This is part of a series in which I’m reposting old blog posts to explore my current thinking on the ‘big stuff’. They were first posted in 2011. I’m aiming to write a reflection after each topic commenting on any evolutions since this point in history.
I’ve been wondering over the past couple of days about where this journey into my beliefs would lead next after the burst of activity of earlier this week. The other night, I was out at a local pub with a group of friends who are involved to different degrees in a community focused project called Parklife, based here in Exeter. One of the things we were talking about was belief itself…so I thought that this might make an interesting area of exploration itself.
When I talk about belief, I suppose I mean a collection of things – from what we believe, to how we believe and how that impacts our life. The conversation a few nights’ ago circled around the ‘when’ question of belief – as in when someone could actually be called a Christian or not. Is it a specific moment, when you are, as opposed to when you weren’t? Is it being 51% on board? What decided the matter?
It’s very easy to fall into a place where to be a Christian is to be completely signed up to whatever doctrine statement/creed/covenant that the church you’re part of. It might also specifically mean that you’ve been baptised into the church family. I certainly grew up in a church that valued a certain set of beliefs, which also included specific behaviours, such as abstinence from alcohol/tobacco/drugs of any kind. I know many friends who are no longer Jesus followers now because of these rules…something that still strikes me as somewhat wrong.
It could possibly even sound like you only become a Christian when you’ve got all the answers and have reasoned them through and rationalised the decision. If you’ve been following these posts you’ll know what I’m about to say. I don’t think faith or belief has anything to do with being fully persuaded. Faith is uncertainty and doubt embraced as part of the journey. The most I could say is that I’m persuaded that Jesus is worth following. The rest…well, the rest is a work in progress.
So…what if that means that we can lower the threshold of what it means to follow Jesus? What if it means that the moment we decide that there’s something in this Jesus stuff, something worth investigating further, something intriguing…what if that’s the point we actually become a Jesus follower? What if that meant that people well outside church who were exploring spirituality or were deeply attracted to Jesus but not religion are actually part of our tribe?
Would that change much? I’m not sure, but it might mean that faith becomes more about working out who Jesus is and how we live a life transformed rather than having the right doctrine in place. I think that sometime doctrine can distract…take us off into dead ends of thinking and belief that turn us into mindless bigots before we know what’s happened. We lose the central message of Jesus that comes out of the gospels time and time again – that following him is not about law. It’s about grace, about inclusion for the excluded.
What if, then, Christian community was built around values, rather than doctrine? That our major concern was not that we agreed with each other, but that we disagree with each other in a really good way when it comes to theology, modelling dialogue and love with every act. Imagine that – a place where people of all sorts of beliefs/theologies communed together, loved and served their communities and were known for that love.
Wouldn’t that be a community that enticed others into exploring the Jesus story?
Maybe another post for another day…?
In summary, I suppose that what I’m saying is that I believe here is that following Jesus is about believing that he is Lord and that you want to live your life being part of God’s mission to transform creation. Jesus in Matthew puts it this way – “you’re either for me or against me”. There’s much more to be explored, but for now, that’s my baseline.