Often, we believe what we believe (in terms of doctrine) not because we’ve personally explored the scriptures and prayed and sought God, but because we’ve been told by our church – either explicitly through teaching or implicitly through church culture – what to believe.
Now, don’t get me wrong, being part of a church tradition that shows us how to believe is important. This was recognised way back in the first few centuries of church history with the Apostles’ Creed.
And when I became a Christian at the tender age of fourteen, I certainly needed someone to show me and guide me in what to believe.
The problem comes when we swallow what we’re given without question. To my regret, at different times over the years I’ve more or less subscribed to some version of the health, wealth and prosperity gospel, the doctrine of the rapture (which I now believe to be unbiblical), a literal six-day creation, and plenty of other questionable beliefs besides.
And this is just to speak of doctrines or beliefs. When it comes to practices, there is also much that passes as an unquestioned part of church culture. Willy-nilly speaking in tongues, words of prophecy that boldly begin “The Lord would say…” and are accepted without question, strange forms of prayer and “ministry”… the list goes on.
What happens, I think, is that churches often form their culture around a particular set of doctrinal interpretations and practices. This might take place over a long period of time, but once that culture and the associated set of beliefs and practices has solidified, woe betide anyone who questions it.
We are by (fallen) nature competitive and thus defensive creatures, and as such we tend to perceive anyone whose views differ from our own as some kind of threat. It’s not that we’re out to cut down those who dissent; this often plays out at an entirely subconscious level.
What happens when someone dares to question a particular doctrine or practice? Well, initially they might be seen as slightly quirky or eccentric. But this can quickly progress to the questioning person being labelled a troublemaker and sidelined. And so the established culture – the church bubble – sustains itself.
It’s well known that individuals tend to agree with those who share their views and almost reflexively dismiss those who don’t. My observation is that churches very often do the same. We have our culture – join in and don’t question it, and we’ll get on great; but if you rock the boat, the chances are that, at some level, you’ll be seen as a threat and dealt with appropriately.
The bottom line, I think, is that this happens because churches often become more concerned about maintaining their fiefdom than about genuinely pursuing truth. And I don’t just mean truth in some abstract, dogmatic sense. If Jesus is The Truth, then in our pursuit of Jesus we should be willing to relinquish our hold on some of the beliefs and practices to which we unquestioningly hold. Or so it seems to me.
Jesus said “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”. This is what makes my clock tick; it’s what drives me to keep seeking, asking and knocking. So if I don’t just accept what you tell me I should, if I insist on asking awkward questions, rocking the boat and being an irritant, please don’t get offended and annoyed. It’s not because I don’t like you and I want to cause trouble. It’s because I want to know the truth; and if I am to know it, I have to have poked and prodded it and wrestled with it until, ultimately, I am mastered by it.
[ Image: Grzesiek Meduna ]