We Believe This
Well, THAT's a loaded statement: Better to say, maybe, This is what we teach -
We believe the Three Ecumenical Creeds -
We believe the Word of God -
We believe the Lutheran Confessions - And all of that further understood here:
Now, given all of the above, here are some things that may make us different from the world around us.
We are NOT Fundamentalists -
That means we do NOT hold to the artificial, modernist, and reactionary views of American so-called "Evangelical" Christians who began to build up walls between Christians in the early Twentieth Century. It is curious that God needed no such 'Fundamentals' prior to 1900, but there it is: Beset by scientific progress, by liberal religious views, by all sorts of modern challenges to Christian beliefs, some leaders reacted by establishing five 'fundamentals' to which all 'real' Christians were to pledge their adherence. These five are: 1. the inspiration and inerrancy of the bible; 2. the virgin birth of Christ; 3. the substitutionary atonement of Christ; 4. the bodily resurrection of Christ; and 5. the historicity of biblical miracles. (Source: Christianity Today, issue 92, 2006)
If you read through that list, you may find you agree with those particular ideas. If so, wonderful. You will find folks at Friendship who believe this as well. The problem is NOT with the fundamentals, it's with Fundamentalists: That is, those who claim that unless you believe what THEY believe, YOU are not a Christian. And thus going straight to hell. Because you're deceived, or wicked, or blinded by Satan, or some such thing.
Instead, we teach that you CAN in fact believe in Jesus WITHOUT pledging your allegiance to such a list of 'Fundamentals.' Roman Catholics don't. Eastern Orthodox don't. Christians from around the world have seen fit to carry on their faith withOUT these needless American faith statements from the early 20th Century.
Further, we have some issues with the Fundamentals. Here are a few: 1. The bible is a book upwards of 3,500 years old - the stories of Abraham come from about 1500 BCE - the stories of Jesus are almost 2,000 years old themselves. Is it REALLY necessary as a Christian to accept the unlikely idea that the book we now have in our hands is 'inerrant'? What does 'inerrant' even mean? Without mistakes? I can show you in my Greek and Hebrew bibles where scholars have noted over the centuries places where they are not sure which words and letters are correct and which are additions made by pious scribes in countless monasteries and abbeys over twenty centuries. Almost all of these 'errors' are miniscule in nature, and do not change the meaning of the text by any large degree, but they are STILL THERE - so for ME at least to say the bible is 'inerrant' is, well, it's a lie. Or a terrible mistake at least.
Some fundamentalists evade this obvious problem by saying the Holy Scriptures are innerant 'in the original autographs' - meaning, what St Paul or St Luke wrote down, THAT was inerrant. All the scribal mistakes that came later don't count. That's fair enough. But it's unscientific, because how could you tell? The original autographs of St Paul, St Luke and all the rest are lost in history - all we have are copies. Some copies are very, very old, and are very reliable in that sense but they are STILL copies.
Now, I DO believe the Holy Scriptures are inspired by God. I've lived with them for years and God's holy power has breathed through those pages into my heart and soul with life-giving power and grace. I'll bear witness to that any day.
As for the others, I'll just note this: The 'Substitutionary Atonement' of Christ is just ONE of MANY 'theories of atonement' Christians have considered over the centuries. All these theories try to answer the question, 'Why did Jesus have to die on a cross to save us from our sins?" Other theories can be considered here. I've not the space to consider all of them in a worthy manner. But for me to say only ONE THEORY of atonement is correct in God's eyes is...well, it's not anything I want to be part of. Christ came to set us free, after all. I have no desire to place myself under any such yoke again. I will say that at different parts of my life, different theories of atonement have made sense in different ways, and I thank God I never had to believe only ONE way of thinking about atonement mattered.
Finally, the bible says Jesus did miracles. Along with the Creeds, the bible say that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, and rose from the grave. I've no problem with any of that - except to say that St Mark and St John told no story of virgin birth in their Gospels, so it probably wasn't central to what they were trying to say.
We are NOT literalists.
The bible is a big book full of wonder and beauty, joy and sorrow. It contains poetry, history, essays, stories, and long sections of genealogy and legalese. When I say 'literalist' I mean someone who reads scripture and assumes there can only be ONE way to understand it correctly. You can find a good discussion of the topic here.
The big problem comes right at the beginning of the bible, in Genesis chapter one, where this big, beautiful holy poem tells of the seven days of creation. Literalists, afraid of the implications of evolution, or Darwinism as it was called back in the day, insist that the bible says God created the world in seven twenty-four hour days, JUST LIKE IT SAYS, ignoring the fact that the sun and moon, (kind of important for keeping track of days and hours) were not created until the FOURTH day!
Instead, we read that God created the world, and when God said 'Let there be light!' There could have been a supernova, or even the Big Bang itself, billions and billions of years ago. The Genesis poem was told at the end of the Bronze Age (1200 - 900 BCE) Can you imagine Bronze Age or Iron Age people listening as the bible spoke or galaxies, nebulae, black holes and dark matter and bright shining stars that were actually giant balls of burning gases in an expanding universe filled with galaxies beyond number? That sounds as ridiculous as expecting the same Bronze Age people to imagine God holding some sort of stop watch as God knocked out the foundations of the world.
We understand that God made the world. We rejoice that as the bible says, God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seeds, and fruit trees of every kind..." and "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures..." and "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind..." And with a little imagination, a little God -given creativity, we can think of God creating the world EXACTLY as evolution science describes the world. The waters bringing forth life, the earth bringing forth life, just like the fossil record describes. There is so much to learn from BOTH science AND the bible, if we refuse to insist on reading the bible like early 20th Century zealots who saw the devil lurking behind every sceintific discovery of their time. And, God willing, this is how we will continue in the world God made for us.
We are NOT angry, or fearful, or desperate.
Finally, we are not like the angry, frightened, desperate Christians who say the world is coming to an end, that the government is broken, that the times are evil, that everything that used to be good is become evil, that children don't respect their parents, society is corrupted, culture is become defiled, that Satan is rampant and the Church is persecuted, weak, and surely the Second Coming is at hand.
We don't beleive that because we're old enough now to realized that EVERY generation has been tempted to say the VERY SAME THING as it ages, and that this mindset, this world-view, no matter how many so-called 'evangelicals' hold to it, is blasphemy in the face of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." He also said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age."
So, Jesus is with us. Further, the Kingdom of God is at hand, from Jesus' first days in Galilee until this Twenty First Century. Does this Kingdom of God mean ANYTHING? Has this kingdom improved the world in any way at all? Or is it merely a 'spiritual' kingdom without effect in the world, the world God so loved? "Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him!" Oh, yeah? What part of 'saving the world' don't you understand, you who say the world is falling apart, the sky is falling, and evil is winning out?
No, I say that the Kingdom of God is at hand, STILL here in 2016. I believe that the good will, good works, prayers and aspirations of millions and millions of Christians over twenty centuries HAS INDEED moved this world towards the vision God intended. I believe in the power of billions of prayers, billions of hopes and dreams for justice, for beauty, love, mercy, and grace. I beleive that the people of God are the people of ALMIGHTY GOD, and THAT GOD REIGNS, and that GOD is ALIVE and ACTIVE in this world THAT GOD LOVES!
So I will not fear, I will not harbor hate and anger and blame in my heart. I will NOT succumb to the spirits of this world, spirits of despite, venom and rage that threaten the gates of the Kingdom. Why do the nations rage, why do the peoples plot in vain? Let them assault the advance of the Kingdom of God. If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of usWho will , will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? NO, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
More than conquerors do not fear. They do NOT cast blame and hate. They ADVANCE. The Kingdom of God goes before them. The day is OURS. The Victory is the LORD's! The future belongs to God, to God's children, and the world to come.
These are the views of Pastor Gregory Yeager, January 2016.
And they are STILL the views of said Pastor Greg in January of 2017. - I will add the caveat that I KNOW this article is titled What We Believe' and here am I saying this is what 'I' believe. Friendship is a big place, with lots of great people who believe ... well, lots of great things. As pastor I'm called to argue with the other pastor, and then sort of articulate what the whole group believes, or should believe, if everyone did what I told them to....
So let's say this: These views, which I hold to be traditional, moderate, biblical and Lutheran form the center of the collected beliefs of our people. They do not form the BOUNDARY, but the Center point. So there. If you want to argue with me, Yea! I am open to new ideas all the time. And I welcome anyone who wants to hash out what they believe in dialogue.
Sincerely, Pr Greg, January 2017