We develop belief systems, whether good or bad, at a very young age. They are things we were told repeatedly by others or ourselves till they became undeniable and, as we matured, a core part of our psyche that ignites reaction when that belief is either challenged or reinforced. But we never think of questioning it. To do so would mean digging up the floors down to the concrete and looking at our foundation with a fresh pair of eyes. Is the deconstruction even worth it? Are there cracks? Were there things built on top of areas that should not have been?
Most religions have a set of doctrines they teach based on a common belief system. And within those religions, you can have a multitude of groups that, while holding the foundational belief that is absolutely essential to their movement, still teach different doctrines that have been inspired by that core belief. The danger arises when some doctrines (allowable interpretations) become dogma (essential teaching)–unquestionable truths no longer seen for the agreed upon assumptions that they are. If not kept in check, future generations of followers embrace new absolutes, oblivious to their origins of foundational uncertainty.
Within Christianity, despite the fact that countless Christian theologians, scholars, and teachers around the world differ with each other on a myriad of topics, denominations and movements have taken dogmatic stances on “allowable interpretations.” Refusing to stand by church doctrines pertaining to, for example, eternal burning in hell, 6 day creation, or the rapture is often considered heretical and calls into question your very Christianity.
As a follower of Yeshua I love the church body. But from one movement to the next, there is an underlying, mostly unintentional, idea that being a follower of the Christ is not truly enough. It is “Be a follower of the Christ and…and…and…and…” Unfortunately, this has always been the case in some form or another because humanity is not perfect. The Apostle Peter had to be confronted by Paul because he was already engaged in bad practices within the church. And that was someone who walked with our Lord. Paul saw the things being added and had the boldness to remind him of the absolutes of the Gospel. (-Galatians 2:11-21)
Churches encourage followers to be “bold Christians” and not to be afraid of stances on [insert topic here] depending on the church or movement, but I soon realized the various lists of topics Christians were required to emphatically believe were “allowable interpretations” and not “absolutes.”
I have been told:
“The rapture is a biblical truth.” Then I learned of its origin.
“There is one consensus on hell.” Then I learned of the multiple schools of thought taught in the church since the beginning. All speculations.
“We read the Bible literally. It is very clear.” Then I learned that we are still discovering more about the culture, writing styles, and outside influences of the times that are helping us to read the Bible more “literally” every day.
“Science is against God.” Then I learned science is simply discovering how God does things.
“Use these techniques to get people into church or you are not ‘evangelizing’.” Then I learned it is about living as Christ where you are.
This list goes on.
I recall the moment I felt God ask me, “Are you bold enough to not look bold to the church?” Whether it was God, my thoughts, or most likely the combination of both, it resonated with me. I decided I would do my best to follow God regardless of what the church perceived of my journey. Not out of spite or rebellion, rather out of a desire to seek truth and not be encumbered by a church culture that cultivates an environment of fear. I refused the fear of being viewed as compromising, progressive, trying to make God in my image, or no longer a “true” Christian simply for questioning doctrines that are taught to be absolutes, but that in reality are speculation. Mystery is a part of the Christian life. As I have said before, that is the reason it is important to have the discipline of a contemplative mind.
Where there is dissent and uncertainty on topics in scripture, it is important to acknowledge such things for what they are and not pass on “speculation” as “biblical truth.” We must be bold enough to not “look” bold enough to the church. Only then can we truly be free to sift through the beliefs we were repeatedly told by our Christian culture to embrace and discover which are “uncertainties” and which are “concrete.” No one wants to carry more concrete than is necessary. We will only be crushed under its weight.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30