September 29, 2020

Spiritual Depression and the Search For the One True Church (I’d like to hear the opinion of the room.)

The following comment appeared in the Losing God comment thread. Please read it, with special consideration of what is said, not the person saying it (whom I don’t know and neither do you.)

I do not struggle with “Is Christianity true?” vs atheism, Islam, Hinduism etc.

My “spiritual depression” is caused by the continual dueling (in my mind) of the various theologies within Christianity: Reformed, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, and on and on.

How can I know which, if any, are truly true? All have scads of brilliant and holy adherents. Is it all subjective? Just close my eyes and pin the tail on the donkey? As Lewis said, we cannot live in the hallway (mere Christianity.) We must choose a room.

To continue to study systematic theologies only seems to drive me further into “depression.” Yet it is like an unbreakable addiction.

Since my wife’s move to the RCC was related to her own healing from depression, I’m quite interested in this topic.

I’d like to invite the comments of those who have a thoughtful response to make to this person. I will not post anything other than serious and mature comments. I realize that most commenters will have made a denominational choice, but this is not the post on which to sell your church as the winner.

What I want to know is….

1) Why does this search matter so much? Is there some question of the availability of Jesus?

2) Why is this related to depression?

3) Why, for some people, is this search so compulsive and addictive?


  1. 1a) Why does this search [for the one true church] matter so much?

    We all long for and search for Truth.

    There is a hole in our heart that only God can fill and it’s only when we allow him to completely fill it that we’ll be completely happy. Since God is the source of all truth and is Truth itself, we desire all truth. A falsehood is not of God.

    Since none of the churches teach the same thing about everything, some (if not all) must be teaching falsehoods. A falsehood is not of God and tears at our hearts.

    2) Why is this related to depression?

    When we try to fill that hole with other things we are only wounded. Like a person who turns toward horoscopes to “learn the truth about the future”; they turn away from real Truth in search of “truth” and are broken.

    In this category are people who church-hop because they are looking for the one that affirms them in there sins. That’s still trying to fill that whole with other things. They aren’t looking to see if a church is teaching Truth, but if a church “makes them happy”, “is friendly,” “has a good kids’ program,” etc.

    As our hearts are turned away from the truth we become hurt, angry, frustrated. Eventually we become depressed and realize there is a problem, we begin trying to find Truth. The quote above specifically stated that he was looking for the Truth.

    1b) Is there some question of the availability of Jesus?

    No. When we turn back to Jesus, it’s not a matter of thinking he’s not “available” at one church, or not “able” to work through another. It’s knowing that God is the source of all Truth and wanting to fill your heart as completely as possible (in this life) with that Truth. It’s not so much, “where can I find Jesus?”, but “where can I find ALL of Jesus. We are looking for a Church that will teach the Truth and not try to shove other falsehoods in our hearts that only tear it apart.

    3) Why, for some people, is this search so compulsive and addictive?

    It’s like a man falling in love and desiring to know the woman more. He doesn’t want to waste his time in a grocery story learning about cheese. While she may visit that place, it’s not where he can get to know her the best.

    Instead, he wants to find where she “hangs out” and join her there. He’ll seek to be near her all the time and to learn her habits. He’ll desire to know her friends and family and spend time with them to get to know how she ticks.

    Is this a compulsive addiction because he can’t settle for the grocery store?

    Most would agree that church is where we learn about God. For those who are desperate for God, they’ll be desperate to find the church where they can truly know him and not be led astray. They seek Truth in teachings. Christ, knowing this nature within us, promised us just that.

  2. Christina: Are you Roman Catholic?

    What does “All” of Jesus mean? Specifically, where does imperfect communion with a Roman pontiff inhibit all that Jesus promises to those who come to him in faith? Where exactly is a Protestant not receiving Jesus himself?

    The concept of a partial Christ seems to me to be sadly lacking in logical and Biblical support.



  3. The only way we can know “which, if any are truly true”, or whether “it is all subjective” is by continued study and prayer. “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” We have to cling to that verse in faith in the character of our Father, who is a rewarder of those who seek Him. In due time we will reap the harvest if we do not grow weary. If we give up the pursuit of truth because finding it seems to be an overwhelming, daunting task, we’ll most likely remain in that state of confusion. The fact of disagreement all around us is not evidence that there *is* no truth about this question, or that we [humans] can’t know it. (My ethics students sometimes try to use the fact of continued disagreement about abortion as evidence that there is no truth about the matter.) Disagreement about a question means at least that finding the truth about that question is not necessarily easy. Some people spend their whole lives looking for it, not because God hides it from them, but because they can’t *see* what is right in front of them, like one’s grandmother trying to find the image in a 3D stereogram. What is needed to resolve the question is not necessarily *more information* (not more systematic theologies), but a different way of seeing, a different paradigm. Even Lewis’s house example is a paradigm (a Protestant paradigm). Why does this search matter so much? Because unity matters, because avoiding schism matters, because truth matters, because we recognize that Christians being divided is not what Christ wants. Is there some question of the availability of Jesus? From a Catholic point of view, the answer is a qualified yes. From an evangelical point of view, the answer is no. So this question depends on the “which, if any are truly true” question. Why is this related to depression? My opinion is that it is disconcerting to face the limits and/or inadequacies of our own conceptual framework, because this framework provides us with a kind of intellectual security and sense of self-identity and meaning, especially for the part of our life devoted to and carried out under that framework. When this framework is called into question, it is deeply unsettling, because one’s own identity and worth is called into question. And there is guilt too, especially as we reflect on all those who sat under us while we taught with such confidence and certainty a framework we now see as incomplete or flawed. Why, for some people, is this search so compulsive and addictive? Because they have a deep hunger for the truth. As Aristotle says at the beginning of his Metaphysics: “all men, by nature, desire to know”. And that desire is most poignant regarding the most sublime and divine truths, including those about Christ and His gospel and His Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. Alot of comments have already been made, but I’ll take a shot.

    1) Why does this search matter so much? Is there some question of the availability of Jesus?

    Because we are told endlessly by many that you have to be in our church and hold our views in order to have Jesus and eternal life. We have made right doctrine the purveyor of spiritual life and not Jesus. We are told we must believe in X, Y, or Z version of justification instead of simply believing on Jesus Christ to be saved.

    In essence, I think all of our schisms have made Christianity far too complicated and unnecessarily so. I’m a bit nervous to say so, but is it possible that we have put just a bit too much emphasis upon doctrine?

    2) Why is this related to depression?

    After all, eternity hangs in the balance! Alot is at stake! And according to many if I do not buy into their “brand” of Christianity I don’t have it at all.

    (Please do not misunderstand. I think there is such a thing as truth and such a thing as error. But whether or not I believe in supra or infralapsarianism is not really all that important – is it?)

    3) Why, for some people, is this search so compulsive and addictive?

    Again, if my eternal life and relationship to God are predicated on such things, this will drive me to “get it right.” According to the mental health professionals obsession over “religous ideas” is one of the major problems in OCD.

    But really, can you blame people? If the TR’s, for example, are telling people that you have to hold their view of justification over against the New Perspective types to really believe the gospel, then knowing which is true becomes very important. Thus, the addictive nature of the search.

    This is my two cents for whatever its worth.

  5. I guess from the pov of some Catholic apologists, the depression and torment is worth it, as long as the answer to it all is the RCC.

    I’m happy to say I don’t have any sympathy with that point of view. If the search for the perfect church is driving you crazy, then give it up.

  6. Comments are now moderated.

  7. I think it is a shame that Jewish people aren’t in on this discussion. The people whose genealogical forbears wrote and preserved the integrity of most of Holy Scripture and “invented” the concept of sin, punishment, mercy and redemption have, in my experience, a completely different view of Truth. I have heard this many times — most recently from a young Israeli who is taking his rabbinical studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan. It seems that most scholarly devout Jews would fall into a major funk if all the issues had to be settled. They love to argue their opinions on dogma. It is an “essential” element of their religious heritage and culture.

    “Two Jews, three opinions.” (just my pov, im ;-p)

  8. we cannot live in the hallway (mere Christianity.) We must choose a room.

    In my, albeit short, experience in this, I have to admit I’m still a “kid in the hall”. Since I don’t know if I’m depressed or not, so I can’t necessarily answer to that, but in the end, I still doubt the necessity of choosing a room–the hallway keeps leading me outside…

    1) Why does this search matter so much?

    In my experience, because we were taught so. The nagging shadow on our backs is if we don’t “get it right”, we’re done. The overwhelming mood is that we MUST get it right, or at minimum choose the least wrong.

    Is there some question of the availability of Jesus?

    In my mind, yes. Can I trust him in my failures? Can I trust him in the failures of those I know and love? In all stripes of theology and practice, there is a situation where if you fail enough, you’re a goner, again. Since failure is inevitable, the end of the logic is “I’m lost, probably for good”. Depressing. Is there a theology where I can trust God?

    2) Why is this related to depression?

    See, above. If every theology I investigate ends with me failing and being punished in reward for my effort, then that’s not very hope-inspiring.

    3) Why, for some people, is this search so compulsive and addictive?

    Not speaking for anyone else, but such a final, fatalist, answer is not particularly satisfactory, and the last glimmer of hope in me says there IS an answer, so I’m motivated–compelled–to keep looking for it.

  9. I’m reading Emmett Fox’s “The Sermon on the Mount” and just read his simplified absolutely foolproof test (he claims) as to whether a teaching or practice is true, taken from Jesus’s assurance that “by their fruits you shall know them.” The test is “Does it work?”

    IM — you can call me a cafeteria Catholic if you like, but I use the 12-Step group suggestion “to take what you like and leave the rest” in my worship as in all my affairs. It’s not a judgment that it’s evil, bad, useless, condemnable. If it doesn’t work for me — it doesn’t free my soul, help me to see more clearly, to understand and accept others, face the failings and hurts of the past — I leave it where I found it. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m not ready for it, maybe I’m not understanding it correctly. Or it’s just plain wrong. But I don’t have to make that decision. I haven’t been given that responsibility (thank God).

  10. Surfnetter:

    You are the biggest example of a cafeteria Catholic I’ve ever had on this blog, and I imagine you know that. You apparently have acquired Catholic friends and authorities who minimize this for you, but someone in conservative Catholic circles is not seeing the RCC’s teaching authority as you do. Your statements of rejection of the magisterium are Protestant to the core. You are Catholic for personal reasons and the eucharist. You take what you want and leave the rest using your own standards. You are the Cafeteria, and you know it. Just own up to it and we’ll have no problems.

    You have to understand that your presentation of Catholicism is causing a lot of stress in my journey to accept my wife’s decision to enter the RCC. ….(MOD: The statement I made here was inaccurate.) She won’t read a VII document. She’s horrified at your posts about taking communion with Protestants because in RCIA the clergy are telling her- in answer to the specific question- that it’s a sin. But if you are just a typical cafeteria Catholic, then your views don’t present a challenge.

    Would some clergy PLEASE tell Surfnetter that I’m right? 🙂

  11. So far, I’m not sure we’ve succeeded in disambiguating the phrase One True Church and it’s theological payload from our personal angst / preferences / observations regarding church life.

    I for one am not convinced that any amount of “spiritual” depression is, when you get right down to it, “of the Spirit”, or anything other than an abstraction of some other personal unhappiness that we choose to try to observe through a kind of Christian theological prism.

    If we try to “live in” the symbology of Christianity we often find ourselves hopping from one theology to the next, looking for a refuge from our life’s angst that I don’t think really exists and which I absolutely don’t think Jesus lived and died to provide for us.

    While I do believe we can ultimately let our hope rest in the promises God made to men in the Bible, I think our churches often fail to teach us how to nourish ourselves on the dogmatics that trickle down from those promises. As a result, we’re starving in a room full of vending machines, and our quest for the right theological button-combination is sort of doomed from the start – we can watch other people getting Vault and Combos all day long but as we watch them we don’t know what to look for so as to replicate it.

    Another curious thing I’ve noticed is how easily “spiritual depression” becomes this sort of personal quest to solve some hidden riddle of Christianity that will suddenly Change The World or make faith seem livable – and how, in the fit of it, we never notice how arrogant or ridiculous our questions are because we construct them with theological terms and pray about them. As if God is waiting patiently for you, the Hero, to discover the Right Answer and further His work or help soothe His children with something tactile. Lots of people who convert seem to experience this kind of relief from one set of questions (thanks to hyper-Calvinism or Guadalupe..) and try to take the fire down the mountain with them, burning people in the process. I don’t think that’s a spiritual process at all – just ego, angst and an intellectual palliative that wears off quickly enough.

    end ramble.

  12. Surfnetter, Michael is absolutely right! And I’ll issue the standard warning again:

    One must be extremely careful to regard the opinions of individual members of any particular communion to be indicative of the entire communion, and certainly not representative, necessarily, of the communion’s public doctrine and teaching.

    I just read through all the comments here and, as usual, found the conversation fascinating, interesting and illuminating.

    The search for the “perfect church” is fruitless and pointless. There is no “perfection” this side of heaven.

    In my own personal life, I convinced that it is historic, confessing traditional Lutheranism that “gets the Gospel” most consistently, but it would be a sad day for me if I ever allowed myself to think that I’m in a “perfect church.” If I reached that point, I hope people would consider checking me into a treatment center, for surely I would be suffering from some pretty serious delusions!

    God bless, all!

  13. The thing is — no clergy will come out publicly to say that — especially on a Protestant blog. I’m telling you that — in practice — this is done all the time. I’ve asked several practicing Catholics who consider themselves knowledgeable — and not at all of the cafeteria type — about that particular issue and they are all under the impression — falsely, I guess — that that was one of the things that has been taken care of.

    I think I see what the problem is — first of all, your wife’s chosen parish is definitely something I might want to sample but I’m sure I wouldn’t be comfortable there. I’d like to experience what all my childhood friends did in the pre-Vatican II days — but what I miss most is all the mischief they most assuredly got into when doing their Catholic obligations. They were the worst and the best. When I was with the Catholic kids, we had more fun and got in and miraculously out of trouble consistently.

    Secondly, in your position, you might be hearing from the elite intelligentsia. They give you the “letter of the law.” They have to — they would get into trouble if they did otherwise. Do you think Pope Benedict would be able to just say — “I’m not wearing that stupid fish hat — it makes me look fat… I’m wearing my street clothes from now on!” …?

    You don’t see what really goes on. I love this place. It’s like being given an open invitation to play in an indoor water park on Capital Hill, (spiritually speaking, that is) in my humble opinion …:*)

  14. Surfnetter, ????

    “Elite intelligensia”?

  15. I wrote this before reading the other comments so you’d know what my gut reaction was. Nice to see a lot of others think the same way; guess I’m not that far off base.

    1) The search matters so much because there is some question of the availability of Jesus. It always comes down to this belief: “If I misunderstand Jesus, I am not living up to my Christian potential.”

    Not necessarily apostate and going to hell—although listening to some folks talk, they are perfectly willing to go that far in warning people against any other worldviews: Either you are in danger of going astray, or are endangering others. But sometimes it doesn’t even go that far. Sometimes it’s the worry that the abundant life that Jesus promised (or your favorite preacher’s interpretation of what that abundant life is supposed to look like) is passing you by because of sin, heresy, misunderstanding, misapplication, hanging with the wrong crowd, or lack of faith.

    The problem is that this is what so many preachers—darn near all of them—preach: Repent and Jesus will renew your life. And while this is true for unbelievers, they simply don’t stop preaching it to the believers. The sermons to the believers are variations on the same repent-and-Jesus-will-renew theme. To some believers, because they keep hearing this, they feel deep within themselves that they have to repent and believe all over again. While they may already know they’re saved, part of them aren’t sure they know this enough.

    I think the reason the Catholics who have responded are so jazzed about the Eucharist is that the solution to their problems is the Eucharist—they literally get Jesus every week. The rest of us are still held in suspense as to how to get Him, or get Him more. Catholics know that if they want Him more, they can just go to another Mass.

    2) It’s related to depression because the mind has to reconcile two disparate beliefs: “I am saved” but “My life doesn’t reflect this salvation.” You can’t reconcile them, so you despair. It is so very depressing to believe that you could be so much better… if you could just learn the secret.

    That’s assuming you could be, or that there is any such secret.

    3) The search is so compulsive/addictive because ultimately we’re worried salvation does tie into it.

    If I can posit a solution, it would be sola fide—I must absolutely have faith that God has saved me, despite my actions in the past or in the future, despite my wrong beliefs then and any wrong beliefs I have now (though hopefully the Holy Spirit will correct me), despite what my life looks like (though hopefully I will have peace with it), despite any lack of spiritual fruit I may have (though hopefully the fruit will grow the more I follow Jesus), and despite whatever church I attend (though hopefully they will humbly pursue Jesus too). If I were Catholic, I suppose the Eucharist would represent all that.

  16. The more time I spend reading the Bible, the more I’m becoming convinced of just how big the “already” of the “already/not yet” nature of the Kingdom is/is supposed to be (goodness knows we could all do a better job of bringing it about). Yes, of course Jesus came to save us from our sins so we could go to heaven. But without wading too deep into liberation theology, He also came to make our world better Right Now. Can you imagine if the woman with the hemorrhage or the man with the dying daughter had been told, “Hmm, yeah, that sucks for you. But don’t worry, Heaven’s going to rock.”?

    So, here’s what I’m thinking based on my own experiences with depression, the church, the Holy Spirit, and the fact that I am in seminary and spend vast amounts of time overthinking the Bible and theology, probably to my own detriment. 🙂 So take it with a grain of salt.

    The two times in my life that I can identify as having likely had (undiagnosed) clinical depression were 1) the summer after my freshman year of college when 2 close friends died within a week of each other, followed immediately by my return to school and September 11, interwoven with “I had cancer, and Brittany died from cancer, and so I should be a doctor and cure kids with cancer but I’m flunking organic chem” and 2) most of the 2005-2006 electoral cycle where I was working for a fabulous candidate but my immediate boss and most of the rest of the staff were terrible people to work for. I cried every day on my way into the office because I just didn’t want to go to work, but working in politics is the art of never quitting, no matter how bad it gets, and so I never could come up with an acceptable way out. Also, I had no friends because I had moved to a new town to take this job, and immediately started working 70 hours a week.

    Looking back on these two experiences, I can say that I desperately wanted – needed – something to change, even though I probably couldn’t have verbalized that to anyone. I was tired of being tired, and crying all the time, and being so emotionally unstable that I would scream at my roommates over stupid things. I was tired of people I loved dying, and of failing at school – the only thing I felt like I’d ever been good at. I was tired of hating my job, and of working 70+ hours a week, and going to church but not ever connecting in one because the only time in my schedule for church was one hour on Sunday morning, and making mortgage payments on a house I was never in, and not having any friends.

    I firmly believe – now, now that I am not currently “in my head” about all these things – that clinging firmly to Jesus and to His Church, assuming the local manifestation of it is actually doing what it is supposed to be doing – loving people and bearing one another’s burdens – can change things in the current, temporal world. At minimum, it can certainly change our experience of them. Had I been connected with a strong group of Christian friends or a great church the way I am now, it wouldn’t have stopped my friends from dying or changed the fact that I had an insane job, but it would have changed my experience of both of those, and made it more bearable.

    So…if you’re depressed and what you need most in life is for something to change so that you’re not depressed anymore, and you go to church hoping to hear a word of well, hope, and all you hear is “It’ll be great in heaven”, you either become suicidal, or you somehow manage to cling to that promise and figure that you’re going to live the rest of your days in darkness but can maybe manage to hold out for heaven.

    But if you go to a church that says, “It’ll be great in heaven, but you might not be going there because…you don’t have enough faith/you were baptized wrong/God didn’t pick you at the beginning of time/your sins are too bad/whatever” and “going to heaven someday” is the only thing that’s keeping you remotely functional from day-to-day, of course you would get even more depressed.

    As for why you could become obsessed over it – if you’re desperately looking for someone to a) love you b) make it better c) give you a reason to live, well, I’d rather have someone keep looking like crazy than give up.

  17. “The concept of a partial Christ seems to me to be sadly lacking in logical and Biblical support.”

    Funnily enough, Michael, that’s exactly my problem with Calvinism. That’s what it seems to be saying (to me); “Here is Christ – for some. Maybe not for you, though, and God intended it that way.”

    I now await the hordes of Calvinists explaining to me exactly why I’m completely wrong in my apprehension (and to be fair, this is the same problem with Jansenism in my church) 😉

  18. In Milan Kundura’s “The Incredible Lightness of Being”, Kundura writes that each of us develops a theme in their life, and that at a certain point this “theme” becomes fixed. As I read the book some years back, I realized my theme was “HEAVEN”. Not the biblical heaven, but heaven as some utopian point where perfection is realized and all conflict is resolved. My unrest and disappointments, I then realized, were due to this continual seeking after something that does not exist in this life. But nonetheless, I have never been freed from all the primal drives related to my theme. Though I am able to see that my “theme” is not related to an earthly reality, it is still a powerful force I’m seldom freed from.

    The compulsive and addictive aspect of this drive at times seems to be of God, and at others to be more an aspect of mental illness. When I look at the depressive nature of so many of the old testament prophets, the fine line between spiritual sensitivity and mental illness looks no less blurry.

    And why you ask, is this compulsion related to depression? Surely it is due to the deep need we have that our lives would be meaningful. The modern world wreaks havoc on meaning. The more honest one is in their search for truth and meaning, the more difficult it becomes to find. There is an inverse relation between seeking and finding.

    In the early years of my spiritual search, when I was only 20, I entered a time where I was unable to sleep because my mind was racing through all the possibilities, dismantling them, and starting over again, and over and over…. I began to wish I had been born retarded so that I wouldn’t have to think; that I would see the world something like a dog. This is not far from where I have settled thirty plus years later. I know very little now, though I say many things as if I know much more than I really do. In the end, is there a higher place to go than the ignorance of childlike trust in the one who gave us birth, clothes, and feeds us?

  19. Martha: amen

  20. Patrick — Elite intelligentsia — you know, the smarty pants Catholics. The ones who read the Catechism and know what the Magisterium is.

    It might be interesting to do a study based on Leno’s “Jaywalking” technique — only asking your average Catholics about the details of those documents. The only thing is no one would think it was funny except informed Protestants.

    I think they’re funny. (I think = In my opinion, im

  21. Christopher Lake says


    I’m puzzled by your “amen” to Martha. In your time as a Calvinist, is her caricature of the theology really what you embraced and believed?


    Your comment may have been prophetic :-), but as a Reformed Christian, I have to say that there are some terrible distortions of Calvinism in your comment. Reject the theology if you want (which you have), but please at least represent it fairly.

    Within Calvinism, Christ is more than enough for those who *want* Him. No one who really wants Christ will ever be rejected by God. Within Calvinism, if you truly want the Christ of the Bible, on His terms, then you *have* been predestined. Period. For those who *don’t* want Him, He will never be much of anything (other than perhaps a “good teacher”– except for those pesky parts about His divinity, resurrection, etc.).

    You might say, “Yes, but within Calvinism, the people who don’t *want* Christ are not *chosen* by God, so it’s His fault.” However, does any of us *deserve* salvation? Can we ever rightly accuse God of injustice?

    The best that I can ultimately say is, read Paul’s argument in Romans 9. Election and predestination are *always* used in the Bible to bring God glory for His mercy and to cause humble gratitude within the heart of the Christian *for* that undeserved mercy. Election and predestination are *never* used in the Bible as a basis for anyone (Christian or not) to accuse God of being stingy or unmerciful.

  22. Christopher:

    I simply can’t get anywhere near the “limited” atonement of Jesus idea as articulated by Calvinists. I particularly get bugged by the defense that everyone limits the atonement, as if the difference between a person’s refusal and God’s intentional design isn’t huge!

    That’s my amen. Again, Luther over Calvin on that one.


  23. Christopher Lake says


    We can agree to disagree, and in a friendly way. Personally, I prefer “definite atonement” over “limited atonement,” as I believe that on the cross, Jesus actually, truly *atoned* for the sins of those for whom He died (those who believe). Their sins are covered, and thus, they *will* be in Heaven. Christ even bought the gift of faith for them, which they will ultimately exercise (no salvation without active belief). We will agree to disagree on the third point of the TULIP though. 🙂

    What irks me about Martha’s comment (and many comments from non-Calvinists) is that they basically accuse the “God of Calvinism” of injustice, without, seemingly, taking the time to try to even understand Calvinism. I would say the same for seemingly knee-jerk criticisms of any theology.

  24. I think the search exists for some of us because we believe in absolute truth. And you would tend to think that our Lord would want one, unified church instead of tons of fragments. Then you look around at the crappy church you’re in and all the other terrible choices out there and you despair. I want a unified, pure, holy church that is beautiful, glorious and heavy – not trite and foolish. The various idolatries in the branches hurt, and produce despair. Probably how a faithful Israelite felt looking at Israel and Judah, calf-worship in Dan and Bethel, and the Temple profaned.

  25. I found Richard Foster’s “Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith” helpful in thinking about denominations. His way of talking about these issues made the search not matter so much for me.

  26. As someone who was born Catholic, went to a PCA church for 10 years, and is now Catholic revert, I have to say that this question has kept me up at nights. I’ve struggled and wrestled with it until I’m completely exhausted.

    1. Why does it matter?
    Sigh. If I knew the answer to that one…

    I honestly don’t know. I believe the Catholic Church to be true, but I cannot discount all of the amazing Protestants I’ve learned from along the way, nor can I discount the 10 yrs I spent at the PCA church.

    The only thing I’ve been able to settle my mind on is a quote from (I believe) St. Augustine, who said that God gives grace through the sacraments, but is not limited by the sacraments.

    2. Why the depression and struggle?
    For me, like so many others, we want so desperately to follow the Lord faithfully, and yet He very rarely writes it in the sky: “Ouiz, I want you to be Catholic… [thunder rolling]”… so we go where we honestly believe we are being led, and yet we see others in different denominations, just as passionate and desiring to be faithful, and just as convinced they are called to be Methodist (or whatever), and the doubts start creeping in.

    And for those of us black/white types, it gets even more confusing (if I’m right, doesn’t that mean that he’s wrong? And if he’s wrong, why is God seemingly blessing his spiritual walk so much more than mine?)

  27. To paraphrase and slightly modify Thomas Merton: The different denominations are like different road signs, all pointing to the same place. The point isn’t to stop and worship one of the signs or to argue over which one is right, it’s to go where the signs are pointing.

    In my view, if you follow any of the signs (denominations), you will end up in the same place (Christ). It’s like a mountain top. There are lots of ways to get to the top and none is objectively right or wrong. So long as the path your on keeps you headed up, you’ll end up at the top eventually. And so will many others, even though their paths may look very different than the one you followed.

    I think the obsession for finding “the one true” church or doctrine stems, at least in part, from a highly suspect idea about the nature of God. To think that God will only save those who intellectually assent to some particular dogma seems to me to make God something like a sadistic game-show host. “Here are 500 doors to chose from. Behind 1 of them lies eternal bliss, and behind the other 499…HELLFIRE AND BRIMSTONE!!! So, which door will you choose?” In this type of scenario folks will obviously get pretty obsessive about choosing the right door.

    But I think that God isn’t that sadistic or that arbitrary. God is infinite, and our tiny little brains are finite. It is therefore a certainty that whatever beliefs we hold about the Divine will necessarily fall short of the full reality. God is bigger than any of our doctrines or beliefs. I think the best we can do is to find the denomination and congregation that we feel most comfortable with, and have faith that if we are honestly searching for God, then God will find us.

  28. thinkingandpraying says

    Reading biographies of great people of the faith can really help with spiritual depression. When you are being persecuted for the cross, there is not a lot of time for quarrels. Brother Yun’s book The Heavenly Man mentions that as an Eastern person moving to Germany and speaking in the United States, he believes and has noticed that the greatest form of persecution in the West is the way we treat one another in different denominations. We doubt one another’s salvation and worry and bite our nails, and ultimately it is very hurtful and definitely not of the Lord.

    But consider that this is a man who fasted in prison for months and was supernaturally sustained by the Word of God. This was a man who memorized the entire book of Matthew and Acts because he had to keep his Bible buried. When he preached to the Chinese people starving for scripture, he simple quoted the scriptures to them, and many were converted. This is a man whose wife was told to get an abortion by the Chinese government when she became pregnant with her second child, and the day before she was scheduled for the abortion, she went into labor (at seven months, and many people were fasting and praying for her). She had the baby without any pain.

    Many people in the West criticized his book, his powerful witness, and his testimony as being fabricated.. perhaps because their own denomination has since neglected belief in real miracles. His book challenged my view of the supernatural and the power of prayer and fasting. It also got me out of my small-minded, un-persecuted framework, and made me less interested in the “about scripture” and more interested in memorizing and knowing it.

    Brother Yun remembers receiving sacks of Bibles from the West, but at the top of every bag was a different denominational tract, trying to convince or sway the new Chinese Christians into one perspective or another. He said this was one of the single-most hindrances to the joy of the gospel for these new believers… they became confused and their knowledge of scripture started to suffer because of questions and fears.

  29. I don’t mean to sound too postmodern, but perhaps the reason it is so hard to grasp theology (and thus so easy to disagree with others’ conclusions) is because we are dealing with an infinite being, not a finite part of creation which we can dissect, study, and comprehend. Take the doctrine of the Trinity for example. No denomination is silly enough to presume to understand the mystery of tri-unity, yet we all believe it. Such theological thought has driven a friend of mine to say that “The Trinity is not a doctrine I believe, it’s a relationship I embrace.”

    In reality, theology necessitates truths in tension. For instance, Jesus was fully man and yet fully God. Christians are sinners and yet also saints. God is absolutely sovereign yet man has free will. Jesus said “This is my body and blood,” yet it still looks and tastes like bread and wine. Grace is free, yet it is not cheap and it will cost you everything. The Law demands absolute perfection as the standard of holiness, and the Gospel promises imputed righteousness to all who believe upon Jesus. It’s no wonder theologians have drawn differing lines in the sand. I think doctrinal differences occur when we attempt to rationalize these apparent “truths in tension.”

  30. [Mod edited] Since we’re on the subject — about the comments about me rejecting the Magisterium:

    I never said any such thing. But in the RCC the only people — in general — who really worry about it are the Religious because they have all taken a vow of obedience.

    The hierarchy is there as servants to the laity (one of the Popes titles is “Servant of the Servants”). Their job — what those in the Magisterium Hierarchy are busy doing every day is keeping the people “happy, joyous and free,” (actually from the AA Big Book, but it fits.) I agree with everything they teach. And sometimes I even do some of it …. ;@)

  31. “blest” has pointed out (and I have removed because it was a personal message to me) that I made an innacurate statement about my wife’s parish. It was inaccurate and rather inane for me to say that it was a pre-VII parish. My apologies to “blest” and others for the error.

    In our personal discussions, my wife has not acknowledged reading VII documents on protestants. She has brought home a pre-VII catechetical book with a view of Protestantism that is highly inaccurate. The spirit of VII relations with protestants is, in my opinion, considerably lacking.

    That’s the end of my comments about this sort of thing. I appreciate “blest” keeping an eye on me and what I write.

    Just remember “blest,” you folks are getting quite a wonderful person there and I hope your church greatly benefits from my and my family’s loss.