June 29, 2017

How To Talk To An Evangelical On A Journey

HikerDear Well-Meaning Non-Evangelical Friend,

Please sit down, have a cup of tea or coffee…and listen.

I see that you’ve responded to some of us who are pilgrims in the evangelical community and who are on a journey within and perhaps beyond evangelicalism. You’ve offered up some “help” in the form of advice, comments, explanations and so forth.

If possible, I’d like to encourage you to consider a few matters that could prove useful to our shared ultimate goal of knowing the Trinitarian God and following Jesus.

1. It’s possible you may be able to claim a few of us for your particular church by arguing with us over the specifics of doctrine. There are some among us who are in the mood to be convinced. But you are making a mistake, in my view, in regard to most of us with this approach. Your assumption that we need to be battered with the clubs of better logic and more knowledge is not the pleasant experience you apparently remember it to be. Let us have a process that operates under our terms and with our perception of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. If this is an episode of Bounty Hunter, tell us.

2. If you are delighted to have laid down all your doubts and questions at the feed of the LCMS, the RCC or EO, that’s wonderful. Again, don’t assume that’s our journey or will be. There are many ways for persons like ourselves to appropriate and experience your tradition without joining. There is considerable evidence that a continual trail of “joining,” is not what many of us are looking for at all, as we have seen that in more than a few of our number, with less than impressive results.

3. Many of us share a suspicion that the submission of mind and curiosity to a specific authority or tradition may not be as easy for us as it has been for you. It is not a characteristic we all share when it comes to human traditions and institutions. Many of us can safely say we will never pray to Mary, believe in purgatory or practice closed communion. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still on this journey. Louder announcements of circular authority claims have a similar problem. Your (or our) decisions to accept claims of a “pure Gospel” or an “infallible authority” don’t qualify as “pure” or “infallible” for many of us.

4. Our heroes in this journey are not always converts. They are often evangelicals who remained evangelicals or pilgrims who kept moving and never settled. We may find a “half-way house” in Anglicanism or the ELCA and stay there. We are not as interested in being the trophies of a tradition as we are in seeing some aspect of Christ that we can only see through something your tradition has preserved for us.

5. We are not fools when it comes to the Eucharist (or baptism.) We’re not looking at the obvious and refusing to see. Explain us as you wish, but we see what we see (and vice versa) for reasons that are a mixture of influence, environment, authority, education, exposure and consideration. There is nothing quite so frustrating as to be read, for the 500th time for many of us, the plain statements of scripture that have divided Christians for centuries, and to do so as if we’ve just never actually paid attention to what Jesus says in John 6. It’s a habit that should never appear in a discussion among friends. Take it for granted that we have examined the scriptures many, many times and will continue to do so.

6. Answer our questions as real questions, not as invitations to evangelize us.

7. Should we be wrong about your tradition in some statement we make, correct us with grace and a recognition that we are understandably at a disadvantage.

8. What was the answer to your journey is not going to be the answer to our own. If you send us a collection of convert essays to create conversion envy, or if you take a small move on our part as a sign that we are ready to sign up, you’ve misjudged.

9. What we value as good in our tradition- evangelism, missions, church-planting, preaching, singing, etc.- we are not likely to abandon for your version of the same thing without some lamentation and complaint. Whatever we take from you, realize that those of us who value where we’ve been and what God has done in our life in the past respect what formed us.

10. I learned long ago that two people may fight one another, but attack one of them and both will turn on you. We may be severe on our own evangelical tradition, but don’t assume that means we are ready to join you in your criticism of the same. That may be unfair, but it’s very human.

Thanks for listening,

Michael

Comments

  1. I might risk provoking or offending by making a little fun of item 10, given the serious tone of the post, but I think I heard Marty Stouffer describing the marmot on “Wild Kingdom” as I read that!

  2. Maybe I’m feeling over-sensitive at this late hour, but if you think my prior post is bad timing, go ahead and delete it. I don’t want step with a too-light remark into the middle of a serious exchange between you and the posters you are addressing. Or maybe you just think it’s funny. I’ll leave it to you.

  3. This post is in my top ten favorite iMonk essays.

    But… I especially like point 10. However, I think you (Michael) come close to violating
    “don’t assume that means we are ready to join you in your criticism ” in your
    July 31, 2009 interview of Dr. Valerie Tarico entitled
    “Non-theists and Evangelicals” This was the Interview where seem only to ready
    to join her in criticizing evangelicals (those on a journey and otherwise).

    Just my 2cents worth…

    • Rod:

      1) I criticize evangelicals all the time. And I commend many other critics. Let’s be honest. This is the IM blog. Coming Evangelical Collapse and all that.

      2) P0int 10 is that those seeking to convert me (and others like me) to the RCC, EO, LCMS, etc. should not assume that their criticisms of evangelicals will be greeted with applause.

      3) Yes, that’s inconsistent. It’s also the way it works in lots of things. I can criticize my employer, my family and my country. If someone outside of those groups does so, don’t be shocked if I get angry.

      4) I MIGHT join a critic, as I did Dr. Tarrico, but Dr. Tarrico was my guest, answering my questions with no goal to win me over.

      peace

      ms

      • I’m not ‘RCC’. I’m, Catholic of the Roman Rite.
        NO ONE converts anyone else.
        People ‘convert’ to other faiths THEMSELVES.
        Most Catholics don’t ‘knock on doors’ trying to ‘convert’ people.
        Catholics sure don’t run around telling people they are ‘going to hell’ if they don’t quote some fundamentalist-type incantation.

        The confusion that Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and maybe, Lutherans might have when they first come to this blog may be this:
        the name of the blog !
        ” imonk’ would attract those who might think they could ‘be themselves and not have to walk on eggs so as to not offend the sensibilities of a person of a different stripe.
        I think it is simply a matter of confusion over a name of a blog which attracts those who then find out, if they say ‘something out of line’ at the wrong time, that they have transgressed ‘the rules. Once they understand how it is on this blog, they can then moderate themselves or be moderated. Or blocked.

        I think, Michael, that most of your new comers to this blog don’t have a CLUE about the deal until they have been here for a while. And ususally, to your credit, you let them know very quickly and firmly. But trust me, most Catholics and Orthodox don’t set out to run around judgmentally trying to steal sheep from Protestant pastures. It’s not OUR style.
        Very likely, they, like myself, were simply drawn to a blog with the name ‘imonk’, expecting a ‘comfort zone’ level that, in truth, they had no right to expect. I speak honestly.

        It’s your blog, Michael. How you named it and yourself ‘imonk’ is fine by me.
        Just know that some of those who do visit, may arrive as strangers ‘unaware’ and so may make embarrassing ‘faux pas’, until they ‘get it’. Your smart enough to get my drift.

        • I come as a stranger to this post, but will add my voice to Michael’s to say your reply betrays your basic lack of respect of others.

          • some come to a blog with expectations that may not be justified. Certainly the name of the blog sometimes draws those whose comfort zones include ‘monks’. But then, the confusion might set in until they understand to watch what they say, so as not to offend. In the meantime, things may happen that are less than comfortable.
            There is a saying, ‘never judge a book by its cover’.
            It’s a good saying.

  4. I’ve never posted on this site before, but I lurk all the time. This is a wonderful post. And, if it matters, I grew up in the LCMS, spent a few years as a typical adolescent agnostic, came back to faith in Christ through a Foursquare Gospel church, and am now Roman Catholic. I became Catholic for myriad reasons, but I think that “converting” other Christians should be just about last on my list of priorities. (I don’t consider my confirmation into the RCC a conversion, anyway… one baptism is one baptism…) Ecumenical unity is crucial in this post-denominational, post-Imperial, (dare I say) post-Christian world. BTW: best phrase in the whole post: “Conversion envy” – love it!

  5. Speaking for myself, I think what bothers me most about certain non-evangelicals that I run into—not all of them, of course— is the condescension. You know, the attitude of, “You poor evangelical; you don’t know any better. Let me explain things to you. I’ll try to use small words.” (Exceptions, of course, to be made for their traditions’ particular favorite Christianese buzzwords.)

    Some of that, to be honest, rubs against my own condescending attitude—which I am trying to get rid of, but gotta admit is there—of “You poor non-evangelical; I use my brain and you’ve turned yours off.”

    Both sides, naturally, have to get rid of the bad attitudes before we can have constructive conversations. I’m trying.

    • I’m currently LCMS Lutheran (transitioning out, but still in) and what bugs me worse are Lutherans who carp on the term “evangelical,” and proclaim, “We’re the real evangelicals,” or something like that. What I have to unkindly point out is that Lutherans are not “evangelicals” to anyone but themselves, and pretending otherwise just muddies the discussion waters.

    • IMO, condescension runs rampant throughout the evangelical wilderness (and I speak as an evangelical here). Fighting this is wearisome and annoying, but I’m trying large amounts of self-disclosure, individually, denominationally, and “evangelical wide”. I’m open to suggestions here: it’s hard to expect others to not act like know it alls, when our own dirty laudry is heaped all around us.

      nice post
      Greg R

      • The open criticism of evangelicalism does, perhaps, give the impression that their is a void that needs to be filled by other beliefs. However, that diversity and constructive criticism should be seen as a strength, as iron sharpens iron, and not be seen as a negative.

        Are those non-evangelicals working to sway us involved in faiths that have such open dialogue and constructive criticism?

    • Speaking for myself, I think what bothers me most about certain non-evangelicals that I run into—not all of them, of course— is the condescension. You know, the attitude of, “You poor evangelical; you don’t know any better. Let me explain things to you. I’ll try to use small words.”

      As a Christian who has left the evangelical ghetto and has no desire to ever return, I’d encourage to turn a clear eye on the evangelical subculture. Anti-intellectualism is rampant, as is blindly accepting a pastor’s or author’s or radio host’s words and opinions.

      I knew and know people who fall into the evangelical camp whose minds are wonderfully alive and awake – but they are not, in my experience, the majority. The paucity of historical and cultural knowledge and awareness in evangelical circles is staggering.

      • In regard to Aranion’s last paragraph, I’d have to agree. I have a dear friend who’s an evangelical, and she astonished me not long ago by realizing (after she watched something about Catholics on television), “Well, Catholics believe in Jesus’ Resurrection too!” I said, Yes, of course they do. She said, “Then why do their crosses that they wear always show Jesus as dying?” I couldn’t answer that, but said something like “Traditon, I guess.” But I was amazed that she had lived this long as a very active Christian, yet still thought Catholics didn’t believe in the Resurrection.

        • Oh, I’m not laughing at your friend, because everyone has got embarrassing stories like that.

          I would imagine that she had heard the usual explanation for “Why we don’t have crucifixes like them pagan Catholics do” as “We worship a Risen Christ!” and so naturally she assumed that meant Catholics either don’t know about or don’t believe in the Resurrection.

          Believe me, I feel like thumping those (usually ultra Spirit-of-Vatican II types) who can’t wait to throw out the crosses and crucifixes by burbling on about “We are an Easter people” and “We follow the Risen Christ”. What, and the grumpy old ladies like me who want a proper crucifix don’t ? Grrrr!!!!

        • I was considered Baptist all my life I guess growing up. I went to Catholic church for about fifteen years.I am very open to religion . Reguarding what was said to H. Lee. One way to look at it is why are there crosses with jesus still hanging on them, Because that is the most important thing that we should never forget—– GOD gave up his son Jesus to die on the cross so that we may have life. That is where jesus lost his spirit so that the holy spirit could dwell with us. That is the sacred place also, it signifies a rebirth also. It is nice to see christ resurrection necklaces also. It is not about jesus dying what an insinsitive thing to say and ignorant thing to say It is because jesus died on the cross for us that we may have life Tell her that!

      • “The paucity of historical and cultural knowledge and awareness in evangelical circles is staggering.”

        In what tradition is this not true? Come on. We could say the same things about ‘Catholics’, right? I would also point out that Evangelical publishers like Brazos and IVP publish some of the most erudite stuff out there.

    • Now imagine being an atheist who meets an evangelical.

      “Have you heard about Jesus?”

      🙂

      • Oh, yeah – that’s the name Bruce Willis’s character calls Samuel L. Jackson’s character by mistake (Jésus for ‘Hey, Zeus’) in “Die Hard III”, isn’t it? 🙂

      • This is what I was going to say. If we come across condescending to each other… just imagine.

    • Abouna Justin says:

      I really appreciate the honesty and messiness of this process. As a Eastern Christian (in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions) I have experienced the discomfort of someone bearing down on me with proof texts. The “Roman Road” was a wild experience -not being able to get a word (or question) in edgewise;-) Nevertheless, the age of mere intellectual assent to doctrine is passing away. This is a time when folks will be attracted to the lives we live rather than the rightness of the doctrines we spout. We are all passionate and thus see things from our own ivory tower. Letting tours in to our ivory tower takes real openness.
      Abouna Justin

    • Oh, K. W. Your first paragraph hits me right where I am! I am working in an environment mainly populated with Episcopalians, Catholics, and other non-evangelical types. No one’s tried to convert me, but I’ve heard some very dismissive comments regarding “evangelical spirituality.” Do evangelicals experience God? Or do they just think about God? Do they think and talk about God in order to avoid experiencing reality (suffering, ambiguity, injustice, anger, you name it….)? I hate labels and won’t call myself an evangelical, but I have to call out the anti-evangelical derision for what it is: unhelpful stereotyping.

  6. I feel you man.
    As a member of a simple home-based church fellowship in the heart of the Bible Belt, I often get regarded by many other Christians as either some brainwashed cult member or an antichurch activitst. And even after I explain to people what we do and why we do it, I still get frequent offers to come join a “real” church.
    I think the problem is that a lot of Christians really believe that if every person on the planet surrendered to God’s perfect will for their lives, then every single person on the planet would come join their particular denomination or brand of church. And I don’t know how you get people past that kind of thinking.

    • “a lot of Christians really believe that if every person on the planet surrendered to God’s perfect will for their lives, then every single person on the planet would come join their particular denomination or brand of church.”

      This described me when I first started going to a pentecostal church. I felt like I’d found the REAL christianity, and I wince now when I remember how I’d lecture my parents about how their christianity was sub-par. The only thing that changed my thinking was having gone through some spiritual bullying in the pentecostal world. I tend to learn things the hard way.

    • I’ve experienced that — being very proud and impressed with my own church or ministry, and believing that our leaders, teaching, and methods “get it right” in comparison to others.

      I think it’s human nature to feel that way when one fully buys into something — not even limited to church. It could apply to a business, fitness or health regimen, or self-help program. And some degree of “buy in” is healthy, especially compared to the cynicism or apathy that lies on the other end of the spectrum.

      I would have to say in my own experience I have not found that kind of pride in church very helpful or necessary, though, or the self promotion of a church or movement that can contribute to that kind of pride. I would have to say it has been unhelpful for me, because the pride has often been proven unwarranted — i.e. things were not as great as I had esteemed them to be. And obviously any belief in something that is not true is a bad thing. Maybe the answer to your question “how do you get people past that kind of thinking” is time. In time, their assumptions will have been proved untrue. Well, and ultimately God’s mercy will illuminating that to them. A problem is that as their assumptions about their particular church or movement are proved untrue, they can question their assumptions about God himself as well. It can be tricky to separate out the gold from the dross during those times.

      I would also add that some of what I called self-promotion is not intentional, and may even be necessary for some other purpose. For instance a pastor sees an unhelpful or even false teaching being proclaimed, and so alerts his flock to this, explains the harm that can come from it, and explains what he believes is the more helpful or correct view. This is necessary, but can lead some to an incorrect pride in their church or leader’s unique ability to “get it right”. Or maybe one pastor wants to honor another pastor for his special gifting, which is certainly good to encourage the pastor, and to encourage his congregation to appreciate their pastor. But particularly if communicated as a contrast to the “typical” pastor who it is said falls far short of the pastor being honored, it can lead to an unhelpful pride.

      • “And some degree of “buy in” is healthy, especially compared to the cynicism or apathy that lies on the other end of the spectrum.”

        Yes! It was the one time in my life where I was happy and feeling free, unfortunately there was a bad crash and hangover afterwards.

  7. Michael, if anyone decides to become a Roman Catholic based on anything I’ve ever said here, I will not only be flabbergasted, I will be nervously glancing out the window to see if the Star Wormwood is falling from the sky 🙂

    That being said, I did smile at your third point:

    “Many of us share a suspicion that the submission of mind and curiosity to a specific authority or tradition may not be as easy for us as it has been for you.”

    Now, Michael – you say that like submission is a *bad* thing. I’m sure there are many strict complementarians who will leap at the chance to defend the worth of absolute submission – with regard to the female, that is 😉

    • I don’t say it as a bad thing. You’re mistaken on that one.

      peace

      ms

      • I was having a go at those dear souls who in tones of horror and dismay lament how Roman Catholics have to bind their consciences and turn off their brains, in distinction from how their own church is The Thinking Person’s Denomination of choice. We all put ourselves under some form of authority or limitation, no matter what; no-one, for instance, can seriously argue that they are at liberty to remain undecided about whether Jesus is merely a good human being or the second Person of the Trinity or both or neither if they take upon themselves the name of Christian and that any body that says “You must believe He is true God and true Man” is demanding an unreasonable submission.

        And equally I was having a go at those who are perfectly willing to lecture others on how they must give up their sinful ways of insisting upon having their own will in everything and just Obey The Rules (and yeah, I do fall into that camp myself).

        As a female person of the opposite sex, I regard with jaundiced amusement the men who have no difficulty describing in exacting detail the Ideal Christian Woman and how she shold talk/behave/dress, yet they would turn purple and explode if anyone attempted to lay down a programme about the Ideal Christian Man and intimate that they were less than perfect.

        I wasn’t seriously saying you are anti-submission (er, did that come out sounding all right?)

  8. GRIN

    Some of us who have converted, still argue (at least mentally) with some of our co-religionists.

    I’m still an almost yellow dog Republican. 😉

  9. That Other Jean says:

    Michael,

    Perhaps this post should be titled “How to Talk to a(n) __________________________ On a Journey.” It applies just as well to Evangelicals talking to non-Evangelicals as it does the other way around.

    • Scott Eaton says:

      I was thinking the very same thing. It could also be applied to our conversations with non-Christian friends as well. Nice post, Michael.

    • Spot on: this works for ev’s talking to Mormons quite well, IMO.

      • Couldn’t agree more. I think Michael’s list is good for all of us. I dare say that, at least in the US, evangelicals have been more on the offensive (in the best and worst sense of the word) than the otherside in respect to these as well as other ill advised strategies to “convert” others to the “true” gospel in our history. It seems to be a by-product of what happens to us human beings when our denominational camp (or cultural heritage, or political agenda,etc.) becomes the gospel rather than Jesus.

  10. #4 – You put to words something I have been feeling lately. I’m a Jewish girl who was found by Christ during the Jesus Movement of the 1970’s, and has spent about half of my life since then in independent fundy churches – and the other half in independent Charismatic churches. Wounded by leadership in both camps, I now attend an AMiA church. I am not settled there by a longshot, though I do value what I have encountered in the liturgy and eucharist. I wonder at this point of my own journey if I’ll ever be settled anywhere.

  11. “Conversion envy”! Oh, how right you are. Thanks for this.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Ran into the Order of St Borg (“Resistance is Futile! Prepare to be Assimilated!”) once too often, IMonk?

    If this is an episode of Bounty Hunter, tell us.

    I feel a fragmentary filk coming on:

    “I’LL HUNT YOU DOWN ‘CAUSE I’M WITH GOD!!!!”

  13. That Other Jean beat me to the punch, iMonk. Your 10 points DO apply just as well to Evangelicals talking to non-Evangelicals as it does the other way around, maybe even more so. No matter who is trying to do the converting and who is the targeted convertee, if the converter doesn’t understand that, he or she is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    Should the hand try to get the foot to be a hand? Should the ear try to convince the eye to be an ear? I think not.

  14. Taylor George says:

    This is just a little ironic. Evangelicals asking non-evangelicals to be less condescending?

    Anyhow, nice post, and I wonder why this has to be so difficult. Why didn’t God make this easier? I just want to follow Jesus, raise my kids in the truth and be done with it. Problem is that there is so much nuance involved, and so much history/doctrine to weigh.

    • Taylor,

      I understand your observation, but condescension isn’t much of a problem here. More likely to just be sincere enthusiasm for one’s own tradition and some assumptions that aren’t necessarily dependable.

      peace

      ms

      • Taylor George says:

        Michael, I think we’ve come through different doors of evangelicalism. Mine is the MacArthur, Piper, et al, door which does struggle with arrogance.

    • Taylor, Taylor, Taylor

      We are not condescending, we are just right.

      (that’s a joke, for the humor impaired)

      I think virtually every “group” gets more than a little self centered, in particular when seeing the splinter in someone else’s eye.

  15. Northeasterner says:

    Serious, sincere, Bible-believing Christians have been divided over some key points of doctrine for centuries. I don’t think any of us should be so bold as to think that we can resolve what the likes of Luther and Zwingli could not. We should approach these differences with a great deal of humility and pray for the unity of the Church as Christ did. It is His job, not ours, to set things right.

    I have grown tremendously by having my [LCMS] understanding of doctrine and practice challenged by other serious Christians. I certainly do not think my church body or tradition has a monopoly on all that is good in Christianity. I am willing to be persuaded by anyone who reasons compellingly from the scriptures, and have changed my opinions on some things as a result.

  16. Bob Sacamento says:

    Great post, Michael. I particularly appreciated

    We may be severe on our own evangelical tradition, but don’t assume that means we are ready to join you in your criticism of the same.

    Yeah! Takethat RCC!!!! 🙂 Just kidding. (Sort of. (Just kidding again. (Sort of. (Just …)))

    Seriously, great post.

    • Bob,

      I am in complete agreement with you.

      Just like brothers picking on each other, bloody. BUT, let an outsider join in, and suddenly they are an unbeatable team.

      • Maybe the outsider then becomes a peace-maker.
        An ‘attack’ can galvanize a divided community.

        Problem is that sometimes there is no meaner, more emotionally abusive person in the world than a fundamentalist in ‘attack-mode’ claiming the biblical mandate to verbally and spiritually abuse someone else who sees their faith differently from the ‘know-it-all’..

        Do Catholics or Orthodox ever want to be ‘like that’. Heck no.
        A resounding NO WAY.

        • Do we WANT to be like that? No.

          Do some of us come off like that? Yes.

          I’ve seen some ‘zeal of the convert’ types going for the ‘grab ’em by the throat’ method of evangelisation and if I wasn’t already Catholic, it’s the last thing in the world I would have considered. They did come off sounding like “We’re right, you’re wrong, and if you don’t accede to my crushing weight of evidence right this minute, you’re either stupid or wicked!”

  17. I’d say, “amen!” to this post, but I’m not sure what an “evangelical” is these days.
    The term seems to have several different, sometimes contradicting meanings, depending on who’s using it and what they’re trying to insinuate.

    I’m on a journey myself. I’m turning sour on the non-denom, pseudo-demon, non-confessional, contemporary worship and charismatic type congregations I’ve been involved in ever since I left the UMC when I was old enough to rebel against parental influence (about 30 years ago). I’m starting to miss the liturgy and hymnody of the UMC, but could never go back there now. The UMC is just another mainline denomination affiliated with the cult of liberalism.

    I find myself drawn to the LCMS and other reformation-minded, traditional church groups. I’m discovering I have a lot to learn about what drove the early reformers, and the distinction between Law and Gospel that gets ignored or confused by more modern (“evangelical?”) sects.

    I really do appreciate their attempts to explain their doctrine to me and tell me what’s wrong with mine.

    Whatever our disagreements: “May Almighty God and the Father of our Lord Jesus grant the grace of his Holy Spirit that we all may be in in Him and constantly abide in this Christian unity, which is well pleasing to Him. Amen!”

  18. Michael, you write, “If you are delighted to have laid down all your doubts and questions at the feed of the LCMS, the RCC or EO, that’s wonderful.”

    I think that much of the excitment over various denominations defending to the bloody end their own doctrines is a simple fear of doubt itself. While doubts can be used by Satan to weaken us, having all of our doubts banished and questions answered does not deal with the fear that so many Christians experience.

    If we can stop being afraid of doubts, questions and not having an answer to questions, we might be able to have richer and deeper conversations. Shoot, we might even make a few friends. 😀

    • MW Peak,

      I can’t speak for anyone else. But, the reason I’m enthusiatic about being Catholic is the joy and peace that I have found. And I want others to have the same in their walk with Christ.

      If something isn’t working for them, I will mention my path, especially if it seems likely that the other person would benefit from it.

      I know that I don’t have all the answers, nor the Catholic Church, but by sharing our questions, doubts, fears etc.; we can encourage others in their following.

      • I recently had a friend attend a Christian event in which there was Evangelical music and messages geared toward the youth. This friend stated that she believed most of the Christians were there more because they were part of the Evangelical movement and the excitment and less because they followed Jesus.

        I was once a Fundamentalist Baptist when I realized that I had simply joined a group for the sake of having an identity and never really asked hard questions about what I believed. Once I stepped away from the groupthink and discovered my own individual journey, I found joy and peace and incredible freedom in God’s grace. And my faith is stronger than it has ever been before.

        Now I am attending a Presbyterian Church not because I am a Presbyterian, but because I enoy the people I worship with. The traditions are a common ground on Sunday morning, but it is Jesus Christ that draws us mere mortals together for fellowship on any day of the week. I even enjoy lunch with my minister and we talk about every day life. It is the best thing to ever happen to me.

    • So do you believe I have to become Catholic to have joy and peace?

      • Nope,

        Just reporting what I needed. GRIN Besides, you have theological reasons that I didn’t have.

      • No. You need cricket.

      • I know you’ve read the Vatican II documents, so I won’t point you there. But to reiterate them in short: not necessarily, but it sure couldn’t hurt (except perhaps in a healthy,cleansing way).

      • Did you seriously hear that in what she said? Wow. Nothin’ else – just a li’ll wow.

        • +Alan,

          I considered Michael’s comment to be teasing, and I tried to tease back. But, humor, and grins (and throwing things like socks ) are hard using just electrons. GRIN

      • This topic is usually good for a little wow. My emotional reaction to this subject is insane, I agree.

      • I don’t know about converting, but if you want joy and peace, I can recommend you DON’T follow Waterford senior hurling 😉

  19. Michael,
    Thanks for this post. It helps me to understand where some of you in the evangelical world are coming from. Believe me at times it is mind boggling for us on the outside looking in to comprehend. For instance in a previous post you wrote in the comments “2. Michael’s not leaving anyone behind. The idea of moving from one denomination to another as some way of “getting closer to God” is repugnant to me. We are united to Christ by faith, not by denomination.”
    I am probably one of those who you take a dig at by mentioning the LCMS along side the EO, and the RCC. I am will not tell you to join the LCMS. But I might try to convince you that we are right 🙂 It is in my nature to do so. Not that I don’t see many problems in the LCMS, but I am a staunch defender of her confession of faith. And that is the rub for me.
    I think this may be where many of the EO, and the RCC are. We don’t see our church bodies as “denominations.” We see them closer to confessions of faith. We in part confess that faith we believe by what “denomination” we belong to. Where we go to church is a matter of confessing that faith.
    I went to an “inter denominational” seminary for a tour a couple years ago. I found out that they were supposedly training Lutheran pastors, yet there wasn’t one Lutheran on their faculty.” So I asked how do you teach others to be Lutheran pastors, if you yourself aren’t Lutheran?” The guy answered that they just teach theology, they don’t get into polity, but let the denominations teach them that when they are called and ordained.” I was floored. Lutheran’s don’t think of polity when we think of denominations. We think of theology, confession. The last thing that should divide two churches is polity. I mean it would be possible for a Lutheran church to have a presbyterian polity, and they could be in full altar pulpit fellowship with a Lutheran Church that had an Episcopal polity.
    So it really isn’t a matter of “getting closer to God” by joining anyone particular denomination for us. We Lutherans tend to believe that the gospel works to save sinners where ever it is heard. We also believe that however muddled it might be in other denominations it is heard there, and there are baptists going to heaven, along with Roman Catholics etc. Though we also believe they will all be Lutheran once they are there. The parousia, we believe will clear up all their objections to what we believe.
    So choosing a denomination for us is a little bit like choosing between Ducks Unlimited and PETA. If I am a duck hunter, and believe in my right to hunt ducks, I am not going to support PETA. If I believe that a certain church body is guilty of muddling the gospel, and teaching false doctrine concerning the sacraments ( intimately tied for us Lutherans to the Gospel) then I am not going to send them my money. (It would be nice if the current leadership in the LCMS would figure this out about their own people. They don’t give to the synod anymore, because they have lost faith in what the Synod is doing. The Synodical leadership reacts by doing more of the same, and harping about structure and polity.) Sending my money to a particular cause/ denomination is, as much as anything else I do, a confession of faith perhaps even more so. As Luther once says Christians have two conversions, one of the heart, and the second of the purse. I support that which I believe in.

    • I find the Lutheran concept of denominaitonalism – i.e. the gospel creates the church- to be the “movement” centered concept of church I see in the NT. Not all evangelicals are denominationalists. Not by a long shot.

      • my daughter is attending a Church of God – Anderson in Indiana. I would say it seems much the same way – at least from this early viewpoint.

        …No one person decides that another will or will not be admitted to membership in a local group. Neither congregations nor congregational leaders vote on who shall be received as members. The Church of God believes that when one accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, God places that person in the church (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 12:18). Salvation is the criterion for membership in a congregation of the Church of God.

        (and I am an SBC;r via the E Free Church, so I think I get a pass on the proselytizing) It seems to be an interesting denomination – I look forward to seeing it on a weekend I am visiting.

      • Hey, whatever church you worship in, you aren’t ever going to stop reaching out to people and evangelizing. It’s your nature, so obvious from all your work. I personally would love to see more people like yourself in the confessional Lutheran churches, not meaning you have to join, just whenever.

        My friends and I talk about losing our tradition and culture to some extent all the time. (Gypsy/Streghe). On some issues, it drives us nuts. I can understand some of your thoughts, I believe on this. But it will work itself out I believe, in our case. Especially because more and more people are also checking out/converting/whatever to this new confessional faith we got going on.

        Keep on keeping on!
        Love in Christ,
        Lulu

  20. id settle for a community that really was one

  21. Dear Michael: I’ve pulled up my chair and my coffee, eschewing the beer that others might probably rather have. I am perfectly calm. But is this not the pot calling the kettle black?

    Maybe not speaking about you personally. But where does being mission-minded finish and bounty hunting start??? Have the confessional churches not been there longer? When we lived in Germany, where we were basically Roman Catholic or “Evangelical Lutheran”, why did we see this missionary activity from North America of different “denominations”. My Father always wondered, what on earth these “church planters” were doing there. Have we no church here in Germany? What are they thinking?

    Is this it: they were thinking that we have no decision theology and are not real Christians and need to be properly converted like they themselves are (though they need to seem to do this over and over because they are never sure themselves?) Or is it because all our sacraments are “empty rituals” and we’ve got John 6 and other things completely wrong all this time? Why are the missionaries coming to us? We did wonder about that. You tell me!

    LCMS’ers are chastised in one post as not doing enough to get their stuff out, though many people don’t care to listen over the entertaining noise of “evangelicalism”, and then they are chastised for sticking to their theology, confessions, and claim to the “pure gospel” (you are going to break something, we know.) This does not seem reasonable.

    • >But is this not the pot calling the kettle black?

      Who am I trying to convert?

      >what on earth these “church planters” were doing there?

      The Great Commission, I suppose. I can’t speak for how they go about their business, but do they assume that a state church or the RCC covers the call to take the Gospel to every person? No they don’t. Sorry. That’s evangelicals for you.

      I’m posting about Christians attempting to convert Christians to their denomination. I don’t endorse it or defend it anywhere, so I won’t apologize for it if it occurs. But it has nothing to do with evangelism and missions done rightly.

      >Why are the missionaries coming to us? We did wonder about that. You tell me!.

      Let me say it again: Because the Great Commission commands Christians to take the Gospel everywhere. I live a block away from a church building and near a lot of Christians. You are saying that if God calls me to start a church here, with the 90% of people in my county who are not professing or attending, I’m what? Evil? Disobedient? Rude?

      I don’t approve of or attempt to explain anyone’s evangelistic or church planting methods. You didn’t s]cite specifics. You just said evangelicals shouldn’t be anywhere that there are churches and Christians.

      As for being told you are not a Christian because of sacraments, etc. Well…..those dear folks are well meaning but ignorant. That doesn’t nullify my post- I’ve written DOZENS voicing your very complaint on that point and I BAN those who reject the Christian profession of others, but I’m not going to say evangelism, missions and church planting are wrong. Can’t go there.

      I appreciate your comment, but this post isn’t about the errors of evangelicals. It’s about understanding where SOME- SOME- evangelicals are on their journey.

      ms

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’m posting about Christians attempting to convert Christians to their denomination.

        Commonly called “Sheep Rustling”…

    • “Have we no church here in Germany? What are they thinking?

      Is this it: they were thinking that we have no decision theology and are not real Christians and need to be properly converted like they themselves are (though they need to seem to do this over and over because they are never sure themselves?)”

      Yes, precisely. I went on a mission trip to Germany in the mid 90s as a college student and my belief was that the catholic and protestant churches there were dead, as evidenced by low church attendance figures throughout Europe, unlike my church at the time (AoG).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Didn’t IMonk make a posting some months ago regarding missionaries to predominantly-Catholic countries? (i.e. Making sure they convert to The Right Kind of Christian. Never mind that the forms of Church already in those countries have a LOT longer track record than those of the RTCs sent to rustle their sheep.)

    • Here is a comment from one who still lives in Europe (Austria, not Germany, but the situations are comparable). Your father’s complaint or puzzlement about evangelical church planters would be reasonable if Germany or Austria were truly Christian societies. Then one could say the existing churches of whatever stripe were doing their job and there would be no need to plant new ones.

      But they are not; they are increasingly secularized societies with constantly shrinking vestiges of cultural Christianity, and the existing “Volkskirchen” into which almost everyone used to be baptized are content to assume that all the baptized are truly Christians. So of course there is a need for evangelism and church planting in these countries.

      As a friend of mine, Catholic deacon and the diocesan expert on evangelicals, told some parish clergy who were worried about a Pentecostal churchplant in their rural region, “If you preach the Gospel, and believe it yourselves, you won’t lose many to this new group! But if you just preach church, and morality, and social action, you will lose those who want more!”

      • FollowerOfHim says:

        Wolf,

        I always love the perspective you’re able to bring from your Viennese perch. It’s one that’s hard to come by here in the US — keep it coming.

        Pax.

      • If you preach the Gospel, and believe it yourselves, you won’t lose many to this new group! But if you just preach church, and morality, and social action, you will lose those who want more!”

        wow…..this works equally well over here in the land of one nation under GOD……amazing !!

        very nice post
        Greg R

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “Land of one nation under GOD” or “Land of Culture War Without End, Amen”?

          • oh…..the culture war WILL end….but we need YOUR support, NOW…… just send check or money order to……. 🙂

      • Christian Societies?
        So now the criteria for whether or not a church is doing it’s job is no longer are they preaching the Gospel in its purity and administering the sacraments according to Christ’s institution, but are they transforming societies?
        The only christian society I know of is the Church. And looking from the outside it doesn’t always look very Christian itself. But the church is even less Christian when it goes around trying to transform the morals of a society rather than preaching the gospel.
        I realize the state churches have their problems, but I’m not sure you have the answer.

  22. Michael:

    I thought this post was particularly insightful, wise, even-handed, and on-target.

    Taking it for what it is – and not what is shoulda, coulda or mighta been – it is excellent.

  23. “You are saying that if God calls me to start a church here, with the 90% of people in my county who are not professing or attending, I’m what? Evil? Disobedient? Rude?”

    No, I would not call them that. I don’t generally use these adjectives, at all, anyways (may about myself :). And I would certainly endorse Lutheran’s starting Lutheran churches where there are none, but that is on the basis of confession and “pure Gospel” (sorry, I’ve experienced “impure Gospel”), and doctrine.

    But if it is not a matter of confession, why start another one where is there is one already, instead of supporting the one that’s there and keeping unity?

    (There is in Germany also an independent conservative Lutheran church body, I am sure you know.)

    • I think that the reason you start a new church even if one is already there is because many people believe that church planting is one of the most effective ways to reach new people with the gospel. It isn’t a question of purity of confession. It is a simple question of strategy. New churches create evangelistic momentum in a way that “supporting the one that’s there” never seems to do.

      I don’t have to think that the existing churches are bad or false to start a new one. I just have to believe that there are more who need to hear the gospel and believe that church planting is an effective strategy for responding to that situation.

      I confess that I may be missing the point of your post because I don’t know what “pure Gospel” in quotes means. But if you are asking about why plant churches in an area where some already exist, then I think it is simple a strategy choice, not an indictment on the current churches in the area.

      • I don’t mean to be tactless Michael or Ethan. It’s just that often you hear statements that attach “if’s” to the Gospel, inward or outward things, that I can’t live up to. I need the unconditional Gospel. The one that only affirms. God has called you; God has given you; God forgives you; God made you his own; God is here in the bread and wine that you consume; God will take you home; God is watching over you even when everything seems to be going wrong; God has paid for you and thinks you’re precious; he rejoices over you, and every time you repent; there is NOTHING that can separate you from his love; all through Christ; all without if’s; believe it. False doctrine inserts “if’s” in many of these places.

        • I appreciate you passion for this point and I thank you for your clarification. However I confess that I don’t see the connection between this and church planting per se. If you feel that these new churches are teaching a false gospel then the problem isn’t church planting but heresy.

          I guess I assumed that these churches being planted were churches that were within the realm of Christian orthodoxy (little o). Certainly if you feel they are teaching a false gospel then I understand that you would be said to see them being started in your area.

          Or perhaps you are saying that all non Lutheran churches are teaching a false gospel which means that this issue isn’t church planting at all but something else all together. I took your statements to mean that your main issue was church planting, but perhaps I misunderstood.

          • Ethan,
            Thats just it. This is what I am saying about Lutheranism being a confession, not a denomination as such. We are a different confession all together, and insofar as other churches stray from what we believe, teach, and confess as Lutherans, we do believe they teach, at some level, a false gospel. (That is not to say that we believe people are going to hell for belonging to these churches. It does mean though that we have a hard time supporting them.)
            This may also be why we have a hard time getting our books out and so forth. We Lutherans call the rest of the protestant world “the reformed.” I believe it is just as much my right to do this as the Amish have to refer to me as “English.” We don’t like give the impression that we have one and the same message. We despise Calvinism and Arminianism alike. “The reformed” walk into a Christian bookstore and see Baptists, presbyterians, nondenoms etc all peddling basically the same message. They wonder why don’t the Lutherans sell their books here. And possibly we could, but how many Roman Catholic books do you see on those shelves? It’s pretty much the same thing. The reformed world has many different denominations, but it is as if they sense there are no real doctrinal differences between them, so they work together. Lutherans see some huge doctrinal differences with these reformed groups, and so are reluctant to work with them, especially when it is fronted with, well we all believe the same thing anyway. No, really, listen to me, we don’t believe the same thing, and we think it absolutely shameful that you don’t baptize your children (we think something about millstone concerning this), or see the great blessing that baptizing your children is. If we believed the same thing you would baptize your children, and you wouldn’t argue with us over close communion. And I think that is what Brigitte is getting at. On the one hand we are chastized for not getting our books out, doing enough church planting etc. Then we are chastized for trying to do just that, get the message out. Why? Because when Lutherans present the gospel, now it is sheep rustling. We told you you should be baptizing your children, or that you can’t come to communion until you have completed instruction and know what it is you are confessing when you commune with us. Because if you believe like us we have the audacity to think you might ought leave the church you are in that is preaching false doctrine concerning what ever. The same way you would leave a hospital that wasn’t giving you adequate care.

          • Thanks, Bror, that’s what I meant.

  24. Dear Evangelicals trying to convert me (Atheist)

    1) No, I assure you I am happy. I know you think I will be happier once I find Jesus because it worked for you, but I am quite happy. No, I am not depressed, and if I was I would look to a psychologist first, but thanks anyways.

    2) No, I am not an immoral monster. Yes you can believe our morals are based on biology and not believe in moral relativity. I abhor eugenics as well. Sure I’ve done things I’m not proud of, but so has everyone.

    3) Please stop dragging Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot into this. I don’t compare Catholics to Hitler. I don’t bring up the crusades or the Spanish inquisition. Yes, people in power do atrocious things sometimes, whether they be atheist, christian, muslim, hindu, etc.

    4) I know Pascal’s wager sounds like the end all argument, but its really quite empty.

    5) I assure you I never have, nor will I ever worship Satan. (If I did I would be a satanist, not an atheist 🙂 )

    6) Want a beer? (or lemonade?)

    • Andy: we can have a beer or lemonade, your choice. We can talk about Jesus, or Pol Pot, or not.
      I’d love to get to know you.

      But, do know that I think that the most profound thing that ever happened to me and could ever happen to you– is to know deeply the love that your Creator has for you, his creature and child, for whom he paid a huge and incomparable ransom. You know what I’m talking about. Christ is our very life and he paid dearly for you and me. With him you will know a joy that stays even when life is not “happy”.

      • Brigitte,

        if a majority of the people in the “Volkskirchen”, Protestant or Catholic, over here, or at least a majority of the pastors, could and would express what you did here, I’d agree with your sentiments about evangelical churchplanters in Germany (and Austria). But I haven’t come across many, especially outside the various renewal movements or the Gemeinschaftsbewegung — the former are a minority, the latter are shrinking at least in influence if not numbers.

        • Wolf Paul,
          We in the states, and I realize you are not in the states, often have a very negative view of the “state churches” in Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia. For the most part I think it is a deserved view given the doctrinal decadence that reigns in Europe, maybe more so among the “protestants,” than the RC. However, I have been delighted on occasion visiting these churches to here wonderful gospel sermons. (Perhaps, my German was not good enough to detect the heresy, but it was enough to hear the gospel!) I have also had the joy of getting to know many pastors in these churches that lament the same doctrinal decadence in their midst as I do.
          I can also understand the confusion that many of the people have. They honestly believe that the pastoret down the street is an honest representative of the Christian faith. A professor of mine, once told me how shell shocked his father was at the conversation my professor had with his dad’s pastor after Christmas Eve Service. Now, my professor and his dad had been raised in the state church of Germany, but his dad was absolutely shocked to find that his “pastor” did not believe in the virgin birth etc. Many of these people are just in the dark as to what the church is teaching. It is sad. But given that I can also understand what they think of others setting up mission churches in their midst, and it might behoove the missionaries to understand that too.

          • I grant you that is a difficult issue. And of course missionaries need to be sensitive to those in their target country who are already Christians of some stripe or other.

            However, I also think it behooves the committed and faithful Christians in the established churches to be aware of the state of their churches, and to rejoice in rather than resent the fact that the Gospel will be preached to their secularized fellow citizens by these missionaries and the churches they plant.

            A major controversy in this setting is the credobaptism of converts who had been baptized in one of the established churches as infants. For some reason here in Austria the Catholic church, at least those elements of it who will talk to evangelicals, finds it much easier to accept this as a legitimate outworking of the faith convictions of baptistic* missionaries than do the Lutherans who strike a pose of being mortally offended that fellow protestants who acknowledge a debt to the reformers nevertheless do not recognize Lutheran paedobaptism as biblical baptism. This, more than anything else, tends to spark tension with the established protestant church here in Austria.

            * I use “baptistic” as a more general description of credibaptists than “Baptist” which is a denominational label.

          • When I was in Germany last, I was told that Baptists in Germany do not re-baptize persons baptized as infants. Any confirmation of that info, Wolf Paul? Thanks.

  25. Loved this post!

  26. Would some about whom you opine even get the concept of a journey or pilgrimage? After all, once you’ve prayed the so-called “sinner’s prayer,” you have arrived at the destination/end of the journey, bound for heaven, so why talk about a journey any longer, much less anything resembling John Wesley’s concept of “sanctifying grace?”

    • For the early Christians, the teaching of the Church was called ‘The Way’.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      After all, once you’ve prayed the so-called “sinner’s prayer,” you have arrived at the destination/end of the journey, bound for heaven…

      Over at Slacktivist’s, they call that “Say-the-Magic-Words-Salvation”; it basically turns Christ and the mystery of Salvation into a verbal-component magic spell.

      P.S. The first half of “The Sinner’s Prayer” is cribbed from a Catholic prayer called “The Act of Contrition”.

      • My, my wouldn’t some folks have the proverbial “cow,” if they knew about the origin of the first half of the prayer? 🙂

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Kind of like finding out the Four Spiritual Laws are a four-line outline of the four subject headings of The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola, AKA THE Jesuit guided-meditation exercise…

          • The Jesuits really *do* get everywhere, don’t they? No wonder they’re running the Vatican Space Programme!

            Oh, okay, it’s an Observatory. But I still maintain that’s code for “our global domination plans include the other planets of the solar system” 🙂

            http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0904135.htm

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            As was said on one of IMonk’s comment threads before:

            Catholics have the Vatican Academy and Vatican Observatory.
            Born-Agains/Evanglicals have the Kentucky Creation Museum.

            P.S. Why stop at just the Solar System?
            “TO INFINITY, AND BEYOND!” — Toy Story

          • Headless, one step at a time.

            Besides, we don’t want to give away all our Top Secret Hush-Hush Plans right away, do we? First, we lull them into thinking it’s just a harmless observatory. Then, we gradually reveal our colonisation activities on the other planets, and finally, we reveal the secret deals we’ve been doing with our alien allies.

            Why else do you think the Catholic Truth Society is publishing a booklet by the Jesuit brother working at the Observatory which ponders, amongst other things, the possibility of baptising extraterrestrials?

            http://www.cts-online.org.uk/acatalog/info_EX17.html

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Oh, yeah. Brother Guy (whose last name I’m not going to try to spell). Small-body planetologist (asteroids & dwarf planets).

            Again, we have small-body planetologists in the Asteroid and Kuyper Belts; they have Creation Scientist (excuse me, Intelligent Design) Institutes.

            …and finally, we reveal the secret deals we’ve been doing with our alien allies.

            When they come, we’ll make sure they eat the Protestants first.
            (Hey… Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen in the Three Days of Darkness?)

      • Heh, now that you point it out, “The Sinner’s Prayer” wouldn’t be all that bad as a post-Confession prayer.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I believe the Act of Contrition is an integral part of Confession/Reconciliation.

          And early in the Mass, a communal Act of Contrition is spoken responsively by the priest/presider and the congregation. “For what I have done, and what I have failed to do.”

  27. We could easily, and appropriately, flip it and hand it out to Evangelicals as how to talk to a “Catholic” who is on a journey. Actually. I think this might be extremely helpful modified as such, converted to a pamphlet, and given away for free at Evangelical Churches.

    I was recently at a cookout where a friend’s neighbor was whopping it up over “snagging another one” away from the Roman Catholic Church. I was visibly rattled, my friends who invited me over winced, but their neighbor just kept on going about how converting Catholics was such a great ministry. It was kinda sad. I also have a rather wonderful believing neighbor who happens to be Roman Catholic and keeps getting invited to Alpha Courses. When we explained to her the evangelistic nature of the program she was kinda flabbergasted and said, “But…I am ‘saved.'”

    For the record, I’ve met equal numbers of people in Protestant Evangelical and Roman Catholic environments who wouldn’t know Jesus from a hole in the head. In fact, I have many friends like this – I pray for them.

  28. Does anybody ever get the idea that all Christians would actually be able to have unity (with diversity) and get along if it weren’t for the leaders in all our sects and denominations? If we didn’t have salespeople working on comission (and therefore motivated to sell their brand as THE brand), would sectarianism really have so much of a hold? Something about hirelings comes to mind.

    • Bob,

      There are serious differences between the various branches of Christianity; theological differences such as the significance and meaning of the Lord’s Supper; baptism, how Christ’s death on the cross (and resurrection) allows us to be saved; how His Second Coming will happen; etc.

      These are not caused by decisions made by leadership or salesmen of the faith, but deeply rooted in our long history. I will admit that better diplomacy would have prevented some of the problems. though.

      These cannot be easily, if ever, overcome. Nor would I want someone who had serious theological issues with another branch to change tp tjat branch.

      • Yes, but surely “deeply rooted in our long history”. . .of those in charge telling us what to do and who to disagree with? You wouldn’t say the differences between us all come from the sheep, would you? Surely from the shepherds?

        • Bob,

          I’m not wise enough to know the true causes of things such as the split between the Orthodox and the Catholics. So, I’m not going to blame either side. I have no doubt that some problems are personality related. John Chrysostom would have had a longer ministry if he hadn’t been so misogynic. (He ran into serious problems with an Empress.)

          I just can’t look at history and the causes that simply.

          Yes, there have been shepherds who led their people in the wrong direction; there have been people who pushed their leaders toward wrong; there have been weak leaders who couldn’t stand up to pressure.

        • Maybe from an inability , or unwillingness, to admit that we all (sheep and shepherds) see thru a glass darkly. Some things are just flat difficult to nail down.

    • Nope, Bob. Human nature being what it is, even if we did away with bishops, pastors, elders, and what have you , we’d either end up with the ‘let’s all think warm fuzzy thoughts’ strain of watered-down dead religion, in which the only sins are intolerance and not recycling your rubbish, or we’d still splinter into “I am of the party of Bob! I am of the party of Martha!” just like the congregation St. Paul had to give a belt of the crozier 🙂

  29. Seems like these blogs speak to me where I am with alarming frequency. Often, I find my muddled struggle put into clear words and have a real A-HA moment. Saved at 34 in a southern baaptist church, still there but now at 50,finding that I was not sure where the gospel ends and tradition begins. I also find a real resistance to questions about it. I have finally found peace and joy in the wandering. Am close to joining a community church with the knowledge that they are part of my journey, not my identity.
    Michael, I can not tell you how your openess had helped me to realize that being in Christ is REAL freedom and not just another form of bondage.
    Want to be sure to say that I love my baptist upbringing, and that I have been truely loved by many in this church, but it’s not the only way. Freedom to not know it all has given me so much peace.
    Keep it up! You have been used to make a big difference in my life!
    Peace my friend!
    Rick

  30. The very fact that a forum like this exists, means that we are all trying to argue for the faith as we understand it. We should be giving an answer for the hope that is within us. There is only one Holy catholic church, one faith, one Lord, one baptism etc. etc. etc.

    Folks here may want to pick and choose from various traditions like some kind of spiritual smogasbord, but for those of us who have extensive and deep confessions by which we believe, teach and confess; we must argue and exhort for the body of doctrine we confess.

    Now how we do this–well, we all need to continue in humility and repentance in how we communicate, without selling out our confessions. Let the Holy Spirit enlighten our dark hearts and wills as He sees fit. Pax

    By the way–that’s a long list you have and I’ll never remember it. : )

  31. Scott Miller says:

    One of the paradoxes that I have seen is that we all like to talk about our traditions and share with others, but, as you can see in several posts, there is still the underlying, “I am xxxx and this is why it is right”, or “more perfect” than your tradition.
    I go to a mens group with Lutherans, some Catholics, and a large number of Orthodox. Almost all of these Orthodox are converted evangelicals. And even though we all are brothers and all raise a pint “to our good Lord”, several have no problem telling me that theirs is the “better way”.

  32. Great post, Michael.

    Many of us have been, at one time or another, a persistent or even pushy advocate for a denomination or group. I wonder if we can honestly recognize our devotion to that group and our willingness to proselytize for said group as an act of self-protection and self-identification, as much as a subscription to their particular form or belief.

    While those forms and beliefs may be the stated issues of contention, it is possible that they are not the real issues and that something much more visceral and personal is at stake.

    Our value and security should be centered in our identity in Christ. But that identity is, in some ways, abstract and frustratingly intangible. So we find ourselves driven to find a more tangible assurance of our identity and worth. Identification with a particular church that we choose to believe ‘gets it’ and is the real deal, gives us a more concrete sense of getting it and being the real deal, ourselves.

    Once we are among the ‘really’ saved and those who are ‘really’ in-the-know, we possess a sense of belonging and security. Then we are obliged to protect that upon which our identity now depends. So, to protect that security, we must defend our brand with zeal and proselytize as if the rest of Christendom is in peril if they don’t come around to our view.

    By the way, I think that this is at the heart of much contentiousness in our society, whether it is religious, political or cultural. How can I listen with true openness to you, if doing so threatens that association upon which I have based my identity and worth?

  33. There is only one absolute truth. Why is it so darn hard for all these folks who are filled with the Holy Spirit to find it and agree on it? Why do people convert in opposite directions and both will tell you that they were led there by God himself? We can’t all be right. This is the most frustrating thing about faith.

    Here’s an interesting read:
    http://chaz-lehmann.livejournal.com/783858.html

    • I’m quite sure I can say I’ve never known anyone who was permanently filled with the Holy Spirit. And those moments groping about in down-time can really get you.

      James says true religion is taking care of the widows and orphans and keeping ourselves clean from the world. That leaves be believing the rest is just politics. That shouldn’t belittle politics, but it should put it in its place. I know I chose my denomination precisely because of politics. I am quite regularly presented with the traditions of Christianity, but must only submit (outwardly) to the truths in the Nicene creed. I choose to submit to the tradition because: Who am I to question it? Besides, it does my pugnaciously arrogant self good.

      Don’t let it frustrate you too much, Jen. We can’t all be right, but it’s assured we’re all wrong.

  34. Let me get this straight: evangelical Christians, whose raison d’etre is converting people, are complaining that other people want to convert them?

    And then there’s the one poster who complains that the Lutherans aren’t evangelical to “anybody but themselves.” Could it because they don’t go around trying to convert people? (Hint: the word was around before the people now called evangelicals adopted it.)

    Or is the idea that conversion efforts should be focused on people from other religions (whose sensibilities presumably don’t matter so much)? And the different kinds of Christian churches ought to have some kind of “gentleman’s agreement” where they don’t poach each other’s members? (Say, how have your Latin American and Russian campaigns been going lately?)

    • I think Michael’s point is that they should not take advantage of another group’s grief to promote their own group.

      If a Catholic were lamenting the clergy sex abuse scandal, it would be very inappropriate at that time for a non-Catholic to promote their own group as being relatively pedophile-free.

      It’s bad timing, bad taste, bad manners, etc…

  35. I think the majority of our problems stem from the inability to be self-critical. Just admitting to ourselves and others that we and our tradition—could be wrong, we could be misunderstanding, we could be misrepresenting—would go a long way. Those who are not sick have no need of the physician.

    Isn’t that what hypocrisy is all about? Isn’t that the hypocrisy that Jesus condemned?

    Now I think some faith traditions have better built-in mechanisms for critical self-reflection than others–both at the personal and church level–but I won’t say who for risk of offending 🙂

    • very nice post, and well said; I’m an evangelical who is envious of traditions that do self-reflection, and spiritual direction, much better.

      nice work
      Greg R

  36. Joshua Gibbs says:

    I believe the sharpest entry on this list, the fifth, is also the one that cuts in every denominational direction. It is sound advice for those who have just jumped ship and are calling to everyone on deck, and it’s sound advice for everyone on the deck who can’t figure out what all the fuss is about.

    • Those still on deck may be concerned with seaworthiness of the vessel floating just over the horizon. Warning our friends about leaks, unsafe cargo and a broken compass is compassion not evangelism.

      al sends

      • Joshua Gibbs says:

        Of course, and all good-hearted persons who truly believe that a friend, or anyone else for that matter, has put their soul in harm’s way is bound by conscience to advise that person to turn back, to return to the ship.

        What I like so much about this article is that it calls us not to be shocked when matters that reasonable people have disagreed upon for 492 years, or 955 years, arise again in our own lifetimes, in our own lives and with our own reasonable friends.

        • I agree Josh… It is a bit of pride that makes me think I have the answers to bring full and final light on these matters. For that I should repent.

          al sends