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

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