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?