A few posts ago, I put up what I called “The Roofless Church’s Statement of Faith“. In some ways what I wrote was an accurate account of how I would express my faith if I was forced to do so for some reason or the other. And in some ways what I said was a whole bunch of nothing. It’s just words if it doesn’t affect my life in a positive way and doesn’t edify others. And yet for as long as people have been believing things, there have been arguments over the right words to describe what they believe. Pious people who called themselves lovers of God would take sword in hand and attack the person who described their “idea of God” in a manner different than they would. Basically if someone used the “wrong” words to describe that which cannot be described, for many that would warrant death.
An excellent example was what happened with Michael Servetus, a Christian Unitarian during the time when the Reformation vibe was still going. Servetus basically was a Christian who did not agree with infant baptism or the Trinity. He believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but because he saw God as creating Jesus, he could not understand the Trinitarian viewpoint of Christ and the Holy Spirit being co-eternal with God. For this he was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death. Now here is the crazy thing. Servetus said these things at a time when many people were questioning the Catholic church and Protestants were still trying to get their stuff together. It wasn’t like he was the only one being vocal about different ideas of Christianity. The very same people who condemned Servetus, would themselves have been condemned by the Catholic church. I guess they missed the whole “do unto others” piece in the Bible so Servetus, had to die for his heresies.
Though John Calvin felt that Servetus deserved to die for his theological viewpoint, in a “moment of weakness”, Calvin expressed the hope that rather than be burned at the stake, Servetus could simply be decapitated. (How kind of him.) But being called an old softy by his superiors and colleagues, Calvin gave in and agreed with the burning to death of Servetus. It is reported that as he was being burned alive with a fire fueled by his own books, Servetus cried out, “Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have mercy on me.” Can you imagine how strong this man’s belief was to cry this out as he died? He must have had some serious framework that allowed him to apply his spiritual ideal even under those conditions. (Very Christlike I’d say). What is really crazy though is the reported response of Calvin to this man’s faith, which according to many was something to the effect of, “If he had only said ‘Jesus, the eternal Son of God’ rather than ‘the Son of the Eternal God’ there may have been hope for his soul.”
Now, I hope that in these days, even the most literal of Christians would know that that is just wrong. But I’m not sure. I think that many Christians fear that God has a standardized test that if they do not pass, they will burn in hell and some of them manage to also think that they get extra credit points for dictating other people’s relationships with God and condemning them. It’s as if they believe God says, “Well, you got most of the answers wrong, but you did condemn millions and when you add that to your 20 points that you did get correct, you get a passing grade of 70 which gets you in.” I accept the possibility that I could be wrong and that God is exactly like that, but from where I stand at this writing, I do not think it works that way. For one thing, my Bible says in Romans 6:
5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
As I read that Christians are not supposed to say in our hearts whose going to heaven or not while simultaneously believing what we choose to believe about Christ. This says nothing of what’s in Jeremiah 31 and revisited in Hebrews 8 about the day when we will no longer teach each other or say “Know the Lord” or Jesus saying, “Don’t worry about the speck in our neighbor’s eye when we have a log in our own.”
No, I don’t think that there is a test on our beliefs. That is the same mentality as living by the law, which we claim to be free from. Rather, I think that belief is like a building that one is either confined by or otherwise must continue to expand upon in order to apply new learnings to our expressions of faith. The way I put it into context for me is through John 3:16-17. As I see it, as a Christian I am called to love the world. Any belief that does not facilitate that is weak in my opinion. Now let me say that to love the world does not mean that I have to agree with everything in the world. I have friends of a variety of backgrounds who I love but do not necessarily agree with on some things. I don’t see a contradiction between this and my faith, however, because I want to love the world precisely because I love God. It landed on my heart a long time ago that in order to know God more, I must seek to love the world God loves as God loves it. And what I have found, is that as I kept this in my mind, my beliefs expanded to facilitate this. Sometimes when this happens our joys expand as well and we are able to welcome more people into our lives. And sometimes when this happens we seem to lose at first. It’s almost like what I imagine happens when a person who was once poor suddenly becomes wealthy. With the new wealth, they are able to go to places that they could not have entered into previously. They discover new liberties once hidden. At first they try to share with the friends and family they had when they came into the wealth, but they soon discover that many of their loved ones don’t feel comfortable in the person’s new and very different world.
And so what often happens is that after expanding, you go through a period of temporary loneliness. No one I know gets that more than my friend Carlton that I mentioned in my video. You can go to his link to learn more about his story. The short of it is that he is a Pentecostal Bishop whose love for all of humanity eventually became incompatible with his expression of faith that he had practiced for most of his life. In other words, his belief structure no longer served as an adequate contextual framework for him to apply his spiritual awareness and so he expanded. By doing so, many people walked away from his ministry. It was both freeing and frightening for many reasons. But I applaud him for doing it, because despite what many people say, many of us still live in the same fear that people lived in at the time of Michael Servetus. And that’s unfortunate, because, I believe that we’ve been given the keys to the kingdom, but out of fear, many of us are still hiding and worshiping in the broom closet.
As I graduate from seminary this week and prepare for whatever ministry that is coming my way, I am praying that with the help of the Holy Spirit, I will continue to expand until I find that Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus is answered in my own being. I know that that cannot happen if I confine my relationship with God to the limits of my own understanding and articulated belief. And yet I thank God for the foundation of belief. For it is through that invisible framework that I am able to reach toward that which is beyond belief–the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. The love that includes all those we don’t understand.
Ephesians 3:14-21 – Prayer for the Readers
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.