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Christian Spirituality: Open to Interpretations - Part 2

This is Part 2 of 2! Click here to read Part 1!

BELIEVERS & FOLLOWERS

In Part 1 we explored cultural and communal Christianity, the characteristics of denizens of and participants in Christian Spirituality. Now, what is creedal Christianity? And what does it mean to be a committed Christian? What characterizes believers and followers?


MISCREEDS - IDOLATRIES AND ILLUSIONS

Creedal Christians in general are concerned with assenting to at least some version of traditional Christian teaching, typically in the form of a creed prescribed by a denomination.

parched desert with beautiful fertile canyon in distance - Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park, Washington, USA

Naturally, this assenting also entails delineating what beliefs are not assented to, and requires some degree of either-or thinking. This can be healthy in moderation, but troublesome when overindulged, eventually leading to sectarian fragmentation into more and more narrow-minded, literalist miscreeds (aka idolatries and illusions). Unfortunately this is exactly where a lot of the Church is stuck these days, and why more and more people are tuning out of the conversation around Christian beliefs.


But just as most Christians are not creedal, most creedal Christians do not assent to miscreeds. And most individuals and denominations embrace – at least in theory, and usually in practice – the openness that is foundational to the tradition and unmissable in the life and teachings of Jesus. It’s a shame that clamorous, unrepresentative miscreeds have highjacked the image of Christianity in modern consciousness. These ones in particular loom large (and unfortunately cut across many denominations):

  1. Jesus-ism – disregarding the wholeness of the Trinity principle (stay tuned for a post on this!) and the centrality of the Christ principle (stay tuned on this too!), in favor of exalting only Jesus, usually as either a mere rescuer from bodily-death (in more conservative theology) or a mere social worker (in more progressive theology). This not a particularly harmful miscreed, just a literalist and narrow interpretation.

  2. Lord-archy – misconstruing God as somehow both fatherly and tyrannical, for whom the patriarchal-Imperial Church is the incontrovertible Earthly extension, and who delivers vengeful judgment upon us all. This is indeed a harmful, idolatrous, illusory miscreed. Christian sectarianism and millenarianism – which actively foster disdain for most people outside the "chosen" in-group – are sub-sects of this.

  3. Church-ianity – treating the Earthly institution of the Church as a self-perpetuating end in itself – and as a secular organization (like a corporation, clinic, or political party) – rather than as merely a means to Divine ends. This usually becomes a harmful, idolatrous, illusory miscreed even if it doesn't start out with corrupt intent.

Lord-archy and Church-ianity exemplify why I would say creedal Christians are best described as “believers.” Believers can be, but aren’t necessarily, “followers” or committed Christians: it’s not self-evident that the above miscreeds are truly committed to or following Christianity. They do not operate in the example of Jesus and his teachings. (They would disagree with me on that, of course.)


Alas, I digress – squabbling about who is and isn’t a follower is what creedal Christians lapse into when we forget why we bother with creeds in the first place: worthwhile beliefs guide us to become better followers. That’s the whole reason beliefs matter. And if a belief doesn’t help us become a better follower, then we need to examine whether it is too literalist or narrow, whether it is a miscreed, idolatry, and illusion. So what does it mean to be a committed follower? And what beliefs can support this?


A DEEPER WAY, TRUTH, AND LIFE
serene stream mountain flowing among boulders and trees

I offer a thorough response to these questions in the upcoming Articles of Faith posts. Additionally, I'd say I think you have to be a participant to be a follower – in fact participants are often better followers than believers are! And all participation requires is living out Jesus’ Great Commandment.


Beyond that, I think the Mystic Christian and Celtic Christian traditions lend some of the best guidance on true commitment. This is one reason I supplement my “Christian-ness” with “Mystic-ness” and “Celtic-ness." I use these terms not as qualifiers – as in “don’t worry, I’m only this kind of Christian” – but as specifiers – as in “this is how I navigate the thicket of definitions, even while living in communion with all Christians.” This means, for instance, I embrace the Bible and most confessional statements that any confirmed Christian has ever recited. And I do have my own ever-evolving, distinctly Mystic and Celtic interpretations of these foundations of the faith.


For example, I have a Mystic Celtic interpretation of the Apostle’s Creed, one of Christianity’s foundational confessions, which I recited at 15 years old for confirmation in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). I enthusiastically believe as this creed states and I seek to act in accordance with it, though not in the same way many non-Mystic-Celtic-Christians do (stay tuned for a future blog post on that interpretation!). I also have a Mystic Celtic interpretation of another pillar of our Christian ethics, the Ten Commandments. I find this is best conveyed by author Brian A. Haggerty in Out of the House of Slavery: On the Meaning of the Ten Commandments, where he restates the Decalogue in the terms the Hebrews of the time would’ve understood, and which we can again today:

  1. “You shall not worship transitory gods but shall serve only the living God.

  2. You shall not enshrine any notion, ideology, or interest as God an allow yourself to be dominated by it.

  3. You shall not lay exclusive claim to God’s blessing or call upon God to bless your selfish purposes.

  4. Show reverence for the land; regard those who labor with respect.

  5. Treat the elderly with respect and deference.

  6. You shall not threaten the lives of others with your aggressive or irresponsible behavior.

  7. You shall not threaten another person’s marriage or family life.

  8. You shall not deprive other people of their freedom.

  9. You shall not cause another person to be treated unjustly.

  10. You shall not grasp after what belongs to someone else or seek for yourself what belongs to all people.” [1]

In the interest of illustrating more of what it means to be a believer and follower, I could go down the exhaustive list of Christian principles and spout my own affirmations out of context. But I find it’s more illuminating to discuss core Christian theology using my own story, some reflection questions, and three themes from the Article of Faith on Celtic Christian Symbols:

  • the Circle, Cross, & Cycle

  • the Triune Divine

  • the Family of Creation

What do these mean within Christian Spirituality?
Stay tuned for the rest of this series!

As always, I hope this article stirred some reflection questions for you:

  • How have you been exploring lifeways oriented toward the Divine?

  • How do you relate to being a denizen, participant, believer, and/or follower of spiritual traditions in your life?

  • How have you been embracing openness over narrowness?

  • How have you been interpreting the beliefs of spiritual traditions in your life?


To learn more

[1] Brian A. Haggerty, Out of the House of Slavery: On the Meaning of the Ten Commandments (Paulist Press: 1978)

Carl McColman, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism (Hampton Roads Publishing: 2010)


Image credits: #1 - Rick Beckel

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