‘Faithful,’ now there’s another of those words: we all think we know what it means but then the Bible seems to go ahead and use it in a completely different way.
When we describe someone who did the same task month after month, year after year, what’s the word that we will almost inevitably use? We will say that they were ‘faithful.’ That little group, unchanged for decades, meeting up in an old village chapel week after week; they are ‘faithfully meeting’ and in our increasingly self-centred society almost any reliable volunteer will be described as a ‘faithful volunteer.’
What does God have to say on the subject of some people who are carrying on with all the celebrations, yearly feasts, New Moons and Sabbath days, month after month, year after year? Does He call them ‘faithful’? No, actually “the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.” [Hosea 1.2] Isaiah 1 makes clear that it is quite possible for God’s people to be ‘unfaithfully meeting’ (just read verses 11-17). When Uzzah volunteers to steady the ark of the Lord lest it fall off the cart carrying it [2 Samuel 6] this is described as an irreverent act. We are not told that he was a faithful volunteer; we are told that the anger of the Lord burned against him and he died.
The difference in outlook is contained in the question of Isaiah 1.12 “who has asked this of you … ?” Bible faithfulness is faithfulness to God in person. Now God doesn’t change but He is alive. We cannot presume to know whether or not we are being faithful to Him, we have to check and the only way of checking is to stay in contact. So Jesus constantly withdraws to lonely places by himself to pray.
You can be faithful to a task, an institution or a tradition without any reference to anybody. Being faithful to a person requires constant reference to that person. We know too, that the secret of being faithful to people lies in being faithful to God. So a faithful church can only be a praying, listening church, a church whose daily activity is a faithful response to what God is saying to them today. But then, being such a church is no chore: what kind of church would want to have it any other way?