Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Refuting Anti-Evangelical Isahel Alfonso On Faith & Works (Part 1)

I came across this article written by a certain Catholic apologist named Isahel Alfonso discussing the importance of faith & good works in Salvation in accordance to the teachings of their church for the purpose of discrediting the Evangelical position that sinners are saved by grace through faith alone. I feel compelled to give a response to the said article as I see plenty of flaws in Mr. Alfonso's arguments and biblical hermeneutics that makes him end up with erroneous conclusions.

A dog barks when he sees his master being attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent, so here's my rebuttal.

(Mr. Alfonso's words are in maroon; my response are in normal color black)

Mr. Alfonso begins with a mini lecture about what he calls the "three basic schools of thought" in relation to the subject matter. He listed the three as: Pelagianism, Protestantism, and Catholicism.

One of the controversial and disputed topic on the salvation of man is the relationship of Faith and Good works. There are basically three school of thoughts that is involve in this controversy the pelagians that believed that a person can attain salvation by his own personal work without the assistance of God's grace (Good Works Alone Salvation), the Protestants that believed that man is totally deprived and can do no good hence he must only have his faith alone in order to be saved (Faith Alone Salvation) and lastly the Catholic belief that Faith and Good works must come together.

Then he proceeds on scrutinizing each schools that he mentioned (of course with an obvious aim to aggrandize the position of his church). Commenting on Pelagianism and Protestantism he wrote:

Pelagianism is clearly a heretical belief since the Bible is clear that without faith it is impossible to please God Heb.11:6 and the Protestant belief is also unbiblical and heretical since it is clearly stated in the Book of James that a man is justified not by faith alone but by his works James 2:24.

Though I am no fan of Pelagius, I don't exactly know where did Mr. Alfonso get the idea that Pelagianism is a system that promotes Salvation through good works alone. I have read many of St. Augustine's treatises against Pelagianism, and their contention was apparently never on the question whether faith is necessary for Salvation or not, but on whether or not Grace is necessary for man to have faith (or be able to do good works). But in fairness to Mr. Alfonso, he is correct in saying that it is heresy to say that a man can be saved by good works alone even without faith. Unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church have this doctrine that even those who do not know or reject the Gospel--whether they be atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, or pagan--can still be saved by simply leading a good life. So we see how Mr. Alfonso condemns as heretical the same view his church holds concerning the salvation of non-Catholics and non-Christians.

Mr. Alfonso goes on to assert that the Protestant view of Salvation is unbiblical and heretical because St. James tells us that man is not justified by faith alone but by works (Jam. 2:24). Upon close examination of James 2, however, we shall see that the apostle is not really teaching any form of works salvation. He is stressing the importance of good works in the lives of professing Christians as outward evidences of their saving faith in Christ for other people to see (v. 18, cf. Mat. 5:16), not as means to be made right with God. I have already posted in this blog a two-part exegesis of James 2, and you can read it here and here.

The Bible is unequivocal in its teaching that sinners cannot justify themselves in God's sight by anything they do since "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23, KJV, cf. Psa. 130:3, 143:2). It is through faith that God "justifies the wicked," not by works, but as a free gift of grace (Rom. 4:4-6).

The Catholic position is the only right and Scripturally founded belief that there is a cooperation between God's grace and man's work. In order to grasp this truth we must look back into the Old Testament. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God sin enters the world Romans 5:12, as we can clearly see that sin enters the world through the cooperation of man through the disobedience of Adam and Eve thus it is fitting that salvation comes through the obedience of one man Romans 5:19. Clearly it is by God's design that man will also cooperate in his salvation...

Mr. Alfonso's reasoning goes like this:
  1. Because Man fell through his cooperation (sinning),
  2. thus he could be saved by his own cooperation (obedience) as well.
A fine example of a non sequitur argument. He based this flimsy reasoning on two verses: Romans 5:12 & 19. Unfortunately, again, the verses he appeals to does not support his claim. In Romans 5:11-19 Paul is discussing how all men fell unto Sin and became subject to death and condemnation by the disobedience of one man, Adam, and how the now fallen mankind can be justified and restored into fellowship with God by the obedience of another, Jesus Christ. So through whose obedience men will be justified before God? Does Paul say by "our" obedience? No! It is by the obedience of Jesus Christ that sinners are justified! (Rom. 4:4-6). Christ's perfect righteousness is exceedingly sufficient for sinners to be considered as righteous before God through faith, and that's why justification is said to be a free gift from God and not something that can be earned by works (Rom. 3:24-25). If it is by works, it is no longer by grace (v. 11:6); but it is through faith so that it may be by grace (v. 4:16).

In James 2:24 it is obvious that salvation is not by faith alone but rather it should be accompanied by good works otherwise faith without good works is a dead faith...

Wrong. As I've already briefly explained above, James 2 has absolutely nothing to do with how one is justified before God. James is criticizing those who falsely assume they have faith (and are thus saved) on the ground of merely having an orthodox confession of faith (see James 2:14 & 19). What these false professors lack is a wholehearted trust/reliance in Jesus Christ alone for Salvation (Rom. 10:9-11), and that's what makes their faith dead, incapable of bearing good works (v. Jam. 2:17).

Moreover, James is not teaching that faith dies with the absence of works. No. He is rather telling us that dead faith is recognized by the absence of works. It does not produce good deeds because it is not alive and real to begin with. It's all in the head.

And to add beef in my case, the word "justify" (Greek, dikaioo) which both Paul and James used in their letters can vary in its meaning depending on how it is applied in a given context (see Greek lexicon). It could mean:
  1.  to declare or pronounce one to be just / righteous (like that of a judge acquitting the accused: see Rom. 3:20, 24-25, 4:3-6), 
  2. or  to show or exhibit one to be just / righteous (as a consequence of an evident actual moral uprightness: see Luk. 7:29 & Jam. 2:18, 24).
Paul couldn't have used the second usage, say for example, in Romans 4:5-6 where he says that God "justifies the wicked" (or "the one who does not work") through faith based on an imputed alien righteousness (Rom. 5:19). You wouldn't expect any actual moral uprightness from "wicked" people, but God justifies them through faith. Why? Because God does not await sinners to evince their good deeds before He can say, "Ah! This guy really believes in me!"; He looks directly at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7, cf. Rom. 10:9-11). Thus, "dikaioo" in the Pauline usage is purely judicial in nature pertaining to God's declaring the sinner as righteous in His sight "freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... through faith in his blood" (Rom. 3:24-25, KJV).

James, on the other hand, couldn't have used the first usage (i.e. to declare or pronounce one to be just / righteous), or else he'd directly contradict the teachings of Paul. The meaning of "dikaioo" in the second chapter of James' epistle is evident in its very context particularly on verse 18 which says:

"But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (Jam. 2:18, ESV)

Please take note that it is not God the apostle says to whom he will show his faith by his works. He says he will show "you" - pertaining to human audiences who, unlike God, cannot see through the heart of another. So when James said that "by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (v. 24) - he is (as context dictates) simply saying that Christians are 'shown to be righteous' (dikaioo) in the sight of other people by what they do and not by simply claiming to have faith or merely assenting to an orthodox confession of belief (see v. 14, 19).

(Proceed to the second part here)


1 comment:

  1. I believe that ISAHEL ALFONSO introduced very crooked philosophical theories about "anti-evangelism" rendering him like one big satanist who is fooling the catholic faithful into believing such lies, jeopardizing their traditional faith.

    He should not be given much attention because his opinions are so crooked, he sounds like the devil himself.


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