2011-2014 Part I: Goodbye ECF, Hello Grace Life Church, and a New Marriage
I began my previous post speaking of disillusionment with the local church. As a young Christian, I believed that the better the doctrine a church teaches, the better the fellowship and spiritual health of the congregation would have been. Our experience up through 2011 showed this not to be so; although our church at the time was filled with lovely people (and still is), the good doctrine alone never seemed to assure deep bonds of fellowship or friendship—no blame assigned, at least, it would be self-destructive to keep rehashing my perception of how this person or that person let me down, or let Danielle down, or how we let this one or that one down. There comes a point in the healthy Christian life where, for the sake of love, one must simply let go of the possibilities of how we have brought harm to one another.
Yet since fellowship and friendship are indispensable parts of living the Christian life, this meant we were very lonely, even in rooms full of people. We left ECF embarrassed for our weaknesses and mistakes, having lost the few bonds we made with our church family there. It had become painful to show up to church, always seeking to avoid certain people in small rooms where everyone sees everyone.
From that time, I have looked at life in the local church as a challenge of survival as much as a journey of thriving. These seven years have borne that out for me. Continue reading
In Peter Jackson’s apocryphal The Hobbit trilogy of films, which were almost based off of Tolkien’s single, short children’s book by the same name, we see Bilbo Baggins negotiating for his life with the wily, dangerous dragon Smaug.
Bilbo is able to escape the Lonely Mountain with the object he was sent to steal from Smaug, but the result was a very angry, rampaging dragon who flew directly to Lake Town to wreak his fiery havoc. Continue reading
From Giant to Dwarf
They say life is the school of hard knocks. If that’s true, church life in a wealthy, comfortable nation is the school of disillusionment—at least, when you’re a young, idealistic guy who thinks getting doctrine just right will yield the perfect local church—or that the perfect local church will stay perfect once you get there with all your sin and imperfection.
Though I had begun to learn some hard lessons about local churches, I was still very optimistic in 2008. I believed that in a medium-size metro area like Rochester, there were bound to be several strong, sound Calvinistic churches to choose from. In my search for the Church catholic, I had begun to eliminate large swathes of denominations and local churches that deviate from the core doctrines and practices of the Reformation. My time in the Arminian, fundamentalist Baptist and Calvary Chapel churches, which had both seemed perfect to me, now looked like 2-D imitations of the real thing. Continue reading
From Core Christianity, a Reformed ministry branching from The White Horse Inn:
The sacraments are means of grace.
The sacraments are means of grace, not personal pledges of obedience. Theologian Louis Berkhof explains that the means of grace are ordinary means “by which the Holy Spirit works and confirms faith in the hearts of men” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 605). It is easy to think of the sacraments as things we do as a pledge of obedience to God or a sign that we’re giving our life to him. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of a sacrament. Sacraments are not things we do for God but are ordinary ways the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of salvation. In addition, it is only by faith that a person receives these benefits.
While not the means of salvation itself, the sacraments serve to really and truly nourish and sustain a Christian’s faith. It is important to note that the sacraments are signs and seals of what Jesus did, not what Jesus does to save. By themselves, being baptized and eating some bread and wine do nothing. It is when the Holy Spirit works through them and the participant has faith that the person is renewed and refreshed and has communion with Christ himself.
Notice the nuance employed here: the sacraments are “not what Jesus does to save,” but yet “the Holy Spirit works through them” to affect the faith of the recipient. I would use even stronger language than the author here did, but nevertheless, this is the Reformed, catholic religion which Jesus founded. Amen.
Read more here.
A Hope Dashed
Picking up from the last post, 2007 was the year I really began to embrace the intellectual side of Christianity. For far too many people, even the idea of an “intellectual side” sounds like the death of vital, vibrant, Spirit-led Christianity. Many Christians see the intellectual pursuits of doctrine as divisive, often citing the warning to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:3-5
“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (ESV).
The Christian life is meant to be a marriage of spirit and truth, of piety and knowledge, of joy and sobriety. Many strains of Christianity end up dry as deserts, lost in pits of books, disputes, and dissensions, while others end up drunk on emotionalism, rejecting the pursuit of knowledge, and susceptible to every wind of doctrine which whips along.
But for me in 2007, the flood of new doctrinal insight I received through studying Calvinism was a flood of information laced with deep pockets of joy. Continue reading
I have been absolutely destroyed for time lately, as life with my newborn has been anything but easy. I also have 4 jobs outside of the podcast, so I am barely treading water. The podcast is overdue, and the spiritual autobiography is overdue, but I have not quit, nor forgotten these things. Pray for me.
In the meantime, I recently listened to the audiobook version of Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and would highly recommend it to you. Esolen is one of those ultra-talented commentators who understands the relationship between the physical and metaphysical in such a way that he draws you inward and upward as you read. Very worth it.
Buckle up for a longer post this time. I have to mention all the events and people included here, and I don’t feel like artificially breaking this up into separate posts, mostly because I have a lot to cover, and I’m not trying to tailor this series to a popular audience. When one wishes to blog like a champion, one must observe the rule to keep posts short, so as not to lose the interest of the average reader. Since I do not have many readers, nor average readers, I am writing at length today.
See this list for all posts in this series.
Still Floating Along, Not so Alone
Upon returning home from Yellowstone National Park in 2005, I continued working toward my Bachelor degree at SUNY Brockport, leading Campus Crusade for Christ (CC4C) on campus, and practicing evangelism with my mentors Peter and Phillip.
At CC4C, I became President of the club because the other student leaders had either graduated or quit college. With no leadership or ministry experience, and at 23 years old, I stepped into a pastoral role for two dozen young college students. Only two years out of drug rehab, I was relying mostly on zeal, while my learning in the Scriptures still had a long way to go. Continue reading