Transferring my ordination has been an interesting and rewarding process. I was originally ordained more than 16 years ago but my leave of absence has expired and since I am out of relationship with my former denomination (neither serving nor worship with them), I have decided to transfer to the United Methodist Church.
Here is my ‘statement of belief’ so far …
Convey your personal beliefs as a Christian.
I believe that the church is the body of Christ on earth. When Jesus ascended into heaven it was with a promise of a visible return. Jesus promised that we would not be left alone and that another would be sent. Shortly after (roughly 50 days) the Spirit of Christ returned at Pentecost. Holy Spirit power came to the gathered and created the church – not ex nihilo (for this is not how god works) but – bringing something new out of that which was. The new creation was a revolution in religion! God’s presence was no longer contained in one place (like the holy of holies) but the veil had been torn in two and god’s Spirit had come out into the world.
Holy Spirit power and presence is the fulfillment of a long-anticipated prophecy that god would pour out god’s self on women and men from every place and of every generation. They would become witnesses to god’s goodness for every tribe and tongue – to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age. The church then, is inherently both pentecostal and incarnational. She is pentecostal because she is called, birthed, and empowered by Spirit. She is incarnational because the central story of the gospel that she proclaims is that the logos (wisdom of god) became flesh and dwelt among us. God is not distant nor disapproving of humanity – but took on human flesh to heal the brokenness, bridge the divide, forgive the trespass, reconcile the animosity, and model a way to live fully human.
I believe the gospel is simple but that its implications and applications are profound, complex, and consequential. The gospel: is the good news that god loves the whole world and provided for us in Christ something that we cannot provide for ourselves.
The church proclaims this good news, in word and in deed, when she serves those in need, gathers for fellowship and worship, tells her story, examines the scriptures, engages new ideas, confronts injustice in all its forms, and breaks bread together. In the same way that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, the church is both sacred and secular, both holy and enfleshed, both sinners and saints simultaneously. How this can be true is a mystery of grace.
One further mystery is that the church is simultaneously rooted in the past, empowered in the present, and a foretaste of a future kin-dom of new creation. She is a remnant of the past and a driving force for a proleptic telos of things to come while fully expressed in the context of her current culture.
I am a committed Trinitarian who finds the picture of perichoresis (the divine dance) the most beautiful, helpful, poetic, and powerful way of addressing the conception of a transcendent, eternal, divine being that the early churches called the godhead. Christians in this sense are not strictly monotheistic like the other Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam, nor are we polytheist like the Greeks and Romans, nor pluralists like so many other traditions.
As a contextual theologian, I believe that the church has both a permission and a precedent for this is the model of Jesus and the early churches. The New Testament is, in this sense, a set of tools and case studies of how this work looked in its time and in its place. The assignment is “to say in our language and in our era the kinds of things that they said in their language and in their era”. History has progressed – good and bad – so that our understanding, our cosmology, our metaphysics, and our view of history have been impacted by the two millennia of church and world history. We cannot simply parrot what they said in rote mimicry or in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. The gospel is infinitely translatable and is meant to be contextualized into every language and into every culture in every era.
The practices of the church are ancient and have come to us as inherited artifacts. They are both a gift to us (an inheritance) and an assignment. The legacy of christian practices is their embodied nature. Our bodies matter to god as much as our thoughts and beliefs. The embodied nature recognizes the inherent worth of our human existence and sets our experience as a valid location of divine revelation and theological reflection. Phronesis (embodied wisdom) holds an idea that there is a knowledge in our bodies that is accessed by practice and is enacted at a performative register. We have to do the things that we believe and we come to believe and understand the things that we do.
The Wesleyan quadrilateral is perhaps the most profound and useful framework that I have ever encountered. The great thing about the quadrilateral is that it improves greatly on the Anglican tripartite formulation or scripture, tradition, and reason by adding a fourth category of ‘experience’. This was a novel innovation of Wesley and the early Methodists that radically transforms the entire paradigm. By adding the fourth category of ‘experience’, in removes belief from the realm of the abstract and speculative and grounds belief in the concrete and located existence of in/carnated human embodiment.
The other genius aspect of the quadrilateral is that it has a pronounced sequence to it. It begins with scripture because we are never starting from scratch, creating in a vacuum, or making it up as we go. Tradition is next because there is a given-ness to the Christian faith. Like the English language, it comes to us as a gift that we are patterned by before we then come to utilize it to express our true feelings and convictions. We are first acted upon by the tradition/grammar/language and then we use our agency as actors to act within the socially constructed relations of culture. The third category is ‘reason’ because we don’t want a faith that is unreasonable or belief that is unreasoned. Last comes ‘experience’ because all the theory, scripture, and traditional practices in the world is ultimately impotent if it is not a part of our lived experience as a community.
Sacraments are enacted symbols. In this way, they are both signs that point to a greater reality and they are performed signifiers that can never fully reveal or contain the antecedent they are attempting to signify. Sacraments are both significant artifacts of the church and they are gifts and graces (charis) that both form and inform our faith and practice.
In this sense sacraments and corporate worship are a parable of the kin-dom. Jesus used parables (not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings) to slide underneath the listener’s defenses in order to interrogate the ‘way things are’ to subvert the unjust status quo and turn upside-down / inside-out the listener’s presumptions about the way things are and the way that God wants them. This is the prophetic ministry of the church – to imagine the world a different way and to image what that looks like to the world around us.
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and comments.