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Eeyore Meets Jesus


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Hello everyone!

 

My wife calls me "eeyore" because I'm a pessimist and an angry man. This is important to remember when I get to the question at the bottom of this post. First some background. I was raised in a Roman Catholic family in upstate NY, attended Catholic schools through high school, went to a state university and converted to evangelicalism via the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Over the next several years I was involved in several different independent Baptist churches as I moved between school and home and different circles of friends. From there I went to an evangelical seminary, met and married my wife of 27 years :), and became involved in a regional denomination of calvinistic mennonites (Huh? Yes, such things do exist.) While involved in that church I taught in a local Christian elementary school. We have a lot of fond memories of the things we did and learned during those years. In the early 90s we moved to a different church due to problems with the new minister. We ended up at a Presbyterian Church in America church plant. During our time in that congregation I believed I had a call to fulltime ministry, became an ordained minister in the PCA and took a small church elsewhere.

 

I should point out that from the time I left seminary in the mid 80s until I became ordained in '96 I had been an elder in one church or another almost continuously. As time allowed I continued to read theology, philosophy and some science to keep up or fill in gaps in my knowledge. I was a committed -- in some ways militant -- evangelical. But for all that, I was surrounded almost entirely by what I would call "soft" evangelicals. For the most part they had found ways to mitigate the effects of the worst features of Christian orthodoxy. The churches did a lot of good work for members and affiliates, and many of the members were dedicated contributors to the life of the communities around the church.

 

At the PCA church I encountered for the first time sub-cultures of what I would call "hard" evangelicals. Oddly enough, I worked in two of these sub-cultures at the same time, each of which held deep suspicions of the other. The presbytery into which I was ordained was controlled by a group of what are commonly styled in conservative Presbyterian circles "truly Reformed." The truly Reformed in the presbytery had a decidedly frosty relationship with pastors who were not as concerned with being consistently Reformed in every area of life as they understood it. I was one of the latter, as it turned out. One of the things that deeply offended me was that the presbytery had pretty much destroyed a congregation that had been founded by one of the pastors of a church I had been involved with while in school.

 

I also worked with a local Bible school founded by a radical Wesleyan holiness preacher. The board of the local Bible school was so committed to holiness theology that I'm still not sure why they bothered to hire a Presbyterian pastor; the previous pastor had worked at the school and they liked him well enough. I guess that was my in. In any case, over the course of the next few years the administration became more and more restive over the presence of non-holiness teachers. When the president, who was more tolerant of theological differences, retired the board brought in a new administration and within a year the entire faculty was replaced. I was deeply offended that they fired one teacher who had worked at the school many, many years on a very, very low salary, had personally directed the placement of many graduates in pastoral and other ministries and was nearing retirement.

 

Both of these groups would -- and when they knew about it, did -- address my complaints in pretty much the same way: underneath your supposedly compassionate exterior is a bitter and deceitful heart. You are not interested in what is good and true only in ease and appearances. The truly reformed: the church had already been destroyed by the poor teaching and discipline of the founding pastor. When we brought in the right kind of pastor, all the demons lurking in the church showed their true colors and the congregation melted away into the shadows. The Wesleyan holiness board: We have to be true to our holiness principles; the man does not adhere to them (which was true). In the best interests of the school's mission we need to find someone who will satisfy us that he is adhering to our doctrines.

 

Anyway, it was during this time that I left the ministry. I left more because I had found my true passion in another field. Afterwards, though I began to process a deep anger. Some of it came from health problems but the bulk of it came from my relationship with God. I was really, really mad that people would do these things to each other out of love for Jesus. I believed deeply in the depravity of human beings but was flummoxed that so much of it was being justified on the basis of exegesis of Biblical texts. Worse, in some cases the exegesis made sense. So it came down to this: either the Biblical text or my conscience was wrong.

 

I know many, many people who have had their evangelical faith shaken by Biblical contradictions, evidence in support of evolution, personal tragedies, or the failings of ministers or other leaders. For me, it is the rottenness at the root of Christian orthodoxy, the ugly reality that the Biblical authors who declaim so loudly their love for God and their rejection of all evil and evildoers do so at least partly to justify their own wretched malice. My critics uncovered my anger; I discovered the source of their hate. This is nothing peculiar to "hard" evangelicals. As a committed evolutionist, I trace this malice to human nature itself. Our worst enemy truly is the enemy within. The way I read the Bible the authors spend a lot of time trying to convince the reader that the author's malice is really God's wrath, and God's wrath is caused by the misdeeds of the devil, the Canaanites, the Jews, the reader. This is not a black and white issue for me. God has good reason to be angry with humankind. The Biblical authors are often right about the dark passions that drive human conduct, the need for vigilance, especially over oneself, and the need and power of Jesus and "grace" to break us free.

 

Bless you if you've read this far! Now to the present. My family attends a PCUSA church. In a fit of temporary insanity I let my name stand for ordination to lay eldership and went ahead with ordination. At no point did I get queried about my beliefs at all, nor did I volunteer my objections to Christian orthodoxy. I took the "Auburn affirmation" approach. In retrospect I have decided that was a big mistake. So, I am going to meet with my pastor this Thursday. He is a committed evangelical: Biblical inerrancy, Calvinism, substitutionary atonement, 6-day creation, etc. My plan right now is to confess what I actually believe to him and let the chips fall where they may. My expectations are very low; I'll be happy if my pastor sends me home with "I'll be praying for you, brother." If anyone has any ideas about how to do this well, I'd appreciate hearing about them.

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Hi Dean, and welcome to TCPC. I did read your entire post, partly because I found your journey interesting, and partly because there are a few links (thought tenuous) between your experiences and mine. I have always been a lay person, but during the 1980s I took courses that mostly related to the sociology of religion, some of those at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. And I continue to read books on religious subjects, but mostly toward the "progressive" end of the spectrum. Also, I have been an elder for a long time, first in the old UPCUSA or "northern" Presbyterian church, and more recently in the combined PCUSA to which we both belong.

 

I'm surprised that you feel you were not asked about your beliefs, as the last time I was installed on Session I still had to affirm that the scriptures are "unique and authoritative," a position that I publicly took issue with during the installation. As you probably know, PCUSA congregations vary all over the map in their theological positions. Yours is far more toward the "evangelical" end of the spectrum than mine. For example, our congregation is a More Light church (if you aren't familiar with the term, perhaps you might google it).

 

But as to your question. I'm afraid I start with a counter question. Given your state of mind, why did you pick this particular PCUSA congregation? If your relationship with it is more personal than denominational, then you have to decide which is more important, your convictions or that relationship. If it has to do with the denomination, then, on the basis of your "life story" you fall well within the range of belief for elders. I hope that my comments are not too far afield.

 

Don (aka grampawombat)

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Hi Dean,

 

At the recommendation of another member i moved your thread from introductions to the Progressive Christian area which limits responses to only those in agreement with the 8 points here.

 

My personal answer to your question is a no brain-er for me. Be truthful as soon as practical and possible and let the "chips fall where they may".

 

Now to address your entire post. You are by no means alone in both your past experience and painful and sometimes angry exit from what many call mainline Christianity as has been taught and programmed into members by the churches for hundreds of years or more. This section is a good place to share your story because there are so many similarities to others here including myself.

 

I was raised Roman Catholic in the days of Latin and left at age 14 with many unanswered questions. (at least to my satisfaction)

Re-entered Christianity, full gospel non-denominational at age 33 with a thirst and most genuine 'born again' experience. Unfortunately i turned to the church system even though my experience was outside of the church. Many years later after 4 years of Bible College (Seminary or Cemetery?) and ordination into the ministry with signs and wonders, i found my niche in evangelizing and assisting a pastor at a local church. however something did not feel right with the prescribed doctrine and slowly i returned to my original experience because , that was the only thing i knew was true for sure. From there i decided to accept nothing unless it was personally revealed to me by God which i knew was possible.

 

After many years, without an prior knowledge of progressive Christianity, i felt an unction to write a book addressed to the then mainline Christian community. It was unorthodox. I had to go to Canada to get it published as none of the Christian publishers i mailed the manuscript to would approve the manuscript. The book, succeeded in getting be basically banned from the local churches i was affiliated with. To them i was now an instrument of the Devil. It was an extremely painful time but i did not turn back.

 

After many more years, I finally came across this site where i found commonalities in both experience and the things that mattered most. Those being, forgiveness of self and others who know not what they do, unconditional love for all, and Christianity as a way of life rather than a group of suppositions to believe in. I think the 8 points are general but say what i would say very well.

 

Anyway, to make a long story short, billmc had Pm'ed me and suggested your post might be more appropriate in another forum so i moved it and he said he really didn't have any thing wise to say except for you to "be true to himself and his convictions while remaining gracious with others." That one statement says more than the multitude of my words. So i will ditto that and hope he doesn't mind me taking something said in private and making it public.

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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You are to be commended for your honesty. I would encourage you to not only tell him how you feel but also try and open a dialoge with him and explain why. For far too long we have lived in the shadows of people who in my opinion have less to say and teach. People need to know that the conservatives do not speak for all Christians. It is my opinion that this has as much to do with the decline of the mainline churches as anything.

 

Good luck

 

steve

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Dear Don,

 

Thanks for the response! In all my previous experiences, session and/or the nominating committee would handle detailed questioning of a candidate's views and session would vote on approving the candidate for ordination/installation in light of the candidate's views, character, etc. If the candidate objected to something in the confession, that was the time to make it known and session would decide whether his views were acceptable. If not, he would simply not take part in the public installation ceremony. To my surprise I was never questioned by anybody until the installation service. I could/should have just asked somebody on session at least a week beforehand when they were going to examine me. Ah well, water under the bridge. Yes, I know about More Light Presbyterians and the Witherspoon Society. I try to keep up with what is going on demoninationally.

 

As your question, we used to attend a more centrist PCUSA church and loved the leadership and people there but the church was just too far away. My wife is much more conservative than I. My goal was to find a church we could both worship in. Our current church fit the bill. Unfortunately, the more progressive churches nearby didn't. I was acquainted with our pastor when I was a pastor and respected him. Still do too. I did not realize how conservative he was until a couple years after we had joined the church.

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G'Day Dean Dough,

 

Firstly, welcome to TCPC boards! I am not in here as much I would like to be but your post really stood out.

 

I would like to echo the posts above and recommend honesty with your Pastor. Beyond that, I would like to, perhaps taking liberties here, I would like to suggest you think about what happens if your Pastor doesn't take the expected 'worse' course. I say this because, while I have just moved from my old parish to a new one, I stayed for about two years longer than I initially wanted to at my old parish after a chat with the Rector. Oh I laid it all out to him, how I couldn't stand the conservative parish council, how I found my progressive views to be in a minority, how I found worship there to be uninspiring, you name it. His response shocked me! He said that he liked to think that his parish was broad enough to include all theologies. He then said, "And if you go Adrian, then perhaps a progressive voice willing to speak out in this parish will be gone!" So I stayed, now unencumbered, and provided that progressive voice. Now I have moved to another parish as a dear friend of mine is a newly ordained curate there and, guess what, it is a liberal parish! (btw, this is SO amusing as my friend is quite conservative!).

 

Anyway, the point I would make is just this. If your Pastor is willing to allow your theology in the parish, even though you may feel otherwise, at least consider staying as that progressive voice in the lay leadership. One of the fundamental duties of the PC, I believe, is to show the world an alternative face of Jesus.

 

Adi

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Dean I read everything and was impressed by your Passion. The loving people volunteering their advice for you to read also impressed me. I have similar experiences with religious Passion, but on a different path so can’t say anything about denominations.

 

My experience tells me that anger in the world is a physical passion that can quickly transform into a spiritual passion within the soul. I found the flame that burns eternally in the soul is sometimes ignored, but never extinguished. It is there only for you and is not something to brag about or for others to criticize. Inside you will find God, Jesus, solace, and all the answers to you dilemma. You are being guided. God bless.

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Dear Dean,

I empathize with your situation. I was "Disfellowshipped" from my old denomination in 1989. That is not to say that you will be treated the same way, but I know something of the anxiety of having to face church leaders over disagreements on matters of belief. You certianly have my support in your effort to be led by your faith, conscience, and consciousness. Your church leaders may or may not find you guilty of heresy, I don't have any way of knowing. But whatever their dicision, it sounds like you are on a journey which will inexorably move you away from fundamental evangelicalism. If I'm right, you have made both a nobel and pivotal choice.

 

The conscious pursuit of spiritual faith is often a lonely road, in fact it is the road to true individuality. It is also the road less traveled. Most western cultural Christian religions can not tollerate individuality, or allow believers to be free to find their own path to God. They know well that if they let their church members have an individual faith based on the development of consciousness of the inner-world, there would be no more belief system to support their religious institutions. In gospels the high priest, Caiaphas, stated it succinctly according to writer John, ". . . it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish:

 

Like Jesus, heretics (ie. individuals) have no place in this world to lay their heads. In my case the old church could not be satisfied with simply exileing me, they also made every effort to assassinate my character. Nevertheless, I and my family survived. When I look back on things now, I realize that I was never a fundamentalist. But I needed to explore that faith in order to discover the Christ of the inner-world. I have always felt a calling to work with marginalized people. Today I am fully committed to my calling, without having to apologize or rationalize my work to anyone. I am finally able to seek God with all my heart, mind, and soul . . . and to love my neighbor as myself.

 

I hope you will fare well on Thursday. There are many of us who have no church where we can rest any longer. Even if you lose your standing in you old church, you will find many friends with whom you can find comfort and encouragment as you walk a new way of faith.

 

Even though I have never met you, I am your friend, Robert Gutleben

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Dear Dean,

The conscious pursuit of spiritual faith is often a lonely road, in fact it is the road to true individuality.

 

Robert, Thank you you have travelled many times to the inner mind of Christ. Nice post.

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Thank you all for the encouragement and admonitions! Hopefully, Thursday night will stretch both me and my pastor, maybe help us both be a little less lonely and do some good for my church. I will work to stay positive, tell him where I stand, but not provoke him with inflammatory language or a bad attitude.

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Last night I had a long talk with my pastor. We covered a lot of ground about the church's needs and our personal issues. Adi was right to challenge me about being prepared for things to go better than I had expected. After I explained briefly how my relationship with God had changed my pastor treated me to a long and insightful review of how he had come to hold traditional orthodox Reformed views without losing respect for those who were more "liberal." In fact I discovered that his whole family of origin had been nurtured in the PCUSA and UPCUSA before it and are altogether in the mainstream of the PCUSA. Bottom line: He can live with having members and leaders with "unorthodox" views; God has brought people with many different kinds and qualities of faith in Jesus into his family -- not that all these differences are equally good, but God welcomes sinners and makes them saints afterwards.

 

I am still processing what he said and he's probably doing the same, but this was a very good step forward. Thanks for all your responses and prayers!

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Hi Dean,

 

That is great news. So glad it was 'air-clearing' (if that is a word) and it sounds like a great dialogue is opening up.

 

Really pleased it went well, must have taken a lot of courage to open up like that, you should be really proud of yourself.

 

Adi

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Guest billmc

I'm glad to hear the good news also, Dean. Good to see that you were able to establish a dialogue. Christianity often suffers from too much monologue and it is good to see those who profess to follow Jesus' teachings being willing to really listen to one another and give each other the grace that we ourselves have received. It gives us the room we need to grow. To be honest, I'm usually hesitant to share my journey and the changes in my life, not so much from concerns of being judged, but because I don't want to put "stumbling blocks" in the way of others. Just like me, they are where they are and are usually growing also. I tend to wait for questions before opening up. So it is encouraging to see that Christians can indeed find commonality in grace even when they don't hold the same views. As the old anthem says, "They will know we are Christians by our love", not by our doctrines or labels.

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