Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Reflection on Faith

I became a Christian 30 years ago in Canada, where I was a “visiting scholar”. A Chinese Christian girl encouraged me to try Christian faith, so I tried, and found my prayers to Jesus worked wonders. Pretty soon I began to share my experience of new faith to my Chinese friends. Pretty soon people followed me to churches and sought out this faith for themselves.

All the Chinese churches I attended over years are pretty much fundamentalist. In other words, my savior saves me from a hell which I didn’t know previously. But my testimonies to all my friends never really mentioned the hell, because the true reason I’d like my friends to know about Jesus, was that God’s love demonstrated to me through my prayer.

I found Jesus is amazing, not because he theoretically helps me escaping a hell, but I had found the new faith gave me a brand new identity, with a brand new set of values, which in turn proved worthwhile and honorable for me to explore.

So, my fundamentalist faith was only on the doctrine side, which never really matched my experiences. But I never realized this gap. I accepted Christian faith as absolute truth, mainly because my experiences were true.

It is when I attended seminary, especially after I received a M. Div., I began to realize the gap between my experiences and the fundamentalism doctrines. I spent much time digging into the gaps… I realized I had to discard the fundamentalist doctrines, for they are just biblically indefensible…I left the fundamentalism ideology.

Now, the day I am nominated and ordained to be a ruling elder, I had to face a few fundamental questions in the ordination. All the questions are supposed to have a “Yes” answer. I’d better be honest. I decided to carefully study every questions, 8 in all. The end result: I fully embraced PCUSA faith statement as listed and explained in the ordination study bulletin.

The first question: Do you trust Jesus Christ as your savior, as the Lord of all creation, as the head of the church? And through Jesus believe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Of course! Except I want to be very clear, I am not very sure about the existence of a literal “hell”, which is supposed to be created by God, for the purpose of punishment of sin. If I am doubtful about hell, how Jesus is my savior?

I know for a fact, that everybody has sinned against somebody, intentionally or not, because we have been separated from God the Creator, therefore lost the art of perfect love and communication. Christ saved me from self-centered life values, from pursuing only selfish fulfillment and pride. He saved me into a life of God’s bigger purpose -- freely spreading God’s loving-kindness towards people.

How? He teaches me new perspectives, new values. I believe there is no life damaged that Jesus cannot redeem. God helps and strengthen us in our weakness, disadvantage, and troubles. He is also the Lord of relationship, so that we can learn to forgive.

I believe this PCUSA view of redemption is very biblical, for Gospels and Pauline letters all proclaimed that Jesus resurrected to be the King of God’s Kingdom, which has been established on earth among His people, that we all are God’s works. They never really emphasized a life after death as Christian hope.

Regarding Trinitarian God, the bulletin especially points out that “Father” is a traditional way of description for God, and He definitely is not a male idol. Very good! To many people who never know how a good father is compassionate towards his children, this is a comfort.

The second basic question to ask: Do you accept the Bible as the Word of God and the highest authority, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit and witness to Christ? -- I put the question as I understand it, which no matter what church tradition you are in, a “Yes” answer would be warranted. But to the ear of theologian and seminarian, the question itself sounded somewhat like “do you accept Bible inerrancy doctrine”?

No, I don’t believe any of the extant manuscripts were inerrant. But thanks to the works of many textual criticism scholars, the texts of Hebrew and Greek Bible in print today are highly reliable and trustworthy as it stands to the earliest originals. It is amazing work of the Spirit as a whole.

Regarding the interpretation of Biblical text, i.e. translations and theologies, we have much difference derived from the same Bible. Every faith traditions and denominations offer somewhat different system theologies; each interpretation and understanding has certain historical or culture reasons. Therefore, I am fully aware that, to respect Bible’s authority cannot be just a sound bite to claim.

We uphold Bible’s authority, which cannot mean to claim our own tradition as the only absolute truth, others are heresies. Historically, our own faith tradition had used our own understanding of Bible authority to justify slavery, to justify discrimination against women, to justify wars etc, all proven wrong.

After careful consideration, I concluded that if we really uphold Bible’s authority, we have to keep learning, keep on searching. Whenever we realize our knowledge was incomplete or mistaken, we have to be ready to yield.

This I feel PCUSA is doing much better than many fundamentalist churches! (To be continued here.)


  1. Please continue. Can't wait to read 6 more questions.

    1. All 3 articles were published last month in Chinese, about "Return to the Initial Faith", about "Essential Tenets of Reform Faith", and about "Practice of Running the Church".