Faith is such a weighty biblical word that when we speak of it, some explanation is in order for the listener to know what we mean. Faith can refer to belief or trust in God or to a set of religious teachings or doctrines (i.e., the Christian faith). Faith “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) and it was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
So when I write about faith, it’s perfectly understandable that you ask, “What do you mean?” As I write this article, I mean a system of beliefs. I have in mind that faith Jude wrote about “which was once for all delivered to the saints.” It’s the faith for which I “contend earnestly,” in the words of Jude — the faith that has survived centuries of testing and numerous attacks in efforts to destroy it.
Our distinctive faith
Details of that faith have varied, but essentially what the apostles believed and taught is what members of the faith believe and teach today. The same God is supreme. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ remains the only means of salvation. The eternal moral law of the Ten Commandments is fundamental. Holiness is still the aim of every believer. The hope of life eternal on the earth-made-new continues to be central.
Some of the distinctive beliefs of the Church of God (Seventh Day), which we believe are among “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints,” are being tested: namely, divorce and remarriage, tithing, clean and unclean meats, observance of extra-biblical holidays, and participation in military combat. The generations that have gone before set the stage for those of us who follow and, in many instances, they suffered severely to preserve what they — and we — believe. “Hold fast,” the writer of Hebrews said: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful”(Hebrews 10:23).
The truths God established in the Scriptures are worthy to be preserved. So in abbreviated form, let God’s Word speak to your heart regarding these teachings.*
Divorce and remarriage. Divorce results from sin and is never God’s perfect will. “The Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence . . .” (Malachi 2:16a). Jesus added, “I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32; 19:9).
From God’s perspective, divorce is loathsome and involves violence. Don’t do it! Jesus’ own teaching in the Gospels is equally severe. In Matthew, Jesus permits divorce only under cases of unfaithfulness by a spouse. Elsewhere in the Gospels, He offers no exception at all (Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18). This should cause us to take our marriages, and their dissolution, with the utmost seriousness.
Tithing. “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30). “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You’? In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me. . . . Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house . . .” (Malachi 3:8-10). Admittedly, these verses come from the law of the old covenant. Did God change His position?
Under the new covenant, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar?” This is the old covenant practice. “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13, 14). Even so means “just like” or “in the same way.” Gospel workers, like the Levitical priests, are to get their support from what is brought to God’s storehouse.
Clean and unclean meats. To the people of Israel, God gave this instruction: “These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth: . . . whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud — that you may eat” (Leviticus 11:2, 3). In the vision Peter had of “a great sheet . . . descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean’” (Acts 10:11-14).
From childhood and even for perhaps a decade or more after the death of Jesus, Peter had never eaten anything unclean. Did he not know that Jesus did away with that law about unclean meat — if He had? Apparently not. New Testament writers like Luke, John, and Paul carry forward food commands from the Old Testament and/or speak the familiar language of holiness and the unclean (Acts 15:20, 26; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:11-18; Revelation 2:14; 18:2, 4). Meats intended for consumption by humans have been sanctified by the word of God (1 Timothy 4:3-5).
Extra-biblical holidays. “’Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple” (Jeremiah 10:2-4).
Though not limited to the Christmas tree, this passage surely includes it. Notwithstanding the observer’s intention, behind idols is demonic influence (1 Corinthians 10:20), and extra-biblical holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Halloween are steeped in symbols of pagan worship and superstition. God’s people have “one faith” and should have nothing to do with the trappings of others (Ephesians 4:5-8). Pagan converts were quick to turn from their superstitious practices and traditions (Acts 19:18, 19), and Paul taught the early church to keep themselves separate from forms of worship that mixed true with false (2 Corinthians 6:16, 17).
Participation in military combat. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you . . .” (John 14:27). He taught His followers, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Satan promotes war, while God promotes peace.
Jesus calls us to support a gospel-oriented, non-violent lifestyle: Turn the other cheek, go the second mile (Matthew 5:39, 41).
Contend for the faith
Generation after generation, the saints of God have contended for the faith “once delivered.” The need is no less today. As faithful children of God, we must “hold fast,” remembering who established that faith. The admonition of 2 Corinthians 13:5 fits us as well as it fit early Christians to whom Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified.”
We need to check ourselves! We are most assuredly in Christ while He is in us, and we just as surely are “in the faith” now in 2016, by the grace of God. Let’s preserve that faith for every generation following — till Christ comes!
* Editor’s note: For fuller treatment on each of these distinctive faith positions, see This We Believe: The Teachings of the Church of God (Seventh Day). Order online at cog7.org.