What I Believe – Parts 1 and 2

Before I start, I should thank Gordon for being one of the first to start writing about who we are instead of who we’re not. I do not intend to speak for any group of people, although I believe that I will be expressing some sentiments that are not uncommon throughout our fellowship of churches. I do not presume to be correct in everything I say and I welcome any and all criticism, regardless of tone. Instead, I want to write down the principles I strive to live by. These principles lead to a different way of thinking than some and it is at these points of difference that discussion should begin. Through discussion at our greatest points of disagreement, I believe that we can find the will of God for our lives.

Dr. Tom Olbricht, of Pepperdine University, gave this summation of the conversations held at the ACU conference:

“My question has been that of Jeremiah, ‘Can the leopard change its spots?’” Olbricht wrote after the forum. ‘I have not been too convinced. But I did talk enough with some of the younger leaders … and I have come to believe that they have really committed themselves to servant leadership.”

Jeremiah 13:23 continues on by saying, “Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” We have been accustomed to doing evil to many, especially to each other. Despite the best of intentions, through ignorance or deliberate practice, we have developed a religion of destruction. Through the years, we have perfected a vocabulary of control, guilt, and performance. Praise be to God that we have started to remove our own Ashereth poles and high places.

It is not my intent to discuss our former practices as much as I strive to find biblical words to express biblical concepts. We have a coded language replete with secret meanings and implied consequences. Without a reformation of these words and concepts, any change will be lost to misunderstanding. This is not to say that we should be politically correct. Political correctness is the process of finding the least offensive way to communicate. Oftentimes, it has the appearance of profundity, yet is tremendously hollow. Again, I am not suggesting that we simply use different words and phrases for the sake of being less controversial. Christianity is inherently controversial without all of man’s efforts to add or subtract from it. However, it is specifically those things that we add and subtract that must be addressed. Anything less runs the risk of simply creating a nicer, less offensive atmosphere to continue the same kind of evil that we have done for 25 or more years.

I do not believe that it is useful to discuss practices individually without an overall context of principles. At times, it leads only to dramas and arguments over seemingly small or trivial items. Instead, I present a set of principles that drives my own personal belief system and helps me make decisions day-to-day.

The Principles
The principles that outline what I believe are straightforward:

1.Personal Responsibility: I believe that each person is responsible for their own relationship with God.
2.The Hearts of Men: I believe in the basic goodness of all men.
3.The Call of Ministry: I believe God calls everyone to a specific and unique ministry.
4.Serving Others: I believe Jesus demonstrated the life of a servant for all his followers.
5.The Answer is Love: I believe that love is always the right answer in any given situation.

Personal Responsibility
We sing a song with children that includes this verse: “If I don’t get to Heaven, it will be nobody’s, nobody’s, nobody’s, nobody’s, nobody’s fault but mine.” In practice, though, getting to Heaven was a matter of obeying the right people. We trained each other to seek counsel for increasingly trivial matters and in some cases would actually compete to be ‘humble’ in this area. As a result, many of us became so dependent on others, that we could not do simple things without the presence and comfort of others around us.
It is true that, as Christians, we belong to each other. The many ‘one another’ passages demonstrate that Christians are greatly involved in each others lives. We do truly need each other and should grow in giving our hearts to each other. I don’t refute or minimize that in any way. Paul writes in Romans that we belong to each otheri and that we are able to instruct each otherii. Freedom in Christ is not a matter of isolation from other Christians. If anything, we should invite each other in our lives (as opposed to force ourselves on each other and demand that our wishes are obeyed).
I also do not want to fall into the intellectual trap of posing independence as one extreme and co-dependence as the other thereby proposing that the right solution is somewhere in the middle.iii There are times where it is best to be alone, there are times when it is best to rely on others quite heavily. To somehow suggest a compromise leads into thinking about the wrong questions when faced with a specific situation. Instead of thinking about what is best in that specific situation, compromise thinking is concerned with appropriate levels of independence. The question in any given situation should not be “Am I too independent?” but “Is this the best course of action?”. Asking the wrong questions can connect two events that have no relationship to each other. For example, I have thought sometimes that because I was ‘independent’ in a situation on a Monday that I need to ‘submit to advice’ on a Wednesday to a different situation, thereby balancing my independence with my ability to accept direction. These thinking habits subtly shift the responsibility of our Christian walk from the individual to the circumstances of life and the advice of others. Such habits are unacceptable.
What does personal responsibility mean? In short, that an individual is responsible for his/her actions. As it says in Galatians, we will reap what we sowiv. We have own our relationship with God, we suffer the consequences for our actions, and when the end comes, we will each face judgement alone. In Romans, Paul comments on the judgement of God saying “God will reward each one according to his works:” and in 1 Corinthians, “The one who plants and the one who waters are united, but each will receive his reward according to his work.” and finally in 2 Corinthians “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.” If we are to stand alone at judgement, we must be able to stand alone with God on earth. The good news is that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we are able to “approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.”v In Luke, it is written that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray. Jesus understood the need he had for God and often went to be alone with God.vi Because of his sacrifice, we can be certain that we can do the same and that He is ready and eager to be with us.
All mankind has fallen short. In my life, I know that I have intentionally and unintentionally sinned against others. I have sinned against myself and developed bad habits. All of these actions over the course of my life have consequences and I believe that I should take responsibility for my actions, regardless of intent. I have a choice, I can claim innocence by arguing intent, or I can acknowledge my actions and seek to make amends.
As an example, consider the following story: A man and his wife are at a party and he offers to get her a cup of punch. While filling her cup, he feels something unusual on his elbow and turns to see what it is. To his surprise, he sees his wife holding her nose. Moments later, her nose begins to bleed; it bleeds slowly at first, but quickly becomes worse. The man tells his wife that he is sorry because he didn’t intend to hurt her. He goes on to ask her to stop bleeding because it was obviously an accident. He continues on to describe in detail that his intent was to do something good for her, and that he wasn’t aware that he had hurt her. He reassures her that it was an accident and asks her to stop bleeding again.
It may seem so simple, but this same kind of thing happens all the time. Intent is used as an excuse to escape the consequences of our actions. The wife doesn’t need reassurance that it was an accident. The apology is nice, but what she really needs is a bandage, or maybe even medical attention. The more the man tries to prove he’s innocent, the more she is hurting. As such, I hope to always address the damage I have caused to others rather than try to prove my own innocence. I hope that I do not hide behind my intentions.
On the positive side of this, all the good that a person does also comes back as well. Sow to please the Spirit and you will reap from the Spirit. Jesus said that even a person that gives a cup of water will not miss their reward.vii To take responsibility for the good a person does, that person must also accept the rewards that come from it. This isn’t to say that a person should do good things in order to receive honor and praise. Jesus was quite clear that we as Christians should do our good deeds in private. However, living a spiritual life allows a Christian to avoid the pitfalls of life that can spiral into bigger and bigger trouble. To be responsible for the good consequences of a spiritual life, a person should share the good things he/she has with everyone. This is important as it prevents the bad habit of living only to avoid sin. Being a Christian is not easy, but it is not all misery and suffering. God delights in giving good things to his children and we should enjoy these good things.