It is so easy to say "I believe". The real question however is; what do you actually believe? What is the content of your faith? In a post-modernistic and information age, coupled with more and more people who feel that their faith has reached a stage where the traditional confessions might not fully express their believes, it might just be a valuable exercise to sit down and really think about the content of your own belief system.
I would like to provide a few statements about my own belief system (in no particular order). This is by far not my last words, nor am I trying to give you an absolute truth. I believe we are on an ever-changing journey on which we gain more and more insights; changing and correcting our views in alignment to God's Word and will. In saying this, these statements represent where I am now on my journey - albeit an off-road journey.
1. Emerging & Reformed
The term "emergent" has received negative content the past few years due to criticism against some of the emergent theologians, i.e. Rob Bell and others. So let me define the word from my perception:
I see emergent as something gradually and almost unnoticed coming into being; growing into the full potential inherent of its being by "using" the experiences already gained. In terms of myself then; emerging means to me the gradual growth and fulfilment of my God-given potential by learning from the past experiences and insights gained. This is also why I can say that this is not my last words; its where I am NOW on the journey.
In a sense, it goes hand in hand with being reformed. I'm not reformed only because I believe in the dogma that Luther & Calvin started in the 16th & 17th centuries, and that which developed through the following 300 - 400 years. I'm reformed because being reformed is to constantly evaluate the "teaching of the day" against the Bible and the original "golden thread" of God's interaction with man. On the other hand, I'm NOT saying that I'm throwing away the teachings and dogmas of the past 300 - 400 years of reformation. Many theologians wrote volumes of very valuable insights, dogma and ethics since then and many of them have indeed played a major role in forming my faith and understanding. But, they do not have the last word on all matters and we should continually evaluate and reform as our understanding grow.
I'm reformed because I believe in the "root" creeds and words of Jesus as portrayed in the Bible. But I'm also constantly reforming to a better understanding of Jesus' original teachings and to a better life and practice of His teachings.
The reformers coined the phase: "semper reformada" which explains this notion. This phrase was meant to take Christianity back to the original teaching of Jesus; to the original creeds and dogma developed over the first century. But the phrase also captured the notion of continually reforming; in a sense to never get into the same situation the Catholic church got into after 1600 years. If we lose this, we're bound to end up in the same situation because its inevitable that the church community will, over time, institutionalise certain practices and beliefs. Even today we can identify many "church rules and practices" which developed over time and are enforced by well-meaning churches, but which kills the life of the church and its members. Practices and rules which even exclude others just for not "being like us".
I'm reformed and reforming which include the possibility to include newer creeds; creeds that address a modern problem. The creeds from the 16th and 17th century might still be applicable today, but does this mean that for 300 - 400 years there were no need for a confession addressing modern problems like apartheid, racism, colonialism, war, etc. I believe we should be open to adopt new confessions (like the Confession of Belhar) if we are truly reformed and reforming.
Another important notion built into this phrase is the fact that we are being reformed (passive form) by the Word and the Holy Spirit. It's not as if we are reforming by our own will; we're being reformed.
Therefore, I'm reformed by believing in the original words, teachings and "dogma" of Jesus, the disciples, apostles and the early church. But I'm also constantly reforming; emerging into a deeper understanding of Christian life, practices and ethics as I travel on this journey with God.
I believe that God is the Creator of all things in their own form and nature. I do not believe that all things evolved from one single cell. However, I do accept the fact that all things can and will go through changes while continually evolving to the demands of the environment. Adam & Eve did not buy their meat from the local butcher and probably did not use knives, forks, cups and glasses. It is quite possible that they adapted to their environment and in this same way we have over time adapted to our environment. And I'm convinced our descendants, exposed to computers and refined "everything", will again adapt to their new environment. That kind of evolution I do accept; but it is confind to the form and nature of each species.
That brings me to my second belief about the Creator - that He is also the RE-creator. To me this means that God is actively involved in his creation. He did not start the creation and is now just sitting back, seeing how His creation plays out. This would make Him a deterministic, static, passive God. I believe He is an active, dynamic God, involved in every second of our lives and His creation; changing, re-creating, adapting, intercepting and working for our "good" (Rom 8:39).
Hand-in-hand with this notion, I do not believe God created a blueprint for our lives and is now just sitting back while watching as this plan plays out. If this argument is taken further, it would mean that God is then also the author of the sin and mistakes which inevitably would be part of my life.
Therefore, I believe in God as the Creator of all things and the re-creator of all things. Actively involved in my life, correcting, protecting and guiding me through His Word and Holy Spirit to "emerge" toward a better understanding of Him, life, Christian practice.
3. Jesus and the Kingdom of God
I believe that Jesus brought the "good news". Whenever we (the church or Christian community) make the words and teaching of Jesus not "good news" anymore, I believe we've missed the point. That's not to say I believe in a theology based on prosperity; the well known "claim it and frame it" theology. But I do believe that when our ministry to the world is adding more moral laws and legalism to that which Jesus refuted towards the Pharisees, we've got it wrong. The church, our words, practices and preaching should never burden people more than what we're burdened already with - the magnitude of our sin and brokenness. Now I'm fully aware that this statement can be misinterpreted; as if we should not guide and correct the wrong of people.
I believe that Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to all of creation. He did not come to begin a new religion. We are therefore not in "competition" with other religions; nor are we in a constant battle against other religions. We are here as agents of Jesus to establish the Kingdom of God over all of creation - good news to all who is burdened, broken and in need of salvation.
Coupled to this, I believe that we are saved by grace and grace alone. No "extra" should be added as a "requisite" to be reconciled with God - something which different denominations have excelled in doing. Jesus plus.... tithing, baptism, the "correct ethics" (whatever that might mean), church activities, a moral life etc. We are all in different stages in our spiritual journey; all emerging, reforming, growing, changing whatever needs to be changed in each of our lives differently. That's why I believe we can not measure and judge others for not yet conquering that which we maybe have conquered and consequently, deny them of the grace of God (grace killing).
Therefore, I believe we are saved by grace and started off on this pilgrimage with God, emerging and reforming as we go along.
I believe that Jesus came to reconcile us with God, with others and ourselves. Its like the cross: a vertical and horizontal beam of reconciliation. In short, all people are broken in some way or the other. Jesus came to heal us from our broken relationship with God. But often, people think that the only reason Jesus came to this world is to "fix" the broken relationship with God - as if the only purpose of Jesus' incarnation was to "get us out of hell". This notion is making Christianity just another religion like all the others. It also makes Jesus a commodity article; something we just need to get as a kind off insurance policy - to be protected against life after death. It also personalised Jesus in a way that ... as long as I have Jesus, I'm OK. This commoditisation and personalisation of Jesus doesn't change our life a bit. Not only doesn't it change my own life, it doesn't affect the life of people around me.
Therefore, I believe that Jesus reconciled me with God (vertical relationship) but ALSO reconciled me with my neighbour and myself (horizontal relationship). My relationship with God through Jesus Christ MUST make a difference to the people around me; those I come into contact on a daily basis; and equally important, myself! That's also the content of the torah and Jesus' summary: God and neighbours. We sometimes are so broken and judging on ourselves that we become literally incapacitated to such an extent that we don't have the energy or confidence to live a Christian life towards our neighbour. The reconciliation with God should have an effect on the reconciliation of the brokenness of my neighbour and myself. This ministry is given to us; to heal others; to reconcile others; to bring others into the restored relationship with God and themselves and their neighbour (2 Cor 5).
I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It has become "fashion" to minimise and even reject the physical resurrection of Jesus on the basis that "we have gained more modern knowledge and know that it is not possible". But for God everything is possible, yes, also the impossible. Without the resurrection, Jesus is "dead" and has been conquered by the devil's last weapon - death (Rom 3). But the resurrection restores our hope; conquered the evil destructing power of Satan. As Paul wrote; without the resurrection we are as hopeless as all people without God.
The resurrection also affirms the ability of us to change; to reform and emerge into what we need to become. The resurrection removes the "I can't" of man. The resurrection establishes the belief that we are part and parcel of Jesus' resurrection and can therefore live a life of victory and hope.
I therefore believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that we share that victory over all depressing and evil forces trying to neutralise us and steal our freedom and joy. The same power which rose Jesus from the dead, was given to us to go and LIVE.
6. Word of God / Bible
I believe in the Bible as the Word of God. Some Christians like to add the following to this statement: . Although I do believe in most of these "characteristics" of the Bible, I also believe that the Bible need to be interpreted, taking seriously in consideration its:
- to whom
- from whom
Surely what Matthew (a Jew) wrote to the Jews will have a different context and content than what Luke (a doctor), writing to the gentiles from his perception as a doctor, will have; and that needs to be understood in interpreting the Bible. Add to this the difference in language, idioms, translations and it will be clear that the Bible cannot be applied literally to every situation in our lives. The Bible was never meant to be a "handbook" for creation or science, or a "handbook" of history and timelines. Add to this, there is also relative and absolute truths in the Bible which needs to be taken into account. If Paul says that women are not to speak, its surely not meant to be an absolute statement for all times, but one made in the context of the congregation and time. And lastly, what we perceive to "hear" must be able to withstand the test of time and community as we can "hear" different things in different times. That makes the Bible actually more dynamic and living. It's God's revelation to us, carried by the context and writer, purpose and time to help us understand and get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
Now, in saying this, I do not strip the Bible from its authority; I'm merely taking into account the subjective nature of mankind and the possibility to interpret wrongly. The sad consequence is that the same Bible we all read, has been used by many to "bash" others; or used to say things which the Bible might not have meant. Again, the Bible is meant to be good news, not a whip to condemn people or to alienate people from God.
Therefore, I believe that the Bible is the authentic and authoritative word of God, but needs to be understood within the"golden thread" throughout the Bible; never to be used to "bash" others who disagrees with us.
Its a mystery! I do believe that we should never try to, or think we have "contained" God and explained Him fully. Our best intentions and words, how articulate some of us are, can ever fully explain the "mystery" of God. Indeed He has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ; enough to honour and worship Him; enough to live a healed and reconciled life; but not enough to have the last word about Him. Therefore, I do believe in the mystery of God; of contemplating; always thinking and re-thinking (reforming); always at awe of who He really is.