Friday, September 29, 2006

Doctrine and Conduct (5)

If Jesus did write a statement of faith, I wonder what it would look like? I think we can work it out from the Gospels.

Let's start with that word 'faith'.

The Synoptic Gospels (I'll talk about John later) use the noun pistis 'faith' almost always in connection with miracles which are performed in response to faith (either the faith of their sufferer, or those who requested Jesus' help). In one place Jesus couldn't do any miracles because of their "lack of faith" (Mark 6:5-6). R.T. France sums it up nicely when he says "Faith in such contexts focuses on a practical trust in the power of Jesus to meet physical need" ("Faith" in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels).

The verb pisteuo 'I believe' is almost always used to describe the response to the preaching of the Gospel and becomes almost a synonym for "to be a disciple" and refers to "the need for practical trust in the power of God to provide for the necessities of life, to heal or to deliver from physical danger. To fail in such practical trust is, even in disciples, a mark of an 'unbelieving generation'." (ibid).

In two stories in particular, about the faith of the Roman centurion (Matt 8:10-13) and the faith of the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:21-28), it seems that Jesus is emphasising that participation in the blessings of salvation is no longer to be on the basis of race, but on the basis of faith. 'Faith' in both these contexts is the absolute trust in the authority of Jesus to provide for physical needs, and not on intellectual assent to doctrine. Faith is the way into the kingdom of God.

Faith, or faithfulness (which may be a better representation of pistis) is a distinctive characteristic of the people of God, and involves loyalty to God even when such loyalty is costly. It is spelled out in the stories of risk-taking (stepping out of a boat in the middle of a storm), and of disobedience to authorities ('unclean' people going out in crowds and touching Jesus); in the sayings about persistance and cross-carrying; and in the call to live-out the principles of justice, equity and fairness.

Faith is a lifestyle - not a dogma. It's not about what people think, but about what they do.

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