Blog, Society

Gratuitous wits, or the futility of letter debate

Key Takeaway: What is the use of arguing over something like sola fides when so many people out there need the help of humble and loving Christians who have the capabilities to grant said help whichever way they can? None. There is no point in debating about the letter of the law when the spirit of the law is clearly being taken for granted.

Les pharisiens questionnent Jésus (James Tissot)
Les pharisiens questionnent Jésus (James Tissot)

In an oft-recurring motif in the Bible, Jesus is frequently seen rebuking the Pharisees – the Jewish leaders of his day – for their hypocrisy and/or overly strict by-the-book observance of Mosaic law. Jesus also happened to be a Jew Himself, and was definitely well-versed in Mosaic law and Jewish Scripture. However, He always clarified that He did not come to abolish or overthrow this old law, but to fulfill it – fulfill it in love, in justice, in peace. Nevertheless, the conflict between Him and the Pharisees was one major factor in their hatred of Him that led to His arrest and death.

However, this problem is not one that was rampant only in olden times. Even today, many people still believe in strict by-the-book obediences in matters as diverse from business to religion and everything in between – and it does not make God happy. The Bible itself warns against following the letter of the law too intently without taking into account the spirit behind it – the reason said law was lettered. Yet even in Christianity itself, there are many factions emerged from differences and strife – and it is pointless.

Why is it pointless? For one, it is contrary to Christ’s own prayer in the Gospel of John that the Church – the collective group of His followers – be as one, which St. Paul also emphasized in his letter to the Ephesians. Another, these many different groups have fundamental differences that possibly distort the truth about Christianity as revealed through Jesus; we all know how different Protestants think from Catholics and Orthodoxes. And it’s not always pretty when they go together – as is based from personal experience (I am the only Catholic in the family, and my closest Catholic relatives on my mother’s side are all in the USA – the rest are Protestant, mostly Evangelical).

Jesus’s concern that some religious leaders were being too strict about the literal application of the law, without considering its overall or big-picture significance, is still valid today – shown in the differences between these three major Christian divisions. One example I am most concerned of today is the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fides, or that faith alone saves. This stemmed from a misunderstanding that in the Catholic Church, works either in conjunction with faith or alone is believed to save – which is definitely not the case. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI himself, while still pope, said that Sola Fides is true, but if “fides” – faith – is viewed from the right context, a context that Catholics and Protestants today still disagree over – again, based from personal experience.

This isn’t an apologist article and I do not plan to go into Catholic apologetics here, as much as I want to become one. My only point is that while we keep arguing over what a certain word means, the world meanwhile is in need. Instead of using our belief system differences to build bridges and work together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the said differences are preventing bridges from being built in the first place – very contrary to the Great Commission of Christ. It is futile to keep debating over what is actually a simple linguistic nuance that evolved into one of the largest conflicts in religious history – because there is no need to debate over it in the first place.

What we do need to do is practice true religion, which the Gospel of James describes essentially as charity – the model of love that Christ Himself professed, love for God and love for others: the New Great Commandment that perfects the Old Ten Commandments. What we need to do is work together on our common beliefs in Jesus Christ and our faith in Him, and to follow the Great Commandment and Commission to love and serve others and in the process get them to know God.

We are all unique and have been blessed with different portfolios of skills, of backgrounds, of perspectives. So we are called in each of our own ways to use these portfolios for good – not to put someone else down. So give it a break.

No more anti-Catholic (or anti-Protestant for that matter) sentiment. No more holier-than-thou jibes. No more ivory tower conflicts that are so far removed from the true target market of Christianity. No more disagreements over something so minute as a word. We are all Christians here. And, as so very wisely taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola, we need to be in action, using our faith in Christ to love others concretely. We need to be practical also in our faith and in our service of the less blessed. We need to think like Christ, and act upon said thoughts. We need to love.

Have a blessed weekend ahead!

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