Choosing Beliefs vs. Submitting to Beliefs.

Sometimes my columns are picked up and posted other places and one such posting gave me the idea for this column. My denomination, The Wesleyan Church, hosts a blog discussion and picked up my column on hell-Bell. I was prompted to go there when a couple of anonymous folk called me out, insisting I state my own “stand” on hell. That sparked the idea for this column.

Since I host discussions online that include Calvinists and Charismatics, liberals and fundamentalists, traditionalists and emergent, some suspect my beliefs are up for grabs. Worse, a few suspect I harbor all kinds of illegal positions on homosexuality, hell, abortion or something else. I am sorry to disappoint them. I’m pretty traditional. So traditional that all my positions are published in detail at http://wesleyan.org/beliefs . These are doctrines of The Wesleyan Church, my denomination. I like to hear those who differ with us, including Rob Bell, but there is no light between my own stands and those of my denomination.

When did I come to believe these doctrines? I did not decide them one by one. In fact I never “decided” to believe these things—I submitted to them. I submitted when I became a member of The Wesleyan Church and submitted even more so when I was ordained. I didn’t decide…I submitted.

That disappoints some people. They imagine another process. These folk elevate the individual, so they expected that I would have studied the Bible, read everything I could find on a subject like eternal security or tongues or hell and then I would have made up my mind on that issue, crafting my own personal statement of faith on that subject and move on to the next issue. After a decade or more of deep study, I would then have crafted my own personal statement of faith on all the issues. Then I suppose they’d have me go shopping for a denomination that matched my own private apostle’s creed.

That’s not how I “decided” what I believe. How it really happened for me as I was gradually exposed to doctrines as a child, teen and then a college student. But I joined my denomination long before I had read every book available on eternal security or tongues or anything else. How could I become a member of a denomination before I “made up my mind” on these things? I submitted to the Wesleyan doctrine. Maybe you suspect I believe these things less for submitting to them instead of deciding them? Maybe you think it would be better if I had “dated around” and tried out the other options before marrying the Wesleyan doctrine. Sorry, I didn’t date much (though I went steady with Calvinism for a few years before we broke up).

How I came to believe the Wesleyan Articles of Religion is the same way I came to believe the Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t study the Bible for a few years, then read a couple hundred years of church fathers, then write my own personal apostle’s creed. I simply submitted to the Apostle’s Creed that’s been around a couple thousand years. I believe it just as deeply even though I didn’t write it myself. I don’t plan to revise it personally. I believe it “as is.”

The only exception to my submission is if I want to get involved in changing my denomination’s doctrines. But, in that case, once the vote is taken, I would submit to whatever decision was made and believe it…submit to it.

All this makes me look weak to the rugged individualists. They think the individual makes the final decision on doctrine. I think the church makes these decisions and the individual submits to them. I’m not smart enough to write my own Apostle’s Creed. I don’t trust myself—or any other single individual—to decide matters this important. That’s why I have submitted my beliefs to the creeds, the councils and the articles of religion of my own denomination. For me, belief is less about “choosing” than submission.

So, what do you think?

The discussion of this column is on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=161502633

Keith Drury April 5, 2011

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