Faith and Church History
The idea of faith has always been an integral part of Christianity. The first recorded sermon of Jesus had to do with believing: “At last the time has come!” Jesus announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Turn from your sins and believe this Good News!” (Mark 1:15)
Jesus chastised His closest followers for their periodic lapses of faith: “And he asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still not have faith in me?” (Mark 4: 40) In another place, Jesus referred to his disciples as, “You faithless people!” (Mark 9:19)
When He visited His hometown of Nazareth after His ministry had begun, “he couldn’t do any mighty miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” (Mark 6:5) The reason Jesus was not able to do any mighty miracles was because of the people’s unbelief. Throughout the Gospels, faith is often seen as the link between people’s needs and God’s provision.
A father once brought his son to Jesus for healing. The father said, “Have mercy on us and help us. Do something if you can.” Jesus’ answer showed the importance that He placed on our faith: “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father’s response was beautiful in its honesty, “I do believe, but help me not to doubt!” (Mark 9:22-24)
Jesus also rewarded those who exercised their faith towards Him. There was a woman with a serious bleeding problem. She believed that if she could just touch Jesus as He walked past in the crowd, she would be healed. Not surprisingly, she was healed when she touched Jesus. His response was, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. You have been healed.” (Mark 5:34)
The Greek word that is used here for, “well,” is a derivative of “sozo.” This is the word we would get the idea of “eternal life” from. It implies more than just a physical healing. Jesus was telling this woman that her faith not only led to her natural healing, it also led to her spiritual healing and renewal.
Jesus praised those who demonstrated faith. A Roman Officer sent some Jewish Elders to ask Jesus to heal his very sick servant. The officer knew that if Jesus just spoke the word, his servant would be healed. Jesus was actually amazed at the Roman’s faith and said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all the land of Israel!” (Luke 7:9)
Of the four New Testament Gospels or accounts of Jesus’ life, the Gospel of John discusses the idea of faith and believing more than any of the others. John mentions “faith” or “believing” almost one hundred times in twenty-one chapters. It is John’s Gospel that contains perhaps the most famous verse in the entire Bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Here, John very clearly links belief and faith to a person’s eternal salvation. John also makes the point that this idea of faith and belief in Jesus was why he wrote his book. He said that Jesus did many more signs and miracles than the ones that John recorded. “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life.” (John 20:31)
The Apostle Paul was the first New Testament writer to clearly lay out the doctrine of Salvation by Faith. One of Paul’s clearest statements on faith is found in Romans 5:1-“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” Paul was the Church’s first great theologian and articulated in his letters the fact Salvation is a gift from God on the basis of an individual’s faith. As he writes in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
After the original apostles died, a group of Church Fathers continued their teaching. In 367 AD, the Canon of the New Testament was finalized. As the Church got farther away from the time of the apostles and the Church Fathers, however, they also got further away from the teaching of the Scriptures. Church Traditions were established that were not based on Scripture.
By the time of the Middle Ages, Church Services were still conducted in Latin, even though only the clergy and the very educated could understand Latin. The Scriptures were finally translated into a common language in the 1380’s, when John Wycliffe produced a hand-written English translation. William Tyndale produced and printed the first English translation based on the original Greek manuscripts in the 1520’s. Wycliffe only had the Latin manuscripts at his disposal.
Martin Luther was a German monk and seminary professor who had become more and more disillusioned with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was especially angered over the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were sold by the Church as a means of offering forgiveness of sins. The more money one spent, the more forgiveness they were able to buy.
In 1517, Luther was studying in preparation to teach Paul’s letter to the Romans. When he came to 1:17, Luther came to understand salvation in a new way. Paul says in that verse, “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
Luther saw Paul’s emphasis on faith as how our salvation is accomplished. It is not our works or purchase of indulgences. Salvation comes as we exercise our faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. When Luther came to understand that he could not earn his salvation, “I felt entirely born again and was led through open gates into Paradise itself. Suddenly the whole of Scripture had a different appearance for me. I recounted the passages which I had memorized and realized that other passages, too, showed that the work of God is what God works in us… thus St. Paul’s words that the just shall live by faith, did indeed become to me the gateway to Paradise.”
It was Luther who is credited with launching the Protestant Reformation. One of the primary tenants of Reformation Theology is Salvation by Faith Alone. Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522. As the Scriptures became available in more languages, people could read the Word of God for themselves. As people continued to read the New Testament, most of them came to the same conclusion that the Apostle Paul had taught Salvation by Faith all along. It was the Roman Church that had drifted away from the truth of the Scriptures.
Today, Salvation by Faith is a common belief among most Christian Churches. Most churches and Christian organizations have very similar doctrinal statements. Even though most of us believe in Salvation by Faith, however, there is always a tendency to drift away from the simplicity of the Gospel and try and make it more complicated than it really is. We must never forget that salvation is a gift from God. Our faith allows us to enter into a relationship with Him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
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