Monday, March 31, 2014

My return to faith.

Those who have followed my blog over the past few years will already know my spiritual journey,  which could be summarised as “conservative evangelical” to “questioning evangelical” to “disbeliever” (following the crash of my creationist beliefs) to “attempted atheist” to “tolerant liberal”. I now have to come clean and admit that I have never really been able to rid myself of my belief in God. For the simple reason that it is based on knowledge rather than faith and I can’t totally deny something that I know to be true. I have returned to my faith.

Over the past few months a number of situations have arisen where I felt uncomfortable because things were being said or done that were jarring with my knowledge of Jesus which was still smouldering away somewhere within me. This caused me to look at who I am, where I am and how I can reconcile my dislike of church and religion with what is a very real love for the things of God.

So why believe?

Well first of all it’s not about believing, but knowing.

The Scottish pattern I was brought up with is that a minister (dressed in black advocates robes complete with white tabs) stands in the pulpit and give a forensic argument for his case, expounding his evidence and asking you to agree with him. This is exactly the same as the process you get in a court of law where a jury decides what to accept, either convicting or acquitting based on the evidence put before them. Its also why many Scottish ministers had law degrees as their first degrees before studying divinity.

Legal argument is not a method of communication you will find in the bible. Jesus said “follow me”. He didn’t say “get all your ducks in a row theologically and then agree to accept various creeds”.  He said “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”. Notice the emphasis on knowing. There is no mention of going along with things for the sake of it.

I have always been uncomfortable with the addition of different doctrines to mark someone as a “true Christian”. Whether its dispensationalism or creationism or pentecostalism, people have continually added things to Christianity.

Rather like John Lennon’s:
Ev'rybody's talking about
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism,
Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, That-ism, 
It wasn’t meant to be like this. As creeds were developed new sects split off and more and more options were added to the list of what makes someone a “true believer”.

None of the people coming up with these ideas know any of it for certain, but they need to feel certain.  So they create religious systems that allow them to live in a more solid feeling world where they “know who their friends are”. This is true for many people, not just Christians. We see the same phenomenon in the the conspiracy theory community and  “truth” movement.

Its a natural human desire, but Christianity was meant to be more fluid than this. This is why it was originally described as "the way". Its about a journey, not a destination. You don't need to swallow a camel of additional "isms" to be on that journey.  Its people who make that difference in order to puff up their own self importance. And there is no difference between little faith and big faith. Jesus talked about “faith the size of a mustard seed” and he did not treat people preferentially if they believed more things than someone else.

All I know is what I know, and this is that Jesus lived and walked in Galilee, in some way was God and in some way redeemed me. How that all worked I simply don’t know. But I do know that it matters.

Secondly, the person of Christ.

I don’t normally do relationships well so the idea of having a relationship with God is quite foreign to me. However,  I do understand the concept of following someone and I find that can follow Jesus as the first disciples did. He might be quite far in the distance sometimes and I might be hobbling along at the back with my doubt and uncertainty, but I feel captivated by him as much now as when I first believed.

Thirdly, I don’t need to be able to nail everything down.

Complete knowledge of everything is impossible. We can never know everything and I am happy to acknowledge that limitation. Paul said to the Corinthian church that “we see through a glass darkly”. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to investigate things or find out more. It is part of my nature to do so - and I would argue that our enquiring nature is part of the image of God. We want to know as much as God wants to be known. I just can’t build my house on a sand of conjecture and theorising and I don’t think the church is meant to do that either. Its about simpler creeds and accepting that some things can never be known.

Fourthly, revelation.

I think all religions contain some truth, but the greatest revelation of the divine will is in Jesus Christ and his teachings. Why? Because, as the disciple John put it “We love, because He first loved us.” All goodness comes from God, whether people recognise it or not and this love, and goodness, is personified in Jesus and him giving himself up for others on the cross. This is the secret revealed to us, which is not really a secret, it's just that we often can’t see it.

Fifthly, its not about perfection.

There is no need to be perfect to be a Christian. How often have you heard, or said, “and you call yourself a Christian!”. This idea of the Christian comes from the nominal church where people sadly and often put themselves above others simply because they attended church on a Sunday. The Christian message is that nobody is perfect and everyone needs redemption. Think about this: back at the beginning Peter denied Christ three times, yet, at no time during those denials was he any less a Christian.

Here is a thought which may have an impact on ideas of evangelism. God’s activity is not restricted to Christians. Depicting non Christians as damned or bad is wrong because we are all made in the image of God. We need to recognise that God is out there doing good without us or in spite of us and that some of that is being manifested through people who do not even know him. Imagine going into the world saying "look at this good and how it reflects the nature of God" rather than "look at all this evil".

So where does this leave me?

The only way I can describe it is this: I am simply Christian, not a simple Christian.

I don’t think I will ever be capable of attending a church on a regular basis. I will always be of the questioning type and that would make adhering to any church creed just for the sake of it far too difficult for me.  I also don't like big groups or loud noises, so it is probably not for me.

I will continue to live an imperfect life, but I can live it acknowledging the presence of God along side me. I am happy and content with this life and I thank God for what he has done for me. I have no desire for “more” and no feelings of inadequacy compared to others. I don’t want to be a leader and I am happy to stay a follower. An old friend of mine used to describe this practice as “living in the good of it”, and that seems a good description.

On the issue of evangelism, Christianity is a personal thing and nobody can be forced to believe it. You can create a scheme to trick people into saying they agree with you, but that is not actually faith. They have to “know” the truth and that in part comes from meeting people who are living a life which is on that journey with Jesus in spite of their weaknesses. Through that  weakness they may see the light of life.

For now I am just glad to be on the journey.