October 22, 2017

The Curse of Knowledge – Part 2

churchrowLast week I listed off some of theological beliefs that I had come to over the years, and described how that made if difficult for me to find a church. This week I wanted to respond to a number of the insightful comments that I received and carry on the conversation.  As usual my Fridays are busy, so be nice to each other!

The most perceptive comment (in my mind) came from Flatrocker:

 

Mike, In thinking and praying about this, my thoughts keep coming back to “so what if you find a new home?” What happens when the inevitable feelings of longing and shortfall return? What then? I know you are praying on this but in your search to find a home, what are you really – in your deepest heart – searching for? Beyond the reasons you gave above which feel so intellectual – and sterile and safe. What is it?

This is my greatest fear when it comes to finding a church. My father has a history of becoming unhappy in any church he goes to after just a few years. I am my Father’s son, and recognize the same trait in myself. That is one reason why I took as long to leave as I did. That thought is also reflected in my previous Pastor’s comment: “If we are not a good ‘fit’ for you, I wonder where you would ‘fit’.” What am I looking for? I am looking for a church that is active and visible in my community, or at the very least active and visible in a neighboring community. I am looking for a church that has a vision and a plan for reaching the community. I am looking for a church that loves to sing. I am looking for a church that reaches out to the margins of society. I am looking for a church where I could bring a friend and he would feel welcome.

That brings me to Dave Denis’ questions:

I would ask you to consider this question: why do I require from a church complete consonance with every single conviction I might hold regarding doctrine and praxis?

Am I perhaps in danger of being a bit of a spiritual princess, being kept awake nights by a pea beneath my bed?

To answer the second question first. No I am not in danger of being a spiritual princess. I have already arrived. I do suffer a bit from a mild anxiety, and conflict of any source, spiritual or otherwise, will keep me awake at night.

As for the first question: I don’t require complete consonance. I am looking for a church that is heading in the same general direction as the road that I am on. The bigger question involves leadership. To quote my previous Pastor again, “I regard you as a gifted potential leader in God’s Kingdom, and pray that you will be able to exercise that gift somewhere.” My spiritual gifts involve leadership. Leadership, or even membership, in most churches involves affirming their statement of faith. I am quite happy to worship with those who believe differently. If churches are willing to exclude me from membership or leadership because of what I believe, then those churches are rather non-starters for me.

Do I have to go to an Arminian church? No, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one that was anti-Arminian. Do I need to go to a Charismatic church. No, but I probably wouldn’t attend an anti-charismatic one. Do my church leaders have to be theistic evolutionists? No, but I wouldn’t go to one that loudly espoused Young Earth Creationism (It goes back to the earlier statement of being able to invite a friend.) Must I go to an Egalitarian Church. Yes, or at least the church needs to be headed in that direction. This is what I would consider to be a gospel issue. (And I know some here will disagree with me.) Cermak_cd has pointed out that if the churches she were exposed to were egalitarian, she might still be a Christian. I have a desire to introduce people to Jesus, and quite frankly complementarianism gets in the way of that.

The church Fathers are important because I think churches need to have a sense of the fact that they are part of a much bigger picture, and that they follow in a long history of Christian belief. If is for similar reasons that I don’t have a lot of appreciation for independent churches and their lack of oversight. Think of course brings me to Stephen’s point.

Everyone is forgetting the one tried and true solution; the recourse of dissenters universal since the original Easter morning…

Start your own church.

Calvin Cuban chimed in:

Mike, have you considered starting your own house church? With your particular strongly held belief set, coupled by what appears to be your limited mobility, it seems unlikely that you will find something to your liking. And with your knowledge and experience in ecclesiastical matters, you would probably be successful at it.

I have been involved in a number of church plants in the past, helping out in Associated Gospel (think Baptist without the emphasis on Baptism), Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Pentecostal Church Plants. Starting a church is hard work. Michael Spencer tried it. Most of us here would have loved it. But ultimately it did not continue. I currently do not have the energy or time that such a commitment would entail. The thing that I miss most about my previous church is the small group that we led. We invited friends and neighbors and had as many as 50 (adults and kids) out to some of our gatherings. Typically we would have about half that number with about half of those being kids. I would want to tie into a small group ministry at any future church. While a small group is not a church per se, it can have many of the hallmarks of one. Trying to do something on my own without a larger church backing me up does not appeal strongly to me at all.

So what options do I have?

Miguel asked:

Would you be open to churches that aren’t necessarily “formal liturgical,” but DO integrate assorted liturgical elements lightly? Maybe the Lord’s prayer, Apostle’s creed, and a reading or two from scripture?

If your answer is yes, if you can thrive in the middle ground between super high formalism and formless revivalism, then you have a few options in the US. I have no idea how this plays out in Canada…

Miguel, absolutely. I would actually really appreciate those elements the service on a regular basis.

I was interested to see that the majority of the suggestions centered around churches in the “Holiness Tradition”. These were:

  • Methodist
  • Wesleyan
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • Nazarene
  • Brethren in Christ

I will first discuss these and go on to some of the other ones mentioned that have Canadian parallels.

When I left the Plymouth Brethren in Ottawa in 1987 as I recounted earlier, I started looking around for Churches that would be a good fit.  The top three on my list for visiting were “Arlington Woods Free Methodist”, “Sunnyside Wesleyan”, and East Gate Alliance.  I eventually settled on East Gate Alliance where I met my wife.  I was there for three years before heading off to Seminary.  I have to say that those were three of the best years of my life.  All three would be options now except for the reasons listed below.  (As an interesting side note, Klasie Kraalogies mentioned that the Prime Minister of Canada is an Alliance member. East Gate Alliance is where the Prime Minister of Canada occasionally hangs his hat, so we have a few mutual acquaintances!)

1.  The Methodist Church:  In 1925 the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Church of Canada, and 70% of the churches of the Presbyterian Church of Canada merged to form the United Church of Canada.  By 1960 they had one million members.  They have been in dramatic decline ever since.  Along the way they also took a sharp left turn.  There are a number of Free Methodist churches around the Province.  The closest is about 20 minutes away, and not really part of the community in which we live.

2.  The Wesleyan Church: The closest Wesleyan church is an hour away.

3.  The Christian and Missionary Alliance:  I have helped close two Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches in the area.  They are much stronger in Western Canada, but the ones in Eastern Canada are a little less conservative and a little more to my liking.  I have several friends who are, or have been leaders in the denomination.  There is a church plant about 12 minutes away that started up about a year ago that meets on Sunday evenings in an Anglican Hall.  I am facebook friends with the Pastor and he seems to be a kindred spirit with a real desire to serve his community (both church and neighborhood).  I would not be surprised if I ended up there.

4.  Church of the Nazarene: I have a short history with the Nazarene church.  When living in Africa we rented the Nazarene manse, and I attended their youth group.  In Canada they have joined forces with the Alliance for theological training.  In my city they are little over 20 minutes away, and so not high on my list for visiting.

5.  Brethren in Christ: I have a long history with the Brethren in Christ.  My Great-Grandfather was a missionary to Rhodesia with the Brethren in Christ.  As mentioned in an earlier post my Grandmother was shunned (excommunicated) by the Brethren in Christ when she married my Grandfather.  That being said, they have a large presence in my area, and it is where I have attended for 3 of the last five Sundays.  “The Meeting House” is a multi-site church that meets primarily in movie theatres.  They are doing a lot of good things, including service to the poor.  They  attract people by being a “church for people who aren’t into church”, and their primary teacher, Bruxy Cavey communicates the good news of Jesus very well.  Not sure that my wife and I fit into the church “byline” very well, but I don’t think we have ruled it out as a church.  If you are the sort of person who is interested in listening or watching sermons online, Bruxy’s sermons are certainly worth listening to.  Theologically they are the best fit as far as I can discern.

Some quick thoughts on some of the others mentioned:

6.  Mennonite: I had an invitation from Will F to attend a local Mennonite church.  It had already been next on our list to visit.  I went last Sunday.  Apparently Will didn’t  (Or if he did he didn’t introduce himself.)  It was a lovely service, with a lot of creative thought and preparation put into it.  We already know a few families there (though one is moving) and will consider going back and trying it out some more.

7. Vineyard: We visited one when our first Alliance Church in the area closed.  I have some strong Vineyard connections in Western Canada and Ottawa.  The local church was going through some significant conflict at the time of our visit, and so we decided against going back.  Probably not high on our list of churches to try again.

8. American Baptist: The Canadian equivalent would be the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec.  There is one just a couple blocks from my house.  When the second Alliance Church in the area closed we tried attending there for a few months.  Let just say that no one bent over backwards to make us feel welcome.  In the end it just felt like we didn’t belong.

9. North American Baptist: E.G. suggested this one.  This just happens to be the church that we left.  As I have said it has lot of positive things going for it.  However their statement of faith holds to inerrancy, and it insists on baptism by immersion. In spite of those things, after a lot of soul seeking, we decided to become members. My wife had to be re-baptized as she had only been sprinkled when she came to faith.  As time went on, other items continue to pop up and it got to the point where it seemed impossible to continue.

10. Baptist General Conference: Our church home for two years when attending seminary in Western Canada.  Does not exist in Eastern Canada.

11.Episcopal/Anglican: There is a local church.  I am willing to give it a try, but I am guessing it will feel too liturgical.

12.  Anglican Church in North America: There are two congregations in my city, but both over 20 minutes away.  I am probably moving in the opposite direction in terms of the Christian response to homosexuality.

13.  Lutheran:   I am a strong believer in open communion.  So those Lutheran churches that practice closed communion would not work.  My Arminian beliefs would also not make a good fit.

A couple of final thoughts.

Jeremiah extended an invite to his church in Brantford.  At 30 minutes away it is a little far for a regular church home, but I will certainly try to come by and visit some day.

Finally, Tom asked me how my wife was doing in all of this.  My choosing to leave was difficult for my wife.  I would have left much earlier had it not been for her.  That being said, we are visiting these churches together, and we will look to find a destination that works for both of us.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. Both posts taken together…unless God changes your heart …hopelessly lost. Nothing fits, there is always something that causes you to eliminate a church from consideration. Personally, I look on it as getting along with family. There are always things that one has to “live with” in order to remain in contact, and it is always a compromise.

    My question is, Mike, what are you willing to compromise on in order to have a church home? You have only spoken about what you WON’T tolerate (always SOMETHING, it seems) but have said little, if ANYTHING, about what you could live with.

    In marriage, I wanted a wife with a generous figure, musical, someone I could play my guitar and harmonize with, athletic, intellectually curious and not too submissive. What I GOT was just what I needed, a woman who is generous and kind, almost to a fault, someone who thinks that I am the answer to her prayers, someone who she could look up to spiritually AND intellectually, and someone who loves me unreservedly. Not quite what I had looked for.

    Perhaps your search for a church will travel the same sort of path, one that leads you to say, in retrospect, “I’d never had thought…”.

    Keep us posted.

    • I think I have responded to that with the above quote:

      Do I have to go to an Arminian church? No, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one that was anti-Arminian. Do I need to go to a Charismatic church. No, but I probably wouldn’t attend an anti-charismatic one. Do my church leaders have to be theistic evolutionists? No, but I wouldn’t go to one that loudly espoused Young Earth Creationism (It goes back to the earlier statement of being able to invite a friend.)

  2. North American Baptist… interesting that was your recent denomination. I’ve attended a variety of churches and denominational schools ranging from CRC, Lutheran, E Free, Full Gospel, Mennonite, Anglican, Southern Baptist, and NAB. Truthfully, I am probably most doctrinally and ministerially at home among Mennonites, but each has its good point. And I always seem to end up back with the NAB for some reason.

    NAB and baptism – yes, they hold to immersion. However, some churches are moving toward a stance of “affirming and practicing immersion, but accepting as members those who have been baptized as believers by other modes.” In our denomination, many of these decisions are local church-specific.

    Inerrancy – yes, there is a statement in the statement of beliefs on that. But the language is loose enough, I think, to allow some range of thought. I know that a range of thought exists in our churches and schools.

    Women – Again, variable from church to church. Some of our churches ordain women. Some wouldn’t think of it. My current church, unfortunately, is still in the latter category. But there is movement on this at the local level and at the denominational level. At the moment there is a denominational policy against female senior pastors, which is a completely artificial construct and is sure to collapse under the weight of its own illogic. Sooner the better. But, again, it’s a church-by-church thing for the most part.

    That being the case, there are definitely churches in our denomination that I’d never attend. But many that I would. I like our general direction.

    (I also like to point out to people that we are the original home denomination of the likes of Walter Rauschenbusch and Stanley Grenz… also Roger Olson attended one of our seminaries. I hope that we are able to maintain our long tradition of the Big Tent.)

    Anyhow, good luck with your search. Thanks for your excellent and thoughtful blog posts. I very much appreciate what you do here.

  3. I find myself in a similar situation. I had a church plant that I was involved with close up shop about 3 years ago, and have been wandering for the most part since. I’m not don’t feel like I’m overly picky about where I end up, but I am sure that most people would disagree with me. I would like to end up somewhere that I don’t have to affirm anything that rises above the level of “duh” to feel welcome there. That is surprisingly hard to find.

    Probably the hardest thing to find, is an environment where community serves to sharpen each other rather than having all of the sharpening tools focusd on the ministry of one man (or a small minority).

    Essentially I would like to come into a community, but there often seems to be forces that push dissenting opinion out to the fringe… you can’t be in a community while you feel like an outsider.

  4. Christiane says:

    That ‘restlessness’ may be something universally felt that takes many different forms among our humankind, MIKE.
    We, all of us, may be in search of that which will elude our grasp in this life. When Flatrocker says “what are you really – in your deepest heart – searching for?”, and when you read it, and it strikes a chord within you; then perhaps a more interior and introspective journey is needed. That can be a painful process because so much of the ‘extra’ that we have held onto for balance gets stripped away in the refining that is needed bring clarity.

    ““Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.””

    (Augustine)

  5. Mike, i wonder… is your discomfort with liturgy the result of familiarity with liturgical worship, or foes it come from being unaccuustomed to it? i ask only because it looks to me like you might be best off in a liturgical church, given all of your other concernss.

  6. turnsalso says:

    I’d kind of like to know what your wife’s wish list is for a church now, too: it sounds as though her priorities differ qualitatively from yours in some places.

    • To answer both turnalso and numo’s questions.

      I think personality drive much of our worship choices. I find this article interesting:

      http://www.reformedworship.org/article/march-1992/personality-worship-using-myers-briggs-type-indicator-understand-worship-preferen

      My wife and I have different preferences. We will need to find something that works for both of.

      • See my response to turnalso below.

        I have had a fair bit of exposure to liturgy. It just doesn’t minister to my soul. (For lack of a better term.)

      • P.S. Can you guess my personality type base on what you know of my worship preferences?

        • jazziscoolithink says:

          Well, it seems that you have a need to be special; so I would guess enneagram type 4w5, which also happens to be my type. I tend to rebel against homogenous groups of people (however i arbitrarily define that in the moment). Let me know if I’m projecting.

        • Robert F says:

          Mike, If you’re not sure what your personality type is, maybe you should go the next Metaphysical Fair in your neighborhood and have your aura read (insert smiley face HERE).

      • Danielle says:

        Interesting, Mike. I was a little skeptical, but Schwanda’s guesses do link my Myers-Brigg type to the environments where I am most comfortable.

        On the Myers-Briggs, I test decidedly as INTJ.

        I attend a liturgical church. I take ideas and language very seriously, with the caveat of the engineer type: the ideas must work in the real world, or else I regard them as useless or dangerous. Ideas that don’t work, get no special privilege from being either popular or old. Show me a great new idea, and I’m on board … but we’ll have to test it and write reports.

        You cannot pay me to be spontaneous. However, if you want a a plan, with contingencies and back-up plans, I can totally make that for you.

      • I think the whole idea of personality types and worship preferences may be coming your way in a post soon.

  7. Richard Hershberger says:

    “In 1925 the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Church of Canada, and 70% of the churches of the Presbyterian Church of Canada merged to form the United Church of Canada. By 1960 they had one million members. They have been in dramatic decline ever since. Along the way they also took a sharp left turn. There are a number of Free Methodist churches around the Province. The closest is about 20 minutes away, and not really part of the community in which we live.”

    I’m one of the people who suggested Methodist last week, so I am working to unpack this. First off, 20 minutes is too far? I completely understand the desire to worship locally, but in your situation something clearly has got to give. I drive 45 minutes to get to my rather idiosyncratic ELCA church, passing innumerable other ELCA churches along the way.

    Beyond that, I’m not sure which is the important point to you: that the United Church of Canada is in decline, or that it took a sharp left turn.

    If the former, I have to respectfully disagree that this should be relevant. Chasing after growth is what brought on many of the ills we see in Evangelicalism today. And frankly, basing a personal decision on this is shallow. That being said, worship is local. I can sympathize with a reluctance to join a dying congregation, but even within a denomination in decline any given local congregation might be doing just fine. The UMC in the US is hardly a growing denomination, but the local church to me is doing very well.

    If the issue is the left turn, then I have to ask what does this mean? Sermons questioning the resurrection? If so, then you have a point. But I would be very surprised if this were the case. As I often point out, “liberal theology” in the technical sense of the term is only rarely found in the wild, for all that it holds a prominent place as a boogeyman in the minds of some. If by liberal you mean a likelihood of encountering a female pastor, then if this is a problem for you then yes, avoid this church. Or is it the gay issue? I don’t know the United Church of Canada’s position on gay issues, but my guess is that it is at least unofficially on the left side of this discussion. If by liberal you mean they talk about stuff like social justice, then good for them! This is the aspect of Methodism I most admire. I don’t think much of their theological acumen, and less of their liturgical acumen, but they have always understood that Christ calls on us to care for the least among us. But if you disagree, then yes, this would be a poor fit.

    I go to some length on this because I also wonder if “liberal” here isn’t simply Evangelical-speak for “not Evangelical,” which in turn is a specific case of the broader usage for “stuff I disagree with.” That is, I wonder if you haven’t been hearing for decades this church dismissed as “liberal” and you internalized that.

    “11.Episcopal/Anglican: There is a local church. I am willing to give it a try, but I am guessing it will feel too liturgical.

    “12. Anglican Church in North America: There are two congregations in my city, but both over 20 minutes away. I am probably moving in the opposite direction in terms of the Christian response to homosexuality.”

    If you find the local Episcopal/Anglican church too liturgical, you likely will have the same reaction to the ACNA. This was not the gripe the ACNA has with the others. That being said, there is a range of variation within both, so you never know. Give it a shot. As for the choice between the two, the whole point of the ACNA is to hold the line on female priests and on gay issues in general. If you find yourself on the left side of those discussions, the ACNA is absolutely not the place for you.

    • It is the combination of both decline a liberalism that is of concern to me.

      “One of its prominent ministers is a celebrated and outspoken atheist. Its former chief officer openly denied Christ’s deity. Its current outgoing moderator… was unable to tell a reporter what doctrines were essential to the church.”.

      If the leader of a denomination denies the deity of Christ, then I would draw a line right there. If there is no future in the church for my children and grandchildren (the average age of church members is now 65) then that is of concern to me as well.

      • jazziscoolithink says:

        The curse of dualistic thinking–from both sides.

      • “One of its prominent ministers is a celebrated and outspoken atheist.

        Wait, huh…? How does that work in a church?

        • Exactly!

        • srs,

          A friend of mine is a retired Episcopal bishop, now in an Anglican church. While bishop he fought off the split vigorously, saying that “once you go down the road of schism there is no end to it.” He even had hopes when Katharine Jefferts Schori became Presiding Bishop, believing her to be reasonable, but soon the writing was on the wall.

          He now says that the Episcopalians in the USA are becoming liturgical unitarians. And by that I think he means “universalists.”

          So, yeah, atheism in a church leader? It can work, if you stretch the definition of “church.”

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        I spent my lunch hour chasing down the United Church of Canada a bit. This is all very superficial, of course, but it looks like they are going down the Unitarian/Universalist route. The UUs are generally very nice people and support good causes, but without at least some doctrinal underpinnings the organization has little apart from architecture to make it look like a church. So I find, somewhat to my surprise, that I agree with you.

        The critiques of the United Church of Canada–both external and from within–are interesting. Apart from the theological critique, there is that they are engaging too much in secular causes, making themselves hard to distinguish from any other advocacy group. What is interesting is that this is the mirror image of a common critique–both external and from within–of Evangelicalism, though the causes advocated are different, of course. There is a fine balance between being just another advocacy group and being a bunch of navel gazers.

    • ACNA ordains female priests

  8. This is a bit flip, I know, but I kind of like the “bloom where you are planted” approach. Perhaps thee doth protest too much. It is after all, Mike, both ALL about you and NOT all about you. You might be where you are for the benefit of others as well as yerself.

    • I agree. I think discussion is about finding which soil would be conducive to blooming. Most churches, if a person isn’t a member, is greatly restricted in how they can contribute. So finding a church where there are not barriers to membership is very important to me.

    • Respectfully Wayne, I don’t think it’s that simple. To take your analogy to a deeper level, do all plants/flowers grow/bloom well in the same environment? Some need lots of sun while some need very little. Some need watering every day while some only once a week, and so on. What if the place you were planted used to provide much nourishment and now no longer does? I can honestly tell you I am speaking and have learned from my own experiences. If I myself am not healthy and at the same time in an environment where I am not growing, can I really be of “benefit to others”? So while I would agree that there is the danger of overthinking it, I think what Mike is doing is actually very wise.

  9. Mike,
    Are you looking for a place that meets all your criteria, or a place that will welcome you knowing that you have these beliefs/preferences?

    I am happy in my church, even though I’m not a YEC anymore – but it’s not a MAJOR point of discussion and when it comes up I just go get some coffee.

    If I weren’t though, I think I would do what C.S. Lewis did and attend the church that was closest to him. For me that would be a little Methodist church. I think I could serve God there. I pray you find someplace that feels like home to you. That’s what keeps me at my church.

    • Are you looking for a place that meets all your criteria, or a place that will welcome you knowing that you have these beliefs/preferences?

      Absolutely the latter. Plus I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder for thought police (as Michael Spencer did) who will look to call me on to the carpet if I state some that varies.

      But on the first note, I am looking for somewhere where I can become a member. When I can’t sign a statement of faith because of what I believe it isn’t that I am rejecting the church it is that the church is rejecting me.

  10. I hope someday you don’t wind up in heaven with a group of people you don’t agree with. Where then will you go ?

    • We are bound to end up in eternity with a bunch of people that we don’t agree with… which is why I think that we place way too much of an emphasis on claiming to have concrete answers. Whether personally or organizationally we put way too high of a value on having all of our t’s crossed and our i’s dotted.

      I have a guy that I met through a Bible study and corresponded with for awhile going back and forth arguing about creation. What I found in this conversation is that though we held two very different views, we agreed on about 90% of the points that were ancillary to the point that we were talking about… which happened to be the points that I was most concerned about.

      I think I could sit down and have a profitable conversation about God and Scripture with just about any brother or sister in Christ that I came across… so why do I not feel comfortable in just about any church I show up in?

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        I once had an extremely conservative Lutheran pastor. We disagreed on nearly every point one could, in the liberal-leaning Lutheran to conservative Lutheran range. We never discussed secular politics. I strongly suspect we would have disagreed there, too. We also really liked each other. Partly this was some unrelated interests we shared, but largely it was just a visceral reaction of liking each other. So we could go along happily, each occasionally lamenting those wrong-headed aspects of the other. It was a weird relationship, but it worked.

      • Maybe opinions, both our own and others, won’t count so much in eternity; maybe there won’t be many opinions there to come between us.

        • “We know in part and prophecy in part… but when that which is perfect is come… that which is in part will be done away.”

        • Perhaps I’m out of line in thinking this, but I’m frustrated that it isn’t as easy as walking down the street to the closest church that claims the name of Christ. I can walk in, and we’ll have our disagreements but they don’t matter because all of the most important things are agreed upon. Our differences can be used to challenge each other as we grow in legitemate relationships.

          It’s not that easy.

          I would like nothing more than to just pick a place, and jump in with both feet, yet I find myself in the position of sticking my toe in to test the water. Also, if I have to test the water before I can get in, I’m not sure that I want to settle for sitting at the side cooling my heels.

          We seem to be ramping back up to try this whole thing out again… it has been a really frustrating experience.

          I know at least some of it is on me… but not all of it. I’m not even sure if it’s most of it.

          Ugh.

          • This.

          • Robert F says:

            ChrisS commented yesterday that there is a loneliness, or solitude, in any mature faith; I go a little further and say that there is this loneliness in any genuine faith, however mature or young. I honestly don’t think the tension between what we hope for in a church and what we find can be relieved for many people, this side of the grave. I can only hope God is working mysteriously through such alienation.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            So true, Dallas. Case in point, literally not more than two hours ago, I was in the checkout line at a grocery store when the checker told me she was about to begin a 7-day fast. (This woman and I have never had a spiritual discussion, so this was out of the blue.) I asked her why, and she responded that she needed to get closer to God and ask Him some things, because she wants to get back into a spiritual community but…

            And I asked, But what?

            She said she hadn’t been in church in years because the last one she went to told her they didn’t believe in jewelry and asked her to give hers all up. (Not sure how long she’d been going there when this occurred.) She apparently relinquished her jewelry, then several weeks afterward decided that was kind of dumb, so she went back and asked for it, and they told her they’d burned it all. Her words, “They said it made all sorts of colors when it burned, like that was proof it was bad.” We both laughed…of course metal and jewelry is going to emit different colors when burned!!

            When she told me the name of the church, I was surprised, for I’d thought that it was a failry “normal” church. I told her that this was what I was finding the to be the worst aspect of Christianity: unhealthy, toxic churches. I told her a bit about my current church, which I hope is “healthy” and relatively “normal”…LOL, and wished her well on her fast.

            But it just goes to show you…you might step into a church that has JESUS all over the door-frame, but once inside, he might be far away.

          • I have found that one can often do just that in “3rd world” churches, Dallas.

    • See my comment to Deb above. You will note that I am a fan of open communion. I am willing to worship with any and all. In most cases I don’t see it as a case of me excluding churches, but of churches excluding me.

      • Which is why I have decided, more or less, the flip of your decision. I am inclined to believe that I will never sign a membership document mainly because I don’t believe they are necessary. If I am excluded from a certain church’s activities because of this decision, that is something that the church leadership will have to take up with God. I don’t see that God requires such a document. Do I want to be in fellowship with believers? Yes. Serve? Yes. Give money that mainly goes toward salaries, buildings, and utilities? No. Give to the needy? Yes. Love God and my neighbors? Yes.

        Does love, care, fellowship, etc. need membership? If it does, then we seem to have missed something.

  11. May our Father, who is the source of all, be the source of your satisfaction no matter where you are. May the blessings and riches of our Lord Jesus Christ shower down on you in abundance, my brother. May his Holy Spirit surround you, protect you, and enlighten your way on this leg of your journey.

    I think I wrote quite enough about my opinion of your situation last time. I don’t think I have much to add that isn’t a repeat of before. I was gently amused by your gracious response in this post. Ha! What a great thing to do when publicly questioned about something: confess and throw oneself on the mercy of Christ! I think if that continues to be your habit, you will remain safe in the hands of Jesus. I should learn to be so gracious when my wife adjusts my mirrors to show my blind spots.

    Keep stepping into this, praying all the while. I sense that this is some kind of labyrinth walk for you. You walk the twisting paths, not seeing the end, praying with each step and in the end you may find that what you learn is not what you set out to learn. You will look back and see how the Spirit has changed your heart, and you will say, “Hmm..didn’t see that coming.”

    I look forward to hearing about that, and seeing how close my guess was. 😉

    Grace and peace on your way.

  12. jazziscoolithink says:

    Mike, it sounds like your best bet is to get the hell out of Canada.

  13. Do I have to go to an Arminian church? No, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one that was anti-Arminian. Do I need to go to a Charismatic church. No, but I probably wouldn’t attend an anti-charismatic one. Do my church leaders have to be theistic evolutionists? No, but I wouldn’t go to one that loudly espoused Young Earth Creationism (It goes back to the earlier statement of being able to invite a friend.) Must I go to an Egalitarian Church. Yes, or at least the church needs to be headed in that direction. This is what I would consider to be a gospel issue. (And I know some here will disagree with me.) Cermak_cd has pointed out that if the churches she were exposed to were egalitarian, she might still be a Christian. I have a desire to introduce people to Jesus, and quite frankly complementarianism gets in the way of that.

    When my wife and I were visiting churches, we had many of these same things on our list even though we never formally verbalized them. We’ve ended up for now at an ACNA church. It is liturgical, for sure, but it’s probably about as laid back as a liturgical church could be. We sing a combination of ancient and modern songs, and I appreciate the Anglican dedication to taking the via media. As far as the homosexuality issue, it has only ever been mentioned once in passing that I can remember – much less than most evangelical churches I’ve been to. I think that a large part of the congregation at our are evangelical exiles. I think people have a desire to maintain some connection to the good part of evangelicalism but also a desire to distance themselves from the destructive parts of it.

    • Sorry, I meant to put the first paragraph of my comment in the blockquote brackets. That’s a quote from the original post, obviously.

  14. It’s difficult to be on the road, in transition, and especially when unsure of one’s destination. But in a sense, we are all on the road, in transition, unsure of our destination. God bless you in your journey, deliberations and decision. I trust that Jesus will be with you the whole way.

  15. Mike,

    My church may be going through some changes too, and last week’s post came very close to home for me. Let’s pray for each other.

    Don’t write off the Anglicans too soon. Opposition to gay leadership isn’t everything they’re about, although gay issues have certainly been the flash point in recent years. I think it’s more of a struggle for the inspiration and authority of the bible. Plus the uncompromising stance of Presiding Bishop Schori here in the US. Hmm… has there even been a split between Episcopalians and Anglicans in Canada?

    The Mennonites interested me quite a bit back in ’91, shortly after Desert Storm. My family visited a friend’s Mennonite church three times that year and felt very much at home (it was a haven from the “nuke the A-rabs” and yellow-ribbon syndrome that had me feeling pretty lonely). But that church is three hours away and the closest one isn’t much better.

    My chief concern these days is what I’m perceiving as a new twist to Fundamentalism, in the form of the “New Calvinism.” As I said, let’s pray for one another.

    • Ted,
      I think the USA Episcopal would track with the United church of Canada or the Anglican Church of Canada. The ACNA or Anglican mission church would be the same in both countries.

      • Thanks, Bob. This fits in with a comment I just made to srs above, and with something Richard Hershberger said about the United Church of Canada, below that comment.

  16. Mike, when we sense we don’t “fit”, I have found it is God’s hint that He has some further refining to do. He is the One who “fits” us into His Body. As Henri Nouwen observed, we are all irreplaceable pieces in the human mosaic. The LORD smooths out our rough edges and He doesn’t waste the shavings. God uses these to make the mortar that joins us together with others. (2 Cor:1:4)

    I agree, it is frustrating when we can’t find a place to exercise our gifts. However, as your former Pastor observed, your gifting will be used by the LORD in His kingdom . . . perhaps just not now. I suspect even “leaders” need to be led at times. We are all in process (Phil. 1:6).

    Perhaps part of your restlessness stems from searching for what is in God’s hand rather than simply His hand. May the Holy Spirit guide you to where He wants you to be. And, may your heart be open to see the place where followers of Jesus gather as an opportunity for the LORD to be at work in you – to mold and chisel whatever is necessary to conform you to the image of Jesus. Blessings to you and yours – trish

  17. Mike I’m new to this blog and I don’t know anyone hereabouts as well as some of you seem to know each other. But I appreciate the opportunity to be included in the conversation. I will be as honest as I can and take the risk of sounding presumptuous.

    This “shopping” for a church home seems like going backwards to me. Of course you are the best judge of what you need but surely you realize that you are not alone in your aloneness. This desire for community coupled with the inability to fully enter a community is rampant. It is the spirit of our age. I don’t need to quote statistics to anyone. The so-called “nones” are the fastest growing religious demographic in the country. Fastest of all among folks under thirty.

    Instead of looking at this as a disaster perhaps we ought to ask ourselves what is happening? Maybe there is an opportunity here. Maybe the old ways have outlasted their usefulness and it’s time to try something new.

    When I say start your own church I don’t necessarily mean found a new congregation. Maybe it would simply be one uncertain person seeking out other uncertain persons and making communion by first sharing their uncertainly. Instead of looking for a safe home maybe it’s time for us to walk out into the darkness and be explorers again.

  18. Charlotte says:

    Hey,

    I freely admit that I haven’t studied all the comments from this post or the first, although I have skimmed them. But as a spiritual director, I wonder who is walking with you through this journey to a new church home? Do you have someone who’s uninvested in the outcome but completely and prayerfully by your side– in person?

    If not, you might want to seek out spiritual direction for this transition time. Not because the director would be a great problem-solver (that’s not our job!), but because in my experience, the time spent together might help you discern God’s voice and your particular spiritual hunger. That listening work is invaluable in times of shift.

    Blessings!

    • I have a couple of good friends who I run major decisions through. They may not always agree, but the offer very good insight. And of course there is InternetMonk! A wealth of wisdom on here.

    • Charlotte, I’m curious about your church or denomination. I’ve only heard the term “spiritual director” in the Susan Howatch novels about Anglicanism in the UK. It’s not a term, or even a concept, that I come across here in New England. Here we tend to keep things bottled up (oh, there’s some talk of “accountability partners” and “discipleship” but that appears to be men’s thing). And “confession” to a priest is a Roman Catholic concept to us yankees, and therefore highly suspect.

      How does it work for you and the people you counsel?

      • Charlotte says:

        Sorry, Ted, I”m just seeing this now. I was raised Evangelical Free, attended a evangelical megachurch affiliated with the PCUSA for twenty years, and stumbled into spiritual direction in early 2000s through a summer course at Regent College in Vancouver. My training was in an interfaith program offered by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. During that stretch, my megachurch was becoming more and more constraining and I was seeing God’s activity in broader and fuller ways, so I left that church and joined my local Episcopal church. I’m now a seminarian in formation for the priesthood. I study at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, so I take classes with and from scholars from many branches of the Christian Church.

        As a spiritual director, I sit prayerfully with individuals for an hour every month. I see myself as hosting a conversation between them and God. In that role, I don’t offer advice or assignments and I often say very little. I trust that God is already working, wooing and sustaining my directee. My hope is always to companion them as they grow more aware of the Holy One’s presence and call and I ask questions to help us attend to the Spirit’s work.

        All that sounds very weird, I suspect. But it’s a truly life-giving practice for many followers of Jesus of all denominations. I appreciate the practice’s safety and freedom (everything is confidential), the rhythm of an hour of prayerful conversation, and the attentiveness it has fostered in my life. Spiritual Directors International maintains a pretty comprehensive website with info. I really like Susan Phillips’s book, “Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction” as an introduction to how Christian spiritual direction relationships serve in formation over time.

        Ted, I’m sorry if that was way more than you wanted to hear! Susan Howatch’s novels were my first introduction to the ministry, as well. But it’s become more widespread and more diverse over the last fifty years ; )

        (And I’ve never had the cool mystical events happen in my office that happened in those novels!)

        • So you don’t see yourself as another Jonathan Darrow! Great series of novels by Howatch.

          It looks like you’ve had a broad exposure, with Evangelicals, Catholics and Episcopalians. Something to get everybody upset. 🙂

          Regent in Vancouver has a great reputation and must have been a good start for your training. J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, and a prof that I audited, Gordon Fee, have taught there.

          Thanks for the references to Phillips’ book and to Spiritual Directors International. I’ll check them out.

          • Regent was my second choice for seminaries. Have a good friend you went there. In the end Canadian Theological Seminary just ended up being a lot more affordable.

          • Charlotte says:

            I’m going to have to track down the Howatch novels again. Thanks for the reminder!

  19. A semantical point, but still:

    This is much more about the curse of conviction, than the curse of knowledge, isn’t it? You framed the previous post as knowing too much and being constrained by your theological education. But it doesn’t seem like anything you’ve articulated is beyond the grasp of the average church-attender, and as evidenced by the level of the conversation here there are many others who identify with the struggle.

    It may not help resolve the struggle, but I would encourage you to reframe the conversation in your mind. It’s not about knowing too much or wishing you didn’t see the landscape that you do; it’s about responding to the level of revelation that you have received, that your soul resonates with, in such a way that will move you forward in love and good works.

    • When I mentioned to a board member at my previous church that “I had a problem with inerrancy.” His response was “What’s inerrancy?”

      His lack of knowledge made it easier for him to belong. Knowing him, if he decided to make a study of inerrancy he would likely end up in the same place as me.

      • And as my time with PCA groups showed me, there’s No True Inerrancy either.

        I can’t tell if it’s lying or deceiving or whatever, but it’s incredibly wearying to only on the surface agree yes/no to positions and hope no one asks you to define them, or knowing and arguing for the “right” or historic definition of a term, or whatever. You come across as fastidious so quickly…

        “Do you believe the Gospel?”

        What do you even mean, before I say yes or no?

  20. Richard McNeeley says:

    Have you looked at the Evangelical Covenant Church? It isn’t my denomination, but a friend of mine is considering an ECC plant.

  21. #firstworldproblems

    • Having an extensive family history in Africa, I can’t say that it is any different.

      • I din’t mean that as an insult, just a little humor. I’ve been around the world (well, Europe, Middle East, and South America), and often I’ve found there isn’t much choice if you want to worship with other Christians. I def. feel your pain. I worship at a Lutheran church, which is LCMS despite the fact that I believe in open communion and an old earth (LCMS tends to toward fundamentalism). On the other hand, there is a lot of freedom in worshipping with a group where you know the boundaries are. And to be fair, YEC has never come up in our church. We are more focused on things that actually matter. Plus we have extensive ministries and ministry opportunities – the real kind that involves feeding the poor, etc. – and that goes a long way.

        • I understand where you are coming from:

          A friend of min was a worship leader at the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi. At the end of their statement of Faith they have this statement:

          STATEMENT OF PHILOSOPHY: Our statement of faith represents a relatively broad expression of evangelical doctrine. Many finer points of belief or teaching are not spelled out. Recognizing the denominational diversity represented in our church, we deliberately leave our labels at the door. We come together in a spirit of unity under the authority of Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, seeking to grow in our relationship to Christ and in love for one another, and focusing on that which we have in common rather than on that which might divide us.

    • InternetMonk: providing #firstworldsolutions to #firstworldproblems…firstly.

  22. Danielle says:

    “What am I looking for? I am looking for a church that is active and visible in my community, or at the very least active and visible in a neighboring community. I am looking for a church that has a vision and a plan for reaching the community.”

    Mike, this portion of what you wrote sticks out to me.

    As I mentioned in my post about being an INTJ, I love ideas. So I understand 100 percent why your theological criteria are among the concerns prominent in your mind.

    However, as I also said, the best kind of ideas are the ideas that someone is using to make something happen. So I propose an experiment where we recast this in terms of strategy. Get out the chessboard!

    If you drop theological concerns for a moment, and ask only who is taking a leadership role in the local community, who is it? Is it anyone?

    If the answer is no, who is the best positioned to begin that kind of work? Is there space for someone with energy and organizational prowess – which it sounds like you have – to contribute or get something running?

    • This is a good question Daniellle. If asked of me – and it might as well be – I’d admit that I’m not active enough in the community (a major city) to say whether or not any of the churches are. I’m not even sure any of them have the scale to really be visible.

      • Danielle says:

        It occurs to me that my question could probably be rephrased not to say leadership – perhaps this implies too much we’re looking for a church with leverage in a big city – but rather who (however small) has actually succeeded in interfacing with the community.

  23. Danielle says:

    “I am a strong believer in open communion. So those Lutheran churches that practice closed communion would not work. ”

    Maybe another Lutheran can nuance or correct me here, but I think the majority of Lutheran churches have open communion. Do they not?

    I took communion at my church (ELCA) for about a year before becoming a member. I’ve always assumed that is typical for the ELCA.

    • Robert F says:

      Not ELCA, but spend every Sunday morning at an ELCA church. Open communion is the practice, but there is sometimes the stipulation made that all baptized Christians who believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ are invited OR that all baptized Christians who believe that they receive forgiveness of their sins in the Holy Communion are invited.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Open communion is, to the best of my knowledge, universal in the ELCA. I have never heard of an ELCA church with closed communion, and would find it very surprising. LCMS can go both ways, though my subjective impression is that open is more common than closed. (The LCMS’s dark secret is that it is often more hard line on the internet than it is in real life.) WELS is another matter. My information here is anecdotal, but my understanding is that closed communion is the norm, and perhaps universal.

        • Our LCMS church invites all who believe in the real presence of Christ to participate in communion. Sometimes the statement includes “baptized Christian”, sometimes not.

  24. Mike, I found the love of my life when I was 15, married him at 21, and have been in love with the guy and happy to be married to him every one of the 35 years since that stroll down the aisle.

    So, I imagine it is tough to think you have found “the one”, and find out through the long engagement that it just isn’t a good fit after all.

    In the same vein, I have been happily RC since I recommitted to the Church of my birth at age 14, SOOOO I can only imagine how it must feel to find out that the place you once called your spiritual home just isn’t anymore.

    I have nada to contribute, but will hold you up in prayer that you will soon find the very place Christ wants you to be……blessing on that journey!

  25. I really don’t get the “more than 20 minutes away” restriction. Are you kidding? Here in the Atlanta area, where hundreds of thousands of people have daily commutes between 1-1/2 and 2 hours each way just to get to their jobs and home again, 20 minutes would be practically next door.

    Maybe Canadians aren’t as hardy a lot as we’ve been led to believe….

    • I think of it as a moral and practical decision, not a wussy one. We live half an hour from church, and it’s very hard to do much more than go on Sunday. We virtually never socialize with people from church or go to special occasions. Add to that a responsible use of resources wherever it’s possible to do so, and a 20-minute radius sounds like a good idea to me.

    • My previous church was a regional church that had lost its regional appeal. That is, it was founded 60 years ago to serve the need of German immigrants, and there aren’t a lot of German immigrants any more.

      I have found that in the last 8 years that those who have found our church and have made it our church home have all come from within a 10 minute radius of the church.

      There are churches with a certain regional appeal that can beyond that, but me experience is that if you are inviting friends to church events they are much more likely to attend if it is a local event.

  26. may God bless and guide you,