Sunday, September 30, 2012

Damaging dogmas?

There is a thought-provoking and reassuring piece in Third Way this month.

Charles Foster writes about the Christian duty to abandon beliefs once they are proven to be wrong. He says that our failure to do this leads to disasters - a case in point, the way 'creationism has inoculated generations against Christianity'. As Christians, we should be searching for truth as yet unknown, not defending a belief or a cause already accepted.

He also argues that centuries of cultural debris layered on top of our idea of Jesus has left a stubborn crust over him. A crust we churchgoers cling to more firmly than the man himself because it is the stuff of our comfortable institutions and familiar habits. A crust that requires pain, time and discipline to pick away - but that must be picked away, nonetheless.

With Foster, I am unnerved by the Christians I meet who see certainty everywhere.

Recently, I made the decision to resign membership from the church I was attending. It seems unrelated to the above, and in many ways it is. There were lots of particular circumstances, accumulating over several years, that led me to my decision.

But part of the reason was a growing sense of unease about the way the church institution (in general, more than at mine specifically) has become so obsessed with its own survival that it allows itself to be blind to what is actually happening. It seeks to attract more people, not fully engaging with why they are all leaving in the first place. It tries to repackage and rebrand, without asking if there is something irrevocably 'rotten in the state of Denmark'. What if our church structures and Sunday services are, in fact, completely cluttered, wrong and in need of overhaul? Can we face that question head-on without falling apart? Well, we need to!

Christian community and faith in Christ are essential to my identity as a believer. I cannot live out my faith outside of relationship with others. So a housegroup and involvement in some church-connected activity will remain part of my life, even if I really don't feel like it!

As for paid ministers and meetings and doctrines and evangelistic schemes and routine ways of worshiping and resources poured into shrinking systems and methods of controlling how people 'do' faith and weighty clergy recruitment procedures? I'm really not sure. All these things strike me as overly complex and as little more than distraction from the radical ways of life to which Jesus calls me.

Is church as I have known it just a habit I cling to because it offers a safer net than the simple mystery of Jesus? Maybe. And right now, I feel as if letting it go is the bit of crust picking I need to do. It is painful. But I trust very deeply that the faith underneath, and the heavenly persons that faith revolves around, are tough enough to survive the process. And if they aren't, well, I guess Charles Foster would say that is reason enough to have let them go.

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