Dec 17, 2019 Third Week of Advent – Day 17 of the Advent Alphabet
Is it possible to have faith, and at the same time have questions, and even doubts about what we have been taught about God, and Jesus? I have a friend who makes the distinction between having faith in God, and believing everything that has been put forward as part of our religious tradition.
I hope some of my questions and opinions about our religious tradition encourage your own thinking, and questioning.
The Jesus movement, as it evolved first into the early church, and then over time, to the multiplicity of churches and sects and denominations, has collected a big “box” full of ideas about God, and Jesus, and our relationship with God. Different groups keep their own special containers of ideas that make them distinct from others within the Christian family. There have been terrible feuds over the centuries about what should, and should not be in the “box”.
Many denominations, including the United Church of Canada, have developed creeds, or statements of belief. (The word creed comes from the latin word “credo” which means “I believe”.) Often we use creeds not so much to teach people about what we believe, but to say, “If you agree with these statements, you can be one of us”. I remember that when I attended confirmation classes as a young adult, at each session the minister “explained” a section of the Apostles Creed. (Not be confused with Apollo Creed, who got in the ring with Rocky in several of those movies.)
Creeds have been a kind of “entrance examination” that we use before welcoming someone into the church. Before we baptize an infant, we ask the parents a set of questions- that contain some pretty abstract and complex ideas- and they are basically expected to say “Yes, I believe that”, if they want to have their child baptized.
There are good reasons for asking those questions- we want to make sure that people know what we stand for, before they agree to join us. But there are also problems with the “faith in a box” approach. It doesn’t encourage independent thinking. We often ask our newest members to agree to things that the average person in the pew couldn’t explain. It also perpetuates what I call the “faith as a noun” problem.
Asking people to say yes to our package of ideas has led to thinking about faith as something we “have”. To “have faith” is often thought of as accepting what is in the box. (The other side of this would be that if you question or doubt anything in the idea box, you obviously don’t “have” faith.)
Faith should be a verb rather than a noun, action rather than static object. Faith is praying, loving, risking, trusting, hoping, thinking, doubting, doing, building, helping, singing, living. It is what we do, not what we have. We can do these things in the company of people who may keep different ideas than ours in their box. We can do all of these things, and be active faithful people, even when we are not sure anymore if we agree with, or understand everything in our own box.
The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, pastor at the United Church in Harrow, Ontario. Each day in Advent, a different letter of the English Alphabet will be a jumping off place for a reflection. These reflections will be sent out via email to those who have asked to be on the mailing list, and will also be posted to Rev. Darrow’s Facebook page.