Monthly Archives: February 2019

Solidified faith

During her interview with Annemiek Schrijver, in her Sunday morning program on Dutch television, pastor Christian Crouwel—the new general secretary of the Dutch Council of Churches—referred to a creed or confession of faith as a “solified faith tradition.”  Crouwel has served for many years as a minister in the United Protestant Church in the Netherlands, which stands in the Reformed tradition, with John Calvin as the most important forefather. This tradition cherishes a number of confessional documents, as the Dutch Confession of Faith (Confessio Belgica) and the Heidelberger Catechism. When the Dutch Reformed Church united with the Christian Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church, the Lutheran confessional documents were added. These documents may have a long and revered history, but they reflect in many ways the time in which they were written. I can understand perfectly well why Crouwel called these documents “solidified”.

All faith communities carry such “solidified” faith traditions with them. This is also true for communities that have a shorter history than the “established” churches, such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Adventist Church claims officially that it has no confession of faith or creed. But in reality the statement of the Fundamental Beliefs functions as such, and every church member—and certainly every minister—is expected to agree with all 28 points. In addition, the books of Ellen G. White have acquired a significant degree of authority. The early Adventist leaders warned against “solified” faith traditions, in which all things would be set in concrete. Initially, they flatly refused to compile a list of teachings, because of the danger that such a list would evolve into a “solidified” creed. And Ellen White gave repeated warnings that what she had written carried no absolute authority but was always to be tested by the Bible.

In her interview Crouwel suggested that a believer must compose his/her own confession of faith, that is a genuine reflection of one’s own faith experience and convictions. Of course, a believer is inspired by the faith tradition of his/her church, but the believer’s individual confession of faith must be more and go deeper than being just a repetition of what the church corporately believes.

I find that thought very appealing. Your faith tradition one has received—either by birth and upbringing and/or by a later conscious choice—is important. It determines to a major extent your identity as a Christian. It makes clear in what “packaging” you want to be a Christian. For me the Adventist “packaging” is valuable. I see more than enough reasons to remain a Seventh-day Adventist. But, like pastor Crouwel, I must admit that the faith tradition of my church has to a large extent become “solidified.”  Just repeating what the Fundamental Beliefs tell me I should believe, is not the kind of faith that comes from the heart. I must develop my own confession of faith. What a group of people to which I belong officially states as their beliefs is not of primary importance, but what I personally believe is crucial. Being part of a faith tradition will naturally  “color” my personal confession of faith, but believing must be more that giving assent to a list of doctrines that happens to be agreed upon by my church. True faith is based on a “credo” (literally: I believe) that has been internalized, that is the result of my continuous quest for answers and of my search for what is truly “fundamental” in my faith, rather than being content with repeating a “solidified” faith tradition.

 

The art of making complicated things simple

Researchers have analyzed some 380,000 speeches of politicians in ten European countries over the 1946-2017 period and have concluded that the language of the left-oriented politicians is considerably more complicated that that of their colleagues more to the right of the political spectrum. From reading my daily newspaper and watching several news broadcasts every day, I tend to agree. President Trump is probably at present the clearest example. His messages are very direct and easy to understand. He offers simple solutions for complex problems. Is there a global warming of the earth? No way, just think of the recent sub-zero temperatures in a major part of the US. Does America face an immigration crisis? No, just give me enough money to build a wall on our border with Mexico and we will stop the drug smugglers and criminals from entering our country. Whether or not you agree with the president he is easy to understand. In the Netherlands people like Geert Wilders have a similar approach. Having fewer Moroccan immigrants would be a major step towards solving the crime problem in the big cities. Abandoning the Euro and going back to the guilder would be a financial bonus for every Dutch citizen. Stop all aid to developing countries. That is a major saving and, after all, all the money just disappears in the pockets of the corrupt African leaders.

Politicians who want to tell a more nuanced story—and they are often found more towards the left of the political spectrum—tend to face a major challenge in getting their message across. Climate change, and all the issues related to it, is a complex topic and the influx of refugees likewise has numerous difficult aspects. Creating a more just society is not simply a matter of lowering taxes for some and raising them for others. Cutting the sales tax would be a very popular measure, but the funding for education and security must come from somewhere. To explain such things requires more than a few populist slogans, which fail to impress the people who are looking for solid arguments.

We see something similar in the church. What I am going to say may be a bit too general, but I believe there is at least a kernel of truth in it. Many “conservative” voices in the church find it quite easy to express their opinion in rather straightforward language. We must take the Bible as it is and adopt the “plain reading” approach. The six days of creation are six literal days of 24 hours. If the Bible tells us that Daniel lived and worked in the sixth century BC, that is what it is. If the Bible calls homosexuality an “abomination” nothing else needs to be said. The Roman Catholic Church manifests all the characteristics of the “little horn” and of the “beast from the sea” that we meet in the Revelation. Therefore, no further discussion is needed. Etcetera.

For those who are a bit more “liberal” in their thinking it is often more difficult to explain their thinking. They try to show that things are often considerably more complicated than they appear to be at first sight, and they offer alternatives to traditional positions that, they believe, should also be considered. And at times they simply have no answers, for the simple reason that we are finite human beings who cannot know everything.

When push comes to shove, it would seem to me that left-wing politicians and “liberal” Christians may have to make a much greater effort in explaining difficult issues in a simple (note, I am not saying “simplistic) manner. At times, one meets or hears people who have mastered that art, but my wife frequently tells me that I continue to use too much theological jargon and difficult terms.  Indeed, it presents a major challenge, but what good is a well thought-through message if it cannot be communicated in a transparent and easy to understand manner? In this regard there is still a lot of room for improvement for many “progressive” politicians as well for many “progressive” Seventh-day Adventist.

The misuse of God’s name

Just over a week ago Sarah Sanders gave an interview to a Christian television channel. She is the “press secretary” of the White House and by now I have a fair impression, I think, of what kind of person she is. Most mornings I watch a number of news broadcasts, with CNN being one of them. CNN usually pays ample attention to Sanders” press conferences. I did not know, however, that Sarah Huckabee Sanders—as her full name is—is an active Christian. I learned from the Huffington Post that she is the daughter of a Baptist pastor, who later became the governor of the state of Arkansas. I assume that Sarah herself is also a member of the Southern Baptist Church.

In the interview with CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) Sarah was full of praise for her boss. She said, among other things, that she believes it is God’s will that Donald Trump became the president of the United States. There is no doubt that Sanders belongs to the “base” of loyal Trump-followers. (I do not understand how any intelligent person can still think that Trump is worthy of the presidency. But that is another matter.) I certainly do not want to denigrate the genuineness of Sanders’ religious convictions. In fact, I admire people who speak openly about the role of their faith in their personal and public life. But I feel very uncomfortable when she connects God’s will with the US presidential election. If it were true that God had a hand in Trump’s becoming president of the United States, this would not strengthen my confidence in God’s leading role in the world and the universe.

It is often said that people have attained a certain office because God wanted them to be there. This is, for instance, often claimed for church leaders—also in the Adventist Church. For do the participants in a nomination or election process not spend considerable time in prayer, pleading for divine guidance? Should we not have the confidence that God hears those prayers? And should we not, once functionaries have been chosen, proceed on the basis that God decisively influenced their nomination or election?

It seems to me that this line if reasoning is rather naïve, when it concerns politics as well as church affairs. Trump became president after a bitter campaign, full of lies and surrounded by crooks, and the strange political system in the USA brought him the presidency without winning the popular vote. He won as a result of among other things, a relentless hate-campaign against his rival. And his victory may also have been partly due to foreign influence. Hopefully, we will soon know more about this when the Mueller report will be ready.

There ought to be no political maneuvering in church elections, but it would be utterly naïve to think that there is no politicking prior to, and during, most elections. Certainly, many prayers are being offered, but many members of nominating committees have, before the deliberations start, already made up their mind about who should and who should not be elected. And neither should the role of the ambitions of many of the candidates by underestimated.

Does God not get involved in any way with what happens in the political and ecclesiastical arena? Perhaps he does, if we allow him to put his stamp on our activities. But simply connecting God’s name to all kind of events in the state or the church is often a transgression of the third commandment that forbids the misuse of God’s name. This commandment urges us not to curse, but it has a much wider application. We should never attach God’s name to things that he can not approve of. And this is true for all aspects of our life.