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Do You Believe What You Believe? Part 2: The Church and Its Words

I’ll never forget that Sunday morning.


I’m sitting in church and, for maybe the 5,000th time, we came to that point in the service where we all stand and recite what we call “The Creed.”



Which generally means one out of two options: The Apostle’s Creed or The Nicene Creed. (There are other Creeds, but these two are the most recited Christian Creeds worldwide.)


If you didn’t grow up in church, all you need to know about The Creeds is that they were ancient “statements of Belief” (the word “Creed” literally means “I Believe”) that church fathers from the first few centuries constructed to pull together the core tenants of the Christian faith.


But more importantly, the primary reason the Creeds were written was to combat and correct heresies that had been floating around regarding things like Jesus’s divinity, Jesus’s humanity, the role of the human body, the nature of the Trinity, etc.


So, to ensure that all Christians would be “on the same page” about what they should “believe”, they drew up a statement about what was most important in Christianity.

The kind of stuff that, if you didn’t “believe” parts of it, you really had no business calling yourself a Christian.


Here’s a sample from the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…….I believe in the Holy Spirit, The Holy Christian Church, The communion of Saints, The forgiveness of sins, The resurrection of the Body, And the life everlasting….

Now, before I go any further, please know that my intention is not to “bash” these ancient Creeds. Personally, I think it’s pretty cool when we, as a church, say in unison something that millions of other Christians are saying around the world at that same moment (in thousands of different languages), and what BILLIONS of Christians that came before us had recited over the broad history of the church.


There certainly can be a unifying effect. In fact, many people forget that the Creeds are not prayers. Meaning they are not directed towards God, but towards each other, to remind ourselves and the church what we “believe.”


Now, why do I keep putting “believe” in quotations?


Let’s get back to that Sunday in church.


For whatever reason, in the middle of reciting all the “I Believes,” a question popped into my head: “Do I actually believe all of this? Do the people in the pews around me actually believe all of this?”


And, as you might imagine, these questions were closely followed up with the far more important, semi-philosophical question:


“What is belief?”


Or….“What does it mean to ‘believe’ something? Does believing something mean just saying it out loud? Does it mean taking something that someone has said you should believe and, even if you’re still not 100% sure about it, you recite it over and over and over again until you eventually agree with it?”


I couldn’t answer that question.


And because I couldn’t define belief, as you might imagine, I was unable to conclude whether or not I believed the things I was sayingout loud that I believed.


By the time I got out of my own head, I realized the Creed was over, and I was the only one in the room still on their feet. Awkward.


Have you ever wrestled with that question? When you say you ‘believe’ something (whether it’s a belief in God, a belief in humanity, or a belief ‘in a thing called love’ (to quote an obscure band from my high school days), what are you actually saying?


If you feel you have a firm grasp on this, then read no further. I’m serious. I don’t want to waste your time.


But if you’re like me, and those philosophical questions eventually bubbled to the surface of your mind and you simply could not ignore them any longer, then walk with me a bit more.

If you recall from last week, my definition of belief (which has clearly evolved since that awkward day in church) has now lined up with arguably the most faithful Biblical definition:


To believe something means you live your life in such a way that you trust and expect the thing you believe in to come to pass. And that the only way to truly reveal whether or not you ACTUALLY believe something (or not), is in the arena of life experience.


In other words, my true belief in the safety of driving a car can only be revealed the moment I actually get in my Toyota and drive on the freeway without even thinking about it.

We also covered what belief is NOT:

  • It is not simply receiving information about something and deciding internally that I agree with it.

  • It is not something I work hard to intellectually “muster up” or assent to

  • It is not declaring to a group of people that I believe what I believe

(We also used the driving analogy negatively here to show how ridiculous it would be if someone said they “believed” in the power of driving, but never actually got out onto the road).

So, how does this definition of “belief” fit within the context of a church?


Well, ironically, as beautiful and articulate as our Creeds are, they also can create a dangerous roadblock for us to truly believe what we’re reciting.


Why?


Because if our church is operating under a misguided definition of belief, then that will determine what kind of church we will be.

If the underlying implication is that all that belief amounts to is professing certain words with our mouths in a public setting, then our beliefs never need to make it down to the level of our hearts, minds, or bodies. I can simply profess I believe something forever without having to test or verify it in real life.

But the mind is a beautiful, tricky thing, And it’s very possible that (as in my case) the cognitive dissonance will eventually catch up with us, and we will realize that there is a disconnect between what we’re professing to believe and what we truly trust and expect.


And then we have a choice.


We can either address it or find a way to justify it. Our minds and wills only have those two options.


To choose the latter is the beginning of what some call the “Double-Life.” And in the case of the Christian, it’s a life in which my body believes certain things on Monday through Saturday, but then on Sunday I say out loud that I believe something else entirely, and that profession can temporarily satisfy my mind.


How does the double-life play out for the Christian?


I can talk all day about how pornography is bad and evil, but my unconscious actions when I’m behind closed doors ultimately decide whether or not I trust that to be true. However, as long as I continue to outwardly tell people that it’s evil, that trumps the rest, and I can sleep soundly at night with my “beliefs” in tact.


I can talk all day about how being a generous person is the best way to live, but it’s how I steward my assets (my financial habits and tendencies) that ultimately reveal whether I’m convinced that is true. However, in order to protect my “beliefs,” I’ll continue to preach about the goodness of generosity, which will satisfy my audience.


And we as a church can announce on a Sunday that we believe in “the Resurrection of the Body”, but our unconscious actions will ultimately decide whether we believe, according to Jesus, that death truly will not be a reality for us. However, even if our lives continue to convey utter terror at the thought of death, and we do everything we can do avoid the grave by increasing our security and staying young, all we need to do is quote Paul’s words “O Death, where is thy sting” on Sunday morning, and our “beliefs” will be safe.


You see the dilemma?


This is what happens when our actual lives are not in line with our professed beliefs.


So, now, every time I recite an article of the Creed, I find myself reflecting on my week prior, and the dialogue in my head will go like this:


Outer Andrew: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…”


Inner Andrew: “Wait, how have I experienced this in a way that has enhanced my belief in God as my loving Father, and as the Almighty One who holds everything together? How did I choose to trust and expect God to be Fatherly towards me on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday?”


In other words, have I lived in such a way that reciting my beliefs is no longer paramount, because my beliefs speak for themselves? Am I one step closer to becoming the kind of person that, without having to think about it, reveals my trust in a good, right, and true God to the world in even the most (seemingly) mundane circumstances?


So how do we take steps to eliminate the Double-Life?


One of my favorite hymns has a line in it that goes like this:


“Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him, How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er”

A person that learns to trust Jesus with their day-to-day lives will eventually prove Jesus as trustworthy. A church that learns to trust Jesus with their day-to-day lives will eventually prove Jesus as trustworthy, and will be a force to be reckoned with. They will be like salt poured onto a bland world, and they will be hard to miss. And over time, a “statement of faith or belief,” while beneficial and unifying, will no longer be of vital importance to them.


But how does a church get there? How does a church go from a community that professes belief to a church that proves belief?


Well, in addition to sufficient grace from God, they will need a plan and a pathway. And they’ll need to sort out what kinds of people should be in their little community.


But that’s for next week.


Be well, my friends.


-Andrew

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