A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A hypocrite, an evangelical, and a liberal walk into a bar...

Robin Hood's Bay
Originally uploaded by sweet-indigo.
I've discovered I'm very good at pretending.

Current crisis of faith was put on hold for a while. I'm now examining it again because I hate sitting in Christian meetings pretending to be a Christian. Sigh. Jesus had a word for this - hypocrite.

I kinda got the impression those are the sort of people that annoy him most.

So honesty - sadly the only other option. If only it weren't so bothersome. If only I could honestly say that I believe the whole gospel and then I could quite happily have all that 'blessed assurance' stuff without questioning or pretending. As it is, I'm struggling with Calvinism (abhorrent), Arminianism (slight improvement), Calv-Arminianism (just plain confusing)... Annihilationism (depressing), eternal torment (really depressing), universal reconciliation (would be nice, but can it be true?)... and who is Jesus? (Do we make him too nice? Are Christians nicer than Jesus?)

I went on the Christian Focus weekend trip last weekend. CF are different from Christian Union in a number of ways. It's hard to list all of them... I think CF is more about individual faith and CU more about collective faith. CF is ecumenical, CU inter-denominational (but *not* ecumenical). CU is for conservative evangelical Christians. CF has conservative evangelicals and woolly liberals, and proud liberals and Catholics and Protestants and Quakers and even me, the occasional Charismatic (I've no idea what I am, especially when I feel like this). And probably a few non-Christians too. Also, CU is very big and CF is quite small. There are a few other differences but I don't have time to go over them all. And I imagine, at their worst, CU are Pharisees (or maybe Essenes), and CF are Sadducees. At their best, CU are St. Paul and CF are Mother Teresa. Or something.

The CF weekend away was nice. However, I've noticed CF-style worship (or at least worship done by CF type people) tends to involve silence.


It's really no wonder I spent my first Quaker meeting thinking about duct tape and doing maths in my head and secretly wondering whether Quakers value pacifism more than faith and what they'd do if World War II happened again.

Silence is a very powerful tool for prayer. 'Night prayer', which is a weekly event at the uni's local church, involves mostly silence.

Trouble is, you get silent and you start thinking.

You get silent and then all the troubling thoughts about God come back. And then you think, "What if God's right here and listening?" Then you do some very messy and very sincere prayer.

I actually often missed the silence at my Cambridge church, which didn't seem to believe in silent contemplation during services. It was very disconcerting coming to sing a loud rock song then realising I had to repent a few things and surrender some things and be reminded that I had to come back to God whilst trying to sing some bouncy Hillsong track.

Anyway, I guess it would be getting off topic, but it really was a lovely weekend. I got to know some CF people better, went paddling (in the North Yorkshire sea, in November. Hah!) and there was a fascinating discussion on evangelism led by "Geoff" who's also a CU person (although had to resign from his small group leader post because he confessed that he didn't believe the entire Doctrinal Basis anymore). It seemed very right that he should lead it, somehow, since it's good that a few people can be CU and CF at the same time...

Perhaps I should explain a bit more... if you're still reading and haven't given up in boredom, that is :) I often get the impression there are two types of Christian on campus. Those who are in the CU and those who aren't. Many of those who aren't don't really like the CU as a body (though there's a great cliché of "but individually, they're lovely!"), mostly because of their Doctrinal Basis and the attitudes associated with it.

The Doctrinal Basis is a statement of beliefs provided by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF)that all CU committee members must sign in order to have a position of responsibility. You can see it on the UCCF website. Also to be members of the CU you have to say that you honestly believe this:

"In joining the society, I declare that I accept Jesus Christ as my Redeemer, Saviour, Mediator, Lord and God, and I will seek in thought and action to be ruled by His teachings written in the Bible. I give my active support for the aims of the society."

(That second sentence wasn't there when I originally signed up three years ago... Oh well...)

Whereas to join CF you just have to pay your £3 fee required by the Student's Union (admittedly, CU is free) and sign on the page.

On Monday night York's UCCF worker (same woman I meet for coffee to discuss my deviancy, actually :) ) came to CF to talk to us about what UCCF does. Thankfully she has very thick skin because it could have descended into a bloodbath. Every single grievance against the CU came out in some form or another. Afterwards she joked that we could burn the Doctrinal Basis. I'm glad she said that because I'd made the same joke half an hour before.

My favourite part of the meeting was the end. After various CF members vented their problems with the CU, and some CF members spoke up in defence, and the brave, brave UCCF worker bore it all with a smile, "John" (CF's chair) suggested closing with the Lord's prayer.

So we recited together, some NIV, some KJV, and the Catholic chaplains saying whatever Catholics do (sounded KJV to me, but the KJV is a Protestant Bible). Some said trespasses, some sins, some debts. Some said "from evil" some, "from the evil one". And we all said Amen.

And later I joked to a girl from the Student Christian Movement (which broke away from UCCF in the 19th century) that I was amused by some SCM publicity reading "If Heaven's full of Christians, do I want to go there?" After all, we fight so much, do we really want to go somewhere where there are no non-Christians to distract us?

I don't know, but I do think that deep down we really do want to get on with each other. I don't know how God will sort us out, but I left the meeting, and the bar afterwards (where the UCCF rep sat chatting with CF people while some of the more liberal CF members rewrote the Doctrinal Basis in a woolly fashion) thinking that we may just be all right after all.

But as to my crisis of faith... bah. The woman from UCCF (whom I might as well call Jane) lent me some books today. We were supposed to meet up to talk about the whole Hell issue but we haven't managed to yet. She lent me a book called Ultimate Realities which talks about the Gospel in light of the Doctrinal Basis, which is interesting but as I read it I can't help but think it contradicts itself. First it says that salvation is entirely dependent on God and then it says that those who do not repent will be justly condemned. But surely if God leads us to repentance no one will be permanently condemned?

I don't know. Sometimes the CU frustrate me. Sometimes CF frustrates me. My faith often frustrates me, but it'd be worrying if it didn't... I like Jane a lot - I met her in February last year at a CU talk and she's the kind of person who doesn't mind you asking her all sorts of hard questions about Christianity. Even the old and tired ones. It feels odd because I don't entirely approve of UCCF, and to be honest the "evangelism" of the CU gets a bit wearing (Believe-in-Jesus-go-to-Heaven-don't-believe-and-go-to-Hell!)

Yeah, I'm still having a crisis of faith.

Well, that's life. It doesn't make sense to my tiny mind, but hey, it would be boring if it did :)

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  • At 11:00 pm , Blogger thebluefish said...

    Interesting. Big issues and questions to workout. Our mutual friend is a good example, I hope I have the same approach and gladly face peoples real questions, hey i've had to ask many of them myself along the way....

    Aiming for the best of what we should be...

  • At 11:39 am , Anonymous Tiffer said...

    Just wanted to say how astute you seem to be for someone who is feeling confuzzled by it all - I think people who go to CF and CU are great, and where I was at Warwick we had big societies in both. The UCCF woman sounds like one of a kind, but I'll say no more - you are very blessed to have one like her - I have never heard of a UCCF worker speaking at a CF, SCM or anything like that before!!!

    Don't worry about finding both CF and CU frustrating for different reasons, all the things you have observed I would say a huge AMEN to. Trust me - I'm a church student worker!

    I know it's a terrible cliche but faith is a journey, and you don't sound backsliden or un committed or anything like that - you are just asking questions which in some circles it isn't fashionable to ask. In my experience most fluffy (wooly) people are also on a journey, although many choose to set up camp there.

    Just simply trust, Jesus has you and thinks you are the best - and from there any crisis of faith or difficulty can be overcome with patience and trust. I am very happy to offer any electronic guidance via email or whatever - I am ukulelegirls husband (from diraryland) and you can get my email address from my web page!

    God bless and I hope all goes well.

  • At 4:46 pm , Blogger Dr Moose said...

    As ever, there is not the time to comment in depth - apart from saying that it sounds little changed from when I was one of the few members of the Chaplaincy (affiliated to SCM) and the CU (affiliated to UCCF) in Plymouth in the 80s. (Argh! Age!) Or for that matter where certain CUs wouldn't let those training for ordained ministry in a reasonably evangelical college speak to their houseparties because we weren't "sound".

    We are called to respond to Jesus in faith and faith is risky. It is affected by our mood, our mind, our surroundings. Faith is not to be reduced to mere mental assent (I suspect I couldn't sign the UCCF doctrinal basis... well, I could but I would know that I was interpreting it differently from what UCCF would intend!)

    The most telling point to me was the willingness of folks to be bound together in the Lord's Prayer, whatever variant was chosen. That speaks volumes about a common faith, as does the readiness of people not to conform to a given word format (and for the leader not to request it!)

    Hang in there. Questions are not the enemy of faith. Sometimes they are actually the seedbed, rather than the herbicide.

    I hope you never cease to ask questions - I still have plenty (especially having just had to do a funeral for a 16 year old killed in a road accident....)


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