Tuesday, April 21, 2009

the creed

Often in churches like ours (uh, whatever that means), the mainstream view of “believe, then belong” is turned upside down. That’s because doctrine was often seen as the gatekeeper for who can enter the community. As a result, churches were often seen as dogmatic, unwelcoming places…instead of a place where people might explore the faith. A friend told me last week that a co-worker told them they didn’t like Easter at their church because “all these casually religious” people show up. Obviously, something’s wrong with that picture.

And so in emergent or even user-friendly circles, we’ll say, “Belong, then believe”, and the community becomes a place to discover faith. It’s really about simply creating safe places for people to check out Christianity…and inevitably, the nature of weekend celebrations begins to morph.

But there is a caveat.

If the process of exploring the faith becomes prolonged, the seeker may get frustrated with the level of relational connection he or she can realistically have with the community. And that’s the conundrum: we all want to belong, to be connected, but what you believe affects the depth of relationship you can have. I talked about that this weekend, but would have loved to have parked there a little more.

Let me personalize this.

Suppose I worked a civilian job and had two co-workers who were dyed-in-the-wool Scientologists. I enjoy having drinks with these guys; they’re funny, personable, and we share a common love of movies. But they are sincerely committed to the Church of Scientology. I could kid them about a dubious religion launched by a hack science-fiction writer who once said, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion,” but that would hurt their feelings and I like them too much for that. Or I could joke about the upper levels of Scientology where it’s believed seventy-five million years ago the Earth was part of a seventy-six planet Galactic Federation ruled by a malevolent overlord named Xenu who fixed the population problem on other planets by bringing people to earth and strategically placing them around volcanoes that were then blown up with hydrogen bombs. Hence the exploding volcano on the cover of Dianetics. But that would hurt their feelings because they deeply believe it’s true.

So how could I ever become a part of their community at the deepest level? Or share what they feel so intensely about? There would always be a gap in the level of intimacy we could have. It’s a bit of overstatement to say we can belong before we believe, at least to the degree that we may want to belong.

That’s one of the reasons a common creed is so powerful. Certainly it’s not the only thing that creates real community (try transparency, vulnerability, kindness, servanthood, honesty, etc.), but it is certainly the final barrier.

Do you believe that?

humor postscript:

Off subject, this stuff got me thinking about a Top 10 list we once did in a series on Toxic Religion. It made me laugh when we wrote it. Maybe we need a break…

10. When people raise their hands during worship, it’s for permission to go to the bathroom.
9. Water fountains only dispense Kool-Aid.
8. Doctrine includes story of Xenu, a galactic ruler who brought billions of people to earth 95 million years ago, stacked them around volcanoes, blew them up with hydrogen bombs and…oh wait, that’s Scientology.
7. Services are B.Y.O.S.—“Bring Your Own Snake”
6. Front door of the church has a peephole.
5. Church motto is: "Small Things Done With A Lot Of Guilt Won’t Help You Out, Sleazebag."
4. Sign in lobby reads: “Line forms here for comet rides.”
3. Two words: pat downs.
2. The church bus has gun racks.
1. They're closed on Christmas. Hey…that’s not funny.


  1. The toxic church list. Ok. Although a bit of satire, it is not fundamentally too far off from what one may experience.

    The Toxic church may not reveal itself in the beginning but in more subtle ways it may appear toxic as time proceeds such as appearing to be a clicky social club. I have experienced a couple over the years that may have led me to abandon being a regular with in that church.

    All churches present the "good news" to an extent but some better than others. It is the actions that speak louder than words. That is what I look for when I attend.

    The casually religious people attending on Easter are there for a reason. They are searching for Jesus and a place to belong. If that congregation fails to welcome them properly, they have lost them.

    Is it not the creed of the congregation to welcome the opportunity to bring more home to Christ?

    To believe and seek Gods grace is a first step and easy. Just pray for it. I have found to belong to be a lengthy process that can be rewarding with each new discovery.
    Or do I have that backwards?

    Sorry about the soap boxing.

  2. I wonder if you've thought about this... but then again, you are a pretty smart guy so probably. Either way, this is part of my field of study and I thought I'd share this.

    Although creeds are a great barometer of who is 'in' (be it saved and going to heaven or just a member of the church/mosque/synagogue/meeting hall/etc.) they are developed for the express purpose of revealing who is 'out'.

    This is not to say that creeds are negative, but the only reason they come about is to show how 'we are not like them' or more often how 'they are not like us'.

    Example: the most famous of all Christian creeds is the Nicene (325ce but tinkered with again in 381 and even later with little but enormously important additions like the filioque). If one looks at each line of the creed in light of the specific theological arguments of the day, it is clear that it was meant to be a refutation of perceived heresy rather than a community building statement of faith. This is true for the tweaks of 381ce as well.

    Prior to Nicea, there was what was referred to as the 'regula fidei' or 'rule of faith'. Even though, to quote Bart Ehrman, it never achieved an kind of set form, each reference to aspects of it were in direct response to the opposition.

    I only bring this up because of the danger inherent in creeds and statements of faith. If not discussed and guarded against, these things tend to revert to their original purpose of exclusion and self-identification based upon rejecting others rather than live up to their potential of uniting a community together based upon common passions (of course the scary times are when those common passions are detrimental to society).

    Anyway, I look forward to listening via podcast.