As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Faith, Works, Love and Obedience

Pursuant to a greater understanding of the faith vs. works debate, I sumbit a new wrinkle. Protestants cry Sola Fide with Luther and St. Paul in Ephesians, meaning that grace comes through faith and not by our own efforts, or works. Yet, this seems to be negated in James when he says, "You see, then, that a man is justified by his works and not by faith only." Hence, Luther's description of James as an "epistle of straw".

It is significant, I believe, that the Church chose both of these epistles, probably to act as a counterpoint to one other in a debate that might have been raging even then. Are we justified by faith or works? To their credit, today's Protestants (and even Luther) did not entirely discount works. Works are the evidence of faith, or the love gift we return to God in gratitude for His free gift of redemption.

Once I had become unhinged from the three pillars of the Reformation, I began looking for the unifying theme for faith and works. Scripturally, they are both equal. Works don't "come from" faith, but are an integral part of it. They are two sides of the same coin, two oars on a boat. The debate between the two is pointless because they are part of the same whole. I called the whole Love. Interestingly, when my very Protestant father talks about marital love, he doesn't say, "The feelings come first, and then the actions flow from the feelings." Rather, he says, "Act lovingly and the feelings will follow." Or, in the words of DC Talk, "Love is a verb." If we love God, faith and works will both be a part of that. Indeed, love is above and more important than both faith or works. 1 Corinthians 13 says:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body *to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing ... And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
It doesn't matter if we have faith OR works, because if we don't have love "it profits me nothing." Love, then, is the source from which both faith and works flow. The description of love in the remaining verses covers all faith AND works. I believe this is important because it changes how we approach the salvation of others. At its worst, medieval Catholicism placed doing the actions above all else. Luther was right to call them on it. There was no love. Likewise, at its worst the Reformation (and modern Protestantism) placed belief (which is the modern definition of faith) above all else. You can see it in the way they approach evangelism. Get the word out, confront the unbeliever, drop tracts, etc. Get them to believe.

But if it is love (which I am interpreting in the context of relationship) more than either belief/faith or action/works that is primary, then evangelism becomes building relationships with the lost (really, with everyone) and facilitating the creation of a loving relationship with God. Once that occurs, then everything else will follow.

Ok, I spent too long on that. Now to my real point. I was sitting in the All Saints rector's class and we were discussing this issue. Some had rung in on the faith side, others on the works side. I gave my thoughts about love. Then, an elderly, Egyptian gentleman (he was Coptic Orthodox, but attended this parish to with his Episcopalian wife) spoke up. He told one of my favorite stories of all time about St. John the Dwarf:
One of the best-known of the fifth-century desert saints was a man called "John Kolobos;" that is, John the Little, of John the Dwarf. He was a young man when he entered the monastic wilderness of Skete in northern Egypt. There he would pass his whole life in prayer and manual labor.

Little John had a beautiful simplicity of character. On his arrival, he was assigned to an old, experienced hermit as tutor. The tutor straightway gave John a walking stick. "Plant this in the ground," he ordered, "and water it every day." The command was a test as well as a task. John obeyed at once, without question or delay. Even though the river from which he fetched the water was at a distance, he watered the stick dutifully every day. In the third year the walking stick put forth buds and flowers and fruit. John had passed the test. His tutor collected the fruit and distributed it among his companions. "Take," he told them, "and eat the fruit of obedience."
"It is not about faith or works or getting saved. We should just be obedient to God." What an absolutely radical concept! We're trying to do that which saves us when we SHOULD just be trusting God and doing what He says. And, by being obedient, we show both faith and works (because you won't be obedient if you don't have faith in the one giving the orders, and you won't be obedient if you don't actually follow the orders). It's so simple! We need to be like children, Christ said, and children obey their parents. They trust them. And Christ showed us that very path, the path of obedience, with His own life.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- Philippians 2:5-11
The glorification of Christ came as a result of His obedience to His own father. It was obedience, not faith or works (or, rather, both of them together), that justified the OT fathers. Abraham left home and almost killed his son out of obedience. That is some serious obedience, right there. That is what the Church should be emphasizing. Just obey God. The priest, Samuel said to King Saul when the latter disobeyed the Lord:
Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
- 1 Samuel 15:22
Further, obedience directly connects to love as well. Jesus says again in the Gospel of John (14:15):
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
So, if we love God, we will obey Him. If we obey Him, then we, by our works, show that we have faith in Him. If we obey Him, then like St. John the Dwarf and like Christ, we will taste the fruit of obedience.


Blogger fra edwin said...

I can't agree more with what you have said, Christopher.

When people outside of the Catholic faith accuse Catholics of performing "works" to gain salvation, it generally proves confusing to both parties because they include many things which we would call sacramentals, holy obligations and observations, and even prayer. None of these things are done by Catholics "to be saved," but rather to participate in the life of the Living God, from whom we should never wish to be separated.

The Mass and the Sacraments are different from "Works" as Catholics understand them. Liturgical prayer, the Mass and the Sacraments are worshipful actions performed by the people of God as the Body of Christ in union with the Holy Spirit. They are the life of the Church. As the old catechism said, sacraments are outward signs of inward grace instituted by Jesus Christ for our sanctification. In the sacraments can be found the power of Jesus as the life-giving vine.

When a Catholic thinks of "Works" we tend to think of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy such as those Jesus commanded us to perform: Matthew 25:41 and Matthew 6:14.

If we believe every word of the Bible and do nothing about it, then we are hypocrites of the worst kind. Christ was very clear about this (from Matt 25:32-46)

<< And all nations shall be gathered together before him: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.

Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry and fed thee: thirsty and gave thee drink? Or when did we see thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison and came to thee?
And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger and you took me not in: naked and you covered me not: sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to thee?

Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen: I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. >>

Feed the Flock!

12:49 PM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

Thanks, Edwin. I am reminded of Keith Green's ending to his song "Sheep and the Goats":

And the only thing that separated them is what they did, and didn't, do.

11:24 AM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

I remember going through a very hard time a while back. I talked with one of the folks at the Church. She smiled at my story and said, "God has a plan, I'm sure everything will work out." And then she left. I am sure she felt that she had shared her "faith vision" with me.

The problem was that I needed more than, "God has a plan."

How often, I wonder, do we intentionally abdicate our responsibility to take up each others' crosses, and call it "trust in God's providence?"

"If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth." 1 John 3:17-18

3:44 AM  
Blogger Gordon said...

Obedience without humility leads to death, in the same manner that The Law brings death but Grace gives life.

In every obedient act of Christ Jesus there was not only submission on His part as The Son of God, but there was a combined "Trinitarian" humble submission.

God humbles Himself through the incarnation of Christ, assuming our flesh while retaining His divinity.

God humbles Himself through His Nativity, a story even little children can understand.

God humbles Himself through submitting to circumcision on the eighth day of the life of The Christ, suffering to fulfill The Law AND submitting Himself to be named with the name he provided to The Virgin Mary through the archangel.

In The Orthodox Church, January 1st is the "name day" of Christ, celebrating his circumcision.

It is a feast without fore-feast or after-feast.

Yet from December 25th (the day chosen to celebrate the Nativity of Christ) it is EIGHT days until January 1st.

THAT was the reason for the adoption of December 25th as The Nativity.

Had it been to replace the winter solstice celebration (Yule) it would have been recognized on the 21st of December.

God humbles Himself by allowing Himself to be presented in His temple on the 40th day of His life.

God humbles Himself by returning to His temple at the age of 12, allowing Himself to be considered as a man by men, yet amazing men through the words of The Word.

God humbles Himself through baptism in the river Jordan, in submission to the hand of The Forerunner, in submission to His creation (the waters) and in submission to The Father, proclaiming the mystery of The Holy Trinity through the Theophany of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit revealed as one in space and time.

In this, Christ Jesus foreshadows his submission to The Cross (the hand of man) and to the grave (his creation), proclaiming submission as the highest expression of Love through the validation of His resurrection, both revealing the Grace of God and inspiring us to submission (good works).

[See my comment on the earlier entry, "The Harrowing of Hell".]

Every breath that Christ took was in submission.

We see this most clearly during His passion, where we more clearly see The Lamb in perfect submission.

So, when we bandy about the word "Love" as if to say, "that is all I must do", then we should mean what we say.

For The Apostle Saint Paul FIRST wrote, "SUBMIT to one another out of reverence for Christ"...and THEN wrote, "Husbands, love your wifes as Christ loved The Church and GAVE HIMSELF UP..."

Through this, The Apostle Saint Paul also affirms the relationship between Christ and The Church.

As Christ has submitted Himself for the sake of The Church, so The Church (in all ways--ESPECIALLY sacramentally) is to submit Herself to Him.

Thus, submission to the authority of The Church (The Body of Christ) can be likened to a man who asks for the best directions to New York from San Diego.

He is given a map showing the most direct, easiest and fastest route.

If he truly wants what he asked for, he will follow those directions earnestly.

However, if he is a double-minded man, he will accept the directions but travel instead by way of Seattle, Salt Lake City (!), Las Vegas, Mexico City, Fargo, New Orleans, Tokyo...

Will that man ever arrive in New York?

That is not for me to judge.

For, as is often said in Orthodoxy, "we know where The Church is, but we don't know where The Church ISN'T".

Perhaps it is possible to truly Love without submission to God; to His Body.

It's also possible to get lost by following bad directions...

There is no Love without submission, and no submission if not to each other because we have First humbled ourselves through submission "in the sight of The Lord".

THAT is the Love that is above The Law.

4:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home