Monday, October 03, 2005

What is faith? part 3

I want to look at a few more passages, especially the ones that are commonly used to advocate this notion of "belief without reasons." You often hear people use the phrase, "child-like faith," and this is supposed to mean some kind of naive approach to Christianity. The idea comes from Matthew 18:2, Mark 10:15, and Luke 18:17 which says, "Whosoever shall not recieve the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein." In Mark and in Luke, we're left to interpret for ourselves in what way we are to be like children in order to enter the kingdom of God, and most people seem to take it to mean we're supposed to have a blind and naive faith. That's where the phrase, "child-like faith" comes from. But I think this is a mistake for two reasons.

First, Matthew doesn't leave us to speculate about what it means. He clarifies it for us. He writes, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." So far, he's saying the same thing as Mark and Luke, but he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say, "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." In answer to the question, "In what way are we to be like children?" we can see that it has nothing to do with naive thinking, but rather, it has to do with having humility. We are to enter the kingdom with humility, not with blind naive faith.

Second, if we take it to mean that we are to think like children in order to enter the kingdom, we will be in direct contradiction with Paul who wrote, "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men" (1 Corinthians 14:20). In the NIV, it says, "Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults." Earlier in the same passage, he wrote, "When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things" (1 Cor 13:11). Clearly, then, the Bible doesn't advocate that we have "child-like faith." We are to be like children by being "innocent about what is evil" (Romans 16:19), but we are to be adults in our thinking because "a simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps" (Proverbs 14:15).

Part 4


At 10/03/2005 11:18 AM , Blogger Paul said...

The wrong (though common) understanding of this seems to be implying that we should be uneducated and unsophisticated in our thinking. When put in these terms I can hardly imagine Jesus or the apostles commending such a thing. I've also thought of childlike thinking including such things as belief and trust without psychological baggage and presuppositions, and a sense of awe and wonder about God and the creation.

At 10/03/2005 7:50 PM , Blogger Steve said...

This is all definitely true and I can see the Bible has a lot to say about being honest with your faith and attempting to think seriously about it. I think just as these passages prove there is room for interpreation on these matters, the history of the Church, including the Iconoclast period, provides evidence to suggest there are many in the Church who want there to be only one interpretation. Thus, early Christians who wanted to think for themselves battled no only against non-Christians, but also their fellow Christians!

In addition, could we not also say that there will ALWAYS be certain things that are not questionable?

Can we question the trinity? Or can we question the divinity of Christ? Are these fair questions? And while it may seem like these are the questions of an Atheist, Im sure you know Sam that the early Christians really attempted to quantify the proportion of divinity to humanity in Christ. Some advocated full divinity, some advocated full humanity, some said 50/50, and still others tried to bridge the gap by saying that in some instances he was all god and in others all human.

Perhaps Sam you're saying that these early Church Patriarchs and Popes were behaving "child-like"?


At 10/03/2005 9:56 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Not at all, Steve. If you read the history behind the Arian controversy, you'll see that every side was very intellectual in their approach. They used reason and arguments to support their views. The issue was settled by debate, not by fiat.

At 10/03/2005 10:39 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Let me also point out that in that Arian controversy, the question was not whether Jesus was merely human, but whether He was of the same essence as God. Even the heretics had stronger beliefs about Jesus' nature than any modern liberal would ever dream of conceding.

At 10/04/2005 3:40 AM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam - I think you're referring to something quite different than what I am.

Specifically, Im referring to the Nestorian schism and the Monophysite schism. Both viewpoints were excommunicated from the church at the councils of ephesus and chalcedon.

To protect them, the Assyrians offered them asylum. But its clear that they were under threat by the dual-nature authorities.

At 10/04/2005 3:47 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Steve, I don't know as much about those schisms or how they were handled.

At 10/04/2005 3:49 AM , Blogger Steve said...

paul - i understand, but in terms of the church's response to these alternative viewpoints, it was swift and brutal in most instances.

The reason for this is the patriarch in constantinople was as much a political position as anything else, and disagreeing with church doctrine was a very serious offense. If there's any doubt, look up Emperor Justinian and see how he dealt with "alternative" viewpoints on religion.

At 10/04/2005 3:51 AM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam - These alternative Christian viewpoints were driven to whats today Iraq and Nestorian Christians still live there today.

One famous one is Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's Vice President!

At 10/04/2005 4:09 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Well, Steve, I don't agree with the churches actions in using physical force or coersion to enforce theology.

At 10/04/2005 12:54 PM , Blogger Steve said...

right! but doesn't this firmly establish the notion that the church, as early as the 4th and 5th centuries, tried to suppress intellectual creativity in interpreting the Bible to conform to one narrow ideology?

And moreover, does this not imply that todays interpretation (trinity and nature of Christ) is mostly an offshoot of that narrow ideology?

Perhaps the idea of the trinity and the idea of the divinity of Christ would not be so absolute if these alternative Christine doctrines had not been physically oppressed!

At 10/05/2005 12:40 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I definitely think politics has something to do with why certain forms of Christianity exist in certain parts of the world and not others, but it's hard to say to what degree that is true. Christianity itself continued to spread in spite of persecution for the first 200 years. Arians did not go away as a result of persecution, and neither did trinitarians. To this day, there are lots of unitarians still around. At most, I would say political oppression has some effect on the proliferation of ideas, but it doesn't determine those ideas.

But all of this is irrelevent to the question of whether the trinity is true or what the basis is for thinking it's true. The church has never based its belief in the trinity on the fact that it had enough political power to enforce it. Even while enforcing it through what we might consider inappropriate means, they still based it on the same reasoning and arguments that Athenasius and others based it on.


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