It happened 481 years ago this week (it is the last week in October, 1998 as I
write this). It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther tacked a paper to a
community bulletin board in Wittenburg, Germany which challenged the Roman
Catholic Church on ninety-five different points. From this came growing protests
against some of the Church's practices and Luther was labeled "a limb cut off
from the Church of God, an obstinate schismatic and manifest heretic."
Protestantism had its beginning during these days, Though Luther's intent had
been to reform some of the abuses within the Church, schisms did occur because
him and others who were doing the same kind of thing in other areas of Europe;
Calvin, Zwingli and Knox.
Luther was reacting against several practices within the Roman Church that were
definitely departures from the New Testament. These would include the sale of
indulgences, which were the sale of forgiveness and release from purgatory for
money given to the Church. One zealous salesman, a Dominican by the name of
Tetzel, hawked these indulgences telling folks that "as soon as the money fell
into the coffer, a soul was released from purgatory."
At one time, Luther was lecturing on the Psalms and Romans. According to the
tradition, as he was reading Romans 1:17; "The just shall live by faith."; he
wrote in the margin of his Bible a single Latin word; "Sola" -- which means
"alone" and this illumined him to a new way of looking at justification.
Today, most Protestants believe that this doctrine is Scriptural. As often as
you hear the phrase, "justified by faith alone" you would expect to find it on
every page in the New Testament. You do not. Quite simply, while to be sure the
practices of the Roman Church were shameful, the "faith only" doctrine was an
over-reaction to those practices. The Bible never uses the term. Not once. Well,
maybe once, but not twice.
But, once is enough. If the Bible teaches about "faith alone" just once, that
will be enough for me. The Scriptures of God really do not have to teach a thing
twice for it to be true. Just once is enough, and the Bible uses the term "faith
alone" one time. So, whatever the Bible says about "faith alone" I will gladly
accept and teach. Will you? What does it say?
"You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone." (James
2:24). That's it. The sole use of the phrase "faith alone" in the Scriptures. It
is no coincidence that this is what I teach about faith alone. I teach that one
is not justified by faith alone. Once is enough for God to say a thing for me.
That's what faith is all about, isn't it? It is about accepting what God says in
His word (Romans 10:17).
By Jon W. Quinn
The Final Page
From Expository Files 5.11; November 1998