Acts 8 and Sola Fide

Unlike the majority of Evangelical Christians today, I do not believe that salvation is through faith alone. On the contrary, I believe that salvation - the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit - is usually received at baptism. For my purposes here, it does not matter why I believe there are exceptions to the baptismal rule, or what those exceptions might be. What matters is that my position allows for exceptions.

Importantly, my Evangelical friend does not have the luxury of allowing for exceptions to the sola fide rule - for if exceptions exist, then salvation is not actually through faith alone, but also (at least sometimes) through something else.

With that in mind, consider Acts 8.14-17, a passage that has often been cited against theologies of baptism such as mine. Acts 8 does indeed present a problem for me, because it indicates that baptism was insufficient for the reception of the Holy Spirit on at least one occasion.

In light of this scripture, I have a few options. I could perhaps say something about how the practice of laying on hands died out with the apostles. I could argue that this instance is merely an unexplained exception to the rule. I could even concede that I was wrong about baptism and begin laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What options, however, does the Evangelical have? His theology has no room for exceptions. It would be untenable to argue that the Samaritans came to faith in between baptism and the laying on of hands. He could (maybe) argue that forgiveness of sins is through faith alone, but that the Holy Spirit comes afterward - but even this lesser concession would constitute a radical shift from the understanding of baptism (or the laying on of hands) as an "outward sign of an inward grace."

This much, at least, seems undeniable to me: Regardless of how we handle Acts 8.14-17 (and I by no means have a "set" understanding of the passage), we cannot avoid the simple fact that practices such as baptism and the laying on of hands were not instituted as mere symbols closely associated with the act of conversion, but spiritually efficacious practices in and of themselves. Here, we see that the gift of the Holy Spirit came distinctly after the Samaritans' initial profession of faith and baptism - not through faith alone.

The Evangelical has often argued that the New Testament's description of baptism as being "for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2.38) is a result of baptism's temporal proximity to the act of coming to faith. But such an argument cannot, as far as I can tell, make sense of Acts 8.14-17.


Michael Gormley said...

Sola Fide, Can It Work?

Many protestant sects teach that all that is needed for salvation of their souls is Faith Only...

Sola Fide, saved by faith alone.

All they need is to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and savoir and no matter what they do after; they are assured they will go straight to heaven.

Jesus Christ paid the price for all sins, past, present, and future. Jesus Christ took the test for us all and gave each of us a grade of 100%.

Now doesn't that sound good? Just think, you can do anything you want for the rest of your life and your irrevocable ticket to heaven was paid for with the blood of Christ almost 2000 years ago. What a gift! What a great blessing! What nonsense!!!