December 3, 2020

Allen Krell: “No simple theological vocabulary has answers to the complexities of my own situation”

krellNote from CM: Today we feature two updates by good friends of Internet Monk. We begin with Allen Krell, whose blog carries this descriptive subtitle: “I am on a spiritual journey, looking through Christian history as I search for the common church.” Many of us identify wholly with his sense that the Church is broader than any one tradition and that, even when we become part of one expression of the Church, we can still appreciate and learn from others.

* * *

My journey is similar to many members of the Internet Monk community. I had spent much of my life in the evangelical circus when I entered the post-evangelical wilderness, and I started on a journey that would change my life forever. Through this blog and others like it, I started searching. At first, I didn’t even know what I was looking for, but my wanderings continued. I explored Plymouth Brethren, Anglicism, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, house church, and a host of other traditions. I searched through church history, questioning and examining everything I had ever believed.

However, I had an immediate problem. Like so many readers of Internet Monk, I wanted a path on how to get out of the wilderness. I felt a strong sense that I needed to settle in one tradition, even if that tradition didn’t necessarily have all the answers. The path for choosing a tradition was simple. I knew my family wasn’t ready for Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions, and I knew I couldn’t handle strong Calvinistic churches. One day I was at a friend’s downtown business, and I noticed the Lutheran church across the street. We started attending the new member’s class with the stipulation that we were not ready to join. After two years of attending regularly, my family made the decision to become members.

For us, the decision to join was not made lightly. We weren’t just joining the church, we were joining the Lutheran tradition. I made a commitment that if at all possible, I would spend my entire life in this tradition, ending one day with my funeral in this tradition. I wanted to commit that my wanderings would be over. I would continue reading and studying church history, but for the remainder of my life my physical wanderings would be complete.

My local congregation has been very supportive. I have been entrusted to lead an adult Sunday School class which is now actively studying the Holy Spirit’s work in the early church as given to us in the book of Acts. Although developing close relationships has been difficult, my wife and I have finally been able to develop some strong relationships and have become connected with this community of believers. I have found myself agreeing with the teachings of the Lutheran tradition. Most of all, I love the vocabulary, especially phrases such as the “Two Kingdoms” and “Law and Gospel.” I passionately believe that salvation is a free gift, provided to us on the cross without consideration of our own effort.

But, my journey continues. Although I believe the vocabulary of this tradition is useful, I have found it inadequate in my own life. My life situation is very complicated, and no simple theological vocabulary has answers to the complexities of my own situation. In the darkness of my life struggles, I yearn for so much more. I found myself seeking the traditions of the eastern branch of Christianity. In my own devotions, I seek Theosis, the process of being transformed into the likeness of God. I seek aligning my energies with the uncreated energies of the Triune God. The phrase “God was made man so that man could become God” has provided me a path that seems to have some degree of answers for my own life. Now, each week, I feel as though I live a double life. Each Sunday I strive to use the vocabulary of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, but in my own life and in my own devotion I study and seek transformation as taught in the eastern traditions. In a sense, I feel like the person who marries one person while simultaneously in love with another. At times, I feel as though the two traditions are incompatible, and I will ever be tore between the two. Yet, at other times, I see a mysterious compatibility of the Lutheran and Reformed emphasis on “Grace alone” with the transformation process of the eastern traditions.

As I read from others in the post-evangelical wilderness, I realize I am not alone. I see Protestants who join the Roman Catholic church, yet do not fully adopt the Church’s teachings. Teachings such as purgatory or the immaculate conception may be a bit too much too accept. I see Protestants turned Eastern Orthodox who avoid the full practices and traditions of the church. I have seen blogs written both by Roman Catholic and Orthodox priests who bemoan us wanderers who do not fully accept and participate in the church’s teachings.

I invite comments from others who have joined a tradition but do not fully participate in that tradition. Do you struggle as you do not fully accept the tradition’s teachings? How has your new found tradition accepted your struggles?

Comments

  1. Aidan Clevinger says

    I understand the struggle, and I have some ability to relate. For a few years after joining the Lutheran Church, I was essentially a Calvinist who happened to believe in the Real Presence and baptismal regeneration. It took awhile for me to understand and accept the other doctrines, and especially to absorb Lutheranism to the extent that it influenced my worldview and daily living.

    That said, I do feel somewhat alienated from the author, because I’ve come to a point where I *do* accept all the teachings my church’s confessions as true. To tell the truth, I can understand the idea of “wandering,” but I don’t think it’s the ideal place to be and is never a goal. I think that doctrine is a ring or a bell, and it’s not a good thing to sustain in the long run a partial subscription to the confessions/doctrines of one’s church. Especially since I think the Church catholic has only a single confession and a single doctrine, from which we shouldn’t deviate.

    This doesn’t get rid of the practical difficulties of study, exegesis, and what to do when one has problems or questions about church doctrine. I just think that it’s easy to see the post-evangelical wilderness as a thing that’s good in and of itself – and I don’t think that it is.

  2. Although developing close relationships has been difficult, my wife and I have finally been able to develop some strong relationships and have become connected with this community of believers.

    Allen, if it is not too personal, can you give some insight into how you developed relationships and became connected? I am asking for a friend of mine who has been going to a Lutheran church for 8 months now and just can’t seem to break through and connect no matter what he does (and he has been doing much – calling elders, trying to meet w/the pastor, etc).

    • IME it’s not just a matter of time, it’s matter of each individual church. Some are aloof, but eventually will embrace you if you just persist gently. Others will never, ever embrace you. And it’s really hard to tell which is which without hanging around for years, hoping, trying, getting your heart broken. There are quite a few mainline churches (including Lutheran) dwindling out there in the final stages of church death…these moribund churches will never fully embrace a newcomer. And that newcomer could be a person who started attending 30 years ago. (I actually saw that exact thing at one place.)

    • My situation if very unique with a local church, and that is why I am reluctant to automatically encourage wanderers to assume mainline Protestantism is a solution. My church is one of the few relatively healthy mainline Lutheran churches in the U.S. South. We have an active adult Sunday School and we have various forms of small groups at the church almost 7 days a week. Like Katharina says, many of the mainlines (as well as most smaller non-denominational) are in the final stages of death. Still, at age 45, we are some of the younger members.

    • srs: My wife and I can certainly relate. We’ve attended a Lutheran church for 3 years. Tried to connect, invited different couples at different times for meals, tried inviting a guy to golf. Nothing. Its a strong swedish culture in lutheran churches here so maybe we have that barrier to cross. Everyone seems to have a grandparent or great grandparent who helped start the church and they all have been attending ever since. Most people are kind but make it real clear that we are not one of them.

      • That’s a real shame.

        In our small 50+ year old (since our founding) Lutheran church, people love the visitor and hope and pray that they will stay and become one of the congregation.

        I guess every place is a bit different.

      • I found the Scandinavian ethnocentrism impossible to break through. At the time we left our Lutheran church, most of our friendships still were with people who were similarly defined as “outsiders.” I saw people treated as though they were actually dangerous just for being from a “warmer” culture, as though an effusive Filipina grandmother was going to actually smother someone to death with a hug or cause a riot by directly expressing an opinion instead of wrapping it under 8 layers of chilly passive-aggression.

        I can and could laugh about it a little, about being in “actual Lake Wobegone” but it started to really trouble me when I saw how hurtful it was, not just to me (I assumed I was oversensitive) but to others in the same boat.

        There were people there who had literally belonged to that church for 80 years. I was in awe of the history, the hard work of the immigrant families, the beauty of the space they had so carefully preserved. But the ethnocentrism was so pervasive, it is one of the major factors in the slow death of that place as a community. The pastors and leadership felt perfectly comfortable assuming everyone there was from one of the three major Scandinavian ethnicities, making slams on Germans (seriously? People do that in 2013?) and various “others,” however humorous and possibly harmless, it had the effect of dividing the world into a neatly defined “us” and “them.” And if you were “them,” well, you’d get that chilly politeness, and nothing more, ever.

    • Thank you for the feedback folks. I’ll tell my Latino friend he needs to “Swede Up”…. (*sigh*)

  3. Great stuff. Please have more wilderness “follow-up” pieces like this. It gives the rest of us hope and things to attach our imaginations too. Thanks for sharing your story Allen.

  4. To a certain extent, I can relate. There’s a lot of good out there in the various traditions and, due to different emphases or perspectives or expressions thereof, at this point in history it’s impossible that it should all exist in one place. I sympathise particularly with the attraction of the East. I’m consistently challenged by Eastern writers and ways of looking at things.

    On the other hand, to a certain extent, I don’t get the reluctance to settle or commit. I accept all of my Church’s teachings without reservation (though I occasionally might want to express them differently than the official statements- but I do fully subscribe to them). I don’t think that necessarily puts up a barrier between me and the best of other traditions. I don’t feel boxed in by that.

    On a sidenote, I was a little surprised to find the Immaculate Conception and Purgatory singled out as the most unacceptable of Catholic doctrines. As an immigrant to Catholicism, the individual doctrines about Mary were comparatively little trouble to accept for me. And I discovered I already basically believed in Purgatory anyway- I had always kind of assumed the process of sanctification would have to be capped off after death, since none of us are thoroughly Christlike when we die. I had much more difficulty swallowing the theology behind indulgences and the whole dense atmosphere of devotion surrounding Mary. I guess different things stick in different people’s craws.

  5. I have multiple trains of thought going, here. I am currently in a weird sort of “post mainline” wilderness. I had to go somewhere, because if I just laid down here I would die. The children needed to go somewhere, so they had no lapse in routine or religious education. My theological options have been drastically narrowed down. The logical thing to do was to revert to the Catholicism where I had been confirmed, and try to make an honest effort of it, hope things went better than they did when I left for Lutheranism. I am sure that sounds pathetic, maybe even mercenary. Catholicism online is inhabited by a set of merciless, legalistic zealots I rarely see in church. I realize that admitting my weakness is asking for a visit from the cyber-inquisition. But here goes anyhow…

    My immediate reaction to the title was annoyance. Everyone’s life is complex. It’s the human condition. No one is such a special snowflake that no church can contain their specialness. It’s a temptation to pride to think that only the lives of the few who wander and question are more complex than “simple theology,” and it’s too easy for the Goldilocks attitude to slide into a consumerist mentality towards churches. But OTOH, in some ways the more thought you give to issues of theology and so forth, the more confusing it can get, the more overwhelming, and the more difficult it can be to make a decision and stick with it. And when you are exposed to multiple traditions, you become attached to the good things each one has to offer, and don’t want to leave those behind. So I do sympathize, too. Just never forget, the “simple” believer whose life seems so dull and easy is just as complicated in his or her own ways.

    So that being said, let’s talk about “cradle [denomination]”s. Given that someone born, raised, and faithful within a denomination is just as complex of a person as a convert or seeker, how do they manage? Any time I have investigated a church, I have encountered people who were born, raised, and content in that place, many times. And to a one, NONE of them is 100% in line with everything their church teaches. Not one. Not even the very devout, volunteers for everything, never misses a service ones. Many attempt to accept everything, but it seems like there’s always at least one thing that just doesn’t click. Then there’s people who say they accept without questioning, but turn out to just be poorly catechized…they don’t know what they are assenting to, and become confused or upset when it’s spelled out.

    I see people in the comments here describing themselves as accepting all the teachings of their adopted churches without reservation. But looking at the bigger picture, I wonder if that’s probably the exception, not the rule. And not just today, but always. I think of Luther developing his Small Catechism when he realized just how little of the very most basic tenets of the faith the people he visited in outlying areas understood–even the clergy. Yet they faithfully attended church, prayed, engaged in private devotions, tried to live according to their understanding of Christian ethics, even before he arrived to teach them. They were faithful, but by definition could not accept even close to every tenet, because they understood so little even of the most basic things like the creed.

    So how necessary is it, REALLY, to accept every single teaching of your church? I realize that the “confessional Lutherans” and Roman Catholics will surround me from either side now and say “it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary! EVERY. SINGLE. LAW!!! Or you are UN ORTHODOX!” but I maintain, this is simply wishful thinking. Humans do not conform so totally and inorganically to an institutional ledger. And God created us with this ability to reason, wonder, think, question, and be in awe. It would be such a waste to just not use it. Yes, guidelines are necessary, helpful, even enjoyable. Having a ground of solid faith, non-negotiables is necessary. But total compliance is a dismal sounding thing. Is it really even possible, let alone desirable? No earthly establishment has completed theosis, after all, any more than any living human. God alone holds the ultimate answers, and awaits us at the ultimate destination. (Yes that means that I think the Catholic Church can get things wrong sometimes, and that I have noticed–horrors!!–that the “unchanging doctrine” has, from time to time in history, CHANGED!) Striving along the path is the best that can be expected of us fallen mortals, surely.

    I am about 90% content in the Catholic Church. I was less before, but I changed in some positive ways while on the Lutheran side. And you would think that would be enough, but…

    One final thought. As I looked for stories of Lutherans heading to Rome–and there are quite a few well-known ones, of course–it kept striking me how many were male and, even if married or female, much older. A lot of the stories online are like that, too. Not to put too delicately fine a point on it, these are people past the age of childbearing. Well, I am a 30-something mother of three, with some health problems. I have to deal with one “changeless and non-negotiable church teaching” none of them do, namely, the prohibition on any form of birth control besides “natural family planning.” (Which isn’t exactly natural, and which they can’t get their story straight on–is it “more open to life than barrier methods” or “more effective than the Pill” it CANNOT be both!) This teaching causes me absolute AGONY. I would love to have three more children. I became deathly ill delivering the last one, the baby nearly died and was in hospital for over a month, it’s all due to things we know will repeat with every pregnancy, and my doctor gave me a weary, worried sigh at the thought of a repeat tour of this terrain. This teaching strikes me as an issue of misunderstanding of science and legalistic casuistry and dare I say, something a lot like injustice. There is no mercy for the woman. There is no health and life exception. I am supposed to “unquestioningly” lay down my life, the life of my children’s only mother and my husband’s only wife, because of some abstract notion of “openness to life.” Or, they helpfully suggest, simply initiate a “Josephite marriage.” (Which…would not that give my husband legal grounds to annul our marriage then? HAH! More casuistry…)

    But should I pack up and leave the church over this? All I have left really is the Orthodox. (And, frustratingly, some Orthodox have exactly the sensible “health and life” pastoral exception that I think is just right!) Is one teaching, not even pronounced infalliable, enough to boot me out? To start all over again somewhere else, learn another liturgy, integrate into another world? I thought so, once. It was a big factor. But now I am not so sure.

    • There’s just so much to your post that begs comment, but I will comment on only one thing: You said “Then there’s people who say they accept without questioning, but turn out to just be poorly catechized…they don’t know what they are assenting to, and become confused or upset when it’s spelled out. “

      After teaching adult Sunday School in a Nazarene church for a number of years I have come to the conclusion that people don’t WANT complexity NOR questioning in their theology. They basically want “answers”, something to believe so that they will no longer have to think about their faith. “Auto-pilot”, in other words.

      I’ve observed that people’s rigor in belief follows a standard Bell Curve. On either end are the atheists and the true believers, but in the middle are the vast majority of us. What some fail to realize is that “faith” is not just a suit of clothes that you put on but, rather, it is an internal struggle, a questing to find God’s Face, so to speak. If we are not struggling or questioning then our faith is facile. No group, no denomination, has the perfect belief system. We just have to decide where we can sit with the least amount of squirming.

      • Agreed. All belief systems are wrong to some extent, but few openly admit it, especially those on both ends of that Bell Curve.

        Oscar, I am currently teaching an adult Sunday School class at a Nazarene church…LOL! I am continually tossing out tough questions, almost forcing complexity into people’s beliefs systems! I’m striving hard to get those folks on the one side of the Bell Curve to move just slightly off that rigid edge.

        An example…we’re in Hebrews 10 right now. I’m about to toss these two questions to folks (what I’ve termed “Tough Questions of the Month”):

        -Have you seen the difference between someone assured of their salvation (v.19-25) and someone presumptuous about it (v.26-31)?
        -How can we develop assurance without presumption?

        Should be fun.

        Anyway…I digress. Sorry.

    • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says

      How I wish, Katherina, we could sit and enjoy a cup of tea ! A lot of what is focused on regarding doctrines, beliefs of specific denominations involves the human persons faculty of intelligence; involves each persons ability to think, to reason, to reflect on their personal life’s story and the actual world around them. The ability to think, to understand, is a gift of God. It is also, in reality, a very personal gift given each persons own experiences, and personal interpretation of those experiences, which will have a direct effect on what we believe, how we believe, and the evolution of each persons belief system. I’m not sure I am expressing well what I am trying to say, which in a way, itself, demonstrates some of what I am saying.

      20 different people can read what I just wrote and each give a slightly different to very different interpretation. A year could pass and these same persons could find their interpretation of these same words has changed.

      What I am hoping to express is that there are two types of believing, both important, yet I believe of differing degrees. The one presented above has to do with something outside myself which I take into my mind and ponder..A doctrine I choose to assent to but disagree with somewhat or a doctrine I understand and easily make my own, or something that my mind just can’t wrap itself around. The other, which I hold is of greater importance, comes from within, lives in the deep recesses of who you are, of who I am. It is a very different type of knowing/believing, not of head knowledge, but of heart knowledge. Not the belief in or knowing something but the belief in and knowing Someone. I am speaking here of the primacy of each persons personal relationship with God, with God the Father, with Jesus our Savior, with the Holy Spirit our Consoler and Sanctifier.

      It is, I believe, each persons relationship with God that should take center stage. Making sure to spend one on one time with God each day. Just being in His presence where in the quiet He does His work within us. We discipline ourselves, our minds, to become more and more aware of God’s Actual Living Presence in each moment, focusing on this as an indispensable life reality as much as breathing is. What I have found in my own experience is that putting my focus here has enabled myself to find rest, within myself, in regards to things I haven’t understood fully, that my mind has questioned, things that just didn’t / don’t register well with who I am and where I am at any given point in my life. I have found that when I can live with inner peace, aware of God’s Presence within me and around me, then I can be open to whatever God Wants me to see, understand, let go of, believe or not believe. It is ultimately the Holy Spirit who will lead us to the knowledge of God, to the Truth.

      I am convinced of this : focusing on God Presence; continually asking God to Love through us, to transform us into Love; yes, I am convinced, training our mind, making this our moment by moment focus enables our eyes and hearts and minds to see things and understand things that we otherwise could never truly grasp. Living such puts God in first place in our lives. Living such enables us to be in peace and to return to peace throughout our days regardless of how crazy they may be.

      If God truly be in first place, then, be open and rest in the truth that He will lead you to Himself.

      • Thanks for these thoughts. I’m sorry if my response is a little off track, I have a head cold and that makes me kind of scattered…

        Usually when I hear people in the Church (in this case speaking mostly of the Catholic Church specifically) express these kinds of ideas, there’s an assumption that if you are open to God’s guidance, inevitably he will guide you to total, peaceful surrender to Church teachings. I’m not saying you said that, it just reminded me of conversations I have had at other times. I realize to some extent it has to work that way. But I guess I cannot kill off the Lutheran in me. If I cannot find scriptural and rational backing for a teaching, and trying to hold onto the teaching starts to kill my faith, but letting it go brings great peace and a restoration of faith, what am I to do? The Catholic answer typically is that I am going astray, have a “spirit of disobedience” or something like that, and must try again to conform. There is no acceptable answer but conforming. On the highest level of theologians and great souls, conscience is lauded. But on the ground, it seems that if a Catholic’s conscience doesn’t conform to every single encyclical and point of theology, they are to ignore it. I have to admit it confounds me.

        In my case, I have gone through a slow but real conversion, and have changed my mind about a lot of things I never thought I could reconsider. I’m sure God isn’t done with me, either. When I think of things that trouble me on the “God level” I am at peace. I don’t feel conflicted. I am absolutely completely certain that God’s grace is enough to cover my frailty, and that God is not for a minute tripped up by legalistic casuistry or the shortsightedness of men operating in the smallness of contemporary politics. When my second grader was struggling with anxiety about the section in her catechism about mortal sin, I kept taking her back to the line that affirms God created her to know him, love him, and serve him and rest with him one day in heaven. This being the case, he’s not going to throw any of us away on a technicality. But the question then becomes, how much a part can I be of the institutional church if I cannot trust it to see this big picture?

        • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says

          My suggestion, and this comes truly from my heart. Stop focusing on technicalities of any church institution. The enemy truly is the father of lies and confusion. I’m not saying that he is authoring your thoughts but he does look for any possible opening to sway us away from deepening our love-walk, relationship with God. God is the author of peace. I tell myself , even say it out loud, I want the Peace of God, I need the Peace of God, I choose the Peace of God. Try it. I pray it helps you quiet all the various reasonings and thoughts that you find yourself struggling with. God IS.That’s what matters.His Love for you is eternal.That’s what matters. His Mercy is boundless. That’s what matters.

          You were not created to be part of an institution or denomination. You were created to share in all the Good that God is, to be part of the family of God, to receive His Love then Love Him in return and so give Him Glory. God knows everything about you and what is best for you. Look only to Him. Let Him love you!

      • While you are having tea, may I join you? I so completely resonate with your thoughts on the inner life with our Triune God. You said so well what I was thinking of doing a blog post on. Blessings to you.

    • Katharina you make some wonderful comments about children. This is gross generalization, but I have noticed the evangelical wilderness seems to be dominated by two groups, young adults without children who read bloggers like Rachel Held Evans, and 45+ adults who are at or close to being empty nesters who read internetmonk.

      Young couples of child bearing years seem to be underrepresented.

      • We’re kind of busy a lot of the time and often too sleep deprived to comment coherently (writing as I rock a child to sleep). 🙂

      • Rather than not having time (a great deal of parenting requires being in a certain place but not necessarily being occupied with any particular task, making it perfect for internet discussions!) I think it may have something to do with how having children around makes different demands on a seeker.

        I’ve really been feeling that in this current struggle. It might have been possible for me to carry on being a stubborn outlier in my old ELCA congregation if I did not have three children in need of spiritual formation and a community of faith. Some of the older ladies I count as friends continue to do just that, quietly being different and contrary and devout and very much alone in a hostile climate. Their kids are up and out and there’s no reason for them to uproot. But I was facing the daunting task of teaching catechism and basics of faith to kids who were the ONLY kids present in many worship services at this institution. And not only getting no backup and support from the church’s authority structure, but actually having them undermine me–with people, for instance, questioning if we really needed to keep insisting on that old-fashioned Apostle’s Creed. My kids were developing, thanks be to God, a deep and sincere piety and enthusiasm for learning about the faith…and they were completely spiritually isolated. It was a recipe for disaster, and an impetus to make the leap.

        It has also raised the stakes of changing churches, and made me feel more acutely the necessity to get it right, or right enough at least that we don’t have to uproot them again. My oldest is just old enough to have formed some of her identity around our old church. She is attached not just to the people and the familiarity, but the concept of “being a Lutheran.” Having to help her make peace somehow with this change brings up all kinds of new questions and dilemmas. Changing to the Catholic church also means that my younger two kids are cut off from the Eucharist for several years, which they not only had received as little tiny ones in the Lutheran church but understood and taken much delight in. This is incredibly painful to me–I WISH some Catholic priest would be willing to hear me out on this. I will never forget my 2 year old explaining to me, “I kneel by the cross and Pastor puts Jesus in my hand, and I say amen! And then he is always with me.” The Latin rite has such rigidity on this “age of reason” nonsense. Age of reason–do I understand the Eucharist, really? Do you? Does the Pope? It’s a mystery. Why can’t we just come to the altar like a little child, full of joy and wonder?

        But there’s such a necessity to keep things stable and unbroken for the children, who are grieving and confused and so in love with certain rituals that keep them grounded. It makes the wilderness very different, very much more urgent. We must go each Sunday, somewhere. There’s no time to lay down in the desert and wish for death, for their sake we have to press on no matter how despairing and uncertain we feel.

  6. Allen,
    For some of us, there is an inner wilderness that continues to exist no matter what address we choose as our church home. It’s not an external reality, but an internal one.

    The address where I continue to find the most room for the outer expression of this inner reality is the Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion. But there is nevertheless a continuing sense of inner exile for me, a sense that I’m not home, that I’m still far away from home, in a strange land among strange people.

    I think I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I will always be in inner emigration, at least for as long as this life lasts.

  7. God certainly is showing you the way to grow in faith. So much “good stuff” that resonates from each place. Isn’t this how new denominations get started? In this age of people bouncing from church-to-church, it’s difficult to make stong ties if people don’t think you’re going to stay long. Just some ideas that popped into my head reading this article. Thanks for letting me share. I think you’ll be fine

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s helpful and encouraging to read about other peoples’ journeys. I grew up in the SBC and my family joined a PCA congregation when I was in high school. I’m currently in a Dispensational Bible Church (Mega by most standards, but much smaller than 1st Baptist Dallas and Prestonwood). Over the recent years I’ve learned a lot about Church History and other Christian Traditions that have lead me to disagree with some parts of my church’s doctrinal statement. The thing is that my wife and kids love our church and I have a very high level of respect for the pastoral staff who are following Jesus the best way they know how. Stories like yours remind me no group will be perfect and that I should keep being patient where until there is better cause to leave than I have now.

  9. We all want “more”.

    For us sinners, it is hard to be content to hear a little Word of forgiveness and love, and receive it in water, bread and wine.
    “That’s it?” I was hoping for the gates of Heaven to open and a chorus of angels to land on my shoulder and for a sudden burst of holiness (that I can ‘feel’).

    Those desires reflect the theology of glory and they are inside every one of us.

    But the Word of God to a dying man or woman (from a dying man or woman) is enough. At least it ought be enough.

    I struggle with wanting more, as well.

    But that Word of law…and gospel…that tiny bit of a meal in miniature…that consolation of the brethren is enough.

    It is enough.

  10. I agree with much of what Aidan and Glenn wrote above. Additionally, in response to this passage in the post:

    ” I see Protestants who join the Roman Catholic church, yet do not fully adopt the Church’s teachings… I see Protestants turned Eastern Orthodox who avoid the full practices and traditions of the church”

    Um, where do you see these people? I’ve not met many converts, either to Rome or to the East, who don’t fully adopt what their Church teaches. With the exception of those who convert for a fiancee or spouse, the converts I’ve known or interacted with are pretty well-informed about what they are getting themselves into, and are fully prepared to stand up at the Easter Vigil and confess agreement with all that their new Church teaches…

    • Hard to say here. My son’s journey took him from “Free Grace” Evangelicalism where he was raised for most of his life, a brief detour over to Reformed Evangelicalism, then to Easter Orthodoxy (Greek first, then OCA), and finally to Byzantine Catholic where he and his previously Roman Catholic fiance found a home. Both are very happy there, and his mother and I are very happy for them. And yes, he knew what he was getting into and embraced it completely.

      But I know of at lest one former Protestant convert to Roman Catholicism who continues to espouse some Protestant doctrines. So, it’s a mixed bag–in more way than one.

    • While I think it must be true that evangelical converts to Roman Catholicism tend to adhere to all or most church teaching, they are surrounded by cradle Catholics who, if the sociological data is correct, mostly do not adhere closely to church teaching.

      That converts from the evangelical world are more conscientious followers of RC teaching than cradle Catholics should not be a surprise; they are, in fact, continuing to exhibit the close concern with precise personal religious belief that exists in the evangelical world from which they came. In a sense, they are bringing their evangelicalism along with them into Roman Catholicism.

      But it’s very doubtful that their conscientious observance of church teaching will have much if any influence on their “birthright” brothers and sisters or their commitments.

  11. Speaking as a Lutheran who found a different kind of Lutheranism as an adult (…I was born into the Missouri Synod, which shares many of the unhealthy exclusionary characteristics of evangelical denominational families… and then came into the ELCA as a young adult…), I have to agree with Allen and so many of today’s other respondents:
    No one local congregation has it all together, and no one denominational group has it all together. Broken people in a broken church, that’s us. Some local ELCA congregations have their arms wide open to social change and newcomers and mission opportunity, and they have a future as families of God. Others not so much.
    Like Allen, I’m also at home with the language, theology, and the faith culture of the ELCA, but not all of its social justice positions, and not always with all of its official worship and spirituality practices. But it’s a big tent, and like most ELCA members, I have been able to find my place in the movement and respect and love others with whom I differ, just as they mostly respect me.
    Most of us in the ELCA are fine with a fellow Lutheran’s continued search for authentic personal spirituality that takes in other traditions’ faith practices, as Allen is currently doing. I would hope that he would continue to make his learnings and spiritual insights public, to contribute to the searching and journeying that we are all engaged in.

  12. Well, I’d say I can relate somewhat, although, personally, I find theology to be not as important as the people in a church. Sure, there are some theological deal-breakers from me, but that hardest thing for my wife and I is simply finding a church where people care if we’re there or not. I think part of it is cultural. We spent our entire lives in Pennsylvania before moving to Minnesota, and I do notice a difference in the way people treat each other here. It seems to me that many midwesterners will go out of their way to not intrude in your business. There’s very much a live and let live attitude. While I can appreciate it that to an extent, being in a Church community requires some amount of being involved in other people’s business, or at least caring.

    I also have found that most churches we go into are centered on a handful of families, or very focused on events for families with children. I understand that, but it does seem that most churches have a hard time even seeing single people or people without children. So I guess I’m kind of at the end my rope. We have been going to an Anglican church that I like, but I don’t know if the feeling is mutual. I feel like a relationship with a church has to be a two-way street. I refuse to invest tons of emotional energy and get nothing in return. I’ve been down that road before, and it’s a dead-end street.

  13. I don’t see much problem in how people ignore or re-interpret various church doctrines and somehow live comfortably in what appear to be spiritually precarious positions. Of course there are big issues like being able to baptize your kids, what the Eucharist means, saying the Creeds, etc.

    But stepping back a bit, and forgetting about church doctrines, think about all the individual doctrines/sayings of Jesus and Paul and James, and Revelation and how much of the exact same backpedaling, mitigating and explaining we do to live with all those. What’s the difference? Most are still holding what appear to be living on some of those spiritually precarious perches (Marriage/divorce, celibacy/sexual morality, materialism, commitment of time, etc). Held up by God’s grace?

    And forgetting all the disputed issues, I don’t see how I can live up to my Church’s standards and beliefs when I am having a hard enough time just trying to live with the agreed upon standards and beliefs in the Gospel. I think I am just lower on the theological food chain.

  14. Hi Allen.

    Lots of good in the comments, esp from Katharina.

    I found myself in the wilderness while still an Evangelical. I found some things that helped me bear it, but finally I had to leave for a variety of reasons. I spent the following 9 years in a PCUSA church – my town is small, there aren’t a lot of church options, and they loved and wanted me. Situationally, I could have stayed – would have made things a lot better for my husband; even though he would not agree with ordaining women, he would understand its basic Protestant, and in this congretation’s case, rather conservative view of scripture. It was not a very “Calvinist” sort of congregation, and I could affirm in good conscience the dogma as expressed in the Confessions at the time I joined. But I always knew I belonged somewhere else.

    At first I thought that “somewhere else” was with the Emergent/Emerging crowd, because they were asking the same questions I was, and some of the answers were really good. But after some time, I realized that, even with some of them having a healthy interest in the church through history, they were still essentially Protestant, and I just kept finding myself heading toward theology (not that expressed in the NCreed) that was alien to many of even the Emerging groups. The Northumbria Community was a big help for me through these years, and I am very grateful; and I needed a congregation I could meet with every week. (Though I loved the Lutheran Tenebrae service, and identify very much with Luther’s need for Assurance, especially in my late teens, I was never attracted to Lutheranism – its dualism on some important issues made me very uneasy.)

    It wasn’t until I encountered EOrthodoxy that I found a “fit” theologically. I had to work through a couple of big things, and came at first to “okay, plausible”. When I reached that point, I felt I was ready to make it official, because then I could honestly affirm everything, even if not fully understanding. I’ve moved beyond “plausible” to “yes, that actually makes the best sense” so I don’t think I’m a “cafeteria Orthodox.” I hold “the minority view” on a rather large issue, but it’s a view that is allowed in Orthodoxy.

    I believe God meets us where we are, and I don’t repudiate anything of what I have been through. We’re only responsible for what we know, not for what we don’t know – I’m not sure I could have taken any different steps at any given time. I have friends, a married couple, who studied EO very carefully when they were students at Biola and decided not to enter the church – at that time (they did come in later). Eric W who comments here sometimes was Orthodox for a few years, and then returned to Protestantism. As Americans, and in history, we are in a very weird place to start with, and each person’s life has complexities, as Katharina said.

    Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God – seek to be “in Christ.” Keep praying, keep honest in prayer and worship, don’t violate your conscience (hoping to be in a tradition in which you can live and die and finding it less than adequate is certainly not a violation of conscience – especially if your situation is extra complex) – and you will be fine, even if it feels “not quite right” right now. The Lord knows your heart.

    Dana

  15. ‘theology’ is not the same as ‘faith’ . . . nor is ‘ideology’ the same as ‘faith’ . . .
    we want to ‘be sure’ and ‘in control’, but Christ asks us to come to Him across the ‘water’ . . . to trust Him. . .
    so we try, and then we flounder, and cry out for help . . . and He reaches out to us and we grab His Hand

    I have spent this week moved by two things:
    1. the shock of reading about the discipline of babies on SBCvoices, something that at times made my blood run cold:

    and

    2. a picture of Pope Francis compassionately embracing a disfigured man

    I questioned the lack of mercy in the first, and my protests were repeatedly deleted from the comments there. . .
    I was able to find some consolation for my heart in the second . .

    in the end, I thought that these two images don’t belong in the same world:
    those who hit little babies to ‘get their attention’ and those who hug the ones who are ‘disfigured’ and therefore marginalized

    thing is, I began to see the DIFFERENCE in the spirit of a person who would cause pain to a baby,
    and in the spirit of a person who would embrace a badly disfigured individual with compassion

    the difference? one is ‘defensive’ and presents many ‘Bible verses’ to support the spanking of an infant . . .

    the other? no explanation was needed . . . no defense . . . an image of something even a small child would understand without words,
    followed by my almost certain conviction that the two image examples are not at all compatible with one another in Christianity . . . the separation seems to me as vast as all eternity

    some thoughts on contemplating what IS integral in the nature of a real Christ-like faith

    • Yes. Thank you for this. Legalism kills us, and love brings us to life.

      (In my cyber-world, it’s “Catholic Answers kills, and every single story I read about Pope Francis brings me back to life.” IRL, the legalistic priest at our parish kills me with his homilies, but the Eucharist brings me back to life.)

      • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says

        Change parishes – find one where your heart and soul are being nourished. You don’t have to live near a parish to attend it, nor to become part of its community. May I suggest you listen to Fr. John Riccardo’s Podcasts. I will boldly say he is a priest after God’s own heart. Sadly, not all priests are pastors. The Mass is valid regardless of the priest, the Eucharist is always Jesus regardless of the celebrant. Just as our bodies need good food, not snacks and fast food, so our souls and hearts need to be fed good food, we need to hear the Words of Life.

  16. Thank you everyone for the great comments!

    I thought of something else today. It is one thing to wander in our hearts and minds, but it adds another problem when the problem of the Eucharist comes up. For example, a Catholic who is divorced and re-married who cannot participate in the Eucharist. They may disagree with their tradition, but it impacts them in a real way.

  17. Ultimately, I find myself believing that I can not trust in my own competence to bring me to a church home, or a set of beliefs, that is completely adequate and true, that doesn’t share some of my own significant imperfection; ultimately, I find myself compelled to trust that it is God who will find me even in the midst of institutional and personal imperfections, and not I who will find him in the midst of any institution’s strengths, or my own. Ultimately, I have to be still, and know that God is God.

    • Patrick Kyle says

      “Ultimately, I find myself believing that I can not trust in my own competence to bring me to a church home, or a set of beliefs, that is completely adequate and true, that doesn’t share some of my own significant imperfection”
      .
      Brilliant. Just as our own baggage and history effect the kind of people we are attracted to and eventually marry, or prevent us from ever really settling down, so to these things dictate the the traditions and theology we are attracted to or repelled from. This is something people don’t like to ponder.

      No tradition can contain the entirety of God or even His word. I just decided that I could live and die with the theology in my chosen tradition. Does the Lutheran tradition answer every question I have? Hell, no. And it is not the friendliest tradition if you are looking to make friends and create a support network (at least in my neck of the woods.) God is able to speak to and minister to me through my tradition or in spite of it. My search would have never ended if I had let it go on. Our culture encourages an abiding dissatisfaction, and with virtually unlimited options, it is possible to drift for our entire lives. I have found that my chosen tradition is entirely adequate for a lifetime, and I will be buried in Lutheran dirt. The Apostle Paul said to ‘let each one be fully convinced’, and by His grace I am.

    • Wonderfully put. This is just the position into which I always find myself driven. Ultimately, greater minds than mine have disagreed. I can do the best I can to hash things out, but my own knowledge confounds me: I can always think of objections and counter-arguments. I can seek experiences, but none that I cannot also doubt. And even if I were to attain the surety I had as a teenager and new convert, that would just mean that I might well be wrong, and be blissfully unaware that my pet crusades were ill-advised.

      So, one is “stuck” .. or graced?…with the option to seek and trust that God is bigger than one’s own understanding. If I get my theology wrong, will I thwart God? Will God be unable to reach me? (And isn’t this the same species of question as ‘What if I sin? What if I am not perfect?’) Ultimately it all comes back to God’s mercy.

      Perhaps I inhabit only a backwater on the outer reaches of the church. If so, that is enough for me.

  18. I was baptised Catholic as an infant. Grew spiritually in the Roman Catholic church until early teens. Distinctly remember a very strong and spiritual prayer life at that time. Remember feeling called to the Priesthood.

    Went astray for my teenage years. Only attended Mass and Easter and Christmas.

    Was Born Again at age of 19 when attending a Charismatic Pentecostal church. For the first time I heard relevance and felt community.

    Continued as Pentecostal for five years before growing disgruntled with the Prosperity Gospel and similiar type teachings.

    Joined an arminian Baptist church. Then encountered reformed theology and dived deep. Then in my diving began to ask questions about Real Presence in the Eucharist, Authority of the church and formation of scripture, early church traditions, etc. All of this lead me back, passionately into the Roman Catholic Church. But now I’m back in the Roman Catholic with deep appreciation and love for Reformed theology, Eastern Orthodox theology and spritiual practices, and Pentecostal joy. I still hold reservations about some RC teaching, as I found that I do with all Christian traditions.

    At times I feel lost. At times I feel at home. But always I seek Jesus Christ and want to love him and obey him with my whole heart. Sometimes I think it would be much simpler to just be ignorant of tradition.