The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients
49. The Need for Faith
Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Lk 18:8 when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Rom 10:17 faith comes from hearing the message
The Need: Back in Study No.13 – A People of Faith – I started out with these same verses above, and so you might wonder what we are doing rerunning this same subject. Well, I need to ask the all-important question, where in our daily individual lives and where in the corporate life of our church, do we see faith? It is there I am sure but one of the things I see Jesus doing more than once is reproving his disciples for their ‘little faith’ which implies that you can have little faith and big faith and faith in between, if I may put it like that. In this Part we are running those things that are unique ingredients to the church of the New Testament and, yes, they may be things we have touched on before but which need reiterating – and faith is a key ingredient to enable the church of the twenty-first century to survive and even flourish (I don’t accept that merely because there are millions upon millions around the world who go by the name ‘Christian’ it means they are real or part of the living vibrant church of the New Testament.)
Why the Importance? Well we have expounded these verses above before, but they bear repeating. Faith comes from ‘hearing the message’ is how we might find it put in at least one version of the Bible, but if you like we could say, faith comes from hearing the truth. (That doesn’t mean that everyone who hears the truth will respond to it, but it does mean that those with open hearts and who hear the truth, find it impacts them, lifts them etc.) Now I want to suggest to you that in the previous 48 studies I have presenting you with ‘the truth’. For the most part I have simply presented you with what the New Testament says. No doubt my own opinions are mixed in there as well, and if they are contrary to the truth, the wind will just blow them away. But what about all the myriad of verses I have presented to you over these days, did they stir faith in you, did you find a rising within you that says, “Yes, Lord!” When the writer to the Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please God,” don’t be limited by the one illustration that he gives – of believing that God exists, for although that is the starting place, accepting that He is there, faith is also believing all that He has said, and that is His word in the Bible. Now if we have hearts that are genuinely open to Him, then all of these truths of Scripture should impact us, challenge us, lift us, build us, excite us, for that is what faith does.
A Need for Wisdom: Sometimes faith has to say, “Yes, that is the truth, I agree wholeheartedly with it, yet I am not sure in my present circumstances that I can see how we can work out these practical issues.” For instance, when I have spoken about plurality of elders, you may be someone ministering on your own and you look around and say, “But there is no one here who ‘fits’ the calibre of an elder and so as much as I would like to develop an eldership, it just not seem practical here in these circumstances.” I agree and I understand, but remaining inactive means a failure to respond in faith, and a perpetuating of a less-than-wise and less-than-scriptural pattern for church which will remain unfruitful or at least remain with limited fruit, less than the head of the church would like. The answer surely is to pray for wisdom which is the knowledge of ‘how to’.
Reviewing James’ teaching: Let’s look at one of the paraphrase version of James 1: “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.” (Jas 1:2-5) First of all, don’t see your circumstances that we are addressing in this illustration as a trial. It is only such in as far as we are checking to see if you will pass the test of obeying Scripture. Don’t get down by this but simply see it as a problem to be overcome. (The problem? That we have allowed ‘church’ to become something so far from its origins that it is difficult to get back!) We overcome such problems by seeking the Lord for His wisdom, assured by scripture that He will give it. The only difficulty to be faced is, whether we will believe what He says – and then do it.
Wider Application: Now I am aware that I have been using plurality of elders as an example here (which may not be your particular issue) but the same thing can apply to any of the other issues I have covered – vision, learning, real life, power etc. – and we need to do the same thing if we cannot see how this particular ‘issue’ is to be worked our for us individually. Our great danger always, is that we read the things in ‘academic mode’ i.e. we see them, say yes, that seems right, but we leave it there, just head knowledge. I will later be touching on the subject of obedience but that is what Jesus looks for, not merely an academic acceptance that goes nowhere. Seeking God for wisdom as to exactly how to work out these things in my own local circumstances must surely be the pathway through.
Sometimes these things can be very simple and very practical. For example in the case of plurality of eldership, our sole preacher/minister/pastor might start off a new teaching series with the words, “We tend to take for granted the way we do things in church, but I wonder how the church in the years following Jesus three years of ministry did it, and are there things we can learn from them? What were the characteristics of that first century church, how did they do things, and what might we learn from them?” This paves the way to gently open up the subject. At the same time the lonely minister prays for the Lord to raise up those in the congregation who will with humility show care and concern for the congregation, revealing a servant heart, some perhaps expressing more of a spiritual concern, others revealing a more practical concern. Patience and perseverance and a gentle approach – but a positive approach – are key here. Can I win my people over to see something that is different from what they have only known in the past?
And so? Put most simply, and this is as far as we will go for the moment, can we be those who, confronted with the teaching of the New Testament, will allow our hearts to be stirred and yearn to go forward, and who are willing to think through the issues and pray them out before the Lord. The theory is easy but applying it does need the wisdom and grace of God. Faith is responding to the word of God positively, making ourselves available to Him, seeking Him, crying out to Him to bring change that takes the church from being on the defense to stepping up and confronting the world with the truth that can be verified by life transformation, community and culture transformation. We desperately need this today in the West. Can we rise to that goal?