Sola Fide or Sola Fidelitatis?
I began reading Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King by Matthew W. Bates. Admittedly, I have only completed the first chapter and the peculiarly dense introduction. And yet, as I have not yet finished the book, I am still taken with many thoughts. Therefore, I will not pretend this article will be a review of the work of Matthew W. Bates, which is top notch thus far, but rather a synthesis of some thoughts I have had.
The book centers upon the brief yet profound statement of Ephesians 2:8,
For by grace you have been saved through faith [pistis]. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8, ESV)
At stake is the issue of Sola Fide. For, faith in the modern world may not be the most precise word–or even in Bates’s thinking, proper at all–to translate the Greek, pistis. Bates challenges our cultural thinking on faith by asking a line of questions. His line of questioning gets to the heart of the cultural understanding of faith. Bates would have us to believe that faith, as we use it today, is blind faith. It is faith in faith itself. Although Christianity has traditionally been considered a mystical religion, faith is just a bit too mystical if that faith is not rooted in concrete reality.
And this is what we have in Christianity, concrete reality. The person who has pistis in Jesus Christ is not just blindly hoping that Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit will one day have mercy on their eternal souls. Nor is that person blindly hoping that change will occur in their present life if they just believe enough. Or do Christians believe that? Certainly, the Bible does not teach so. Therefore Bates finds the concept of faith to be lacking when used to describe one’s relationship to Christ.
If not faith, then what?
Bates illustrates using Josephus, who in his autobiography, urged a rebel leader to “repent and believe” in him, harkening back to Mark 1:15 where Jesus urged the Jews to “repent and believe the good news.” Reading through western eyes would be absurd, here. Could Josephus mean that the rebel leader should turn from his evil ways and have faith in Josephus? Certainly, that is not the most natural reading. It’s clear that Josephus is asking for loyalty, for allegiance.
Is it, then, such a stretch to say that Jesus is not interested in our blind faith, but rather, our allegiance? And if our allegiance, then ought we not to say that salvation is not by faith–sola fide–but by allegiance–sola fidelitatis?
The Unseen Realm
Micahel Heiser, in The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible describes faith as ‘believing loyalty’. Here, in the realm not seen, the spiritual underpinnings of all creation, war wages. This is a genuine war, not what many Christians mean when they say, ‘spiritual warfare.’ What often is meant by spiritual warfare is merely the trials of life, the everyday trials, and temptations that come with living under the curse of Adam.
Heiser means a real war between real spiritual beings who want to, in a very real way, dethrone Yahweh and reign on the throne of the Almighty. For Heiser, salvation is a matter of being on the right side of the battle. It’s a loyalty issue. And so Heiser says that faith, by definition, must be ‘conscious and active.’ It’s conscious belief and active loyalty.
I’d like to give a bit of an illustration. War is different today than in the ancient world. Most countries have policies on refugees. We allow people from enemy territories to come over to our side because they are not loyal to their home countries. That was rare in the ancient world. You were expected to be loyal to your homeland.
Because of the fall, all people are born as citizens of the world, governed by the powers and principalities in the heavenly realm. That is, all people have loyalties to a Kingdom other than God’s Kingdom, whether they realize it or not. Even people who are not particularly evil must be said to be part of the Kingdom of the world because they were born into that Kingdom.
But, God has offered us refugee status (actually, he has offered us citizenship, even prince-hood, but that’s a different illustration). He has opened the borders of His eternal Kingdom so that we can enter in. But, there is no dual citizenship in God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of the world, because they are at war. You cannot be a citizen in both Kingdoms and thus to enter God’s Kingdom, a person must denounce their loyalty to the world and swear allegiance to Christ, who suffered the punishment for all of our war crimes.
Bates recognizes that there is a belief element to salvation. You have to know what you’re getting into. But, belief alone is not sufficient and thus what Bates asks for in allegiance is precisely what I believe Heiser means when he says that the biblical concept of salvation is according to believing-loyalty. It is a belief in the reality of Christ’s atoning work that is so deeply rooted in the heart of the person that he cannot help but live a life of allegiance to Christ.
We Have Come So Far
I feel that many churches have come so far from the biblical model of salvation. They have adopted free-grace soteriology as if free-grace thinking were normative in church history. It’s not. Free-grace thinking is unique to post-reformation theology. Free-grace soteriology is a second blessing theology that says you can be saved by belief alone, but then later in the Christian life the Spirit might bestow on you the second blessing, that is, discipleship. In other words, lots of people are saved, but only some are blessed with the Spiritual maturity that allows them to really reflect the righteousness of Christ and to live in authentic service to Him.
This is nothing more than a non-charismatic manifestation of holiness doctrine, which states that a person can attain the second blessing of realized righteousness. That is to say, that a person becomes fully repentant and free from all sins on this side of glory. And the second manifestation of holiness comes through the Pentecostal movement, where it is believed that a person is saved by belief, but then that belief is made manifest later in the Christian walk through charismata or sign-giftings, such as speaking in tongues, working of miracles, and healing by faith.
It seems all too clear to me that the shortcoming of all second blessing thinking is that the moment of salvation rests wholly on belief or intellectual ascent, the mere affirmation of doctrine but then manifests sometime later as authentic saving faith. Historically the church took the time to teach and train people in the ways of the Kingdom of God–sometimes we call that discipleship. But, free-grace thinking sees discipleship as secondary. All that is needed is a reductionistic understanding of a few crudely stated doctrines and a person somehow can have eternal security. The mysticism is certainly romantic and the cost to the individual is certainly very low. The price to pay to enter God’s Kingdom is peanuts.
But, the free-grace gospel at best allows people entrance into the Kingdom on a temporary visa. They come and taste. They see that the Lord is good. And some people choose to stay and take up residence; they become loyal disciples. But, others just come on the weekends for a visit and yet tell themselves ignorantly that they are citizens when their paperwork says otherwise. Free-grace theology doesn’t work towards the end of the great commission because it promises eternal security to people who have not been made into disciples.
The idea of fundamentalism is a sound response to liberalism–let’s return to what is truly basic and necessary in order to be authentically Christian. But, the often unspoken error of fundamentalism today is that fundamentalistic teaching focusses on practices of loyalty that are disconnected from the doctrines of conversion.
What do I mean?
I mean that fundamentalists tend to proclaim a free-grace Gospel. They preach a Romans Road Gospel that is followed by a say-a-prayer invitation and then promise that, if the prayer was genuine, then they are now a Christian. But, fundamentalism focusses heavily on the practices of the faith, many of which are traditions of the fundamentalist movement, more than they are biblical mandates. Thus, they communicate through subscript that salvation is occurring according to behavior and not belief.
The free-grace movement emphasizes eternal security with little or no loyalty to Christ. But, fundamentalists ultimately make the opposite error in that they emphasize practices while diminishing the Gospel, itself.
So, what is the Gospel, if not the Roman’s Road?
Bates makes the keen observation, that most theology interprets Jesus’s teachings on the Kingdom of God according to Paul’s Gospel of justification or the Roman’s Road. But, theologians make a grave error in so doing because it is actually Paul’s teachings that are more difficult to understand. Jesus preached loyalty to God, which fundamentalists can give a hearty amen to. But if we are to see our practices be consistent with our belief so that we can have believing-loyalty, we must understand Jesus and Paul together.
The Gospel is not that you can work your way into God’s presence. Neither is the Gospel that you freely attain salvation simply by believing salvation to be yours (reductionistic, I know). The Gospel is that by a change of allegiance from the world to Christ, your war crimes are forgiven and your citizenship secured in God’s eternal Kingdom.
For by God’s calling to enter His Kingdom through the propitiation of Christ’s blood, you have been saved through allegiance to Christ. And entering God’s Kingdom is not of your own doing; it is the gift God has offered to you (Ephesians 2:8, extrapolated).
If sola scriptura then sola gratia though solus Christus by sola fidelitates for soli Deo gloria. Amen.