Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I Want to be a Fundamentalist –-

My son graduates from high school this weekend, and we attended a baccalaureate service this past weekend. It was held in one of the two largest megachurches in our county.

What a beautiful building! It was like being in a hotel. Dark wood paneling, carpeting, chandeliers, the whole nine yards. The main sanctuary was large enough by my estimate to hold well over a thousand people. It had a hard-wood floor large enough for two full-size basketball courts side by side with plenty to spare, populated by comfortable stackable chairs. The choir seats were generous in number, the lighting and sound system were professional and well run. Wife of Bath pointed out that this wasn’t even intended to be the main building. It was an auditorium, with the main building with permanent seats yet to be built.

There were racks of literature out, and everything about this church radiated confidence. There was a small bookstore featuring study materials for a wide range of biblical studies.

The students who spoke were wonderful, talking about the results of giving their lives to Christ in hopes he would make more of them than they could. Their faith was strong, their testimonies resolute, and their countenances shining with the light of the Lord.

I felt instantly at home. These people expressed themselves the way I think and am sometimes able to express. They didn’t believe, they knew as a result of many personal experiments with faith and with the Word. They just radiated joy and faith. It was so, so reminiscent of the best of the LDS people.

I picked up a statement of faith from a brochure rack, and I was immediately hit by the following:

“We believe that the Bible as originally written was verbally and plenary inspired, is the product of spirit-controlled men and therefore, is truth without any mixture of error. We believe the Bible to be the center of true Christian unity and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions shall be tried.”

And I found myself struck out on the first pitch.

Even as true believing as I ever was in the LDS church, I was aware of inconsistencies in the bible. I don’t think it’s possible to claim the bible as being free from error, when even the resurrection stories between the four gospels don’t match. Jesus’ own words are not consistently rendered between the gospels. Does that mean the bible is without worth? Absolutely not! But I don’t see how it’s possible to claim the bible is free from error and word-for-word inspired, when its issues are obvious. I think the general themes are obvious, but we can’t allow ourselves to get hung up on the literal correctness of individual sentences taken out of context.

The thing I have really lost in my journey out of the mainstream of the LDS church is that sense of confidence in the absolute correctness of what we have. For so long my testimony was built on that confidence that God had one plan and one church, and I was a part of it. There was a sense of plain truth there that inspired me and those around me with a sense of mission, much like the students at the baccalaureate, and I’m sure much like the members of the church I attended this past weekend. I loved that sense of surety, of building the Kingdom of God on the earth.

I don’t have that any more, and I want it back.

My faith in God and in the redeeming mission of Jesus Christ is as strong as it has ever been. I can stand up and testify about giving my life to Christ, about Him as the way, the truth, and the life, and I can do that with confidence. Much beyond that, and I’m in trouble. The details often seem shrouded in mystery these days. Which passages of the bible really reflect what Jesus said, and which ones reflect the best efforts of oral tradition to preserve them until they could be written down? Which things are timeless, and which things are cultural? Was Jesus really trying to start a single church, or was he transmitting religious, moral, and ethical values that could be incarnated in many different ways?

I want to be a confident fundamentalist again, to bear testimony of a single doctrinal statement, of a single people, of a certain way of building the Kingdom of God on earth. I want to be rock solid sure about what God wants me to do. I want to be free from doubt about the details.

And I just can’t do it . . .

6 comments:

Todd said...

Yes, CF. When I was leaving Mormondom, this was the biggest hurdle for me. Religions like Mormonism provide for adherenct certainty, a knowledge of what this is all for and where it is leading. Part of the disenchantment for me was losing that certainty. And it was mighty painful and took literally years for me to work out. I kept returning to church, hoping it had changed and I could go back. But there is no going back. I think it's part of the "stages of faith" people at NOM are always talking about, and some people are able to explode that earlier level and become comfortable in the new. But I have found personally that that new kind of faith is only possible in a faith community that accepts you as an uncertain seeker. I'm 75% sure I'm going to join the episcopal congregation I've been attending the past few months, but I want to give it a bit more time. I'm really really afraid of getting myself into another tight religion.

ChristFollower said...

This is an incredibly insightful comment. My doctrinal beliefs are a real mess right now, as you can tell from the NOM site. It's hard to tell where I'll end up, and I'm leery of joining another church that I'll either "outgrow" in a couple of months or that will expel me for not passing the doctrinal tests. One attractive thing about the Episcopal church for me is that the people around me pitch it as a worship community first and a belief system much further down the list. There seems to be an expectation that people drift doctrinally as they pass through stages of life and become more educated. It seems like a safe place where I can work this out without being grilled or becoming a project.

Todd said...

yes, that's been my impression among the episcopals as well. But unlike you, I don't really have any belief in God or the divinity of Jesus anymore; but I like the ethical searching that occurs in some Christian contexts. Last sunday at Pentacost, the congregation did a "reaffirmation of baptismal" covenants which went down the creed (I'm not sure which one). That kind of avowal made me extremely uncomfortable and I would never be able to do it, because i just don't believe it. I've been reading Bishop Spong's new book, Sins of Scripture, for my morning spiritual study, and I love that kind of episcopalian; and I love the oldness and tradition of the Christian rituals. But I"m not willing to pledge belief in any way, so I think I may just stick to my buddhist practice for the time being.

ChristFollower said...

FWIW Episcopalians are almost non-denominational at times. I've been aware of pagans who attended Episcopal churches, etc.. I was reading an article on Gene Robinson, the infamous "gay bishop", and when he was in college in the 60s his chaplain suggested he just not say parts of the creed he felt uncomfortable with. By and large the creeds are to affirm what the group believes, rather than what the individual is supposed to believe.

I believe the creed they usually recite at baptisms is the Apostles Creed. The usual one they use is the Nicene Creed.

If you haven't done this it might be worth sitting down with the rector of the congregation and seeing what he/she thinks. I asked the rector of the church we attend sometimes if they would be willing to accept us basically half-time, and there was no problem with that. He didn't see how we could keep up a "dual life" without our heads exploding eventually, but the church is happy to have us when we come.

I finished "The Heart of Christianity" by Marcus Borg a few weeks ago, and he mentions it would be hard for him to be an Episcopalian without his Buddhist practices and perspective. He's probably more of a deist than a traditional Christian. I mention that just to suggest what a large tent the Episcopal church can be. And you live in San Francisco, which is bound to be even wider. :-)

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