12 October 2008

what i believe

as a member of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), i subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity, which is a complicated way of saying that what i believe about the Bible and Christianity is given in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. i will acknowledge that a lot of people see the words of the Canons of Dort as excluding people from faith instead of words of reassurance for people fearful over their own faith and fearful over those who do not seem to have the right faith. and i would say that question 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism can't be understand (or agreed to) without understanding it in the context of the time it was written. and reading the Belgic Confession can be about as exciting as reading other people's grocery lists. nonetheless, if you asked me what i believed, i would very much confirm the words written in the three forms of unity. and when it came to details not dealt with in these documents, i would show you relevant texts in the Bible, talk about principles of love and grace and holiness and truth and who God is and so on, and i would definitely consider what the CRC had said about it.

it's not that i always agree with the official positions or thoughts of the CRC, nor am i always happy with how things are in the local churches or the church at large. and yet, it is the church (denomination) i am a part of, the church that has helped me to know and love God, who has taught me how to read the Bible and be fed by it, and who has helped me grow intellectually in what it means to believe. and even as much as i have learned and can learn, i am no more perfect than my church, and it is wise for me not to assume that i am capable of knowing the absolute correct biblical understanding of an issue. and so i choose to agree with the position(s) of those that i trust and whom i have seen have tried to be faithful in listening to God and reading His Word. perhaps it is foolish for me to hold onto beliefs/positions that i have not spent hours and months [intellectually] contemplating, but i see it as more foolish to spend days and months (and years) arguing over confusing and difficult positions. i'd rather spend the time living out my faith according to that which is obviously commanded of us in the Bible.

and in that last statement, you can see that as much as i place myself alongside the beliefs of the CRC, the expression of what i believe and what i stress, fits in with the faith of the emergent church, as described in this article on emergent faith found in Christianity Today (online). but as the emerging faith is more of a way of doing things than statements of doctrine, i have no problem pointing out that i find intellectually and biblically problematic some of the emergent church's ways of doing faith along with certain things that are believed and emphasized.

you could describe the beliefs of the CRC as providing the meat and potatoes of what i believe and the emerging faith as being more the flavour or display of the food. but what i believe becomes problematic - and that's not simply because i know a lot of people who are vegetarians or who like their meat and potatoes with no flavour. what/how i believe sometimes comes into conflict - the CRC is not all that impressed with the flakiness of the emergent church flavour and the emergent church would consider the CRC too rational and ungracious.

and then when we add culture, what i believe becomes even more problematic. in a place where everything is tolerated, the strict guidelines of the CRC do not seem tolerant - or able to speak to a world that is different. and my willingness to trust the contemplation of others and not put the effort into determining the right answer for myself is considered immature in a culture where everyone has formulated an opinion on everything (and appears to enjoy arguing over it).

to give an example, take the question of homosexuality. the CRC argues that homosexual actions are sin. the culture here would consider that position intolerant and offensive. the emergent church is much more accepting of homosexual practice, arguing that churches' lack of grace has hindered the gospel. the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) has accepted homosexuality to the extent that their official position (intentionally?) reflects no tension that homosexual actions can be sin.

so what do i do? what do i believe? i choose to take the position of the CRC - that homosexual actions are sin. but even as much as i believe that this position affirms God's desire for the best for His people, i am not going to emphasize that as such a position would be considered ungracious and unloving. and emphasizing homosexual action as a sin would create confusion by going against the emphasis of the local church here, who, even if imperfect, is trying to share the gospel in a way that it can be heard and understood. the gospel and my beliefs do not have to be "watered down" to be shared, but i also believe that it is appropriate to focus a lot more on the things in the Bible that are mentioned thousands of time - about the church being one and about loving and showing grace - and allowing God to come to people where they are now so that God can work in them to change what needs changing so that all of us are more like Him and are more the people He designed us to be.

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