We all want to invite kids into camp, not scare them away, which is why you will probably never see “theological” in the name of a Christian camp. The Firs Theological Camp and Retreat Center, for instance, lacks a bit of appeal with a nine-year-old. However, the truth is, we, like other Christian camp ministries, 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 our Statements of Faith. These contain the usual 6-12 points about what we believe regarding God, Jesus, sin, salvation and 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 worth dwelling on: Does our doctrine reflect who we are or simply what we believe? This, of course, has been thoroughly tested this summer. One of our beliefs, here at The Firs, 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, 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.
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 believe” 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 into 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 than 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.