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Monday, August 31, 2009

The Unity of the Faith ( 'once delivered..............' )

There are several issues that I want to address in this article; first and foremost of which is: 'what do we mean by 'the unity of the faith' ( Ephesians 4:13 ) , why is it so important, and how do we attain it ( if we don't already have it )?' To answer this question; we first must 'nail down' what we mean by 'unity' ( pretty self explanatory, right? ) and what we mean by 'faith'; is this our 'faith', or is this 'the faith once delivered to the saints' ( Jude 3 ), the faith that is 'a gift of God' ( Ephesians 2:8 )? Merriam-Webster's On-line Dictionary defines 'unity' as ': the quality or state of not being multiple', and 'a condition of harmony', among other things. 'Faith' is doubtless used in two different ways; both, of man ( Numbers 12:7, I Samuel 22:14, Psalm 31:23, 101:6, Proverbs 15:23, Isaiah 8:2, Jeremiah 23:28, Ezekiel 18:9, Daniel 6:4, Micah 7:2, Habakkuk 2:4, Matthew 8:10, 9:2,22 &29, 15:28, Acts 6:8, I Corinthians 4:2, Galatians 2:16, 3, Ephesians 1:1, 6:23, Philippians 2:17, Colossians 1:4, 2:5, I Thessalonians 1:8, 3:5, I Timothy 1:12, II Timothy 2:2, Philemon 1:5 & 6, Hebrews 3:5, James 1:3, 2:18, I Peter 1:7-9, II Peter 1:5, I John 5:4, Jude 20, Revelation 2:10, 17:14, etc. ), and of God ( Deuteronomy 7:9, Nehemiah 9:33, Psalm 36:5, 37:3, 71:22, 89:5, 119:90, Isaiah 49:7, Lamentations 3:23, Hosea 11:12, II Corinthians 1:18, Ephesians 6:23, I Thessalonians 5:24, II Thessalonians 3:3, II Timothy 2:13, Hebrews 2:17, James 2:1, I Peter 4:19, I John 1:9, Revelation 1:5, 14:12, 19:11, etc. ), although, unarguably, the former comes from the latter ( Hebrews 12:2 ). The 'faith' that Scripture speaks of, in so many places, refers, not to 'doctrines of men' ( Colossians 2:20-23 ), but to this 'faith once delivered to the saints' ( Jude 3 ). The 'New Living Translation', which I don't usually quote from, reads 'Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people'. This 'faith' is the belief, the knowledge, that Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, came in the flesh, as a true Man, paid the penalty for our sins, and rose again, thus guaranteeing our own spiritual resurrection ( Romans 6:5-11, 8:10 & 11, I Corinthians 15:46-57 ) One of the largest, and probably most widespread 'problems' that we have in the church today ( besides sin itself ) is that many people, pastors ( leaders ) in particular, have gotten the idea that they must be 'protectors of the faith', and that this faith is their own personal interpretation of Scripture, or, in, many cases, that this 'faith' is the culmination of '2,000 years of church history' ( this has resulted in many atrocities ( committed in the Name of God ) in the not-too-distant past, and continues to divide the Body of Christ today ). Many, I believe, have well-nigh forgotten what exactly this 'faith once delivered.......' was; it was personified in Jesus Christ. This 'gift' was delivered ( given ), or as the NLT puts it; 'entrusted' to God's people, not for protection, but so that we could share it with one another. One may wonder why the church ( visible ) is so divided these days: we have almost innumerable denominations, divisions even within those denominations, and even within the ranks of preterism itself, there is so much division and squabbling over petty stuff ( mostly 'doctrines of men' ) that many turn away, sadly shaking their heads, thinking 'what a bunch of heretics!' When Jude wrote of this 'faith'; he used the Greek verb παραδίδωμι ( 'to give, deliver' ) to describe how this 'gift' came into our possession. This was a 'gift' given, not that we may improve upon it ( although our faith will ( or should ) continually grow ), and not that we should add to it our own 'pet peeves' ( likes or dislikes ), or even that we should use our interpretation to be 'divisive', but that it ( or He ) may rather shine through us, thus bringing that 'faith' to others. Don't get me wrong here, please; I am by no means denying the fact that God's Word is divisive in it's very Purpose. The writer to the Hebrews penned these famous words, in chapter 4, verse 12, 'For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus Himself, told the disciples, 'Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.' ( Matthew 10:34, Revelation 6:4 ) The Word of God is definitely revealed to help us discern right from wrong, good from evil, but the way some use it today ( for example, some who interpret certain Scriptures differently than other people do ) to divide the church, I believe, use it in a manner that it was never intended to function! To further clarify; it is clear from Scripture that God sent His Son to suffer ( both in life and death the punishment that we rightly deserved, thus transferring His own righteousness upon us, and then rising bodily from the grave to prove that He had indeed conquered death ( who would have believed Him if He hadn't? ), and to guarantee our own resurrection ( I John 3:14, ( John 5:24-26, 11:25 & 26) Romans 6:4 ), but there are many other 'doctrines' that men have 'seen' in Scripture ( the doctrine of the Trinity,Virgin Birth, Lord's supper, water baptism, etc. ) that may or may not be there, but really don't have that much bearing on the 'faith once delivered............', that being personified in Christ, and the 'law of love'. Some may argue that Scripture makes very clear, in places like I John 5:7, that there are three separate, yet inseparable 'persons' within the Godhead, and indeed, Genesis 1:26 records that 'Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...........', implying a plurality of persons in the Godhead ( Colossians 2:9 ), while in Isaiah 7:14, God Himself promised this 'sign' to wicked king Ahaz; 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.b]">[b]' ( Matthew 1:18-25 ) As is the case with numerous other words in our English Bible; 'virgin' doesn't ( necessarily ) exactly what it meant at the time this prophecy was made, some might argue, reminding us that the Hebrew word for 'virgin' ( עלמה ) simply refers to 'a young woman', but, it is also clear that God ( the Father ) 'sent His only begotten Son.....' ( John 3:16, I John 4:9 ). The angel Gabriel's words to Mary, though, in Luke 1:35, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God' tell us pretty clearly that Jesus was born, not naturally, but super-naturally, expressly ( Hebrews 1:3 ) through the power of God Himself, by His direct intervention. We cannot therefore deny the 'Virgin Birth', per se, but there are those who purport that Jesus had to be born of a virgin in order to have pure blood, and make it a point of their doctrine, and while this may or may not be, it is more a matter for personal opinion and speculation, and not for divisive doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is not quite so clear; the strongest argument that Scripture gives us, all in one place anyway, is I John 5:7 & 8, most of which only exists in the later manuscripts. As I said above; there is much evidence that there is, or was, a separation ( for a time, anyway ) in the Godhead ( Matthew 27:46 ( Psalm 22:1 ), John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-6, I John 4:10 ), but I believe that only speculation, whether the Church has taught it for '2,ooo years' or not, tells us that there are three separate 'persons' in the Godhead. I don't believe that this is a matter for division, though, and I usually don't discuss it with those who hold this doctrine, because it is, and has been, so divisive.

I believe that we have established fairly well, here, what is meant by the faith; that it is that 'gift of God' whereby we are enabled to trust in Him and in His promises, and thus 'unity of the faith' would include all those to who God has given that 'faith', not just to those who hold to ( ascribe to ) certain 'doctrines' that men have constructed, albeit, to whatever extent, from Scripture.

It is important that there be unity of the faith, as we can see somewhat above, in what's already been stated, because this is the 'faith' that has come to us directly from God, 'not of works, lest anyone should boast' . ( Ephesians 2:9 ) This talk of the Reformed 'faith', the Roman Catholic 'faith', or even the Baptist 'faith' as different 'faiths' is just not true; we all have the same 'faith' ( 'a gift of God' ) and while it's true that we may all have differing degrees, or or understandings, if you will, of that gift, those of us that hold to the doctrine of Christ, 'and Him crucified' ( I Corinthians 2:2 ) we are all members of that 'one faith' ( Ephesians 4:5 ), 'the faith of Christ' ( James 2:1, II Peter 1:1 ) . Paul went on to say, in the passage ( Ephesians 4:5 ) that I quoted from, above, that there is 'one baptism'; this, I believe, refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit ( John 1:33, Acts 1:5 ( 11:16 ). It is our responsibility, yes, to 'strive' ( as Paul says-Acts 24:16 ), or 'contend' ( as Jude says- Jude 3 ) diligently for the 'faith' ( to stay in it, to make it our own, to grow in it ), but must also do our best to stay unified with others of 'like precious faith', though we may interpret certain Scriptures differently, though we disagree on certain points of 'doctrine'.

My readers may have noticed that in both of the first two points, or questions, that we've discussed here, that one question more or less answered the other, and vice-versa; so is the case here: I believe that we have attained this 'unity of the faith'! We have attained, not because we made sure that we believe exactly as the other guy, or that he believes exactly as we do on every point; but because God gave it to us! 'Have a little faith!' is a phrase that we hear thrown around quite a bit, even in the secular 'world', but we often forget the difference, I believe between our acting upon the faith that we have been given, and 'the gift' itself ( or Himself ); now don't get me wrong; I believe that if we have truly been given that 'faith', we will ( and must-Philippians 2:12, Romans 12:2 ) act upon it, but it is not our actions that have 'earned' or warranted this 'gift; it is One that we have been given, and that freely! Let's share this 'Gift' with all our brothers and sisters in Christ ( no matter how different they are ) and keep 'the unity of the faith'!

in His service,
and the 'faith' of His kingdom,
Charles Shank

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