A Place for Doubters in the Church

During the second World War in the US army it was initially difficult to convince soldiers that blood transfusions should be allowed between black soldiers and white soldiers. It seems that the notion of racial identity was deeply ingrained and the concept that outward appearance was a minor part of the human body was not readily understood. Many were reluctant to accept the notion of blood type compatibility between those of different races, not realising that people of different race could share the same blood type, whereas often those of the same race can have incompatible blood. This misunderstanding may be part of a wider problem in that common labels of group identity often give false impressions of irreconcilable differences which are not confirmed on close examination.
Religious traditions provide one common way of classifying groups of people but the notion that thinking a set of religious traditions sets up irreconcilable differences with those having another set of such traditions is to misunderstand the nature of religions. Religions are rarely monolithic in practice because altering their setting causes alterations in which different myths, rituals, symbols and traditions will then be seen to be valuable. Because human behaviour is variable, within each religious group there will also be individuals holding a variety of religious attitudes. Even in groups where conformity may be highly valued the history of each sub group almost inevitably shows change can and has happened.
Even in conservative groups there are individuals who are liberal in thinking and conversely in so called liberal groups there are individuals, wedded to holding to tradition of thought and action. In practice this may mean that there is more variation within a congregation than there is between congregations claiming different religious traditions.
The recognition of historical change and the impermanence of traditions of belief, is bound to be unsettling for some but also grants those who express doubts a useful and legitimate role. Since questioning one’s own actions can lead to the chilling recognition that tradition may have led us to the point where we are as bad in our actions as those we criticise, it is unsurprising that the questioning process is potentially uncomfortable. Nevertheless history teaches that change can take the form of our faith slowly and inexorably far from its original ideals and constant self examination should therefore be valued. Failing to hold to ideals like the forgiveness of enemies , losing a genuine notion of servanthood, signs that compassion and justice are becoming of less importance and a failure to tackle new moral issues as they arise are examples of typical blindspots that may develop. Having those who are prepared to challenge should therefore be appreciated.
Religion does indeed provide points of security, a sense of place and belonging, and a supportive group of fellow believers – but to insist that the shape of that religion should be set in concrete despite the signs of a rapidly changing world would seem inappropriate. To consider the appropriateness or otherwise of another competing religion only makes sense if we are prepared to look closely at our own preferred religious practice, and allow that different circumstances sometimes call for altered response. The apparent fury with which fellow followers of a religion sometimes treat those from within who question long held traditions might be moderated a little when it is remembered that those who performed such a function in the past often turned out to be key prophets and reformers.

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15 Responses to A Place for Doubters in the Church

  1. Personally, I appreciate the honest doubters and their questions. They make me think and help me clarify what I believe and why I believe it. I have encountered a few individuals who called themselves doubters but their questions turned out to be a smokescreen to cover their rejection of all moral guidelines. I’ve also met some people with a God-said-it-and-I-believe-it mentality that simply covered up their refusal to love others. These later two groups of people frustrate me because there is no opportunity for discussion and reasonable conversation with either one.

  2. Judi says:

    I must disagree with your premise Bill, not with fury for a fellow follower who simply questions traditions which might be moderated a little, not with fury at all, but with genuine divergence from your beliefs. They are not doubts, they are beliefs.

    The purpose of your blog is in effect an attack on the basic fibers of Christianity. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but as I recall, you refute creation, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, miracles, hell, etc. By claiming that Jesus is not the only way to the Father, you have attacked everything that was accomplished on the cross, rendering all His suffering unnecessary.

    It would seem all we need to do is play nice, and whichever religion gets us there (if any), is of no consequence. You are rejecting the Chief Cornerstone. In His place, we are to accept a weak and insufficient form of tolerance, and consider ourselves enlightened.

    • peddiebill says:

      Judi, Since for me Jesus provides very clear guidance indeed, I find myself at a loss to understand what you are on about. Why else would I be working full time for the methodist Church? Why else would I have done a spell as a volunteer missionary in New Guinea. Why else would I have spent hours working with the Intellectually handicapped,helped with beach missions, run a drop in centre for the lost youth of Papakura, run Church Youth groups, done volunteer ambulance duty and worked for the Peace movement. You clearly would not see any of these things of significance – so why not show me by example some more worthwhile things to do. OK you dont like my theology eg in the Hymns you can find on this site…. OK dont tell me I am wrong in the way I write hymns. Write your own hymns and show me how it should be done.. I preach every Sunday and believe in and use prayer. Why dont you give me some copies of your sermons and prayers to show me how I should be doing it better? What I will not do however is say I believe in things because a fundamentalist or televangelist says I must believe in them. I need to see the authentic life lived before I can see the value in a message. That is why I seek to follow Christ’s teachings – or listen to Mother Teresa. Christianity to me is something to be lived – not a checklist of religious terms to say I believe. My real fear is that if I were accused of being a Christian, there might not be enough objective evidence to convict me. Creation I admit I cannot understand and indeed I am in good company in this in that even the best of our scientists also find its mysteries beyond comprehension. I am more than happy to assign the term God to creation’s workings but I refuse to pretend I understand it. I would even suspect I may even understand a little more of the description of the process than you may – but I am not sure that taking the poetry out of Genesis and pretending it is science fact helps.
      For me Jesus helps my understanding of God. What I am far less sure about is that those who are born into different traditions are obliged to follow the same path. Remember many of these never encounter the Christ portrayed in the Bible and have never seen for themselves how this has been interpreted by many fine Christians since, and cannot even have a chance to even hear about his way. To be certain about what this means for those from different backgrounds I would interpret as arrogance. Miracles I am uncertain about because many facts in science I encounter for the first time seem miraculous but subsequently turn out to have profound scientific explanations that help my understanding and without knowing more about Jesus, and having never witnessed his miracles I cannot be certain that he was not simply tapping into some laws of nature beyond my understanding. I would never say I dont believe in miracles, because I have witnessed strange events that I cannot explain…
      The purpose of my blog is to encourage thinking – not to give answers. I can understand why Socrates so infuriated his listeners with his incessant questions and refusual to give formula answers that they condemned him to drink Hemlock. My preferred method comes from science – whereby you challenge standard understandings and ask if there may be better ways of fitting the evidence to belief. If visitors to my site prefer all their thinking done for them according to dogmatic ossified formulae I would suggest they go to another site. Perhaps Judi’s?

  3. Cherel says:

    Key prophets and reformers called on people to reject the traditions of men and return to God’s revealed requirements for salvation. They were men with very definite beliefs about justice and righteousness and obedience to God’s Word.

    They were not doubters who sought to undermine the faith of others by removing divinely laid sections from the bridge of salvation, and then cheered for those who repaired the bridge with manmade materials and bid others to trust in those new sections to make it safely across.

    I agree with Pastor Mark Haines, honest doubters are looking for answers and dealing with their questions may bring insight and growth to all parties involved. But, those who reject moral guidelines under the guise of genuine doubt are beyond reasoning with. They only stir up endless arguments.

    We are commanded to love one another and live in peace as much as is possible. We are also commanded to defend the faith. Honest doubters in the church should soon come to honest faith– if they are honest people.

    • peddiebill says:

      I too agree with Pastor Mark Haines. The moral guidelines laid down by Jesus are very clear and well worth following. Forgiveness of enemies is an ideal moral principle for a basis for foreign policy! Making time for heretics eg the Good Samaritan sure beats condemning those who subscribe to heretical beliefs. Mark’s other perceptive comment about the way those who use formulations like “I believe in God and everything else in the Bible” as a substitute for getting around to Jesus number one commandment about love is also one which I have witnessed time after time. Praying for the poor is a weak substitute to delivering food parcels, and increasing overseas aid.

  4. Cherel says:

    Jesus calls on individuals (not governments) to forgive their enemies.

    Prayer is the most effective thing to be done for anyone since God knows what is best and has unlimited resources at His disposal. And, the one who prays is the most likely to also follow through with personal aid to the needy.

    I don’t believe the Good Samaritan was a heretic. I would imagine there were many Samaritans who had a better theological understanding of God’s nature and requirements than many Jews of the time had. Jesus didn’t point him out as a heretic but as a good neighbor to a Jewish man who probably would not have treated him so well if the tables were turned.

    I would highly doubt someone knows God or the Bible very well if they don’t know the greatest commandment is to love God and one’s neighbor.

    Your response to Judi about miracles and prayer seems different than your response to me when I mentioned God healing my kidneys. In that exchange you acted like you don’t believe in such miracles– particularly as answers to prayer. Are you becoming more open in that area?

    Your many works are highly commendable but scripture clearly teaches that one is not saved by works, but by “grace through faith”. “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.” Faith is a positive response to God’s Word. Our concerns for you are based on your negative and doubtful commentary on the Bible.

    Our concerns are loving concerns. “Open rebuke is better than secret love.”

    We are all concerned about those who have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel. I remind myself of the words of Abraham, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” Of course He will. But, how He will accomplish that is not my place to say.

    My responsibility is to clearly present what His Word teaches. And, His Word, speaking of the name of Jesus says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

    Doubting what the Bible teaches and perhaps doubting the goodness of God in regards to His plan of salvation seems rather more arrogant than believing what the Bible says and trusting God do what’s right. That sounds more humble to me; but, God is the Judge. I leave it with Him.

  5. peddiebill says:

    It is no so much that I think works justify faith as that I have a concern that a judgemental faith based on automatic responses to questions of faith often winds up having nothing to do with the real world. For example when you say the Government who represents you and other people has no need for concepts like forgiveness you are saying just that. The reason why I wrote to our prime minister (and the US President) when he wanted to take us into Vietnam, and the reason why I drew as many people’s attention to the stupidity of going into Afghanistan and Iraq was precisely that I think faith needs to be applied to real situations. I make no apologies for drawing attention to the many unkind things being done to people in the name of keeping the peace – cluster bombs, land mines, etc because blind Government policy will allow these things unless people show they care. I would have to say it was those who had the same attitudes to mine eg the Quakers and Liberals who were working alongside while the fundamentalists were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps there are fundamentalist peace makers…it is just I am still to meet them. Dont tell me I am teaching the wrong stuff about peacemaking unless you can show that your efforts at peacemaking work better than mine. I know there are many dimensions to Christianity but when I choose to involve myself in some of the limited areas I am puzzled why you dont simply encourage me. I have yet to meet a person who is the whole package when it comes to Christianity. Dont tell me how to talk with people of other faiths unless you can first assure me that you are having success in drawing Muslims into your Church. I am probably doing you an injustice but I suspect Muslims would keep well clear of your Church.
    Sorry about the scepicism about your claimed miracle of cured Kidney disease.
    It is just that I come from a very medical family and happen to know that many serious conditions happen to come right by themselves. I have also read the detailed evidence for the relationship between prayer and recovery and simply state that the studies are very ambiguous about whether or not prayer helps recovery. Some support the relationship – and just as many studies dont. I happen to think it is important to be honest and not to slant the truth to make Christianity sound better than it is. As I have had others attribute miracles to my actions in terms of people cured by prayer – or in another case missing people found, I am particularly anxious that the word miracle should not be used too lightly.

  6. Cherel says:

    Liberals are indeed hard to follow. On the one hand they insist on separation of church and state and on the other they hand they think the government should practice Christian principles like forgiveness and giving aid to one’s neighbor. Which is it?

    Christians who believe in and individually practice the fundamental teachings of Jesus have impacted the world in a positive way for two thousand years now. They are peace makers in their personal relationships and in public forums as much as they can be in this contentious world. They have often laid down their lives for the love of peace.

    I would have to know the details of your efforts to commend them without reservation, but I can say I applaud your efforts toward peace making if they are based on righteous justice.

    If a Muslim would be uncomfortable at our church, it would be because he/she was uncomfortable hearing truth shared from the Bible in a worshipful atmosphere of love and acceptance. A Muslim who is truly a Muslim would be uncomfortable there for that reason. It wouldn’t be because we mistreated them — so I’m not sure what you are getting at.

    Miracles are indeed easily claimed and perhaps often mistaken for a natural occurence. On the other hand, Jesus was a healer when He walked in flesh on this earth and He remains a healer today. If nothing else about my situation was miraculous, the timing certainly was. Every test showed a worsening condition until my kidneys reached 11% function and the doctor insisted I go on dialysis to save my life. I had a word from God. “Peace be with you. Do not fear. You will not die.” I chose to believe that word and left the hospital with 11% function and a warning from the doctor that I would have to return for dialysis to survive. And, from the moment I left the hospital my function began to improve. You can believe what you want to believe and I will give God the glory for the great things He has done! My doctor agrees.

    I would say prayer never helps recovery– but God certainly does when He answers prayer! And, He still answers prayer today when we ask in the faith He provides. It’s all about God and accomplishing His will for our lives. He simply allows us to participate with Him because He wants relationship with us– like we let our children help us do things we could well enough do on our own. All the glory goes to Him!

    Bill, how could Christianity ever sound better than it is? Jesus is the “whole package” when it comes to Christianity! Where do you find fault with Him?

  7. peddiebill says:

    I certainly dont find fault with Christ. History on the other hand tells me that the interpretation of what he taught is highly variable. I am therefore always bemused when people tell me there is only one way to interpret Christ. I think people should read a little more history. Remember the inquisition was introduced to return people to the Biblical understanding of the conservative Church of the day.
    Yes I agree that liberals are sometimes hard to follow. In fact there is probably as much variation amongst liberals as there is amongst conservatives. Dont forget the Televangelists including Harold Camping and Pastor Jones see themselves in the same conservative classification as Billy Graham – and both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury would be horrifed to hear themselves described as liberals although the Pope probably thinks the Archbishop of Caterbury to be a hopeless liberal with his attitudes to women in ministry. May I reverse your charge and ask which of the conservatives have a right to represent the conservatives. When it comes to seperation of Church and State I think you may be confusing the objection to having conservative Christanity taught in schools with the Christian conscience being applied to local and internation decision making. I too would object if what commonly passes for creation science were to be taught in the State funded Secondary schools because the so called science is based on serious misunderstanding of where science is currently at. Since my PhD on the topic was examined and passed by those who were authorities on the subject I think on this topic I have now won a right to express an opininion. Since I have only passed examinations in theology and Bible understanding at a much lower level I am less confident about whether or not I should have the right to speak on such matters. I have also heard it said that liberals sometimes have very poor understanding of the Bible whereas conservatives have poor understanding of the world where the teachings of the Bible are meant to be applied. I would have to say I have seen evidence for both.

  8. Cherel says:

    The central teachings of scripture are quite clear for those who take the Bible seriously. The sects and denomimations usually hinge on peripheral issues made large.
    The desire to keep things complicated or doubtful and “impossible” to understand contradicts the very teaching of scripture which claims to be written to bring people to a reasonabe faith in truth. Private interpretations defy the clear teachings of scripture.
    Jesus and Paul both expected the spiritually minded to find and understand the truth and to share it with others.

    The liberal thought about separation of church and state that has been expressed to me is complete separation of Christian ideology from the operations of the state. Getting creationism out of the schools was just the starting place. They want no God, no prayer and no Christian conscience. They want only secular humanism permeating the public arena. That is not what most Americans want, but liberalism rules in the academic institutions and in much of our judiciary system. A single liberal judge often denies the populace their freedoms by overturning conservative election results.

    I know you are opposed to Creation Science and Intelligent Design being taught in schools because you believe science supports evolution but many PHDs looking at the same evidence disagree with you. I guess that is a matter of interpretation.

    And this subject gives me the chance to clarify something I said in an earlier comment on the subject. When I referred to a limited number of fossils, I meant significant fossils, as it relates to changes between species. There are many fossils, but no real evidence of changes between species– which is the whole basis for evolution unless you believe in Stephen Gould’s punctuated equilibrium theory.

    I hardly think anyone can understand the world in a practical (helpful) way if they can’t understand scripture.

  9. peddiebill says:

    Unfortunately I cant give a proper answer in a few words to the issues you raise.
    Since there are many fossil species providing links and since most of the interconnections are now well and truly established, the old charge of there being missing links which was undoubtably true in years gone by is hardly true any more.
    Most of the current work on evolution is now focussed on questions relating to the way genetic information is altered to produce the changes. The general principles are also now understood but concepts like “species” suffer from the problem that to the layman a species is something rather different to the way the zoologist or botanist would use the term. Many scientists do not find the old word species very helpful but many still accept the old idea that members of the same species can interbreed to produce viable offspring. At the Readers Digest level evolution works by first setting up genetic variation within a species, originally by mutation of the chromosomes. Virtually every species exhibits this variation. The variation mechanisms continue but controls of a fixed environment hold the number that can survive in check. For example for the human species Homo Sapiens, within each sub population which has been established for many thousands of years in the one area, there is considerable variation – tall and short individuals, individuals with lighter and darker skin, variations in blood type etc etc. This variation is then the raw material on which selection is considered to happen when there are changes in the environment. There is absolutely no doubt that this selection works. Pale skinned people in high sun areas are taken out of the breeding population by skin cancer and in low sunlight areas dark skinned people have problems witht the skin manufacturing enough Vitamin D. The end result is that we see very obvious differences produced over a longer term. Thus when we consider measureable differences between groups of humans in different part of the world we see skeletal evidence whereby for example a Polynesian has a more pronounced pentagonal shape skull with larger internal volume and general body shape with stronger upper body and comparatively shorter legs, the African negroid having developed a body for long distance travel on a large continent having comparatively longer leg bones. When a number of such changes have happened over periods of millions of years it is generally considered that sufficient differences will have occured to make interbreeding between the sub groups impossible. ie new species. That many of the sub groups Homo Robustus etc etc have not survived helps our understanding. Most of the standard objections raised by those in the creation science are based on misapprehensions and ignorance about various branches of science. The young earth creationists for example know virtually nothing about the main methods of identifying fossils, establishing the age of the Earth etc The US degree mill universities have not helped giving out degrees to Creation scientists in exchange for money instead of proven ability in research. Perhaps I have simply had bad luck in which ones I have met but I have found so called creationist geologists with profound ignorance about basic geology or radiochemistry, zoologists with no knowledge of genetics and astrophysicists with little more than junior high school knowledge about the Universe.

  10. Cherel says:

    Pope Bill of Evolution! 🙂 It sounds like you are saying if someone disagrees with your understanding of the universe, it’s because they are truly uninformed– whether they have a Degree or not. If you were in charge, creationists would not be allowed to graduate until they agreed with evolution! Interesting– but rather intolerant. 🙂

    Adaptation or variation within species is limited by the manufacturers original genetic instructions. (Tall or short, pale or dark, a man is a man.) Those instructions are law! God created species with limited variableness so we can count on order in the world. Genetic variation is not evolution, no matter how much time passes. Beyond that, variation doesn’t account for the beginning of the universe or of life! Only God gives us a reliable account of such things.

    I’ve read a lot of material written by creationists who go into great detail discussing dating methods for fossils, rocks and the earth. They understand the methods used by evolutionists but they disagree with them. As do I.

    I would much rather listen to a creationist discuss what is than an evolutionist discuss all his unreliable theories. Although, I will admit that evoltionists are skilled story tellers– very good at making things up. 🙂 But, as long as evolutionists have no explanation for their starting point, they have nothing solid to build on.

    It is a bottom line issue of faith. One who believes in a Creator Who has revealed Himself and shared basic truths about His creation, has a foundation to start from in attempting to gain a deeper understanding of His creation that aligns with the revealed truth. One who denies a Creator starts with a Big ? and is left making up all kinds of theories which continue to be proven wrong because they have no valid foundation.

    I have yet to hear of any link between species being established. There is certainly no verified link between man and animals. All the fossils are either human or animal– unless an evolutionist has combined human and animal bones in an attempt to create something new. Those attempts have failed in the past and have been exposed. Let me know if you have seen one that is considered valid today.

    • peddiebill says:

      Are you really saying all those hominid fossils which are not Homo Sapiens are fake? Please tell me why? Even the links between DNA of humans and other higher animals eg mamals are so clear – eg many identical genes that I find your assertions that there are none mind-bending (but quite in keeping for those who believe in creationism).

  11. Cherel says:

    I’m saying all animal fossils come from animals and all human fossils are human. If an animal body has a human head, it is fabricated, and vice versa. There are human fossils with unexpected features (small skulls, large brow ridges, etc.) but those features may be the result of genetic variation, mutation, disease or environmental factors. The skeletal remains may look strange, but if you could communicate with the individual you would know whether he was human or an animal. Unless one can scientifically “prove” (repeatable experiments) an animal was changing to a human, we are left with nothing that clearly links humans and animals.

    Neanderthals are clearly human and interbred with modern humans according to scientific research I’ve read. And, I sometimes see people who look like Neanderthals.
    I’ve read about DNA similarities which amount to nothing more than the fact that one God created all life and used similar genetic components to achieve similar physical results. But, only man was created in God’s image and God shares His image with no animal.

    I find a persons’s ability to believe in a system without a foundation “mind-bending” so I understand how you feel.

  12. peddiebill says:

    The trouble with trying to communicate with those who have read different books and been brought up in a totally different education system is that you think you mean the same thing when you use the same words…but you dont. Very briefly I will try yet again.
    Because genetics determines the limits of how we develop and because virtually all knowledge about evolution these days is related to advances in genetics, genetics is important even if only to follow what the scientists are saying. Since humans share more than 99% of their genetic material with their nearest neighbours in the animal kingdom there are not many who would agree with you that humans are a separate creation. Cut open a pig and you will see all the same structures we have inside us – same type of heart, lungs, kidneys, blood supply,naughty parts etc. In fact the similarities are so great that pigs are often used for dissection in medical school. Since we have heaps of evidence that species change all the time in responses to change in environment acting on the variation present in each species, and since this is seen in the outward differences we find in human groups in different environments, it would be hard to believe this does not happen with humans as well. Although intermediaries are hard to find for all large mammals because complete preserved fossils are harder to find, nevertheless most of the so called missing links are now in place. Your comments about faked fossils are really not important because first of all there have been very few and secondly those that have been discovered are only considered fake because the standard trusted techniques used for testing fossils show them to be so. You cant have it both ways. Either the scientists are doing their work sufficiently carefully to be assembling an accurate picture of evolution, or their methods dont work in which case no fakes have ever proven to be the case. Your comments about variation within a fossil collection for the same species are fair enough
    but they also suggest that you dont understand how bones are consigned to be hominid or non hominid. Your comments about Neanderthals are correct – but only if you trust what the evolutionary scientists tell us – the same ones who tell us about the other hominid and prehominid skeletal remains. Yes a human is clearly different from an ape – and a cow is clearly different from a horse – but that is not to say that we have no idea or evidence how they evolved from common ancestors. As to your last comment – I am not an authority on what God looks like – but presumably if you are right “He” shares 90% of his DNA with a sheep. Image is not surely outward appearance only.

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