I’m sorry to report that it seems we’re fresh out of the Quick Reference Guide to Christian Faith.
In fact, every time someone asks for one I check to see if I can put my hands on a copy but so far, no luck . . . which makes me think it may be out of print.
At least here at Calvary.
I decided to revisit whether or not such a thing exists because I keep having curious conversations with folks who imagine that, when Jesus called his disciples, he passed out crisp new textbooks like the teacher does at school on the first day. You know, the Quick Reference Guide to Christian Faith!
“What does the church believe?” they ask.
(Concurrent internal dialog with myself: “What do you mean ‘the church’? Do you mean the community of Calvary Baptist Church, the worshippers who are so diverse some of them cannot even speak the same language? And, believe about what? This is the very same group that has spent significant time debating the size and layout of the bulletin!”)
Out loud, of course, I say what I believe we believe here: that we are people in the process of being transformed by the redemptive message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But for some questioners, it seems, that answer just doesn’t seem to cut it. So . . . I ask for clarification (hoping beyond hope that I don’t get any questions on the finer points of Karl Barth’s doctrine of God since I can’t quite recall at this moment), starting to suspect that I’ve met another seeker looking for . . . a Quick Reference Guide to Christian Faith.
But often I hear this next question: “No, no! I mean rules for my life. Like, what does the church believe about abortion . . . or other religions . . . or homosexuality?”
Sighing with relief that I have not unwittingly walked into a discussion of Systematic Theology, I usually respond with what I know to be “the rules” of the Gospel: love God, love each other.
And then I explain again that the Quick Reference Guide to Christian Faith is not available at this church. Instead, I think we have something I guess you could call the Slow Reference Guide to Christian Faith.
The Slow Reference Guide to Christian Faith is, sadly, not a list. Rather, it’s an invitation to a process of transformation as you experience meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, join your life to the community here at Calvary, wrestle with the biblical text, and engage in messy community with others who share the path on this journey of faith.
In fact, it’s very likely that cracking open the Slow Reference Guide to Christian Faith will not be a neatly outlined, several-step process; alas, the Slow Reference Guide to Christian Faith doesn’t fit neatly into the back of my NIV Study Bible (with zipper case).
Nope, faith is a whole experience of investing your life, listening for the voice of God, trying new expressions of old ideas, adding new faces and languages and ideas to your image of the family of faith, reading the ancient text and finding new and life-giving revelations, experiencing in the deepest part of who you are that God loves you . . . and, really, loves the whole world.
So many gifted, educated, professional people in this city who would never, ever accept chewed up and already-digested direction in any other area of their lives want the church of Jesus Christ to cough up a quick reference guide they can check in with every once in awhile, just to make sure they are following the rules.
But there are no quick reference guides here. Only this: an invitation to embark on relationship with the God of the universe; to welcome all kinds of scary experiences: to run into people who are different; to ask hard questions and learn hard and utterly redemptive answers; to doubt and explore, think and wonder, love and, most certainly, be loved, even if we don’t get it right all the time.
Sometimes I see faces fall with disappointment: can’t there be one place in all of life where the answers are easy? “It’s too hard,” some say. “I need a Quick Reference Guide to Christian Faith.”
And as I watch them go, I imagine the Rich Young Ruler and the words of the Gospel of Mark: “and when he heard this he was shocked and went away grieving . . . .”
I swear, I want to call out to just come on and take the next step along with me . . . as we walk together, I say, neither of us will be able to see what’s up around the bend, of course. We only know that together we’re on the grandest adventure life has to offer, the adventure Jesus offered over and over again, starting that very day on the lake when the Quick Reference Guide to Christian Faith must have fallen overboard and instead, Jesus held out his hand and invited, “follow me . . . .”