Are We Lost?
June 25, 2010

In many religions there’s a fundamental assumption that settling down in certainty of faith is a sign of maturity. At least I’ve found this to be true in my Evangelical Christian heritage. Many who are established in churches imply, to those who are not, that one must precisely know what they believe and why they believe it, and if that’s not the case there is something spiritually wrong. In short, if one does not have their faith tied down to an anchor of certainty, they are lost. They then become a target of prayer, evangelism, and definitely a target of gossip.

Anyway, the thinking used to be that when youth left home, they might also leave the church temporarily. They might wander around a bit and experiment, but when they got a little older, when they got married, perhaps, they would return. Or when they had kids, for sure, because everyone knows you have to have your faith statements together when you have kids. And in the past, yes, they would usually come back. But that no longer seems to be the case. Many are not going back. Maybe I should say we are not going back. So where are we going instead? What has happened? Have we lost our way?

***

I spent a few years researching apologetics, the practice of defending your faith. There were times when, as a young short-term missionary/evangelist, even while confidently sharing the Gospel with “the lost” and artfully weaving arguments to win them over, I had my own questions in mind. Of course, I never paid them much attention, because that would have been opening the door to deception, according to our teaching. Well, it’s not that I never expressed my concerns. I certainly drove my family, friends, and professors nuts at times with my unending questions. But my questions were always tethered to a confidence in the fundamentals of my faith. That is, of course, until I started questioning the fundamentals.

That’s when the anchor line broke and my ship set out to sea. To describe the process would take too much space here, so I’ll just say that it was in fact, a process. A gradual stretching that at some point caused my chain of certainty to lose a link, and then another, and another, and so on.

The funny thing is that there are two ways to look at this un-tethering. When someone’s faith-chain snaps, does it represent an aimless drifting that will eventually result in (spiritual) starvation and death? Or is it freedom? Those two ways of seeing it are both represented well on bumper stickers. One says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” While the other says, in the words of Tolkein, “…Not all those who wander are lost.”

For me, it’s been intentional. And for me, it is freedom. But, as another bumper sticker says, “Freedom isn’t free.” With freedom, when you have no visible boundaries, it’s hard to tell which direction you should go. You have to look hard for reference points. And you have to search for food and shelter. And, what can be the most difficult, it can get very, very lonely. You also may occasionally reach a port, where you assume you’re safe, where you might meet some like you. Some ports turn out to be wonderful places of nurturing and security, and others are downright dangerous.

Those who intentionally choose to cut their chains become exiles. Voluntary exiles. Some call us wanderers. But I think some are just innately born to explore, including areas of faith. So some call themselves explorers. Journeyers. And some are refugees, fleeing hurt and seeking hope. I call myself a pilgrim. (That’s why I’ve inked myself with the Latin label “Peregrinus.”)

There are many valid points and counter points to consider with this. For me, some quotes give me comfort in my perspective:

There are only too many men and women who think that, if they have scrupulously repeated the prescribed phrases, made the proper gestures and observed the traditional tabus, they are excused from bothering about anything else. For these people, the performance of traditional custom has become a substitute for moral effort and intelligence.” — Aldous Huxley, End and Means

In challenge to the idea that if people would only involve themselves in a solid Christian church and firm up their faith, their existential issues would resolve, Leslie Weatherhead writes:

Far more people are in distress of mind and body because they are starved of love than because their religious beliefs are in a muddle…. …Men have not found in [churches] an answer to their questions, the satisfaction of their need of fellowship, or adequate scope for their service to others. All this and much, much more they should have found in the churches, and the need for many [non-profit service] organizations would not have arisen if the churches had cared more for men and less for creed and ceremony.”

…And so, I suggest, that is why they set out as voluntary exiles in search of something more.

Perhaps the most apt one-liners come from a 19th/20th-century French writer, Andre Gide, who devoted himself to intellectual honesty. My friend Spritzophrenia brought up this brilliant Gide quote:

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

But here’s my favorite:

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

What you didn’t see on TV: Grammy for BEST BELIEFS goes to….
February 1, 2010

“First and foremost, we just want to thank Jesus…”

…Yes, I know I touch a very tender spot with this one. You just don’t mess with the creeds. People throughout the centuries suffered for these statements of faith. People today also suffer for these statements. So I know the Christian creeds are precious to millions and should not be spoken of lightly. And without the devoted guardians of doctrine, the Apostles’ Creed might sound something like this…

Some may think I’m crossing a line here, but my sermon today does not debate the value of the creeds for the Church, but it’s about the value of the creeds for me. For years, I have not been able to honestly confess all the elements of the Christian creeds, even while I was helping lead others in worship. The ability to confess all the items listed in the creeds is like your passport that grants entrance into Christendom, or a VIP badge that gets you a backstage pass to Heaven, or a line you cross that defines you as a pick for the favored team, or whatever example you want to use. But because of this, I have hidden my inability to say all the things those teens did in the video above. I subscribe to some of the thoughts but not all.

Anyway, my quarrel is not with the larger truth that the creeds attempt to protect, but it’s with the value of creeds in the first place and the criteria by which they exclude potential followers of Christ. I know my words would be weak here, so I’ve found someone much older than I, a saint on whose shoulders I stand, who bears witness for me from the grave. He passed on 30 years ago, but he captured his thoughts in writing. One of his books reads me, so let me pass on some quotes from Rev. Leslie Weatherhead, who was sort of another version of C.S. Lewis and one of the legendary English preachers of his day. These excerpts are from his book, The Christian Agnostic:

This is how a man falls in love. he could not write a creed about the loved one at the beginning. He finds someone whose life he would like to share, and, if she is willing to do so, as fellowship deepens, he comes to believe certain things about her. Then he can write his creed, and it is of far more value, and much more his own, than if it were imposed upon him by someone else at the beginning as a condition of belonging to her. In my opinion, the beginnings of the Christian life have much in common with falling in love.

I wonder what the state of the health of this country would be like if, four hundred years ago, a committee of physicians had written down thirty-nine articles and demanded that, for ever after, physicians should prescribe according to them. Yet we have [a list of specific articles which every Christian] declares that he believes….[I do not] sneer at the creeds and ancient statements of what some men used to believe. But they were written down to rebut current charges [of their time], not to impose formulae on future generations. Though not as important as loving, believing certainly matters. it matters so much that, if it has any relevance to the business of living, it must be born in the individual mind, not thrust by church authorities on others.

The Christianity of tomorrow will embrace all truth wherever it is found or however men have come to apprehend it, whether through specifically Christian teaching or through [other religions] or even in the bleak desert of apparent atheism. Many of our greatest minds pass through the latter, feeling that to deny all is nearer the truth than to be identified with those who deny all approaches to truth save their own, and in their narrowness and exclusiveness deny love which is more fundamental than anything else.

Jesus never mentioned the Virgin Birth, neither was it for centuries any part of the missionary message of the church. We still make of prime importance matters about which Jesus said nothing. How can a matter be fundamental in a religion when the founder of the religion never mentioned it? And all this goes, not for the Virgin Birth only, but for a dozen improbabilities about which not even a reverent agnosticism is allowed by the die-hard Scribes and Pharisees of today, and the sad result is that we lose from Christian discipleship some of the ablest minds of our time.

Believing theological dogmas was not Christ’s test of those who sought to be his disciples, and for another very important and fundamental fact, you cannot believe a thing because you are told to believe it.

I do not have truth imposed on me. I do not impose it on myself. Truth is self-authenticating, and when it possesses me, nothing can shake it from its enthronement until some greater truth displaces it or gives it less prominence.

[In quoting Brunner,] “Who can establish criteria to judge whether or not the Holy Ghost is really active in a human heart to which God is only just beginning to reveal himself?”

It is [unfair to] demand that to be a Christian one must “believe” this or that intellectual proposition which has put so many thoughtful and lovable people off. “Must” and “believe” are words that should never go together.

…Otherwise, we end up with something like this…

I have a hunch this is not what God had in mind. So please, believe in and hold fast to your creeds if they give you truth, but don’t exclude me from being called a follower of Jesus if I can’t.