Considering the Protestantism that formed me

I have been writing for some time about my interest in non-Protestant Christianity, in particular Catholicism. Though I come from a Protestant background, which deeply informs my thinking in numerous ways, some of my critiques of Protestantism have probably been rather harsh. This may be natural (though not necessarily right) as I am doing a lot of comparing, and in doing so, finding some serious flaws (as I see them) in Protestantism; naturally there is some emotion on my part. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Protestantism has been very good to me; I am where I am today because of the great Protestant foundation laid by those who raised me up from a child in the faith. And the Protestant believers I know and love are examples of authentic faith, many of whom are merely where they are because of the accidents of history, and most really are not “protesting” Catholicism.

I am where I am today because my Protestant upbringing taught me a love for God and His story of salvation, a high view of scripture, and the centrality of Christ in all of history. It would be wrong to fall into the “us/them” trap. I don’t want to get caught up in a kind of “Catholic good/Protestant bad” way of thinking, even as I have found Catholicism more attractive than Protestantism. In fact, there are several key characteristics of Protestantism that I think make the “Protestant project” a valuable contributor to Christianity, at least in my life. Those characteristics include emphases on scripture, faith, a personal relationship with Jesus, evangelism, and apologetics.

Emphasis on scripture: Protestantism is, of course, famous for putting the Bible into everyone’s hands, and into the vernacular. Modern Protestantism places a high value on regular, personal Bible study. My own experience (Baptist) also placed an emphasis on Bible verse memorization and always bringing one’s Bible to church. There are some Protestant myths that linger, such as  the Catholic Church tried to keep the Bible out of people’s hands which is untrue, or that the Catholic Church tried to keep the Bible out of the vernacular, which is also false (e.g., there were 13 official Church approved German translations of the Bible, or parts of the Bible, before Luther’s rather poor and manipulative translation appeared). But on the whole, the stereotype that Protestants read (daily, personal study) the Bible and Catholics do not may not be that far off the mark from what I can tell. Though I think this may be changing, I do think the Protestants, in some way at least, have got this one right.

The fact is Protestants love their Bibles. This is good, and we all should love our Bibles. It is a good thing to have your own Bible and wear it out. It is even better to learn the original languages (at least Greek) and study one of those versions. Catholics could learn a thing or two from Protestants in this regard. However, and this is the big HOWEVER, one thing Catholics have learned from Protestants is that getting a Bible into everyone’s hands has been the first step (though not the only step) in promoting a spirit of disunity within the Body of Christ. Disunity, which is a spirit of antichrist, is one of the unfavorable hallmarks of Protestantism. That you or I read our own Bibles does not guarantee we will find the truth. More often than not we will tend to read those passages we like the most and understand them in light of what our own traditions and prejudices have taught us. In this sense Protestantism, by getting the Bible into everyone’s hands, but without the structures in place to protect apostolic doctrine from becoming distorted has, if not made every man a pope, at least put a pope in every pulpit. And, if Protestants are honest, then the fact remains that most Christians, Protestant or Catholic, don’t come up with new interpretations themselves, but rely on the teachings of those “smarter” than them. In other words, Protestants rely on their traditional dogmas and Catholics on theirs, regardless of who reads their Bibles every day or brings their Bibles to church.

There should be a balance. Rather than seeing the Bible only as my “ammunition” against heresy (remember we can force the Bible to say just about anything, including lie upon lie), I should welcome the Bible as a means of personal edification as well as a resource in my quest to love my neighbor. But the Bible is a book of the Truth as well, and we should seek the Truth. But is it not possible to seek the Truth, Bible in hand, and still know that Love is more important, and that disunity is, in fact, a kind of death? Yes! Protestants should not take a step back from their love of the Bible, but should see the perceived division between Bible and Tradition as a false distinction. They should bring with them their love of the Bible as they re-engage, even re-enter, the visible, historical, apostolic, yeah-even-hierarchical Church—it is that historical Church that gave the Protestant’s the Bible after all. Catholics should passionately love their Bibles, dusting them off, picking them up without fear, devouring them unabashedly. And both Catholics and Protestants should study their Bibles as they work out their salvation in fear and trembling, and in unity.

Emphasis on faith: Protestantism is famous for its great rally cry Sola Fide (faith alone). Faith was a big deal to the apostles. There have been different ways of defining faith. One way is: “Faith is a supernatural gift of God, which enables us to believe without doubting whatever God has revealed.” (Penny Catechism). Another way is simply to say faith is belief. Both Protestants and Catholics understand the importance of belief. Perhaps Protestants put more emphasis on the existential nature of authentic Christian belief. And yet, Catholics seem to have a clearer understanding (in general) of the value of suffering (from what I can tell), which is the divine pathway to an existential, authentic faith. Protestants don’t have the “upper hand” in terms of faith, just a different way of describing it. Still, Protestants place a big emphasis on one’s personal faith in Christ over and above mere lip service or church going, and this is good.

However, and this is the big HOWEVER, if a Protestant really loves his Bible and reads it carefully, he we find two things: a) Only one place in all of scripture speaks of “faith alone”, and in that passage (James 2:24) it is explicitly condemned, and b) Faith is only one of many requirements, or touchstones, of salvation (remember faith, hope, and love? Which one is the greatest?). I fear there will be many devout Protestants who will say “Lord, Lord…but we have faith” and Christ will say “I never knew you.” This is rather frightening, though I cannot judge the heart of anyone. Of course the same holds true for Catholics. The fact is faith is tricky. We look all the time for evidences of faith, in particular to our feelings, but we really only know if we have faith through testing and suffering (again James writes of this in his epistle). One can be a “member in good standing” of any church in terms of externals and not have genuine faith. Thanks be to God that we are saved by grace.

Still, Protestants are right to emphasize faith, for it is important. In a world of many “spiritual” options, believing in the risen Christ, and staking one’s very life (personally, existentially) on that truth, is what animated the apostles and those who became witnesses (martyrs) for the faith. It is too easy to grow comfortable in the routines of our various “Christianities”. It is easy to grow complacent, really just trusting that the faith of others will be our salvation too. One has got to own it personally. Will Catholics who think they will be saved merely because they are Catholic, be saved? Could this be a false hope?

Emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus: In Protestant evangelism the first question frequently asked is, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the “right hand of the Father” and from there rules his kingdom. The Holy Spirit was sent, most dramatically on Pentecost, but continually as well, to establish and maintain Christ’s Church—his body—and to work on the hearts and minds of individuals, bringing them into communion with God. In the midst of this the Protestant sees an intimate, personal, friendship-like relationship with Jesus as a natural extension or implication of his existential faith. Jesus becomes the king who is my friend, the lord who is my buddy. Of course, seeking the personal is a good thing, but what we do with that is something else.

No doubt we Christians have a personal relationship with Jesus: he is a person, we are persons, we have a relationship at some level. HOWEVER, the nature of that relationship is more difficult to define. Jesus is Lord. He is the king, my savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Every knee shall bow, including mine. Where we get the idea that Jesus is our friend, even our buddy, I don’t know. This is not to say that Jesus is not a friend to us, but is it not true that we conjure an emotional idea of “friend” within our minds, complete with warm feelings and attendant emotions, such that we bring Jesus into our lives, as it were, and thus change who he is? Are not those “Jesus as friend,” “Jesus as buddy” images something that we invent in order to make those feelings of a “personal relationship” more palpable? If so, then to use an old-fashioned term, this is blasphemy.

Protestants have made personal passion (perhaps emotionalism)  an important aspect of faith. One way of doing this is to emphasize the personal relationship with Jesus angle. Catholics, because they might not typically appear to be “on fire” for Christ in the same way Protestants define passion (for that matter, neither are most Protestants), or speak of a “personal relationship” with Jesus, can look “dead” to some Protestants.  What Protestants often do not realize is that Catholics receive Christ, physically and spiritually, in the Eucharist. Rather than conjuring psychological warm fuzzies, Christ, according to Holy Scripture, is really present at the Catholic Mass. Although Protestants mostly disagree with this doctrine (even though it is clearly and fundamentally biblical), there is no denying this belief shapes Catholic understanding, leading perhaps to a less effusive and a more reverential relationship with Christ (e.g. more bowing and less raising of hands). Perhaps Catholics should get more “on fire” (and I do see that happening), but they do have a personal relationship with Jesus—and it’s a good one, perhaps even more authentic and more biblical than that of Protestants. So… “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” The Catholic answers: “Absolutely! But do you?”

Emphasis on evangelism: I love the tendency of Protestants to enthusiastically share their faith. Of course evangelism can be done wrong, even terribly so. But sharing the good news of salvation in a loving and generous manner is a blessing to the world, and Protestants have had the evangelism fire burning for a little while now. In contrast, Catholics can look more quiet and uninterested in evangelism, at least in the U.S. I’m sure there are numerous historical and sociological reasons for this. When I was a kid growing up in a Baptist church I heard the joke that Baptists were going to Heaven first, because it says somewhere in the Bible that the dead in Christ will rise first (or some such thing). Clearly this was a Pentecostal joke, but the Baptist church I was part of was more staid and conservative than many other, more upbeat evangelical or charismatic kinds of churches. And yet, compared to what I have seen of some Catholics (though not so much in the church we attend now), even those Baptists seemed to have more fire in the belly at times. Perhaps it’s not really true and I’m just conditioned to see things this way—and now that my eyes are open to see Catholics everywhere, I also see Catholic evangelism everywhere.

No doubt Protestants have been into evangelization and missions. Perhaps this comes from fighting with each other and against Catholics for converts. Perhaps it also comes from the common belief that a church growing in terms of shear numbers is a healthy, God-blessed church (the “church growth” gospel). And certainly it comes from the belief that all a person has to do is say some little prayer to ask Jesus into their hearts and they are saved. And naturally, anyone who sees the wonderful truth of the Gospel wants others to know this same truth. Regardless, Protestants have placed a big emphasis on being “on fire for God” and, therefore, sharing Jesus with the world. At least that the impression they try to give, and what they tend to believe about themselves. I do find it sad to hear of Christians from differing “churches” fighting over potential converts like the way businesses fight over customers.

On the other hand, Protestants like I have been, can be very blind to what’s been going on in Catholicism. I have been surprised to find a missions and evangelization focus in Catholicism unparalleled in Protestantism. The thing is, it just looks very different. Much of it is quiet, service oriented activities. And its been going on for centuries longer than Protestants have even existed, has been more fully global, has produced far more martyrs, led more to Christ and, in my growing understanding, preaches a more complete and biblical Gospel. Still, at least in the U.S., perhaps Catholics could do more to emulate their Protestant brethren by adding a more public passion to their evangelization. Perhaps this current Year of Faith and the New Evangelization will bring that about.

Emphasis on knowing what one believes: There has always been a strong apologetics bent within Protestantism, for it has a natural connection with evangelism. It also arises from the nature of protesting, which is at the historical heart of Protestantism. Sadly, Protestantism thrives on disunity, boasting in its distinctions, differentiating one church from another, thus producing reams of apologetics in defense of each stronghold of faith. Apologetics also leads to its own kind of creeds and statements of faith, which in turn lead to simplified explanations and sayings that sum up one’s beliefs. Protestants are great at this. Many can quote a verse or throw out a pithy saying at the drop of a hat in order to defend a particular position. Those who can’t still tend to be able to simply describe their basic beliefs and why they are a Christian. In short, Protestants, for better or worse, can be very good at defending their faith.

No doubt it is important to know what one believes. Perhaps this is a strange statement, for how does one truly believe anything that one does not know? But then there is mystery; can one really “know” God? I know there are many times when what we truly believe comes out and surprises us a bit, but even then, if we just think a bit, we should not be surprised. The real question is whether what one believes is true. And here is the rub; Protestants and Catholics do not believe all the same things, and only one can be right in many of these differences. Most Protestants deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and they deny most or all of the Sacraments as Means of Grace. Are they right? I have come to believe the Protestants are wrong (but am I right?). By implication, therefore, I would have to say Protestants may know what they believe, but in some areas they believe falsehoods and lies (though good manners says I shouldn’t say that out loud). Also, I am dealing here with stereotypes. The truth is, most average, ordinary Protestants, like most all Christians, like most Catholics are not particularly knowledgeable of their faith, or of scripture, or of what others believe. Rather, they tend toward an socio-emotional experience of God grounded in vague ideas of salvation, limited understanding of doctrine, and supported by the plausibility structures of their sub-culture.

That’s the downside I suppose, but the Protestantism in which I grew up taught me, at least in word if not always in deed, that one should know one’s faith, that every Christian must know the what and the why of their beliefs. There are many Christians who are comfortable in their ignorance, shuffling along in the faith of their childhood and never really engaging in the tenants of their tradition. Unfortunately, this may be far more true for Catholics than Protestants, for Protestants must, at some level at least, know where they stand in opposition to other faith claims. This is critical, especially for those who emphasize the other characteristics listed above.

Our cherished self-image

Finally I want to say that we all have our cherished self-images. That is, we hold views of ourselves that we protect, not only from others, but also from ourselves. We do not want the true truth of who we are to be manifest. Of course this has to do with how we hide our sinfulness from the world, but it also has to do with how we want the world to see us, and how we want to see ourselves. This cherished self-image plays a role in how we define ourselves as Christians. There are many Catholics and Protestants who cannot imagine changing their “version” of Christianity because of what it would mean for their cherished self-image. But Christ cuts through all that. The Holy Spirit works on our hearts and makes us more willing to be vulnerable to God and to others. We are saved by the grace of God, not by what church we attend—at least not in an ultimate sense. But our cherished self-image has a strong hold on us, and we can let it rule us if we are not careful. In fact, it will become our god rather than God Himself.

When we compared Catholics and Protestants we can easily fall into promoting stereotypes that may or may not be true. And there are plenty of champions for the various stereotypes  But none of us are stereotypes. We are all unique individuals, and we all are on our own journeys through life and faith. This is also true with the various “camps” within Christianity. There are a lot of stereotypes leveled at Protestants and Catholics by each other.  Part of having a cherished self-image is to allow (or consider) oneself to be unique by promoting the stereotypes of others. Protestants do this to Catholics, and Catholics do this to Protestants. Ironically there are a lot of stereotypes embraced by members of each “camp” because of those cherished self-images. If we are to find unity, then we must work hard at setting aside our cherished self-images and risk scripture, risk faith, risk our personal relationship with Jesus, risk evangelism, and risk apologetics. We must put it all on the line knowing the grace of God transcends all of us. We must come to embrace what grace calls us to, that is, to risk love. And if God is good and trustworthy, then we have nothing to fear.

a whole new system of nerves

From Brideshead Revisited:

Since the days when, as a school-boy, I used to bicycle round the neighbouring parishes, rubbing brasses and photographing fonts, I have nursed a love of architecture, but though in opinion I had made that easy leap, characteristic of my generation, from the puritanism of Ruskin to the puritanism of Roger Fry, my sentiments at heart were insular and mediaeval.

This was my conversion to the baroque. Here under that high and insolent dome, under those tricky ceilings; here, as I passed through those arches and broken pediments to the pillared shade beyond and sat, hour by hour, before the fountain, probing its shadows, tracing its lingering echoes, rejoicing in all its clustered feats of daring and invention, I felt a whole new system of nerves alive within me, as though the water that spurted and bubbled among its stones was indeed a life-giving spring.

I know these thoughts too. But they came late to me. The irony is that I was an Art History major for one of my BA’s and I studied the great art and architecture from down through the ages. Great Gothic cathedrals and Romanesque arches went right by me, early medieval statuary and late renaissance painting flashed before my eyes, and I knew nothing. Yes, I understood them as designs, as formal structure of line and color, but I had no knowledge of the world from which they inevitably emerged. And yet, these wonders nonetheless took root in my brain, percolated there, lay almost dormant, and then more recently emerged as I stumbled upon the historical and apostolic church.

I had read Ruskin and Fry, and others, and imbibed of their puritanism, a puritanism that ironically was even more romantic than my Baptist training would allow, and thus I chaffed at the small mindedness of my boyhood religion. But still, the soul longs for something transcendent, like the poet describes the deer panting for water. Puritanism is a spiritual desert. Thus I know something of that “whole new system of nerves” that woke up Charles Ryder.

further than faith?

From the preface to Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling:

In our time nobody is content to stop with faith but wants to go further. It would perhaps be rash to ask where these people are going, but it is surely a sign of breeding and culture for me to assume that everybody has faith, for otherwise it would be queer for them to be . . . going further. In those old days it was different, then faith was a task for a whole lifetime, because it was assumed that dexterity in faith is not acquired in a few days or weeks. When the tired oldster drew near to his last hour, having fought the good fight and kept the faith his heart was still young enough not to have forgotten that fear and trembling which chastened the youth, which the man indeed held in check, but which no man quite outgrows . . . except as he might succeed at the earliest opportunity in going further. Where these revered figures arrived, that is the point where everybody in our day begins to go further.

Embracing Creeds and Risking Love

Do we use creeds to protect us from others, from the world? Or do our creeds give us the freedom to risk love, even to risk God? Do we grab tightly to faith statements out of a need to control the world around us rather than truly taking up our crosses and following our Lord where ever he goes, even to a total trust in the Father?


Throughout the history of Christianity, how one views the Bible has been a key indicator of one’s stance towards Christian orthodoxy. For example, whether one takes the Bible as being inspired by God or not means a great deal to most Christians and has been one of the primary lines drawn in the sand over the centuries. Given the contentious history of debates over scripture (and over the divinity of Christ, the sacraments, etc.)  the existence of the great creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, etc.) come as no surprise. It is also not surprising that many individual churches (esp. Protestant)  and various Christian organizations (such as schools) adopt “statements of faith” or minor creeds that highlight where they stand on key issues. [As an aside it is worth noting that for many Protestant churches, especially non-denominational, evangelical, and various Baptists, these minor creeds or statements of faith are the only creeds used, since there is a tendency within these groups to avoid the traditional creeds of the historical church for various reasons of which their members are largely unaware.]

Here is the first paragraph of a Statement of Faith (SOF) used by a Christian educational organization of which our family is a part:

All Scripture is self-attesting and being Truth, requires our unreserved submission in all areas of life. The infallible Word of God, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is a complete and unified witness to God’s redemptive acts culminating in the incarnation of the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible, uniquely and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, is the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks.

Notice the key words employed: self-attesting, Truth, submission in all areas of life, infallible, Word of God, complete and unified, uniquely and fully inspired, supreme and final authority. Also notice that sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments are called out, and that scripture applies to “all matters on which it speaks.” Without going into depth here, it is clear that this SOF’s provenance is of the Reformed/Protestant worldview (only 66 books instead of 73, Scripture is the “supreme and final authority” instead of the Church, etc). And it should be noted that even within traditional, conservative, Protestant Christianity, there is not a little debate over each of the words and phrases above, especially regarding “all matters on which it speaks” — which itself is a highly debated phrase. Notice one other thing: the omission of the idea of “literal interpretation.” I do not believe this omission is an oversight.

The idea of taking the Bible literally has its own history and debates, and sharp lines have been drawn. In particular, those of the more Fundamentalist persuasion (such as many Baptists and many American Evangelicals) have tended toward a literalist interpretation in their battles against the theory of evolution. The history here is key, and demonstrates that the argument, at least for the Fundamentalists, has been largely defined by the evolutionists. The literalist stance is an historically recent phenomenon, and is essentially a reactionary position. The literalist is more likely to interpret the first chapter of Genesis as clearly speaking of a literal six-day creation story, and must therefore logically hold to a staunchly anti-evolution (and battle-hardened) position  On the other hand, a non-literalist, who may also be just as against Darwin’s theory of evolution as the Fundamentalist, will be more open to the idea that the six days of creation could, for example, be a poetic description of six ages rather than days (both views presupposing God as sovereign creator). And we should keep in mind that an anti-evolution argument based on a literal interpretation of Genesis is very different than an anti-evolution position based on scientific principles and logical arguments. Keep in mind as well that many orthodox Christians see evolution as a potentially valid explanation of one way God actively works in His creation. But that’s another topic for another day.

Bible believing Christians continue to debate these issues, with some Christians believing there is room for interpretation and some who do not. Those who do not also tend to draw lines in terms of authentic belief along the literalist divide. In other words, and for various reasons, the literalists will tend to equate authentic Christian belief with their literalist perspective—all non-literalists are questionably Christian at best. It doesn’t take much to show that this equation lacks both from the reasonableness of good logic and from an understanding of how the biblical authors themselves understood Holy Scriptures. But convictions run deep in times of war, and Fundamentalists are, for better or worse, at war.

From the SOF above we can conclude three things: a) it is unambiguously of the Reformed/Protestant worldview, b) it is, however, not of the more narrow Fundamentalist worldview, at least in terms of demanding a literalist interpretation of scripture, and c) while making clear demands in terms of infallibility and inspiration, it does not demand strict interpretive rules (whether in terms of literalism or other approaches), and thus does not preclude some variance among adherents to the SOF in understanding Genesis 1 (or other passages of scripture). Thus, while clearly stating there are certain key points on which the organization will not budge, there are other points on which it allows for some flexibility in light of the SOF as a whole.

Why bring up this SOF? We have recently had the privilege to clarify our own beliefs within a Christian community because of some accusations of unbelief leveled at one of its members who is in a leadership position, leveled in light of the SOF above. (It’s not the only issue on the table, but it’s one of the biggest.)  One of the points of tension specifically pitted the literalist perspective of the accusers against the non-literalist perspective of the accused.  Though this is an old debate, it caught the accused off guard and reminded me that the literalist perspective is alive and well. (Keep in mind the accusations were leveled in a relatively loving style, though if it was actually loving is questionable.)

Typically those in leadership and/or positions of responsibility within a Christian organization are asked to faithfully adhere to that organization’s statement of faith. This is a generally accepted practice. And certainly, if one  in such a position has sworn an oath or signed a contract to adhere to a statement of faith, then one should keep one’s word or probably abdicate one’s position. It is important to know what one has sworn to uphold, but also what one has not sworn to uphold. Consequently, some such organizations take the crafting of their statements of faith very seriously by being careful in the words used and, just as important, the words not used. And yet, most Christian websites I’ve perused seem to put up statements of faith by merely copying them from other Christian organizations’ web sites, such as the SOF above (at least the portion shown). Regardless, for those who are unfamiliar or unaware of the historical battles fought over creedal language, it may come as a surprise when issues flair up and heated debates begin to rage. For this reason some Christians are anti-creedal, but this is throwing out the baby with the bath water for reasons I can’t go into here.

It may also come as a surprise when an individual within an organization, who is understood as being a true brother or sister in Christ is, nonetheless, asked to leave the organization over a particular point in a statement of faith. Sometimes the breach is significant and warrants serious evaluation. Many times, however, the issue revolves around expectations particular only to a specific group or individual, or specific interpretations of vague or even missing language, and even in terms of matters of style. We forget how much of our judging of other Christians comes from whether they look and talk like us. And, as happens in these situations, the literalist position assumes a whole host of necessary implications stemming from the non-literalist stance — such as the non-literalist MUST be a relativist at heart, shaky in his/her faith, on the verge of denying both the inspiration and infallibility of scripture, and willing to make the Bible say whatever is convenient. Only conformance to the narrow creed or expulsion from the group are the options offered — and not offered out of anger, but out of a perceived fidelity to faith.

Perhaps it is more serious when contentions arise from an overreaching of the SOF by imposing expectations not specified or clearly stated in the SOF. In other words, if individuals within an organization demand either a particular interpretation of an SOF (when there is, in fact, legitimate room for a breadth of application), or claim the SOF implies language (such as a literal interpretation of scripture) not actually stated in the SOF, then it becomes too easy for some to make perhaps unintended, and yet unscrupulous, choices or, perhaps worse, wield a kind of destructive power within an organization for their own purposes, however noble they may be perceived. It may be interesting to consider who, in these kinds of Christian power-play politics, is the weaker brother—though that kind of thinking inevitably goes both ways and should call all to repentance and humility.

Sometimes the accusations merely come from a misunderstanding of the role the SOF is meant to play within an organization. It is too common within Christian organizations that SOF’s are seen (or assumed) as designating the faith of the adherents—though this is a highly questionable, and probably un-biblical position for faith is much more of a mystery. Even those with faith often don’t truly know they have faith until trials and suffering reveals it to them. Nonetheless, we tend to like shortcuts to making judgements than doing the hard work of relationships. Also, and this is a critical distinction, in many educational organizations, including the one in which we participate, the SOF is technically an academic requirement, not a measure of faith. In other words, tutors declare with their signatures that they will teach in accordance with, and in light of, the SOF—but they are not required to believe everything in it personally. If they deviate or transgress their obligation of adherence, which can happen for any number of rather innocuous reasons, then very often a course correction is warranted rather expulsion from their role within the organization. This means that, for example, an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic Christian tutor could fulfill the requirements of the SOF above by adhering to the academic requirements in a faithful manner, though the SOF is essentially Protestant. Whether such a person would want to do this, or would actually be free to do this, is another matter. This in not to dismiss the importance of creeds actually representing, in some important way, the faith held by the adherents, for this is no small thing. But those calling for expulsion over creeds all too often have convoluted the academic (or other organizational) requirement with personal faith, and thus jump to equating the external with the internal, and blown up minor points of interpretation into outsized issues.

Sadly, what happens, and in this case has happened, is to accuse others of unbelief. Or, more specifically, to say the individual is an unbeliever, which often means (and in this case is meant to mean), to say this individual is damned. That’s a strong word, and it often is avoided with language like “I don’t doubt we are all believers here” or “I know you love God” and then inevitably followed with the big “but, you see…” That language is, ironically, only meant to fool the one’s using it. The problem here is that none of us can know if another is “saved”. That is up to God alone. But it is a big temptation to put oneself in the place of God, to level the finger at others and declare “I see through you.” Creeds can become a handy weapon in the hands of unscrupulous Christians. The irony in this particular situation, and I imagine in many others similar ones, is that the accused, by his responses and demeanor, has exhibited more Christ-like behavior than some of the accusers. The problem may merely be that his demeanor is very a-typical for middle-class, Protestant, Fundamentalist society, and therefore is a natural target. But it is a common occurrence for any of us to have both Christ-like behavior and a creed displayed before us, and to choose the creed over Christ.

An important question all of us must ask, especially those of us in positions of influence withing Christian organizations, is whether our intentions and actions truly correspond with those of Christ. If we are honest, we must conclude they often do not. In fact, more frequently than we want to admit, or are even capable of seeing, we tend more towards the attitude of the Pharisees than of Christ. We tend to live in fear while calling it prudence or even wisdom. Fear is corrosive. This is true especially when it comes to how we educate our children, and thus plays a big role in many Christian schools (including the pressure put on schools by fearful parents). And finding the balance in love is extremely difficult. We want to guard our children’s hearts, but education also requires risk—and I don’t mean it sometimes can gets risky, like straying inadvertently into a minefield, but that education requires risk from the beginning.

Given this fact, it is not inconceivable to think that Christian Fundamentalism (and much of American Evangelicalism) is probably incompatible with the Classical Christian Education model. This is a separate issue, but it resides at the heart of much of what our family is about.

A question each of us might ask is whether we have entrenched ourselves within a creed because it is easier to do that than to risk trusting in God. One of the great ironies of the history of creeds is that they were typically, traditionally created for the purpose of finding as much room for inclusion within the Body of Christ as possible, but then tended to be wielded for the purpose of exclusion. In other words, an activity whose origin is for unity is eventually employed for division. This is the result of that common occurrence whereby we Christians (yes, all of us are affected at one time or another) tend to slide from freedom in Christ to pharisaism.  This slide, which is fundamentally the result of fear, unfortunately represents much of the history of the Church and has torn too many Christians, and Christian organizations, apart. As the old saying goes, those who do not study history are destined to repeat it.