As the contemporary church transitions through this age of changing forms, focus, and mission it become increasingly difficult to discern exactly where the faith is heading. This state of limbo tends to create separate and distinct forms of reaction as some Christians embrace change and new directions as much-needed alterations in a church that is increasingly irrelevant and marginalized. Others welcome this transition about as much as they would a case of poison ivy. Instead of looking for new and vital ways to present the faith to a post-modern world, they retreat into cultural isolation and long for a return to the “good old days,” obviously forgetting that those halcyon days are a product of their imagination and euphoric recall more than anything else.
If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you are probably aware that I tend to fall more into the former camp than the latter. The Christian faith is in a major time of crisis and unless it undergoes radical transformation, it is going to become a historical relic with virtually little or no cultural impact. That’s why I firmly believe that the Emergent Movement within the church is not something to be feared, but instead, constitutes a long-overdue revitalization of the Christian faith on all fronts.
I am especially pleased that more and more followers of Jesus are coming to see that our faith was originally one where experience took priority over doctrine and “belief” and that trust in the Master and the teachings of the faith was transformational, more so than correct belief.
I mention all this because I have recently been reading Diana Butler Bass’ latest book, entitled Christianity After Religion. I am enjoying the book and learning much from its analysis of how the church arrived at its current dilemma, and future directions that it might take.
This, however, is not a review of this book.
As I mentioned, the Emergent Church movement is trending more toward experience as the true content of the Christian journey and that doctrine, although it serves a purpose, is not the true litmus test of one’s faith.
In a chapter entitled, “Believing,” Bass shares how the Massai people of East Africa, aided by Catholic missionaries, revised the Apostles’ Creed so that if more clearly reflected the realities of their encounter with Jesus. I want to share that revision with you, as I think it is not only relevant to the Massai people, but 21st Century Christians in America as well:
We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created Man and wanted Man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know Him in the light. God promised in the book of His word, the Bible, that He would save the world and all the nations and tribes.
We believe that God made good His promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left His home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, He rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.
We believe that all our sins are forgiven through Him. All who have faith in Him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for Him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen
Personally, I find this version of the creed far more relative and far more transformative than the one composed all those many centuries ago. It contains the same truths, but presents these truths in a different, more personal way. In my mind, it points directly to God’s great story of restoration, healing, and ultimate happiness. Diana Butler Bass, speaking of this version of the creed, states:
The Maasi creed invites us to go on a safari with Jesus. These are not just words about God; rather, these words welcome us into a story of God’s hope for human happiness and healing.
Bass then goes on to share these important nuances of the French ancestry of the word “doctrine”:
Indeed, the word “doctrine,” a word fallen on hard times in contemporary culture, actually means a “healing teaching,” from the French word for “doctor.” The creeds, as doctrinal statements, were intended as healing instruments, life-giving words that would draw God’s people into a deeper engagement with divine things. When creeds become fences to mark the borders of heresy, they lose their spiritual energy. Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people.
I think it is fairly obvious that our creeds, uttered in repetitious, monotone lockstep, have, through centuries of non-reflective recitation, lost all vestiges of spiritual energy. Further, they have been misapplied repeatedly, rather than used as the healing balm as originally intended. Instead, Christian legalists and rigid fundamentalists have appropriated the classic creeds of the faith at “statements of belief” and a litmus test of authentic Christianity.
This has constituted a great loss for the faith as a whole, but it is a loss that can be rectified, as in the case of the Maasi creed cited above. This is an exciting yet challenging time for the church. In order for the faith to not only survive, but thrive, new wineskins are sorely needed – wineskins that are more relevant to the contemporary world encountered by the faithful each and every day.
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