October 22, 2017

The Curse of Knowledge

Square Peg in a Round Hole

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Genesis 2:16-17 – NIV

I know too much.

My theological training isn’t killing me, but it certainly makes it difficult for me to find a church.

If you had read my post from two weeks ago, you would know that a little over a month ago I took the final step in leaving the church that I had been attending for eight years. It was a good church, and it was a really hard decision to make.

My previous Pastor, in one of his last emails to me wrote: “I wish you well in your search, but I feel that you will be hard pressed to find another church that is as loving and as tolerant as [ours] even though we are not the perfect church… If we are not a good “fit” for you, I wonder where you would “fit”.

He is absolutely right in what he wrote, and this is my biggest challenge.

Over the last number of months on Internet Monk I have laid out much of what I believe along with the journeys that I took to arrive at those positions. To summarize (with links), I am or have become:

1. A Theistic-Evolutionist

2. An Arminian

3. A (Quiet) Charismatic

4. An Egalitarian

5. A Fan of the Early Church Fathers

You could add to that list the fact that I don’t hold to inerrancy (though I do have a high view of scripture), am strongly in favor of open communion, am open to different modes of baptism, and reject dispensationalism. I also do not have a great appreciation for a formal liturgical style of worship. There are a number of other items which I won’t get into, and I have a few other areas in which I have yet to make up my mind. If I was to speak my mind on those topics I am sure I would make more than a few people uncomfortable.

A few months ago I visited the first service of a church plant that friends of mine were involved with. Experientially, the service was wonderful, one of the best services I have ever attended. When I looked at their statement of faith, however, I found that we disagreed on points one through four (from my list) along with inerrancy. In short, I could never become a member of their church because I could not be true to myself and my own beliefs and sign on the dotted line. It would have been so much easier if I didn’t have the knowledge that I have, or if I hadn’t drawn the conclusions that I have drawn.

Like Adam and Eve were free to eat from any tree, I am free to attend any church. Like Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge and being barred from the Garden, my knowledge bars me from many churches.

If you look at my fairly short list you would see that I am not a good fit with wide swaths of Christianity. Calvinistic or Reformed? Nope. Lutheran? Nope. Catholic or Orthodox? Nope. Evangelicals? Nope.

I used to be willing to do some pretty impressive mental gymnastics to fit in. Or I would sign a statement of faith holding my nose because of the metaphorical smell I was getting from the document. I find that I can’t do that anymore and still be true to myself.

But I still want to belong. Somewhere.

So here are my questions for our readers. Would your faith tradition/denomination/local congregation work for me if it was transplanted up to Dundas, Ontario? If not, why not? If you think it would, what make you think that? Make sure you tell me what your faith tradition is. What other Christian traditions should I consider? They may be different from your own. Lastly, what would you be doing if you were in my shoes? As always your thoughts and comments are welcome and feel free to interact (respectively) with each other on your suggestions as well.

Update: There have been some great questions posed back to me. I don’t have time to answer them today (work calls), but I will take the time over this week to answer each one, and respond to them in next Friday’s post.

Comments

  1. If you were in the US, I’d suggest the United Methodist church, while still hoping that you might be willing to consider the ELCA or the Episcopal church.

    I honestly don’t think you’re allowing for a lot of options, though i don’t mean that as criticism. There’s a lot more room in both Lutheranism and TEC for a wide range of views, and you won’t run into trouble about evolution, etc.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I don’t think Arminianism would be a good fit with Lutheranism. It’s not that the Lutherans would complain, but Arminianism is a discussion within the Reformed tradition. The typical Lutheran reaction would likely be bemusement about what he is talking about.

      I don’t see anything on the list that is inconsistent with Anglicanism. It is, after all, a big tent tradition. If he doesn’t insist that everyone around him agree with the entire list, they won’t insist that he agree with theirs.

      That being said, I thought “Methodist” as I read the post.

      • Richard – i hear you, yet i think that much depends on the congregation, and also that there’s room for someone with Mike’s list of concerns and beliefs. Still putting my money on whatever Canada has that’s like the UMC.

    • My first thought was also the United Methodist Church.

      Nothing you listed places you outside the UMC, and a few of them would place you more or less at its center.

      Methodists are, by general habit, big on warm hearts and staying busy. Open communion is an established principle, as is welcoming people. There are ideas that are near and dear to some people, but Methodism is, at heart, practical.

    • A Simple Hillbilly says:

      Agree on the UMC (not just because I currently attend one). Just remember that they have a high variance between churches, particularly between the traditional and contemporary. The traditional Methodist service feels like a watered down Episcopal or ELCA service. Its like they are trying to implement some of those elements, but the inner revivalists can’t get the hang of it. Contemporary services can easily slip into that mega-church mold, at least here in the south. But if they are willing to use a bit of all of these elements, it can work out.

      Biggest complain I have is that I still have fight off the Dave Ramsey-ites, aggressive teetotalists, and various other culture warriors

  2. I normally don’t respond in iMonk but your posts remind me of my own spiritual journey. I was an Assemblies of God pastor for most of the 90s and left for a similar reason. I could no longer sign off on the statement of faith that was required annually by the denomination and I resigned. My family and I spent a few years searching and found The United Methodist Church. This year in June, 12 years after becoming a part of the UMC, I will be ordained as an Elder. (Pretty much the same as an Ordained Pastor.)

    The things you have listed above, everyone one of them, I hold to. I pastor two congregations in TN and while some of my parishioners differ with me it’s okay. Our denomination allows for variation on some of them but we are definitely not inerrantists nor is that a part of our tradition.

    I wish you well in your journey and hope all goes well. Blessings to you….it’s not going to be easy. I know. I have been there.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Required annually? Seriously? I am reminded of this:

      “Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that “The Star-Spangled Banner,” one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.”

      • Off topic: where is this quote from? I would love to send it to the Nebraska state legislature and stop the ridiculous debate on requiring loyalty oaths for teachers.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          My guess is Catch-22.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            Yup. The next paragraph then discusses how much this nonsense interfered with the guys who were actually trying to get something done.

  3. I’d find a church within a denomination that still held to big tent evangelicalism and which had a statement of beliefs, but where those beliefs were stated in such a way as to allow latitude.

    My own denomination comes close:

    http://nabconference.org/about-us/our-beliefs

    …I think.

    As baptists with a free church tradition, there are some churches in our denomination that interpret that in ways that I disagree. There are others that are more to my liking. But within these bounds of latitude, I can’t fully criticize, as their opinion is likely as valid as mine.

    I also remind myself that beliefs shift over time. Mine have. Yours have. So grace to me, you, and them.

    “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” (This I repeat as necessary.)

  4. I think I’m mostly in alignment with your convictions, and though I cannot speak for the entire denomination, since I’m still figuring it out myself, you would feel very at home in my Chrisitan & Missionary Alliance church. And I’ve heard that they are even a bit more progressive in Canada. I know some are still bastions of fundamentalism, but many are far far from it.

    I had an interview recently with a Brethren in Christ church, and they seem really cool as well… on paper at least. They seem to match up especially well with points two through four. I’ve listened to a few podcasts from The Meeting House, a BIC church in Canada.

    • And since I know you have a C&MA background, I’m curious to get your take on how you do/don’t fit there.

  5. Mike, who says that you have to “belong” to ANY one church denomination? Do you wear a brass plate that says “Methodist”, “Lutheran”, “Baptist”? When you decide to fellowship at ANY church, isn’t it the PEOPLE you really fellowship and worship with, and NOT the denomination? Isn’t it the PEOPLE you develop bonds of friendship with, and not the doctrine?

    I understand that there has to be SOME agreement as to doctrine before one chooses a church, but judging from your list it looks like Unitarian is the way to go. They accept ANYONE! But, seriously now, do you really expect to find a group that matches your issues exactly? We are called to worship together as believers and to fellowship with Christ as our common Savior and King. All else is extraneous systems of belief. I MAY be in the minority on this, and I’m sure there are some here who truly believe you’d fit in with their flavor, but it is a decision that YOU will have to come to yourself., and I do not envy you.

    By the way, I attend a Nazarene church and I do not hold with their doctrine totally. They ARE Arminians, and they do not push dispensationalism as a point of agreement. And in 14 years I cannot remember one time that inerrancy ever came up. This does not mean that they DON’T hold to it, just that this pastor doesn’t think it is important to push the issue. But it is good to keep in mind that ANY individual church will vary in what they choose to highlight in their list of doctrinal issues. I just happened to get lucky with mine….for NOW…

    • Christiane says:

      OSCAR, the Nazarenes are a lovely Christian people. I hope you have a home with them for as long as you want it. . . .

      I want to add that, no, it’s not ‘luck’ . . . with your history, it’s likely to be Providence . . . and if it is, more the better ’cause it means Someone’s looking out for you

      • Thank you Christiane, that is very generous of you to say so. Yes, they ARE a lovely bunch, and as long as the present pastor is here then we will stay. That being said, one Sunday the denomination district rep stood in the pulpit and said some things that, if it were the pastor, would incline me to look elsewhere for a home. Hence my statement that even in one denomination, not ALL believe and practice the same way.

        Again, thank you.

    • Yup, if unity comes from believing exactly the same things, we’re scre… uhm, let’s just say things don’t look good for the future of unity.

      I think with many of these things, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is probably the wisest way to go. How many of your beliefs might change again? How many of them could quite easily be misguided or plain wrong? How many might not be totally incompatible, or just the sharp end of a paradox?

      Are you really going to jettison relationships with real people who love and care for you, in favour of stuff that’s just going on inside your head?

      Sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but I have seen the same tendencies in myself, so reacting a bit strongly.

      • I think with many of these things, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is probably the wisest way to go.

        I was in a similar place as MB. There was a group of us in this situation. It got to the point where we either had to actively refuse to take part in conversations or try and have a discussion which in almost every case turned into us getting looks like “maybe these folks are heretics in our mist”. While most of us were of the opinion that we could agree to disagree the “other side” was in no way of that mind.

        Don’t ask, don’t tell is an attempt to evade reality. It rarely works.

        We all left our church. About 1/2 went to a larger church where they could hide in the crowd. (One reason I don’t like large churches.) The rest of us tend to wander around a bit.

    • SottoVoce says:

      A point of caution: I don’t think the Nazarene leadership is terribly keen on charismatic stuff. Individual congregations and people may be different, of course, but I was under the impression that the church formally holds to cessationism. Just something you may want to keep in mind. Otherwise, I agree that a Nazarene or other Wesleyan church might be a possible fit for you. They are very definitely egalitarian and Arminian at least.

      For the record, I am currently ELCA, but I grew up Nazarene and am still a fan of Wesley.

    • Like Oscar, I too attend a Nazarene church. Been there for 23 years. I find a lot of Nazarene history to be difficult to wrap my head around (no dancing, no jewelry, no drinking, no playing cards, no etc etc.) – which is the main reason we didn’t JOIN the church until 5 years ago…LOL – but to its credit it has morphed over the years. I find our church incredibly open. A couple of cases in point: 1) though I wasn’t a member of the church, they’ve allowed me to teach an adult Sunday school class; and 2) we also have a Calvinist who teaches a class.

      It’s an interesting mix of people and philosophies and theologies. We have congregants who are old school and spout stuff I scratch my head at sitting right beside people who would welcome a lesbian couple. There are a number of people who drink wine and beer (me included) sitting beside those who think that’s a sin. The main thing – the thing that’s kept us going there through the changes and differences – is the people. It’s a great community, and I’d like to think that our church, transplanted into your town, would be a good place for you…

      BUT…

      As I commented in your post about your philosophical disputes with your old church, I’ve had those with mine, too. The snapshot of our healthy church today may not hold through for the next generation, or even next year…LOL!

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “I find a lot of Nazarene history to be difficult to wrap my head around (no dancing, no jewelry, no drinking, no playing cards, no etc etc.)”

        This is the detritus of 19th century culture wars. I would guess that Sabbatarianism is another. This was all pretty standard stuff, back in the day.

        • Holiness type movements/people make me twitch a little, which is why I’ve never considered a modern church that descended from one of those offshoots.

          Are most/some Nazarenes effectively giving up their original “distinctives”?

          • Rick Ro. says:

            “…which is why I’ve never considered a modern church that descended from one of those offshoots.”

            And exactly why we didn’t join the Naz church even though we attended it for 18 years…LOL. In fact, it was because of the loosening of some of that stuff that I finally wrapped my head around joining the church, even with that baggage in its past.

            I can’t speak as an expert nor for all Nazarene churches, but the sense I’m getting is that some Nazarenes have realized all the the “do’s and don’ts” don’t make a person holy. (Surpirse, surprise!) So yes, I’m sensing that they’re shifting away from cut-and-dried black-and-white “This is who we are and aren’t” things like that.

            True story…
            One Sunday several years back, our pastor mentioned “Dancing with the Stars” during his sermon. I happened to be talking with an elderly woman afterward and she said (paraphrase), “I’m just trying to figure out if it’s okay for our pastor to watch Dancing with the Stars. I mean, there was a time that we couldn’t dance. I guess I just have to let it go, eh?”

            She’s a cool lady.

          • SottoVoce says:

            Eh . . . mostly, yes. I think the “no jewelry” thing got abandoned a long time ago once people realized that pregnant Nazarene wives going around in public without wedding rings made people think they were unwed mothers. (True story: this happened to my great-grandmother when she was expecting my grandfather—she went home and told Great Grandpa, “You are buying me a wedding ring tomorrow.” He, naturally, did so.) The “no drinking” thing is much more relaxed among people in my generation, but I still can’t imagine any pastor or professor at a Nazarene college being caught drinking alcohol without repercussions from older church members. My parents and older relatives are pretty much the only Nazarenes I know who still refuse to go to movie theaters—that one’s been a dinosaur as long as I can remember. “No dancing” might still be kind of a thing—ten years ago, one of our student council members at my Nazarene alma mater set up an event that was conducive to dancing and at which dancing happened, and he got fired for it.

            So all in all, most of the weird legalism has gone away, but I have to say the remnants of it are part of what pushed me away in the end.

      • I think the key for unity in these situations lies in a mix of things:

        1 – how outspoken the pastor/elders/leadership are about their personal preference
        2 – how militant the professional weaker brethren are
        3 – who you personally choose to interact with from church outside of church

        When those three things align well, unity is great. Then they don’t align, there can be friction or severe cognitive dissonance. I know it was surreal for me to visit a church and sit next to a couple who brew their own beer while hearing their pastor boast of his son’s commitment to a teetotaler position in order to be a witness. Or the standard evangelical ploy of “we don’t have an official position”, while the pastor puts forth his official position and says to keep disagreements to yourself.

        etc, i’m sure we all have similar stories.

    • I agree Oscar, that we ought to be able to be the church together, and worship regularly together, without total agreement on these things. It seems hard for us Christians to really do that consistently though.

  6. Comment deleted.

  7. Mike
    You may well fit into the Anglican Church in North America.

    In Canada it is known as ANIC.
    http://www.anglicannetwork.ca/

    But you may have a problem with liturgy.

    • Ditto what ken wrote; I know our parish offers a more contemporary service (along with the more liturgical one), maybe there are similar Anglican churches up your way. Most everything on your list would hold true , IMO> Very few cultulre wars as far as I can tell, though we do not ordain gays, so not sure where you fall on that one (pardon the pun).

    • One thing I like about Anglicanism is that there is a huge swatch of things evangelicals go on about that are simply not issues.

      Although Wesley started Methodism, he was Anglican. There are many Charismatics, mostly quieter, the church Fathers are appreciated, Egalitarian vs Complementarianism not such a big issue.

      It is a liturgical church and a lot of issues typical evangelicals get tied up on are treated as something is debatable, but spiritually neutral.
      I have been so glad to not have to endlessly debate issues that do not seem important.

      The main issue of contention has been same sex marriage.

  8. Simlar journey. Decided to just attend and not join. Continued studying Pauline spirituality and backed myself into the Catholic Church. It’s big, unorganized with minimal oversite. Local parish may be good or totally ungood. Ya go cuz it’s true not cuz of the bad singing, lackadaisical preaching, and cliquish people.

    • Decided to just attend and not join.

      Many churches around here don’t let that happen. They scout out new faces and send in waves of people to “reel you in”.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        As in Love-Bombing Brigade?

      • petrushka1611 says:

        That’s one thing my wife and I love about the Catholic church in our small town (I’ve been there maybe four times and she’s been there once): the parishioners leave us alone, except during the passing of the peace. We don’t feel like they’re being unfriendly, though I’m sure many people would take it that way. After years of being Love-Bombed (thanks, HUG), it’s wonderful to walk into a place and not be pressured to squeeze hands and grin dully at random people.

  9. Jon Bartlett says:

    Mike,

    I tick all your boxes and have a similar journey – but have been in one church for 28 years. Here in the UK, I think the lines are less firmly drawn and fortunately inerrancy is not much of an issue. I started my walk in a large charismatic Anglican church, then moved to this tiny Baptist one – and end up as church secretary. The members believe all sorts of (orthodox) things, but we’re family and that does me, despite occasional frustrations!

    Every blessing for your search – I couldn’t presume to make any recommendations….. Jon

  10. I’m not going to recommend a church to join, just say I hear where you are coming from. And I line up with most of your beliefs. The problem is me, of course, I’ve changed too many theological positions to be fully at home in my old haunts but not enough to be lined up in other places. For most churches what is believed is some sort of package deal, there is a basket of beliefs that have to go together. It is not too hard to find a church that is tolerant of people with differing beliefs but often when you do I find they don’t take God and faith all that seriously. My only encouragement is that searching for a church is actually a pretty good spiritual journey as long as you are willing to treat it as a (sometimes long) learning experience.

    • Tom:
      I agree….as in ‘hearing’ where he’s coming from. Maybe I’m a bit older…(or a lot)…..but after studying Theology for more than half a century, and being part of a plethora of churches/denominations…..I reached a point of ‘been there/done that/got the T-shirt…..etc.

      Most of what I’ve actually learned in all those years was NOT from ‘sermons’, or ‘adult Sunday School’, but from personal reading and studying on my own.

      Going through a divorce….and losing virtually every ‘friend’ I thought I had (all from ‘church’….mistake…putting all one’s ‘relationship eggs’ in one basket)….I’m far less likely to trust people, proclaimed ‘friendships’, etc, and have finally reached a point where it’s simply not worth putting up with the BS in exchange for the illusion of ‘belonging’. I do sometimes miss the sense of ‘corporate worship’, but so far, not enough to enter into the ‘religious games’ that seem to be prevalent.

      Although I don’t align with his ‘criteria’, I perhaps have my own….but all those years of studying….and yes, changing my viewpoint when forced to by honesty….or changing perspectives….has taught me that NO ONE has ever been saved by ‘Doctrine’….or ‘Theology’…..or, for that matter, ‘Denominationalism’…..or church attendance, for that matter.

      I’m far more interested in this phase of my life in people who I can respect, who respect me, and who can demonstrate actual “LOVE”…..and, sadly, that is by no means limited to ‘church’, or supposed ‘saints’…..in fact, it often seems antithetical to religiousity entirely.

      My friendship group, while small, is eclectic, ranging from atheists, agnostics, devout (and strict) Christians, and a variety of others thrown into the mix.

      I’ve taken a ‘Sabbatical’ from ‘church’ periodically over the years, but this time, it’s been at least 6 years…..not sure if I’ll ever re-engage….but, on the plus side, it sure leaves more hours in the week to actually LIVE….and LOVE….those who come across my path, from the children/youth with special needs I work with in and out of school, and others who God/circumstance/fate allow to cross my path.

      The other benefit, of course, is that I now have Sundays available to go on day rides (motorcycle) with my club! (LOL!)

  11. I’ve been through a similar journey as well. The same sorts of differences over doctrinal issues were among several reasons that kept me from regularly attending a church for years while in Southern California. I finally found a Presbyterian church with good teaching and liturgy (which I was looking for… they also had modern-format services), although I have never considered myself a Calvinist, made it my home until I left California. Doctrine on salvation did come up frequently, but it was never an issue if I didn’t hold to four- or five-point Calvinism. At a number of churches I’d attended before, this sort of intellectual honesty would have resulted in my being ignored or kicked out.

    With my move to the UK, I had to switch churches again and followed a recommendation from a family friend. I noticed the teaching and doctrinal stances were a bit more conservative than my own views fairly early on, but the space for discussing these differences without a need for anyone to capitulate in their stance is much larger than at any other church I’ve attended. Inerrancy came up early on, leading to a conversation with one of the pastors, where I learned that no one here really knows of the Chicago Statement, and their definition of inerrancy is somewhat different. The Calvinist/Arminian divide still exists, but a range of different views are held among the congregation, and it’s treated as a secondary issue. I still have some disagreements over the handling of a number of OT texts, and this became very apparent, along with what seems to be a fairly solid adherence to complementarianism (which was strongly linked to characteristics of church service), at some wedding preparation workshops I attended with my fiancee. Fortunately, we had already talked about these things!

    So my church is home for now. The doctrinal differences up to this point have mostly been small, and the people are great.

  12. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    Mennonite? I think they have conservative vs moderate branches. The moderate groups have everything you want, plus a reputation for social involvement that is untarnished by the recent culture wars. I think they tend to be somewhat ethnic, though

    I don’t know how it would translate to Canada, but the United Methodists, the ELCA, the United Church of Christ, or the RCA might be a good fit for you as well if you don’t mind being among their more conservative communicants. If you want a more conservative, yet still not hidebound group, try the CMA,, the Vineyard, or even the Foursquare Church, if you can find a congregation in your area.

    • Ten plus yr. Vineyard vet here: Vineyards are run like non-denoms, mostly: they will vary WIDELY depending on the local leadership. There is very little similarity among them, or that was my take while with them. So if you like the local guy (and it’s probably a guy), then you are OK.

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        I also attend a Vineyard, and no, I don’t feel i’m a ‘official member’ of the loosely defined denomination that is the Vineyard, or of the small faith community I choose to fellowship with…

        I don’t consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool, tow-the-company-line standard bearer for any faith tradition or denominational flavor, camp, tribe, etc.

        and my orthodoxy has become much more generous in my later-in-life faith journey, so there are going to be most of my small congregation that I will disagree with on some of the more cherished Protestant/Evangelical doctrinal perspectives. I had the opportunity to experience this first hand recently during a group discussion about the theme our pastor/facilitator had been focusing on for a few weeks. I realized I could not truly express my theological viewpoints openly with most attendees, but I also know that my conclusions (mostly held loosely) make most firmly-held types very, very uncomfortable.

        so, I engage with the people of faith because I am drawn to be part of a faith community. if my theological pet-peeves are not championed from the pulpit, or a hardline element of their Statement-of-Faith, then I feel comfortable enough to join with a wider spectrum of saint with their personal theological perspectives. however, I will always be in the midst of those I do not agree with, as well as those I do agree with. I know my viewpoints are not the end-all for choosing a faith community I can involve myself with, so I like the ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’ approach that maximizes fellowship while minimizing conflict/dispute/misunderstanding…

        saude!

    • ASM….I attended one of the largest churches in the Fraser Valley (In BC) off and on for a number of years, and though it was a ‘Community Church’, it was part of the Mennonite Conference, just more contemporary. It wasn’t ethnic (and this was in Mennonite TERRITORY), and was made up of a vast diaspora of people culled from a wide variety of church backgrounds.
      They were very accepting, and I never heard of the sort of theological tensions such as are majored on in forums online.
      Perhaps there is a similar church back east near where he lives?

  13. why not try the Hamilton Mennonite church on lower horning? that’s where ive been going. you could be there in ten minutes…

  14. flatrocker says:

    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?

    My thoughts also lead me to these lyrics –

    Come down from your fences, open the gate
    It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you
    You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late

    Blessings on your journey. Our prayers are with you.

    • ….Ain’t it funny how the feeling
      goes away….

    • cermak_rd says:

      egalitarianism doesn’t strike me as just an intellectual and sterile issue. It seems to go to how people treat others and how they are treated.

  15. You sound like Wesley which was my first reaction. I get along so well with BIC and Alliance people I have met. I currently go to Christ Community Church after only ever being a member of the Methodist because of my upbringing. When I joined what I had to sign talked about tithing which I don’t believe in the way it is taught by them and I stated that on the paper. No one ever said anything. Charismatic in nature and my first taste of the gifts ever in my life. There is much I shake my head about and don’t know if that would be me. There seems to be room for a large variety of thinking some of which does not fit me. Lately I am not sure of the fit and the Methodist Church I first attended calls to me inside. I mostly go to CCC to sing and to give my money because they do support missions and food banks and other things I think are good and these people I love and I did sign on for it to be a house I belong to. Giving to me is important and I work doing ceramic tile mostly all the time so in my tiredness giving is the way to help for right now. I hope I always have a gift to contribute. Tile, tent making everyone has something they can offer. Good luck

  16. I’m in the same boat as Mike, floating out on some sea with no place to dock. Suggestions like “don’t ask don’t tell” and “attend but don’t join” are ones I’ve struggled with for years. One of the greatest benefits of attending and bonding with a congregation is so that I can be my best and most honest spiritual self. If I can’t be that person in my own congregation, where can I go? Attend but don’t join presents its own set of problems if the church is one that doesn’t have open communion. You must be a “member” (sign of the dotted line) to join them at the table. Yes, you COULD go up, and they probably wouldn’t stop you. But there’s that honesty thing again.

    If I can’t be honest about who I am spiritually, I can’t grow in my faith, nor can the people around me.

    • I’m in an attend but don’t join status – and have been at the same church for 15 years. It is the one I got saved at. A year later, I married a member of the church planting team. We both feel called to stay at the church, and would not be surprised to be here another 15 years.

      But not being a member causes struggles. It exposes me to feeling like an outsider – because to some extent I have made myself one. It limits the ways I can contribute to the church. I’m not going to become a leader – but with my ego that is probably a good thing. I can’t volunteer in the children’s ministry. Sometimes I don’t speak up on topics because I don’t want to fight city hall. (Since speaking up too much is an issue for me, that also might not be all bad.)

      • I was 18 years at our current Nazarene church before we joined. I could never wrap my head around some of their past do’s and don’ts. My struggle was “do they want me as a member if I don’t consider myself Nazarene?” and “do I want to say I’m a member of a theology I don’t completely agree with?” Curiously, though I wasn’t a member, I was allowed to lead an adult Sunday school class and participate in children’s ministries. I gave our leadership a lot of credit and thanks for their grace in going out-of-the-box with me on that. (Though allowing me to do children’s ministries was probably more out of needing a warm body than grace on their part.)

        I decided that becoming a member was more a declaration of “This is my church home,” not that I espoused to be a Nazarene through-and-through.

        (Becoming a member also allowed me to have a voice in some philosophical things I didn’t agree with.)

        Something for you to think about.

  17. Mike, your present ‘condition’ sounds very similar to mine. I spent almost 30 years as a Baptist (mostly SBC, but with 5 refreshing years with American Baptists), and came to disagree with most of what they did and taught (not to mention how they did and taught it).

    We did find a home in the Evangelical Covenant Church. It was actually recommended by someone on this site. The ECC has no statement of faith, just 6 affirmations, that make it a ‘big tent’ denomination. They affirm (paraphrased):

    The centrality of Scripture (but did not sign the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy)
    The necessity of the new birth
    The indwelling of the Holy Spirit
    The church as a fellowship of the saints
    The whole work of the Church in the world
    Freedom in Christ

    The practice infant baptism, and believers baptism. They have no problem with egalitarianism. They have a mix of Calvinists, though most would be Arminians, and I think you would be hard pressed to find many ECC pastors who are dispensational. They have a strong heart for social justice ministries, but also making disciples. It is a good denomination.

    We spent five years in a local ECC church, and unfortunately it closed down at the end of 2014. My only real discontentment with that church was the worship format – too informal for me.

    Since that time we have joined an Anglican Church in North America church. It is a little more conservative than the ECC church we attended, though not rigidly so, and the views you describe (like mine) would be welcomed, though not all would agree (that’s the Anglican way). But I do appreciate the liturgy – to me it has much more depth, historical connections (to those church fathers!), and meaning than the ‘bring your Starbucks cup and hang out with God (who also brings his Starbucks cup) worship’ that the particular ECC church we attended had.

    I wish you well in your search. I feel your pain and have been where you are (several times over the years). After our little ECC church closed down I told my wife we probably wouldn’t go anywhere – there is simply no church in our area (one notch from the buckle on the Bible belt) where I fit – most are too conservative, and those that aren’t accept and teach things I believe are too far from authentic Christianity. Fortunately we found this particular Anglican church and after 36 years of being homeless, I’ve found a home.

    • turnsalso says:

      That sounds like a lovely denomination. If there were one within 20 miles of my town, I should like to visit one with my family sometime.

      But I have a question: how is teaching done? The church of my childhood didn’t have an official statement of faith, so Sunday School consisted basically of learning Bible stories at the Knowledge level, and youth group was basically the Consensus Evangelical Worldview. There’s very little youth retention unless they can sing or play an instrument, and I can’t help but think this it’s caused in part by a failure to teach why anything ought to be believed. What does the ECC do?

      • turnsalso, that is a concern but I think it varies from church to church, since each church is autonomous, and styles vary. I think the ECC people tend to be very ‘biblically oriented’. By that I mean that while they don’t have a hard theology, they are interested in Bible study and are often open to new understandings of traditional texts. I found this to be very refreshing (in our particular church, the pastor was a fine teacher, actually a scholar) and we had very good, deep, even academic Bible study (though that might be unusual, and attendance varied with the topic). I can’t speak for all ECC churches, but I have talked with a couple of denominational leaders and found that same attitude and interest in serious Bible study. As I understand it, one of the mottos of the ECC is ‘where is it written’? It is also surprising that in their 150+ year history, they appear to have had very little schism.

        • turnsalso says:

          That is a remarkable thing indeed, and it seems to be a hallmark of an open-minded organization.

  18. Welcome to the club; that is exactly my struggle and I’ll be interested to see the responses. I don’t want to be elitist or narrow, but I also feel the need to be true to the core values that I have wrestled and sweated for years to come to. Like George Costanza, I feel the need to say, “It’s not you, it’s me” but at least I can say it with integrity.

    Another complication can be that a denomination and the local pastor / congregation may not all be aligned theologically and there can be all sorts of unspoken complications behind the scenes.

    As a fellow Canadian my recommendation would be with BIC or Anglican, and no, I don’t attend either…

    I’m so glad my theology includes a God of grace.

  19. Comment deleted.

    • Aren’t We testy! Great synopsis and deep insight into an honest spiritual journey. Thanks for sharing. Good denigrating too. Well done.

  20. Mike Guest says:

    Hi Mike,
    I am not a pastor but do hold a B.Th. degree.
    I align myself with your five requirements (but I do believe in inerrancy of the original script). I have also been though the gamut of various denominations and churches and have ended up churchless as well. However, my problem is even greater – I got kicked out of the Baptist church for not backing down on the fact that no one goes to heaven when they die, but “sleep” in the grave until the return of Christ. And even worse; I can find absolutely no Scriptural backing for the doctrine of eternal punishment in some imaginary “Hell” and this got me branded as a heretic.
    So, my wife and I simply study and pray together and hope that one day we will find a place where we can fit in.

    Mike

    P.S. the links on your website archives page don’t work!

  21. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    Funny, but you also sound Methodist to me (not that I have ever been one). As to Mennonite – I live in a Mennonite dominant community in one of SK’s 2 “Bible belts”, and I cannot imagine that it would work for you.

    Around here the Alliance churches tend to be conservative, and frown on theistic evolution. BTW, Stephen Harper is an Alliance Church member…. 🙂

  22. Mike, I suppose the United Church of Canada is too loosy-goosie for you?

  23. Michael, Where is your wife at relative to this church leaving?

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

    Start your own church.

    • If I had a nickle for every time I heard that from a (well meaning) sarcastic person…

      Because clearly, the problems are with you, and not in any way with them.

      • Stuart if you’ll post contact info I’ll be glad to send you a nickel. You’re simply projecting.

        I’m utterly serious. If you can’t find a community to join why not create your own? The church I grew up in was the result of a split in another well established congregation whose environment became intolerable for my parents and some of their friends.

        But you don’t have to start with a cathedral. You could seek out like minded individuals. Start with informal gatherings intended to talk it out. Go from there.

        Why would this option not be taken seriously?

        • This is one of the funnier mini-threads I’ve read. We have one of iMonk’s kings of sarcasm calling out someone else’s sarcasm, only that person wasn’t being sarcastic! Oh, the irony!

          Good push-back, Stephen. You make a good case.

          • Lol (yes I literally chuckled out loud)

          • Well I’m a newbie to this blog and I don’t know all the characters and their personal quirks. Somebody left the front door open and I wandered in and I’m appreciative that no one has chased me out. I love the differences of opinion here. There seem to be examples of every flavor of belief here from virtual atheists to rock ribbed fundamentalists and man, that’s great!

    • I’ve encountered a lot of people/churches that started their own church when something secondary didn’t align quite right. The results seem rather self-indulgent, in the majority.

      Just as plausible, but almost unheard of in my experience, is people within churches learning to disagree honestly, publicly, and well. No one seems to want to commit to the consistency and honesty this requires though. i’m convinced that, assuming certain other parameters (e.g. Christology) this would yield a lot better fruit than the constant church-leaving, church-splitting that seems to be the norm…

      • Nate it sounds to me like our host has gone beyond “secondary”.

        I’ve heard tell there are folks with the courage to stand naked alone before the infinite but I’m not one of those and I dare say most aren’t. We need a community. We put a lot of stock in the idea of the Church Universal and how we should all be one big happy family. But that’s not the way it works out in practice. Not just any community will do.

        • The only way any of Mike’s five things, to my mind, would be beyond secondary (I assume you mean primary issues of faith) is if someone in authority were insisting on them for fellowship/communion. Or being really heavy handed about them.

          I don’t question Mike’s decision to leave his church, just wondering if it’s reasonable to expect a church where all of his his theological distinctives are shared.

          And I don’t expect one big, happy family; but maybe one big, frustrated, theologically disparate, stubborn, and even argumentative family? Yet one that sticks with one another nevertheless…

  25. Daniel Jepsen says:

    Mike, I feel for you, and share some of the things you are feeling. Some people do not “move” much theologically as adults, and some do.

    Our church is non-denom evangelical. You would fit. I am with you on most of your points, and every one of the points you mentioned is represented in our congregation (along, sometimes, with the other side of the issue). We have arminians and calvinists, quiet charismatics and those suspicious of charismatics, strong innererancists and open skeptics, egalitarians and complementarians. We have classes on the church fathers. We practice open communion, and I avoid dispensationalism like a plague.

    Our doctrinal statement is almost exactly the Apostles Creed. We don’t emphasize membership, but if someone wants to be a member we simply ask that they not teach anything contrary to our doctrinal statement.

    Having said that, I must note that as pastor, I do feel the same pull you feel. Our church is part of the evangelical subculture, of course, and so I feel constrained by that sometimes. When I wanted to emphasize that YEC is not the meaning of Genesis 1, I took three weeks to lay the foundation and then present the argument. It went fine. But I do think some within our church view me as too “squishy” on some things like homosexuality,societal trends, male headship, YEC, the rapture, hell, and other shibboleths. And part of the reason for the disconnect is what you mentioned: more biblical knowledge and education makes you less likely to have a static, black and white understanding of these things. On some issues I feel constrained to not give my full opinion, not so much out of fear as because my opinion may still be in flux, and I don’t want to stir up division needlessly. So I try to focus on the main thing, Christ Crucified. And I suppose that is a good thing after all.

    • Thanks for sharing this Daniel….I was at another church for about 20 years and left about 2 years ago…..the church I currently attend sounds very similar to yours. What really impresses me about this church is I see humility (but not weakness) and unity in the leadership.

  26. Robert F says:

    My faith tradition is Anglican, by way of the Episcopal Church. I think you could fit here, except for your preference for free/low church liturgical style. Most Episcopal parishes have a liturgy that is not terribly high church, but judging this is a very subjective matter, and I’m pretty sure that your free/low church liturgical preferences would lead you to feel that almost all Episcopal parishes are too formal in liturgy.

    Being Charismatic might be another issue in the Episcopal Church, but being a “quiet Charismatic” is not. There are actually some Episcopal parishes are Charismatic, though not many. My wife and I attended one for a while; it was “quietly Charismatic”: manifestations of the gift took place in prayer meetings and healing sessions, not during the Sunday liturgical worship (Eucharistic).

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “it was “quietly Charismatic”: manifestations of the gift took place in prayer meetings and healing sessions, not during the Sunday liturgical worship (Eucharistic).”

      I honestly have no idea what that means. That is, it makes perfect sense if we are talking about a group’s culture. But as manifestations of the Holy Spirit? I don’t understand what this means.

      • Robert F says:

        What I meant is that the manifestations typical of Charismatic worship, say tongues and ecstasies, did not take place during the Eucharistic liturgy on Sunday mornings, only in the small group gatherings; even then, things were low-key. Of course the Holy Spirit is present and acting in the Eucharistic liturgy.

        • turnsalso says:

          Scholiast over at The Pocket Scroll was raised in a charismatic Anglican church (in Canada, even!) and I think I recall him saying that they had an area by the lectern where people could go to be slain in the Spirit during Holy Communion. And that they somehow kept this and the other things dignified and orderly.

  27. Hi Mike,

    I’m in a sort of similar situation of not fitting in anywhere. I went from Catholic (family background), Pente / Presbyterian (yes pretty psycho I know…a real head spinner) > Charismatic/Wesleyan > Patristic (ie semi-Catholic). So I don’t really fit in anywhere either.
    The thing that challenged me was always trying to compare different points of view & swaying one way then another. I finally came to realise that the “claims” on dogmatic Christian doctrine is akin to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Everyone claims the Bible’s authority but no one can agree on almost anything eg take the 5 most important “soul-saving” issues. You won’t find agreement. Sure Christians can agree on the objective truth in the Bible but they disagree on the “path of salvation” / “what is necessary for salvation”. (That really helps when your eternity is at stake !)

    Next I was challenged by a Catholic charismatic to read, “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic”. This book blew away a lot of the anti-Catholic pre-conceptions I had (hey they can actually support a lot of their beliefs from the scriptures !) . This led me to search the Patristic records to try & prop up my charismatic / Wesleyan beliefs and gave me a hunger to re-connect with the liturgy & monastic traditions. What I found was that the Church has now morphed into something disconnected, in a lot of ways, from what it was in the beginning. More so on the protestant side of things than the Catholic.

    So for me to take patristics seriously, I need to fellowship in places that don’t just give “lip service” to our forbears but who take their teaching as part of “Holy Tradition”. Otherwise the circus just goes on & on as churches continue to morph into a religious society that continues to disconnect from the original context of what they are supposed to be.

    Cheers

  28. Michael Z says:

    Mike, are you saying that you are looking for a church where the teaching and worship match every item on your list, or just for a church where you will be able to “fit in” with all those distinctive elements of your own faith?

    In pretty much every church I’ve been a member of, there has been a mix of Calvinists and non-Calvinists, charismatics and cessationists, hard-line inerrancy people and others who interpret “inspiration” more loosely, etc. If the pastor of that church is doing a good job of being pastoral, he or she will recognize that diversity within the congregation and not take a stand on one side or the other when it comes to “secondary” matters of doctrine, and will instead focus on proclaiming the truths that we all hold in common (i.e. the stuff that’s in the ecumenical creeds).

    (I grew up in the Evangelical Covenant Church, which Greg described in a post above, and am still a member there, but also attend an Episcopal “emerging church.”)

  29. Mike, the three main positive churches for me have been a Foursquare and two ELCA Lutherans, and I want to strongly emphasize that in my experience these Lutheran churches have almost nothing in common with our own Steve Martin Luther, nor would I have attended if they did. What the three have in common was a pastor I greatly liked and respected, a minimal emphasis on doctrine, a loving and accepting congregation, no requirement or pressure to be a member or adhere to set doctrine, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the assembly, not necessarily in outward signs.

    My own essential personal beliefs fit on a dog tag. If I were to become a formal member of the Lutheran church I now attend, I would have to affirm their distinctive beliefs which comprise a whole book, much of which I either do not fully understand or do not agree with. My guess is that many members either don’t know what’s in the book, don’t understand it, or don’t agree with all, but sign up like you check the box saying you agree with all the fine print you didn’t read when you install a computer program. In all three churches, I had no idea who was a member and who wasn’t. The only difference it made for me personally is that I couldn’t vote at congregational meetings, tho I could attend and offer opinion. I served widely in all three churches and was not barred from anything, communion, teaching Sunday School, librarian, acolyte, lector, even filling in on the sermon.

    So first I would suggest you pay a lot of attention to the many comments saying you don’t have to be a formal member, and it’s not like you are shacking up. And I would stop trying to find a church that affirms your beliefs, which may change anyway, just go for one that doesn’t obnoxiously go against yours. At least be open to the idea that many here have moved more toward the liturgical end of the spectrum, and consider this as possibly a move of God’s Spirit at large, if not for everyone. If you understood the spirit behind the liturgy and open communion better, you might not find it so objectionable. I find closed communion reprehensible wherever it is found.

    You can learn a lot just by setting out to visit most of the churches within driving distance. There is nothing that says you HAVE to go to one local church. There is nothing that says you HAVE to go to church period, tho there is a large and vociferous crowd of professional clergy to tell you otherwise. I would look on your situation not as some breakdown needing to be fixed, but a wonderful opportunity for quantum growth and understanding if you and your intellect just get out of the way.

    • Charles, I’m pretty sure you don’t have to agree with the Book of Concord to be a lay member of the ELCA. They don’t even require their ministers to agree with it. Like most mainlines, their standards of doctrinal adherence are very broad for their ministers, and even more minimal for the laity on a local level. I’m sure it varies from congregation to congregation, but what does your own pastor say is required belief for membership?

      • Miguel, thanks. My impression is that it’s more like adherence is winked at as long as you don’t actively counter Concord. I’ve never actually asked about this because I never wanted to pursue membership, but I’ll run it by my pastor to see what he says. He is in process of studying to be ordained and considers himself distant from what he calls the “fundamentalists”, so he’s the perfect person to ask. And he’ll tell me what’s what.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          The language in the ELCA model constitution for congregations is that we “accept the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness of the Gospel” and the rest of the Book of Concord as “further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.” Note that it does not say “the only” valid interpretation. If you read the Smalcaid Articles and find them obvious hooey, then this is a problem. But you aren’t required to regard them as Holy Writ. This is in contrast with our more conservative brethren, who regard the Book of Concord as the Third Testament, though they would never put it that way.

          In any case, as a practical matter you can go for years, or even decades, at a time hearing barely a mention of the topic. It’s not as if Lutheran pastors preach from the pulpit on today’s text from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. My experience with LCMS is much less than with the ELCA, but back when I belonged to an LCMS parish this was true there. I have occasionally seen the BoC, and the Augsburg Confession in particular, taught in adult education class. FWIW, I think this is a very good idea.

  30. Mike, it looks like you’re generally a fit for some of the “medium church” mainlines. Low churches tend to be very conservative theologically in ways that would cross your list. The Episcopal church would be perfect if you could just deal with the liturgy (which really isn’t that hard considering the other items on your list), but consider that this might open a world of options to you: 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. BUT, they are:

    The United Methodist church (and I think Free Methodists and Wesleyan Church might fit), the Nazarene Church, the Evangelical Covenant Church, Cumberland Presbyterian Church (I think they are not required to be Calvinist), the Disciples of Christ, American Baptist Church, Baptist General Conference, one of the Methodist Episcopal churches…

    Believe it or not, a small group called the “Lutheran Brethren.” They’re almost Arminian, and non-liturgical. And don’t discount the Presbyterian Church, USA. It will be easier to find a formal liturgical congregation in their midst than a genuine Calvinist theologian in their pulpits. The ones with contemporary services are pretty much just generic Evangelicalism with a strong leftward bent (i.e. no creationism, cesationism, inerrancy, or complementarianism).

    But from what I know of you, I’d lean either either United Methodists (with Numo above) or Disciples of Christ. But you’re probably gonna have to give up on generic non-denom Evangelicalism if your list of 5 points is that important to you. Their doctrinal agenda is overwhelmingly driven by groups like SBC, Calvary Chapel, AoG, EV Free, etc… That’ll probably change in another decade or so.

  31. Mike,

    I feel your pain. Been there. Done that.

    At the same time, I feel a deep concern for you, that you are coming at this from the wrong angle.

    I confess right now that I don’t know you except through your writings, and so what I offer here may be way off base. If so, I simply confess my sin of presumption against you and beg your forgiveness.

    I do not think the solution is to find the right garden — as if you are a plant, and if you could just be planted where there is a bit more sunlight, better soil Ph, or a better watering schedule would make all the difference. The Human Problem is that The Garden is no longer available to us. Instead, Christ is our garden. He is the ground in which we are rooted, the living water from which we draw our sustenance and the light that gives us life.

    Reading what I just wrote, I’m afraid it sounds insufferably pious. But please bear with me.

    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?

    I would ask you to consider this because I am afraid that you may be raising unnecessary walls that are simply making your life more difficult than it needs to be. Paul went to great lengths in his pastoral letters to point out that Christ has obliterated the walls between Jews and gentiles, men and women, slave and free. I think we may (must?) assume that that destructive work extends to other categories, including (but not limited to) hermeneutics, liturgical practice, eschatology, pneumatology, etc. In Christ we are one people, having one baptism, one Lord, and one God.

    The challenge you face reminds me of the challenge before St. Benedict. In his time, monks would hop from monastery to monastery, always trying to find the right teacher who could teach them how to be more spiritual, the Abbot who would be more strict (or less), or more holy (or less), etc. So Benedict wrote what we now know as “The Rule.” Primary among the vows required by The Rule was the vow of stability. The Rule forbids monks to change their place of service without permission from their Abbot. In “Under the Unpredictable Plant” Eugene Peterson describes this spiritual practice as Askesis. It is a beneficial constraint, an acceptance of limitation. One stops listening to one’s own discontent, wanderlust, and desire for control. Instead, in working through one’s existing context one seeks to listen to God through the noise.

    My dear brother, I would encourage you to consider releasing your requirements while fastening onto Jesus where you are. Christ is there. Stay there with him. Listen for his voice speaking even from the dispensationalist, calvinist, bible-thumping, cessationist mouths that surround you. I realize that will be hard work, sacrificial, humiliating and it may take a long long time. I suspect that you have been doing it for years already, and the very difficulty and discomfort of it is what has driven you to the place where you are. I also suspect that that difficulty and discomfort rather than being the Spirit directing you to leave, may instead be the Spirit revealing some points of repentance you should consider.

    Having said all that, I may be full of crap. So, I will end with a prayer for you.

    I pray that the God of wisdom will kill you dead and raise you alive every day. I pray that his light will illuminate your path, especially if your path is through a dry and barren country. I pray that he will bring you to springs of living water, and that his bread of life will sustain you. And I pray that we will all be joined together in that far off country where we will make our home together in Him forever. Amen.

    • What a response. Shut the comments down and let Dave & Mike dialogue, and let us glean the wisdom!

      Dave, where can I read more about askesis?

    • If you don’t mind, Denis, I have just appropriated that prayer for myself. So well spoken, so well received over here where I am trying to shed the imposed guilt coming from within and without because I am not currently attached to any church after years of faithful attendance and service.

    • A thousand Amens.

  32. Tangent re: church home: My wife has been substituting as musician at the Saturday evening Mass at a local Roman Catholic parish over the last weeks, and, as is usual, I’ve been with her as support due to her health issues, and as occasional page-turner. This has brought back many memories of my youth in the RCC, and at the same time renewed my wife’s (her background is C&MA) preexisting interest in the RCC.

    Our experience there has been a good one. We have both found ourselves appreciating the priest and other people, the music, the homilies, the liturgies. The thing that has struck me most is that, while there is careful planning, there is no attempt to make anything happen during the Mass; rather, there seems to be a quiet trust that something is already happening, and the congregation is participating in that universal happening by doing its part in the here and now. The homily doesn’t need to be profound, the music doesn’t need to be perfect, the liturgy doesn’t have to be reviewed and adjusted for creativity and relevance every week or month or year. Something is already happening, and all we need to do is join ourselves to it in spirit and intention. This is a very liberating attitude and feeling; it’s not what I’ve ever felt worshiping in any Protestant church, liberal or conservative, evangelical or mainline

    The good father has given us some materials to read, and it has gradually dawned on me that one does not need to surrender any of the worthwhile, core Reformation insights of Protestantism to be Roman Catholic> In fact, there is a lot of latitude for divergence of opinion in interpretation of almost all Roman Catholic teaching.

    Another thing I’m learning is that the real continuity of Roman Catholicism across the ages is largely not doctrinal, but corporeal: the Church is a continuing physical reality in time and space, concretizing the continued presence of Jesus Christ with and in his people in this world. This is perhaps why there is less anxiety about the Parousia among Roman Catholics than evangelicals: Catholics know that Christ is returning in there very midst at every Mass. One day that returning will be complete, but not quite yet.

    I’m at the place where I would be willing to reconcile with the RCC; there remains one problem: my wife was married once before, and divorced. It may be that this is a hurdle we cannot surmount, for a number of reasons. We shall see. But, even if we can not become RCC, I have a renewed respect and appreciation for the Catholic church, and some of the old alienation and pain has been healed. I’m thankful for this.

    • This.

      “The real continuity…is…not doctrinal, but corporeal”

      Christ is present where two or three are gathered together in his name. Let us listen for his voice where we are.

      • I don’t deny that Christ is present among non-Roman Catholic Christians when they gather; heck, I’m a non-Roman Catholic Christian myself, and I believe he’s there when I worship with my Protestant brothers and sisters.

        But a body has visible continuity in time and space. You don’t have to believe that Peter was the first Pope (I don’t) to recognize that the visible continuity of Christ’s body in his people has been a continuous and unbroken reality in the Catholic Church. I can’t see that unbroken continuity in the tradition of the Lutheran church I spend most of my time in; nor in the Episcopal church I’m member of. What I see is a scattered and gap filled continuation, where doctrinal differences fill in the lacuna where living ligaments have been broken away from muscle and bone. Notion replaces corporeality as the connection holding the body together; but a body is not notion.

        Who’s responsible for this rupturing? Protestants and Catholics. And the Catholic church contributed to this notionalizing of the body of Christ both before and since the Reformation. Nevertheless, though the body no doubt (to my mind) continues to be present among Protestants, its visible continuity is most obvious and evident and PHYSICAL in the Roman Catholic Church.

        This is a sea change in thinking for me. In my sea-sickness it’s hard to get my bearings; a certain view of land is nevertheless taking shape.

        • Christiane says:

          Hi ROBERT F.

          you wrote this: “though the body no doubt (to my mind) continues to be present among Protestants, its visible continuity is most obvious and evident and PHYSICAL in the Roman Catholic Church”

          ROBERT, what is interesting is that the Vatican Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this:
          “”The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”

          The Church and non-Christians
          839 “Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.”
          The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the Word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
          840 and when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.
          841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

      • Robert F says:

        But absolutely, yes: Let us listen for his voice where we are (His voice at times, however, may be telling us to depart; that’s how many end up in the evangelical wilderness).

    • Dana Ames says:

      Healing of anything is good, especially alienation and pain… glad to hear it, Robert.

      Dana

    • scrapiron says:

      ” The thing that has struck me most is that, while there is careful planning, there is no attempt to make anything happen during the Mass; rather, there seems to be a quiet trust that something is already happening, and the congregation is participating in that universal happening by doing its part in the here and now.”

      I love this. After years of not-belonging in fundamentalist evangelical circles, but lacking the gumption to do anything about it, I finally, sort of accidentally ended up attending and now joining and ELCA church. What you’ve just said captures why I am so at home with the liturgy. Sales pitches make me uneasy and every minute of every church service in the fundagelical world seemed like a giant guilt-driven sales pitch. I love just simply living in the truth that “something is already happening” and not feeling like God is only going to show up if we’re all . . .something . . . enough.

  33. Sounds like you need a UMC church. I don’t remember much discussion about Early Church Fathers there, but it’s by no means something off limits

  34. come join us in the Evangelical Covenant Church! small denomination (covchurch.org). all the statements you made would fit as we are non-creedal and have purposely avoided the language of innerancy in holding a high view of Scripture.

  35. Wesleyan Church.

  36. Dana Ames says:

    Dave above makes some good points. I struggled with all of them before leaving the last Evangelical church I was in, the Evangelical Free Church. I have never been a “church-hopper” and value relationships very much – I was at that EFC for 10 years before I left, and before that the only time I changed churches was when we moved to a different town. I was very sad that apparently I valued the relationships more than others did – the pastor was visibly relieved when I left, and only 2 people called me to find out if I was ok… I asked unwelcome questions (never, ever did I engage in factionalism) and some of the doctrinal conclusions I had come to by the time I left made it not a good fit anymore. Following that, I was at a PCUSA church for 9 years; our local congregation is socially tolerant but doctrinally rather conservative, though not very Calvinistic. Doctrine became an issue there only as I became increasingly interested in the Orthodox Church, and I am very happy to be able to truthfully say that I did not suffer there with any no personality issues, problems with pastors or other similar hurts. When I encounter people from that church around town, they are always happy to see me, and I them. By the time I was on the road to the Orthodox Church, I was running toward, not running away. The only reason to be anywhere is that is where you find the Lord.

    With what you have written, I recommend, in order of decreasing amount of liturgical formality, and agreeing with what others above have said about them:

    Continuing Anglican (ACNA)
    Free Methodist or UMC
    Presbyterian (many options – as Miguel noted, there are plenty that are not overly Calvinistic)
    Evangelical Covenant Church
    Other Wesleyan
    American Baptist
    Vineyard

    Stay honest and keep your conscience clear. God is for you.

    Dana

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Your list makes me think we could provide a list of churches that would NOT be good for Mike! Anyone care to offer THAT list?

    • “the pastor was visibly relieved when I left, ”

      Oh, that’s got to be SUCH a wonderful feeling.

    • Love your “draft board”…… ever consider being an ecclesiastical GM (general manager) ??

    • “– the pastor was visibly relieved when I left . . .”

      Dana, back in the 70’s my best friend and I were both driven out of a thriving, friendly, country Pentecostal church whose pastor started reading Dominion Theology or Christian Reconstructionism and ended up turning a three Sunday morning service church into a dying remnant with a halfway built new building up the hill. I know the pastor was visibly relieved when I left but not as relieved as I was. I had been begging God for months for permission to get out of there and was not let go until I had fully learned my bitter lessons about legalism and abusive authority, something I have ever since appreciated and used.

      My friend went on to attend a little country start up church where he was eventually asked to act as interim pastor. As it happened this little church was named such as to place it right above our original church in the Yellow Pages. We had many a good laugh talking about me starting up my own church and naming it so that it appeared right below our original church in those Yellow Pages, making a double thorn-in-the-side sandwich for our Theonomic brother in Christ.

  37. I think we will never find the perfect church, where we agree with everything on doctrine and practice. I too feel like you, not really belonging anywhere, pretty much a hybrid of many traditions that I admire. It’s like buying a house – you will never find the perfect house and have to settle on major things that fit well with you (unless you have it built to your specifications!).

  38. OldProphet says:

    Hey, Mike. After looking over your list, I find that we agree on all 5 points Biblically and from a similar theological viewpoint. To bad you’re in Canada. There is a place for you in the desert of SoCal The one true beauty of belonging to a non-denim church is that so many different beliefs, but one body.

  39. 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.

    As for me, I’m going to take advice from Stephen Stills…

    “And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey,
    Love the one you’re with.”

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Stephen mentions this idea in an earlier post, and I think it’s a good thought.

      (And welcome back, Calvin! I’ve noticed your absence. Everything okay?)

      • I’m fine, thanks for asking.

        I’ve been perusing this site daily, enjoying much–and annoyed at some–of it but haven’t had much of a desire to contribute much until just now.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Well, we have our differences, but I’ve missed your take on things. Glad to hear you’re okay.

        • Daniel Jepsen says:

          Indeed, I miss you too

        • Calvin, great to see you back here! I’ve missed you, and i know that goes for others. your voice and thoughts are both welcome and needed, though i can understand why you might not want to comment much, if at all.

          At any rate, i hope all is well with you and yours.

      • I notice these things too Rick and was wondering also

  40. Mike,

    I don’t know for sure if my congregation would work for you, but based on your five points here, I think you might get along fairly well in my church. I say this as someone who doesn’t “sign on the dotted line” for everything my church holds fast to, and who knows a number of people in my church that disagree openly with certain distinctives, and it hasn’t been a problem, yet anyway.

    Before I say any more, my one caution based on your post, Mike, (and you probably very well know this) is that it may not be the best idea to look for or expect a church that will line up perfectly with you on these things. They are mostly side issues, except in churches that are heavily bent on them (“loud” charismatic churches, for example).

    My church is a small, mostly youngish, PCA church, and you wouldn’t know its denomination by what you hear on Sunday, or even in private conversation with the pastor. We’re just not that gung-ho about setting that up front and center. Of course, things do come up now and then that are probably misaligned with a few of your points, the most obvious being: 2) it is historically, as a denom, very Reformed, and 4) quite firmly complementarian.

    The thing is, neither of these things apparently need to be “heavily taught” from our particular pulpit, although in some PCA churches they probably are. Obviously the issues make themselves known at times in our congregation, but seldom enough, and with enough sensitivity, that I don’t feel excluded or faced with a sharp challenge of any kind- even though I’m not really complementarian, or Reformed (in the strictest sense of a John Piper at least). I too love the early fathers, am basically a theistic evolutionist, and a quiet charismatic.

    With all that in mind, I wish it wasn’t the case that these five things were barriers to church belonging, but I know the reality is they often are. Ideally to me, it seems churches would have an open hand about such things, and that belonging to a body of Christians functioning in union with Christ would be the primary experience one would have in a church, not being constantly confronted with a heavy emphasis on exactly how gifts of the Spirit should function, or the exact interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. These types of things to my mind aren’t unimportant, but they should be the kinds of things we (intramurally at a local church) can have candid disagreements about without pushing each other away or noticeably leaning the Sunday service on them. I think my pastor does a great job at encouraging such honesty, and wouldn’t think for a minute of demanding that people toe the denominational line on things like this.

    Much grace to you in your search.

    • One more thing: a big plus that I appreciate about my church is that you won’t find dispensationalism preached at all. Not even a whiff of it.

    • I will also echo the comments above that recommend the Vineyard. Of course, like any movement, you have to evaluate their churches/preaching/etc individually, but I’ve had great experiences there.

  41. Boy, I feel your pain, Mike. Hoo boy do I feel your pain. Same situation here: too much seminary, too much evaluating systematic theologies in light of what Scripture says, too few choices. If it’s any encouragement, we’ve taken to distinguishing between the official theology of the denomination, the pastoral theology preached from the pulpit, and the lay theology of the congregation. Maybe you can find a church where the latter two align better with your beliefs.

  42. Sean O Riain says:

    You are in nearly the exact same boat as I. Our belief systems are nearly identical from what I have read. The difference is that I have not taken the plunge to leave my church (Wesleyan). However, I have refused the repeated requests to consider official “covenant membership” because I cannot agree/adhere to some of the outlined beliefs. I stay for more than one reason. First and foremost, as you indicated, I want a place to belong. And for my experience I still belong because I am open and honest about my different views and they are still more than accepting of me. This leads me to a secondary reason. I admit that my way is every changing and I do not have all the answers. So as long as the other “members” are accepting of me, and as long as our pastor continues to debate with me, I am still learning and growing with them and I cannot ask for more than that. If they were to become less accepting and gave me an ultimatum, then I would have to leave but that has not happened. Therefore, I remain a local congregational member without voting rights (which is of little importance to me) while not accepting the invitation to denominational membership.

  43. Rick Ro. says:

    By the way, Mike Bell…your post has fostered some great conversations. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. Wonderful thread. Nice job!

  44. Interestingly enough, our church tradition as a whole might not work, but as a congregation we would be a good fit as we’re intentionality (more and more) mere in our Christianity. There’s room at the table.

  45. AnnieOly says:

    The best church I ever experienced was not really a church, it was a military fellowship where people of every theological stripe came together to worship, pray for each other, and offer support in very real, meaningful ways. Our relationships were by far more important than theology, and all of us had a great time discussing and debating while managing to put loving each other first. No one was ever made to feel ‘other’ because of doctrinal differences.

    Being a new Christian little did I know how miraculously unusual that place was, and how I would search and never find anything similar ever since then. I would trade every piece of theology I ever knew beyond a generic Apostles creed to find such a place again.

    So to anyone who has found something like I’ve described here, my recommendation is to treat it like the precious jewel it is. And then please write and let me know where you are.

  46. I am a megachurch evangelical, and have been for well over a decade now. I was solidly evangelical when I joined, but since then I have shifted significantly. I still remain part of this church because it has been my home through a very significant portion of my young adult life, even though I no longer feel totally at home there. This church, and the community there which I am part of, has been very good to me over the years, and I do not wish to give that up unless I absolutely positively have to. A lot of the criticisms of the megachurch which I read about here strike uncomfortably close to home, and too much is decided, at too fundamental a level, by the “felt needs” of those mythical creatures Unchurched Harry and Mary. How do I put up with it? Mainly by just having a sense of humor about it and not taking any of it too seriously, and by having faith that in spite of all the crazy megachurch antics (which fortunately are not nearly as crazy at my church as they are at many others), people are coming to Christ and the kingdom of God is advancing.

  47. CalvinCuban suggested starting a house church/fellowship. Wife and I did that for 6 years after the demise of a non-denom congregation we had been in for several years–which shut down essentially because of perceptions of the necessity of “Apostolic” leadership (the Apostolic leadership network that had the last say [New Frontiers] recommended closing the church and the elders took them at their word). One of our desires in establishing a house church was to meet simply and to encourage “diffuse leadership”.

    The 6 year experiment produced mixed results. It was a good education–much of that from the negative. I would probably not do it again. We went from the house church (demised) setting into a local ECUSA and found that experience positive. Presently we’re part of an “emerging/emergent” congregation and feel at home–at least for now.

    We also, like RobertF, were drawn to RCatholicism, but the shine was taken off because wife and I had both been previously married and divorced and would have been required to pursue annulments.

    In my experience a persistent constant is that my theological understanding and thinking changes. Hopefully it’s in a positive direction. That theological flux necessitates that I’m around people who are open and engaged in something of the same flux. We don’t need agreement on each and every element of understanding, but we must agree to be supportive of each other in our journey of Faith. Those who hold to inerrancy of scripture will likely not appreciate or tolerate in a congregational setting those of us who do not affirm the Reformed theory of Inerrancy–in my experience.

  48. Mike Bell.
    Ummmm this is going to sound weird but as you are looking for your new church I’d like to invite you to come and sit with the church family I pastor.
    In brief: I am personally with you on all your first 4 points. My congregation varies on them – but we love each other and don’t get too hung up on our differences. (As far as point 5 – I appreciate deeply the early fathers I just haven’t spent much time in their works…)
    Oh yeah – we’re in Brantford On. Not too far from the mighty metropolis of Dundas. It’s not likely you would want to commute every week to be with us, but if you want a place to sit in, feel loved and welcomed and be able to be yourself while searching for your church home – that’s us. We’re small, we’re a diverse group of people, but we are awesome at loving and accepting. Please avail yourself of us.
    I tried to find you on facebook so I could make this offer a little more privately… but was unsuccessful. If you’d like to contact me: jeremiah.pacey@gmail.com or look me up on facebook: Jeremiah Pacey in Brantford ON…

  49. Mike,

    I am none of your first four points, and my family can’t find a church to fit in to, either. What I have found to be the big issue is how people are treated (or not treated). The second great commandment doesn’t seem to have a stronghold in many places, and I know this in part is due to the distinctive theology many churches hold.

    Lately I have been searching for some type of organic/home type church (I believe in mutual edification, with participation of everybody in the church meeting), but alas, they don’t advertise, and the people who know people who know people are never good at making connections for other people. So we sit and wait.

  50. Moravian? They do have several churches in Canada.