Two Encounters

Last year, on the quadrangle of the Oconee Campus of the University of North Georgia, I noticed the presence of individuals from an Evangelical campus ministry.  They were from elsewhere, for they were unfamiliar with the campus.  One young man from the organization found me and asked me a seemingly simple question:

Do you believe in God?

I asked him what he meant by that.  He obviously did not expect that answer, so I elaborated.  I explained that, if he meant,

Do you affirm the existence of God?,

the answer is always “yes.”  However, I continued, in the historic creeds of the Church, belief is really trust.  Therefore, if the question is

Do you trust in God?,

the answer is “usually.”  He approved of that answer.  I perceived that he had not thought of that distinction with relation to the question he had asked me.  Then he handed me a slip of paper with some basic Christian theological questions on it.  My answers met with his approval, and we parted company on pleasant terms.  The encounter did me no harm and might have given him something edifying to contemplate.

If the people who have knocked on my front door in hopes of converting me were like that young man, I would not have objected to speaking to them.  Usually I just ignore the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons until they give up and leave.  I have, on occasion, argued with them when they have caught me in a bad mood.  I have even slammed my door in their faces when I have been in a really bad mood.

Last night, however, I was merely being cautious.  Shortly after 8:00 I heard knocking on my front door.  I looked through the peep-hole and saw two men standing outside.  I ignored them until one of them announced that they were from the Churches of Christ.  Then I opened the door and commenced to have a pointless conversation which never ceased to be polite.  We were all civilized men, after all.  The conversation ended with one of the men (the only one who did much speaking) informing me that he regretted that I refused to accept the true religion and would therefore go to Hell.  He was especially unimpressed with my religious affiliation and my affinity for Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism.  I should have just ignored these men, for the conversation accomplished nothing productive.

Professor Phillip Cary, in his Great Courses series The History of Christian Theology (2008), speaks of religious traditions, the members of which do not think of them as human traditions.  He does this with a particular reference to the Reformed churches.  The two men with whom I conversed last night were like that, only from the Stone-Campbell tradition.  Tradition is simply that which people pass down from generation to generation; there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about that.  The question of being wrong or sinful pertains to the content of any given tradition.  I know that I, as a religious person, keep certain human traditions; I cannot be religious and do otherwise.  I know that I as a Christian, keep certain human traditions; I cannot do be one and do otherwise.  I know the human traditions that I, as an Episcopalian, keep.  I also know that all of them are not identical to the traditions that my fellow Christians of different backgrounds keep.  So be it.

I am also much less likely than my recent visitors to say that someone will go to Hell.  That is God’s call, not mine; this is as matters should be.  I also expect that my visitors and I will go to Heaven.







Posted June 12, 2021 by neatnik2009

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