But it turns out they don’t need to be. And I’m starting to believe they shouldn’t be. Maybe the core values we believe about God and ourselves should read less like a legal brief and more like what they are – the very stuff that gives our lives meaning.
Gary Davis is the pastor of The Table Community Church in Walkerton, Indiana – a small town midway between Chicago and Fort Wayne. They’re a church launch/relaunch (Facebook would say “it’s complicated”) that will hold their first officially public service on September 22, 2013.
Gary found this website a while ago and became a regular comment contributor. So I did what I always do for our regular contributors. I checked him out. When I went to his church’s website I liked what I found. A simple, clean, very appealing presentation of who they hope to be as a church – as you can see by their logo.
Then I clicked on their Statement of Belief and I loved what I found. First, the theological content is on target. But what really caught my attention was that he made this foundational document a joy to read.
To give you a taste, how can you not love a Statement of Belief with lines like these?
God will do WHATEVER it takes to give you the best life possible, except force it on you.
God adores every single person, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, behavior, height, weight, political affiliation and so on. God even loves NASCAR fans.
We believe that sin is the crap that keeps us from being connected to God and to each other.
We (the church) are made up of imperfect people who are responding day by day in all our relationships to God’s stunning grace.
You don’t need to be a theologian to understand or be attracted to the truth when it’s phrased like that. And you don’t need to be a big church to take the time to write out your essentials in a way that draws people instead of boring them. And yes, it does take time to write that beautifully – but I think it’s worth it.
In asking Gary about this statement, here’s what he told me:
I have never really been one who felt like he was an insider in the church, and the language of theology and doctrine always seemed more like part of the secret handshake than the welcome mat. Because of that, I wrote that statement of faith for me…It’s my statement of what I believe and if asked by someone, that statement is where I rest, it is where I find the echo of who God is to me that floats around in my cavernously empty head.
I’ve included the Belief Statement in its entirety in today’s post, with Gary’s permission.
It will be tempting to cut-and-paste this to your church’s website. I’ve wanted to to do that. But please don’t. First, this is theirs and taking it without permission would be theft. Second, even if Gary gave you permission to use it, the whole idea of presenting this here is to inspire us to think creatively about how we communicate the fundamental truths we believe. Third, most of us in established churches couldn’t do that without long, potentially divisive membership meetings anyway.
So this is not about using Gary’s writings in some cut-and-paste way. It’s a reminder that God is honored when we use the glorious grey matter he gave us to tell the truth about him in creative ways.
Statement of Belief for The Table Community Church – Walkerton, Indiana
Written by Pastor Gary Davis
The BIG IDEA:
We believe there is a God who loves you, and wants your existence on this earth and beyond to be the BEST it can be and this God will do WHATEVER it takes to give you the best life possible, except force it on you.
We believe that there is a God, one TRUE God to be exact. It would be foolish to try to describe God in a paragraph on a page, foolish and impossible. The best way to know God is to spend time with God. There are no quick and easy ways to fully, and accurately describe God. However, here are three things we do know:
God is mysterious – If you live to be 700 years old, you still will not be able to halfway begin to understand everything about God. We do not have God in a box. As followers of Jesus, we appreciate God’s mysteriousness and are constantly getting to know God more fully.
God is real – period.
God is love – If you have to pick one adjective to begin describing God, it is “love.” God loves all of creation, including you, and wants what is best for you.
We believe that Jesus Christ was a man who was born nearly 2000 years ago in the area known as Palestine. Because all people have a distorted notion of who God is (we all tend to make God a “bigger & better me”), God became a man in order to clear up the confusion so that we could really know God. Although we do not fully understand it, we believe that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% human (I guess you can do that when you’re God). By showing us the real God, Jesus makes it possible for us to have a real relationship with God. Because of Jesus, we can know what pleases God, what is important to God, and what God wants for our lives.
We believe that Jesus was killed by men who cherished their own little notions about God more than the truth about God (deep down, we’re all like those men). However, Jesus proved himself to be God by coming back from the dead (I guess you can do that too if you’re God). We believe that people who trust Jesus, accept his grace, his sacrifice, and follow him will also have life after death.
We believe the Bible is inspired by God, and is his completely true story about who he is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he is going to do. It is a record of humanity’s relationship with God and humans inspired by God wrote it. Because humans wrote the Bible, it also reflects their backgrounds, styles, and uses of language. The Bible is God’s untainted and perfect message concerning all things related to knowing God, pleasing God, and being connected to God.
We believe that all people are creations of God and that each person is of infinite value to God (when was the last time someone told you that you were infinitely valuable?). God adores every single person, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, behavior, height, weight, political affiliation and so on. God even loves NASCAR fans. In fact, the diversity of the earth’s population is not only pleasing to God; it is an expression of God’s outlandish ability to create. All people matter to God.
Because each person is a creation of God, each of us has a longing to be with God and to please God. However, God has created us with the freedom to do whatever we want. And against our better judgment we all choose at some point to do that which displeases God (see “Sin”). We all live with the tension of wanting to be near God while simultaneously thinking that we know better than God does.
If you have hung around churches very much, you’ve heard a lot about “sin.” Here is what we believe about it. We believe that sin is the crap that keeps us from being connected to God and to each other. Sin is the stuff that messes this world up and causes so much confusion, pain, and frustration. Sin is the stupid stuff we do and have done to us that makes our life a mess.
Not only is sin the stuff we do, it is also the state of being separated by God because of what we have done. When we sin (and everybody has), we get disconnected from God because we take God’s perfect plan for our lives and exchange it with what we believe is a better plan. In other words, we act like selfish fools and think that we are smarter than God is.
In his infinite mercy, God does not force his ways on us. Although this is very nice of him, it means that we have to choose to accept his love, his forgiveness, and his work of reestablishing the relationship that he gave us in grace through Christ.
We believe the church is the collection of Jesus-followers in the past, present and future. This means that the church is people, not a building or place or institution. Ultimately the Church is God’s representation of the here, but not yet, Kingdom of God. As a Church we are called to be involved in the life and work of that Kingdom here and now.
The church exists both universally (all the believers everywhere and throughout history) and locally (all the believers in a given local congregation). We are made up of imperfect people who are responding day by day in all our relationships to God’s stunning grace.
We become connected to God in only one way – by choosing to accept the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation God offers to us by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. If we ask him to, God treats us as if we were Jesus (fully perfect, fully without sin, fully welcomed into God’s presence). There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor or forgiveness; both are given because of God’s goodness (not ours) and because of what Jesus has done (not because of what we do).
God did not intend for us to live a lonely life. Because of this when we become connected to God, we believe He wants us to become connected with other and live our lives alongside each other.
When we accept this new and real life, we identify ourselves as God’s Children by submitting to baptism by immersion and God gifts us with the Holy Spirit and begins the process of changing our hearts and minds from the inside out and making our character more and more like Jesus’ character. And as we have been connected to God, we have the hope for being connected to other people.
The end of the story
We believe that in his own time and in his own way, God will bring the world as we know it to an end. According to his promise, Jesus will return to earth in a real and visible way. When he returns, Jesus will judge every person who has ever lived and he will begin a new and eternal era of God’s reign. The people who followed Jesus and accepted him as the path to God will live with God forever. Those who rejected Jesus will be allowed to live out their choice to be separate from God and all that he gives (hope, love, meaning, peace, etc.) for all eternity.
Thank you Gary, for that beautifully-written welcome mat.
You’ve inspired me, not just to re-assess my church’s statement, but to redouble my efforts to express God’s glorious truths as creatively as possible.
So what do you think? Does this inspire you take a fresh look at your church’s statements? Maybe to take a little more time to be sure we think creatively whenever we communicate eternal truths?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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