the Quakers in simply disregarding the facts that our Lord instituted certain external or material signs, actions and forms for His followers, and that the New Testament plainly attributes to these operative significance in the life of grace. They were retained by most Protestants, but emptied of their Scriptural significance as signs which cause what they signify, and regarded instead as mere ‘tokens’ (either to the receiver himself or even other people) of a grace received wholly independently of them by psychological operations of the believer’s own mind. It is no wonder that in course of time they have sunk to the position of ‘optional appendages’ to the practice of Protestant piety.

Thus the rite of baptism is no longer for most modern Protestants what it is in the New Testament, the actual ‘putting on’ of Christ, the ‘incorporation’ into Him, so that the baptised are truly ‘one with’, ‘members of’ Him. So far as this mystical union is envisaged, it is attributed to the act of faith or to ‘conversion’. Thus it is not baptism which makes a man a ‘member’ of most Protestant Churches, or even the fact of being a communicant, but his own voluntary ‘adherence’. And his reception of these ordinances is nowadays regarded as an optional element in that adherence. Such use as he chooses to make of them is a consequence, not a cause, of his life and membership in that Church; and most English Protestant bodies no longer limit their administration of them strictly to their own ‘adherents’, but welcome to them any ‘believer’ who may present himself to them. Any other view would be incompatible with ‘Justification by faith alone’; for any other view there would be in such sacramental actions an element of human co-operation, of man’s own ‘good works’ combinig with the divinely-given confidence in the finished sacrifice of Christ, to bring about this ‘Justification’ and Sanctification. On the Protestant principles this is wholly inadmissible.

To be continued – and finished

Justification by Faith (ii)

Part II from Dom Gregory Dix on Justification by Faith

I have put it briefly, because I have no intention of criticising it here or of pointing out its great differences from the Catholic doctrine of Justification, except under one aspect. (I will only say in passing that it is a one-sided deduction from parts of St. Paul’s teaching, and that it is partly a development of and partly a reaction against teaching on the subject which was current during the fifteenth century mediaeval Latin Church, which we are always apt to forget was the nursing mother of all the Reformers.) But this root-idea of Protestantism had many consequences and ramifications, though, it has in itself – granted its catastrophic premises – a majestic and logical simplicity – too simple indeed to be adequate either to the profundity of the New Testament or the complexity of fallen human nature. All I want to point here is that it denied that thorough ‘renewal of the inward man’ by the action of God’s grace as a consequence of Redemption by Christm with which the New Testament fairly rings and thunders. And it left out altogether the ideas of the Church and the Sacraments from the whole operation of Redemption and sanctification.

Augsburg Confession

True, Protestants could not help seeing that the New Testament represents our Lord as having instituted the Church, and appointed His Apostles to act in the Church in His Name and Person. It also records that he deliberately ordered and instituted certain external actions and signs for His followers as having a vital relation to their being His. Neither of these facts was easily reconcilable with the doctrine of ‘Justification by faith alone’, which insisted not only that man needed nothing more but actually could do nothing more than know the story of Redemption in the first century A.D. and put his entire trust in that. Yet the New Testament made it impossible not to retain the Church and the Sacraments in some sense. Protestants therefore kept them both, but they were forced to empty them of much of their Scriptural meaning.

The idea of ‘the Church’ was reduced to the only one compatible with Protestantism – it was regarded chiefly as the divinely founded society for continually proclaiming the history of Redemption as it had happened long ago on Judea, and so challenging every individual in other ages and countries that first-century Palestine to make that personal act of faith which alone saves. The only necessary equipment for such a tasl was of course the authoritative account of how Redemption had actually happened – the Gospels – and the authoritative explanation of it and commentary upon it in the Old Testament and the other Apostolic writings. This alone was what could provoke the saving act of faith in individuals, and the Church existed to thrust it upon their individual notice. You see how directly the doctrine of ‘Justification by faith alone’ led to the idea of ‘the Bible and the Bible alone religion of the Protestants’. If the Church was necessary to present the Bible in every generation, yet the Church existed for the Bible, not the Bible for the Church. (In point of fact the Church had existed before the Bible and had compiled the Bible and authorised the Bible. Between 150 and 200 A.D. the Church began to select those particular documents which now make up our Bible out of many others, Jewish and Christian then in circulation, all professing to be more or less authoritative. These alone were after that to be received by the Church as ‘inspired’ and authoritative ‘Scriptures’. The ‘Old Testament’ was a selection from books then currently accepted as ‘Scripture’ among the Jews. The grounds for inclusion in the ‘New Testament’ were partly historical – evidence that these particular documents had genuinely come down from the Apostolic age and their competitors had not; partly doctrinal – that these documents agreed with the standard Christian teaching which had been going on in the Church ever since the Apostolic age, and their competitors did not. Thus there was a time when the teaching of the Church had been quite independent of our present Bible, viewed as a collection; and there was also a time when the documents of the Bible had been judged by the teaching of the Church and not vice versa. This was really fatal to the Protestant view both of the Bible and the Church. But the facts were not all known in the sixteenth century, and those that were known were ignored.)

To be continued