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Advent Alphabet: Q is for Questions

question-markQ is for questions. I asked in an earlier letter if it was possible to have faith, and also have questions, even doubts about what we have been taught about God, and Jesus. I quoted a friend who makes the distinction between having faith in God, and believing everything put forward in our religious tradition. (His name is Rev. Del Stewart, and I had his book “Thinking About Christmas” with me as I wrote some of these letters.)

I continue to have questions and opinions about Christian tradition. I hope to encourage your thinking, and your questions. My friend and editor Tom Ehrich addressed some questions about the stories of Jesus’s birth, in his latest edition of the online magazine Fresh Day:

Question about the infancy narratives

The Jesus movement, as it evolved first in the early church, and then over time, to the current multiplicity of churches and sects and denominations, has collected a big “box” of ideas about God, and Jesus, and our relationship with God. Different groups keep their own special containers of ideas that make them distinct. There have been terrible feuds over the centuries about what should or shouldn’t be in the box.

Many denominations, including the United Church of Canada, have creeds, or statements of belief. (The word creed comes from the latin word “credo” which means “I believe”.) Often we use creeds not so much to teach people about what we believe, but to say, “If you agree with these statements, you can be one of us”. I remember when I attended confirmation classes as a young adult, the minister used each session to “explain” a section of the Apostles Creed. (Not be confused with Apollo Creed, who faced off in the ring against Rocky.)apollo-creed

Creeds have been a kind of “entrance examination” we require before welcoming someone into the church. Before we baptize an infant, we ask the parents a set of questions- that contain fairly abstract and complex ideas. They are expected to say “Yes, I believe that”, if they want to have their child baptized.

There are good reasons for asking the questions- we want to make sure people know what we stand for, before they agree to join us. But there are problems with the “faith in a box” approach. It does not always encourage independent thought. We often ask our newest members to agree to things the average person in the pew could not explain. This also perpetuates what I see as the “faith as a noun” problem.

To require people to give assent to a package of ideas about God and Jesus can lead to thinking about faith as something we “have”. To “have faith” is often thought of as accepting what is in the box. (The other side of this would be that if you question or doubt anything in the idea box, you obviously don’t “have” faith.)

I think that faith should be a verb rather than a noun, action rather than static object. Faith is praying, loving, risking, trusting, hoping, thinking, doubting, doing, building, helping, singing, living. It is what we do, not what we have. We can do these things in the company of people who have different ideas. We can be active faithful people, even when we are not sure we agree with, or understand everything in the box.

The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, minister at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario

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