Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sally Forth Oh Man Of Honorificabilitudinitatibus

I just wonder if it's as hard for other people as it has been for me when it comes to church-going. I grew-up in an Evangelical setting. By the time I was in my early 20s I knew I needed to get out, but for some reason I didn't completely break free until I was nearly 40. I think that I had never met anyone who attended a big mainstream church before, and my conception of them was that the congregations tended to just show up and go home--that there was no real sense of family or excitement about being in church. Actually I did know a couple of Catholic girls, and this is exactly what church was like for them.

Evangelical church services are like a big party. Everything is very festive and lively most of the time. And when they're somber, they're really somber. Evangelicals wear their emotions on their sleeves. They're very passionate in everything they do. They look forward to going to church. For most it's the highlight of their week. Many in fact go several times throughout the week. Besides Sunday morning services there are usually Sunday night services and one midweek. I would say that around 65% of all Evangelicals attend all those services and more besides. There's usually a youth night on Friday or Saturday. And then there are bible studies and home get-togethers. Some churches are also involved in a sports program such as a church softball league. And then there are often times the Evangelical version of the Boy Scouts called the Royal Rangers.

I think it's fair to say that, for Evangelicals, their whole world revolves around their church and church friends. I've always maintained that if you were to ask the first 10 Evangelicals you saw on the street who their best friend was, at least 8 of them would name someone from their church. Many in fact have no friends outside of their church whatsoever.

Evangelicals are extremely bible oriented. In fact many of them refer to their churches as "bible churches". I'm reminded of a passage in CS Lewis' novel, That Hideous Strength, where MacPhee is talking about how his uncle used to slap his big bible down on the table and say, "Show it to me in the world of God", whenever people came to him "blathering about religious experiences." Most Evangelicals are extremely well-versed in the bible and many have large portions of it memorized. And I've never seen an Evangelical (besides myself) that didn't believe in some form of biblical inerrancy. They just shrug off biblical difficulties and think that God will answer all their questions in Heaven. There's a certain absurdity that goes with that kind of reasoning (or lack thereof), and this is one of many reasons I felt a need to leave.

Leaving is easy; finding a direction in which to travel is hard. I feel torn between so many paths, and all of them wrong. There's the rub in all this. Not one of them feels right. Finding a church that doesn't have biblical infallibility in their doctrine begins and ends with the Episcopalians. That's fine, but many of them have gotten so liberal about their bible and religion that Christianity for them has become more an ideology of ethics than a religious belief system. When you start ordaining homosexual ministers to lead your flocks I think it's safe to say you're playing very fast with the rules. It makes me very uncomfortable being in such churches. This is definitely not something I desire in a place of worship, and it's one of the main reasons I've never officially joined them.

But where else to go? This is something true Christians (few and far between though they may be) ought to be in constant prayer about. There simply is no denomination that has its act together. Either they're bible worshipping, creed loving heretics, or they're sin infested dens of... well, you know. More often than not it seems that what we find behind Christian pulpits are people who want you subservient to their personal desires while pocketing your cash; or they're blathering some mystagogical idiocy like a Whirling Dervish with all the pretenses of losing the self on the outside, but with a narcissistic desire within for power and adoration.

I'm tired of being torn in-between. God needs someone to build him a true church. Not a house--a church. He won't do it for us. We'll have to work for it. But we need a leader to sally forth and take on the task. For once, wouldn't it be nice if it was someone who actually deserved to be in leadership? I haven't seen him yet, but I know he's out there. Say your prayers kids.


Ann said...

The journey is not ever done. Mount up with wings like eagles is a promise that will be kept I wager. I was baptized Methodist as a babe and some sixty years later I am a better member of a Methodist Church. I've churched around a _lot_: Catholic, Universalist, YouNameIt-ist. I found, or it found me, Philip Yancey's book Soul Survivor How My Faith Survived the Church. And that was me. I appreciated and even loved the same heretic soul survivors as Mr. Yancey. Gauguin who scribbled on his last Tahitian triptych: D'ou venons-nous, Que sommes-nous?, Ou allons-nous?
Dostoevsky the brooding mess of a man who having left the horror of prison was reborn. He wrote of the sheer generosity of life. "Life is everywhere, life is in ourselves, not in the exterior." And, "Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. Loving all, you will perceive the mystery of God in all."
Augustine, now the Saint, once prayed to the effect: God save me, but not yet.
Someone said, "If you don't wake up every morning and ask yourself if you still believe it today you don't know what faith is." Was it de Chardin?
Some ten or more years ago I stopped church shopping. I went back to the church Don and I were married in some 40 years ago. And the theology, better the way of life, of John Wesley spoke to me as I read his sermons and books. There is a way to holiness which is kindness, charity, love- _lived_. Of course he wrote much theology, but living the Life was his way. Almost no one in my church has read much Wesley or even knows much about him. But, you know what? That doesn't matter. Everywhere I look people are trying to live the Life; they are soul survivors. It may be a good thing that the Methodist Church is not a 'creedal' church. One finds one's way, in prayer by Grace. Prevenient Grace.
I have to be reminded constantly to "see". Really see. Just recently I read The Elegance of a Hedgehog and was reminded to "see" all over again.
As for the irritating and even infuriating practices of the church as anything other than a place to worship God with other people who come to worship God, aka church as business, political forum, honing personal axe place, I let all of that go. Poof! God bless us. God IS as God IS. We have nothing but opinions. Pray we're not too far off the rails God has set for us. Love your blog, Bill. Love its honesty.

C W Seper said...

I like Yancey too Ann. I haven't read that one, but I sure like the title!

I haven't read much at all from Wesley. He's one of those figures like Kirkegaard, Augustine, or Pascal where everybody has a couple of 2nd hand quotes from them, but few people seem to have actually read them. Wesley is one of those on my mental "to read" list.

I got your message about the "hedgehog" book. The reviews look interesting. I may give it a go. I finished the Hesse book, and I'm now about 150 pages into Neil Gaiman's _Neverwhere_.

So many books--so little truth.

Abob said...

Hey Charles (if I may). I just stumbled across your blog from your youtube page (I'm a huge George MacDonald fan and I'm actually the cousin of yt user gcuezy). Anyway, don't have any advice or anything, but you're not alone - I've been having the same sort of experience. Finding a church that doesn't fall into so many of the pitfalls of evangelical theology but still holds on to the fullness of "mere Christianity" is not very easy. Good luck(, or, Providence is good), brother.

C W Seper said...

Having been a child of the Jesus Movement, I can remember when the Evangelicals first began. They had a handful of really good teachers back in the 70s. At the time it looked like they were poised to become the true church. If they could ever get back to their origins and purge the crooks and nonsensical teachings that have taken over, then they could be the answer to everything once again. I'm not holding my breath though. We'll just have to pray for God's will in things.

Thanks for your input and encouragement.