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.