Christian faith is a received tradition, not a ‘make it up as you go’ private spirituality

When we understand that the Jesus-story is the long-awaited fulfillment of Israel’s story, our faith immediately takes on an ancient, prophetic, and shared dimension.

We need to quickly realize that faith didn’t begin with us. This is the faith that was once for all delivered to us from those who have gone before us. It is a faith that we have received. Christian faith is a received tradition.

Because of this reality, we don’t get to make Christianity up. Yes, we innovate, learn anew, and contextualize faith for the day in which we live, but we do not create something brand new. We do not manufacture a new faith. We receive it. We live it. We become it.

The echoes of an ancient faith

Faith echoes back all the way to Eden and God’s promise to one day put all things right (Gen. 3:15). Faith then moves and meanders through Abraham and God’s promise of a seed through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

It flows through Moses, finding temporary resolution in Israel’s freedom from exile. It travels through David and the promise of an eternal King. And, it moves through the prophets, all the way to Jesus – the ultimate resolution of Israel’s story; a story for the whole world. It then travels through the apostles, through the centuries after them, to us.

Christianity is a deeply ancient faith. It is a received faith. We don’t get to make this faith up. We need to realize this, to learn from it, to understand it, honour it and follow it. As Paul wrote, “I passed on to you what was most important and what has also been passed on to me” (1 Cor. 15:3).

The Church, past, present and future, is centred in the person, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and is the realization of a long promise – fulfilled. “Through you, Abraham, and through your seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” The Church is that promise realized.

The personal side of faith re-defined

Faith also has a personal dimension. True, biblical faith, cannot be forced upon us. No one can choose it for us. However, this ancient faith is not private, individualistic, and self-centered. Personal does not mean me, myself and I.

Christian faith is not private, individualistic, and self-centered. Click To Tweet

Personal means me in the midst of. Personal finds its fulfillment in the fellowship with and for the other. We do not complete ourselves. We find completion in Christ as we serve him and his church, at home and around the world. And, in one another as we serve Christ for the sake of the other.

This ancient faith is corporate, public and collective in its shared wisdom, life, hope, grace and love. What we have received, we pass on. We pass it on by repeating the traditions of our shared faith, of prayers, of readings, of reflections, of a Christ in, to and for the world. Faith is received wisdom and expression. We find it and it finds us.

We don’t get to make this stuff up. To view faith through this lens is forgetfulness, naiveté, and arrogance. Faith is ancient. If you read the bible, you’ll see this. To read the bible is to engage with this ancient faith. We allow what has come before us to shape us today. We recognize these ancient traditions, respect them, honour them and reflect what they taught and believed.

The river of faith

What we need to do is take a step back, or a few steps back, to gain a better perspective of the whole, ancient, meandering, promise-filled story of scripture and of the traditions spawned by that story. If not, we will never grasp its true intent and meaning. We will get lost in our own stories, interpretations, meanings, and lives.

We must interact with the traditions of those who have gone before us. Those who spent time reflecting on what was passed on to them. And, we need to keep passing on the story to those who follow after us.

We don’t build a bridge to cross over the river in an attempt to ignore it. We sit by its banks. We navigate the long, winding river. We learn about its bends, rapids and pools. We dive into the river. We experience it. We live it. We let it wash over us. We learn from its flow.

Christian faith is baton-like. We receive it and pass it on. Click To Tweet

Christian faith is baton-like. We receive it and pass it on. We don’t hoard it, cover it, or cling to it. We release it. True, biblical faith is meant to be received and released.

The ancient flows through us to the other. Faith is like a river. We sit by its banks, drink from its source, receive from it, and let it flow downstream to others. We don’t build a damn to stop the flow. It came from somewhere else, some place upstream. It didn’t originate with us. We receive it from someone, partake, and let it flow.

Remember, “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” (Soren Kierkegaard).

Dive in. Drink it. Live it. Love it. Let it flow. And, receive it. Allow our received faith to find a home in each of us. Then, pass it on.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Jeff is a columnist with ChristianWeek, a public speaker, blogger, and award-winning published writer of articles and book reviews in a variety of faith-based publications. He also blogs at jeffkclarke.com