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

One thought on “Justification by Faith (pt. iv)

  1. This statement is completely wrong. I am a Lutheran pastor working on a PhD dissertation on the theology of the Holy Spirit in Philip Melanchthon (the “author” of the Augsburg Confession). Dix’s comments may be more reflective of Calvinist theology, but certainly not Lutheran.
    Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession (1530): “Concerning the office of preaching” (with comments)
    To obtain such faith (“justifying” faith- see Article 4) God instituted the office of preaching, giving the Gospel and the sacraments [NOT just preaching. The sacraments are included in the office of “preaching” because as “visible words” (Augustine), they proclaim the gospel]. Through these, as through means [the Reformers were adamant that the Spirit always uses external means as a response to the “spiritualists” (like T. Muntzer) who are condemned at the end of Art.5], he gives the Holy Spirit, who produces faith, when and where he wills (John 3), in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe.
    Likewise, “faith” is not our own work but is purely a work of God in the hearer through the Holy Spirit who uses the Word.

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