I have been accused of never giving simple yes or no answers. Usually this accusation pops up when someone asks me “do you believe in X?” I will respond with an answer about what the church has said about the issue and then get into what I think about the issue. At that point the person asking the questions says “I just want a yes or no answer…”
The problem is not that I can’t give simple yes/no answers about what I believe. I clearly know what I believe and I usually have strong opinions. My problem is this: I don’t think my individual beliefs matter all that much. What individual people believe is not nearly as important as what the whole community believes.
I know…this idea is at odds with what we like to think. We like to think that it’s our own individual beliefs are the most important thing. I used to think that what was really important was for me to get my own beliefs in order and then I can find out where I belong.
I actually think that I had it backwards. Paul writes this:
Philippians 3:8-9: What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
Paul here, and elsewhere, emphasizes that we are all found in Christ. A bunch of individuals are brought together and found in our savior. It’s not that Jesus is divided into a bunch little parts and everyone gets a piece. Instead, Paul writes that we are all brought together as one in Christ. It’s not that we find our own personal Jesus. Instead Jesus finds us all.
So what? I think we spend a lot time trying to pretend that our relationships with God are impossibly positive all the time. How many people have to pretend that they always love God in the happiest way. We do this because we think that it is our individual faith, belief, and theology that matters most. But if Paul is right, then it is not our individual yes or no that makes the difference, but Christ’s “yes” (and if you read Barth, Christ’s “no” too) that defines us. It is not necessarily what I believe, but what the community believes with me that is the better answer.
And frankly it’s more comforting that way. If faith always depends on my own individual answers than I’m in trouble. I frequently have no answers or wrong answers. Honestly, I’m not always pleased with God. In the end I may not be pleased with God, but the Church I am a part of still loves and serves the Lord (or at least tries).