“Mystic Mondays” is a series done here at the Christian Watershed in the hopes of keeping us grounded. While we support the rational defense of the faith, we must ultimately concede that our faith is beyond reason; Christianity contains reason, but reason doesn’t contain Christianity. This is because our foundation is not in a system, but in a Person.
From On Apostolic Preaching:
“Therefore, lest we suffer any such thing, we must keep the rule of faith unswervingly, and perform the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him, for He is Lord, and loving Him, for He is Father. Action, then, comes by faith, as ‘if you do not believe,’ Isaias says, ‘you will not understand’; and truth brings about faith, for faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, as it is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have a true comprehension of what is.”
It seems that one of the central debates for Christians today is whether we should believe like Christians or live like Christians. One side is adamant that our beliefs are what save us while the other side argues that our works save us, while beliefs don’t really matter (or at least don’t hold that much importance).
For early Christians the distinction between believing and actions simply didn’t exist. To have “faith” meant that we believed what had been handed down to us and then lived according to those beliefs. As Irenaeus elucidates, action comes from faith and faith is established on things that are real. Our faith is in God, who is real, so then we should act on this belief.
We shouldn’t have a dichotomy between how we live and what we believe. Turning to the highly respected 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, we read,
“And when we exalt orthopraxy, right action, which is demanded clearly enough by Jesus himself…do we have to lose all sense of what the New Testament equally emphatically calls right belief, orthodoxy?” (Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, 13)
It certainly seems like von Balthasar is simply echoing the sentiments of Irenaeus, both of whom seem to point back to St. James (the Less or the Great, depending on who you believe), who wrote,
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
It would appear that even James faced this dichotomy where people were more concerned about works or about belief. To James, there is no difference. If you believe then it will show in your works, and your works will aid in your belief. Thus, faith is both a belief based upon reality, or Ultimate Reality, but because this is the case, faith requires us to act.
One can think of God’s Word, who is Truth (John 14:6) coming down and dying for His creation. Certainly He believed that He loved us, certainly Christ has beliefs about Himself. But He acted on those beliefs. The same God who baffles the greatest theologians and makes them less than children in knowledge came down to lift up the broken of this world so they might not only hear about His love, but experience His love. God cannot be divided, so while He is Truth, He is also action; we cannot merely believe in Him as a purely intellectual object to be studied, because when we gain true knowledge of Him we are moved to action.
This is part of the mysticism of Christianity, that it is a belief, it has propositional truths, it is rational, but it extends beyond these things. It has good actions, it is concerned with the poor, it serves the widows and orphans, but all of these actions are based upon its beliefs. Faith, true faith, is a faith based on reality and one that changes the whole of man.