Saturday, May 15, 2004

Right Beliefs?

Warning! Potential heresy to follow!

You have been warned. Proceed at your own risk.

I don't know about you, but I sure get tired of debating sometimes. It's as if to some people the most important thing about being a "Christian" is holding the "right beliefs." Is it?

In my tradition, we baptize babies. Obviously, they do not have the intellectual ability to know what is going on. They cannot possibly hold the "right beliefs." But we baptize them anyway. Just as a baby does not know that he or she needs physical nourishment when they are hungry (you can give them sugar water to stop the crying; not recommended, but it works...forgive me my children), so they do not need to understand their need for spiritual nourishment in order for the Church to offer it to them.

When a young child comes to the communion rail, and shows an interest in receiving communion, I ask the parents if I might offer it. Do they need to understand what the Holy Eucharist is before receiving? Do they need to know the difference between transubstantiation and memorialism? I think not. There is something special going on here, that mom and dad seem to think is very important, and they want to be included. In most places I've served, that's enough.

I'm not advocating the approach of "anything goes." As we seek God's will, we use the tools that we have received. We look to scripture, we listen to the Church, both past and present, and we listen for God in the stillness of our prayer. Most times, we will get some inkling of what it is God would have us do, a blurry glimmer of what might be best.

More and more, I encounter folks who seem to know exactly what God's will is on a number of topics. When they makes such proclamations of "absolute truth," I am astounded, and often do not know how to respond.

We are limited, finite beings. How can we expect such beings to ever be able to discern absolute truth? We can never be objective enough. Our perception of reality is always one step removed from reality itself. Our frame of reference, our memories, color so much of our perception.

I don't want to spend my life navel gazing, however. For some bizarre reason, I've always been preoccupied by ultimate things (some would call it "God stuff" I suppose). I came to the conclusion I'll never figure it all out some years ago. It was time to get on with living life, instead of just observing. So I grabbed the best set of assumptions I could find (which in my case happens to be the Nicene Creed), and ran with them. The Creed gives me a foundation on which to stand so that I can press on the Kingdom.

Assumptions? That's right. I didn't stutter. They are still ideas trapped in words, and can never capture the reality they attempt to express, the reality some of us refer to as God. In some ways, this set of assumptions is like a deck of cards. I think it is healthy to pick one up and carefully examine it once in awhile. But if it is too near the base, I have to be very careful, or the whole house will fall, and I'll be back to navel gazing. Life is too short for that.

I don't think our relationship with God has much to do with "right beliefs" in the end. I think the fruit of a healthy relationship with God is revealed in "right actions". Of course the actions need to be informed by the beliefs, and the tools we use to discern those beliefs; but the tools cannot be allowed to supplant that which they serve.

Thank God we are more than a brain. Thank God we are free to set aside the disputes of "what is fit and what is not," and follow our hearts.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
- The Book of Common Prayer, p. 324 (also found in Matthew 22:37-40. Along with some other Anglicans, I love the bible because there is so much Prayer Book in it!).
That pretty much sums it up, I would say. Our relationship with God, and one another is rooted in love, which in the above quotation is a verb. Being a Christian is primarily about actions, about bearing fruit with acts of love, not holding the "right beliefs."

As I've mentioned before, I assume that when I get to heaven (whatever "heaven" turns out to be), God is going to say, "Jake, you got it all wrong, but I sure am glad you're here!"

Either that or I'll be slowly browning over the flames. In which case the fact that I never believed in the existence of the flames will most likely not hinder the browning process.

J.

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