Saturday, September 25, 2010

What Does It Mean to Believe?

When someone joins a Disciples Church, we usually ask them to make the Good Confession.  And the question goes something like this:  "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God?  And is he your Lord and Savior?"  The first question is asking for an affirmation of a fact.  Disciples are deeply rooted in the Enlightenment mentality.  Alexander Campbell liked to talk about the gospel "facts," and so to believe meant affirming those facts as being true.  This is also why he had problems with creeds -- they required, in his mind, assent to the "facts" as outlined in those creeds.  While he might affirm most of the elements, there were elements that might not be "facts."  I should add that he was also a fan of Francis Bacon's understanding of science, and thus didn't like speculations.  If stated clearly in Scripture, then it could be affirmed.  That is the old paradigm -- belief is affirmation of the facts about God.

But is that what "belief" is?  At the GMP's Pastor's Conference this week in San Diego, Diana pushed the definition.  In the new paradigm, which is more internally driven and more experiential, might we not return to an earlier understanding of belief, back to when the word now translated as belief/believe -- the Greek pist and the Latin Credo had the sense of faith/trust.  Thus, when we say the creed, we say:  "I trust"  or "I give my heart to God the Father, the Almighty, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth . . . "   Does this not have a very different meaning for the one who makes the statement of belief.  It's more internal than external. 

And the Diana an interesting point -- the English word "belief" derives from the German "belieben" -- "to belove."  If this is true, then when we ask folks when joining the church if they believe that Jesus is the Christ?   We should rephrase it:  Do you belove Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God?  And is he therefore Lord and Savior?    

In this new paradigm belief is not about assenting to facts, but rather is about the disposition of the heart.  If so, what are the implications for the church? 

13 comments:

David said...
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David said...
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John said...

If faith is belief only in that which is verifiably true, then it is no faith at all! It takes no great leap an no great risk to say I believe only what I can verify.

And speculation is not belief either, it is imaginative exploration, and requires no commitment. Faith is belief in things unseen.

John

David said...
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David said...
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Brian said...

As stated before, I find great help in a sociological approach. You may, or may not, find this helpful.

I see the statement of faith as playing an important role in the liturgical drama of welcoming a new member to the organization.

Part of the ancient tradition is the dialogue that Bob writes about.

The celebrant asks something along the lines of "Do you confess that Jesus is the Christ"? The person seeking admittance into the organization responds "I do".

This is a liturgical drama. It is not the affirmation of a pre-scientific world-view anymore than answering the questions to become a Mason. (Itself a liturgical-like event.)

I think a big mistake is made when we frame this as what a particular individual "really thinks". I suggest that this is a beautiful dance of welcome into an ancient tradition.

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To David: I repeatedly see that our brains are hard-wired in a similar fashion. One of the passions that drove/drives me in ministry is remembering the kind of minister that I used to yearn for, but was nowhere to be found.

I try to be that kind of minister now.

David said...
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David said...

a thought for the week-

You are right, Mr. Bond. That is just what I am, a maniac. All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania that drives them towards their goal. The great scientists, the philosophers, the religious leaders — all maniacs.

— Dr. No

Brian said...

http://christianhumanist.net/default.aspx

David - In case you are not aware of this resource, I suggest you become familiar with this website.

christianhumanist.net

I suspect you will find it meaningful.

David said...
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David said...
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Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

David, I heard about the survey this morning on NPR -- It's not surprising that atheists know the stories better, as they must know what it is they're rejecting. Most folks in churches grow up in the churches and accept the tenets without much thought.

But, there are ways of overcoming that, but it's not easy.

David said...

ignorance is bliss? :) Nuts, too late.