Friday, August 01, 2008

The Swiss vs Luther on "Faith Alone"

The person I debated about Luther and Romans 3:28 asks on another blog post,

"I would like to know if anybody has any idea how Zwingli, whose 'reformation', which was concurrent with but independent of Luther's, could have failed to 'see' 'Salvation by Faith Alone', meaning 'belief only', in Scripture IF it is supposedly SO clear?"

He also stated something very similar to this in our debate:

"Interestingly, the independent but concurrent Swiss Reformation saw no such “doctrine” [faith alone] in Scripture, thereby proving that even those intent on reforming the Church “saw” Luther’s new concept of salvation in Scripture."

The question and information about Zwingli and the Swiss used by my opponent during our debate appears to be based on information taken from Alister McGrath's Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, a book he cited. When one reads the context, the point made by my opponent melts away. On pp.246-247. McGrath states:

"Luther's doctrine of justification won wide- but not universal- acceptance within early Protestantism. Zwingli and other eastern Swiss reformers of the late 1510's clearly entertained a vision of reformation that did not entail this idea and may even have been contradicted by it. Many Swiss and Rhineland reformers of the 1520's were nervous about the idea, believing that it suggested that Christians were relieved of any obligation to do good works. Bucer, perhaps showing his ethical sympathies with Erasmus of Rotterdam, set out a doctrine of double justification, which ensued a robust link between God's act of gracious acceptation and the human response of grateful moral action. Some Anabaptist writers also distanced themselves from it, again expressing anxieties about its biblical foundations and moral implications.

Luther responded by calming such fears- particularly in his 'Sermon on Good works"- arguing that all he was saying was that good works are the natural result of having been justified, no the cause of justification. Far from destroying morality, Luther simply saw himself as setting it in its proper context. Believers perform good works as an act of thankfulness to God for having forgiven them, rather than in an attempt to persuade or entice god to forgive them in the first place."


The context answers his question and point directly. It appears to me that the confusion by the Swiss (according to McGrath) was falsely thinking Luther's idea of "faith" was a mere mental assent. In our debate in which this was brought up, there appeared to be a lack of understanding by my opponent of Luther's position on the relationship between faith and works and law and Gospel. I have written extensively on it in my paper, Did Luther Say: Be A Sinner And Sin Boldly? A Look at Justification By Faith Alone and Good Works in Luther’s Theology.

In the Library of Christian Classics volume on Zwingli and Bullinger, the introductory essay explains,

Again in accordance with his basic teaching, Zwingli was impelled as Luther was to a new and evangelical understanding of the doctrine of justification. Justification became the sovereign and creative declaration of God by which those who are elected to faith in Jesus Christ are accepted as righteous on account of the merits of Christ. The true ground of justification is not the human act of faith, but the life and death of Jesus Christ in which the justice and mercy of God are conjoined in a single act of divine goodness. As Zwingli put it in The Exposition of the Faith, goodness as justice required the sacrifice and goodness as mercy provided it. The means by which justification is applied to the individual is saving faith, that faith which is not merely rational assent, but a movement of the whole nature by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. Good works still retained an honourable place in this view of the matter, for it was stressed that they are the necessary but spontaneous fruits of a true faith. But of themselves good works could have no power to justify, for it is God who reckons righteous and it is God who himself produces the acceptable fruits of righteousness. Again, the emphasis upon free justification by faith did not mean the negation of the Law, for as a permanent expression of the divine will for man the Law continues both as a guide to the believer and as a warning and restraint to the evil-doer. What Zwingli did negate was legalism, and especially that mediaeval form of legalism which had given rise to such corrupt and fictional notions as purgatory, indulgences, the power of the keys, the treasury of merit, prayers for the dead and the merit of works of supererogation." [G.W. Bromiley (ed.), Zwingli and Bullinger (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), pp.34-35].

And also:

"In the handling of such controverted themes as justification, purgatory and the Church, Zwingli does not differ substantially from other Protestant leaders. He teaches justifcation by faith, but is careful to point out that the man of true faith will fulfil the works of the law by an inward compulsion" [Ibid. p. 243]

For Luther, faith was not simply mental assent. “Faith,” wrote Luther, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” Luther scholar Paul Althaus notes: “[Luther] also agrees with James that if no works follow it is certain that true faith in Christ does not live in the heart but a dead, imagined, and self-fabricated faith." The book of James describes a real true faith in Christ: a real saving faith is a living faith. If no works are found in a person, that faith is a dead faith (c.f. James 2:17). James then describes a dead faith: the faith of a demon. A demon has faith that God exists, that Christ rose from the dead- I would dare say a demon knows theology better than you or I. But is the faith of this demon a saving faith? Absolutely not. Luther says, “Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith…”

Some may question why I would even mention Luther and James in the same sentence. Luther eventually came to harmonize James and Paul, but still felt he was a second century writer, and therefore did not produce a canonical book. Note these citation and comments from Ewald Plass's What Luther Says (Volume 1):


THEREFORE if a man lives on in sin, the conclusion is justified that he does so because he lacks the justifying faith, which always sanctifies, Luther contended in the fourteenth and fifteenth conclusion of a series of theses on faith in 1520.

1471 A Faith Without Works Is Not Saving Faith

14 Works infallibly follow justifying faith, since faith is not idle. . . .

15 It is, therefore, correctly said:Faith without works is dead; in fact, it is not even faith. (W 6, 85 f — E op var arg 4, 340—SL 19, 1431 f)

THAT LUTHER referred to James 2:17 in conclusion fifteen became certain when, many years later, his own explanations of these sentences were found. He had the following to say about his fifteenth conclusion.

1472 St. Paul and St. James Agree

Fruits do not make the tree, but a tree is known by its fruits. Now just as a tree that does not bear any fruit is wood, a piece of hypocrisy that is similar to a tree, so faith is a piece of hypocrisy if it does not produce works. ... He (St. James) wants faith to justify its genuineness by works; not that man is justified before God by works, but that the faith which justifies before God is recognized by the witness of its works. We must, therefore, well understand his statement: "Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works?" (James 2:21). For Rom. 4:2 expressly contradicts this: "If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." However, James speaks of the works of faith. (He says) that these manifest and show faith, not that they make it or that anyone is justified by them. This appears from the text, for he teaches that a person should show his faith by the good works which he does toward his brother and sister who are naked, etc. (2:15 f.). It is, therefore, a different matter to speak of faith and its power, as Paul does, and, on the other hand, to speak of faith and its manifestation and demonstration, as James does. (W 6, 95f—E op var arg 5, 281—SL19, 1432)

9 comments:

Tim MD said...

Hi James,

I hope that you didn’t spend a lot of time determining where I got the whacky idea that Zwingli did not “develop” and kind of a “salvation by faith alone” belief during his concurrent but independent (of Luther) “reformation”. I would be happy to answer any of those kinds of question if you simply ask. Please don’t hesitate.


Actually I prefer Protestant sources for this kind of thing because it seems to take the “RCC-biased source” card off the table. I also prefer to use the MOST reputable Protestant sources, people who have the highest reputations, then allowing those who disagree with them to “offer up”, their “reputations” vs. MY Protestant source.


My point, a point which you never actually addressed during our debate, was simply that in the early Swiss reformation, there was NO HINT of ANYTHING like “salvation by faith alone”. However, this was just a lead in to the more obvious and more troublesome point (for Protestants), which is that even now, there is so much disagreement within Protestantism on how salvation is “obtained”.


As you know, there are several (at least) different Protestant “understandings” of Salvation but just to highlight two: according to Calvinism Salvation cannot be lost, whereas in Lutheranism, Salvation can be lost through mortal sin and unbelief. One of them COULD be correct, but not both. Or they could BOTH be wrong.


Given that you are not a Lutheran, I must presume that you do not even agree with Luther’s “version” of “salvation” and yet you spend so much time defending the man and his teachings.


I think it is wonderful that you are in training to be a Minister, but this brings up an interesting question, one which can be answered with a simple yes or no.


When you are done with Seminary, would you be “allowed” to be a Minister by the modern Lutheran Church and still hold your current beliefs?


God Bless You James, Tim


And by the way, if you need to ask anything about my thoughts on these issues, please don’t be afraid to ask because I would be more than happy to explain in further detail.

James Swan said...

My point, a point which you never actually addressed during our debate, was simply that in the early Swiss reformation, there was NO HINT of ANYTHING like “salvation by faith alone”.

...Because the Swiss Reformation began more as a "moral reform"
Given that you are not a Lutheran, I must presume that you do not even agree with Luther’s “version” of “salvation” and yet you spend so much time defending the man and his teachings.

Luther had an over-emphasis on paradox in his theology- Reformed theology does not have the same over-emphasis. For Luther, Two seemingly contradictory things in Scripture could both be true. Reformed theology generally speaking, will not automatically assume "paradox"- but believes that God's truth has a consistent interpretation.

James Swan said...

When you are done with Seminary, would you be “allowed” to be a Minister by the modern Lutheran Church and still hold your current beliefs?

I don't plan on being a minister.

I know little about contemporary Lutheranism- but I know enough that I view the sacraments differently, and thus would not seek ordination in a Lutheran denomination.

That being said, I consider Lutherans that confess faith alone in Christ as my brothers and sisters in Christ- despite those areas in which I disagree with them. The Gospel unites us.

Tim MD said...

Hi James,

Thanks for your response.

We agree that the Swiss reformation began as more of a correction of things that the Church was DOING wrong rather than TEACHING incorrectly.

You admit that Luther "got it wrong" about salvation because you personally disagree with him, proving my contention that there are multiple Protestant understandings of salvation. But we DO agree that God's Word cannot contradict itself.

As for your not planning to become a Minister, that was my error for making that assumption. However, my question was whether the Lutheran church of today WOULD ALLOW you to be and teach your beliefs from one of THEIR pulpits. In the absense of a direct answer, I'll take yours as being a "no", which of course would be the truth.

Apparently, there would be several "essentials" on which you would be in disagreement and as such they could never allow you to teach your beliefs in one of THEIR churches. IF you WERE a Lutheran Minister, and changed your beliefs to what you currently believe now and preached them from one of THEIR pulpits, they would of course demand (eventually) that you "tow the line" doctrinally, and would eventually discharge you from your responsibilities if you did not.

That's pretty much the same thing that happened to Luther EXCEPT that he was in opposition to SO MUCH of what the Church believes.

Thanks for your response James, but it seems like it doesn't make a lot of sense to have concurrent dialogues on both sites so I think we should return to CARM, mostly because I hate having to "become" a brand new google blogger every time I want to post here.

God Bless You James, Tim

GeneMBridges said...


You admit that Luther "got it wrong" about salvation because you personally disagree with him, proving my contention that there are multiple Protestant understandings of salvation.


Where does James says this? What he says is that Luther (and I would argue Lutheranism itself) placed a high value on paradox, and consequently, historically held to the concept of double truth.

The Reformed tradition did not do that. Rather, our tradition has rather consistently affirmed that something cannot be false philosophically and true exegetically. If something is true exegetically, it must be true philosophically.

there was NO HINT of ANYTHING like “salvation by faith alone”.

As James has pointed out, that's true if you define faith as intellectual assent, which is what the first generation Reformers feared Luther was teaching. When they came to understand otherwise, that changed. We have consistently denied such thinking, even condemning Sandemanianism in the Scots tradition.

You're also continuing to conflate justification and "salvation." Justification is but one aspect of "salvation."

For the Reformed, Sola Fide is a species of Sola Gratia - and that's why you won't find us talking about "salvation by faith alone." Salvation is by grace alone.

However, my question was whether the Lutheran church of today WOULD ALLOW you to be and teach your beliefs from one of THEIR pulpits.

That would vary from Lutheran church to church. Baptists and Presbyterians share pulpits. Lutherans participate in the theological discussions on the White Horse Inn programs.

Apparently, there would be several "essentials" on which you would be in disagreement and as such they could never allow you to teach your beliefs in one of THEIR churches

For the Reformed tradition, we define "essentials" quite broadly. It's the Lutherans who have had an "all or nothing" attitude historically. Try reading Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 on that.

IF you WERE a Lutheran Minister, and changed your beliefs to what you currently believe now and preached them from one of THEIR pulpits, they would of course demand (eventually) that you "tow the line" doctrinally, and would eventually discharge you from your responsibilities if you did not.

1. Only if they required strict subscriptionism to their confessional documents.

2. I personally know of Lutheran churches with Reformed elders in them.

James Swan said...

Tim, you have an uncanny ability to veer completely off the subject. I am very grateful to Gene Bridges for taking the time to interact with your off-topic points. I simply don't have the time to venture down every rabbit trail or implication you want to make. I'm sorry.

When you made your points about Zwingli and the Swiss, I did some research, and attempted to put forth dialog on that issue. In front of me now is McGrath's Iustita Dei (3rd edition), as well as some of Zwingli's works. I've read through them, and can dialog with you on this topic, which you brought up. I don't care to discuss my future plans with you, or what brand of Lutheranism would not ordain me.

My point, a point which you never actually addressed during our debate, was simply that in the early Swiss reformation, there was NO HINT of ANYTHING like “salvation by faith alone”.

In our debate, the word counts were a helpful tool in keeping things focused. I did not deem your point relevant enough to include in my third 250 word response. Since you brought it up on my blog, I looked into it.

We agree that the Swiss reformation began as more of a correction of things that the Church was DOING wrong rather than TEACHING incorrectly.

Yes, and then Zwingli attempted to claim he arrived at sola fide independent of Luther. Over on CARM I posted the following:

I've been reviewing McGrath's Iustita Dei (3rd edition). I recall you having this book see pp. 248-251. There does appear to be some minor differences in the technical way Luther and Zwingli discussed justification- but, in my opinion, they seem to have arrived at the same place. It appears Zwingli placed more emphasis on his Humanist training, whereas Luther did not. Thus, they approached the doctrine differently.

Let us not forget though, Zwingli made a big fuss about how he arrived at justification by faith without the influence of Luther. It's hard for me to understand why Zwingli would make a big fuss over this, if he fundamentally disagreed with Luther about it.

Little evidence exists that Zwingli had recovered the doctrine of justification prior to Luther. One wonders why Zwingli would deny his influence, since it is apparent his career as a protestant reformer began after Luther’s break with Roman Catholicism, not when Zwingli himself dates it as early 1516.

Some have speculated that he denied this influence because of Luther’s excommunication as a heretic. Zurich’s connection with Wittenberg at that time would have endangered the infant Reformation movement in Switzerland where no strong prince like Saxony’s Frederick the Wise had come to its support. Harold Grimm notes, “…most scholars now accept the view that Zwingli was strongly influenced by Luther in his early years as a reformer and that he later developed his originality and independence."

The denial of dependence on Luther may have a much more psychological answer. Zwingli’s serious theological differences with Luther provoked a heated rivalry between them. Steven Ozment states,

"Scholars have been inclined to view this early dating of his evangelical activity as more expressive of his rivalry with Luther and he stressed them repeatedly in the 1520s when they competed in many quarters for Protestant leadership. His Swiss Catholic critics also influenced Zwingli’s insistence on the independence of his reform. Finding Luther’s theology closer to the old faith than Zwingli’s, on both key doctrines (especially the Eucharist) and liturgical practice, they believed it held the possibility of significant compromise. This made identification with Luther a serious impediment to the more radical reforms Zwingli promoted throughout the confederacy. There were political, theological, and personal reasons for Zwingli to disassociate himself from Luther, even though their reforms proved very similar."

Thus, the key elements of the Reformation recovered by Luther strongly influenced the Swiss Reformation, changing Zwingli from an Erasmian moral reformer to a Protestant reformer. If this is accepted, it flows naturally that the Swiss Reformation could not have occurred without Luther. Even if it were granted that Zwingli’s transformation from Catholic to reformer was independent of Luther as some like Schaff hold (“Zwingli owed little or nothing to Luther” ), the critical historian Dr. Baur noted,

"But there can be no doubt that, judged by the merits and effects of their reformatory labors, Luther stands much higher than Zwingli. It is true, even in this respect, both stand quite independent of each other. Zwingli has by no means received his impulse from Luther; but Luther alone stands on the proper field of battle where the cause of the Reformation had to be fought out. He is the path-breaking Reformer, and without his labors Zwingli could never have reached the historic significance which properly belongs to him alongside of Luther."

Thanks for your response James, but it seems like it doesn't make a lot of sense to have concurrent dialogues on both sites so I think we should return to CARM, mostly because I hate having to "become" a brand new google blogger every time I want to post here.

I typically post whatever things I look into on my blog, so iI can find them in the future. I am on CARM even less since our discussion. If you want to comment on Luther & Zwingli's differences in justification, there's plenty of good material in Iustitia Dei that would interest you. McGrath outlines what he feels are the theological differences between these two men. In my opinion, Zwingli was nowhere near either the writer or theologian Luther was.

Apologist said...

I do not belief "faith alone" means "belief only."

As you can see in Romans 10:10-13: 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

"Faith Alone" is composed more than just belief. One can not sincerely believe that they are a sinner and not actually confess or repent of their sin. That must happen, which is included in "faith alone." Then after belief and confess/repentance, comes baptism (although not necessary for entry to heaven)

Edward Reiss said...

A bit off topic, but:

"Where does James says this? What he says is that Luther (and I would argue Lutheranism itself) placed a high value on paradox, and consequently, historically held to the concept of double truth."

I wouldn't say Luther placed a high value on paradox. Rather, he placed a low value on human reason to resolve apparent contradictions through the use of tools such as philosophy. It is not as if he clapped his hands every time he found a paradox.

James can correct me if I am wrong, of course.

Augustinian Successor said...

"2. I personally know of Lutheran churches with Reformed elders in them."

Amen.