Monday, September 28, 2009

Belief in....2

On the same page (180) of The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, the author illustrates his earlier point by stating "In Christian speech a witness is not a reporter. The mother who talks to her child of Christ does not simply pass on what she has heard, she speaks about what she knows, the Word of Life."

This statement has a myriad of implications for faith and for faith communities. We can only get one another to this point if we move beyond the expectation of learning objective facts of Scripture, and into the pursuit of knowing God; of experiencing and seeing His working in the world. If the church is losing members, it isn't because we can't teach facts, it isn't because we can't create ministry opportunities, it isn't because people can't connect with others. It is because we do not encourage and expect one another to know God past the objective events of history.

I am not talking about emotional stories in sermons, or even well-crafted worship services that move us to worship God or bring us into His presence. Those are fine as far as they go, but they are not sufficient. The church has done these things for two thousand years and yet we continue to lose converts and our own children. We must be a people that knows God and knows how to witness to what we have seen and heard to those we seek to teach.

How do parents teach their children about God, about faith, about what they know? How do preachers and teachers reveal the essence of our faith to their hearers? Beyond this last question, how do we select those we allow to teach those in our faith communities, including our children? What do we want them taught? What expectations do we set for our teachers and preachers collectively, and for our mentors personally? It is more important we select those who know God rather than those who simply volunteer to teach facts.

Passion is important, but it must be shaped by maturity and molded by having experienced God. Our teachers must be those who have a personal rather than institutional need to tell the Story. Their need arising as a "well of living water" from within them rather than a wanting to teach, wanting to lead, wanting to be selected. As communities of faith, we owe it to one another to insist on teaching and preaching that reveals God from a life of experience - teaching that instructs in the Life of God rather than simple textual parsing or memorizing of historical facts.

Belief in....

Am reading "The Spirit of Early Christian Thought" by Wilken. This is a very enjoyable read that seeks to describe the development of Christian dogmatic belief. There are two valuable passages on page 180. This post refers to the first, which reads ""It is...the things believed, not the act of believing them, which is peculiar to religion...." (quoting John Henry Newman).

Faith isn't simply believing that something happened; that someone lived. Rather faith is believing the precepts, the implications, the values of the thing believed in. That last word is critical in understanding faith. We don't simply believe Jesus lived; we believe in the life He lived, the message he brought. We don't simply believe that we have memorized the message He brought - we actually believe it, we own it, it transforms us, it becomes us.

In this way, the Christian faith is not a thing to be learned from a distance, but a way of life to be entered. Faith isn't the recitation of a creed (although creeds can be helpful), but is the embodiment of that creed and the message of the things accepted in the creed. This is why we can say "faith without works is dead," or again, need reminding that the fruit of the Spirit is love. If we say we believe and yet don't live as Jesus lived, there is real question concerning the reality - the validity - of our faith. If we do not enter the faith life with our eyes, our hearts, our minds looking toward identity with God, we enter something less than that to which we are called.

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