I really want to believe it is true but where is the proof? What about the contradictions? Why does it seem like nothing changes or gets better? Is it okay to even have questions? Am I allowed to doubt?
These are all the thoughts that go through most people’s minds when it comes to believing in God. We were created to have questions and to explore. For some reason though, some people came to think that it was wrong to have questions about one’s faith. Doubt was not considered to be acceptable among certain Christian groups. If someone has doubt, it must mean that they do not believe enough or pray enough. How absolutely wrong is this way of thinking.
Through my study of Scripture, I find doubt woven throughout every major Biblical story. Doubt was found in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Ruth, Jonah, Joseph, Mary, every one of the apostles, and Paul to name a few. The chosen people of the ancient world, the Hebrews, had doubt almost all the time. Some doubt was in their individual abilities but most of it was directed toward God. Nowhere in Scripture did I see God strike anyone dead for having doubt.
I think that doubt is natural. When I worked with youth, I actually encouraged doubt. I see the benefit of doubt as being like a refining fire of our faith. Working through our doubts helps us to determine what we truly believe. This work should be done in a combination of time with trusted friends and alone. Having a spiritual guide is very beneficial. Whichever method works best for you, do not be afraid of your doubts. Do not accept anyone telling you that you lack faith if you doubt. Even some of the best known theologians throughout the ages have had doubt.
I encourage you to embrace your doubt when it comes to what you believe. I have found in my own life that when I wrestle with my doubts, I usually come out with a much stronger faith.
Why does the Church exist?
This is a question that has been asked by numerous people over an endless number of years. It is a question which challenges church leaders, worship attenders, church members, and those who do not wish affiliation with any type of church. Yet, I find this to be a very fundamental question to understanding life as a Christian who has spent a majority of his life associated with the Church. So where to begin?
I have chosen to begin with a list of what the Church is not. Before I give you this list though, I wish to explain why I capitalize the word “church” at times and at other times I do not. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that if the word is being used regarding the name of a specific congregation, you capitalize the word since it is part of the formal name. If you are using the word to reference the entire body of Christ on earth, then you capitalize the word. If you are using the word as a generic term then you do not capitalize the word. Now on with the list.
What the Church is not:
- A place to go to be “saved”
- A place for only perfect people
- A place to be “fixed”
- A place to be part of the in-crowd
- A place to be noticed
- A place at all
You may have other items to add to the list but I wish to spend some time on the last item which I have on my list. I think it is a mistake to view the Church as a building or a location. While church buildings have specific locations, this is not how I see the Church. There is a song which I learned as a younger person, “We Are the Church,” written by Richard K Avery and Donald S Marsh. In this song, Avery wrote this line of lyrics: “The church is not a building place, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” This stanza from the song is at the core of how I understand the Church.
Beginning with an understanding that the Church is a people, gives us a launching point to discuss the question of why the Church exists in the first place. This also helps us to see why it is so difficult to understand the Church and how imperfect the Church really can be at times. People are not always the easiest to understand and definitely lack full perfection. Yet, for me, this actually allows me to breathe a sigh of relief. I can cross perfection off my list of requirements if I am going to be associated with the Church. I also have the freedom to experience the Church in a multitude of ways.
Now that I have laid out for you what the Church is not, we can move on to examine what the Church truly might be and what is its purpose. I invite you to join me on this exploration. In my next post I will be giving my definition of the Church. I would also like to hear your thoughts and opinions on this subject so please leave comments and questions as we journey this path together. Hint: the thought of a journey together will come into view again.
Two recent events has caused me to reflect upon the importance of learning from individuals who are members of faith communities which are different from my own. Unfortunately, both events share the common thread of hatred and misunderstanding.
The first event occurred almost eight thousand miles away in Christchurch, New Zealand. I am referring to the deadly shootings which took place at two mosques over a week ago. We may never understand what led the man to carry out such an act of hatred. What we do know is that lives were forever changed on that day as we have seen it happen in so many other situations. We also know that one piece of motivation for the shooter was the faith which individuals in those mosques practice.
The second event occurred on my Facebook page. Facebook is good at reminding us about various posts, events, and relationships which have shown up on our timeline. This week Facebook reminded me that on March 26, 2017, I joined others at the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids to show support for my Muslim friends and those throughout our nation. There was fear in their lives due to the announcement of possible deportation of certain individuals who had immigrated from other countries. Words of hatred were being spoken throughout our nation because of fear. We gathered on that day to hear from speakers from a variety of faith traditions. We then encircled the Mother Mosque and sang together to show our solidarity in support of those who practice the faith of Islam.
Until moving to Cedar Rapids, I had little understanding regarding the Islamic faith. I had always been open to learning about other Christian faith communities. However, I had never really had an opportunity to meet and have discussion with a Muslim. After moving to Cedar Rapids, I became part of a congregation which was open to learning and understanding people who were different from themselves. The pastor had met and heard one of the Imams from one of two mosques in our community. She invited him to come and speak on two Sundays to our adult class. I was amazed how much I learned. Then after becoming a member of the staff at the church, I had an opportunity to work alongside the Imam and some of his youth. We began a relationship which was enriching for myself and for the youth whom I was leading. We shared in a variety of service projects and enjoyed some educational opportunities.
These thoughts came rushing back into my mind over the last weeks due to the two events which I mentioned earlier. This has reminded me how important it is for us to take advantage of every learning opportunity we may be given with regard to understanding different faith traditions. Whether that learning takes place within our own faith tradition or when we learn from other faith traditions. This is vitally important because fear comes from the unknown and fear can lead us to do acts of hatred on different levels. By learning from one another, the unknown is taken away along with misinformation. We come to see each other as humans and not as “them.” When fear is replaced by knowledge and relationship, our behaviors show our unity and not our separation.
There exist two words which are used a lot in normal conversations – faith and religion. Numerous people think these words are synonymous. Yet that could not be farther from the truth. Let’s take a couple of minutes to explore this misconception
We will begin with the textbook definitions of each of these words:
- confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
- belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
- belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
- belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
- a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
- the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
- the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one’s promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
(Definitions from dictionary.com)
- a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
- a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
- the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices:a world council of religions.
- the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.:to enter religion.
- the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
- something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience:to make a religion of fighting prejudice.
(Definitions from dictionary.com)
As can plainly be seen by looking at the definitions, the words are not synonymous. They do have a relationship to each other but when used they must be understood to be different. This is exactly why I think we have so many issues in dialogue about organized religion. I also find this as the source of those who claim to be spiritual but do not wish to be associated with organized religion.
The keywords found in the definitions above are “belief” and “practice.” My understanding of faith is “this is what one believes.” Religion is “how one practices what is believed.” Taking this understanding a step further leads to the concept that a group of individuals may unite around practices and therefore have religion but those practices do not always indicate each person’s faith. Another way of putting this might be that you can have religion without faith and you can have faith without religion.