Faith is a Means
What is true faith?
An average member will know the answer to this question.
Even in the middle of the night and with their eyes half open…
True faith is a sure knowledge…and a firm confidence (Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 21) etc.
Is it not?
It is great gain that this answer is so well-known. The church cherishes this part of her confession. But, as we already saw earlier, well-known passages can easily start to live their own lives, apart from the context.
And so, this well-known catechism answer seems to be perfectly adequate. What else could you possibly say about faith, that is not being said in these few words: sure knowledge and firm confidence?
Well, I want to give it a try: faith is a means.
What is a means? Perhaps an example can clarify this.
I have a friend in not too far away.
And I also have a car. This car is the means to get to my friend.
Say someone asks me: “And eh, have you been to your friend recently?”, would it then not be strange, if I answered: “I have a good car”?
That is not an answer at all. I am very sure that I do not improve the situation when I explain to him how good a brand my car is.. And that I am confident it always starts right away. The question is: did I drive in the car, and did I visit my friend? That is the question which awaits an answer!
Every comparison has its limitations, I know. This one is no different. But when we focus on the heart of the matter, then we will see a striking similarity. Faith can be well founded, well hammered out, tried in the furnace, it can be full of trust, always prepared to witness, and so on. Then it is still only a means to visit your Friend, to embrace Jesus Christ, and to share life with him.
We fully confess this in Article 22 of the Belgic Confession. Faith is an instrument, only an instrument, it says.
But to what extent is this understood?
It is a question which each person can answer for themselves. But it is also a question that we cannot altogether ignore.
To what extent do we realize that our faith is only a means? A means to walk with God.
In the example given, my friend is more important than my car. An answer which does not include my friend, is completely unsatisfactory, and meaningless.
But how does this work in the every-day-life of the congregation? How much time and effort is not being spent with checking, adjusting, polishing of the car (metaphorically), at the cost of attention to the Friend?
We are not saying with this that the maintenance times can be done somewhat sloppily. But is the balance not a little off at times? The conversations cannot remain hanging in and around the means, if they even reach that level.
And which question governs the home visit? Many important questions can be asked about faith and much can be said about it, time is filled up quickly with that. I would advise: ask about the Friend. Let the conversation be about him, about his place in your life. How you value him as the Redeemer of your sins. How you approach him in prayer, and how you learn to listen to what he says. How you may experience more and more that your life begins with him, and what you can expect when he continues to lead in your life. How you entrust your life to him, in a variety of circumstances. What you do for him, and what you leave out for him. Which counterforces are coming at you when you confess him? And so on.
If you can have such a conversation with each other, then it immediately becomes evident whether faith is functioning properly. You do not even have to ask explicitly about it. But you are protected from the idea that you take on faith by itself and discuss it accordingly. For it is only a means.
This is the question during a home visit. As an example, not to limit it to just this question.
I am discovering more and more that the unity in the congregation is in Christ, and when it is not in him, then unity is not there. If you do not get to know the Redeemer in each other’s lives, then you are not one. Then your names are perhaps listed in the same church directory, and maybe you participate in the same activities, but if the communion does not include more than that, then you commune awkwardly.
Then all kinds of issues may very easily take on a primary position. The hymns, for example, can divide us in practice, more than Christ binds us together. Complete conversations and many meetings have already been filled with this. I am not saying that all the words spoken about the hymns have been in vain. My only wish is that we speak as easily about the Friend himself.
No Other Means
Now it seems that faith has been parked far to the back. Only a means!
This is, by the way, how it is worded in the Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 21. That bold and very well-known answer (21) stands in the framework of the comment that we by a true faith are grafted into Christ (Q/A 20). Talking about cohesion!
For a proper counterweight it should be noted that, though faith is only a means, it is also the only means by which we are to be united with God in Christ.
It does no harm to underline that in this day and age. There seems to be more and more attention to feelings, at the cost of the Reformed teachings. Yes, for so they say, in the past it was just the other way around (all teaching, and little feelings). That may be so. As long as we only clearly understand that as Christians of all age levels, no one drifts to Jesus on feelings.
No one draws out of their own experience or perception who Christ is.
He is given to us by God and made know to us, and there is no other way to be united to him than by carefully and thoroughly getting to know him in his Word. Whoever applies himself prayerfully to this, will discover that the Word still lives and gives life.
On the other hand: if your feeling tells you that you heartily love Jesus, then you cannot accept that untrue things are proclaimed about him. Then the teaching as to Who he is, is close to your heart. As Jesus has, for example, shed his blood, also for the children of believers, then you cannot, just by feelings, say: “we will leave that in the middle”. What kind of feeling is that?
Many Christians have suffered deeply for their faith. They were beaten and tortured. The pain went right against their feelings. But they rather endured torment, than endure that their Lord and Saviour would be dishonoured. In that sense the pure teaching was holy to them, as the only means to really hold on to the Saviour.
When you allow the teaching to become obscured, you are losing your hold. Your life becomes disjointed, even though you mean it all very well.
Faith is only a means. Jesus himself is always more than that. He deserves a central place in our speaking and thinking, and in all of our being church.
Faith is also the only means. It focuses on the complete Word of God, to in trust hold on to whatever God is saying. Nothing less.
Of course, the latter always brings tension and strife. The Word is being challenged, from the outside and from the inside. Then the watchers must be on guard.
And yet, however much attention and energy this takes, it will be extremely important that the means will never become more important than the Friend.
If that would happen, then the battle is already lost, and the downfall of the church will only be a matter of time.