“Beloved I found it necessary to write appealing to you TO CONTEND FOR THE FAITH THAT WAS ONCE FOR ALL DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS” (Jude 3)
I invite you to meditate with me upon the advice of St Jude given long ago.
When there is a falling away from the true worship, doctrine and discipline of Christianity because of false teaching and immoral behavior then the genuine Christian leader must act. So did Jude. He found it necessary as a slave of Jesus Christ to call upon fellow Christians to be true to the Lord Jesus Christ and to God the Father, and not merely to guard but to contend for “the Faith”.
The Faith, not “a Faith”
- That there is to commend not “a Faith” but “The Faith”. There are certain facts and with these facts certain meanings that are the content of “the Faith”, which is a set of truths about God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The central facts and meanings are (1) the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death as an Atonement for the sins of the world, and (2) the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and his Exaltation to heaven to the right hand of the Father, as the Lord of lords, and to make intercession for his disciples, so that they are reconciled to God as his adopted children. Surrounding these facts and their meanings are of course others such as those later put together in what we call the Apostles’ Creed.
- That “the Faith” was delivered “once and for all”. It was not given in bits and pieces or given once and modified later. No! It was delivered as a whole unit and that once only in the history of the world. “The Faith” is the basic message and teaching of the first Apostles, which arose directly from the facts of the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, the Messiah and his sending to them the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete.
- That the apostles proclaimed “the Faith”, and handed it over as “the living Faith” to the churches which they planted – that is, to the fellowships of consecrated believers, the saints, the baptized called to be holy and righteous as a people indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
- That the saints, the consecrated people of God under their elders, are to contend for “the Faith” that has been handed over to them. They are entrusted with the living Tradition, the dynamic Faith, and this they are not merely to propagate but also to defend it with all their powers. They are actively to look for opportunities presented by divine providence to engage in the struggle to defend and commend “the Faith”.
Of course, there is no separation in Jude’s mind between, on the one hand, the personal union of the believer and the whole body of Christ with the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, hope and love, and, on the other, the commitment to holding those truths that together make up “the Faith”. In calling the doctrinal truths “the Faith”, Jude is not in any way forgetting “faith” as the act of believing in and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lord, the Christ and the Saviour.
The New Testament
Over time, as we see actually happening in this Letter of Jude, “the Faith” came to be written down by other Apostles and Evangelists, in a variety of forms and contexts in what we now call the “Books of the New Testament” (of course many more letters and exhortations and treatises were written than are in the N T and there was a sifting and discerning process in the churches before the final content [canon] of the N T was agreed and fixed). So, whereas the “saints” of the congregations to whom Jude wrote had only the living Tradition, passed on and handed over by the apostles to them, we today have the written Canon of the New Testament.
Contending today in Anglicanism for “the Faith” that was once delivered means defending, explaining and propagating the basic message and content of the books that make up the New Testament (against of course the background of the Old Testament). In general western Anglicans are ignorant of the content of the Scriptures and so this contending may require, in fact does require, first of all an encouragement to Anglicans really and truly to get to know what is inside the covers of the N T.
Further, the Early Church, which did the sifting of the variety of documents to come up with the final List, the Canon of the N T, had by this time produced its own summary of the central core of “the Faith” in what we call “Creeds”. Of these the two that have stood the test of time and are still much used are The Apostles’ Creed (once the baptismal Creed in the church of Rome) and The Nicene Creed (approved by the Council of Constantinople in 381).
Therefore, today, the Christian who reads the Bible to learn “the Faith” is greatly helped by knowing already “the Creed” and this knowledge serves as a kind of basic skeleton on which to hang the further details learned from the content of the N T. In fact to begin with the Creed in the mind helps the reader and student of the N T to keep to the facts and to avoid majoring on minors (e.g., getting caught up in speculation as to the details of the Second Coming or of the destiny of the nation of Israel).
However, in using the Nicene Creed in approaching the reading and the study of the New Testament, the Christian becomes aware of a new reality in this Creed, which is not in the Apostles’ Creed and which is hardly there, if at all, in the N T. This is the use of the Greek [philosophical] technique of answering questions through the use of what is usually called “ontology”, the getting behind and below the common sense use of language and thought. In the description of Jesus Christ in the Nicene Creed there occurs a phrase, which is one of the most important theological statements ever made by the Church. It is in Greek - homoousion to patri, and in Latin - omousion patri. The traditional English translation is “of the same [identical] substance as the Father” or “consubstantial with the Father” [consubstantialem Patri]. That is, Jesus Christ in his divine nature possesses the very same, the identical, Being, Deity, Godhead or Divinity as does the Father himself. Therefore, he is really and truly “God” as is the Father; thus Jesus Christ is “very God of very God”.
Once the Church, at the Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325) and confirmed in later Councils, had introduced dogma (as we now call it) into its Creed, it had taken a step which could not be reversed. In order to contend for the Faith, and especially to contend for the truth concerning the real identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Church had to use – not Greek philosophy as such – but the well established and tried Greek technique of stating truth and answering questions using ontology. Thus what is called “the homoousion” became part of “the Faith” and the Church mastered the art of speaking and writing not only in the common sense mode but also, when required, in the specialist mode, and it required all God’s children to try appreciate this from the fourth century onwards, for it was in the Creed.
Thus today in contending for the Faith in the secularist West and in a religious situation where “dumbing down” and attempts to be “relevant” are the order of the day, church leaders and committed members have to seek to know thoroughly not only the common sense kind of language and thought-forms of the N T but also the added reality of the nature of dogma (concerning especially [a] the Identity of Christ Jesus as the Incarnate Son and [b] the One God being The Trinity of Persons – for which for illuminating clarity see the Third Creed, the Western Quicunque Vult or Athanasian Creed).
Regrettably, and something not fully grasped by some of those who heartily desire to contend for “the Faith” once handed over, is that today the task is made the more difficult because of the abundance of versions of the Bible, versions based upon the post 1960s theory of “dynamic equivalency”. By this theory the supposed needs of the modern situation can so easily dictate to a large extent what the original text is held to state! To be safe, we need the Greek text and also we need to stay with the traditional versions which use the older way of translation, the essentially literal approach, so that we get at what was actually written for our instruction.
Further, for Anglicans in the West, the situation in which to content for “the Faith” is even worse because much of the material in their post 1960s Prayer Books is also taken from sources which have also employed the theory of dynamic equivalency as well as the theory of inclusive language, together with aspects of modern liberal theology. Thus everything in these Books and Booklets has to be tested before it can be used in defense of “the Faith” since to use it – as it is in its raw state – is to risk commending “a Faith”.
So, tragically, we have to record a situation all over the West where modern Anglicans, who call themselves “orthodox”, and who think that they are doing what St Jude called us to do; are, in fact, doing nearly the opposite. Why? Because in using inadequate versions of the Bible and of Liturgy they are sincerely defending “a Faith” rather than “the Faith” Let it be crystal clear, I do not say that they do not have a living belief and trust in God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. By grace they do so and often an exemplary one. I speak only of their relation to “the Faith” as a body of living truth that is handed on from generation to generation within the One Body of Christ.
Perhaps, in this context, the value of knowledge and use of the classic Anglican Formularies, and the writings of the standard Anglican divines (wherein “the Faith” is presented in traditional style and language) can be appreciated in the struggle for true worship, doctrine and discipline for today – and appreciated even by those who believe that the use of modern language is necessary in order rightly to content for “the Faith” once delivered to the saints.
August 30, 2004 The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon