Not the Fundamentals

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Gentle Reader,

The history of Christianity is marked by debate.

Each of the Gospel authors records extensive back-and-forth between Jesus and just about everyone He encountered. After the Resurrection, some Jewish and Roman leaders conspired to spread the story that His body had been taken by the disciples.  Acts 15 records the Jerusalem leadership’s decision regarding the conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers over circumcision and (by extension) the keeping of the Moasic laws. Subsequent centuries saw councils and volumes upon volumes written upon crucial topics: What was the nature of Christ – monophyte, apollinarian, nestorian? The answer came in the formation of the doctrine of the hypostatic union. Did the Spirit proceed only from the Father or from the Father and the Son? The answer to this created the filioque controversy, a factor that continues to contribute to the separation of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. How was the Christian life to be lived? An anonymous author or compiler tackled this in the Didache. What books should be included in the canon? (The subsequent question, “how was the canon formed?” is one of the major differences between Catholics and Protestants).

Justin Martyr passionately defended the faith. Irenaeus eloquently dismantled Gnostic heresies.  Origen, regarded as a Church Father but not a Saint, was anathematized (condemned as a heretic) for (among other things) his views on subordinationism, accepted within the Christian community until the final formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Tertullian blasted Marcion across five books, but later became suspect due to his Montanist views, streams of which flow into today’s Pentecostal and Charismatic oceans.

Where am I going with this?

We make a mistake when we assume that the Christian faith was handed down in toto one afternoon. The centuries of wrestling, of struggle, are certainly evidence of human frailty in attempting to combine antagonistic philosophies into one; there is no holding on to false belief (not forever, at any rate) when God has won a person over. It is also evidence, to be sure, of the Enemy’s activity in taking truth and manipulating it into a lie. However, in these debates and worries, we also see evidence of the working out of salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). The person devoted to God longs to please Him, and therefore desires to know what is right.

This longing and desire often leads to legalism.

Confession: I like legalism. I like lists of rules. I like knowing exactly what the standards are. As an anxious perfectionist, I like to be able to point to something and say, “There. I did it.” For some, the appeal lies in pride and the hope of controlling others. For people like me, the appeal lies in fear. If I’m keeping the rules, then I’m okay. People like me are terrified that God’s grace will run out. We are afraid that He will wake up one day and no longer love us – because we broke the rules one too many times.

I’m not an advocate for the other extreme – the cheap grace of libertinism – but a rule-bound life is stressful in the extreme. It is that stress we are going to examine through the Not the Fundamentals series. The title is drawn from a four-volume set of 90 essays entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth, published between 1910 and 1915. (Volume 1 is available in PDF format here). What the authors of The Fundamentals set out to do was re-articulate key positions in orthodox Christianity in a shifting culture that had given rise to historical criticism and the social gospel. Unfortunately, that re-articulation led directly to a rigidity of focus on the externals among many Christians. It is to this we turn our attention.

Before we part ways, allow me to make one thing clear: This series is not directed at any individuals or churches. If and when I link to any sites or blogs, I do so only to illustrate a point from the source itself. We will not walk in a spirit of condemnation here. Remember, I group myself with those who are drawn to rigidity and legalism. I understand. What I want is to live the abundant life Christ offers, free of fear and based in love. This is the end we strive for.

Grace and peace along the way.

 

In 2014

Gentle Reader,

I’ve come across several entries on the interwbes discussing the idea of one word for the new year. While I don’t believe that words carry any kind of mystical power, I do believe that the ideas contained within the lacing together of letters can be impactful. Deeply so. I also believe that God speaks to us through all available avenues, including blogging fads. Thus, I pondered, prayed, and kept arriving at this:

Chalkboard

This word pulls at me. It prompts many questions. When to speak and when to not? When to let the music flow and when to turn it off? When to plunge in with the crowd and when to pull away? When to write about ________ and when to let it go? When to share and when to keep secret?

Silence…I’m good at that. And so maybe the Spirit brought this word to the surface as a reminder that silence is not always golden.

I’ve also seen posts detailing a verse chosen for the new year. Usually, I would roll my eyes. Scripture is deep, complex and fascinating. How can one (or two) verses be enough to ponder for an entire twelve-month cycle?

And then I read this:

“Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.'” – Luke 7:50 (NKJV)

These are the ending words in a fantastic scene involving a self-righteous man, a woman with a bad reputation and an ever-wise Savior. They ring around the corners of my heart. I am often guilty of worrying about whether or not I’m really saved; whether or not God could truly forgive someone like me. I know my failings all too well. And you, dear reader, know all about my incessant anxiety regarding…everything. So, what a pronouncement! “Marie, your faith in Me has saved you. That issue is settled. Walk with Me in peace.”

What this new year holds, I don’t know, but I’m already intrigued by the intersecting of silence, faith and peace. And I have a sense of power, of being uniquely and specifically equipped for the battle I face. Any time fear comes up, I can recall those words. I can remember that Jesus assured that “wicked woman” of her place in Him. I can be sure that the same applies to me.

I don’t know where you are today. I don’t know if you’re glad to see 2013 roll away or if you’re dreading the turning of the calendar. I don’t know if you’re feeling lonely or elated, sad or blessed. But there is one sure thing as we step into 365 sparkling days: God is. God is there. God is good. God is faithful.

God loves you.

Grace and peace along the way.

Sock Seams

IMG_20131125_191853Gentle Reader,

I’ve been in a funk.

A multiple-year funk.

The last major work I finished writing was for the Women of Faith contest a couple…actually, possibly three years ago. I forget. And reading? I pick up books only to discard them. The mojo just hasn’t been there, not for anything greater than the hammering out of a post or the quick run-through of a familiarly-plotted novel. Words, lovely black-faced words on fresh white pages or screens, haven’t been as friendly as they used to be.

I was only vaguely aware of this funk until last Monday, when the volunteer coordinator at the shelter I’m volunteering at asked me if I had any life-goals.

Cue panic, stage right.

The truth is, I’ve been focusing on getting through each day. Sometimes on surviving the day. Or the hour. I used to spend so much time berating myself for not having brought about the end of world hunger with a Pulitzer and Nobel winning piece of elegant prose. I used to feel ashamed for not having accomplished more at such-and-such an age. I used to think that it was necessary to have a five-year plan and that if I didn’t check every item off the list, I was a complete and total failure. Then the world caved in. Getting out of bed and taking a shower became the major milestones.

For someone who isn’t wildly expressive, I sure do live on the extremes. Plan out five years or plan out five minutes. No happy middle ground.

This simple question, coming from a place of completely innocent curiosity, settled on me like a thick, smelly blanket. What are my life-goals? Why can’t I think of any?

In the midst of this gloominess, I picked up Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson. The hubby had gotten the book for me over the summer, for my birthday. It had been sitting on my nightstand for weeks, untouched. I’m sure I sighed when I picked it up and thumbed through the crisp pages. Why not read? Nothing else to do.

While I’m not the heavy predestination-y sort, I do believe that God orchestrates things for our good (Rom. 8:28). I think there are times when we’ve been wandering around for long enough and He lights a spark under our rears. Where I could barely get through the introduction before, now I couldn’t stop reading. And, gloriously, I came to this sentence:

The problem is, many people can get treated for the rest of their lives and learn to manage an illness, but will never be “over it.” (p. 114)

This screamingly-apparent truth brought new light to the question of life-goals and the answering thereof. While I firmly believe that God can and does bring total healing to people if that is within His plan for them, I also firmly believe that it can be within His plan to withhold total healing. I know that this is true because of sock seams.

I’ve worn socks my whole life. I’ve never had a problem with them. For the last two weeks, I’ve had to turn my socks inside out. I can’t stand the seams. This isn’t just a “oh, seams are annoying” and you carry on kind of thing. No. I have to turn my socks inside out. I’m afraid that the seams will get between my toes and I won’t be able to fix it. If I am in a situation where I can’t fix my socks, then it must be a Very Important Situation. I don’t like Very Important Situations. If I turn my socks inside out, I can avoid the discomfort and, possibly, Very Important Situations.

Does that really make any sense?

No.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). – Mayo Clinic

I thank God that I have what you might term a “mild” case of OCD. My obsessions and compulsions usually revolve around little things, like sock seams and getting my tape dispensers at work lined up exactly. But I know what it is to feel a physical ache and a great, gnawing worry when things aren’t “just so.”

Life-goals and sock seams. And then this, in my Sunday school lesson:

There are other children of God who are hurting and need to be comforted. – Rob Prince

Amy Simpson put a lot of effort into her book. She surveyed pastors and congregations to get a feel for the prevalence of mental illness within the Christian community. My friend, it’s everywhere. The person you sit next to at church could very well be slogging through mirky depths of sadness. Could have chewed her nails to the quick out of fear. Could think that he’s getting special messages during the sermon. There are people in pain and confusion, from the new guy in the back row to, gasp!, the pulpit itself. And even though we’re learning to talk about it more, we still struggle. We still don’t have ministries that seek to serve the mentally ill; it’s no wonder that this is often referred to as the “no casserole” disease. We stigmatize. We fear. We label.

We think of victory in terms of completion. The Christian lives a victorious life if she is no longer struggling, no longer tempted. I think that’s an incomplete definition. Victory is found in turning your socks inside out and going about your day. It’s acknowledging that, yes, there is pain, but that pain will not defeat.

I don’t know if I will ever write a book that gets published. I don’t know that you’ll ever see me work the talk-show circuit. I’m sure I’ll have more days like today, when I wonder if I should really be adding my feeble voice to the cacophony. I do know what my life-goal is, though: Hope. I want to share hope with people. I want to comfort the hurting children of God.

Especially if they’re irritated by sock seams.

Grace and peace along the way.