I wrote this letter to my son after he and I visited a church a couple of years ago. I wanted him to understand certain opinions I hold. Now I share them with you.
Here are some thoughts on the Affirmation of Faith at the website of the church we visited today.
First I want to say that my issues with the Affirmation of Faith (AOF) comes after more than 40 years of thinking theologically about things and forming opinions. Much of this may not matter to you or be at all important to you. I don’t reject people who disagree with me theologically. I have many dear friends who I know for a fact don’t agree with me. I think God loves us all. Anybody who “hates” in God’s name is not a Christian of any sort IMHO. They aren’t a true Muslim either. If I’m wrong about certain theological ideas (or any kind of idea) and I am shown to be wrong, I’ll change. I think it is a good, acceptable and totally wonderful thing that churches exist with lots of different quirks and a variety of worship styles. I feel a need to find “like-minded believers” with whom I can worship. That doesn’t mean that I think the others are “lost.” I’m sure if I hung around the church we visited awhile, I would find people I could love deeply. They and I are part of the Body of Christ.
It does bother me a little that certain things I think are theologically important, that are distinctive of certain churches, seem to be almost hidden at their website. I affirm their Core Values. It’s only when I dig deeper and read the AOF that these differences appear.
Here are some of the issues in the Affirmation of Faith that stand out to me:
- The “elect” are those who will be “saved”
- “Once saved; always saved”
- Spiritual gifts
- Proper officers of the church
This is not going to be research paper but here’s a few thoughts from your mother on the above points.
Inerrancy – The AOF says the original texts of the Bible are “without error in the original documents.” For one thing none of the original documents exists. We have fragments of texts dating from various early centuries. Our best translations are made up by biblical scholars and language experts who use the oldest texts that can be authenticated. Seeing the word “inerrancy” was the main thing that got my attention that first time I looked at the website there in the coffee shop. It’s one of those sign-posts or trigger words that indicates a very conservative theological view. They go on to say that they affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). I read somewhere this week that Billy Graham refused to sign it – not because he didn’t believe in inerrancy – but he thought it would be divisive within the Christian fellowship. He was certainly right about that. I think it is possible to take the Bible seriously without taking every word literally. You know that I take the Bible very seriously.
The “Elect” – The AOF says those who God chooses will be saved and calls these “the elect” or “His chosen.” If a person isn’t among the elect, they cannot be saved. If a person is among the elect, they cannot resist God’s call. I believe God loves and reaches out to ALL. Individuals have free will and are free to choose to respond to and accept God’s gift or reject it. (You may find some of these to be a distinction that does not connote a difference. Such is the work of theology. It is largely about words.)
“Once saved; always saved” – This is something most Baptists have said for centuries. Others might call it a Baptist distinctive. A seminary professor (at a Baptist seminary) articulated what I believe. He said God will hold you securely in God’s hand; God won’t drop you NOR will God stop you if you insist on jumping out. I think God will also not squash a person in that loving hand. I think it is the safest, most secure place I can possible be. God went to some great lengths to keep me from jumping out once when I came very close to making that choice but I believe I had the freedom to jump had I so chosen. (Many Baptists would say my belief about this proves I’m not a Baptist. I would take exception.)
Spiritual Gifts are not limited to the New Testament but are still in effect today. I agree with the AOF on this point. There are Christians who would say that this church and your mother are both wrong about this!
Proper officers of the church – What they say here is very interesting. As with all disagreements about what the Bible says this relies heavily on how one chooses to translate and interpret certain words. The word for “elder” and the word for “deacon” can be translated (from the Greek) in different ways. I suspect that if I knew more about what they really mean here I would find that the AOF here is used to exclude women from leadership roles in the church. (The same words are used for some women in the New Testament. It takes some tricky moves to get around that but lots of churches manage to do it very well.) You know that I strongly believe woman may be leaders in the church.
Anyway…what I think is important for you and me and every human is to set out on a quest to find out what WE believe. Is there a God? Does God care about me? Do I care about God? Does my answer to these questions change anything about how I live my life?
I read this great quote from an author named Kathleen Norris that goes something like this: “Most of us are content to spend the rest of our lives relying on what we believed about God in the seventh grade when we would not accept that level of belief and knowledge on any other subject.” Not her exact words but a deeply true idea.
Blessings, dear one, on your journey toward a grown up view of God and the world.
I love you.