In my ministry role in the EFCA I receive many questions. I consider it a privilege and I find great delight in being able to provide biblical, theological, historical and pastoral responses.
One of the questions I received was an attempt to remain faithful to the biblical teaching as the EFCA Statement of Faith was interpreted. The question was raised regarding the expression from James, “not by faith alone,” from Paul, “for by grace you have saved through faith,” in relation to our SOF which includes the expression “through faith alone.”
I thought it would be fruitful to provide this good question and I trust a faithful response to others beyond the individual questioner. I begin with the question and follow with my response.
In the EFCA Statement of Faith (SOF), Article 7, The Church, it states “that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.”
My question pertains to the expression “through faith alone.”
James 2:24 claims the following: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Ephesians 2:8-9 states that salvation is through faith not of works, but that passage does not say “through faith ALONE.”
In light of these verses, it seems that the EFCA statement does not agree with the Bible. Am I missing something? I do not want to sign a SOF that even in the smallest way is not what God has communicated. What is EFCA’s reason for that terminology?
I responded with the following.
You raise a very good question.
The truth of the Bible must be communicated. The Bible alone is the absolute authority, the norming norm (norma normans). When it is communicated in creeds or statements of faith, for example, one seeks to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching/truth without necessarily using all and only the Bible’s words. Creeds and statements of faith are a derived norm (norma normata), that which has been written in light of the norming norm, and thus is revisable based on the Bible.
In essence the heart of the question is how we understand the differences between Paul and James: are they claiming contrary truths? Because we affirm the inspired, inerrant, authoritative and sufficient Scripture (Article 2), the single Author of the Scripture results in a unity in the Scripture. The “alone” is emphasizing what Paul teaches regarding faith and the “not alone” is what James claims for the believers.
They are addressing different contexts grounded in the same truth. For Paul to have stated what James did would have led his hearers to be affirmed in what they were already doing: claiming their works were necessary to their salvation. For James to have stated what Paul did it would have led his hearers to continue in their way of saying they believe with no impact whatsoever in their lives. This is a sort of false belief, which even the demons have (2:19).
In Evangelical Convictions, Article 7, we write (162), “So by faith, and faith alone, we are joined to Christ such that he bears our sin and we receive his righteousness (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).” And then we include the following footnote: “James 2:24 appears to deny that the one is saved by ‘faith alone,’ but the type of faith referred to there appears to be mere intellectual assent without real spiritual life. It is a ‘dead faith’ that bears no fruit (cf. 2:14-26). On the evidence of faith in its fruits, see Article 8.”
Furthermore, being a part of the Reformation stream, we affirm the solas as do most Protestants and all Evangelicals: grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, to God’s glory alone.