"Just what do you believe?"
"Are you a Christian?" My answer to that question depends on who's asking it. I'm old enough and I've been around the block enough times to know that what many people mean by the term "Christian" is something I definitely am not. In fact, by what even a moderately progressive Evangelical would mean by that term almost certainly would not describe my personal place on the theological spectrum.
"Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God?" Yes, I do --- just as I believe that we are all divine sons and daughters of God.
"Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?" I can't answer that question in the space I have here. My response would most definitely not be any one word, either Yes or No. This will have to be the subject for later posts.
"Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God?"This question I can answer in one word: No. I believe that the Bible contains the words of God, but those words are often hidden among the imperfect words and concepts of human beings. I certainly believe that the Spirit of God inspired many of the people whose writings have been canonized as Judaeo-Christian Scripture, but I also believe that such inspiration was often filtered through erring human minds and expressed in limited, imperfect human language. I believe that the Spirit of God has inspired many people since the last book of the Bible was written almost two thousand years ago, and I also believe that God has inspired other people, including some who were not Jewish or Christian, whose writings are not included in any recognized collection of Judaeo-Christian scriptural writings.
Illustrative of that last point, I can't get past this: There's not one word, not one syllable, of the Judaeo-Christian Bible in which racism or the institution of slavery is denounced. Most civilized people today consider both of them to be monstrous evils, but neither one is challenged in the Bible. In fact, in the Bible, in the New Testament, Christians are counseled in more than one place to "obey your earthly masters." One prominent New Testament writer even exhorts Christian slaves to obey especially those masters who treat them harshly. Not once are slaves told to rise up against their masters or to declare their freedom from slavery; no, they're told to "obey your masters." So, according to what "the Bible says," I should probably be down in Mississippi or someplace picking cotton, not sitting here in Los Angeles pecking on a computer keyboard. The idea that racism is wrong, or that slavery is an indefensible institution, has evolved or developed since the close of the Judaeo-Christian biblical canon. The living Spirit of God has, in my opinion, revealed this in later years, so it was not a Biblical idea. That is just one of the reasons why I do not subscribe to the idea, set down in the 39 Articles of the Church of England (Mother Church of the Anglican Communion, of which my Episcopal Church is a member) that the Bible "contains all things necessary for salvation." Setting aside the idea that the word "salvation" meant something very different to First Century Palestinian Jews and Christians from what it does to 21st Century Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, I absolutely cannot accept that the Bible "contains all things necessary for salvation," however that word or concept is defined.
"So, you pick and choose what you believe, and what you don't believe, huh?" In a word, Yes --- just as does everyone else. The Bible is a collection of writings, with concepts and instructions ranging from the very primitive and inhumane all the way up to the very sublime and inspiring. I'm sure you'd be horrified to read how "the Bible says" a woman could be divorced in ancient Israel.
"The Bible says" (or, at least, St. Paul wrote) that Christians are to regard all earthly authorities as having been put in office by God, so they and even their unjust laws should be obeyed. Now, I'll say this for Paul: Not once do we read any hint of his complaining about being horribly and painfully punished for being a Christian (which was against the law in the Roman Empire); he submitted meekly to the consequences of his deliberately breaking those laws. But modern-day, supposedly "Bible-believing Christians" rebel against immigration laws, for instance, and "Bible-believing" undocumented immigrants flaunt the laws they don't like with impunity. Not exactly doing what "the Bible says," are they?
And don't even get me started on the black women who jump up and down in all their Sunday finery, in lively church services, with their little kids (born out of wedlock) next to them, or their second or third husbands at home watching the Sunday sports specials on TV. "The Bible says" (in FAR more than one place) that those women who had children before or outside of marriage, or those women who'd been divorced and remarried, were "living in sin." But who cares about that? That may've been true in AD 13, but it's not realistic for 2013, we're told.
And something else I don't understand: According to those from the Evangelical/Fundamentalist wing of Christendom, no one can be so good as to merit or earn his or her way into Heaven; salvation comes, according to them, from Divine Grace. It is an unmerited gift to those who trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. No one can be so good as to deserve that grace, or too bad to be beyond its reach, right? Unless: You're gay or lesbian. Good, born-again, Bible-believing Christians jump through all kinds of spiritual and intellectual hoops to explain how adulterers, fornicators, thieves, extortionists, and even murderers can be saved and wind up in Heaven if they understand that they're saved only by the shed blood of Jesus. But, there's no such provision for gays and lesbians; I guess that, despite what they believe and profess, no one from the LGBT community can really trust in Jesus' death for his or her sins, huh? Well, that is simply not true; I happen to know many gay and lesbian people who absolutely believe that they have been saved not by their own inherent goodness, but by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Even though that's their faith, and that is enough to save everyone else, they're still lost, according to many of my friends who are True Believers. I don't understand.
So, what do I believe? Above, I've written a little about what I don't believe, but what, exactly, do I believe? I'll deal with these and other ideas in later posts, but here I'll just quote from my Facebook Profile:
Divine Paternity is the article by which my faith stands or falls. For me, it is the summary and synopsis of all Christian Truth. I believe that all Christian theological thinking must begin with this article, center in it, and culminate in it. As the various facets of a fine gem catch, refract, and reflect the light, so does the phrase, "the Fatherhood of God," give brilliance to every phase of Christian revelation, and in turn each facet of Christian Truth sheds new brilliance on this central idea. The Gospel which Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated was the two-sided Golden Coin: Divine Paternity/Human Divinity.
Truth is unfolding and continuing. I value the Bible, but I prefer to rely on fresh individual guidance from the Spirit of the living God which inspired the Bible rather than follow only what has been revealed through and recorded by others.
Maybe I'm not really a GOOD Episcopalian, but I think I'm in pretty good company; like Sir Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson, I am a nontrinitarian Anglican -- and no, I don't think that's an oxymoron! I'd say that theologically, I'm closer to such New Thought groups as Religious Science and Unity, but the Anglican liturgy, as it developed over the centuries, speaks to me spiritually.
I might add that, when I'm in Boston, Massachusetts, I usually worship at King's Chapel, the oldest church in the United States that still meets weekly as a congregation (please see http://www.kings-chapel.org and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King's_Chapel). It started life in 1686 as an Anglican church, but became Unitarian about 100 years later, in the early 1780s, and uses its own Book of Common Prayer According to Usage in King's Chapel, Boston (see http://archive.org/details/bookofcommonpray00kinguoft). Frankly, I wish I could find a similar church here in the Los Angeles area. I was a pre-seminary student in college, and I regret that I didn't have the courage and spiritual strength to found a congregation like that back then.
In later posts, I'll explain other of my spiritual and theological views for those who're interested. And, as always, I welcome feedback from those who do not agree with me.