What we believe: The mystery of faith, the church, and its ancient roots
By Charlotte B. Cerminaro
web posted April 29, 2019
In basic surveys on religion, a majority of Americans call themselves “Christian” and would define this as a “belief in God as revealed in the bible”. As monotheists, we generally understand God as the omniscient, omnipotent being, the Creator, and the one to whom we will ultimately be accountable. But this belief system which we call Christianity is actually different from the other great monotheistic religion, namely Judaism. We have the same God, the same foundation and roots. Judaism differs in only one thing: They believe their Messiah , their Anointed One, has yet to reveal Himself. Christianity holds that the Messiah, or Christ, has indeed revealed Himself, not just to Israel but to the entire world. Specifically, the man we call Jesus (Yeshua), born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, fulfills every requirement as stated in the Old Testament.
Of course there is much controversy surrounding Jesus but everyone agrees, Jews and Christians, even atheists, that he existed. Evidence of his birth, teachings, miracles, and his death and resurrection is confirmed by sources such as Josephus and Tacitus, historians and witnesses from whom we get much of our information on first century middle east culture and history. Accordingly, the pedigree and teachings of Jesus reveal that He is a true descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (i.e., Israel) and that He was not only a learned rabbi, but the very fulfillment of the Torah (law) and prophets comprising the Tanakh (old testament).
Jesus’ disciples and contemporaries in the land of Israel were the only first-hand witnesses of his miracles, thus every succeeding generation has relied on the writings of the eyewitnesses. Finding the veracity and authenticity of these accounts is just a foundation of what we call “faith” and is far different from the religious establishment and rituals that evolved over the centuries.
Indeed, the issues of faith and belief are not identical. Rationality and reason, especially deductive reasoning, should play a part in both. At no time are we expected to have “blind faith.” However, we must look beyond what we perceive with our eyes, realizing there are many things that exist in this world that cannot be directly observed. There are things we comprehend and even rely upon every day, the existence of which can only be inferred from their effect on, or interaction with, other things. The author of the book of Hebrews had a deep comprehension and wisdom concerning this. Translating directly and awkwardly from the original Greek, he states, “Rather is faith the assurance of our hope, verification of a reality unseen.” To parse “faith” and “belief”, we simply understand that faith is only a piece of belief. Much of what we believe requires no faith. I believe that if I have two pencils, and someone leaves two more, I'll have four. But never having seen an electron, I have faith that the basic laws of chemistry adequately explain its existence and properties.
The Mystery of the Church is easier to explain if we eliminate certain assumptions. The church is not a building. In fact, the word “church” never appears in the new testament at all. The Greek word that is always translated into “church” is εκκλησία [ekkleisia]. It's a generic word for “gathering or assembly of people” and describes everything, from a union meeting to a choir. In biblical terms it’s clearly referring to a gathering of believers. It is a living, breathing entity made of millions of individuals, similar to a complex organism made of many millions of cells. In Jesus’ own words, we are to be as “salt and light” in the world. For many centuries salt was used primarily as a preservative--not a fixative to calcify the world in harsh laws and unbending rituals. So the metaphor is understood and some of the mystery unveiled. As the Son of Man, Son of God, Jesus is the full revelation of God's word, the law, completed, His atonement providing the full reconciliation of God and humanity.
Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing. © 2019