Far-Fetched Interpretations

In researching how much the Reformers relied on or referenced the early church fathers, I ran across this article on The Old Jamestown Church blog.

That particular post defends the Reformation view of salvation by faith alone with citations from church fathers, going all the way back to Clement of Rome in the 1st century.

Though I would normally commend someone for quoting the early Christians so copiously, I cannot leave their selectiveness unchallenged.

Far-Fetched Interpretations and Verses Versus Verses

Sometimes a far-fetched interpretation can seem entirely reasonable, until you look at the other things that Jesus, or an apostle, or one of the early Christians wrote.

The quote from Clement seems to be a rousing recommendation for our modern claim that we go to heaven by faith alone:

All these (saints of old), therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory forever and ever. (1 Clement)

I had to go find the chapter reference myself, though it was not hard to do. It’s in chapter 32.

Seems like an open and shut case, right? Clement believes exactly what we moderns believe. We “go to heaven” by faith alone.

Then why did he say …

Take heed, beloved, lest his many kindnesses lead to the condemnation of us all, unless we walk worthy of Him, and with one mind do those things which are good and well-pleasing in His sight. (ch. 2

If you can cite Clement from chapter 32, but you would never repeat what he said in chapter 21, then your interpretation of chapter 32 is far-fetched and should be rejected.

Simple as that.

It is the verses-versus-verses syndrome.

The Not Far-Fetched Interpretation

Neither Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Paul believed that anyone inherited or entered the kingdom of God by faith alone. To enter the kingdom of God means first facing the judgment, where you will be judged for your works (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:28-29; Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:7; Rev. 20:11-15).

Instead we are born again by faith alone. We obtain grace to live this life by faith alone. We are converted to Jesus by faith alone.

Clement speaks like Paul speaks. Speaking of our current state in Jesus or of the transformation in the past that put us inside of the King, they speak of faith apart from works, granted to us by the blood of Jesus. Speaking of the judgment, in the future tense, they speak of living by the life of Jesus, walking in the Spirit, doing good works, and doing “those things which are good and well-pleasing in his sight.”

Here’s Polycarp speaking the same way:

Faith, past and present tense:

… into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that by grace ye are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ. (Letter to the Philippians 1)

Works, future tense:

But the One who raised Christ from the dead will raise us also, if we do his will, walk in his commandments, love what he loved, and keep ourselves from all unrighteousness, greed, love of money, evil speaking, and lies. In addition, we must not return evil for evil, accusation for accusation, blow for blow, nor curse for curse. (ch. 2)

Go through Paul’s letters and see if you don’t see that pattern followed, excuse me, religiously.

James speaks of faith and works together. Read through James 2:14-26, and you will see that even James follows the pattern. He speaks of the whole of our salvation, from start to finish, and so he addresses faith and works and says that we are not justified by faith alone.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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4 Responses to Far-Fetched Interpretations

  1. So, if I am understanding this correctly, we enter the life of Christ through faith alone, saved from our sinful past by the blood of Christ, through our repentance and acceptance/confession of His lordship over us. None of our previous works matter one way or the other.

    But from there on out, in living the life Christ has so freely given us by his grace, we must be diligent to do the good works God gives us to do in order to show ourselves approved at the judgement day and gain entrance into eternal life with our King. And should we fail (sin) anywhere along the way, if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us by His blood, and his blood continues to wash away our sin if we repent of it. Is that about right?


  2. ruralcommoner says:

    Thanks for sharing. I think this is a good testimony against the “easy-believeism” in our culture.

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