Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Faith keeps on seeking and asking

June 11 is "Trinity Sunday", the first day after Pentecost when the Christian church traditionally celebrates the doctrine of God as "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Or to use less patriarchal language,(and in my opinion better descriptive language), celebrates the doctrine of 3 in 1 as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Doctrine is a word that implies stuffiness and rigidity to most of us. It feels like a matter of "right belief", if you don't say yes to these particular statements, you are out. Doctrine, understood this way, doesn't make sense in a post-Christendom world. It doesn't make sense or feel relevant to millenials or their parents who experience the world and faith in shifting shades of grey. (Can I still use that phrase or has it's meaning been changed by cultural relevance?) It seems to me that faith relevant to today's world has to be much more about right action and loving others than it is about believing exactly the "right" doctrines.

In his (lengthy but very good) blog, Andrew Prior takes on the doctrine of the Trinity, reminding us that these scriptures for June 11 significantly predate any doctrine. (You can read it by clicking the link below.) The idea of only one God was hugely important to Jesus and the disciples.  So...what do we do with the idea that in today's scripture, Matt. 28:16-20, the disciples are worshiping Jesus? I won't rehash Prior's discussion on this, except to point out one thing. Prior draws attention to verse 17; "When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted." These are the disciples, the ones who acknowledge the resurrection and have stuck with Jesus. Prior points out that even among the faithful, worship and doubt co-exist, and they coexist well.


This idea that doubt and faith work well together is a great corrective to 'stuffy ideas of doctrine.' Prior suggests that a more helpful understanding of doctrine is to think of it as guide rails along the path to a mountain viewpoint. They will lead you safely to a particular great view, but they are porous boundaries that also also allow you to go off the trail to discover new places from which to observe and understand...and yes, perhaps fall. This idea of doctrine as guidelines, but not the only way to truth allows for the diversity, questioning, and practical engagement that, I think, is coming to characterize a church and faith that is relevant and vital today.

Here is a quote from Daniel Migliore's book; "Faith Seeking Understanding" that encourages the believer to embrace their doubts and keep asking questions.

Christian faith is at bottom trust in and obedience to the free and gracious God made known in Jesus Christ. Christian theology is this same faith in the mode of asking questions and struggling to find at least provisional answers to these questions. Authentic faith is no sedative for world-weary souls, no satchel full of ready answers to the deepest questions of life. Instead, faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ sets an inquiry in motion, fights the inclination to accept things as there are, and continually calls in question unexamined assumptions about God, our world, and ourselves. Consequently, Christian faith has nothing in common with indifference to the search for truth, or fear of it, or the arrogant claim to possess it fully. True faith must be distinguished from fideism. Fideism says there comes a point where we must stop asking questions and must simply believe; faith keeps on seeking and asking.

On June 11, we will be having a baptism and membership service. I love that this passage puts the disciples on a mountaintop with Jesus where faith and doubt are together. The commitments made on this day are a promise to remain engaged with questions of church, faith, and the ongoing challenge of being a disciple in an ever changing world.

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