By guest blogger Chaplain Mike
Spend any time at all around Internet Monk, and you will hear about the “post-evangelical wilderness.”
This is one of the phrases that first attracted me to Michael’s writings, and it is clear from reading those who have commented over the years that it has resonated with many.
What it means for me practically at this point is this: “church” is problematic for me right now.
Let me tell you why.
I served as a pastor in local churches for about 28 years. Starting out as a summer assistant in my home Southern Baptist Church right after Bible College, I helped the pastor during his recovery from back surgery. I moved to Vermont that fall to be near my fiancee, and was asked to serve an American Baptist congregation that had lacked a pastor for several years. We eventually moved to Chicago to complete my seminary training, and during my studies, I was asked to minister in an independent Bible church. After graduation, and failed attempts to get aligned with the Evangelical Free Church denomination in a pastorate, we moved to the Indianapolis area, where I served in two Community churches. These congregations were started by men from a United Methodist background (Asbury seminary), but were intentionally non-denominational and evangelical, with an emphasis on practical discipleship, missions, and church planting.
The second congregation I served here had been through a troubling experience, dismissing their founding pastor. I came in after him and was never quite able to turn things around. I was the proverbial “unintentional interim” pastor. After I resigned, we were suddenly homeless, ecclesiastically speaking. We wanted to stay in the community for family reasons, but there were no options for pastoral ministry. My ministerial ethics taught me that starting or serving in a church in the same community was bad form, so that was not an option. We were out of church; I was out of job.
Through a friend, God graciously opened a door into hospice chaplaincy for me, and this month marks five years in this good work. I love my situation, and feel in some ways that I have finally found a place where I can do true pastoral ministry, without the baggage that contemporary evangelicalism has placed on the pastor in a local church.
However, church is still a problem. These five years have forced me to do a lot of thinking about ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). And as I write, I am still somewhere on the road out in the â€œpost-evangelical wilderness” when it comes to feeling fully comfortable in church.
It affected our family. Upon leaving the ministry, for the first time in our lives, we were without a church home. This was especially hard on my wife, a classic “GUBA” (growing up born-again) who had been in evangelical churches since birth. To our children, who had struggled with being PKs anyway, it was further confirmation that “church” was more about rules and people being judgmental than anything else.
To me personally, it confirmed doubts and fears that had been growing for years about the inherent insecurity of serving in non-denominational churches. There is no safety net. No structures to provide support, counsel, and guidance. No mentors on the “apostolic” level beyond the local church to help. I learned the hard way that what I had feared was true: the pastor in a non-denominational evangelical church succeeds or fails on his own. I had “failed” in the light of some unwritten standard so, vocationally, I was out in the cold with few options.
Pastoral issues were not my only concerns. For years, I’d had a growing dissatisfaction with evangelicalism’s lack of tradition, historical perspective, reverence and order in worship. I resisted its programmed approach to spiritual growth, its bourgeois commitments that blatantly disregard the NT emphasis on sacrificial service and inclusion of the poor and disenfranchised, its “temple” mentality that has little sense of serving Christ in daily life and instead revolves around what happens in the institution and its programs.
Evangelicalism’s lack of theological thoughtfulness and depth had bothered me increasingly over the years. I cringed at the moralism of its sermons, its “me and Jesus” approach to the spiritual life, the celebrity status of its pastors, the crass and unabashed commercialism of its media industries. The endless dissemination of Protestant groups, each claiming its own “biblical” way with no more authority than an open Bible and the assertion that the Spirit is leading strained all credulity that this was God at work.
Despite its name, I increasingly found little “evangel” (gospel) in evangelicalism. The place I thought was “home” proved no refuge, and we became homeless, launched on a journey of wandering through the evangelical wilderness.
Today, I’m still on the journey.
For some time now, we have attended a Lutheran church (ELCA). Long a fan of Luther and his grasp of the Gospel, I have found a place of rest in the Lutheran emphasis on grace. It has also become my confirmed belief that liturgical worship has it right. Those who practice the ancient forms of worship celebrate the Gospel. And no matter the weaknesses of an individual congregation or pastor, there is a place to stand and rejoice each week when we confess our sins, receive God’s mercy, confess the Creed, hear the Scriptures, are fed at the Table, and are sent into the world to live and serve in the grace of Christ.
However, despite strong historic connections and continuities, mainline churches like ours have their own serious and well-documented problems. This I accept. I have never been one to look for “the perfect church.” I know no such place exists, so my current restlessness and continuing sense of ecclesiastical disorientation springs from other sources.
For one thing, I have enough evangelical in me that I still don’t feel like I’ve found my bearings in our current mainline setting. Serious Bible study, a strong emphasis on evangelism and missions, and other aspects that I still appreciate from my evangelical background and training are missing where we are.
I don’t worry that God is absent. He most definitely is not. But I am in one of those transitional places in life, one of those “in-between” places. I don’t fit in where I’ve been. And I’m not quite sure where I’m going.
Manna’s OK, but I long for milk and honey. It’s great that God keeps my shoes from wearing out, but I’m ready to kick them off in a place of real and lasting rest.
This is what the “post-evangelical wilderness” means to me.
What does it mean to you?
Please keep your comments as brief as possible. Feel free to express strong emotions, because this is personal. But stay respectful in what you say.
168 thoughts on “My Post-Evangelical Wilderness”
Why can’t you become a Baptist and just not be a hardcore denominational bigot?
Wow, this post has generated a lot of interest. Glad to know I am not alone.
A few thousand comments back, Jasonthebaldguy said, “the reason behind non-denominational churches having minimal confessions is that they do not speak beyond what Christ has spokenâ€¦”
If that is true, why do the evangelicals I know IMMEDIATELY say words that indicate their doubt of my salvation when they find out that enjoy cigarettes, single-malt whiskey, and movies beyond the rating of PG? The looks, the words, the mumblings… I am “hurting my witness,” (witness to what… how closely I have matched my lifestyle to 1950s suburban America in order to prove to God that I am clean enough to get in on my own merits?), am not “leadership” material (I don’t resemble the neat, clean, and odor-free exemplars like Ted Haggard and his ilk?) When asked what has “Christ spoken” that gives them their warrant to judge me, they’ve got nothing from the Bible. Just cultural preferences that seem to be more pressing than the actual text, or even the red-letters.
I am not trying to unfairly criticize you personally or paint with a broad brush, but I think your characterization of non-denominational folks is a bit off. I’ve never met those of which you speak. The ones I know are adding stuff left and right. Maybe not as bad as all the other groups out there, but they are not anywhere close (in my experience) to “not [speaking] beyond what Christ has spoken.”
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, except from all those better people down at the church. I am hanging on to my faith, and praying that the Lord would grant repentance of my actual sins, and teach me anew about his grace and mercy to cover even a wretch like me, but my post-evangelical wilderness sometimes feels like I need to be ducking “friendly fire” of my Christian brothers and sisters.
(Again, I have nothing against Jasonthebaldguy… just using his quote as an example of something that has been bothering me in my post-evangelical wilderness.)
Under the Mercy-
I am a little unsure at what you eman in your last “question” 🙂 but yeah the ‘control freak’ setting is what I am referring to.
This is called “Giving the boss a Reality Check/Keeping the boss honest.”
Many have experieced your situation [especially in the ‘heavy shepherding’ facet that does go on].
“Heavy Shepherding” as in the Control Freak “Discipleship Movement”?
AKA “Break the thought-criminal in Room 101, then fill him up with “He Loves Big Brother”?
Lack of theological depth? Are you talking about the theologies put forth by the likes of B. B. Warfield, J. I. Packer, John Stott, Millard Erickson, Carl Henry, and John Piper?
More like Benny Hinn, Ken Ham, Jack Chick, and whoever came up with The Four Spiritual Laws..
On KFUO today (former home of â€œIssues, Etc.â€), the moderators were pointing out the theology of glory within much of the Gaia-ism of the current environmentalism rhetoric. They went on to explain that Falwell and Robertson blaming 9/11 on homosexuals and the ACLU is as equally theology of glory as environmentalists blaming the Haiti earthquake on the United States for not making bolder commitments to reduce CO2 emissions (i.e. Mother Nature is ticked). It was priceless.
i.e. We’ve had Celebrity Idiots on both sides shooting their mouths off. Both claiming to be some sort of mouthpiece for something Cosmic.
‘The Cost of Discipleship’ is a great book!
What are you thoughts on Nadia Bolz-Weber? I find her to be your typical rank emerging liberal……….
[Tell us what you you really think Matthew……]
I agree. I know that the evangelical “worship bands” are comprised of sincere Christians desiring to glorify God, but at times, it seems too much like a rock concert atmosphere to me. I really miss liturgy. I wonder, though, if I were to move to one of the liturgical Churches (I was once Catholic), would I find reverence there? I hear dreadful things from many faithful Catholics about the Masses that they endure at their parishes…
No, I didn’t miss your point. I just happen to disagree with you substantially. And so does anyone who accepts and understands the theology of the Mass.
I didn’t do a great job of making and defending my position, but on the other hand, I’m not interested (today anyway) in starting an involved debate here. So I didn’t, and I am not taking time to compose a clear and relatively concise defense of my position.
Which is why I tossed in the warm and fuzzy analogy. Inadequate as it is, it conveys roughly what I think – Quickly and without a 2 or 3 day running debate.
Mike – thanks for sharing your story. I resonate with so much if what you said. I actually just posted the other day about not going to church. I’m still in the process of formulating my thoughts on what I have learned during this time outside the “church”. It has been both a very good thing but also very lonely. I hear you when you say you are longing for a home. I have often felt misunderstood by other church goers during this time. I too, know that no perfect church exists but I still find myself longing for so much more than what is found in mainline churches. I find it amazing that despite my sad church history experience I still have hope that the Church can change for the better and I long to be an agent of that change.
Welcome to the world of liturgy. Any study of scripture notes liturgical efforts among the Jews. In deed, the scripture is liturgical in nature, intended for use in the liturgy. The liturgy abets the liturgical season, reinforcing that season with readings directed toward that season.
It appears chaplain, that you’ve come a long way.
Good for you and thanks be to God Who is the Giver of all good gifts.
Ties in to what I said about hidden influences. I suspect (no hard evidence, but hey, why let that stop me gaily leaping from conclusion to conclusion?) that after the first glow of enthusiasm died down into a steady but less spectacular flame of familiarity, some of the converts from liturgical churches began to move towards what they felt (rather than consciously thought) was a “proper” way of doing church – the influences from where they were raised about e.g. vestments or lectionaries or the church year or what have you.
I am still a high school student and have little say in what church I attend. However I am an amateur student of theology and the lack of anything remotely theological in evangelicalism is frankly disturbing. I know there is no “perfect church” and I pray that God will use me where I am. But I strongly concur with everything you have said, especially about liturgy which evangelicalism does not have.
…and the liturgical richness of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches…
I understand your feeling about the Baptists. I was raised one myself. I feel I owe my Bible knowledge (not necessarily my current understanding, however) to being raised Baptist.
A sort of Christian refugee camp? You could be right, Joanie. In fact, I’ve seen a good deal of evidence that this may indeed be the case — or, at least, part of the purpose God has for us.
Wow! That’s some deep stuff. I’m gonna have to pick up that book some time in the near future.
I never heard that Clone song, so I went and found the lyrics. I particulary liked the ending:
“I’ve learned enough to stay afloat but not so much to rock the boat
I’m glad they shoved it down my throat
I want to be a clone
Everybody must get cloned”
I like your comment, ahumanoid!
Ron, the small group you are a part of may need to exist to pick up the folks that get damaged from abuse in other established churches. As they heal, they may return to some other healthier church than the one they left, but your group will have provided a safe haven for them while they healed. I wish you all well!
I guess I’m not so much in a post evangelical wilderness as I am a post institutional wilderness.
And don’t worry, I’m not going to go off on the evils of institutional Christianity, idealize the first century church, or harp on the superiority of churches that meet in homes or in the back corner at Starbucks.
For the past several years I have been part of (and sort of an unofficial, untitled leader within) a small home church fellowship with close relational ties to several other home church groups in my region of the country. I and most of my group represent the remnant of a nondenominational community church that collapsed amidst a power struggle between different factions with different visions and agendas about what that church was supposed to be. Home church was just the way that a few of us found to maintain our friendships and fellowship in Christ after that larger fellowship scattered to the four winds.
And if any of you are wondering what remains of church after you have stripped away all the trappings of institution, the answer is “not much” — not at first, anyway. There are, of course, the relationships, but just sharing meals and sitting around in a living room talking about spiritual stuff and life issues while the carpet crawlers entertain themselves can get old and run dry pretty quick. And the feeling that things just might be going nowhere can put a strain on those relationships and create an oppressive sense of pressure to do something spiritually meaningful on the gatherings.
But I think we are gradually getting better at making our time together more meaningful in a gospel kind of way — which, strangely enough, seems to happen most when we’re not trying so hard to make it happen. And, to our credit, I must say that we certainly excel when it comes to being there for each other and meeting each other’s needs in times of crisis. And we try to avoid the policies of exclusivity and jealous ownership of our people. Everyone is free to visit, fellowship with, or even join any other church body they feel inclined to hook up with. For some of us, the home church is our primary fellowship, while for others it’s not. Believe it or not, we even have an out-of-work Church of Christ minister and his family who have recently started attending our Wednesday night gatherings — though, of course, they have to keep that hush-hush when it comes to the church they attend on Sunday.
I myself sometimes attend other church services — though more and more I find myself wishing they woud take a break from all the religious stuff, rearrange the pews in a circle, and get down to the business of opening their hearts and lives to each other. I sometimes fear that I’ve become indoctrinated into an unchurchlike church culture.
As someone who is somewhat gifted as a teacher and musician, I would love to be able to pursue a Christian vocation and to support myself financially in the field of church service. Right now, I’m not seeing much hope for that. Honestly, I doubt I could even force myself to toe any denominational lines in my present mental state. But, who knows, God may open a door I’m not seeing at this point — or, heaven help me, He might readjust my nonconformist mental habits at some point in the future. Right now, I’m just going to concentrate on trying to be a positive, Christ-like influence in the lives of the Christian brothers and sisters that God has placed in my life.
As far as where we’re headed as a church fellowship, I really have no idea. Maybe nowhere — though I truly hope in my heart that we do stand the test of time and manage to pass something meaningful and God-inspired on to the next generation. However, the rational side of my brain tells me that there’s no way we can last without at least some of the trappings of organized religion — but something else (maybe the Holy Spirit) tells me that’s not the direction we’re supposed to go or the purpose we are meant to serve.
“I appreciate the pacifism of the Anabaptists, the intellectual depth of the Reformed tradition, the intellectual freedom of the Emerging movement, the social justice of the mainline churches, and the enthusiasm of the Pentecostals.”
I’m in the PEW because. . .
I appreciate the pacifism of the Anabaptists, the intellectual depth of the Reformed tradition, the intellectual freedom of the Emerging movement, the social justice of the mainline churches, and the enthusiasm of the Pentecostals.
(I couldn’t think of anything I especially love about baptists, but that’s probably because I grew up as one) 🙂
Great post Chap. Mike!!
Thank you! great comment.
Mark, in Bible College and seminary, I studied under some of the finest evangelical theologians and Bible scholars in the world, and am grateful for that.
If you cannot see, however, that evangelicalism, despite its good teachers, has become in many respects equally as shallow and culture-bound as the “liberal” mainline churches, then I’m not going to convince you of that in a few remarks on a blog post.
I’m not really trying to convince you, anyway. I’m stating my journey, and the way I see it. And in my view, evangelicalism is in serious trouble, at least in the U.S., and at this point, I find precious little nourishment from it. If you do, stick with it, brother.
“Too many feel like they have to fit in and be just like the people they worship with to be â€˜realâ€™ Christian. ”
Interesting. My current post-evangelical experience has resulted not from me feeling like I had to fit in and be just like the people I worshiped with (hey, I was OK with them, all brothers & sisters in Christ), but from the people I worshiped with feeling like *I* had to fit in and be just like them in order to be a “real Christian”. Because I didn’t (and couldn’t….I’m a big-city, global-citizen type, currently living in an isolated small western town that neither trusts nor likes outsiders of any kind), I got the whole shebang….malicious gossip/slander, being falsely pegged as untrustworthy, accused of being an agent of the devil, leaders & congregation afraid to talk to me directly, et cetera.
I would go back to church if there was one big enough in town for me to retain some anonymity, but this town is too small for that. In fact, just thinking about going back to church is giving me hives. :-p
I personally understand choosing between ELCA and LCMS. I landed in the latter, but it wasn’t without holding my nose before jumping in (e.g. “Ablaze”; the “Issues, Etc.” exile.) To me, church-growth pragmatism is a much more dangerous form of liberalism, perhaps crypto-liberalism. There are actually at least a couple really good ELCA churches in my city.
But, today there was a real bright side. On KFUO today (former home of “Issues, Etc.”), the moderators were pointing out the theology of glory within much of the Gaia-ism of the current environmentalism rhetoric. They went on to explain that Falwell and Robertson blaming 9/11 on homosexuals and the ACLU is as equally theology of glory as environmentalists blaming the Haiti earthquake on the United States for not making bolder commitments to reduce CO2 emissions (i.e. Mother Nature is ticked). It was priceless. They also pointed out that Lutherans actually are environmentally concerned. Luther’s view of creation was much more sacramental than other reformers who appealed to the industrialism of their time. I think there is hope for the LCMS. I’m willing to be patient to see what happens.
The ACNA is the only bright light in the Anglican/Episcopalian body. They also uphold the Thirty-Nine Articles as their statement of faith.
Sadly, many are returning back to a form of shallow mainline Christianity that has a lot of form but very little substance. Just go to a typical mainline Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, etc. and you will see a lot of “liturgy” and sermons on the evils of right wing policies but very little on what the gospel is and why it matters. (The ELCA does not discipline anymore leaders in the church who are in homosexual relationships. What does that say about the denomination?)
Lack of theological depth? Are you talking about the theologies put forth by the likes of B. B. Warfield, J. I. Packer, John Stott, Millard Erickson, Carl Henry, and John Piper? I hope not, because they have contributed greatly to the evangelical church and its growth. I’d rather sit in a class supervised by Albert Mohler or Wayne Grudem than someone like Karl Barth or William Placher.
Teachings of the ancient church? If you’re talking about first century Christianity then the evangelicals got it right.
Spiritual integrity? How has mainline Christian churches done in this area? Indoctrinating the person in the pew for progressive social causes rather than the demands of the gospel hardly sounds like a spirituality that will pass the test of Scripture and the ancient church.
“Rather” cool looking graph? No, Michael. As I said in so many words when I first saw, it it’s “way cool”!
GNW_Paul I think you missed my point..
Jesus himself talked about worshipers who worshiped him in spirit and in truth.. not on some hill in Samaria or in Jerusalem… (referencing the conversation with the woman at the well) while I definitely see a place for congregational worship… it is not some sacrificial service to God… I am sorry but there is no sacrifice at all involved with showing up and listening to a sermon and singing a few songs (unless it is really horrible possibly) the sacrifice… and worship happens on a daily basis as we live our lives… our worship services are times of corporate celebration and remembrance to encourage each other and share each others burdens.
HUG, you said,
“When I want to â€œsatisfy the hunger for that connection with the Eternal Oneâ€, I hear Mass in my local parish.” there is no judgement in these words my friend, only love, but you should be satisfying that hunger by digging into the scripture and seeking God through meditation and prayer. Honestly how healthy would you be if you only ate as often as you went to mass?
my point in all of this is that church is not for the benefit of GOD, just as Jesus said that the sabbath was made for man and the pharisees had it wrong all along.. Church is not for GOD it is for us! yet it is not the place where we show up to be served a meal. We should be worshiping all week only to show up and join together in corporate worship. It is specifically for us to bind together in unity and hold each other accountable, encourage and lift up the name of the Most High and recognize Him for who He is! to remind ourselves of who he is and where we belong in the grand scheme of things.
Wow. I’m not alone.
Today we informed our pastors (men that we genuinely like) that my wife and I are leaving our Non-Denominational Church with the rock band and the light show to join an Anglican Church. (ACNA)
I’m sure they are wondering what the heck happened to us.
Question: What is one reason I am in a Lutheran church now?
Answer: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
great post from one of my favorite books , thanks
To help understand the generation changes between church, I created a rather cool looking graph showing the generational changes between types of churches.
Can identify readily with much of what Chaplian Mike wrote. The following has been very helpful to me lately…eye opening…maybe some of you would want to read it, or have, and could comment.
“Innumberable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves….He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
An outstanding book, highly recommended. She sometimes goes beyond where I would go, but overall, I find Tayor to be one of the most eloquent gospel writers around.
In America, Lutheran churches started as a refuge for German or Scandinavian immigrants. They tended to create a Lutheran enclave rather than reach out to other immigrants who might be Catholic or God knows what.
It was only after WWII that America was culturally united enough for Lutherans to think about inviting their non-German or -Scandinavian neighbors to church. Lutherans found themselves ineffective as Christianity salesmen compared with their Baptist and Methodist neighbors and tried to imitate popular methods of evangelism. Mostly these fell flat because Lutheran theology is not decision theology. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him as Lord. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified me along with the whole Church.” (Luther’s Small Catechism)
I have belonged to one ELCA mission that did outreach to what we called the “dis-churched”, folks who were expelled from, or not interested in, the predominantly conservative churches in our area. We invited people to house parties, book groups and Bible studies, always stressing that God seeks us out (not the other way) and loves us into wholeness. We tanked after eight years. But what a great time we had.
Chaplain Mike’s last comment above caused me to remember a seminary prof who taught church history. He said the Spirit will blow where it will and to expect to be surprised when this happens. It sometimes happens in ways that seem wild to us, without form, and not fitting into what we desire or want. And wonderful things will happen, changes will take place,and history is/will be unpredictable. (This is all a paraphrase of his words of course.) We may be living in such times. None of us can see the outcome, but it will surprise. Keep the faith.
from what i’ve seen – non-denominational churches are only middle to upper class Pentacostal churches —- Like a Jeff Foxworthy joke – if your non-denominational Church is in a “conference” with 100 other non-denominational churches, you might be a denomination, all in jest , peace
Have you considered the Disciples of Christ? (Possible issues include creeds and adult baptism, but they are congregationally governed.) Or the United Church of Christ? (A possible issue is the national church’s liberal political stances, but as congregational churches each church has great freedom to run its own affairs.)
I’m with you on that one. I couldn’t help noticing JasonTheBaldGuy’s (JTBG’s) statement that going to Sunday Services really isn’t about worshiping God because he doesn’t need our Worship.
I love the Mass because the Liturgy is our participation in the Eucharist. No God doesn’t need our worship, or our participation – he’s fine without it. But….. (and I’m stealing this from others) just like I don’t need my 8 year old son’s help to mow the lawn or change the oil, I love his participation and spending time together, him learning to be more like me by participating in my work.
Christiane, I think we’re looking at a specific trend within the past 40 years or so. The Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s, the charismatic movement, the church growth movement, and other factors, led to a large influx into the evangelical movement over the past generation. Many left Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant traditions for a Christianity that appeared, on the surface, to be more biblically-focused and spiritually vital.
Eventually however, over the years, many who abandoned traditional faith communities for non-liturgical evangelical churches have come to see a lack of theological depth, historical perspective, and spiritual integrity in evangelicalism, and so they are being drawn “back” toward the liturgy, spiritual formation, the teachings of the ancient church, and a more wholistic approach to life and faith.
Are evangelical people just waking up to liturgical churches?
When did this start ?
This will help:
Pray the Psalms,
read the fourth Gospel
Ask for guidance from the Lord
And then, be peaceful.
There is more Gospel in one Sunday morning’s mainline church service (assuming they use the traditional liturgy)â€”through the confession/absolution of sin, the Creed, the hymns, the spoken parts of the service of the Table, and the serving of communion itself, than there is in six months of many evangelical churches.
I know this. I led those services myself for years.
Ross, your personal results and experiences may vary. But there’s nothing local or personal about the Christian right, which apparently gets most of its support from the NDs, because it certainly isn’t coming from the mainlines.
We have been in a wilderness for over 2 years. The commercialism, high tech media shows and weak scriptural content of the churches we used to attend and those we have visited has not had me very optimistic of what is available. The weak scriptural content comes across in the preaching. Too many sermons are long on talk and short on scripture. No wonder people are not growing.
We have found a local, non-denominational church that has solid preaching. It is a very young church and does not want to become like so many of the others who end up more concerned with the vanities of what are the popular ways of doing church. We meet in a local bar on Sunday mornings. Such a scandalous idea!
A browsing of the local Christian book stores will reveal the wealth of material to “grow” a church. It all becomes a fad to follow the latest trend or recommendations. I fear that even this church we are attending will get caught up in the same things everyone else is doing. When I hear the preacher speak about a certain book they are reading on church growth, I sense that it is already heading in the wrong direction.
Maybe it is good to remember that we are strangers and aliens here. We have the very presence of God in Christ, in us, to keep us from completely giving up on church.
â€œBut as you leave the worship show, no matter how well staged, no matter how attractive the worship leaders, the emptiness of modern life still plagues the longing heart. No amount of â€œfellowshipâ€, nor agonized â€œworshipâ€ experience as the â€œworship teamâ€ cycles a four line chorus over and over, can ever satisfy the hunger for that connection with the Eternal One.â€
When I want to see a show, I catch Fantastic Mr Fox or Escanaba in da Moonlight at the local dollar theater. Or pop in my Lord of the Rings DVDs and head to Middle-Earth for the next twelve hours.
When I want to “satisfy the hunger for that connection with the Eternal One”, I hear Mass in my local parish.
Too many feel like they have to fit in and be just like the people they worship with to be â€˜realâ€™ Christian.
Steve Taylor, “I Want to Be a Clone”
Tell me about “fitting in and being just like the people they worship with”. This time next week I’m going to be at a Furry con in San Jose.
Many have experieced your situation [especially in the ‘heavy shepherding’ facet that does go on].
But we must not be reactionary – that can be dangerous.
There are good, loving, solid and biblical churches around the place – i hope you seek one!
Remember there is a a mandate laid out in Scripture for us to be both; not forsaking the assembling [which I am not saying your are doing] and to come under the authority of an eldership.
There are many “Christian” leaders who are not worthy of trust [believe you me!] but to the contrarary there are many who are.
Actually, I’ve heard the phrase “First Church of Borg” used in two contexts:
1) Churches which require Total Conformity of all their members. See “I Want to Be a Clone” by Steve Taylor.
2) Churches which have gone overboard with high-pressure “witnessing”. See IMonk’s essay “Wretched Urgency”. IMonk has also had some problems with the Catholic version of this, the Order of St Borg. “You Will Become Catholic! Resistance is Futile! Prepare to be Baptized!”
Over at Slacktivist, they call that the “Say The Magic Words” concept of Salvation.
Commitment to a conservative middle or upper middle class lifestyle.
I resonate deeply with this. I grew up in a charismatic church, spent 2 years working for a missions agency and the last several in an evangelical church. I experienced my share of disappointment and disillusionmet in these environments. I’m left wondering, is this really what its all about? I’m tired of the endless cycle of giving up/trying harder. I’m tired of the judgment over pointless, stupid things (drinking, etc). I’m tired of being used by “pastors” as just another cog in their vast machine. Because of all this I find myself with a deep distrust of Christian leadership and an intense dislike for the institutional church. And I have no idea where to go from here.
Follower of Him,
We seem to have hit a nesting rule, but anyway, yes, Jews were prohibited from owning land in many lands of Europe during the Middle Ages. However, some modern scholars (Botticini and Eckstein) have begun to discover that in fact, Jews had largely left the land already by the time these kinds of regulations began to come into being. And that there was never a banning of owning land in Palestine by Jews yet even there Jews didn’t farm much (though slightly higher than in Europe). Why? Well, a hypothesis is that Judaism requires literacy, thus an education. Education was expensive to come by back then, so having acquired it for their religious needs, Jews then sought out careers requiring more education which were also more remunerative.
People who came to America didn’t seem to immediately branch out into doing new things. Thus, German Catholics who had been farmers in the old country came to America and became farmers in the New one. Jews who came to the new world, became entrepreneurs, bankers, jewelers, artisans, and artists just like they had been in the old world.
In all the ways that iMonk has lamented for the last several years – read his series “My Strange Experiences with an Absent Gospel”. Basically the compromise boils down to a reduction of the gospel to a spiritual formula that is simply what you need to know to “get saved” rather than a life-sustaining truth which frames all that we teach as churches. This reduced-gospel results is only meaningful to lost people who need to convert, and is assumed (and therefore ignored) by believers who need its life-sustaining nourishment in their daily lives.
What is a “bourgeois committment”?
Thanks for the nice picture you painted of Judaism’s development over the past couple millenia. You covered some important points there.
As for Jewish farmers, I had them on the brain myself this week after reading a David Brooks article in the NY Times. He made some comment to the effect that, after the Middle Ages, European Jews weren’t allowed to farm (in Catholic countries, presumably — I’ve seen “Fiddler on the Roof”, so I’m an expert on Judaism in Russia, where it was clearly otherwise….),. Do you know anything about this? I imagine that there were significant variations among West European nations.
Thanks again for the comments.
I also found Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity a good source for asking a lot of important questions, although I agree with the earlier post with having troubles with its tone. One relevant issue that Viola raises (and many others as well), in terms of Chaplain Mike’s post, is the office of pastor.
There are a few denominations, particularly within the Anabaptist tradition, that have survived without professional clergy and there are analogous organizations such as AA that operate without paid professionals at the local level. Yet those examples also include strong networks and traditions.
Obviously we cannot just pluck the pastors out of all the existing churches, just as we can’t tear down all the buildings. But that doesn’t mean that paid staff or traditional church buildings are required for many of the new communities that God may be establishing.
Just to be clear: I firmly believe in the need for leadership and pastoral gifts within the Body of Christ. I’m just not sure about the future of professional clergy.
“Many mainline churches these days are more into programs for social justice, environmental care, and other peripheral issues.”
I must respectfully disagree with you on this point. I agree that we must preach repentance and faith: but it is a warped gospel that preaches only these things and can conceive of nothing else. These other issues are not peripheral. They are about the very real daily realities faced by millions of inestimably valuable persons composed of souls as well as bodies. If the gospel is the power of God to save, it must be about these things too.
To put it in Scriptural terms, the Book of Romans contains many precious truths. But here is another:
“The Spirit of The Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of The Lord.” -Jesus, quoting Isaiah
There will probably always be a place for the non-denominational groups, even though Martha is right that all the groups will be influenced by the experiences/traditions they come into the group with. I was a part of one of these groups for a couple years when I was a young adult. This particular group had rented a small storefront for a Christian drop-in center. They had books and magazines, played music and just let anyone come in to talk to them. They also rented a church building and had services a couple nights a week and Bible studies as well. They were charismatic and we would join hands in a large circle prior to the service and pray and then would lay hands on people needing prayer for particular needs. They practiced full immersion in a river for believer’s baptism. I can’t remember if they did any kind of infant baptism. So I guess they were kind of a non-denominational Pentecostal church, right? But at that time of my life, they were there for me when I needed a “stripped down” type of Christianity. They prayed with me in that little storefront place and somehow Jesus became more of a reality to me. Happily for me, I found that the Catholic Church already had much of what I thought was missing and I made my way back. But I will always remember and love my non-Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ!
David, the Bible is clear what the signs of apostasy are (e.g., 1 John). As a result, if we are going to be faithful to our calling we need to minister to apostates – individually and corporately – so that they will be brought back into the fold and be saved on the last day.
The Gospel is summed up by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Yes, there are other things included in that like forgiveness of sins, adoption, justification, sanctification, and glorification. However, the gospel is not about correcting societal injustices or preserving the environment (these deal with our responsibilities as we grow in sanctification). We fight evil in our world by being progressively sanctified by God, not by charting out some 10 step social program that mainline Christians tend to do.
I feel like most of what I hear from the “post-evangelical” crowd is focusing on “more & less” with-in the current structure of Churches , not a “starting all over”(ala non-denomiation ideas) for ex:
more Scripture (whole chapters even)- less preaching (15min. to 20min. tops)
more communion (even weekly) – less continious praise chorses (& guitar solos)
more community – less activities
more silence – less pointless noise (music again maybe)
more confession – less moral lectures (better life philo.)
more beauty – less consumerism
more ecumenicalism – less culture-wars
more reason – less encylopedia scripture references
am i even close here or am i missing the point completely – peace
I’ll leave it to God to judge those who are “apostate” and also those who have fallen into heresies of different kinds.
That is an interesting comment Clay. In what way has evangelicalism compromised on the gospel that has led many into the wilderness?
Why are â€œsocial justiceâ€ and â€œenvironmental careâ€ peripheral issues? Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick. He cast out merchants from the temple who were cheating His people. Many social justice and environmental programs are focused on precisely these issues. There are hungry people who may have a hard time growing food in the coming years due to climate change from our poor use of God-given resources. There are people in the US who die because they cannot afford to pay for our healthcare, and there are people in other countries who die for lack of medicines that we could easily provide them with. There are corporations who treat workers with contempt and cheat their customers. Of course the Gospel is meant to spiritually feed people, but shouting, â€œJesus died for your sins!â€ is not the Gospel in its entirety. We must also shout, â€œAnd He brings you the life you were meant to have!â€ The Gospel is meant to be applied to all of life, fighting the influence of evil everywhere we find it. It is bringing heaven to earth. I do not deny that many churches, both mainline and evangelical alike, have forgotten the first part of the proclamation. But we do no one any good by forgetting the second.
So much great writing going on here by Chaplain Mike and the commenters. Comments I particularly liked so far include:
Headless Unicorn Guy: “Makes me wish St Mary would show up to some of these wannabe Visionaries and slap some sense into them.” (That made me laugh out loud!)
cermak_rd: ” But Judaism is blessed because it has not had a tendency toward reading the Scriptures as literally breathed by the Almighty, so we have been able to adapt.” (That’s very wise.)
Obed: “Itâ€™s more like a campground in the Wilderness than a home. Iâ€™m very thankful for that, but I donâ€™t see myself parked there for the long term.” (Neat metaphor with the campground.)
Great writing by Danielle!
Thanks to all of you.
Couple things come to mind when I hear “post evangelical wilderness.” First, cop out. Second, phase of life.
Cop out: I think we’re all pretty much frustrated with the dysfunction of the human race. Paul’s approach to dealing with dysfunction in the church? Laying down the truth. Believers in persecuted nations would love to have a dysfunctional church to worship in. As you can probably tell, this is my harsher side coming out.
Phase of life: This is my softer side coming out. I can only imagine Paul got very, very disillusioned with the persistent dysfunction of the church, too. Indeed, you can sense that in his second letter to Timothy. And I imagine all of us go through phases in which we feel lost and let down by the “church.” But let’s not forget the invisible church. Elijah was reminded when he experienced his lonely, dark winter of spiritual discontent that God had preserved 7,000 others just like him. Fortunately we live in an age that allows us to connect with vibrant, merciful believers around the world who can encourage us when our own local church isn’t.
Chin up, Mike. God loves you and wants you to fight.
Mark, while you may describe feeding the poor, working for social justice, and respecting the environment as “peripheral issues,” they are not signs of apostasy, which you correctly defined as departing from the gospel message. James, to take just one example, rather hotly points out in his epistle that acts of charity and mercy are not departures from the gospel, but the necessary consequences of believing it.
Regardless of where you ultimately find yourself serving God, it most certainly ought be said that the frank and vulnerable manner of your speaking would do good to many an Evangelical. I sense earnest humility and profound loneliness in your words and let me assure you that you are not alone. Apart from my not having served as a pastor (although I was a youth leader getting beaten at every turn it seemed), you are precisely where I was 11 – 12 years ago and I know how frustrating it is. It is particularly frustrating when all around you are demands that you make your choice, take your stand, can’t you see they are apostate, how could you tolerate that error etc etc etc when all you really want / need is to have a place where you can worship, receive God’s forgiveness and do the difficult work of figuring out what you believe God has to say, and finding the place that most closely repeats what He has said.
Traditional evangelicalism does not generally equal gospel faithfulness. It is evangelicalism’s compromise of the gospel that has precisely led many of us into the wilderness.
Boethius, what’s your opinion of prayer ropes? (Shout out to the Orthodox!) 😉
Hey, we could start our very own cutting-edge on-line non-denominational church right here! Take the best of all traditions (I’ll bring the St. Bridget’s Cross and the pagan infiltration of the One True Gospel Church, mmkay?)
this sounds like the church structure i have been longing for – thanks for your post
And many of us would likely balk at animal sacrifice anyway (ewww).
You meant to write “ewe,” didn’t you? 🙂
Thank you for this post chaplain Mike, I have really enjoyed your filling in for Imonk. The Internet monk has been very therapeutic for me as I try to uderstand to state of Christianity around me. I never felt that I was a evangelical, so I still don’t know if I can consider myself post-evangelical or not. I have always been a Mennonite (part of Mennonite USA) in a sea of SBCers in the South. So i do truly feel i am living in a post-evangelical world. I can understand your struggle with becoming “homeless” w/o a safety net after your pastorate. My church had to let go of a pastor couple & i grieved the idea that we were just throwing them under the “Church bus”. I had been praying for them but had started forgetting about them, but your post reminded me to keep them in my prayers. Thank you for your post, peace
It is an apostate church if it departs from the gospel message. Many mainline churches these days are more into programs for social justice, environmental care, and other peripheral issues. The church is about being a light to this fallen world by sharing the gospel and spiritually feeding those within. This also means that the church is not only to comfort those who are struggling but warning those who are departing from the faith. Go to a typical mainline seminary and many times you get fed theological junk, and this is reflected in the way many mainline Christians live out their spiritual life.
I still strongly believe that evangelicalism as we common know in North America still has a vital role to play in the growth and witness of the churches. I would even dare say that traditional evangelicalism has much more to play a role in the witness of the church than post-evangelicalism, postliberalism, and mainline Christianity. Yes, the sermons are moralizing; yes, there is the danger of celebratizing the preacher; yes, there is the risk of gimmicks; and yes, there is the tendency to shallow theological inquiry. However, we cannot compromise on the gospel because of these dangers. From my experience, I found so-called Christians who have departed from the traditional evangelical stream to put more focus on social issues, the environment, and animal rights than the gospel (the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins). I have also, sadly, witnessed many of them going off the cliff into outright heresy or even apostasy. They also don’t have a robust spiritual life and are more concerned about ecclesial function rather than having a personal relationship with the Lord.
Wow. I don’t think I could have put it better, because that’s just about exactly where I am. I’ve had well-meaning Evangelical friends encourage me to get “plugged in” more, which brings to my mind the obvious question, but one they don’t seem to have considered deeply, if at all: “plugged in to what?”
I think that what I am beginning to call the “inter denominational church” is maturing and learning how to operate outside the four walls. The biggest hurdle I see is that in being “seeker friendly” we invite a measure of complacency under the guise of “tolerance” it is a difficult balance to maintain as a church because we do not want to abandon morality at all yet we do want to embrace that Christians are sinners too! I think the balance comes with a healthy dose of loving accountability and loads of grace for each other. After all regardless of what everyone will try to shove down your throat about Christianity its not what you do that matters…. else we would all be damned. If we focus on pointing people to Jesus rather than creating and enforcing creeds and statements of faith we would begin to see discipleship awaken and the church would grow with leaps and bounds.
AKA The Borg.
And has folks like Fr. Cantelamessa to preach the gospel to HIM
Unless you do like 2nd-Temple Judaism and have a council of 70 😉
In Austin there are a lot of good ACNA Anglican Churches.
The person who characterized the mainline church as being “apostate” was grossly unfair and reading from a fundamentalist script that I’ve heard many times in my lifetime. Mainline churches are in trouble for many reasons. They have put themselves into organizational and programmatic boxes that make change difficult. There are unresolved issues over sexuality that divide and will continue to divide. Yet you find many individual congregations of these denominations that are vibrant, have a mission, and have decent worship services.
At the present time demographics point to continuing decline in numbers for these bodies as a whole, but new individual church growth and vitality for a minority. These denominations are being forced to slim down staffs and structure.
I was a Methodist for many years. I learned about Christ, prayer, stewardship, and serving others in Methodist churches. I attended Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary (neither are officially Methodist). I was an ordained United Methodist minister for many years. About ten years ago I left the ministry and gave up my ordination (difficult to remain an ordained UMC without being in active ministry). My leaving had to do with personal and family issues and my wife needing to leave her professional life behind if I changed to another church.
For a while after that I felt a deep sense of abandonment. My professional ties were gone. I had little connection with former associates. God felt very distant. Prayer was difficult. Later we started to attend a downtown mainline church of another denomination. This church has wonderful worship with a well planned mix of music. The preaching is lectionary based with careful attention to not abuse the text. The pastor has a weekly bible study on Wednesday eve from the passage he will be preaching the next Sunday. The church is outgoing with a strong community reach and mission, in other words a love for neighbor. There is a blended mix and young and old, children and youth. It has structured classes taught by qualified individuals on sexuality, taught in stages up through adolescence. None of this means the church, or its people are perfect.
We soon joined this church. Some of its polity is still strange to me, but I’m learning. However I now feel much closer to God and to the people of God. I think it will remain the place where I’m joined to God’s people until I die. (Retired now).
I could never call this an “apostate” church. Neither does “apostate” fit the description of any of the imperfect churches I served along the way. Christ is always there and always here, always near at hand. Thanks be to God.
More alive? That’s just the phrase I was looking for. When I first became a Baptist I used to visit AoG churches just to make me feel uncomfortable and stretch my ecumenicism. It was a very “enlivening” experience. It is in Jesus Christ alone that we fully live, and I gotta fight this tendency to find live in church structure. Ecumenicism has been a good tool to help me with that.
Reform Judaism has long accepted that we couldn’t go back to just following Scripture if we wanted to. For one, not having the Temple would be an issue. Most of us aren’t particularly keen on starting a GÃ¶tterdÃ¤mmerung just to do it either. And many of us would likely balk at animal sacrifice anyway (ewww). Plus there is an actual, perceived recognition that our tradition has developed over time with the guidance of our Rashis, our Ibn Isra’s, et al.
Not having a Temple meant developing new ways of being Jewish. Fortunately, the Pharisees had already started moving towards a home based faith, moving temple rules into the home where they remain to this day.
Our customs have had to change with the passing of time. What was appropriate behavior to people before the common era is not practical today, in many cases it is not legal today (selling one’s daughter into slavery?) or considered humane (making a woman marry her rapist?). Some customs are still possible and practiced to this day. Others were broadened, such as the requirement not to glean one’s field is taken by non-agrarian Jews (outside of Israel, Ethiopia (at one time) and Yemen, I know no Jewish farmers, anywhere) to mean that they must donate a portion of their income to the less fortunate as a modern way of leaving something behind.
But Judaism is blessed because it has not had a tendency toward reading the Scriptures as literally breathed by the Almighty, so we have been able to adapt.
Headless Unicorn Guy,
It’s not just Wiccans. I once tried to play D&D with a group of 22 people. Not only were things taking FOREVER to get done, but factions were forming and it was becoming untenable. Our group divided and things worked much better after that. Of course eventually a lot of people dropped out and the groups coalesced again and were able to keep playing.
I think it’s just a general group dynamic thing, not a religious thing per se.
I also grew up in the Church of the Nazarene and was quite content about it until I went to college and had my eyes opened to the moralistic, legalistic mess that evangelicalism had made of my life. I wouldn’t blame my church itself so much as the modern subculture of conservative Christianity that has worked its way into the typical church’s way of doing things. You know, the everlasting navel-gazing (saw an article about the Haitian earthquake yesterday which began with the writer angsting about how she could possibly spend so much money on herself when people needed help–way to make it all about you!); the scorn heaped on people who consume media made for those over the age of twelve; the equation of a particular political agenda with the Gospel; the constant thunder of condemnation from the pulpit–we aren’t caring or praying or ministering or reading the Bible enough, we’re too angry or selfish or apathetic; the demotion of Jesus from the Bread of Life to a mere model to be imitated; the loss of the concepts of grace and of sanctity in worship.
After college, I started attending an emerging Reformed church, looking for people who were living the Gospel outside of suburbia while still holding to orthodox theology. Then it started down the road to becoming a typical megachurch and I stopped attending altogether for several months. For a while, I considered this website more my church home than anything else.
Two weeks ago, I finally scraped up enough courage to try an ELCA church down the street. I walked into a beautiful building where they sang hymns to the music of a pipe organ (a real pipe organ!), the sermon was brief and grace-filled with no hint of personality cult, and I heard more scripture in the course of one morning than I heard in two months at any of the other churches I’ve attended. I almost cried. THIS is what I’ve been looking for. For the moment, I think I’ve found a home. Weâ€™ll see what happens when the honeymoon period is over. 🙂
“It may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord. But you gotta serve somebody.” –Dylan
I like that. Too many feel like they have to fit in and be just like the people they worship with to be ‘real’ Christian. That’s why I feel more alive around those who look and live differently than I do, yet confess Jesus as Lord.
So if I insist on using my beads, is there a non-denom excommunication proceeding?
Darnit, I’m in Southern California.
I personally agree with a need for having a memorable experience. My idea can still work with that I think: Since the only “real” baptism for a “creedo” is actual immersion, use the sprinkle technique for infants, and the swimming pool for catechized (or at least, consenting) adults.
Eh, it’ll never catch on. It’s easier to split than work for a common solution.
I appreciate you making the distinction for the intent that some non-denoms are what they are to avoid the perception of denominational baggage. In our area (Utah) there are so many Mormons, who, when disgruntled with their faith and church, don’t tend to want to turn to any other organized religion afterward. (We were those kind of people.) Jettisoning denominational labels and focusing (as best as possible) on being shaped and guided by the Bible and a relationship with God speaks better to such burnt out souls. Similar to what you mention we also have a bunch of our members who come from denominational Christian backgrounds who find the same appeal.
In many ways “non-denominational” is a very generational appeal (younger families and younger individuals) label that has its strengths and weaknesses of both image and substance.
Practically it does turn out that some “denominational” culture, worship and emphasis preferences do tend to take hold more than others. (In our case our church’s “accountability board” are almost solely comprised of local Evangelical Free pastors, and our head pastor (the planter) is from the midwest, and inspired by such churches as Willow Creek. So some undeniable emphases win out in culture and presentation compared to the former traditions of some of other other pastors. Some of what our church does seems appropriately “independent” in that it is firmly shaped by and rooted in the Bible. Others are just culture and worship preferences — and as denominational (it seems) as any denomination.
Ours is a very “seeker-friendly” church, and I think Utah needs more of this kind of outreach. (Maturing in faith tends to happen, in a church program way, more through “home groups” and Bible classes.) I would desire this church to be a home we will continue to grow in and contribute to, and that our kids can grow here. But I am conscious enough to know that the time horizon for mature believers calling this kind of church home appears to have its challenges, if you look at Willow Creek, for example.
My hope is that as I mature, our church community will mature, too, and grow stronger, adapt and change as needed. But having learned from the pain of leaving Mormonism that my loyalty is to God and not to a church tradition I will be prepared to move on if necessary. That somewhat uneasy comfort with where I am guides me to define myself as much post-evangelical as post-Mormon.
I agree. I’ve yet to run into a non-charismatic, non-denominational church that wasn’t a Baptist church in denial. I’ve had friends in multiple non-denominational churches explain to me they aren’t in a denomination because they don’t have a theology — “just the Bible.” But even that sounds very Baptist-like.
Mike, of all your posts so far this is my favorite. I really feel that I resonate strongly with your experience. It is painfully frustrating when, in trying to explain this to other evangelicals, they cannot understand and think I’m about to embrace some silly heresy. I’m glad you’ve found home for now in the ELCA. As a church employee (music) I can’t hope to leave the SBC anytime soon and so I work for improvement in the imperfect ship I’m currently sailing in. And it is home, for the time being, even if it is a wilderness. However, my experiences have caused me to develop a much greater sensitivity and appreciation to Christian traditions outside of my own that is sadly far to un-typical of my denomination.
PEW for me at this time is the current incarnation of “semper reformanda”. There are holes in every tradition, and they are usually easy to find. We all need to seek greater faithfulness to Christ and the church that thinks it has arrived has failed. I think that ultimately what causes a person to choose a denomination is never it’s strengths that they espouse: It’s the weaknesses that they think they are able to live with. I’m not sure where that puts me right now, but since I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, I suppose this makes me a Baptist. At least I can admit it. That is the first step to recovery 😛
“I abuse you
And still you love Me!
I tell you
One and One makes Three!
I’m the Cult of Personality!”
“You gave me fortune, you gave me fame!
You gave me power in your God’s name!
I’m every person you need to be!
I’m the Cult of Personality!”
— fragmentary song lyrics from Living Color, “Cult of Personality”
I’m, the, Cult, of, Per, Son, Al, Ity
obviously my response is absent of that subject because I am simply bringing to light that the disdain for non-denominational worship experience is not entirely warranted… there is no doubt that the bigotry comes from either side… however regardless of the source of bigotry it is a critical failure in the leadership of the churches that they insist to rest on rhetoric and philosophies that to this day fail to provide the “Living Experience” of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Tradition obviously has its place in worship but it is important to recognize that today’s religions have nothing to do with true religion…” Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Until denominations stop teaching and believing that they have a corner on the truth and salvation is only available through the rites and rituals that have not been specifically taught in scripture then the outpouring of injured Christians will continue to bleed from the denominations. I do not propose that the denominations have an “emptiness of doctrine” there is no lack of doctrine… but there is a great risk that they are crowding out Jesus to wedge the doctrine in…
the reason behind non-denominational churches having minimal confessions is that they do not speak beyond what Christ has spoken…
Jesus said ‘if they are for us they are not against us’
Paul said ‘whether they preach Christ through strife or through good will nevertheless Christ is preached’
Jesus said ‘love the Lord God with all your heart soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself on this hangs all the law and the prophets”
can’t you see… Christianity is simple! Jesus was simple… he appealed to simple common people… he chose dumb fishermen! not egotistical experts… it is complicated religion that takes away the authenticity of a life relationship with Jesus Christ. He doesn’t want to be worshiped… he wants to be loved. He wants us to discover the source of real life… the unconditional sacrificial love of GOD worship is just a by-product of the relationship…
thanks for the reminder of balance…
for the record my position is that regardless of names.. all divisions of the church are unordained and the “true church” is the “catholic” (not the Catholic church proper) or the global combination of believers in Christ that worship him in spirit and in truth. I hold that among the great many of denominations that claim the name of Jesus Christ that the church survives as a subculture and is an “cross denominational support system that continues to grow as people become desperate for an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and seek that relationship outside of the customs and traditions of their denomination. This church is the bride of Christ and is ready… and expectant of his return.
I understand the stories and thinking of people in the post evangelical wilderness. I’ve caught myself looking out there often enough, away from the goofy conversion methods, flags in the sanctuary, and strong republican/right kind of setting. We’re of congregationalist stock, but were heavily influenced by the culture war 90’s.
However, I took what a previous poster said about the mainlines liberality to heart. If everyone who feels the way I do about my chuch’s approach leaves, if my voice isn’t there, it’ll only get more polarized. And for all my frustrations from time to time, my feelings of difference, most of my congregation is my brothers and sisters in Christ. They love God, love Jesus, accept biblical authority, and are growing every year to care more about reaching out to the community in His name. Our entire congregation is being sanctified, and the quiet work of the Holy Spirit is evident. If it seems to take a long time, I remind myself that most of God’s work celebrated in the Bible took many decades of commitment.
Right on the money dude! Take Calvary Chapel for instance. Doctrinally, they are baptists! They have become kind of a “non-denominational denomination”, and their members have more denominational loyalty than Episcopalians! Non-denom 9/10 times = Baptist. Judging from their take on the sacraments, at least. If only they could admit it…
Even baptist churches, as they grow more successful, tend to drop the word “Baptist” from their name because it’s bad marketing.
I like your thoughts on baptism. In fact, one thing I find strange is that baptist, who really have historically get so bent out of shape about infant baptism, have also historically taken a very low view of baptism. if we think so lowly of it, why make such a big deal out of it.
Miguel, I think, and it’s just a hunch, that there are a lot of Book of Common Prayer-baptist out there.
i myself, and i know Imonk speaks against it, think much can be said for young baptism, I’m not one who thinks a crisis conversion is neccesary, so baptize them young, i like the idea of them being able to remember the experience (say 5 or 6) and then catchecize sp? them
I’m in Rome GA
Austin that sounds like fun! I’d visit your church if I was in your area… Where are you anyways? I am currently a self described “Book of Common Prayer Baptist” working as a Worship minister in a SBC church. But I am looking for something more… More of Christ ultimately, but I’m at this point open to being won by any tradition be it old, new, or “ancient-future”.
About the infant baptism. Here is an idea that I came up with (whether or not it is original):
Why not just baptize the kid anyways? Whether or not it “saves” the kid, paedo’s can believe it does, and creedo’s can treat it as a baby dedication ceremony. And it can serve kind of like a “Paschal’s wager” on the issue, just in case the creedo’s are wrong. And if the creedo’s are right, the paedo’s have a cute little dedication ceremony. Win/win? Or is it just me?
Hence the term “cult of personality” 😛
Try to keep in mind; Bigotry is not relegated to denominational churches. In fact, many “post-evangelicals” who are returning to the mainlines are running from bigotry found in non-denominational churches. Just as it is possible to be legalistic about a “perfect liturgical worship” it is also possible to be the reactionary equal opposite by becoming a liturgy nazi. The hope of both is in Christ and not their form of worship.
Plus the mainlines are not suffering from “emptiness of doctrine.” Case in point: read their confessions sometime. What you find in a typical non-denom church is very minimal by comparison.
That’s what happens when you get someone who figures he alone has God on Speed-dial and has discovered (or been revealed) The One True Church God Really Intended.
That’s how the Mormons and JWs got started. You see this script in every cult or splinter group: All previous/other “churches” are Apostate and False, and God Hath Revealed To Me Alone The One True Church He Wants Founded, exactly as it was in the Days of the Apostles.
Headless, Iâ€™m ducking and running right now. Mentioning the Taliban in the same breath as non-denominationals? Brave man!
Because the idea behind the various Salafi movements IS the same one behind “going back to the Perfect Christian Church of the Apostles” — retreat into a romanticized/mythologized past. The most extreme of the Salafi — the Talibani et al — even won their Culture War and forced their country back into Islamic Purity.
*Catholics either tend to go the wacky ultra-Mariolatry route or the whole womyn-priests tie-dyed stoles route. The nearest thing that I can think of as â€˜non-denominationalâ€™ (in the sense of â€™setting up back to roots movementâ€™) in a Catholic context is, er, the SSPX â€“ and youâ€™d hardly call *them* doctrine-free!
And something I’ve observed about how Protestants & Catholics flake out. When Protestants flake out, it’s usually into some End Time Prophecy trip. When Catholics flake out, it’s usually some form of Mary Channeling. Makes me wish St Mary would show up to some of these wannabe Visionaries and slap some sense into them.
SSPX? You mean the Lefeberites? They’re the Catholic version of the LaRouchies! (And they’re not the only ones! The book Conspiracy Theory for Dummies has a sidebar that goes on for a couple pages of Uber-Catholic groups who not only split off from the Apostate “Church” but even had leaders who elected themselves the True Pope (since everyone since Piux XII was really an Antipope). Some of them — like the general store in Kansas with their True Pope and True Catholic Church of half a dozen strong! — read like something out of South Park. The only thing these splinters have in common is Tridentine Latin Mass, which is the rallying point equivalent of Prayer in Schools or Young Earth Creationism among Evangelicals.)
And English already has a word for “womyn-priest” or whatever they want to call it these days. THE FEMININE FORM OF “PRIEST” IS “PRIESTESS”!
Rest assured that if you feel disconnected at the very least it has nothing to do with your age. I struggle with very similar feelings and I’m only 25. Your reservations are those of a person who has been freed by Christ to think. When you raise your doubts, people should listen. As an elderly member of the Church you have perspective that needs to be respected. Younger Christians these days refuse to consider that previous generations might have something to teach them. It is a pungent form of arrogance that the outside world can smell from miles away, and I mourn it deeply. How I fail to lift my hopes and sights above the ecclesiastical structures we build…
I didn’t see a reply button for the post to mine about baptism, but to answer in the short, if parents at our church had an infant and wanted to have it baptized they would be welcome to do so as long as they committed to a process of confirmation later, but you have to understand with our group the division with baptism is a who/when and not a “what happens in baptism” division
as to your post above, i’m laughing about the tie-dyed stoles, and I’ve heard baptist preaches claim that if you could drop a bible onto an isolated island and the folks could read the bible what would develop would be a baptist church in form and practice, that’s an arrogant statement for sure, but how some folks feel
So you don’t have a â€œpersonal quiet timeâ€, I hate â€œsmall group prayerâ€, donâ€™t have pictures of missionaries on my fridge, donâ€™t have â€œFootprintsâ€ on my wall or hang 1 Cor 13 in my bathroom….
It makes me wonder… Are you even saved?
Lol I am being facetious. Steve that is inspiring honesty. I wish us evangelicals had a more inclusive way of accepting people who don’t fit into the sub-culture. It’s driving me to the PEW as well (or from the pew, ironically). I feel like we’ve allowed ourselves to be exploited by marketing at the expense of the gospel because it felt good. I think a good sign of Christian community might be where people inside and outside the list you just gave are found in fellowship, serving and loving God and one another.
“Finally, the moralism and right-wing politics of the non-denoms is a terrible witness to the world.”
This doesn’t even come close to matching the N D I’m currently attending.
I think you’re stereotyping based on some bad and/or local to you experiences. P
I can’t help but think of the book of Job as I read your post and those responses that follow. Maybe its because I have heard a series of messages preached from this book recently but no matter. It appears many people in this blog have much to say about theology, denominationalism, ethics, the character of God, the purpose of the church, etcetera. It is good discussion that has its place in conversation.
However, I personally want to simply say that I appreciate the emotion and contemplative thought that went into sharing of such depth your personal journey. I too ask similar question that remain unanswered and God in his infinite wisdom is choosing not to respond to me with concrete answers like I had personally hoped for. He responds to me with rhetorical question, just like he did for Job. Through those question, I am humbled and reminded that God is sovereign in this chaotic world we live in. He is reminding me that the body of Christ exists for his glory, not mine.
My husband and I are a pastoral couple also leaving formal ministry (this month actually) with no clue of what is next for us. Our term at this church was way to short. We too grieve for ourselves, for the people we seved and now leave, and for the collective people of God who make up the Body of Believers in today’s most unpleasant “post-evangelical wilderness”. Being in this emotional position, I am led to say in God’s strength that we must keep plodding!
The questions we have may never be answered in the satisfying way we hope for AND our restlessness and fustration in ministry may never depart as we often expect. It is most certain though that the name of the Lord will be glorified through our lives – NOT because of anything WE do or neglect to do but BECAUSE God wills it to be so; he will continue to ensure that his name is glorified throughout ALL generations. As Paul says, it is also certain that in Christ we have ALL we need to be content and to persevere, in wilderness or promiseland. In similar words to that of Joshua, I chant in faith that as for me and my house we will CONTINUE to serve the Lord.
I realize these words are for me more than for you, Mike! However, I do pray that they touch you and anyone esle who privately struggles to love and serve the Body of Christ. Thank you for the privilege to share in this blog. It has been healing for me.
Thanks for posting this, Mike! Have you read “Leaving the Church: A Memoir of Faith” by Barbara Brown Taylor? You might find you can empathize with what the author lived through and how she came to grips with it without leaving her faith.
Not an evangelical, myself–to me it’s always meant the same as “fundamentalist” and that’s not my Christian path. That’s why I am very intrigued by internetmonk and by the comments and community here.
My family has attended an EV Free Church for the past 16.5 years, and my husband and kids love it. I don’t mind it, but my background is more varied than my husband’s who went to Tim LaHaye’s college and church in the 70s/80s and has a pretty closed view of church.
I have also been attending weekday healing services of an Episcopal (now Reformed Episcopal) Church, and I can’t tell you how at home I feel there. Not only is there liturgy, sacraments, the church year, etc., but there’s an evangelical spirit that reaches out to the poor and into the community. This church is tiny (25 people), but they serve Christmas dinner to the elderly and poor on Christmas Day. They have a teen guitar ministry. They have in-depth Bible studies.
But what has brought me “home” there (although I still attend the EV Free Church on Sundays with my family) has been the focus on God rather than on the priest. The whole service does not revolve around the “cult of celebrity” of the pastor or even on the sermon (45 minutes long at our EV Free Church; 15 minutes at the REC); the focus is on Christ and on Communion. I rejoiced when our EV Free Church changed to weekly communion, but it kind of feels like an afterthought — the focus is on singing with the worship team and on the sermon. In the REC, the priest dons his apparel, he says, to “hide the priest so everyone can see Jesus.” I love that attitude.
And, even better, the two churches have worked together on feeding the homeless. That’s the coolest thing ever!
So, yes, I have two church homes. My kids sometimes accompany me to the weekday REC services (one of the benefits of home education), and one of my sons is involved in the teen guitar ministry at the REC. Between the two churches, I feel like I am able to grow in my faith in a slightly different direction than remaining in the EV Free Church only. I love the liturgy, the focus, the peace of the services. Fridays when I worship with the REC Church is the highlight of my week.
Just my experience….
The candles and icons are okay…..rosary beads…..(never!)
I’ve just moved to Austin this summer and am overwhelmed with the amount of church options. I’ve been in the “PEW” for the past several years, currently unsure of where I am and, like Mike, am unsure of where I am heading.
I ran across a church in Round Rock that left the Episcapol church a few years ago, decided not to go AMiA but instead went Evangelical Covenant Church. Now this particular church is slightly charistmatic, missional, liturgical with contemporary music and is very unique for ECC churches from what I know. But the priest/pastor there said they have been graciously welcomed even though they’re a bit of an odd duck. He also feels good in being part of a denomination that doesn’t leave him feeling like a “lone ranger”. I know this church is imperfect in practice, made up of messed up humans and would be more so if I were to commit to making the journey there but I have found it to be a “balanced diet” for the soul.
All this to say that the ECC (as well as the AMiA) seems to be an interesting denomination that may be worth exploring if you feel led to formally associate with one.
Warning: snark alert.
“What, precisely, makes the majority of mainline Protestant churches subject to your charge of apostasy?”
That’s easy, Don: if they don’t agree with every single point on Mark’s checklist, then they’re apostate.
See, this is how the Papacy got started!
You do need one guy who has the final word, and you will – whether you intend it or not – end up with that person: either the visionary pastor, or the influential elder who has the final say on hiring-and-firing pastors, or the congregant with the deepest pockets who bankrolls the place, or *someone*.
But someone you will have.
Mark, I will be polite to you and only say that you generalize the situation.
I grew up in the Church of the Brethren. I left 35 years ago because of liberalism, much as the ELCA. But I always remained Brethren, and said if I ever found a Biblical Brethren church I would go back. I never thought I would find one. When I moved where I am now I found one. A small country church that is very loving and biblical. I have been spiritually damaged by evangelical churches in the past and found healing here.
As for “apostate”, you need to look up what it means before opening your mouth.
Thanks for sharing that, Scott. It helps just knowing there are other Christians in one’s “same boat”. I identify with every single one of the things you have or don’t have, the things you aren’t, and the things you do, and perhaps most importantly, with your stated desire.
But this is so lonely and truly does feel like a wilderness to me (and my husband).
Praying for you, IMonk, and missing you here, although Chaplain Mike is doing great!
austin, I hope I’m not setting any cat amongst the pigeons, but on the topic of baptism – so what are you going to do (or are currently doing?) when the babies start arriving?
Will it be optional if the parents want to have their children baptised? Will there be some kids baptised and some kids not in the congregation?
You see what I mean?
Headless, I’m ducking and running right now. Mentioning the Taliban in the same breath as non-denominationals? Brave man!
Okay, that’s not what you’re saying, I do realise. I’m interested in how our unconscious biases colour our perceptions. I admit, I’m talking through my hat a lot here, because I have no experience of what exactly a non-denominational church might be, or might be like, or is in practice.
So, with that caveat in mind, take it with a grain of salt when I say that while I am fascinated by the notion that any group sets out to be ‘non-denominational’, that is, some kind of basic Christian group with the necessary belief in God and the right practice as set out in the New Testament examples and discarding all the accumulated baggage of mainline churches/Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism – I’m sorry to say I don’t believe there’s any such beast.
I’m not impugning their honesty or their good intentions, but unless they’ve been raised by bears in the forest, they are going to have *some* kind of model of what church is like/should be like/shouldn’t be like in the backs of their heads, and that’s going to come through when they all get together in Jim’s house with their Bibles open on their laps.
From the Catholic viewpoint, if I were going to set up my own ‘non-denominational’ church – well, no, I couldn’t*. And that’s why for one reason I think ‘non-denominational’ is a very Protestant idea, and carries with it an inevitable Protestant cultural and historical heritage and understanding of ecclesiology, Scriptures, ministry, etc. etc. etc.
*Catholics either tend to go the wacky ultra-Mariolatry route or the whole womyn-priests tie-dyed stoles route. The nearest thing that I can think of as ‘non-denominational’ (in the sense of ‘setting up back to roots movement’) in a Catholic context is, er, the SSPX – and you’d hardly call *them* doctrine-free! 😉
I’ve gone to an Evie Free church my whole adult life. Though I’ve always felt unsatisfied with church (too much preaching with no teaching or interaction or questions or dialogue, community only through small groups structure, etc.), when my son died a year and a half ago, I realized that the whole celebration service thing is shallow, even offensive, and certainly not helpful in healing the broken, leading people to worship in spirit and truth, making disciples, drawing people to Christ.
In grief, I felt drawn to liturgy, in order to worship in way that wasn’t painful. That has been very good.
But I don’t feel called to leave my current church, and I don’t just want to go to different church, and I don’t really want to do liturgy all the time.
What do you think of the organic church ideas? I just read through Pagan Christianity, and though I disagree with the tone, and didn’t think many of the ideas were new to me (since I am a think outside the box kind of person), I do think institutional churches are missing something. I’m not ready to start a house church, not willing to go mainline/liturgy, and unhappy at my current church.
I am lucky to have Christian friends and a great small group to walk with me in this wilderness.
BTW, in the above post “anecdote” should be “antidote.” I’m sure there are other mistakes, too. My bad.
JoanieD, if it’s any consolation, off the top of my head I can’t think of *any* 100% good Catholic.
Maybe the Pope. Maybe. But even he has to go to Confession 😉
…or they are SBC churches where every sermon is â€œget saved, join church, get others savedâ€¦â€
AKA “Amway without the soap”
AKA “Church as pyramid scheme”.
I get what you are saying. You are right. I have found very quickly that even a group of 12 or so folks is going to encounter â€œwhat do we do?â€ moments.
Picked up sometime during my years in SF/fantasy fandom:
“You know why a Wiccan coven is limited to 13 members? Because more than that and it gets unstable. Factions form, power struggle, and it finally splits apart into two smaller covens.”
And before anyone gets out their Bibles and starts preaching about Witchcraft, take another read and get the real point. There’s an upper limit to group size where it becomes unstable. Someone told me that on the average you can only know about 12 people really well (the size of a family or infantry squad) and perceive only around 150 or so (primitive tribe or infantry company) as individuals — any number above that becomes an abstract number, “only a statistic” (Josef Stalin). It’s called “troop-size limit”.
I converted in an Evangelical Free church in seventh grade. I went to an evangelical college in Chicago. (I am pretty sure this is also Chaplain Mike’s alma mater.) Then I wound up in the Wilderness.
For me, three distinct, interconnected issues thwarted my original conceits and expectations:
1. Evangelicalism is currently shackled to shallow, pop-culturish worship and aesthetics, that is disconnected from anything historical. The clearest anecdote to this malady within the movement seemed to be jumping to conservative Reformed tradition (whose theology I just can’t agree with), or certain varieties of fundamentalism (which has intellectual commitments I can’t affirm).
2. There isn’t much room in evangelicalism’s intellectual assumptions, rhetoric, or practice for doubt, deep sadness, or any other type of messiness. I started my faith with a strong sense of certainty intellectually and emotionally, attributes which made me leader material. That changed when I started to investigate certain intellectual questions further. It also changed when I realized my doubts and objections to the subculture made it impossible for me to “be” and to “do” and to “feel” the way I felt I was being scripted. I couldn’t find very many good ways to articulate my doubts in an honest way in an evangelical context; and I couldn’t embrace the rhetoric without feeling that I was being a bit dishonest. It seemed I had entered a self-imposed exile which I apparently had no power to undo.
3. Lastly and most important, the individualism. I can handle bad music. I really can. But I became increasingly to feel that something was really wrong when I could talk for long, long hours into the night with friends about theology, “my personal walk with God,” or personal morality, all without having to reference a single larger social issue that went beyond “me and Jesus and staying pure.” It seemed like the entire theological-spiritual world made almost every issue that actually mattered outside the subculture — even outside my own subjective world! — into an after-thought. I began to suspect that we were entirely self-absorbed and irrelevant. We not only chose not to discuss the Big Social Issues; we didn’t even seem to have a language capable of seizing those issues and carrying them into the heart of our theology or Christian practice.
These issues have framed the Wilderness experience for me. I basically pitched camp a few miles outside town, because I really had no idea what else to do. I’ve tried to create room to think. And I’ve visited other towns, especially ones of beautiful and strange rituals. I’ve also visited the most verboten dens of liberalism, where people are in fact quite nice and, if nothing else, very concerned about alleviating poverty and collecting books. Some of these other cities seemed to have things I needed. So I packed up camp and pitched my tent a few miles outside of those towns.
I have begun to feel that I have more perspective, and also more tools, with which to answer my first troubling questions. I’ve learned to hold faith and doubt simultaneously (thanks in part of liturgy). I’ve learned to acknowledge my brokenness and God’s mystery. And I learned something else: I couldn’t get out of my individualistic mind-trap unless I embraced Christian practice and community. That’s a clincher, because I don’t know how to “pick” the “right” church. (After all, if I could answer such questions with confidence, I wouldn’t have a problem, now would I?) So I recently did the obvious: I joined the mainline denomination on whose periphery I have been hiding out for the past three years. After all, I am here, in a community already: the only thing I haven’t done is allowed it to really be MY community or allowed myself to commit to it. This basic fact keeps me frozen forever in the wilderness of my own mind.
So here I am, in an apartment inside town, with my camping equipment stacked up the corner, waiting to see what comes next.
As far as who determines what goes and what doesnâ€™t, itâ€™s usually the entrepreneurial, â€œvision-castingâ€ pastor who forms the church in his image.
Couldn’t the same thing be said of (cue ominous music) Cult Leaders?
Can there genuinely be non-denominational churches?
Over the years, I’ve heard references to “the Non-Denominational denomination” and definitions of “Non-Denominaitional = Fundamental Baptist with the labels painted over.”
I read a lot about â€˜going back to the simple Christian church of the apostlesâ€™ but â€“ not wishing to rain on anyoneâ€™s parade â€“ I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s possible.
There’s a similar movement in Islam called “Salafi” whose goal is to purify Islam back into the Pure Islam of the Days of the Prophet, a Perpetual Year One of the Hegira. Their current incarnation includes the Wahabi who run Saudi Arabia and their even-uber-purer offshoots like the Taliban. Look where it got them.
I’m not sure if I am a post-evangelical or not. My journey has been through E Free, to 13 years on the mission field in a non-denominational mission, to C&MA and right now Southern Baptist. The mission field taught me not to get too hung up on a perfect church and there is much to like in the three denominations I’ve been in but I have never felt truly at home in any one of them.
My sense for some time now was that they evangelical church was marching happily unaware to some sort of an implosion eventually led me to find Micahel’s writings and to be astonished that he had articulated my thoughts in his “The coming evangelical collapse.” Reading this message string makes me feel like we need to do some sort of variation of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck”, a “You might be a post-evangelical”. You know…”If you are attracted to Luthern/grace AND Catholic/tradition AND Baptist/evangelism you might be a post-evangelical.
I can sympathize and empathize in many ways. I grew up in an old-time Pentecostal church but gradually moved into liturgical denominations as I grew older and found that my “home”denomination was more and more abandoning even its own traditions and jumping on the youth-oriented, informal to the point of irreverence, rock concert-worship bandwagon.
Since then, church life has generally been a non-ending oscillation between liberal Protestant churches that had organ-based, solemn, traditional worship and conservative, Bible-preaching evangelical churches. When the liberal church promotion of alternative lifestyles, worship of an amorphous, gender neutral God and constant undermining of any authority to Scripture finally gets to me (in spite of fantastic, genuinely worshipful music), I run to the conservative church for a dose of solid Bible teaching. But eventually, the irreverence or the utter lack of depth amongst those that claim to be such staunch defenders of the Bible drive me away again and back into the arms of a liberal denomination.
It’s very discouraging and disappointing. I don’t mean to sound like I’m perfect and there must be a perfect church to match somewhere out there—-it’s just that the only choices seem to be two extreme ends of the spectrum, neither of which is desirable.
There is nothing wrong with being discontented. If you read the stories of a number of saints, you will find that they left where they were to go searching. Sounds like discontent to me.
Besides Our Lord went alone in the wilderness himself, probably more frequently than the Gospels record.
I like liturgical worship, because I can connect with those elsewhere and elsewhen
I think you mistake the intent of most non-denominational churches. Many of these churches are filled with people that have been abused and mistreated by the religious bigots of their respective denomination and their eyes have opened to the emptiness of the doctrine that they have been raised in. Many of these people just want to seek God without the baggage of the assumptions and rhetoric of the denomination that they were raised in. It is the expected response from individuals that have been injured by religious bigots. The fact that so many non-denominational churches have sprung up indicates the growing impotence of the denominations. There is also the desire to accept any believer in Christ rather than subject them to a strict “man made” steps of salvation in order to join the church.
While I understand that many feel that attending a church is about “Worshiping God” there is a fundamental flaw in the idea that anything we do contributes to God at all, Worship is for US not for God. He knows he’s great and wonderful and all of those things. The church is a social gathering of believers that support each other and join together in worship as a “response” not as a “duty”. The important thing to realize is that worship is a lifestyle not a scheduled event so we can “sacrifice” ourselves emotionally and then go home and eat pot roast.
“But as you leave the worship show, no matter how well staged, no matter how attractive the worship leaders, the emptiness of modern life still plagues the longing heart. No amount of â€œfellowshipâ€, nor agonized â€œworshipâ€ experience as the â€œworship teamâ€ cycles a four line chorus over and over, can ever satisfy the hunger for that connection with the Eternal One.”
The ironic thing about this statement is that you somehow feel that you should be “fed” or automatically connected to God when you show up to church… yet the people often engaged in this worship already have a connection to God and this is their expression… your disdain for the repeating chorus is duly noted… yet scripture shows this to be an authentic form of worship… many of the songs and psalms and even Revelation speaks to never ending choruses of praise and “agonizing worship” as you put it… This puts a spotlight on the true problem with cynical and emotionally detached denominational worship. Where you rarely see the messy side of Christianity… where Jesus is actually healing and changing lives that could not have hoped to walk into a “liturgically correct” worship experience and met the Living God… those choruses are the heart cries of people so hungry and so desperate … straining against life itself to see God… to cast off their burdens and go running to him… dare you criticize that as empty and undisciplined? Did Jesus go to the “disciplined” pharisees or to the common people? he himself
“They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
24 And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25 And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? 27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
God is honored through our lives not our “Sunday Sacrifice”
I have work responsibilities to attend to for most of the rest of the day, so I will not be strictly moderating this post until this evening. Please keep the discussion on topic and respectful. I will not hesitate to delete comments later that are too far from the subject, offensive, or shamelessly self-promoting. No dirt clod fights, OK?
Chaplain Mike: Thanks for this post. I am a 60 yr. old hospital chaplain, ordained in ministry in 1981. In descibing the events of your life you have written the story of my life since my ordination and what has followed. I could best summarize what I have learned from borrowing Anthony’s words from above, that I “don’t belong to a church. I am part of the church.” These words are profound, and I believe that to learn this and then live in a “homeless” sort of way in the church community is an experience that is sometimes painful but glorious in its growing intimacy with Christ Himself. Thanks so much Mike for what you are doing at this blog during Michael’s absence and thanks Anthony for saying that.
Thank you so much for this post. Not much in there that I haven’t thought myself, and I appreciate your explaining of theologese that sometimes gets thrown around without regard for we un-trained. My background includes membership stints at the gamut of evangelical churches: from strict missouri Lutheran to tiny community non-denom to Willow Creek megachurch. Still looking for a home, but the closest I’ve found is the ELCA Lutheran church.
Posts like this are what got me involved with internetmonk a year or two ago. Thanks again, and be encouraged in your very valuable mission in hospice.
Like Joe above, I find myself moving in a more Anglican direction with all this. I grew up 50/50 Catholic and Episcopalian, but was joined to generic non-denominational Evangelicalism in 6th grade or so. I spent most of my teens and 20’s in Messianic Judaism (which means, in my part of the country, non-denom with some Jewish toppings) and am now somewhat in the Wilderness. While the little fellowship I’m at now was built on amazing relationships, it’s just not quite Church. No authority, no real tradition, no real chance for spiritual formation, no spiritual safety nets. It’s more like a campground in the Wilderness than a home. I’m very thankful for that, but I don’t see myself parked there for the long term. I’ve very encouraged by what I’ve seen in ACNA Anglicanism, though. The challenge where I live is that we’re so conservative a town to begin with that ACNA hasn’t taken much root here beyond a couple of churches that were rooted in groups that split with TEC decades ago. I.e. they’re the most traditional brand of ACNA churches.
But, yeah, when I’ve had a chance to worship with ACNA churches, it’s been very good. One I visited in a nearby town last weekend looks very promising in the long-term. It’s the first church I’ve ever been to where they immediately made me feel both welcome and a part of them even though they had just met me. And I’ve never seen such robust response from a congregation in the responsorial parts of the liturgy!
Oh, Chaplain Mike, you mentioned that you’re a hospice chaplain these days. One of my professors was a hospice chaplain until a few weeks ago when he was downsized. He told us that in his research, many hospice organizations are getting rid of the chaplains, social workers, and pretty much anyone else who’s “non-essential” (read: not-a-nurse) due to budget problems. So, it’s great that you have that! I hope it sticks around, ‘cuz it’s apparently a rarity these days!
I’d love to talk with you. I’ve been looking at the AMiA. Will go to my link above and get my email?
I was raised in the RCC and fell away in my later teen years. I married several years ago and started attending my wife’s church, a SBC congregation. They are a nice bunch of people (except when it comes to discussions about RCC), but I can’t become a Baptist, so I attend and participate where I can. I can’t ask my wife and her kids to change churches, though I would like to try an ELCA church near our home. There’s a lot of good in evangelicalism, but the arch conservatism bothers me. Plus the bigotry against other denominations.
I get what you are saying. You are right. I have found very quickly that even a group of 12 or so folks is going to encounter “what do we do?” moments. The first big issue for us, since we are a mix of baptist and others was the issue of infant baptism. The answer we came up with will not satisfy folks on either side. We agreed to accept each other’s baptism as valid and in a spirit of forbearance and unity just move on. Again, probably not something that endears us to either hardline baptist or those who think those pesky “anabaptist” are radicals worthy of death:)
But you are absolutely right. But honestly, so many of the folks we are meeting that sound intersted in what we are doing are just totally burned out on “church” as they have experienced it that we meet, worship, and fellowship and really dont’ worry about too much else.
Trust me, that is hard for someone like me who is an obsessive compulsive ornganizer and classifier to do:)
And I know you are joking, but I have been accused of “turning Catholic” by some folks and, my own folks, my dad who is an SBC minister, scratch their heads and fret about where they went wrong. Add to that I wear a blue or grey tab collar clergy shirt with my wedding ring (to keep down on confusion lol) when on “official” business, i.e. hospital visits and such and we are a real mess.
Mike, my journey is not unlike yours. I went from the Church of the Nazarene to the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA). What I can tell you about my journey is that I, too, loved some things about being an Evangelical. But also like you, I could not take the whole bag of tricks, so to speak.
Becoming an Anglican helped me. I was able to keep a strong attachment to the Bible and mission and daily religion, but without all the guilt and oppressive judgmentalism. The AMiA is not perfect – far from it. But it has been, for me, an oasis in the middle of the vast Evangelical wilderness.
I work for an association of evangelical churches. I see the problems with evangelicalism. I see the turf wars between pastors over the neighborhoods that they want to ‘reap’ from, so that no churches can be planted there. I’ve seen the snobby side of ministry. I’ve also seen low-income church plants flourish (in the spiritual sense) by using evangelicalism’s tools but abandoning its ethos. The mold is not broken in evangelicalism, but the culture that has it by the throat is. I won’t list the names of denominations, but there are large currents of change behind the scenes, but it is being held up by present administration at the higher levels.
It will just take evangelicals who are comfortable enough with the good aspects of Christian tradition, yet won’t jettison the gospel, and pass that on to the next generation of leadership (many longing for this change now will probably never sit under the shade of their own fig tree and will die in the wilderness [not for God’s displeasure, the analogy with the lost generation dies there]) I go to a Southern Baptist Church where we have corporate confession of sin, reading of ancient confessions of faith, and sing a blend of old and modern hymns rather than pop choruses (not that they are wrong), but we just want continuity and a stillness rather than the raving hyper-produced feel of some worship services. We also have expository preaching and no open public invitation. Not everyone who sits in the service is happy with it, but I think the younger generations being brought up in it will put roots down and prefer it over the circus approach. I know we are an anamoly in the deep south, but we believe it is possible to change over time our cultural flaws that have alloyed with the good evangelical aspects.
Thank you for that reply, austin, and I hope I don’t sound churlish if I pick you up on a couple of things.
What I was trying to get at is, perhaps, exemplified in the name you use – “Word and Table”. That right there, to a Catholic, is a pretty Protestant-sounding choice and shows the emphases you consider important.
Again, I’m not criticising or saying you’re doing it wrong; I’m saying all of us are slanted by our backgrounds and even so simple a thing as ‘we’re just all going to gather in Jim’s house and read our Bibles’ starts off with ‘which translation?’
I mean, there was a post on here previously about ‘how many Bibles do you own?’ and given the plethora of translations out there, either everyone brings their own favourite (and you then bog down in ‘hang on, my copy doesn’t say that!’ word-parsing) or there is an (unconscious?) choice of “this is the one we’ll use” influenced by one’s background.
I was going to ask, as a joke, “Okay, so non-denominational means in theory not tied to one set of beliefs – but in practice, how many non-denominational churches would be perfectly okay with it if someone turned up and started lighting candles or using icons or pulled out a rosary beads?” Though from what you say – alb and stole? lectionary? the Creed? – you guys got there ahead of me. No wonder the local SBC didn’t want anything to do with this crypto-Papistry-by-the-Anglican-back-door! 😉
Firstly, I’ve often heard it said that a Christian must be in a church — that there are no “Lone Ranger” Christians. If this is true, the same applies to churches. Non-denominational churches — or so it seems to me — reject the great saints of God who have gone before us and the work the Holy Spirit has done in this world for 2000 years. All this is brushed off as “traditions of men.” Such rejection — it seems to me — smacks of pride and contemptuousness. Where there’s no authority and no tradition, Jim Jones and his People’s Temple can be the result.
Secondly, the mainlines have a great deal to offer those in the non-denoms — the mainlines are more like real communities and less like cliques. The mainlines have centuries of experience with people from all walks of life — tens of millions have worshipped in these churches. The non-denoms often have little demographic variety, so they are hardly reflective of true Christian community.
Thirdly, there are no “apostate churches” — there are only apostate people, and they exist in every church. I fervently oppose the constant drumbeat — from TV ministries, the Salem Radio Network, and dozens of blogs, bloggers, and posters — the constant drumbeat of slander against the mainline churches, the cry that mainline denominations are “dead” or “lack the Holy Spirit.” After 20 years in non-denoms I’m finally in a PCUSA Church, and it’s the most Christlike place I’ve ever been — true Christian community. Yes, there’s truth to the charge that the mainlines have been “taken over by the liberals,” but that’s what happens when all the conservative people leave. (If you think the mainlines are “too” liberal, then join us, and help us get re-balanced).
Finally, the moralism and right-wing politics of the non-denoms is a terrible witness to the world. There’s only ONE “Christian nation” and that’s the Kingdom of Heaven. The so-called Christian right is widely perceived — by the very people who most need Christ — as an angry group of mostly white, upper middle-class people making a crass political power grab, resentful that they have been forced the last thirty years to share political power and social status with liberals, gays, and immigrants. It seems to those of us outside the “Christian right” that its real goal — rather than “protecting the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage — that its real goal is abolishing the capital gains tax and propping up the corporations that refuse to pay a living wage to the people who make this country work every day.
I really do wish those in the non-denoms would drop their rejection of the great men and women of God who went before us, and I really do wish those in the Christian right would see themselves as others see them.
See, I’m asking this because in Ireland, when we hear the word “non-denominational”, it’s nearly always in the context of schools, and even that only recently:
And even there, “non-denominational” means in very large part “Not Catholic” in reaction to the vast majority of schools in Ireland having been established and run by religious orders.
So non-denominational churches are a rare bird indeed, and what I’m taking from what you say is that sometimes it’s a case of ‘this is the denomination that we aren’t’ 🙂
I get your point. We can’t go back to the first century. None of us are really even willing to do what that might commit us to, but there is, at least in the U.S. a move to simplify things. Let me share my own experience.
Raised independant fundie/SBC baptist. Starting preaching at 12, licensed at 13, ordained at 24, pastored a baptist church for seven years. I have recently launched a plant with about 12 or so likeminded folks I’ve met over the last three or so years. We call our plant Word and Table. I laughing describe it to some folks as high church baptist/low church anglican:)
We follow a liturgy, the church year, I wear simple vestments of an alb and stole, we have scripture readings from a lectionary, a corporate confession, the Apostle’s Creed, weekly Holy Communion with a common loaf and a comnon cup. We use wine.
Now maybe to you and othe folks from mainline denoms, that might sound pretty typcial, but let me assure you, that for an area like mine that is overwhelming SBC, independat baptist, and pentecostal it is revolutionay and shocking.
Just for moral support and to have prayer partners we sought to afffiliate with the local SBC association. They wanted nothing to do with it. We are looking at a couple of other options just b/c I do not like the idea of “lone wolf” congregations. I think having ministry partners helps.
We have attracted so far in our small group methodist, presbyterian, one anglo-catholic, one Roman Catholic married to a baptist lady, and just run of the mill baptist who have tired of the circus that is most church services in these parts.
We do simple missions like go to the Salvation Army men’s shelter and help them with resume prep, and our ladies cook and take home made desserts to be used in their community kitchen.
Check out our link or look us up on facebook by searching for Word and Table. That was my shameless plug.
Chaplain Mike said, “Serious Bible study, a strong emphasis on evangelism and missions, and other aspects that I still appreciate from my evangelical background and training are missing where we are.”
But Mike, surely you are are being missionary as you do your chaplaincy work. I know you know that we don’t always have to be “verbally” promoting the Gospel message as we take the love of God into the world. And even though it is great to have real live people with us as we do Bible study, there are so many ways of studying the Bible online now and though we can’t see the other people who are reading and learning with us, they are there.
I do wish you well as you resolve all this though. I wonder how many people are 100% “satisfied” with their…placement?….within a church. As I have mentioned before, I am Catholic, but there are aspects of the Catholic teachings that are ones that I question. I don’t question the parts about who Jesus was, what he has done, why we need Jesus, etc. I don’t even question the parts about how we live our lives in ways that lead to more “sanctification.” It’s other bits and pieces that make me know that I am not a 100% good Catholic and that I am not the one to teach people how to be a good Catholic. I think some Catholics would tell me, “Why don’t you become an Episcopalian?” I have my reasons why not.
I spent the first 14 years of my Christian journey in an Evangelical Free church … there’s not much difference between an EVFree and a non-denom. So I doubt you you would have saved yourself any heartache by going that route. In fact, my old pastor is (or was, may still be) the head of the denominational Pastoral Committee and I doubt you would’ve seen eye to eye with him. He’s a real passive-aggressive nasty sort, sooooo ….
I’ve volunteered in a non-denom … and with no outside influence to restrain the pastor(s) ego, there is the possibility for much damage to be done; as was my case. However, when the outside structure becomes too vast (like the mainline churches) then people become less the issue and the institution becomes more important, which is also very wrong. It’s a real conundrum that needs to be addressed somehow.
Your synopsis in this reply is on target.
Perhaps the non-denom churches serve as an “intake venue” for the benefit of those seeking for satisfaction of other “felt needs”, as their first priority, rather than any real understanding of a life changing encounter with the Creator Lord God.
Just as with entertainment stage productions, many non-denom churches and evangelical “lite” churches, that I’ve visited, do a first class job of theatrical presentation complete with worship dancers and musicians that are really fun to watch.
But as you leave the worship show, no matter how well staged, no matter how attractive the worship leaders, the emptiness of modern life still plagues the longing heart. No amount of “fellowship”, nor agonized “worship” experience as the “worship team” cycles a four line chorus over and over, can ever satisfy the hunger for that connection with the Eternal One.
Many of us, in our quest to know God and understand the purpose of humanity, eventually deepen our search for the significance offered only in the rich history, traditions, and liturgical order of God focused worship and service.
There is something inexplicably liberating when the individual finally comprehends that church is not about progams, cute well dressed choreographed worship teams, or my amusement, or my “felt needs”.
It is all about honoring a loving heavenly Father who gave His Son Jesus Christ, and is expressed by my disiplined sacrificial offering, of my total body and soul, to the immortal invisible incomprehensible One.
Mike… I get it completely. It’s been seven years this month since I resigned from pastoral ministry. I certainly expected to be back in by this time, but that door has not opened. I’ve found it very difficult to transition from “clergy” to “laity.” I’m not even sure how to relate to God.
Like you, I am lost in a wilderness. The churches I’ve been to either have adopted the “Christianity lite” version, aka “simple church” (created by lazy pastors who promote popular minimalist Christianity), or they are SBC churches where every sermon is “get saved, join church, get others saved…”
It’s one of those places I never thought I’d be, and, like many other commenters to this post, I would not have understood what you were saying if I wasn’t living it.
Thanks for letting me know that I’m not alone!
Thank you so much. These are good thoughts. That’s why I have been following this blog for a long time, although I rarely comment. (And btw thanks Chaplain Mike for pitching in. Sure do miss Michael and will continue to pray for him and his family.)
Back to the point. Your last comment nailed it for me. Sometimes I feel so lost in church and don’t really know what to do. What is being touted as spiritual committment or involvement in worship looks, sounds and feels more like a high school assembly with a spiritual title. I wonder what’s wrong with me that I’m not connecting. The general response I get if I start to raise my doubts is that I’m old (60) and haven’t ‘caught the vision.’ And then I feel guilty and wonder if it’s true. Am I just too set in my ways? Am I no longer in touch with what Christ wants to accomplish? Is it wrong for me to feel this discontent?
In my experience, non-denominational churches have tried to eliminate most traditional distinctives in order to promote a bland, shallow, youth-group kind of faith that is primarily concerned with running good programs and providing generic Christian activity centers for all ages. It’s “Christianity Lite.”
As far as who determines what goes and what doesn’t, it’s usually the entrepreneurial, “vision-casting” pastor who forms the church in his image.
Don’t have a horse in this race, but I would sincerely like to ask this (and not, I hope, in a dirt-clod throwing way – sorry, Chaplain Mike!)
Can there genuinely be non-denominational churches?
I’m asking because you mentioned the churches started by men with a United Methodist background, and I suppose what I’m wondering is this – even if someone says “This is not a (insert denominational name here) church” and means it, won’t there be influences from their background? Ways of structuring services, how important is the sermon, what interpretation of Bible passages, tongues – yes or no? and the like?
And if the congregation is drawn from diverse backgrounds, isn’t there the spectre of a tussle between competing expectations – either “We didn’t do it that way before in my old church” or “That’s exactly how we used to do it, which is why I don’t want to it that way here”?
So to boil it down: in non-denominational churches, is there an unacknowledged background influence from the former tradition, despite the sincere efforts of those involved? Either that, or a kind of cherry-picking from various traditions/denominations which become the ‘new’, if informal and unwritten, standards (I’m thinking here of what you say about failing some hidden standard that you didn’t know about) themselves?
I read a lot about ‘going back to the simple Christian church of the apostles’ but – not wishing to rain on anyone’s parade – I don’t think that’s possible. We’ve been Christians for two thousand years now, more or less, and like it or lump it, we’ve developed and changed over that period of time. You may think you’re just reading your Bible and copying the practices of Paul in church planting, but this is not the 1st century Middle East/Mediterranean and we can’t turn the clock back.
Again, not trying to turn this into a “Come home to Rome!” (or Constantinopole) debate, just curious. And maybe wanting to stir up some consideration of the unexamined assumptions behind the label “non-denominational”.
Ironically, the acronym for “Post-Evangelical Wilderness” is PEW. 😉
For me, the PEW means realizing I don’t fit into the evangelical subculture. I don’t have a “personal quiet time”, I hate “small group prayer”, don’t have pictures of missionaries on my fridge, don’t have “Footprints” on my wall or hang 1 Cor 13 in my bathroom; I don’t have a Thomas Kincade painting or a study bible, don’t listen to CCM, Christian radio; don’t read books by John Piper and am not Republican. But mostly, it’s desiring to live a life where loving one’s neighbor is just as important as loving God is, but having a difficult time finding that context or making it flesh out.
Again, not a direction I would like to go in…
It means I am a pretty reformational theology, 5 sola, Calvinist kind of guy who loves immutable grace but dislikes most Reformed churches…..
While liking my church plant that serves its community in a missional way…..
While still desiring to visit Anglican and Lutheran churches from time to time for their liturgy….
While loving theology but not wanting to argue about it or “trump” a fellow believer…
While souding wishy washy and liberal to my baptist family, which tradition I do not miss at all but do respect….
And while sadly not “at home” enough yet to be a member of any of these, I now operate on what previously to me would been a foreign concept; that I don’t “belong” to a church. I AM part of the church.
I hear you… but take heart, it’s a good thing….the closer you come to God, the less you are with man
OK, I’ll jump into this one with both feet…
What, precisely, makes the majority of mainline Protestant churches subject to your charge of apostasy?
What is the biblical gospel that they have departed from?
Could you be conflating certain contested points of Paul’s apostolic practice, distinctly American evangelical individualism, or right wing cultural biases, with the gospel?
Your comment strikes me as the kind of thinking I’ve come to associate with second- or third-generation American evangelicals (or the “GUBA” demographic), with their emphasis on personal salvation and piety, and systematic theology based on relatively recent interpretations of Paul’s epistles, rather than the historic, socially transformative community of faith described by Jesus himself and established on the Day of Pentecost, which has grown and given its light to the world for two thousand years.
Which denomination is “furthest away from the biblical gospel” is debatable.
We are not going to have that argument here.
I am thoroughly evangelical in my personal beliefs, and that includes a profound commitment to Scripture as God’s Word. We are OK with the church where we attend right now. There are good and biblical things offered in mainline churches in many places. That’s all I’m going to say and all you need to know at this point.
With all due respect Mike, why would you attend a ELCA church? As a matter of fact, why would you even attend a mainline Protestant church period? I don’t know if you know this but the vast majority of mainline Protestant churches are apostate. No church is perfect, but some churches are more biblically-grounded than other churches, and mainline churches are furthest away from the biblical gospel. If you want to maintain your Lutheran emphasis on grace perhaps you could try a LCMS church. From what I hear, they are much more closest to faithfully adhering to the gospel than the ELCA.
I wouldn’t claim to be able to characterize the ELCA as a whole. And our goal is not to change anything. I’m just looking for home.
If I read ELCA right, it sees evangelism as something like spiritual snobbery and arrogance. I wonder if you can help them reclaim the idea: Knowing God is a blessing, knowing Christ is good news. That is why we evangelize.
Take care & God bless