19 July 2007

The Journey Begins

First, a little background since none of you know me from Adam. You can decide later if you care.

I'm an evangelical Protestant. I've been a Christian since shortly before my 17th birthday and am coming up on the 20-year anniversary of the day I came to Christ. I grew up in the Methodist church but when my parents divorced around age 14, I started attending an Assemblies of God church. It was here that I first encountered people who seemed to have a real and personal relationship with Christ and enjoyed coming to church on Sundays. Unfortunately, the Methodist church I attended was dead and stale and most of the people seemed to be just punching a time card because going to church is What You're Supposed To Do.

So anyway, it's in this Pentecostal environment that I came to know Christ. After I graduated college and moved to another city, I attended other kinds of churches: a non-denominational charismatic church (which interestingly was Calvinist in its soteriology), a Presbyterian (PCA) church and finally settled upon a non-denominational Evangelical church that was basically Calvinist in soteriology and believed in expository preaching, yet was contemporary and informal in style. I loved the place and still do.
But I'm at a crossroads.

I've moved back to my hometown to get closer to family (so my children can see their grandparents more) and take a job that pays better and has better future prospects.We're attending a good church now, but I'm less than satisfied if I'm being honest. I'm longing for something but I'm not sure what. I'm dismayed by the continuing drift and divisions in Protestant churches. A good friend of mine who also attended the AG church I came to Christ in recently converted to Catholicism. And this is someone I deeply respect. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He deeply loves God and wants to follow His commands. He doesn't make rash decisions or jump from fad to fad. In fact, he grew up in the AG denomination and remained there until converting, so he's way less of a religious mutt than I am. Yet he read the writings of the early church fathers extensively and prayed for several months and decided that the Catholic Church was what it claimed to be and joined it.

Well, that got me curious. First of all, I wanted to be able to converse knowledgeably with him. I love discussing theology and wanted to know where he was coming from. But second, I realized that his conversion, coupled with my interactions with a couple of wonderful Catholic friends online was really making me want to know more about my faith from a historical perspective. Even as I've enjoyed things like modern praise music (done well) and more informal worship services, I've quietly lamented the lack of connection to our history as Christians not only on an individual level, but in our corporate expressions of worship as well. Over the last year or so, I've found myself drawn more to old hymns, even if redone with more modern arrangements because of the poetic lyrics and deep theological truths they expressed. I loved it when our church would recite the Apostle's or Nicene Creed or Phos Hilaron (as translated by John Keble) as I felt such a deep connection to generations of Christians centuries before me in reciting the same words they said, but those occasions were all too rare (though more than most contemporary-style churches I've known). I wondered why in all the striving for cultural relevance, we'd seemingly lost the sense of awe and mystery in Holy Communion (did we ever have it?), and why we don't partake of it more often.

I wondered why as Protestants, we more or less trace our Christian history back to the 1500s and Martin Luther, then leap back 15 centuries to the approximate date the Apostle John died. We never talk about it. Did the church cease to exist for 1500 of the last 2000 years? Did pagan influences and corrupt theology and doctrine come barging in immediately after the Apostles died? There are probably different answers to that question that would attribute varying degrees of apostasy and theological error to the Apostles successors, but the point is, we almost act like those 1500 years never existed. Or if they did, nothing between about A.D. 90 and 1517 has, nor should it have, any bearing on our understanding of the Bible and our Christian faith. I don't know how to answer that but it seems preposterous on its face.

So, all of this has brought me to something of a crisis of faith. Not between having faith in God or not having faith in God or debating his existence. It's more of a crisis over what the Christian faith is. Being raised a Protestant and becoming something of a Calvinist in soteriology about 10 years ago, I thought I was done figuring out the big stuff. But the more I read of the writings of the early church...men who risked all they had and often paid with their very lives...the more I found that they believed an awful lot of stuff we Protestants eschewed long ago in our quest to get back to the primacy of Scripture and dispense with unnecessary man-made traditions. My head is spinning and I'm not sure where it's going to go from here. Maybe this blog will help me sort it all out.

I just want the truth, no matter where it leads.


Qatfish said...

May the Lord be with you, brother, on your journey.

Ragamuffin said...

Thanks, Qat. It should be an interesting ride!