We love catching up and wondering through the bible with our young people!
Why are Christians so afraid of doubt?
“Stop doubting and believe.” Jesus said to Thomas. In James 1:6 we are warned “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”. So doubt is bad. If you doubt, there is something wrong with you. Your faith must be weak. You just need to trust and believe.
The story within many Christian communities is that life following Jesus progresses in a victorious straight line. And when the reality of our lives and world does not match up we need to at least pretend that this is case. No wonder Christians are so often accused of been hypocrites. We really struggle with honesty sometimes.
Christian author Philip Yancey observes that “The church has sometimes chastised people who admit their weakness and failure, and our society has an aversion to suffering… So Christians naturally tend to hide behind a thin veneer of cheerfulness and health, while they secretly hurt and doubt.”
So what can we do about this? Well Yancey goes on to say, “When I speak to college students, I challenge them to find a single argument against God… that is not already included in books like Psalms, Job, Habakkuk and Lamentations. … God seems rather doubt-tolerant, actually.”
If we take wider look at scripture we actually see a number of situations where some of our ‘heros of the faith’ express some rather strong doubts about God, but don’t end up falling off the wagon.
Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’ Exodus 5:22-23
Joshua said, ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Joshua 7:7
You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? Jeremiah 12:1
Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Psalm 10
I love the refreshing raw honesty of these verses. It shows a God who does not fear or is threatened by our doubt. But is able to use it to draw us to him. The Christian faith is not a precarious, carefully balanced stack of rocks on the beach. If you tap it or prod it the whole thing might fall down. No. It is a firm foundation and like the wise man who builds his house on the rock, it has survived thousands of years wars, debate, arguments and attacks. And still stands. Jesus says that the gates of hell will not prevail.
Doubt sometimes gets confused for unbelief which can be problematic. Colin Smith highlights the difference between doubt and unbelief saying. “Doubt is questioning what you believe. Unbelief is a determined refusal to believe. Doubt is a struggle faced by the believer. Unbelief is a condition of the unbeliever.”
But some streams of the Christian faith find doubt more problematic than others, seeing doubt and unbelief as the same thing and sometimes adding cultural ideologies, values and norms to the ‘essentials’ of the faith. Michael Hakmin Lee observes that: “Evangelicalism, especially its more conservative or fundamentalist incarnations, commonly fosters a rigidly constructed faith, with multiple layers of what we consider essential beliefs and values. On the one hand, certitude can be comforting and reassuring in a world filled with chaos and uncertainty. However, the danger of holding something to be essential to one’s faith is that when that essential belief is called into question, the whole edifice, not just that belief, begins to destabilize. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with confidence or certainty in one’s beliefs and convictions, there is potential harm when evangelical communities and leaders place an unwarranted level of confidence in their theological constructs and impose their certitude on others.”
Evangelicals faith in certainties can make us very uncomfortable with mystery. And unfortunately many of us would rather deal with a simple wrong answer than a complex or unclear one. The reality is that doubt is a part of our day-to-day life. It is not necessarily good nor bad. It is our response to that uncertainty that determines whether it was good for us or not.
Os Guinness describes the value of doubt as follows: “The value of doubt is that it can be used to detect error…. But a sword like this will cut both ways. If doubt can be turned destructively against truth so that it is dismissed as error, doubt can also be used constructively to prosecute error disguised as truth…. Doubt, then, is a problem for both faith and knowledge. As long as the presence of doubt is detected anywhere, neither faith nor knowledge can ever be complacent. But though doubt may be normal, it should be temporary and it should always be resolved. Wisely understood, resolutely faced, it need hold no fear for the Christian. To a healthy faith doubt is a healthy challenge.”
Microsite Reflections – a church community perspective
It is amazing how the microsite came to be through relationship and word of mouth (and God’s nudging). Somebody spoke to somebody who spoke to somebody…… and the CHS Pastorate found ourselves unanimously agreeing to open up the church for a group of homeless women. I love how God works in our hearts without us even noticing. It was so exciting to be a part of this wonderful effort. After meeting Phinius and Katlyn Sebatsane we spent a few days moving all of the chairs and stage boxes out of the church. We had a wonderful time dividing the hall into sections to fit mattresses and side tables for the ladies and making the hall feel like home. We converted the Upstairs Room into a lounge with a tv and blankets against the cold. The cottage used for the creche was turned into a washing area, with a borrowed washing machine installed and washing lines strung up behind the church.
I was so touched by the many many offers of help from the CHS community. So many people supplied food, bedding, clothing and their time (the most valuable). It felt like a real community effort.
And yes, there were times when things were difficult, but God, as always, was so gracious and loving and patient with everyone.
A real highlight for me was getting to know Phinius and Katlyn Sebatsane who were the site managers and generously gave themselves to these ladies, sleeping in a makeshift bedroom we had created in the cry room. They are an inspiring couple who are Jesus to people on the streets of Muizenberg. And I think that this is one of the things that really struck me – that by welcoming these women into our building, and loving them, we were being Jesus to them. What an incredible honour that proved to be. To be a part of restoring dignity and giving people hope – not much can top that.
The second thing that struck me was how many groups and people (outside of CHS) have been a part of this effort. I had no idea that so many communities had invested their time, energy and resources into the lives of these women. It is a wonderful thing that CHS has been connected, through these ladies, to so many who have so much to offer. Again, what an incredible privilege.
Although my role in the Microsite has been mainly as grocery shopper and administrator (with the odd bit of window fixing), I cannot express what a huge blessing it has been to be a part of this effort. Our CHS community has shown what it is like to be Jesus to others and I hope that we can continue to do this on an even greater scale in the future. It feels like the action of opening our church as a home has birthed something that is as yet, without form, but I can feel the potential for us to do more.
Thank you CHS for being you and for being Jesus to others
Microsite Reflections – Opening a door to what God desires
The following was a 2020 reflection (approx. 3rd quarter), in the midst of COVID lockdown and Gods work.
Keep on praying for us.
God bless you
Here I Am.Send Me
Worship, Friendship & Learning Together
Following on from Charlie Alexander’s report on the Parish Worship nights at the end of last year, Gil Marsden gives her perspective.
I got involved in the parish monthly worship sessions last year, when the group started meeting to record IRL. For those who aren’t with the lingo, that means In Real Life. It was such a blessed relief to worship together, playing actual instruments, with actual humans, after weeks of pre-recorded worship in our separate homes for our separate church online services during lockdown. I have to admit to being a bit nervous when I arrived at the first rehearsal, as I barely knew a soul on the joint parish team. But they welcomed me with open arms (metaphorically speaking and under strict Covid protocols, of course) and only teased me a little bit.
As it happens, over the past year I’ve been on a very slow and belated journey exploring racism, my own privilege and bias as a white person and the chasm that often seems to exist between Biblical justice and the historical evangelical primary emphasis on salvation. As a 4th generation descendant of Irish missionaries to Central Africa, and having grown up and studied in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the UK, before finally settling in Cape Town as a married adult in 1999, it’s not surprising that I find my heritage and identity confusing and sometimes shameful.
So where does parish worship come into it? Well, firstly, it’s been a joy and a challenge to learn a whole new worship repertoire in different languages and styles. We’ve been fortunate, at CHS, to have written and sung many homegrown worship songs as part of our DNA from the early days of our church plant. However, it’s all too easy to default to the well-known and easy formulas of some of the overseas mega-churches’ worship songs. No offence to them, many anointed songs have come out of them. But the focus of the parish worship sessions has been to use songs written on our continent, in our country, in South African languages and by some of the parish team themselves – and that’s been powerful.
The challenge aspect has been that due to time constraints we often don’t have a lot of preparation or rehearsal time and it has pushed me out of my comfort zone to be playing and singing songs that I don’t feel adequately prepared for, especially in a language I don’t speak. “Welcome to our world!” say all the people for whom English is a second, third or fourth language and who have to tackle the majority of hymns and worship songs in English most of the time. So that’s a worthwhile learning curve for me!
Secondly, apart from broadening my song repertoire, the monthly gathering has allowed me to begin to make friends with people from (I’m not gonna lie) a different generation to me but also with a different skin colour and cultural heritage to me. When we’re practicing and recording, it’s hard to actually get to know one another – especially behind a mask or a microphone. But in the breaks or when sharing a meal together, we’re beginning to share stories and life circumstances and always, the banter!
So it’s a slow process, but this is the work to be done of examining one’s long-held beliefs, biases and blind spots and allowing friends of colour, in Christ, to call me out, challenge me, contradict me and correct me where necessary – and for it to be happening in the context of joint worship across our parish churches, is definitely a God thing. I am grateful to God and to all the people in the parish worship team for being part of this journey with me.
Written by Gil Marsden
Member of CHS Worship Team