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[PS – I doubled up today, oops!  This waw for Monday.  It goes down better on a Sunday anyhow.  /S/]

The Letter to Titus moves me:
Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.

One of the most bitterly argued elements of Christianity is also one which has led to horrible suffering and conflict. That is the question of “Faith versus Works.” It is centered in the interpretation of the letters of the church fathers, especially Paul.

I have always found the argument a bit trivial. Which one of two things is entirely sufficient? The unstated premise is that they are exclusive and opposable.

Faith

Does faith alone suffice for salvation? The epistle of the Romans offers in 3:28

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Romans 9:30-32

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone…

The argument seems a bit clumsy here. It is made better in other epistles:

Galatians 2:16

nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

Galatians 3: (2,5)

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Hebrews 6:1

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God

The argument seems to establish that faithless works are of no value.

Works

James 2:14, 17, 20, 22, 24, 26

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

The corollary is that faith that has not established a palpable result is dead, of no value, useless.

Love

1 Corinthians 1:2, 13; 2 Corinthians 8:7

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.

1 Corinthians 13

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

It seems hard to find a dispute here.  Faithless work and unworked faith are each futile.  Faith AND work, without love, are futile.  I believe that the message is well-written, each in its own letter or letters.  There seems to be no inherent conflict in these elements.

External reference

The epistle of James is considered a very early work in the Church, perhaps by a contemporary of Jesus.  The argument of justification, faith and works are explored first here.  The Catholic Church and the Lutherans explored the question, and issued a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which has largely pushed away the critical tone of the dispute as regards dogma (see text).  James’ argument was directed to a group with a certain practice of faith without works.  It is a different group than those towards which the epistles of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews were directed.  These were written by a different author, although there is no inherent dispute that derives from the author to the canonicity of their statements.

The correspondence in Corinthians seems to be directed at the suppression of a dispute or error withing the church there, especially on the topic of immorality.

Faith is often disdained today as a concept, as though it were blindly naive.  Actually, Hume’s skepticism offers a sturdy consideration of faith, that the fallacy in many arguments comes for fallacy in our observation and conclusions, rather than the thing itself. If, in other words, we believe absurdly in something, it is our means of arriving at faith – ontological certainty – that is flawed.

Each sane individual constructs his or her own conscience, that is, the slow lifetime development of principles, so that one will act in a certain manner under particular events. Everyone’s conscience differs in some way with particular canons of morals, whether adding to them or passing by elements of them.  But one’s conscience may generally resemble that of a group of other people bound by their own consciences.

This does not mean that one’s conscience need be heteromenous – a wish to be good in the eyes of the faithful of one denomination or another.  In fact, the opposite – that one’s values are independently achieved, though they happen to coincide with those of others.  Moral maturity is the perfection of the autonomous conscience, which can be considered as though the inscription of one’s human experiences on the psyche, or soul.

In this sense, when the child grows to become an adult, he or she must throw off one’s childhood religious beliefs – even if they are correct, and are re-established later.  Conscience must be experiential.  It is given to children as law, but must be constantly rewritten by human practices.

Faith is merely the testing of one’s principles in an urgent situation which does not allow time to reason from first principles.  One acts in faith with one’s self and one’s wisdom.  Later, the singular event may cause one to restructure one’s conscience.  This is the natural pattern seen in all those who desire the development of their own rules of action.

Considering faith in this sense, one may fail to act according to one’s conscience from a general sense of moral weakness, where the conscience has no traction; or due to a particular characteristic of the matter under consideration, that it stands aside from all prior personal moral maxims to the degree that none of them can be faithfully executed.

Since faith is merely a confidence on one’s own conscience to decide actions in circumstances involving morality, “works” are just the fruit of such actions.  If conscience cannot carry the weight to influence one’s actions, then it is not really conscience, but a false thing to prop up on the shelf but not to be used when needed.  There is a word for this problem – I cannot recall it.  I’ll find it.

Finally, on love – love itself needs no argument for its awesomeness.  If, indeed, there is a God; and God made humans as we are, not as we imagine ourselves to be, and did so on purpose, well this God seems to love us all collectively and individually in a way that I personally suspect should be considered excessive.  God would then seem to enjoy us as we are.  We are motivated occasionally to clean up our act, now and again – but humans are not all that impressive at that challenge.  I am truly humbled to think about such things.

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