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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

faith and reason

Written by: on April 17, 2015

A couple years ago, I attended a baptism ceremony of twelve new believers who came to follow Jesus through our ministry in my country. These new believers attended confirmation class for a month at their new local faith community and were excited to celebrate their baptism. However, before their baptism takes place, the preacher shared a very discouraging message. He asked them if they fully understood what they learned at confirmation class. He began to ask them about humanity and divinity of Jesus, the meaning of baptism and Holy Communion. He said, if they have any skepticism about their faith, he suggested they retake the confirmation class and come back for baptism. According to this church, once these believers are baptized they will be allowed to participate in Holy Communion, which is also recommended to be done with discernment to avoid judgment. His teachings clearly caused confusion and skepticism in those new believers. I remember one person decided not to be baptized out of fear. In my opinion, the preacher clearly failed to realize that these new believers already believed in Jesus as their Lord and personal Savior, not because they understood everything about the Bible, but because of God’s grace. No one could know everything about Scripture, but we grow in our faith as we study the Word and fellowship with our faith community. In my opinion, when we prioritize having a clear-cut understanding on church ordinance such as baptism we are lowering Christianity to a mere intellectual merit.

For this reason, I find William Raeper and Linda Edwards’ discussion on Faith and Reason fascinating. In this section, the authors discuss Augustine’s early life, the development of his intellect and his remarkable story of conversion to Christianity. The search for truth made Augustine adopt a variety of intellectual positions at different times (p.32). In the end, it was Bishop Ambrose who helped Augustine turn from the writing of Plato to the writing of Paul in the New Testament (p.34). As the authors described, “Augustine came to realize that reason alone is not enough: he needed grace, help from God, in order to be a whole person and find authentic freedom”(p.34). Augustine’s story does not undermine the importance of reasoning or wrestling, but the limits of reason and “Christ as the ultimate source of help, salvation, and wisdom” (p.34). At the end, as Raeper and Edwards explain, “[Augustine] believed that the truth he had failed to find by reason alone had been given, or revealed, to him by God’s grace” (p.35).

This experience led Augustine to perceive faith “not blind faith, but rationally justifiable. In his work reason seeks to understand what faith believes. ‘Know in order to believe’ comes before ‘Believe in order to understand’”(p.36). Apparently, Augustine’s understanding of faith may sound scandalous to those who don’t believe in Christ or might disagree with his view. In my opinion, if a person believes in Christ, I believe God would grant her or him understanding of His word. Following Christ is a lifetime commitment to learning from His words as well as from His examples and lifestyle. Spiritual formation and transformation happen incrementally over time, which involves training, testing, and time. The role of ministry leaders is not to discourage believers, like the preacher in my story, but to walk alongside, pray with, and support them to stay connected in their relationship with God.

 

About the Author

Telile Fikru Badecha

13 responses to “faith and reason”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    Telile, thank you once again for sharing this story from your country. I would very much be in agreement with how you felt about this particular pastor’s approach to baptism and communion. One of the ideas that has been particularly compelling to me over the course of a number of years, has been the idea of being life long learners. In fact as I consider the people who have influenced me most, they have modelled this. You said: “Following Christ is a lifetime commitment to learning from His words as well as from His examples and lifestyle.” Thanks for that reminder and your own example of being open to new learning.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Deve, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you on the importance of being a lifelong learner to grow deeper in our relationship with God and ability to serve others. Blessings.

  2. Liz Linssen says:

    Dear Telile
    I’m so sorry to hear how this preacher discouraged these new believers in their new-found faith. Their baptisms should have been a joyous occasion, but instead they experienced discouragement. How sad.
    As you say, we are all on a journey of incremental growth, but we all have to start somewhere! I wonder, in the New Testament, how much of God’s will new believers who were baptised, understood. Not much I’m sure. Scripture clearly portrays baptism for new believers, and God knows, new believers know very little. Praise God for His grace and His faithfulness to us all in our journeys with Him.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Thanks Liz. Unfortunately, some of our churches are too legalistic and they care so much about their rules than the flocks. But, Like you say, God is faithful in all of our limitations.

  3. Telile,

    Wonderful post. You say, “Spiritual formation and transformation happen incrementally over time, which involves training, testing, and time.” You are so right! To expect people to have no doubts or questions about their faith is ridiculous. Questions and doubts are a part of our faith, not apart from our faith. That is true for me at least; it was also true for Thomas and for the other disciples as well. So, I am in good company.

    My heart breaks when pastors and Christian leaders act as if they are not humans. We need to be open, honest, transparent, and vulnerable as leaders, NOT Pharisees. These are the ones that Jesus struggled with, the legalistic ones who thought they had all the answers. God help us to be real and loving towards all people, in spite of their doubts and questions.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Bill, I agree. Jesus loves and welcomes everyone to follow Him without condition, but some ministry leaders consciously or unconsciously create conditions to exclude others from God’s blessings. May the Lord help us.

  4. Michael Badriaki says:

    Telile, great job on this post! You shared a story that reminded me of many similar stories in Uganda. There was a sense that if one was bright enough to take confirmation classes just like in real formal school, then one could be confirmed. This is essentially why many of my friends did not attend confirmation class. But you write, “Spiritual formation and transformation happen incrementally over time, which involves training, testing, and time. The role of ministry leaders is not to discourage believers, like the preacher in my story, but to walk alongside, pray with, and support them to stay connected in their relationship with God.” May God give church leaders the grace to go out of their way to embrace those that God is calling in the earthly body of Christ-the church.

    Thank you

  5. Miriam Mendez says:

    Telile, great post—great story! Unfortunately, the story you shared is a common one. I agree with you when you say “the role of ministry leaders is not to discourage believers, like the preacher in my story, but to walk alongside, pray with, and support them to stay connected in their relationship with God.” We are life long learners-
    Our formation and transformation takes a lifetime!

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Thanks, Miriam! Teaching biblical truth to believers is very important but hindering someone from baptism simple for failing the baptism test is something I struggle with. Have a blessed week.

  6. mm Julie Dodge says:

    “…reason alone is not enough: he needed grace.”

    Awesome. I think it is important to understand big thoughts. But that is not what shapes my faith. My faith should not be blind, necessarily, but it is not my mind that saves me. It is God – in Spirit and in Truth. That’s bigger than my thoughts, and God knows, my thoughts are not His thoughts. It is a state of our heart and our soul. When Jesus transformed me, it was my heart first. My thinking – well – that has been a lifelong journey.

    I like that Raeper and Edwards point out that the purpose of philosophy is to figure out how to live. It should be practical, not all intellectual and out of grasp. Your post brings this home. I don’t have to understand everything. I don’t have to know everything. Praise God for His grace in spite of my limited understanding!

  7. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    Good thoughts Telile! I teach catechism classes for those who want to be baptized. They have to sit through a 6 week class with me… and then take a test. If they fail the test, they can’t be baptized (at least that’s the standard)… I really struggle with this because it’s soo different than what Jesus and the early church seemed to do. God’s grace, faith, works… maybe that’s the order in which we should do things.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Stefania, wow…if they fail the test, they can’t be baptized? I didn’t know this is a common issue here also. I don’t question the importance of teaching catechism classes but I don’t understand why they are used a standard for baptism. Hope you’ll bring up this issue to your leadership someday…Blessings.

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