there’s a difference between believing & “right belief”

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts, fundamentalism, healing, jesus is cool, spiritual formation, the refuge 27 Comments

difference between believing and right beliefone of the things i love the most about our little wild & crazy refuge community is we can hold the space for a lot of divergent views about the Bible & life & faith.  it’s not an easy task, i must say, and sometimes i get asked “so, just what does the refuge believe about _______.” (it’s usually not issues that are on this list, though, they are usually questions far, far more specific.)

this is a typical question of most every church.  and usually churches can answer it because there are a lot of clear-cut statements of faith or a creed or something floating around that somehow helps people “know” more clearly where everyone who identify themselves as part of it stands on particular beliefs.

i respect that these kinds of statements can be helpful to people. oh, they do make things easier!  but i have trouble with them, too.  people in our community have the freedom to believe lots of different things about God/Jesus/faith, and so i often respond “well, i am glad to tell you what i believe but i can’t speak for everyone else.” 

you might be cringing when you hear that.  what kind of leader are you, some might say?  and i’d say “i’m a leader who’s trying to trust God with the technicalities & do my best to lead people to consider & wrestle with & tangibly live out what i believe are the fundamentals.”   

Jesus didn’t seem too concerned with these kinds of “here’s exactly what you need to believe to follow me.”  rather, he was calling people into a way of participating in the kingdom of God in the here and now, challenging us to embrace humility & spiritual poverty in a world bent on knowledge & pride, encouraging us to follow his way of sacrifice and lay down our lives for others, feed the hungry, visit the sick, love the unlovely, and take the much harder path of practicing love instead of theologizing about love.  he also said this kind of faith was going to be much more difficult than knowledge.

we can passionately be believers, without getting caught up in the human-made trap of “right belief”.  they are different things.

i believe wholeheartedly in the power & beauty & wisdom of the Bible and that there are many different interpretations of it that matter deeply.

one thing that has helped me immensely on my faith journey over the past chunk of years is discovering how many incredible, diverse, smart, and amazing people see the Bible very differently from each other but somehow are heading toward the same God.  it’s been a mind & heart bender for sure, especially when i came from a pretty conservative faith persuasion for many years that seemed to throw “this is what the Bible for sure says” around a lot.

at this stage of my faith journey, i might not agree with some people’s interpretations of the Bible, but i deeply respect why and how they might see it a certain way.  i also remain deeply committed to not trying to convince someone to believe “my way” and like to hold the tension of disagreement on the technicalities.

the need to convince each other to see it the way we see it is what divides and separates us, splits churches, and creates all sorts of pain & hurt in the world.   as far as i can tell, Jesus never called us to do that.  believing in him must look like something else. maybe it looks like trusting the first & greatest commandment and keeping it in our hearts and bringing it everywhere we go–to love God & others.

one of the things we are trying to hold on to in the refuge community is that we can disagree on Bible verses but that we must, at all costs, respect our differences and treat each other with love and kindness.  to me, it’s a willingness to lay down “our way” and trust God to be God since we’re not.  it’s a gorgeous but challenging thing to witness because somehow it forces us all to look beyond our interpretation of particular passages and center in on the most important thing–love.   i can love my sisters and brothers who see the Bible differently, and i am so grateful that they love me even when they disagree with me, too.

i think that’s the task at hand for a more inclusive, diverse, and Jesus-centered church.

i don’t think people are supposed to water down their beliefs to adjust to others in either direction.  the tricky part is learning to hold a space for all of us, in all our differences.

there’s no question, it takes a lot of grace, courage, steadfastness & finesse to truly put relationship above doctrine and respect the difference between believing & “right belief.” 

and honestly, i think that’s what Jesus embodied.

it’s also a brutally difficult task in a world that clamors for uniformity & clarity on who’s in, who’s out, who believes this and who believes that, who thinks this is wrong and who thinks this is right.  often, both the left and the right are just as passionate about these dividing lines.

i’ve been thinking about this a lot lately & it reminds me of how much easier it is to build a church than cultivate community.  yeah, it’s easier to divide and separate based on Bible beliefs instead of learning to live together in the tension of seeing it differently but remaining united in love.

God, show us how to live in the beautiful, trusting tension of disagreeing on all kinds of things but agreeing on love & respect not just in theory or from afar, but up-close- and-personal in real community together. 

* * * * *

ps:  i had already written this post when i saw this recycle your faith video this morning–it’s called the final apologetic. i don’t agree with every point in it but i think it fleshes some of this same thought out, too.

ppss:  here’s a post i wrote this week for the refuge blog about walking wounded: hope for those hurt by church, a gathering we’re hosting october 21st & 22nd in denver–it’s called stopping for the wounded.