Have you ever, Dear Reader, stopped to consider the difference that a capital letter makes? As I began to compose this little reflection that was born out of the Scriptures for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, I typed Faith with a capital ‘F’. I stopped and looked at it, and wondered about what kind of faith was I writing?
To me, and maybe this is only me, there is a difference between the small ‘f’ and the big one. Lower case ‘f’ speaks to me of the faith enumerated by the writer of Hebrews when he says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This faith speaks of the trust that Abraham placed in God when He called him out of his homeland and set him on a path toward becoming the patriarch of a great nation. This is the faith of Abel, Enoch and Noah who believed and, “…became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.” They and all the others who believe in God are sojourners and exiles on the earth; each longing for the homeland promised to all believers by God from before time began.
Please do not somehow diminish lower case ‘faith’ or see it as somehow inferior or secondary, indeed it is not. This is the faith of our Fathers. This is our faith placed in the Living God, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Inspiration. Faith is the thing that binds us to God, allows us to participate in His Grace, and consequently connects us to each other. Most of us learn, sometimes through hard lessons, what and who we may place our trust. We know that we can always trust in Him, but when it comes to the things of this world, faith and trust are often hard to find; unless we learn to make God a part of our earthly relationships. It is our faith in God that strengthens the bonds between neighbors. For further study, I refer you to Mark 12: 28-31.
Now, Dear Reader, you may ask, “Then what is the big deal about a stinking capital ‘F’?!”
Consider, if you will, this familiar quote: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16: 18). Setting aside any discussion of the Papacy for the moment, these are the words that Jesus Christ is speaking to His apostles about His Church. Before His ascension, Christ charges Peter three times to feed and care for His sheep. In the Acts of the Apostles, Christ dispatches His apostles from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria and even to the center of the world, Rome. And, as if we could, let us not forget a certain Pharisee blinded, convicted and recruited on his way to Damascus.
Upper case Faith, in my mind, refers the institution left by Christ upon this earth to continue His mission of bringing salvation to all mankind. In order for the Gospel to be heard by the multitudes, it had to be spoken by those entrusted with the message delivered to them by God, Himself. It is the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which has recorded, collected, preserved and promulgated the Good News to every corner of the world; and she still has a way to go. It is the Church that is the protector of the doctrine and the traditions from the earliest days of the Apostles’ messianic ministries. It is the Church which should be the fountainhead of theological interpretation and knowledge.
For me, I cannot divorce the Church from my faith. I often have heard people say things like, “I don’t have to be in a particular building at a particular time to worship God. I can do it that just fine on my own.” While it is true that we do, and should, work on developing our relationship with God at all times during our busy week; it is a fallacy to think that we don’t owe something more to Him. God commands us to keep holy the Sabbath. That is not just an opportunity for us to prop up our feet and relax from a busy work week. It is an instruction to us to come together and worship Him.
The Church is more than an historic building with a staff and an annual budget. The Church is more than the ritual, the incense or the hymns. The Church is even more than the people who gather together in fellowship and worship. The Church is the catholic (universal) expression of Christ in the world.
My faith is in the Risen Lord, for it is only in his death and resurrection that all of creation is washed clean from the stain of sin and death. My Faith is unapologetically Anglican, rooted in Christ, delivered to His people by the Apostles and preserved through the bishops in whom rests the responsibility to defend that which was entrusted to them.
Finally, I think that it is important to make clear that while the Church was created by Jesus Christ in the person of His Apostles, the Church is populated with and governed by the children of The Fall. Those who administer the Church are not perfect; mistakes have been and are being made. We have rent asunder the Church so that now we divide and subdivide ourselves into denominations and affiliations which in some ways bear little resemblance to each other. But that is why we must have faith: small ‘f’. Even at times when the Faith in which we participate and grow seems to be following paths unfamiliar and treacherous, we must rely on the faith of Abraham, Abel, Enoch and Noah. We must rely above all in our faith in and love for Jesus Christ, and in that we will find unity.