Sunday, November 24, 2002

No Questions Allowed

Why is it that in the church scene, if you ask certain questions, people look at you as though you just walked in without your trousers on? I mean, some questions aren't even allowed in discussion groups! I'll list a few examples -- but let me quickly say, lest you feel inclined to look at ME in that way, I am not raising these questions myself. They are the questions asked by people who presently feel alienated from today's church scene, partly because they aren't allowed to ask them, or if they do ask, they're expected to settle for a briefly worded explanation, such as, "The Bible says, blah blah blah. End of discussion." I'm talking about questions like:
-- Did Jesus REALLY die on the cross and rise the third day? (the inquirer cites either Islamic belief, or something about some deep dark secret location somewhere in France, closely kept under cover by the Catholic Church, or the Knights Templar, which is in fact the final resting place of Jesus, son of Joseph)
-- How do we know that the books of the Bible are all inspired by G-d, or if other books shouldn't have been included that weren't, or if some of the books that were, shouldn't have been?
-- How can we be so sure we don't reincarnate? What about people who remember there previous lives?
-- Why can't Christians be gay? (the inquirer either cites Bible references like John leaning on Jesus' bosom, or points out the existence of gay churches)
-- Is hell really eternal? Is it really the destination of every single person on earth who didn't choose the Christian religion?
-- Did the holocaust really happen? (inquirer cites data from Neo-Nazi sources that support their assertion that the systematic extermination of Jews during World War II didn't really happen)
...I'm sure you can think of many more.
My point is, by maintaining an environment in which such things are never to be questioned, even by the serious doubter, we're losing a whole generation, both by barring them from the front door, and by members slipping out the back.
According to an article in the WASHINGTON TIMES, October 18, 2002 FLOCK STRAYS FROM U.S. CHURCHES about a growing number of people who have lost their faith, and have decided that "their earlier choice [to follow Jesus] was no longer right", "... those who leave have often put in years, even decades, of dedicated service ... Others who 'drift away' from their earlier faith often cite logical contradictions between belief and everyday experiences ... Many are felled by a crisis of faith that sends people into agnosticism or antagonism. Others say their faith is irrelevant to their daily lives..." (I found the link to this article on the blogsite)
Could it be that we've forced people to keep up the mature, confident "know-it-all" front until they've finally buckled under all the pressure? The rest of us who haven't buckled under yet, are we trying so hard to hold on to what we believe, that we refuse to entertain questions? Are we, by our heroic holding of our forts, the ones thus maintaining this stoic "club house" atmosphere?
If so, we're both locking out the current generation that badly needs to see an example of TRUE FAITH, and we're burning ourselves out in the process. If the church were a place where doubts could be freely expressed instead of buried, just maybe, that could relieve some of the pressure, before some of us reached a breaking point in our walk with G-d. That would also make us better prepared to be honest and open and "ready to give a defence to everyone who asks ... a reason for the hope that is in [us], with MEEKNESS and FEAR" (I Peter 3:15). Meekness is something we certainly lack when asked uncomfortable questions, though we seem to be in pleanty of fear -- although I think FEAR OF G-D is what Peter had in mind, not the other.
But the key word I want to dwell on is "true faith". Mental assent to Christian precepts, however hard we cling on to them to maintain our corporate identity, is not true faith. Many of us began with true faith, but ended up in mental assent.
Faith is the opposite of fear. Real faith won't fear what questions people will ask. Mental assent does.
"Without faith, it's impossible to please G-d, because those who approach Him, must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligent seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6)
Real faith leads us into relationship. It's a seeking for Him, and having found Him getting to know Him. Knowing Him is a so much more secure place to be. That, of course, leads to opening up to one another. Mental assent only maintains status quo, and does nothing to break down barriers to relationship.
Faith is simple, but for many of us, keeping ourselves in faith, as opposed to mental assent can be an uphill battle at times. The secret is to keep at it. That's what the "good fight of faith" is (I Tim 6:12). The trouble with many of us is we've lost sight of that battle long ago, and have reverted to fighting to maintain our mental assent.
Faith is dependable. You can lean on it. We're afraid to lean on mental assent, out of fear of finding out that what we've held on to all this time wasn't real after all. To find out that G-d doesn't come through when we need him, or that Jesus really didn't rise from the dead 2000 years ago, would simply shatter our self identity. Should anyone actually venture to lean on their faith for any reason, mental assenters always gasp, "Presumption!" (what presumption really is, is thinking you have faith when all you have is mental assent).
Faith keeps us in the real world -- which is filled with people asking the kinds of questions I've listed above. Mental assent isn't strong enough to face the real world, so it keeps us sheltered in a fantasy world where those kinds of questions can't enter -- where those honestly asking those kinds of questions wouldn't want to enter anyway.
Because it's founded in the real world, Faith is based on the actual fact of what Jesus did for us in the real world. Mental assent is afraid, deep down inside, that if one were given the opportunity to travel backwards in time 2000 years minus 33, one just might not find the resurrected Yeshua of Nazareth showing Himself alive to His disciples. Rather, one might find either a Jesus who's still dead, or a Jesus who mysteriously avoided death, only to die naturally many years later, or someone who is the antithesis of who we believe in today. Therefore mental assent goes out of its way to avoid any argument that would possibly lead to that conclusion.
Mental assent is fearful that maybe what we believe in isn't true after all, but must still cling to it for dear life, because ones identity is wrapped up in it. We've been in it too long. We've gained a measure of status in the Christian community, and to keep it requires us to cling on to the tenants of the faith.
So, if we suspect that what we've been living on is mental assent, not faith, what do we do?
If we suspect that we're quickly losing our grip on this whole thing, and about to go the way of many others, what is the urgent first step?
Yeshua said, "Seek and you shall find...", "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness..."
If we seek Him, we'll find Him. But Hebrews 11:6, referred to above, says we must believe that He's there to be found.
But how do we believe when all we have is mental assent?
Often, we have just a teeny weeny bit of faith, but it's buried under a giant pile of mental assent. "G-d has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3). The secret is to dig it out.
Some hints how to look for it:
Romans 10:17, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by a word regarding Messiah." That can come from the Bible, or from a spoken word inspired by G-d.
Another place to look for it: In the New Testament, we often find faith listed after "repentance": i.e. -- Mark 1:15 "REPENT and BELIEVE the good news"; Hebrews 6:2 "...REPENTANCE from dead works, FAITH towards G-d...", a few places in Acts and others as well.
Repentance can involve a lot of different things depending on who you are. For the rich young ruler, it meant selling everything he owned, giving it to the poor, and following Yeshua. Yeshua required him to give up all his comfort and all his status in the world he lived in, and follow His idea of reality.
What about our status and comfort of the church world we live in? What about all the benefits we're clinging on to by holding our mental assent? ...our "good old boy" image? ...our title of "reverend"?
Maybe for some of us, this means throwing everything we thought we believed up in the air, being honest with G-d, and saying, "If you're real, which just a tiny bit of me genuinely believes you are, take all this and piece it all together again as faith. In the process, I'm willing to give up my standing in this pretend world I've been living in, and lose myself in the real world."
You won't really be lost, because the real world is where G-d lives.

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