Monday, November 4, 2013

Source of Our Faith

I've written before that in my faith journey, I've spent time with different denominations and non-denominational churches.  My husband and I were Roman Catholic for a very long time, but have journeyed on for the last decade.  We've been a part of an Episcopal church for the past four plus years now. 

When we were thinking about putting down roots at the local Episcopal church, the pastor had a "what we believe" reception for those who were interested in possibly joining.  The pastor began by explaining the roots of Episcopal faith.  She noted that Evangelicals look solely to the Bible to inform their faith, and Roman Catholics rely on the Bible plus tradition.  She said that Episcopal tradition builds on that--the denomination's theology is based on the Bible, tradition and also reason.  She then noted that John Wesley added one more source; the Methodists rely on the Bible, tradition, reason and experience.

Over the years, I've thought often about those different sources that inform the faith of Christians.  The commonality to all Christians is, of course, the Bible.  But what is really interesting to me is that even those of us who study the Bible frequently and with much vigor rarely understand what the Bible is.  Many of us have no idea where it came from.  Some of us think it fell from the sky or someone found it laying around in the desert.

I've heard Christians cite verses as if they were a well-drafted legal code presented intact, in English for us to simply follow without the need to struggle over interpretations.  I wish it were that easy.  As I understand, in the Muslim tradition and in the LDS tradition, respectively, the Koran and Book of Mormon were essentially handed over in one piece to the followers of those religious traditions.  Not so for the Hebrew Bible or the Christian New Testament. 

Moreover, I've been to churches where both laypeople and pastors quote verses out of Scriptural context and without much, if any, cultural or historical context to inform the words.  I've also heard Christians focus on the precise wording of a particular translation, without recognizing that the meaning that translation seems to give in English is very different from other well-respected translations. 

These things all trouble me greatly.  To me, they signify a tragic disconnect as to the source of our faith.

When I began this blog, I wanted it to be ecumenical.  I wanted it to be a place where anyone, regardless of their brand of Christianity or their interpretation of Jesus's teachings, would be welcome.  (I also aspired that people who are agnostic, atheist or adherents of other religions might be interested to take a read as well.)  Because of this aim, I've tried to avoid theology.  My real interest in writing this blog is not to convert anyone to my denomination or my personal views on Scripture.  I'm not a pastor or a Bible scholar, that is not my place.  But in the reading and reflecting I've done over the years, I've come to realize that because the umbrella of Christianity is so vast, it is not possible to avoid theology entirely. 

I recently read an excellent book by journalist Jeff Chu who did a year long "pilgrimage" and study of different churches' approach to the topic of homosexuality.  In the book, Mr. Chu writes several times that there is so much variation in what we, who embrace the term "Christian," actually believe that it can be impossible to reconcile our differences.  He even goes so far as to characterize different Christians as embracing different religions.  I appreciate his point.  And it goes way beyond the issue of homosexuality, it goes to much broader, even more basic religious beliefs.  These end up manifesting themselves in different positions on hot button issues.  Moreover, these different positions then get carried over into the political landscape when people cite their Christian faith as justification for various political positions they advocate.

Because of this dynamic, I've come to the conclusion that before I go any farther in this blog, I need to back up a bit.  Before I can discuss the intersection of Christianity and the secular law, I need to go back to what Christianity is.  That may seem obvious to some, and thus unnecessary.  I think that was my initial view.  But I no longer feel that way. 

So, in coming posts, I will share and discuss some resources for understanding what the Bible is (and is not).  As that document is the common source that informs all Christians' faith, we need to spend some time considering what it is and even what it says.  I'm looking forward to this series and hope you do too.

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