THE FAITH of CHRIST WITHIN the AGES

BY:  JOHN R. GAVAZZONI

2014

 

PART ONE

 

The faith of Christ is eternal because He is eternal. In that timeless dimension, the Son of God uninterruptedly trusts, has faith in, is completely assured of and has total confidence in the love which God is. That faith is inherent in the life the Father gives to His Son, who in turn shares with others, His brethren, as He wills. The very faith of God is given to the Son within that gift of life. When God sent His Son into the world, that faith became historical. The faith of Christ is being worked out within the ages. That which is eternal, has become that which was, is, and is to come. Where there is a lack of understanding re: faith's age-during, age-pertaining dimension and outworking, we drift away from those things spoken by the prophets, and by drifting away, an inescapable ship-wreck of faith occurs in the neglecting of what has been delivered to us as that confirmed within history by signs, miracles and wonders. (A fresh reading of the first chapter of Hebrews would do the reader well is respecting the subject of this article.)

 

If it has been given to you to share in the faith of Christ that faith is saving you from the death that has been passed down within the ages, the death upon which all men have sinned. Death entered this present evil world through Adam's sin, but it is the resultant death which has been passed on to all mankind, UPON WHICH we all have sinned. From sin came death, and now from death comes sin. Sin draws its malnourishment from its roots in the soil of death. There is an unholy history and a holy history. A history of unbelief, and a glorious history of faith. None of us have received faith as isolated individuals. Before Saul of Tarsus had his Damascus Road experience of Jesus, he was sovereignly confronted with a community of faith to which he first reacted with violent unbelief, resistance and persecution. But upon being pressed by the majesty of the resurrected Jesus, He became a member of that community with its historical roots in the faith of Abraham which was proclaimed by the prophets. He quickly was confronted by the truth that in persecuting the church, He had been persecuting Jesus.

 

Today we have many critics of the outworking of the faith down through history. They seem to see almost only disobedience to the faith by those who have gone before until they, with others of like egotism, have arrived on the scene to set things right. They seem to think, "I have no interest in, nor need of, input from Clement of Alexandria, from Origen, from Gregory of Nyssa, from the Apostle's Creed, from the consensus of the Nicene Creed. Away with all that. God deals with me directly. All I need is my Bible, and my superior anointing." Of course, THEY would have done things differently if THEY had been those living during those times. THEY would have had nothing to do with the budding bishop system that led to the Papacy, with Constantine's involvement in the Council of Nicea, with its political overtones. I have to ask this question: "How is it that the Emperor Constantine could not possibly have been in some ways an instrument in helping to preserve the faith of Christ in that day, when the devil himself was made to be an instrument in the reconciliation of the world by mal-inspiring Judas to betray Christ?"

 

They are ignorant of the concession-factor in the administration of God within the ages, and in respect to the holy history of the faith. Did the bishop system that arose in the latter early church have within it a problem that would show itself years later in the clergy system? Yes, of course. It was in some ways problematic to the passing on of faith, but in other ways needful, given the theological mayhem that had crept into the empirical church. Do you think it might be possible that things we now are involved in are also of a like mixture? I tell you of a certainty, they are.

 

How glibly the concept of the trinity is treated by men and women today who are too meditatively lazy to face up to the intellectual tension involved in the truth that the Father AND the Son are One, and that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of that Oneness. The early church fathers faced that tension head on. Was their concept of trinity adequate as an explanation? I personally don't think so. I think Family, rather than trinity, presents a paradigm within which the relationship of the Father and the Son fits quite well, don't you? But I don't treat their concept of trinity as nonsensical. I wasn't there when they faced what they faced with a spirit abroad that denied the Father AND the Son. Those who have been so reactionary to the concept of trinity might do well to start from within that model, and from there seek to "explain the Word more accurately."

 

Actually, if my recollection is accurate, it was the church father, Tertullian, who first coined that expression to explain the plurality and complexity within Deity's essential Spirit-Oneness. Before him, the Deity of the Father, Son, and Spirit were simply affirmed as truth. They believed in ....."God, the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord...." They believed "in the Holy Spirit." What Spirit would that be? Well, of course, the Spirit which God is; most certainly the Holy Spirit. Too many cock-sure neophytes, spouting off on things they know nothing of today, are hoping to quiet their insecurity by advancing some novel doctrine to draw ooh's and awe's from naive brethren.

 

Ours is a historical faith whose manner of succession down through the years needs to be respected as worthy of the most serious consideration -- though certainly avoiding "unthinkingly signing-on" to every jot and tittle. Our faith is a communal faith that is enjoyed in and by "the fellowship of the saints;" a fellowship that transcends time and space, but is being worked out in the same. I have been spiritually enriched by so many dear brethren both modern and ancient; by both those alive and remaining, and by those who have passed on.

 

The names come quickly to remembrance, and what a broad spectrum of the empirical church they represent: Gregory of Nyssa so rich in understanding of the universality of salvation in Christ. From there to the great Calvinist expositor and pastor, Donald Grey Barnhouse, whose breadth of spirit encompassed lovingly and respectfully his Pentecostal brethren. Gypsy Smith, that endearing lover of Jesus and wonderfully effective evangelist; Pastor Grey Watson, my first pastor in the faith for whom I was such a tribulation with all my questions---questions he never thought of and had no answers for--- but who loved me with a spiritual father's love; Watchman Nee and Witness Lee who planted so many unforgettable truths in my spirit; my later spiritual father, Harry Robert Fox, whose words of wisdom and insight ring in my mind as if I only heard them yesterday, though I haven't seen him in years. Those are but a sampling of those who have made my faith a communal one. I have drunk the living water from each of their wells. The list would have to include A. B. Simpson whose writings so resonated with my spirit in the early days of my walk with the Lord, and of G. Campbell Morgan, "prince of the expositors," of A. W. Tozer who I was privileged to hear in person---awesomely riveting. And I dare not fail to speak of my dear friend and brother, Jonathan Mitchell, whose translation of the New Testament has renewed for me a freshness of appreciation for the scriptures, and whose gentleness of spirit and counsel has helped bring adjustment to my Italian temperament.

 

Take heed, brethren, the scriptures are of no private interpretation. We need one another.

 

PART TWO

 

In our first part of this series, I ended by mentioning what was but a small representative list of some brethren ancient, modern, and contemporary who have substantively added to my experience of Jesus Christ. Later, I thought how very inadequate that sampling was. I would have to add such dear ones as Bill Green, a dearly beloved praying prophet always compassionately ready to "talk to the Father," about any need brought to his attention; J. Preston Eby whose writings came into my life when I seemed to be almost totally isolated from the contemporary revival of the truth of Final Restoration, with whom it has been a great privilege to minister together on a couple occasions, and who often kept me on the edge of the pew waiting for the next gem of truth God would minister through that brother. There were those also who touched my life oh so very briefly, but the touch remained down through the years. I'm thinking of the guest speaker at a Baptist church where I had often ministered in song, who so epitomized the joy of the Lord with spontaneous overflow that it captivated the whole congregation.

 

I think of reading Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, and breaking into joyful sobs as I read his description to his sister of "discovering" the exchanged life---his own self-life to be replaced by the life of Christ within, and how utterly transforming it was to the man and his ministry. I think of reading about George Mueller, the apostle of faith, through whom God, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, without failure, fed 2,000 orphans in the orphanage founded by Mueller. And how the Spirit had forbidden him to ever speak to others re: the needs of the orphanage, and yet the needs were always met, even if it meant waiting till the very last moment. I think of that evening when our teen-age gospel quartette sang in a little holiness church way back in some "hollow" in the hills of Penna. How the glory of God fell on that place as we sang. The glory seemed to be especially concentrated in one pew which was filled by a man and his wife and their several children. Oh, how the glory of God shone from the face of that father especially. I can still see the scene in my mind sixty years later. Still, the list remains so incomplete.

 

All of those ministered to me as members of the body of Christ which transcends time and space. Many, though now dead, still speak to me, by that flow of life-anointing which is the possession of the whole body of Christ first, and then on to each member, time and space not hindering. It has grasped my attention to the point almost of fixation that when Paul listed the several constituting layers of divine Oneness in his epistle to the saints at Ephesus, he begins with "one body, and one Spirit...." and goes on to end with "one God and Father, who is above all, and through all, and in all." One would think that Paul should have started with one God and Father, and ended with one body. Something of importance there. At least this partial explanation might be worth considering, that Paul begins where that God and Father in all His fullness is to be found---in the one body. There, really, is where the one Spirit is to be found, and that's why Paul went immediately from one body to one Spirit in whom we experience the one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one calling, and one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Be open, dear fellow saints, to that divine networking of the body of Christ. Listen carefully to what comes over its airwaves. Treasure those divine touches by precious brethren. Begin to look to the Spirit to take you beyond the disfigurement of the member which you are - due to a failure to discern the Lord's body. You know, I hope, that the resurrected body of Jesus, and the body of Christ, the church, are the same body, "for there is one body..." Touch the corporate body of Christ, and you've touched the body of Jesus.

 

PART THREE

 

I have relished the gift of hymns and gospel songs from the very moment, following my conversion, when I was first introduced to that prolific "world." I experienced the gift of hymns and gospel songs as integral to, and concurrent with, the newness of the gift of faith and the gift of my salvation. Since coming from the Roman Catholic tradition, I knew almost nothing of their existence. I grew up many, many years before the Charismatic Movement impacted Catholicism which, among other things, created the phenomenon of the contemporary Mass, with its new forms of worship music. Sitting in the pew of the church of our mostly Italian parish as a young boy, the music of church worship was that of the choir in the balcony at the rear of the sanctuary singing ancient, majestic anthems in Latin. An understandable (to me) hymn that I could relate to, or a gospel song telling the old, old story of Jesus and His love? No, I knew anything of that.

 

As a 16 yr. old new convert to Christ, I had within my small, 135 lb. frame, a deep, bass voice: second bass, that is, the deeper base. I could hit with force a low E flat as easily as breathing, so I was enlisted quickly in the Fundamentalist "Bible Church" of my first mentoring in a teen-age gospel quartette, and also since I had won high honors in state-wide singing competition, that carried over into my Christian life, and I sang solo regularly at that church and at many others. So did the quartette. Wow! How the world of hymns and gospel music opened up to me. How wonderful to sing songs by composers who obviously had experienced what I just had----salvation, full and free.

 

Since then the music ranging from a content of deep theology all the way to the simplest songs of testimony have remained a way by which I have been able to connect with the riches within the believing community, past and present. I can't tell you how many times during my days that the words to a hymn or gospel song would come flooding back to my mind, so often meeting an immediate need of my heart. I have felt a real spirit-connection with all those composers and lyricists, a connection I believe is very existentially real. Many have become precious brothers and sisters to me though we have never met. I came to realize how much I had unconsciously memorized huge portions of that music, or as needed, just a line or two.

 

When, for instance, I might have a momentary experience of the thrill of God's peace well up from within my spirit, I might remember just the words, "There's a deep, settled peace in my heart, it thrills me so, it thrills me so." Yes, the words and the tune gave perfect expression to that moment of God's touch. So many times, I have returned to the memory of those early days of my walk with the Lord, singing, "Deep in my heart there's a gladness, Jesus has saved me from sin. Praise to His name, what a Savior, cleansing without and within. Why do I sing about Jesus; why is He precious to me? He is my Lord and my Savior, dying He set me free." Yes, yes, that says it, indeed.

 

Then there was that time while leading a meeting of a house church that the Spirit led us to sing that great hymn, "Amazing Love, How Can it Be." I had only recently been delivered from 3 1/2 years of terrible depression by a vision of Jesus, and light flooded my soul beyond what I had experienced before the depression. We came to this stanza: "Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound by sin and nature's night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I rose, the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed Thee." I burst into tears in the singing of it. Yes, that's what happened to me. From my Savior had come a quickening ray and my dungeon of depression suddenly flamed with light. My chains did fall off, my heart was once again free, and once again I could follow Him without that awful darkness that had hidden His face.

 

I wouldn't be able to count how many times I have sung, "I Would Love to Tell You What I Think of Jesus," or "I Have Found a Hiding Place," or "How Great Thou Art," in churches, conferences, and home gatherings across the country, but also the countless times of singing them to myself. When needing to sense the abiding presence of the Lord, the words, "Abide with me, fast falls the even tide; the shadows deepen; Lord with me abide." And when needing to recall the inexhaustible provision of God's givingness, in the face of my lack: "When we reach the end of our hoarded resources, when our strength has failed e'er the day is half done. When we have exhausted our human endurance, our Father's full giving has only begun. His love hath no limit, His grace hath no measure; His power hath no boundary known unto me. For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again." Ahh, yes.

 

I commend all my dear brethren in Christ, to avail yourselves of the above gift. Get a good hymn book. Reflect on the words. I have often said that hymn writers are the best theologians. I came from a musically-inclined family. My dad was a superb musician, with a great booming voice, and how he loved to sing. In fact, as much as anything, it was being introduced to gospel music that helped lead him to Christ, but even if you haven't been raised in that kind of a family atmosphere of music appreciation, you can still profit from at least the treasures within the lyrics. Some of it is beautiful poetry dedicated to our Lord. Some of it soars with inspiration. Some just wonderfully express salvation's song within your heart that you may have little connected with. A good hymn book lying close by your Bible. I recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FAITH of CHIRST WITHIN the AGES, Pts. 1-3 [John R. Gavazzoni] 2014          4

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