Theory Thursday: Creeds and Beliefs

 https://youtu.be/H-61MaWETiU

 I’m talking about my beliefs, my creed, so to speak. In the “re-boot” post, I talked about how my theological beliefs had settled down a bit since the last period of blog activity (2012-2013), but I didn’t go into much detail, and may have been a bit a bit vague or confusing.

First, let me get the question of orthodoxy out of the way. I affirm the Apostle’s Creed every Sunday in church, and I mean every word.

I believe that Jesus was so much more than just an example for us … but that we cannot ignore his example. And in many ways, I spent most of my life ignoring his example.

Jesus taught peace, yet I found a way to justify every single war the U.S. had ever gotten into. 

Jesus crossed social boundaries and embraced the poor, the outcasts of society, and those believed to be sinners, yet I found a way to stay safe in my own middle-class moral superiority. I let myself believe that we’d somehow all started from the same place.

Jesus always spoke up to the powerful for the sake of those who were weaker, poorer, considered sinners, or socially ‘underneath.’

Yet time and again, I’d side with the powerful, the privileged,  because I’m one of them … white,  male,  heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied Christian.

America wss quite literally made for my kind. 

And I know I won’t ever understand how it is to be black or gay or trans or  female … But at least I can be aware of that. At least I can listen. 

At least I can try to follow the Jesus of the Gospels.

Theory Thursday: Creed

No, I’m not going to talk about the amazing film directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, although I could go on and on about how good it is, though not as well as Sally Jane Black did in her review. And thankfully, I’m not talking about the very earnest early 2000’s rock band, either. I’m talking about the most ancient of Christian statements of belief, one that may go as far back as the apostles themselves.

I’ve been worshiping in Methodist churches for the last several months, and every week we recite the Apostles’ Creed together. Every week, I affirm the Apostles’ Creed, and I mean every word:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

That’s something the Methodist churches have given me that the Baptist churches didn’t: a concise, communally-pronounced, statement of the fundamentals of belief. A creed.We all affirm that together, as one. It’s a given. It’s short, and basically lines out the very core minimum of Christianity.

Baptists don’t have a creed, and don’t want one. In theory, Baptists are characterized by their doctrinal freedom, but in my experience, there’s not much room for agreeing to disagree about anything theological. Some church communities can demand at least the appearance of assent to a wide range of doctrines up to and including which translation to use, extremely specific beliefs about the End Times, the form of baptism, requirements to take communion, and so on.

Challenging the often unspoken assumptions and narratives can lead to real pushback and hurt feelings, even though nobody is being rude or intentionally making personal attacks or trying to hurt anyone else. I’ve been in enough Sunday school classes in enough Baptist churches to know you either are in agreement, you go along to get along, or you create a lot of tension.

Why? Group unity requires some meaningful marker of identity. If we are Christians, we have to believe certain things. The Apostles’ Creed keeps that list short and lean and essential. It draws a hard line and says, “We believe this. Beyond this, we can agree to disagree.” But lacking such a clear line leads to ambiguity about how much unity of doctrine is really required to be a good (Baptist/Methodist/Evangelical/Christian/Whatever).

In my experience, the Apostle’s Creed takes a lot of the fire out of doctrinal disagreements. I’ve felt very free to speak my mind, and even when nobody else in the room agreed with me, there wasn’t the same tension and pressure felt. I honestly believe it’s at least partially because we recite that most ancient of Christian creeds together each week.

Why? Again, I think it’s because we could be sure that we shared the same core grounding, the same essential creed. We could say it, together, and all mean it, and share unity through it. And that took the anxiety out of our differences.

Things I DON’T Repent Of

Communion Wine

I’ve been doing a lot of repenting lately, for my own past sins and the corporate sins I was a part of. And I make no apologies for giving those apologies. But I want to be clear on a few things I am not sorry for:

I don’t repent of believing in Jesus as the living, crucified, resurrected Word of God, begotten not made, who is with God and is God, through whom all things are made.

I don’t repent of believing that the Bible is the divinely inspired written word of God. Breathed by God, written by humans, profitable for study and meditation and growth.

I don’t repent of believing in prayer. I don’t know how or even if our prayers change God’s mind, but I know that praying changes me. That’s all I need to know.

I don’t repent in believing in the priesthood of the believer, believer’s baptism, sin, redemption, the Apostle’s Creed, and a God who is both just and merciful.

I don’t repent of my libertarian belief in civil rights and individual freedom. I didn’t leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left me (right around the time when it embraced torture and indefinite detention without trial).

I don’t repent of my generally conservative/libertarian-ish political ideals. I’m no longer convinced of even the potential adequacy of private charity to replace governmental welfare programs, so I’m not really a true libertarian anymore. And I tend to think that our problem may be less the size of our government and more the corruption and cronyism within it. But I still generally believe that a lean, well-run government is better.

I don’t repent of criticizing President Obama for his indiscriminate use of drone strikes in nations we are not at war with. Predator drone strike he authorized have killed over 1,500 civilians, over 170 children.

And I don’t plan to stop challenging the narrative that he is some kind of compassionate, righteous leader who “cares” about children and strives for peace. He has as much or more blood on his hands than President Bush, and I do not intend to let that go unspoken.

I don’t repent of sharing community with people whose beliefs don’t line up perfectly with mine, either politically or spiritually. If I stopped, how would I ever learn?

I don’t repent of the churches I’ve been a part of, where I’ve had friendships (we call them “church family”) with both the very young and the very old, and everyone in between.

(One dear lady in our church remembers teaching elementary school in 1934. She told me a story from then: when Bonnie and Clyde were killed, the police brought the wreck of their car around so the children could see it. Something that seemed like ancient history to me was an adult memory to her. Where else would I find that?).

I don’t repent of criticizing evangelicalism from the inside. That’s where I am. I’m not an ex-evangelical, a former evangelical, or a recovering evangelical. I am an evangelical Christian with deep concerns that weigh heavily on my conscience and my heart. And I will speak them from within.