There’s a story we tell in churches. Maybe not in all churches, but in most.
It’s a story about belief.
Often we stand together, and we read off a list of things we believe. We read an apostle’s creed. We read puritan prayers. We run down lists of propositions, and we nod our heads and affirm each item on the list.
Now, I’m not saying that these creeds and prayers and lists are bad. It is deeply important for us to take stock of what we believe. We are dealing with infinity. We are dealing with a being so vast that every aspect of the universe was created by this being’s word. We are dealing with a being so intimate that you cannot split open even the tiniest molecule without this being’s love rushing over you like the ocean’s crashing waves. Without some sort of system of knowledge to make some sense of this, we’d never be able to digest any of it.
But there’s a danger.
Too often we take these propositions – we take these tools – and we make them into a yard stick by which we can measure our faith. We take these propositions and we tell everyone, “You need to agree to each of these, or else you are not fully a part of the club.”
And so we play a game.
In order to avoid being excluded from the club, we stand together and we say, “I affirm this belief. I believe each point on this list.” But in our minds we might actually struggle with some of it. Maybe we even disbelieve some of it completely. And most shockingly…maybe we’re not alone. What if there is a whole lineage of Christians who have wrestled with the delicate balance between doubt and faith? What if even your pastor or your worship leader or your Sunday school teacher have questions and doubts? What if they even sit down and discuss those doubts with each other, and it is a beautiful and deep part of their Christian life? But then they stand up on Sunday morning and say, “I affirm these beliefs.” Doesn’t that in some way reduce faith?
Jacob’s name is changed to Israel because he wrestled with God, and with men and prevailed. And then Israel becomes the name of God’s chosen people. God chose a people who would wrestle, who would ask questions, who would push back. This is what a relationship is like.
So in the church when we use our doctrines and creeds as ways of saying, “I’m in because I will intellectually affirm each point (whether I truly believe it in my heart or not), and you’re out because you doubt,” then we do a disservice to God. We dissect God into tiny parts leaving only the corpse of an idol in God’s place. Meanwhile the world looks at these parts of God that we are holding up and saying, “you need to worship this,” and they say, “Why? You’re only showing me a corpse.”
In reality we are talking about a God that won’t fit inside a creed or a doctrine. Our creeds and doctrines tell us a lot about who God is, but they are not God themselves. The menu is not the meal. The map is not the road. So we can stand together, link arms, recite our creeds, and talk about how this is unity. We can exclude anyone who does not get on board with that so-called unity. But we are not talking about unity anymore. When we deny our real and honest questions, doubts, and disagreements, we have moved past unity and into uniformity. When you put on the uniform it doesn’t matter what’s inside. We all look alike on the outside, and we keep any disagreement carefully concealed.
If this is faith, you can have my share. If this is Christianity, I’ll pass.
But it isn’t. Faith is a vibrant, living, breathing thing. Christianity is a relationship. There has never been a lasting relationship that had no room for doubts and questions. There has never been a true relationship that couldn’t survive some real, honest discussion. In fact there has never been a true relationship that could survive without it.
So, I ask my fellow Christians – and beyond that, I ask my fellow humans – can we please keep our doctrines and beliefs where they belong? I would love to sit down with anyone and have a conversation that says, “In my experience, and to my understanding, this is how God seems to be…” Then we can offer feedback to each other. But can we please stop picking up those beliefs and smashing them over each other’s heads?
And specifically to my Christian family…
Can we learn the difference between unity and uniformity? The world does not need to see a band of robots swallowing orders and towing the party line. If they want that, they can get into politics. What the world needs to see is real people being real. They need to see a different sort of society in which we can disagree. We can even disagree about some very fundamental things. But those disagreements do not have to be a source of division. Maybe we can maintain our disagreements in love. We can disagree without saying, “You are no longer welcome here” or “You have no more valid opinions because we disagree on this.”
My heart breaks with longing for a time in which we can disagree with love and respect because we know that God is bigger than our ideas about God. Grace is stronger than legalism. Love is stronger than hate. And as Rob Bell says, “The Good News is better than that.”
I love you,
P.s.- as usual, I am indebted to Peter Rollins for much of my thought here. If any of this strikes you, I’d suggest you check him out asap. http://www.peterrollins.net