On a pamphlet rack at a Baptist I visited recently, there were two of interest “Which Church Saves” and “The Gospel and Mormonism.”
“The Gospel and Mormonism” stated some of the lesser known, but theologically crucial beliefs of Mormons such as that God, the Father, started as a human being, who was Adam and who later became God, who is actually one of many gods. Further, Jesus Christ was conceived by this Adam-become-God having relations with Mary. The implication was that Mormon beliefs are clearly unacceptable, unchristian, not salvific and therefore to be avoided at all costs.
In contrast, the “Which Church Saves” pamphlet had a rather self-congratulatory tone as the dialogue within it explained to a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox believer that it wasn’t the church that mattered, but the personal act of Faith and encounter with Jesus Christ. It was a friendly version of the basic “Faith alone” Protestant tenet.
First off, I would like to agree that the act of Faith is indeed critical for salvation and in being a Christian.
Nonetheless, the act of Faith is one part, and the act itself must be in the right Faith, ie: the content of Faith matters.
And that even the Baptists and other “Faith alone” Protestants know that is evidenced by the pamphlet against Mormonism. Why would they bother to warn their members against an erroneous (dare I say heretical?) belief system unless they thought it endangered the salvation of their congregation? Traditional Protestants (and Catholics) condemn Mormon beliefs because they/we don’t believe that they fit with the Gospel as revealed and considered authoritative in their/our own tradition.
Thus, intrinsically, the act of Faith includes a certain content. This content is as critical as the act itself. The act of Faith for Mormons is manifestly different than that of orthodox Christians. And the difference matters because it is the difference between belief in the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the true Faith and something else.
The pivotal importance of the content of Faith (for both Protestants and Catholics, who agree on many or most theological truths) shows that more than “Faith alone” saves. Even for the Protestant, it must at least be the right Faith. Orthodoxy is about defining this “right faith,” and so it is really important too.
Orthodoxy is not about condemning people we don’t like; rather, orthodoxy is about protecting the revelation of Christ and protecting the believers who seek salvation through Him. There is nothing stuffy or restrictive about orthodox belief. The content of it was worked out through much trial and suffering in the early Church and it continued to develop as well. Orthodoxy is about seeking to believe as God truly taught. And believe it or not, there are TONS of issues orthodox believers can disagree about an debate. And all doctrines are intended to be pondered further as the believer seeks to truly understand them. That’s what theology is, at least according to St. Anselm, “Faith seeking understanding.”
The Catholic Church further teaches that the act of Faith (as in the right Faith) leads to a desire to also live rightly. Thus, faith and works matter. As the book of James teaches, “Faith without works is dead.” Now, we are not Pelagians, God’s grace still gets the credit for inspiring the will to live a moral life. Of course, Catholics always hold this in tension with the true value and role of human free will in cooperating with grace in living morally. And a huge part of right life for Catholics means receiving the sacraments: baptism, confirmation, eucharist, confession, marriage, holy orders, anointing of the sick.
Point is, “Faith alone” isn’t “Faith alone” because even that assumes a right Faith which assumes a canon, a tradition, a Body of believers aka a Church!, a moral/lifestyle practice and more.