Identifying "the faithful" is a spiritually dangerous undertaking. Few spiritual objectives create such ideal circumstances for leading us into self-deception. It is easily transformed into the process of "including" and "excluding." Always "I" am included.

"Identifying the faithful" was a dangerous undertaking in early Christianity. Acts 15 records an early Christian struggle to establish "the criteria" for determining "the faithful." Some said "the faithful" submitted to Judaism's circumcision ordinance and observed the law of Moses (verse 5). Others said God's gift of the Holy Spirit to people who were not Jews disproved that circumcision and the law of Moses were marks of faithfulness (verses 7-11). The decision: recommend "the faithful" not eat food sacrificed to idols, or strangled animals (caught in a snare), or blood, and not to commit fornication (verses 19-21). Interestingly, Paul emphasized only one of those to Christians who were not Jews: do not commit fornication. His reasoning was not based on the Jerusalem decision (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).

Eating or refusing to eat food sacrificed to an idol was a frequently endorsed standard of "faithfulness." It was an emotional issue. It was a complex issue. Converted, conservative Jews declared "the faithful" did not eat animals sacrificed to an idol (Acts 15:5). This violated the Jewish dietary code (Leviticus 7:22-27;11) and the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before [besides] me" (Exodus 20:3).

Former idol worshippers also declared Christians did not eat animals offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:7). To them, idols represented existing gods who opposed Christ. Christ represented the supreme God. The gods were worshipped by eating a sacrifice offered to them. Their conviction: eating such food denied Christ by honoring another god.

Knowledgeable converts correctly understood that food from any source had no spiritual meaning or significance (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

So, in this crucial matter, who were "the faithful"? Every Christian who honored his/her conscience, who refused to judge another Christian's conscience, who understood that each Christian was the Lord's servant [and that the Lord was able to make each stand], and who pursued peace (Romans 14) were "the faithful." "The faithful" did not destroy another Christian's faith or sin against weak Christians (I Corinthians 8).

The Master determines "the faithful." He measures hearts. Servants cannot measure servants because they cannot measure hearts.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 6 June 1999

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