A few days ago Erin
put up a great post about "Things I Learned From Church (That Didn’t Prove True And What I Am Learning Lately)" It was part of a new synchroblog stared by Glenn Hager
. As he describes the purpose of this blog - "I am tackling this issue not because I have an axe to grind with church as we know it, not because I am bitter, and not because I think people who are into attending and supporting conventional churches are inferior. Rather, it is to help me to understand my own thinking..." I was intrigued by the concept and have appreciated some of the posts the participants have put up so far. Then after reading Scot McKnight's
post on certainty and faith yesterday I was reminded of an experience in my church background that I have since learned to regret.
I grew up in a traditional, conservative, Texas dispensational church (I'm sure they would merely call themselves a biblical church, but then again so would just about any church...). Most of my experiences there occurred in the youth group. But this was no games and cool music youth group. It was a sit and listen to hour long sermons, read lots of books, attend seminars, and make fun of those not like us type group. Being a Christian meant one crammed oneself with knowledge about the Bible (oh, and avoided sex at all costs as the youth pastor frequently reminded us by recounting his sinful youthful sexual exploits...). We had to know exactly how to argue people into the faith and how to show them that whatever they believed (be they atheist, pagan, catholic, or baptist) was completely wrong (implying we were completely right). I loved it. As an intellectual nerd who prided herself of getting good grades, this was a religion I could relate to. My "faith" was all about facts and knowledge. So while most of the youth group dreaded attending (their parents made them), I and my small group of friends loved being the know-it-all star Christians.
At one point when I was in high school (here comes the Tom Cruise part), the youth pastor choose a new motto for the group. Taken from the popular movie A Few Good Men (back when Tom Cruise still had a career and wasn't the Hollywood freak of the week), our rallying cry became - "it doesn't matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove!" We were treated to sermons about certainty and correct hermeneutics. We were told that if we do not have 100% certainty about our faith then we are not real Christians. Forget saying a prayer and accepting Jesus into one's heart, this was the gospel of intellectual works. Knowledge, evidence, and proof were what got one into heaven when we died (the whole point of Christianity of course). Belief and faith meant nothing, all that mattered was proof.
When I mentioned the new motto to a friend at school, he looked at me quizzically and asked me if such a stance undermined the whole idea of faith in the first place. I'm sure I parroted something about rationalism and absolute truth back at him at that point, but over the years since then I have come to see that he had a better conception of true faith than I did. I was Thomas demanding proof and not accepting that "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." I cared more about CSI style investigations and converting people to creationism than I did about actually serving others or following Christ.
Now as the idea of certainty or absolute knowledge seems so utterly impossible I laugh at my arrogance in assuming I could ever grasp them. But it was a long journey to move to that point. My grip on certainty held me tighter than my grip on Christianity itself. I couldn't tell if I was more afraid to give up my philosophical system (which defined my religion) than I was to question my faith itself. Or perhaps, I just assumed that they were one in the same. That if I gave up trusting in certainty and empirical proof, I would no longer be a real Christian since I would then have doubts and incomplete knowledge. So the process of letting go was exceeding difficult, but I had to let go in order to discover faith. To discover the mystery and the trust that it takes to believe. To walk by faith not sight.
Now I am sure there are those that will mock me for not being a rationalist. Others who don't see room for doubt and faith in the Christian faith. Perhaps their experiences work for them. This is just my experience of what I learned from church that didn't prove true.
Labels: Church, Emerging Church, Personal, Theology