Doctrine with Feet
We all want to invite kids in to our camps not scare them away, which is why you will probably never see “theological” in the name of a Christian camp. Babbling Brook Theological Camp and Retreat Center, for instance, lacks a bit of appeal with a nine year old. The irony is that we all sit on a foundation of theology and though I run the risk of scaring you away, I want to talk for a bit about that theology. [Fair warning - I’m going to use words such as theology, doctrine and beliefs interchangeably but I think you will be able to follow my drift.] And here's your chance. While theology forms the basis of our mission and purpose; when our doctrine finds itself without feet then our beliefs are not much more than words.
Buried in our camp manuals, on our camp websites and in some of our key organizational documents you will find Statements of Faith. These contain the usual 6-12 points about what we believe regarding God, Jesus, Sin, Salvation, Faith - the usual suspects. And while they are critical to our mission they seldom formally surface as a group. Instead, various points of these doctrines tend to show up in the stories we teach to campers or in the challenging words of our camp speakers.
But here is a question from ‘within’. Does our doctrine reflect who we are or simply what we believe? I know this has a very personal side to it so let’s just keep it in the safer context of our camp organizations. So here are two examples. One I have been wrestling with for some time and the other that recently smacked me along side of the head without warning.
Somewhere in most of our belief systems we talk about faith. We proclaim we trust God for our needs and our campers and our finances and our projects. And, of course, we promote and we fundraise and we borrow money. So where does faith show up? Is faith a part of who we are or just what we say? When does faith ‘kick-in’ institutionally? Our decision making procedures? Our debt policy? How about in our definition of what we call successful? Where does faith grow itself some feet? This is where the rubber meets the road.
Another of our beliefs, where I serve, has to do with what we feel the Bible teaches about marriage and about human sexuality. In today’s culture, especially, we felt it important, a while back, to have that articulated. And so these belief statements found a home right alongside what we believe about God and Jesus and Salvation and there we left it.
And then one day we woke up and found ourselves severely challenged in regards to that doctrine. Our hiring policy was questioned as was our understanding of the Scriptures. We were told we didn’t care about people and were narrow minded and [most hurtful] we didn’t love. Messages came fast and furious from every form of communication as did picketers and a salivating news media.
Well, we rose up in defense like a mama bear protecting her cubs. “That’s not us” we wanted to shout to the world - "you don’t understand!" And somewhere in our anguish we discovered our doctrine had no feet.
Oh, we had policies and expectations of behavior for our staff and we screened and trained accordingly. But we weren’t prepared with how ‘what we believed’ would need to navigate through the community we sought to engage. We didn’t think enough about how to communicate truth that appeared to conflict with other equal truths. And we didn’t ask enough “what does this mean“ questions as we looked beyond the statements into relationships and even life itself.
Giving feet to doctrine doesn’t mean backing off the truth of what we believe or weakening our resolve but it does mean applying the right amount of grace to that truth. It means paying as much attention to practice as doctrine and allowing that practice a broader range of motion then what comfort might previously have allowed.
I don’t have all the answers but am highly motivated to seek after them. May God give us all the grace and the courage to find the feet our beliefs require.