The Answers

Catechesis. It’s one of many spiritual terms that aren’t exactly in my vocabulary and with which I lack experience. When I was growing up, any Evangelical worth their salt would have said something like: “Oh, that’s what Catholics do.” And went about their merry way thinking themselves superior to have moved beyond such traditions. But like all fashions, things that go out eventually come back again. (And as it is with all fashions, once they’re in, eventually they go back out again.)

The Gospel Coalition partnered with a church in order to create The New City Catechism. Admittedly, I’ll have to mention that I’m slightly biased against anything and everything associated with the Gospel Coalition; I suspect that in some way, shape, or form, their material reflects their pre-existing beliefs even though others might have completely valid differing opinions.

At any rate, it asks questions like:

What is our only hope in life and death?

And it tells you the answers for you:

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Fifty-two questions. Fifty-two answers. A basic overview of the faith designed to be easily memorable call-and-response type teaching as an instruction for little children just learning the gospel and adults discovering it for the first time.

But what really bothers me is that I can’t come up with my own answers; that any answer other than the one they’ve chosen for me is – for lack of a better word – heresy.
For me, faith has been just as much about the journey as it is the destination; I like to continually learn things and to keep on searching. I don’t want my answers given to me on a silver platter and be told that’s that. It’s probably why I’m not keen on membership covenants – just being told to accept these things, sign here and you’re golden? I don’t think it’s supposed to be that easy.

That’s why I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom in the Fourth Principle of Unitarian Universalism: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;” or more accurately,

“As responsible religious seekers, we recognize that we are privileged to be free, to have resources to pursue life beyond mere survival, to continually search for truth and meaning, to exist beyond bonds of dogma and oppression, and to wrestle freely with truth and meaning as they evolve.

“This privilege calls us not to be isolated and self-centered, believing that our single perspective trumps all others, but rather to be humble, to be open to the great mysteries of truth and meaning that life offers. And those mysteries may speak to us through our own intuition and experience—but also through tradition, community, conflict, nature, and relationships.

“As a faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism makes sacred the right and responsibility to engage in this free and responsible quest as an act of religious devotion. Institutionally, we have left open the questions of what truth and meaning are, acknowledging that mindful people will, in every age, discover new insights.”
Rev. Paige Getty, UU Congregation of Columbia, Maryland (read more from Paige in The Seven Principles in Word and Worship, ed. Ellen Brandenburg)”

I think God would be more pleased if when we’re asked to talk about our faith, our answers are organic and unique rather than formulaic and memorized. Besides – what about questions that the book doesn’t even think to ask? Fifty-two can’t possibly cover everything that somebody might want to know and it most certainly isn’t all there is to know about the faith; or rather, a faith as defined by a particular denomination in a specific branch of Christianity. It doesn’t give all the answers for all of Christianity’s other denominations whose teachings differ.

Seek and you shall find … I think I’ll just keep on looking to see what else is worth finding.

Rest in Pieces: The Obituary of a Church

Stormcard

Not long after we moved down south, we stumbled across a church that made us moderately happy – for a time. The sermons were decent and best of all, they had contemporary music. We had hoped that it was similar to the non-denominational church that had breathed life into us after a bad church experience up north.

It was a church in the middle of a vast field; but the church itself wasn’t particularly old. Inside, the sanctuary was large and open – it had rows of chairs that could be stacked against the wall to make room for fold-able tables for potlucks and other get-togethers. They also had all the typical offerings – men’s groups, women’s groups, youth groups. For a time, it was a nice church home and a good church family.

But behind the scenes, things were a little different. The men in charge were the pastor, the elder, and the deacon. The pastor liked making everyone happy, so more often than not he’d end up siding with the elder unless the deacon could persuade him otherwise. The deacon was the only one who’d offer an alternative opinion to the elder; but he was often away on business, so the elder could get just about anything he wanted done when the deacon wasn’t around to challenge his opinions.

the elder laid the groundwork, slowly he introduced his favorite teachings. Then when the pastor left, the elder carefully chose a replacement, a younger guy, freshly graduated from a seminary, whose theology more closely resembled his own to frame up the structure as they remodeled the spiritual life of the church. He chose well. The new pastor has been preaching on Biblical manhood and Biblical church membership via resources from groups like The Gospel Coalition and 9 Marks among others; something the old pastor never did.

All that change has come at a cost; the church I knew is no longer the same. The people are mostly the same, but the teaching is so different. I guess we left because we saw it coming; an environment with a “it’s my completely Biblical way or the highway” mentality. We knew that we would always be the project, the heretics in the bunch who just refuse to listen to God’s word as interpreted by God’s shepherds overseeing the stubborn and dumb sheep who just won’t listen. We knew that we didn’t really belong in that kind of a church.

Still, it’s sad to watch a church fall for another gospel, choosing legalism over the legacy that was handed down to them, becoming something else entirely. I know it’s probably advertised as being more biblically-minded, more true to the gospel message, more faithful and winsome to the sound biblical teaching of the gospel known as the doctrines of grace. It’s the same pain every Arminianian has felt when their southern baptist church choose to go whole hog into that new kind of Calvinism because the church that used to accept you and worship side-by-side with you now rejects everything you believe – and by extension – you and how your beliefs make you who you are. Now that the church is being spiritually remodeled; it’s out with the old and in with the new; the building itself will always look the same, but it’ll never feel like home again.

Unbelievably Complicated

Looking through my papers awhile back, I discovered a small file folder. It was from my Pastor’s Class. It was when I was just a kid, everyone in my grade spent a few weeks in a class where the pastor explained our denomination, our beliefs, and best of all – we got to eat Mazzio’s pizza once a week for the month the class lasted.

One of the things she explained to me was the concept of a creed, a written belief system. We were given a blank page and encouraged to read the bible and write down what we believed. She told me that the best creeds were always something very personal.

Later, I had fall into another denomination. This one had it’s creed already written – a “message” where it explained a concept and backed it up with Bible verses. There was this unspoken rule: “if you want to be one of us, you must believe as we believe.” So I tried my best to follow the message. After all, people older and wiser than me obeyed it unquestionably, how could they be wrong? In all my time in that denomination – I knew that the message existed, but it was never explained to me. It was never personal to me.

As it turns out, parts of the message seemed to be all wrong. We had questions that the message couldn’t answer. So we quit denominations altogether. It was a breath of fresh air to be the one who got to decide what I wanted to believe and who knew why I happened to believe it. I now know that not everything biblical is good, and not everything good is in the Bible. I think I can say that after seeing what sort of damage had done being required to believe something that I didn’t believe in and quite possibly wasn’t meant to believe at all.

So a few weeks ago, a customer was telling me about her church and she invited me to attend. I told her that I had issues with most churches in the area and that I wasn’t quite ready to give it a try, but thanks for the offer. It was when she said the denomination of her church that my heart sank. It was the one that obeyed the message. Not only that, but the internet indicated that they had been preaching a sermon series on the contents of the message. They were preaching what they believed about the Bible based on what they say the Bible says.

Now I don’t know what my original creed would have said, but I think as I’ve matured, my beliefs have changed. Some of it from seeing how people act based on their beliefs can make them unreasonable, judgmental, and unforgiving to those who aren’t like them and don’t believe as they do. I don’t want to be like that. We rarely think about it the other way around: about what sort of person we want to be and what we will need to believe in order to become that sort of person.

I know that I can’t obey the message because it isn’t a personal belief system to me – it’s not something that speaks who what I believe – and to be honest, much of it doesn’t seem to apply at the moment. What I do believe is just so different from the message that I find myself asking if it’s even worth trying churches because so few tolerate differences. You don’t really see Sunday School classes where a Unitarian and trinitarian can engage in a discussion without calling each other a heretic. Where arminians and Calvinists sit at the table with people who have no clue what that means and not try to convert everyone else to their own way of thinking. Unity becomes about being the same, not about accepting diversity. It can take a lot out of you to hold to different ideas in a church where everyone else is on the same page and constantly trying to turn you from the error of your ways.

So here I am looking at a blank piece of paper, thinking about my personal creed and I have no idea where to begin. I’ve seen many of the ancient ones – the Apostles and the Nicene and the Athanasian Creed – I’ve seen some of the new ones, the message, various belief statements or visions … but none of them speak to me. The truth is, after so many mixed messages, I’m not sure what to believe anymore. I can’t help but think how complicated we’ve made it all.

Paul once wrote to a struggling church – this is what he said:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” – 1 Cor. 15:3-11

It would seem then, that which is most central to Christianity is Christ, his life, his teachings, and his death and Resurrection. But when it comes to the -isms and -tions of Christianity … it’s a lot of difficult concepts. Far much more confusing that it needs to be or was for the early church. It’s the secondary teachings that seem to be most problematic; particularly when what you consider to be less important that Christ is, to another, equally important as Christ. When something is equally important as Christ, questioning how important it is means you’re also questioning the importance of Christ; and quite possibly denying the importance of Christ when you deny the importance of the thing that is equally as important as Christ. That’s where I feel trapped by these non-personal creeds and why I think churches often fail to accept differences. By believing something different, we are in essence denying a founding principle of their common beliefs. We can go to those other churches that believe (wrongly) as we do because we have no place among them unless we believe (rightly) as they do. I don’t know what I do believe, but beliefs shouldn’t be so complicated. They should help you to become a better person, challenge you to stop a few bad habits, help you help others and not harm others in the process.

I Wish that I Missed Church

It used to be that I’d know what day of the week it was by how long it had been since I’d last gone to church. These days, I’m a bit better about knowing the time – but not so good about going to church. The interesting thing these days is when I see people from church; “So it’s been awhile since we’ve seen you at church. We missed you.” Is something I hear every now and then. It’s even more awkward when I meet somebody from the church before that …

Thinking back – I’m not sure that there was anything to miss. Making friends in a tight-knit church isn’t easy and I never really fell into any of the groups that were there – I was usually too young (for the elders), too old (for the youth), and too single (for the marrieds). And it wasn’t like the music was all that great – just old-fashioned hymns that didn’t speak to me. I’d rather not sing them at than to have no choice but to sing them and them alone. The preaching wasn’t bad … but I’m not sure if it’s enough to justify putting up with the bad music and being isolated in a crowd. Sunday school … well, they were trying but it wasn’t working either. So it seems, they miss me at church a whole lot more than I miss going to church.

But judging by some of the interactions I have with various kinds of Christians online, it’s probably for the best. The more I’m out of church, the more my beliefs fall away from the pre-approved labels of Calvinism or Arminianism or what have you. There’s a lot of it that – to be honest – I just don’t care about. So much of it doesn’t apply, so I don’t see why I should have to agree that it’s a valid teaching.

I know that if I went to one of the local churches, the more they’d try to supply with a fix of their particular teaching – something that’s out of my system now but they want me to become re-addicted to. They’d want me to turn, to reform into one of their own. It makes me feel that it’s not really about me – but how they can mold me into their image rather than helping me bring out Christs’ image in me. That’s one thing I really don’t miss about church.

Antichrists Unite

It was a tall order for me to try to post new things about Lent, at the moment there doesn’t appear much more that I can say for the moment, so it’s time to go back to what I do best.
As I was reading my Bible – I noticed something in this passage:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:18-19)
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7)

I wonder if John had even fathomed a time such as this – the church is divided and fracturing. Whole generations of believers are now going out of the churches in search for an authentic faith. One might be tempted to read these verses and assume that all of the nones and dones, the prodigals, nomads, and exiles – are turning their backs on the institution that is church because each and every one of them harbor the spirit of the or an antichrist, who are sinning sinners deceiving themselves by failing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the church presents him.

One warning that appears all over scripture (2 Peter 2, 2 Timothy 2, 1 Timothy 1, 1 Timothy 3, and towards the end of Acts 20,) that false teachers would be a problem. The Bible promises that the false teachers will reap what they sow, but the advice it offers can be difficult to implement in order to remedy false teachers.

For one, false teachers often draw a group of followers who believe the teaching is genuine. We don’t have to deal so much with people not acknowledging Jesus – but we do have Word of Knowledge, Word of Faith, Seed-Faith, Healing, Prosperity Gospel teachings that often do much more harm than good. It seems as soon as one televangelist disqualifies himself (or more rarely, herself) others rise to prominence to replace them.

I can tell you from experience that sitting under false teaching is spiritually detrimental. To recognize that untruths are being said, to have to expend energy reminding yourself that “this pastor is not quite right” or “this teaching over-emphasizes God’s sovereignty but demotes His love, it’s not accurate” is wearying week after week, month after month, year after year.

I don’t think that the numbers will bear out that antichrists are leaving the church because they don’t belong and are sinning sinners. Far too many people have stories about how their church failed them. When a victim went to elders of church for help, she was ignored or the situation was mishandled. When a young person had ideas about drawing more people to church, every single one of them was rejected and they felt as if they weren’t being taken seriously because they were young like Timothy who couldn’t get enough elders on his side to fix some serious problems. When a child has serious questions about evolution and creation and the church isn’t giving them the best possible answers, making them doubt creation and everything that follows. Countless more stories from all walks of life …

Could John have foreseen that the Church would create this darned if you do, darned if you don’t situation? Would he have wanted believers to remain in a church where false teaching was believed to be solid, Biblical teaching? The thing about the corrective advice – “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,” it doesn’t work when the people already believe that their teaching is sound, to them, any opponent is living a lie because they do not believe exactly as the preacher indicates the Bible says they should. Suggesting possible other interpretations of Scripture is seen as rebellion against the inerrant, infallible Scriptures and plain reading thereof.

A lot of us ‘antichrists‘ just want to try to figure out what it means to be a part of the one church that is the body of Christ just without the experiences that prompted us to leave our former churches. That means in my case, I don’t want to be branded as a heretic and driven out to wander wilderness until I come back to my senses and stop being like the prodigal son. I don’t care if you craft the most biblical list of beliefs one can believe in from the Bible with a complete list of scripture references to back it up – I’m not going to sign my name to some document as there’s no mention of such a practice in Scripture.

The interesting thing about being left to my own devices is that without the constant pounding of Biblical teaching I’ve come to see a much clearer picture of who Jesus is in the gospels. The tide has changed to tell another tale – not one where a sovereign God created a world full people to punish – one of a servant who came to seek and save the lost. Without the crashing waves of emphasis, I’m sailing on calm waters that gently rock me in the rhythms of God’s grace in action. Had I not been cast aside, I’d still be in that big boat, fighting God’s grace by believing in the doctrines of Grace. Being taught about God so sovereign over this world that he controls the pattern of dust swirling in light and everything good or bad that ever happens is rooted in his omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent will. I wouldn’t have come to know the servant who seeks and saves the lost. I’d know another version of him whose sole purpose was to model obedience to enact the plan of salvation. Day in and day out, this particular emphasis would mold and shape my beliefs and drive me forward through the storm.

In this way going out from the church has been the best thing that has happened in my spiritual walk. I get to meet Jesus as he his, not some presentation of him that emphasizes some of his aspects and ignores others. Maybe I’ll do what my ancestors did with “Sooner” or “Yankee” and own the term “antichrist” not as something derogatory, but turn it around into a badge of honor. “Anti” can mean “against” or “opposite of” but it can also mean “in place of” and as a follower of Christ, I am in the place of Christ in a world of people who lost who need to be sought out – though I’ll leave the saving to Jesus, there’s bound to be ways I can help, provide food, clothing, shelter, a kind word, encouragement, that sort of thing. I wouldn’t mind being that kind of antichrist that was a friend of sinners, who brought healing, mercy, and forgiveness, who challenged religious authorities for being legalistic and losing their way. I could live with being that kind of antichrist .

The Incomplete Gospel of Singleness

“… And that brings today’s lesson to an end. Who would like to say the prayer?” The leader said, taking a moment to look at each of the boys in the youth group.

Mary’s hand shot up and she said, “I’d be happy to pray, if that’s okay.”

The other Mary nodded and added, “And I would like to pray, too.”

“God really wants to hear from one of the boys this time. John? Peter? Would one of you pray for us?” The leader responded.

This exchange played itself out any number of times while I was growing up. At any meeting, there were two or three girls for each boy present. It apparently wasn’t a problem for the girls to lead the prayer while they were all middle schoolers, but apparently when the youth group are high schoolers, God wants the boys to pray.

My brother did not attend the same church as me for his youth group, but he also remembers that there was always a similar exchange. The boys were always pressured to step up, speak up, and take the lead. The girls were always chastized for stepping up, speaking up, and taking the lead.

Which was why the core of Complementarianism sounded backwards to me, surely if girls showed an aptitude and willingness to lead, then that must have been an example of God’s design working as it should. My church called that the “Womens’ tendency to usurp the Men’s God-given authority.” Likewise, men not taking the lead was “sinful passivity” on their part. The issue with public prayer was that it was akin to the pastor’s wife shoving him aside from the pulpit, throwing the Bible open to somewhere in Corinthians and preach to a roomful of men and their women. Had they separated the boys from the girls, then it would not have been a problem for the girls to pray because there would be no boys there to usurp authority from.

So now that the question of singleness has been rasied among Complementarian circles, there’s been quite a bit of controversy. Complementarianism states that marriage is a picture of the gospel message. SIngleness, therefore, would be a picture of an incomplete gospel. A puzzle with missing pieces (and conversely, pieces with a missing puzzle). Two parts that will never be a whole. Girls that grow up into young women who lead themselves and boys that grow up into young men who lead no one. Which only causes trouble – because if a young woman does what a young man does, then she might as well be a young man. Distinctions; male from female, masculine from feminine, leader from follower, authority from submission; must be maintained at all costs.

1 Corinthians 15 is a great Biblical summary of the gospel: “3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. ”

Unless we’re referring to two different gospels, I have no idea how one can get a picture of marriage from that. But single people are incomplete gospels. They’re like Jesus on his second day of death. They’re like the women that were just too sad to go to the tomb. They’re like the angel that didn’t roll away the stone. They’re like the twelve that missed their appointment with the Holy Spirit.

And that is why the boys must pray, the girls must not pray, marriage is the gospel, and single people are only half-complementarians.