About Those Creeds….

Source: Deal Or No Deal? Creed Or No Creed? – QuakerQuaker.

“Friends have no creeds.”  We Quakers often say that. We are committed to no human words but rather to following the Holy Spirit. We believe God speaks to us today – speaks to all who still their hearts and listen. “No official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” We believe that commitment to creed would be a kind of idolatry.

Most Christian denominations, on the other hand, do have a creed. They have an official statement of faith they use to distinguish their beliefs from the beliefs of other denominations. Those statements of faith often lead to wrangles over precise wording, and sometimes schisms.

The above words by Doug Bennett over at Quaker-Quaker I believe pretty much tell what Quakers think about creeds.  I must admit that when I got down to studied the common creeds in use today I found that almost all of the statements are about our understanding of God. In that vein I can understand the reluctance of my Quaker friends to embrace creeds. Today creeds seem to be mainly used as a tool to separate one group of Christians from another.

I know from personal experience that many of the different flavors of Christianity will tell their congregants that they must believe in the total truth of their particular denomination’s creeds or other statements of belief. I was told that since I believed that the earth is more than 6,000 years old and therefore did not believe in the total literal and inerrant bible that I would no longer have membership in the church I had joined over eight years before.  The new minister called to that congregation believed it was his duty to exclude me and a couple of the more vocal participants in the weekly bible study.

Jesus Christ did not tell us that in order to be his followers we must pledge 100% allegiance to any particular man-made words or even beliefs. He did give us example after example of how he expected us to love God and to love one another. Those two things were what he wrapped his church around not words that were conceived by men many years after his death and resurrection.

I am not as creed averse as my Quaker friends. I believe that many creeds invented over the years, and there are literally thousands of them, have at least some  redeeming merit in their thoughts. It is just that when they are used as a condition of being a follower of Christ that raises my ire. None of us, and I am including every human being who has come after Jesus, totally knows the heart or conscience of God. That is simply an impossible task. We in our meager attempt sometimes get it right but often get it wrong. That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to know what God expects of us but more that we simply can’t assume that we, to the exclusion of others, have it down pat.

One of the primary things that empresses me about the emergent movement is their admittance that they just may be wrong about some of what they currently believe about the heart of God. They believe that being a follower of Jesus is a life long learning experience that no one, and I do mean no one, ever graduates from. That is one belief that I don’t ever envision being wrong.

About My Sources…

This post is about some of my sources of info for the study I am presently undertaking on church history and how we got to where we are today.

I have read scores of books on church history the last few years and continue reading them for this study. I have mentioned already there is one that influenced me greatly and it is one of the reasons I am doing this study. That book by Harvey Cox and is entitled Future of Faith. Here is a small bio of him found from Wikipedia:

Harvey Gallagher Cox, Jr. (born May 19, 1929 in Malvern, Pennsylvania) is one of the preeminent theologians in the United States and served as Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School, until his retirement in October 2009.  …

Cox was ordained as an American Baptist minister in 1957, and started teaching as an assistant professor at the Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts. He then began teaching at the Harvard Divinity School in 1965 and in 1969 became a full professor.

Two books that introduced me to the concept of the “emergent ” church were Christianity after Religion by Diane Butler Bass and The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. As we will find in this study, especially for the future section, the phrase emergent church has been tagged onto a wide variety of different concepts. The one presented in these two books seem to offer the brightest possibilities. Of course there are dozens of other books that go into the details of church history and where we might be going in the future. Some of those authors include Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Robin Meyers, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Richard Stearns, Leo Tolstoy, and Robert Ingersoll. I thank them all for enlightening me in one area or another. Although I don’t intend to go into the theology details studying other books focused on the early theologians was also good background for this study. Those early writers will likely add a few additional brushstrokes to the portrait presented in this study. Last but absolutely not least in my source is the Book of Acts in my Bible. It continues to be a source of information as well as inspiration.

Other authors have who have influenced my walk with Christ and whom I frequently read are  Greg Boyd, Philip Gulley.  These two guys in particular helped me know that I was not alone in the thoughts I have about modern day Christianity. They will both likely continue to be mentioned frequently here.

I have also been reading quite a bit of cross-denominational things. All of them have influenced me to one degree or another. I discard none of them because of their particular affiliations. I will conclude this post by telling you that Quaker foundational thought, if they even admit to that, is where I am now in my walk with God. And in my humble opinion their non-creedal and non-exclusion stances are probably a critical part of the foundation of the future church.

I do not expect to be capable of completing this task by my own strength so I pray that theHoly Spirit guide me through this study.

Until the next time, I bid you peace….

Salvation According to a Progressive Quaker

Here is an interesting article from the blog quakerquaker.org that I thought worth putting here. He has quite a few valid arguments but I’m sure most will ignore them due to him coming to the “wrong” conclusion.

The essence of the Good News of the Gospel as taught by Jesus is very simple and can be understood by even a child. The purpose of life is to have good and fulfilling relationships with other people and the larger community of life. 

Jesus saved us, not through his death, but by showing us how to live our lives. His entire life on earth was about overcoming evils and temptations, and his death was the conclusion of that struggle. Just as we are faced with evils and temptations in our lives, Jesus struggled against those same temptations as a human. In overcoming them, He taught us the way to live. It is only by so doing that we can be truly happy. Salvation is the product of developing a genuine love for other people and for God. We reject salvation if we choose not to love others like God loves us. Salvation is not dependent on the doctrinal specifics of the religion you have followed on earth. The choices that we make on a daily basis are what determine whether we end up in heaven or hell.

God gives everyone the freedom to choose their beliefs and live their lives accordingly. Salvation is available for people of all religions. All religions have goodness in them. There are many paths to heaven. The requirements for salvation are simple: live well, believe rightly, and you will be saved. Truth is love in action. Actions performed out of love are genuine expressions in a physical form of what love means. All people who live good lives, no matter what their religion, have a place in heaven and the Kingdom of God here on earth.  

Real “salvation” is found in the practice of certain principles Jesus taught that still apply today, such as the Great Commandment, the Sermon on the Mount, and his parables. We need to focus on what Jesus said in the Gospels rather than the theological musings of early Church leaders who never met Jesus personally, such as Paul. Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is found within us. That means we don’t have to die to go to heaven. We create heaven on earth by living out the teachings of Jesus. The core of his teaching is following the radical grace of his Great Commandment – “Love God and Love one another” rather than Pharisee-style legalism or having the “correct beliefs” (please refer to the Good Samaritan parable which discusses this principle).

God does not judge us. We judge ourselves by what we love and how we live. Salvation is granted to all people who love God and try to live a good life according to what they believe is right. We play an active role in our salvation every day of our lives. When we look to the Divine and live according to what we believe is right, we move closer towards heaven. If we shun good, we move closer to hell. Thus, salvation and freedom of choice are inseparable from each other.

We learn about the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. The Bible is a very complex compilation of books that are far too rich to be limited to literal interpretation or viewed as “inerrant” or “infallible”. The Bible is not a history or science textbook. When using the Bible, we need to know the relative value of each book in the Bible. The Gospels relate some of the actual teachings of Jesus, as well as some of the mythos which built up about him based upon some of the rival pagan mystery cults that were prevalent at that time. The Old Testament relates the tribal and cultural myths of the Hebrew peoples which set the stage for the prophetic and messianic expectations that were prevalent during the time of Jesus. The rest of the New Testament, such as the letters of Paul, Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation, relate the theological presumptions and bias of some of the early Church leaders who were influenced by their historical and cultural environment. Just as Jesus taught through the use of parables, we can find useful insights in various stories of the Bible by viewing them as allegories and metaphors for our own spiritual journey and growth process, from the Garden of Eden to the Heavenly City, which can be applied to our everyday lives. It then becomes our story.

In one of the most defining moments of his ministry, Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest. Matthew 22:36-39 “[Jesus], which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

In the Gospel of John, he reclarified the Great Commandment. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). Or as I like to put it – Love God through loving service to others.

This teaching of the Great Commandment of Jesus fulfills the intent of the Golden Rule and surpasses it with the higher intent of love. By following the Great Commandment, we can order our Ruling Loves in a Heavenly manner – Love of God, Love of Others before Love of the World (Power, Money, Prestige, etc.) and Love of Self. Obviously Hellish Ruling Loves would be in an inverse order. Heaven and hell are often states of consciousness that we choose by what we love.

God is Love and nothing but what is good can come from Him. By following the core teachings of Jesus, we can become the children of God by becoming that radical love. As we live, we choose what kind of love we will be. We may choose to be egocentric and regard ourselves as the only reality where our own needs, desires, and feelings are all important. Or we may choose to focus on others. In the former instance, we shrink in spirit, allowing a part of our potential as loving beings to atrophy. In the latter instance, we grow spiritually, heightening our awareness of the nature of love and thus also of the nature of ourselves and God.

Loving service to others is the way love works. True happiness is not possible unless it is in accordance with being of use to others. The spiritual life involves the active development of a useful and meaningful life in service to the betterment of the world as a whole. Whereas the religious life often connotes withdrawal from the world and life, active participation in the world is a commitment to actualizing faith and charity. The life of charity and faith parallel the union of love and truth which is the essence of God. As we increase compassion, integrity, understanding, and healing in our lives, we are helping God create a “new Heaven and a new Earth.” It is the responsibility of all people to develop their own beliefs and live their lives accordingly.

If there is an afterlife, it is likely that we continues to live in a heavenly life or a hellish one, based on the quality of life choices made here. Heaven and hell are not rewards or punishments distributed on judgment day but the present inner experience we freely choose. We may choose to enjoy peace and openness, or to close ourselves in fear. We can discover the highest joy of a loving life by giving to others, or the loneliness of self-centeredness. We may choose to enjoy peace and openness, or to close ourselves in fear. Life is an opportunity for learning and spiritual growth. As we choose between giving and taking, loving and hating, right and wrong, we participate in the creation of our own spiritual character. To become an angel, reject self-centered longings, do what is good, and love God.

Heaven is for everyone who wants to live there. The only reason someone would go to hell is because they have chosen to go there of their own volition. Those who choose hell are people who put themselves above all else, repeatedly indulging in things which are hurtful to others. The only reason hell exists is to preserve the freedom of choice which God grants to all His people.

The Gospel is a powerful vehicle for inner and societal transformation. Inner transformation results from connecting to something larger than the ego. By settling down and heeding the promptings of the Spirit, we can connect to God as that interconnectedness or ground of being underlying all things, especially living beings, in the Universe. This divine connection through Christ then transforms how we behave when we are mindful of this interconnectedness by helping us to see Christ in others and prompting us to live out the values within the Sermon on the Mount. Our changed behaviors cause different responses from others which can lead to communal and societal transformation through the power of the Gospel. When we view this interdependence as love then we tend to get the same back from it. From this foundation, we should try as much as possible to extend loving-kindness to all other living beings which is the primary point of the Great Commandment of Jesus.

We create unnecessary suffering when we forget about the profound interrelatedness of all things. How we treat each other, other living beings, and our environment should be based upon this understanding. The ethic of reciprocity, commonly known as the Golden Rule, is a good, general ethical guideline for daily living, but the radical nature of love which Jesus calls us to goes far beyond mere ethical reciprocity. It is important that we consider the needs of others, especially the less fortunate, before our own wants and desires.

You are WRONG!!!

Many if not most Christian evangelical denominations insist that they are the only ones who 100% understand the nature of God.  They each believe everyone else is wrong to one degree or another. There sometimes seems to be more arguing with fellow Christians among themselves than there is any sharing of the Word with those outside their current brand of beliefs. In that regard it is nice to see at least one Christian organization that is not out to prove everyone else is wrong. click the following link to see an article by a Quaker author about being peacemakers.  http://www.friendsjournal.org/personal-peacemaking

The above article is from an August 2008 Friends Journal but is timeless in its advice. It covers 21 tips on personal peacemaking but could also be applied at the denominational level. To tweak your curiosity I will include a few of the tips here along with a brief personal perspective on what they might mean in regards to inter-denominational squabbles that occur regularly today.

  • Making fun of the person you are in conflict with, or engaging in sarcasm or ridicule, is poison.

Ridicule of our opponents on Christian issues seems to be almost the norm today as it is in our current political environments. Of course when we are ridiculed we immediately know that it is a poison to any rational debate. Even various theologians seem to use this vehicle against those who disagree with them.

  • Judging a person or deciding “who is wrong and who is right” is just another form of blaming.

Jesus had a lot to say about judgment and this is just another way to say what he said.

  • We are responsible at all times for choosing behavior that meets our highest moral/ethical standards

The Golden Rule should be how we treat everyone; even those who we disagree with.

  • Blame is not a helpful concept.

We should quit trying to prove everyone else is wrong and just go about our lives as Jesus taught us by treating each of our brothers, both Christian and non-Christian with respect.  Creating over 35,000 different versions of Christ is harmful to each of us and to the Body of Christ in general. These conflicts are definitely not in the instructions Jesus gave us.

Why Did You Tell Us?…

Happy New Year’s everyone! God has given us another year to show the Lord’s love in our lives. Let’s not waste it!

This will just be a short post from something I have been reading this afternoon. It is an article in the January 2011 issue of Friends Journal – Quaker Thoughts and Life Today. The article is entitled The Meaning of Universalism by Phil H. Gulley. I will be discussing some of the issues he brings up about Universalism in future posts but I just wanted to give you one of the short stories in that article now. I found it comical and ironic at the same time:

It was about a church that decided someone needed to go preach to the Eskimos to go save them because they were lost. So they sent a missionary to the Eskimos, and he preached. When the missionary was done preaching, an Eskimo elder said to him, “Before you leave, let me ask you something. If we had never heard of Jesus and sin, would we have gone to hell when we died?” The missionary replied. “Well, no, of course not if you hadn’t heard.” And the Eskimo said, “Then why did you tell us?”

Are we condemning people who otherwise would not have gone to hell by our brief encounters with other cultures? That is something to think about. 🙂

Speaking up in church..

Speaking up in church is something that varies widely in the Christian world. When my wife and I joined a small startup church eight years ago everyone there felt welcomed to speak up after the service. Since the church was a liturgical one speaking up during the service was a limited to chanting the required verses as they came up in the service text. But after the service anyone who had something to say could stand up and speak their mind. During those years we were renting space in a strip mall so our church was somewhat unconventional at least from an architectural standpoint. We were a small congregation so speaking up was a good way for everyone to get to know their fellow members.

Five years or so after the startup and with a new pastor we bought and remodeled a space that looked much more like a conventional church. Not long after the new facilities were completed a decision was made to restrict speaking up to only the pastor. If someone wanted to say something they are now required to give their written message to the pastor and he would recite it to the congregation after the service. I’m not really sure the purpose for this change but one of the results, at least from my viewpoint, was to take away much of the small church feel and personal fellowship. I was saddened to not hear those special, although sometimes long winded personal recitals. 🙂

I know when I was a member of a Catholic congregation many years ago speaking up was also limited to pretty much the pastor. The ability to stand up and speak varies greatly among different denominations. Some encourage speaking up with an occasional “Amen” during the service; some allow more personal utterances. But I think there is primarily only one who actually have “speaking up” as the primary means of worship and that is The Society of Friends known as Quakers. For those Quakers who use the unprogrammed worship format speaking up is what the service is all about. It is left up to the congregants to decide what is said during their worship time. Some meeting (services) go the whole period in silence; some are a constant messages as received by the members from the Holy Spirit.

I think God meant us to speak up during our worship time and not to just have everything set up to automatically speak for us.

Study of Quakers – Some Personal Thoughts (con’t)

Ok now on to some of the few things where I feel Quakers beliefs fall a little short .  

The core of Quakerism is as solid a foundation as I think I have ever come across in Christianity. But, much of it seems to eroded especially during the period between 1800 and 1900. I’m sure there are many meetings that still stick to the core tenets but there appears to be many that also have drifted to other beliefs. This saddens me.

I do lament Quakers apparent marginalizing of some of the words of Jesus. Jesus clearly taught that all should be baptized. His great commission

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”–  

Matthew 28 as shown here very much emphasized this practice. Whereas most Christian sects greatly play down the “do as I have commanded” part the Quakers play down the physical aspects of baptism. If I understand them correctly most Quakers believe that this should be a personal process and no public ceremony is necessary. I will have to study their history more to see how they think this aligns with the words of Jesus. While a public ceremony may not be necessary I think it help to re-enforce other Christians.  

The other practice is communion. I understand again that Quakers believe that their communion with Jesus is a personal thing but I think the public ceremony does strengthen the corporate bond with our fellow believers. I think they claim that the quiet time is where they experience Jesus and that the ceremonial act of the Eucharist is unnecessary. Maybe my life long liturgical upbringing is just getting in the way here.  I just don’t know at this point.

One other area that troubles me a about Quakers is that since they don’t align with any creeds  or confessions so their congregations, or meetings as they call them, are across a wide spectrum. They seem to go all the way from Unitarian to very fundamentalist evangelicals. If I were to choose to join a Quaker meeting, and I may someday do just that, I will have to do a lot of research as to just what that particular meeting practices. This lack of uniformity is troublesome to me. The messages of their founders is so strong it is really a shame that they can’t seem to coalesce around some central tenets in order to be a more united group. I know Quakers, following George Fox’s lead, veer away from creedal documents but I think they would be better off if they were not quite so shy of more forcibly demonstrating their core convictions. This variation within the movement is certainly regrettable but I guess this is pretty common to all Christian denominations so it is not unique to them. By their lack of conformity they seem to reflect a lack of conviction and that is indeed regrettable to me.

Some areas that I have touched upon during my study warrant further investigation. One of those areas is Quakers being shunned for marrying outside of their sect and shunning in general. I think these are things of the past but I am not sure. Shunning seems to be the exact opposite of showing our love for the God within each person? At first glance these issues are a little troubling to me. But, before I pass personal opinions on them I need to study them some more.

So to close out this rather lengthy discussion on Quakers I believe that the core tenets of Quakerism follow the words of Jesus more than any other version of Christianity I have studied to date. They are certainly an action group whereas many other forms of Christianity are more words than deeds. So, to summarize more than a month of postings, I think I have finally found a religious movement that lives by the words of Jesus in both thoughts and action. At least as I understand them. Are they perfect? Certainly not but are any of us? Just because this series of posts are complete does not mean that my study of Friends is finished; in reality it is likely just beginning. There is MUCH more I want to learn about this group of Christians and especially how they put the Lord’s words into actions.

Study of Quakers – Some Personal Thoughts

After this fairly thorough study of Quakers I am ready to summarize my personal thoughts on Quakers and their beliefs and practices. First of all I must say that I am very much attuned to most Quaker beliefs. I think that Quakers really understand what Christ taught on how to live our lives. Not only do they believe it but they practice it in their daily lives. More so than almost any other Christians. I very much admire them for that. Their testimonies, which to me are really statements for their personal actions truly reflect what I think Jesus had in mind about living our lives. I might not be, at least yet, a Quaker in membership but, by this study I am convinced that I am one in my heart.

Many of the strong feelings I have had throughout my life I have now found to be very much aligned with long established Quaker beliefs. I was eight years old when I gave my best friend a black eye over some dispute that I can’t even remember. Immediately after that incident I was totally devastated over the violence I had done. I promised myself that I would never strike or injure another person in that manner. I have lived up to that promise since then. Along these same lines I have always felt that the various wars we have been involved in were totally against God’s will. The Quaker belief that God is in each of us and therefore if you kill another person you are killing God also.

I recently went through a round is emails with a Christian friend about Biblical Inerrancy. After much discussion I was told, maybe not in so many words, that if I didn’t take the whole bible as being totally the word of God then somehow I needed to rethink whether I am really a Christian. I knew there were other Christians out there who didn’t buy into the inerrancy logic but having grown up and lived in that tradition I did not run across them very frequently. It was certainly relieving to find that Quakers for the last three hundred years have been espousing what I personally believe is the true message of the Bible. It contains words of God, but it is not THE word of God. The word of God is Jesus as the apostle John states at the very beginning of this Gospel.

I believe in simplicity, especially when it come to religious institutions. It has always been an affront to me that Christians throughout history have spent billions of dollars making giant cathedrals for themselves in order to “worship” God. In the early times this was totally Catholic in nature but Protestants have also fallen prey to this practice. Jesus did not tell us to spend our money on idols to him; he told us to spend it on his kingdom work. Many believe that if we don’t have lavish surroundings then our guests will look elsewhere for their spiritual needs. To me just the opposite is true. So, when I found out that Quakers purposefully keep their worship facilities very simple. I found another reason to think that they are one of the few denomination that really “get it”. On a personal level, their beliefs on simplicity also align with my anti-stuff campaign I have tried to wage most of my life.

I just can’t get over the fact that most of my strongest life beliefs end up being part of Quaker practices and traditions. This fact totally amazes me!

Next time will go over some of the things that I believe Quakers fall short on. This list is much smaller than the one above.