Affirmations and Confessions of a Progressive Christian Layman – Faith

The Greek word for “faith” in the New Testament is pistis, which occurs 243 times. As a noun, pistis is used as a technical term for “forensic evidence.” In other words, faith is not blind; we must investigate to establish the facts. I agree with retired Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong, who writes, “My problem has never been my faith. It has always been the literal way that human beings have chosen to articulate that faith.” To many Christians, faith means believing highly suspect claims, which is a problem for me. Thinking isn’t a sin. God created our minds and I’m certain that we were intended to use them.


Faith in the New Testament

The following is a sampling of verses from the New Testament concerning faith:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) In this verse, the most concise definition of faith found in Christian scriptures, the Greek word translated “assurance” is “hupostasis,” which literally means “that which stands under;” the Greek word translated “conviction” is “elegchos,” which might also be translated as “evidence”

“…For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) This excerpt is often quoted when we try to explain the unexplainable or when we need a jolt of faith to believe something that is beyond our present reality. Because we can’t see the answer, we must accept it by faith.

“When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 8:10) And similarly: “Turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’” (Luke 7:9) Jesus is talking about a centurion who believes that, just as he can command his servants and the soldiers under his command, Jesus can command that his servant to be cured and his aliment or disease will obey.

“And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’” (Matthew 9:2) Notice that Jesus healed the paralytic, not because he had faith, but because he was impressed with the faith of the people who brought him to be healed.

“He said to them (the disciples), ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40) And similarly: “He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’” (Luke 8:25) “When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’” (Luke 5:20) Similar to the previous example, after a paralytic was lower through the roof, Jesus forgave the man’s sins (which supposedly healed him) because he was impressed with the faith of the man’s friends who went to such great lengths to make certain Jesus saw him.
The next three verses, from Mark, Matthew and Luke, are very similar: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34) “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’” (Matthew 9:22) “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48) The hemorrhaging woman touched the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, which she believed would make her well – an example of faith.

The following verses are also very similar: “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” (Mark 11:22-23) “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6) Jesus was speaking to his disciples who were unable to heal an epileptic; according to Jesus they lacked enough faith to accomplish the healing. Jesus had never claimed that his powers were confined to himself. Several times he promised his disciples that if they had faith they would be able to do even greater things.

“And if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14) And similarly: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) For Paul the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead was a primary and essential component of faith. However, his understanding of the resurrection had nothing to do with resuscitation. Jesus’ resurrection was the metamorphosis of a flesh-and-blood human being into what he calls a “life-giving” spirit”

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6) Neither being Jew or Gentile is important; the only important thing is that we evidence our faith through love.

“But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

Paul’s normal expression is “faith, hope and love,” but in this instance it is “love, conscience and faith.”

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” (James 2:14)

And similarly: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17) The author of James disputed Paul’s teaching of “salvation by faith.” According to him, faith alone is not enough; we must exhibit our faith by helping others.

Does Faith Mean Believing Propositional Statements?

We were taught to believe that Jesus is the son of God “by faith.” But when Jesus praised faith (see Matthew 8:10, 15:28; Luke 7:50) and asked for faith (see Mark 4:40, 11:22; Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6), he did not mean believing. According to biblical authorities, the original biblical meaning of faith was trust. Faith was accepting that God was in charge of whatever tomorrow brings. It was “by faith that Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8) and “by faith” Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt for the unknown of the wilderness (Hebrews 11:27). They trusted God with their fate.

Once Christian creedal statements were written, faith became believing propositional statements. Those who crafted the creeds evidently thought they could capture the mystery and wonder of God and the Christ in human language, but the first creed of the church was the three word affirmation “Jesus is Messiah;” it was not a set of beliefs.

Faith does not necessarily mean believing propositional statements. It means embracing the unknown in the confidence that God is with us; it is a journey with God as our guide. This type of faith welcomes an open mind where doubt and questioning are not enemies. Instead, an open mind is the growing edge of faith.

In his The Christian Agnostic, Leslie Weatherhead defined faith as an attitude of complete sincerity, and loyalty to the trend of all the available evidence, plus a leap in the direction of that trend. In order for faith to be our own, not our parents’ or some other persons’, we must first examine the evidence and then after fact and reason reach as far as possible, make a leap both of intellect and will to put our findings to the test in our everyday life.

Bruce Barton, a 1920s author, wrote that either faith is something or it is nothing. If, because of the revelations of science, there is no foundation for belief which intelligent people can accept, then we should admit that fact and have done with it.
I am not interested in a church where theological DNA is replicated again and again. That type of communal uniformity or conformity discourages, if not forbids, progress towards a healthy faith and it ignores or silences anyone who disagrees.
It is the obligation of those who seek a more progressive Christianity not to stand outside the church and criticize but to stay inside and work for more courageous thinking, a greater willingness to discard the useless, and work towards an enlightened faith.

Therefore I think I have faith or trust, just not as most people define the word. All of my articles titled “Affirmations and Confessions of a Progressive Christian Layman” are what I think, what I trust, what I have faith in as of this date. Now that may change as I grow spiritually and I hope it does because otherwise I have become too complacent with my beliefs and my faith may become stagnant.

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