Trying to define the essential doctrines of the faith of all Christians is like trying to move the Rocky Mountain range to the East coast one teaspoon at a time. The immense adventure becomes frustrating before it begins because of the realization that no matter what doctrines are chosen as essential, not everyone will agree with the choices. Why was this included? Why did this get left out? Does this list show a bias against someone or something?
On occasion I have been asked to serve on a community ecumenical committee with the hopes of crafting a statement that represents the beliefs of the believers in the area. Most often the “doomed before birthed” group would have had a better chance picking one song to sing at a worship that would appeal to the musical and theological tastes of everyone. The only thing we could universally agree upon is that we won’t agree upon anything universally. Why bother?
We bother because of the quest to be united. Our God prayed for it. Our brothers and sisters long for it. Our post-Christian culture needs it. A couple of years ago we were driving home from a week’s vacation in Florida through the backroads of Alabama. Mile after mile of asphalt traversed, we saw acre after acre of land plowed, planted or produced. Palm trees or pine, villages of three houses or 300, what is it that ties together this great country of ours?
The drive on a Sunday morning showed but one thing. Brick and mortar, siding and timber, small to medium to large buildings peppered the landscape to beckon believers to stir from their slumber and to start their week heading in the right direction. I could have pulled off into any of the dirt, gravel or paved parking lots and stepped into more than an empty folding chair or pew. Though hundreds of miles from Louisville’s slice of the Ohio, I would have been home.
The nearly impossible task of mountain moving becomes even more complicated when trying to determine which teaspoon should be moved first. It didn’t take long before the spoon became very clear and very full.
Earlier this spring, a Pennsylvania school stopped saying “God bless America” over the loudspeaker after a parent complained. Sabold Elementary School in Springfield, PA, had a long-standing custom of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance together led by someone over a speaker system. The leader would end the pledge by saying “and God bless America.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote the superintendent and argued that the action was unconstitutional.
Just months later, Pastor Alvin Dupree, a member of the Appleton (WI) Area School District’s Board of Education, delivered a 10-minute speech during the graduation service at Appleton North High School. The speech mentioned the name of Jesus one time. Dupree ended his speech by saying, “God bless.”
He was supposed to say, “best wishes.” The Wisconsin-based FFRF protested. “Dupree is gleefully thumbing his nose at the Constitution. Appleton school officials cannot allow him to get away with this,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
Discussions about religion and the Constitution are about God. Atheists reject religion because they don’t believe in God. Agnostics waver on religion because they say that we cannot really know if God exists. Only the trio of religions whose faith centers on the God of the Bible limit their doctrines to the worship of one God.
If there is a starting place for our faith, it is the belief in a personal, creating God. It is the foundation that unites the Jews, Christians and Muslims in faith. While nearly every other doctrine causes these religions to part ways, they all agree that the God to be worshiped is monotheistic.
Philosopher John Gray argues that belief in God should have nothing to do with religion. He points out that “polytheism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, and even in some strands of Judaism, and Christian and Muslim traditions, belief is of no importance.” It is the practice and ritual that counts.
Gray goes on to say that “it is only religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths. What we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.”
At the risk of sounding ignorant, I will agree with Gray that what matters here on earth is how we live. Environmentalists concerned about the future of our planet care about how we live. Sociologists and psychologists dedicate their lives to studying how we live. Even the peace and tranquility of the handful of adults who live together in my house care about how I live. The question is “what if there is more to life than life on earth?”
It’s a 50/50 shot. Heads or tails? True or false? Yes or no? Does life go on beyond the grave? If it does, then I need to know what matters in eternity. The existence of a personal, creative God answers the question of what matters in eternity because God is eternal.
A creative God explains my existence. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Rather than existing by random chance, man is fearfully and wonderfully made, crafted after the crafter, designed to reflect the designer. Ironically, it even answers the question of how we should then live.
A personal God explains the thoughts inside my head. Some call it a conscience, others mention an intuition. It is the voice that warns me when I listen. It is the cheering that urges me on when I attempt to move the mountain. How does that personal voice come from a random impersonal force?
Rich Mullins, a singer and songwriter who was a Christian, once wrote, “I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am. I did not make it; no, it is making me.”
The very truth of God.
— Tom May is a freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.