Looking through my papers awhile back, I discovered a small file folder. It was from my Pastor’s Class. It was when I was just a kid, everyone in my grade spent a few weeks in a class where the pastor explained our denomination, our beliefs, and best of all – we got to eat Mazzio’s pizza once a week for the month the class lasted.
One of the things she explained to me was the concept of a creed, a written belief system. We were given a blank page and encouraged to read the bible and write down what we believed. She told me that the best creeds were always something very personal.
Later, I had fall into another denomination. This one had it’s creed already written – a “message” where it explained a concept and backed it up with Bible verses. There was this unspoken rule: “if you want to be one of us, you must believe as we believe.” So I tried my best to follow the message. After all, people older and wiser than me obeyed it unquestionably, how could they be wrong? In all my time in that denomination – I knew that the message existed, but it was never explained to me. It was never personal to me.
As it turns out, parts of the message seemed to be all wrong. We had questions that the message couldn’t answer. So we quit denominations altogether. It was a breath of fresh air to be the one who got to decide what I wanted to believe and who knew why I happened to believe it. I now know that not everything biblical is good, and not everything good is in the Bible. I think I can say that after seeing what sort of damage had done being required to believe something that I didn’t believe in and quite possibly wasn’t meant to believe at all.
So a few weeks ago, a customer was telling me about her church and she invited me to attend. I told her that I had issues with most churches in the area and that I wasn’t quite ready to give it a try, but thanks for the offer. It was when she said the denomination of her church that my heart sank. It was the one that obeyed the message. Not only that, but the internet indicated that they had been preaching a sermon series on the contents of the message. They were preaching what they believed about the Bible based on what they say the Bible says.
Now I don’t know what my original creed would have said, but I think as I’ve matured, my beliefs have changed. Some of it from seeing how people act based on their beliefs can make them unreasonable, judgmental, and unforgiving to those who aren’t like them and don’t believe as they do. I don’t want to be like that. We rarely think about it the other way around: about what sort of person we want to be and what we will need to believe in order to become that sort of person.
I know that I can’t obey the message because it isn’t a personal belief system to me – it’s not something that speaks who what I believe – and to be honest, much of it doesn’t seem to apply at the moment. What I do believe is just so different from the message that I find myself asking if it’s even worth trying churches because so few tolerate differences. You don’t really see Sunday School classes where a Unitarian and trinitarian can engage in a discussion without calling each other a heretic. Where arminians and Calvinists sit at the table with people who have no clue what that means and not try to convert everyone else to their own way of thinking. Unity becomes about being the same, not about accepting diversity. It can take a lot out of you to hold to different ideas in a church where everyone else is on the same page and constantly trying to turn you from the error of your ways.
So here I am looking at a blank piece of paper, thinking about my personal creed and I have no idea where to begin. I’ve seen many of the ancient ones – the Apostles and the Nicene and the Athanasian Creed – I’ve seen some of the new ones, the message, various belief statements or visions … but none of them speak to me. The truth is, after so many mixed messages, I’m not sure what to believe anymore. I can’t help but think how complicated we’ve made it all.
Paul once wrote to a struggling church – this is what he said:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” – 1 Cor. 15:3-11
It would seem then, that which is most central to Christianity is Christ, his life, his teachings, and his death and Resurrection. But when it comes to the -isms and -tions of Christianity … it’s a lot of difficult concepts. Far much more confusing that it needs to be or was for the early church. It’s the secondary teachings that seem to be most problematic; particularly when what you consider to be less important that Christ is, to another, equally important as Christ. When something is equally important as Christ, questioning how important it is means you’re also questioning the importance of Christ; and quite possibly denying the importance of Christ when you deny the importance of the thing that is equally as important as Christ. That’s where I feel trapped by these non-personal creeds and why I think churches often fail to accept differences. By believing something different, we are in essence denying a founding principle of their common beliefs. We can go to those other churches that believe (wrongly) as we do because we have no place among them unless we believe (rightly) as they do. I don’t know what I do believe, but beliefs shouldn’t be so complicated. They should help you to become a better person, challenge you to stop a few bad habits, help you help others and not harm others in the process.