Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Christian Work in Progress

I am a Christian. Despite the current hip dislike of using the word Christian and the preference for phrases like "Jesus-follower," I am just fine with "Christian."

"Christian" is not a word that describes my upbringing or ethnicity or country of origin or culture. I wasn't born into it.

"Christian" suggests the union of two things about me. "Christian" first represents a collection of propositions that I believe to be real and true; so to say that I am a Christian is to say that I sign on to these basic propositions. Second, to to say that I am a Christian speaks of a personal engagement with and commitment to the One whom I believe to be represented by those notions. So, one could say that I believe that certain things are true about God and the universe and human beings and creation and so forth, but also that I seek to be personally committed to this personal God.

Life, even life including this personal commitment, is a long road, sometimes bumpy, and always a little messy. It is indeed a process, this being a Christian in this real and messy world.

When I was a pastor I was supposed to be some sort of expert on things Christian and theological. I find myself now - post-pastorate - not as the "professional" Christian but just me as a person who is a Christian. And it is challenging to try to learn again what being a Christian is in the normal every day sense.

Back when I was a professional Christian I was supposed to be very committed to a particular set of principles and propositions about God and the Christian faith as embodied in the Westminster Confession of Faith. What I found over time was that that vow of commitment hindered me from being honest about things I was thinking or wondering or discovering as I studied and prepared for sermons and so forth. Our Presbytery changed in my 20 years there from relative indifference to such commitment to very vigilant concern about such commitment.

I have nothing against creeds mind you. Everybody has one, even if it just to say that they have no creeds. I like creeds and find them most helpful.

When I was blogging a lot in Greensboro and interacting with folks who held all sorts of beliefs about all sorts of things, and yet writing and interacting as a Christian, I decided that it was best for me to find my place in the larger general stream of the historic orthodox Christian church - especially as represented by the three "Ecumenical Creeds" - Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. This meant that I stood in a theological stream much wider than that of the particular creed I had vowed to uphold. Rather, I would indeed stand with and find common cause with all orthodox Christians of the Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. As time went on, I found myself being deeply impacted by Catholic and Orthodox writers as well as Protestant writers.

I found too that it was really not OK to start to reevaluate certain ideas. I had already gotten used to this of course. I remember the look on people's faces when, for example, I would say that I really didn't believe in the "secret rapture" which is a common often assumed idea in American evangelicalism. I mean, for real, could I even be a Christian and not believe that? Maybe I was a "liberal." There were many examples of such things - many such cases, many such issues. As I began to get a better feel for the larger story of the Bible, the almost exclusive focus of American Protestant evangelicals on individual/personal salvation started to bother me. And then suddenly I started seeing a different sort of narrative in the gospels and epistles than that suggested or preferred in Reformed circles, though to me this narrative was a whole lot more consistent with the progressive outworking of the biblical covenants and thus Reformed covenant theology.

None of this has anything to do with why I left the pastorate which is another story for another time - but what I find interesting now is that as a regular non professional Christian I am finding myself comfortable continuing to identify with the larger stream of Christianity as represented by the Ecumenical Creeds. I am and will remain a Protestant, not because I like the name or identify with it but personally but because it more or less describes me. But I will continue to seek to find my way unpressured by expectation to uphold the letter of more definitive creeds. Most of all, I don't want my ability to make a living ever to be dependent on whether I can sign on to Chapter VII, Article I or whatever.

The historic Christian faith is under attack from so many directions at once that I'd rather focus on more general matters, and as best as I can as a Christian kindly defend the most essential core principles as I have opportunity to do so.

But much more important than that I want and need to find my way with the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ. It's hard rebooting as non professional. It's a challenge rediscovering the life of faith as a regular Joe.

And as regards the most intimate aspects of life and faith, well, I am seeking to find my legs and it's taking a while, all the more since I am not where I anticipated being at this stage of life - as one friend put it - needing to work on a plan B (or C). I haven't fully found my legs but I am working on it. The story that began with God starting a work in my Columbia family through my sister mary, the faith that came through the ministry of TEAM, the peace and assurance that came through L'Abri, the opportunities to grow that came in my time at Regent College, the grounding at First Pres in the 80's, life in the trenches as a pastor for 20 years in Greensboro, and of course mostly the joys and sadnesses of family life, well it's all going somewhere, I am just not sure where, except, in the end, in the New Heaven and New Earth, where the curse will be no more and the tears will be wiped away from our eyes and will be as we were supposed to be and will longer make a mess of things. Meantime there is much beauty and joy to keep to me going despite, well, plan B and all.

I am and will remain a work in progress.

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