I listened with great interest to the first Reith lecture of this year being delivered by Kwame Anthony Appiah (there are to be another three) – check out the Reith website here for more information about them.
My great interest was in what the content of the lecture might be. The subject was “Creed” from the latin “credo” which means, “I believe”. Well, a couple of things astounded me!
1. I was expecting more. By that I mean, this is a renowned philosopher talking and I was waiting to hear something insigthful around our understanding, our knowledge, our sense of self and identity as defined by our beliefs. We had an exploration of the Abrahamic religions where Kwame focused in on the balancing act of orthodoxy and orthopraxis – that interesting tension between right belief and right practice. I say tension, because – as Kwame illustrated, right belief and right practice have been shifting sands through history . . . however, something fundamental to both my belief and practice – something fundamental to my identity as a Christian – was missing.
We almost got there, I thought, when Kwame quoted Paul writing to the Galatians,
“For we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
But, no – on we went.
2. A missed opportunity. The lecture finished and I was listening more intently now wanting to see if any of those asking questions might raise what was missing. And, glory be, straight out of the blocks two Christians were up first!
Elizabeth Oldfield, of Theos; then Giles Frazer, he of . . . well, Radio 4 and The Guardian and a Church in London. There was absolutely nothing wrong with their questions (and neither was there anything wrong with Christina Rees’ question, who was up fourth).
Later on in the questions, I can’t tremember who . . . but I thought we had arrived at what was missing when someone said,
“What if the deity you are praying to talks back?”
But, no. We hadn’t.
So, what was missing? The faith I belong to is not (at least for me, and I think many practitioners who don’t spend their days thinking about religion and ethics and philosophy) first and foremost about a set of beliefs “to put my trust in”, whether that is “I hold to these true statements as my doctrine” – my orthodoxy in other words, or a set pf practices based on those beliefs, “this is how I live in the light of this truth.”
I am a Christian because I have put my trust in a person, not a set of beliefs about God. I don’t “believe” in God – I know Him! Seriously, surely if what we believe and what we practice as “believers” means anything it is based on the fact that Jesus is alive today.
Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus conquered death and made a way for us to come back in to right relationship with our creator. I don’t just believe things about God . . . !!
If God is not real, I’d get why in these debates and discussions even Christians would indulge in an esoteric, metaphysical, philosophical pontificating about the nature of belief and practice.
None of that matters in the grand scheme of things – unless our beliefs and codes of practice are in place of an actual, goodness to gracious, real live breathing, communicating, liberating, GOD.
And that is ultimately the problem with the creed itself. By this, I don’t mean the topic for discussion, “what we believe”, but the way we hang our understanding of our faith – all too often – on a set of statements about what we believe about God. So, at times I think our Apostles Creed lets us down . . . we leap from the virgin birth to the suffering under Pontius Pilate . . . we miss out the real, breath of God on earth life that Jesus lived.
If Jesus was who He said He was then – as God made flesh, who “moved in to our neighbourhood” as The Message puts it so beautifully – He has changed everything.
We have at the centre of our faith not some precepts but a person; not a code of practice, but a friend and brother; not a community of people who believe the same things as us, but a bond and a unity through the Spirit because we are children of God!
As people of faith, as followers of Jesus (not a belief system but a person!) we need to articulate the freedom that a life in Christ brings, we need to share the freedom that Christ offers to others, we need to rediscover what it is to share Christ with our friends, neighbours, villages and towns.
We need to not be bound by Creed
But celebrate that through Christ we have been freed!