I have learned quite a bit throughout the past semester. While I had developed some opinions on different doctrines before having taken this class, I had not done very much research to either justify or challenge my beliefs. But now I have many firm beliefs that have not only made me feel more secure in my faith, but in some cases have revolutionized my faith. There were some views that I did not even know existed and after having learned about them, I found myself with a brand new passion by means of revelation.
I have grown up a Free Methodist my entire life, just as much of my family has. Both my dad and my grandpa are Free Methodist pastors and for that reason much of the doctrine of Free Methodism has influenced my life and my theological way of thinking. I spent my childhood in a more traditional Free Methodist church before moving to the city where I spent my youth and beyond in a more modern Free Methodist church. I also spent three years leading worship at a modern non-denominational church that found its roots in the Baptist denomination. And to add to all of these experiences, I am currently helping to lead worship at a charismatic church in downtown Jackson.
For the most part, I have not felt that these different churches were too far off in doctrine from each other (although there are a few exceptions) and when it comes down to it, my ways of thinking are still quite Free Methodist. I would say, however, that my ways of thinking have changed over time due to these experiences and others, but that does not mean that I find myself outside of the guise of my original denomination. The things I believe now are still very much the things I believed in the beginning, it is simply that they are now more or less expanded on and that I have a deeper understanding of my beliefs.
Despite how the understanding of my faith may have changed over time, my dogma has not, and this includes the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Because this is at my core, many other things are implied, such as the fact that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior of the world. And incase someone would say that this does not imply that the Trinity is real, I would like to make it quite clear that the Trinity is also a part of my dogma. With Jesus being the Son, it is implied that there is a Father, and since both the Father and the Son speak of the Spirit, it is implied that He too exists. These three are one in the same and therefore one must believe in each to find their faith in the grid of Christianity.
These are in my belief, non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith. One’s belief or disbelief in these things will make or break what Christianity truly is and any disbelief will in turn, make a different religion. While there are many other important doctrines to the Christian faith, if a person does not believe in these few things, they are not actually a part of what is known as Christianity.
If I were, however, to choose one of these things to be the most central aspect in which all Christianity is based off of, it would be the concept of the Trinity. This is because one’s belief in the Trinity should lead them to the correct or appropriate belief on other issues. For if one believes in the Holy Spirit, they would come to find that He leads them to the truth. And it just so happens that that truth is Jesus Christ. Jesus then points to the Father and therefore not only does one have the concept of the Trinity, but he or she also a strong basis in which one can continue to learn and develop their faith on.
Without belief in the Spirit, one’s Christian life is simply logic and self-reliance. But when the Spirit enters the picture, one’s understanding of Christianity goes far beyond simple mind power and into spiritual power. As the three pieces of the Trinity point towards each other, the one who acknowledges there existence should find him or herself with a faith that is accurate enough to call Christianity. But if you take away any piece of the Trinity, the whole faith falls apart. Without the Son there is no Spirit. And without the Father, there is no Son. Therefore one cannot have a correct foundation or blue print to build off of without each corner of the Trinity.
When it comes to associating myself with different denominations, I could be described as a cocktail of Main-Line Protestant, Wesleyan, and Charismatic. Having grown up Free Methodist and still believing very much of what I have been taught, my Wesleyan roots are shown. On top of that, so far as creators of denominations go, Wesley would have to be the one I understand and associate with the most. Part of the big reason for this is that he was smart and logical, but he also had a charismatic side to him, which again is emphasized in my mixture of faith. I have spent far too much time in churches where the charismatic was not emphasized, and now that I know what I was missing, I really have a hard time going somewhere where the Spirit seems absent.
What I love about Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, is that they move in the gifts of the Spirit. After spending most of my life not even knowing such things existed anymore, God pushed me in a direction to learn. Now the emphasis of the Holy Spirit has become so important to me that I cannot live without it. A church or denomination that does not emphasize the Spirit is missing out on one of the core essentials of what church really is.
And then there is the Main-Line Protestant denomination. I identify myself here because of how modernity affects the churches I have been in. I am really not that much of a traditional man when it comes to church services. I much rather prefer an evangelical way of running thing, not only because they are meant to reach out to the unsaved, but because in my opinion, they relate better to most people in general.
That is not to say that I do not like the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox ways of doing church. I actually view their services as very theologically in depth and full of importance and significance. Yet, I do not see their traditions as essential to how a church should be run. I still like to borrow from them on occasion and learn from their rich traditions, but when it comes down to it, I do not feel the Spirit has put the concern on my heart to run services the way that they do.
In the past I have found myself in the same boat as the Anabaptists as well. Until recently I had always viewed adult baptism as the way baptism should be done and that child baptism was a wrong way of doing things. While I do still find myself somewhat in that boat, I also find myself adding exception clauses. In this case, I do not mind seeing a child baptism so long as it is confirmed through confirmation. But if a church does not offer such a program, I find myself wishing that the child would wait until adulthood to be baptized and instead dedicated as an infant.
The liberal side of Christianity has taken a rather large toll on me this year as well. I have never enjoyed the term liberal because I have always viewed the people who are described as such, to be full of sketchy ideas on current debates. But after critically assessing many of my past and new beliefs, I have realized that in many areas I would be considered a liberal. Yet I am not a liberal out of rebellion, but because I feel that Scripture, tradition, reason, and my experience often times point to liberal viewpoints on faith.
Balance is also incredibly important to me. It is my opinion that God is restricted from doing all that He can do when we focus to harshly in any area. If we focus too much on doing church in a traditional way, we can grow stagnant over time and forget the meaning behind what we are doing, which in the end, strips away the importance of it. On the other hand, if we focus too much on being modern and up to date, we can strip our churches of the mystical and serious side of God and in the end, strip away the importance again. In the same way, we can focus too much on logic and reason in our churches that we forget about the unexplainable ways of the Spirit. And on the opposite end, it seems that at times the charismatic can become so obsessed with the Spirit that they forget about other areas of importance.
When it comes to the doctrines we discussed in class this year, the hardest idea I had to swallow was that the creation story in Genesis 1 did not necessarily have to be literal. I had heard this idea before but had never really considered it because I have always been quite fond of this particular story in the Bible. However, despite how hard this was to swallow, I did realize that whether or not we believe this story to be true or made up, it did not affect our overall belief of God.
But one thing that would affect my thinking on life so far as this particular doctrine goes was the possibility that God could have created the world through evolution. Now I have never been much of one for evolution as it always seemed this theory attempts to disprove God and while I still do not wish to accept such a theory, unfortunately I must say that it could be a possibility if I do not take Genesis 1 to be literal. I still do not believe it to be true, but I do now see a logical explanation for it so long as it is God who is using evolution.
Also, after considering the different takes on communion, I found myself wondering more and more if this sacrament could actually be filled with Jesus rather than simply be a piece of bread and a cup of wine. I have always thought it to be no more than material, but I can, to a certain extent, see an actual spiritual side to it now.
I would not go so far as to say that the elements are literally Jesus, but I could be persuaded to believe that the elements could be blessed and become very spiritual and mystical. I am curious if that was the original intention of Jesus when He first gave communion, but I am nonetheless persuaded to believe that He could make it happen as much stranger things have taken place in His presence.
Women in ministry was a topic that was very helpful for me to address, because I had been somewhat open to the idea in the past, but not entirely supportive due to a lack of consideration. I had once heard a man tell his audience, “Women, if God calls you to ministry, do it.” It was the most simplistic reasoning I had ever heard, and yet it made complete sense.
But I also knew that there were some confusing Bible verses saying otherwise and therefore I was unsure as to what I should really believe. But after doing some research and discussing it in class, my decision was final: women should be allowed to do ministry. While it is a complicated subject, it is also really quite simple. If God calls you to ministry, do it. Plus, as we move into New Testamental themes, we Christians can now realize that all believers have the Holy Spirit. Since this is true, we can also recognize that there are many chances for women to become prophetesses and teachers among other things.
Outside of these things, there were a couple ideas that I agreed with that were difficult to say out loud because they seemed to sound sacrilegious, even though I believe them to be true. The two basic ideas that made me feel this way were that of open theism and infallibility. It is somewhat difficult to say that the Bible, while infallible, has errors in it and that God, who knows everything, does not know the future in its entirety. Not only is it strange to say, but it is also difficult to explain to someone who would consider such ideas blasphemous. One must understand that infallibility does not mean the Bible is wrong for it is perfect. But occasionally there are grammatical errors and other tiny problems, but still leaving it as real and credible as it ever was and will continue to be.
Going into more detail about open theism, it has always been my belief that humans were in control of their future and that everything was not set in stone. However, it has always been difficult for me to find a way to truly explain this since God is omniscient. And to a certain extent, it is still hard for me to explain it because I know that God does know very much about the future as evidenced all throughout the Bible. Yet, despite what I read, this is just one of those cases where the reasoning side of me kicks in quite strongly to say that there has got to be more to the situation. And by trusting my reason and not allowing it to cause me to be sacrilegious, I do believe that I am able to say that open theism (or at least some form of a non-restricted future) is a part of the Christian faith.
One very important doctrine that every church seems to have a say on is the eternal security debate. The main question at stake is if we can or cannot fall from grace. I think that the view that a church takes on this is incredibly important because it seems that when you teach people that they are set for life, they will live like it. That also means that if they are wrong, they somewhat take other people’s lives into their own hands. Really, when it comes down to it, this is a doctrine that you need to be extra careful with. It is my opinion that it can be a life or death situation depending on how you look at it.
I personally believe that churches should teach that it is possible to fall from grace so that people realize their lives are important to their faith. Christianity is not meant to be taken lightly, it is meant to be a powerful position and a lifestyle and if we preach it as though their lives depend on it, hopefully they will be empowered (and not feel condemned) to live a holy and perfect life. But if someone does not teach this doctrine out of love, there is little chance people will find the strength to be better. It is God’s love that pushes us forward, and while conviction and judgment has its place, churches have spent too much time focusing on such aspects of the faith. Love is what it is all about.
The biggest revelation I had this year that will greatly affect the way I do ministry is the fact that Jesus was a man who relinquished His God side and operated through the Holy Spirit. This doctrine changes things greatly because it actually makes living like Jesus a possibility. This is a thought that has rarely crossed my mind.
I feel that in many people’s lives, Jesus is a man who lived in a way that we will never be able to. And while that is true in the aspect that He was the only one who could die for our sins, the idea that He operated through the Holy Spirit as a human means that we are also capable of doing so. After all, Jesus came to show us how life should be lived and if we truly want to live like Him, we need to somehow see the possibility that we can.
But so many people do not see this possibility and I believe that one of the reasons people have a hard time with it is because they do not understand the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the divinity of the Spirit that He operated out of instead of His own Godliness as He had set that aside. And yes, I would go so far to say that it was out of His relationship with God and the Holy Spirit that He was able to walk on water and command the weather. But again, too many people would rather believe that being like Christ is impossible in ways such as these. I think if we decide to take on this kenotic view of Jesus, we will then be capable of living Christianity to the fullest.
However if we put Jesus up on a pedestal as “the man we will never even get close to being like,” we will continue to live in weak Christianity, constantly taking heart in disbelief. The idea that Jesus truly was a man, truly gives us hope. It is not until we view Him as man that we actually see that Christians do have a chance to experience victory in these ways.
Of course, it is important to note that this important doctrine does not work without another equally important doctrine on the existence of charismatic gifts. Obviously, if someone does not believe that such gifts exist today, they will be unable to practice Jesus in the way that He did. For this reason it is important to believe that we can practice such things today. If we do not think that we can, we will be stuck in a Christianity that will never reach its peak.
The charismatic gifts debate is also very important on many other levels. For example, if we believe these gifts to be true, then we can actually have an outreach program like Paul did and show people signs and wonders as examples of God’s existence. So not only does it help us to live fully like Jesus, but it also helps us to live in a way that affects non-believers. It also helps us edify the body of Christ as well since we can prophesy, heal, and bless one another. By all means, charismatic gifts are supposed to help people, not ruin them.
It is really quite sad that many churches do not practice charismatic gifts anymore. It is for this reason that I have found myself moving a bit further away from Free Methodist churches as of late, because I have yet to see one give any attention to the Holy Spirit. But since my doctrine is still very much Free Methodist (or at last accepted by them for the most part), I hope to stay in the denomination so that I can one day teach my church about these things as I feel that many of them are searching for it. I am not looking to change Free Methodist doctrine, but simply emphasize something that they do not pay very much attention to.
Many things have been addressed throughout this paper, both big and small. When it comes down to it, there are very many issues and debates we can address within the Bible. For that reason we have to choose wisely what is worth fighting about since some doctrines are really quite insignificant when it comes down to it. However, the ones that affect how we live and the dogma of our beliefs are of the utmost importance.
We do not have to be consistently liberal or conservative in each doctrine, but we do have to think each one out with great consideration. We also need to recognize that for the rest of our lives, we will spend much time trying to sort out these doctrines and altering some of what we believe now in order to have a deeper and more perfect understanding in the future. We must keep this a concern of ours if we want to continue growing and being challenged in the Lord.