Saturday, May 14, 2011
Once for all delivered to the saints
The faith that was bequeathed to us by Jesus Christ, working through the apostles, and passing on the sacred deposit to the saints in every generation is not finally our possession. It is only ours to use. We are not free to tailor it to the circumstances or reshape it for modern sensibilities. We must speak its truth to people today that but truth and belief is not different from the past. We are not merely conservators who preserve but distribute the news of this Gospel and extend the borders of the Church by its proclamation. This is also part of the essential conservation task which lies before us.
The great temptation is to redefine the faith until it ends up being unrecognizable or familiar only in bits and pieces to that which was one and for all delivered to the saints. We have seen church after church body default upon its sacred task and take the faith and reshape it, re-order it, even redefine it until it bears a faint family resemblance to what was passed to them but has become, for all intents and purposes, a new faith. We have seen churches even glory in this disconnect, believing that God is doing a new thing and so crediting Him for their detour from the once for all path they inherited. We have seen some churches glory in their distinctness so as to disown their present identity from their past. This same thing can happen when, for example, Lutherans become so identified with their LUTHERan identity that they confuse this with orthodoxy and catholicity. Which era of history you raise up as THE time of glory does not matter -- we are a people with a past as well as a present, and a future contingent upon faithfully living out and carrying forth what was the sacred deposit, once delivered to the saints. We have also seen churches who live in the past and who are oblivious to their call and purpose to proclaim the Good News with vigor and enthusiasm and to welcome new people into the community of the faithful. These congregations are inward focused to the point that they sit as fortresses against the world instead of a church for the life of the world.
I think it is good for us to keep within the tension of proclaiming and reaching out cheerfully yet offering what was established in Christ, delivered to the saints, and passed on to us -- nothing less than the unchanging Gospel for a changing world. We are not called to reinvent or even add on to the faith as if it were merely an outline. What Jesus disclosed from Scripture to the Emmaus Road disciples was their sacred deposit and this they rejoiced to proclaim even as they committed themselves to nothing less than the fullness of the apostles doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and prayer. The Church will not die by being faithful to this heritage and deposit once delivered to the saints but she will die as soon as she departs from this eternal truth and its faithful practice. Her structures may indeed remain but she will be an empty shell with nothing to offer a world in dying need for what was once delivered to her.