Monday, April 30, 2012

Article 13

Today's (Monday's ) article is the next logical extension of the last few doctrinal statements:

XIII. Of Works before Justification
Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

I have to admit that I pretty much reject this one outright. This one is completely grounded in the notion of total depravity, which I also reject because it denies that we are made in the likeness and image of God. Yes, we do sin, and, yes, that penchant for sin often corrupts our ability to to what is right. But I have trouble believing that just because someone is not baptized, that a truly good deed on their behalf is in itself offensive to God.

I gather from reading Calvin's response to the Council of Trent's condemnation of these doctrines that the scriptural warrant used by Protestants on this issue is Hebrews 11: 6:

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Protestants then go on to state things like Ephesians 2:1 that "you were dead through your trespasses and sins." The logical conclusion they come to is that how can someone who is dead do any good before the sight of the Lord?
To that scriptural assertion, I would respond with two comments. Firstly to the Ephesians reading, Paul is saying that without faith, it is impossible to please God as a whole person. Yes, a sinful person is not pleasing to God. Paul is not speaking about a specific good deed of the person; he is talking about the person himself as a whole which is not pleasing to God. God's design is to bring all things unto himself in the ages of ages, as our Orthodox brethren like to say. To say that God cannot be at work in the good deed of an unbeliever is to deny the sovereignty of God. To deny that unbaptized people cannot perform any good deed is again to deny that they are made in the likeness and image of God, no matter how corrupted by sin. I just don't but it.

Secondly, I can point to numerous examples in the Bible of unbelievers or at least non-Jews who are doing works that the Bible seems to see as "good." King Melchizedek in Genesis 14 blesses Abraham, to the point the Bible refers to Melchizedek as a "Priest of the God Most High," and yet Melchizedek is not related to Abraham. God had made no covenant with Melchizedek. Granted, Melchizedek is in some later rabbinic commentary considered to be Shem, the son of Noah, but they have no scriptural warrant for that whatsoever.

Other examples are Rahab the Prostitute who in Joshua 2 secret Joshua's spies out of Jericho. Rahab was not an Israelite, but members of the enemy Canaanites. By that act, Joshua's men are saved and Rahab is saved when the Israelites sack Jericho. In other words, this is a good act that was pleasing enough to the Lord to save Rahab.

Even King Cyrus of the Persian Empire who clearly does not worship or even believe in the God of the Jews allows the Jews in Captivity to return to the Promised Land. He ends the Babylonian Captivity, and the Bible even refers to him in messiah-like language, i.e. he is referred to as an anointed one in places like Isaiah 45:1.   Again, Cyrus was not a Jew not did he have any desire to become one, and yet for his works, Cyrus is even called righteous in Isaiah 45:13. I can think of several other examples, but for purposes of this short blog entry, this will have to suffice.

So, again, I have to reject this article because I find it contrary both to scripture and the idea that people have innate moral sense, even if they are not baptized. Granted, such works may often be corrupted or not completely in accordance with God's intentional will, but God can still still use such works and make them good to achieve his ultimate will, which is to bring all things back unto himself in the ages of ages.

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