Being Authentic
Prayer and Memory

A Most Unlikely Religion

Christianity has to be the most unlikely religion.  There are many reasons for saying this, but one such reason is that its organizing document, its constitution, is a compendium of various types of literature -- narrative history, poetry, prophecy, surreal imagery, and open-ended parables.  It is indeed a most unlikely way to organize a religion.  And yet, that is precisely why it is so believable, so human, so real.

I was reminded of this today by the sermon I heard here at a church I visited.  It was a summary of the small bits of history about the disciple, Mark, also known as John Mark.  The sermon was entitled "The God of Second Chances," and indeed John Mark received a second chance.  Scripture says he deserted Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia (Acts 15:38), and yet at a later date, Paul writes to Timothy, asking him to come to him, to "do you best to get here before winter," and to "[g]et Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11, 21).  Obviously there had been reconciliation: a deserter had been welcomed back into the work of the Gospel, trusted once again.

This is not and unusual teaching method for our Scripture.  And yet it is not the most efficient way to organize a religion, to keep it intact, to ensure that dogma is preserved inviolate.  God did speak and act, and when all is said and done, we have a collection of narratives regarding the history of Israel, four not always facially consistent accounts of Jesus's life and work, some letters, an account of the early church, a bunch of enigmatic parables, a wild and difficult to interpret vision of the end times (or is that of Israel) in John's Revelation, some poetry (complete with almost embarrassing "cursing" psalms), a sensual account of love between a husband and wife, and one book that doesn't even mention God.  Now what kind of a way is that to have a religion?  And yet that's what we have.

In writing on the reasons for the making of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, David Mills reminds us that "[w]e have creeds, first, because we were created to make them."  In his Touchstone article entitled "The Creed We Need," he elaborates:  "God made us rational creatures.  We like to put our facts and ideas in order.  We like to find what relation they have to each other, to discover hidden agreements, resolve apparent contradictions, test them against challenges, apply them to new ideas, draw out new implications.  As G.K. Chesterton wrote, 'Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas.'" 

So, that's it:  God knows our creatureliness, so much so that he has us participate in the discovery of the truth about Him and His world, in the continuing attempt to frame in ever more precise words what it is we believe and why it is we believe.

It's a messy way to start a religion.  But it fits us perfectly.  And it seems, well, so uncontrived, so real, and oh so true.