My trek from “freer” Evangelical groups through various Magisterial Reformation and “catholic” denominations has been extremely enlightening.
I say through because in some strange way I feel that my journey in trying to understand Christianity has come to a conclusion. I find myself to be at the proverbial “other side” of the full denominational spectrum. Let me explain.
Even though I did not know it at the time, my quest for the truest Christianity began during my adolescence when I suddenly felt dissatisfied with our church’s worship services. Although they were filled with great music and enthusiastic worshipers, the services felt spiritually empty… as if all the yelling, dancing and excitement was just crude superficiality.
I have sought after true Christianity for many years and in various denominational settings. One of the assumptions that I had made in my journey, was that if I wanted to find Ancient Christianity, that I would naturally find it in the “catholic” or liturgical churches.
After some time of being within Baptist circles, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism and Confessional Lutheranism, I anchored in the Lutheran tradition… In spite of this, I have never been able to constrain my panoramic view of ancient Christianity through the very narrow prism known as “The Reformation.”
I attended Concordia Theological Seminary in order to fulfill my requirements for colloquy and become acquainted with the robust Lutheranism that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod represented.
During one of my ecclesiastical history classes, we studied some of the early Patristic documents and teachings of the early Church. To my astonishment, most of the disciples of the Apostles adhered to an eschatological worldview that I would have to renounce IF I desired to become a Lutheran Minister. I found this fact to be a bit hypocritical, especially since the historical Lutheran emphasis has been to return to the primary sources.
I had come face to face with the fact that if I wanted to be a rostered Lutheran minister, that I would have to choose between two evils. In this case, the lesser evil was to accept Lutheranism’s unique version of Amillennialism. This seemed comparatively easy since Lutheranism seemed to carry the Apostolic understanding of the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion.
Its always easy to judge others when your skin doesn’t have to boil… but I was willing to take the risks to find the greater truth as to who “owned” the best version of Apostolic Christianity.
Since the Sacraments are the centers upon which liturgical churches revolve, I assumed that these churches would be filled with people who were acquainted with an awareness of God’s presence that transcended the non-liturgical congregations I grew up in.
I WAS WRONG.
I found that many are as spiritually devoid of Christ as the average Western citizen on the streets of NYC. Perhaps worse, since the invitation to make a resolute determination to follow Christ is discouraged by labeling it: decision theology.
Oh, no doubt we are fancier. We have beautiful churches with beautiful ornaments, with beautiful colors, with beautiful music and lofty-minded choir singers- but nevertheless, Christ’s original concept of discipleship is absolutely dead and non-existent in most of Christendom.
So far, these are some of the lessons that I have learned during my pilgrimage through the denominations:
- No denomination encapsulates the fullness of Apostolic Christianity. The early Church was a disciplic movement of teachers and disciples that allowed for diverse thinking and doctrinal development within basic parameters. As time passed, these schools of thought (mainly Antiochian and Alexandrian) competed for ascendancy for the title of orthodox. These schools combated heresies while developing and establishing dogmas through Ecumenical Councils. Most Christian denominations today represent one or more divergent thoughts that were either accepted or considered valid under Patristic supervision. An example of this would be the modes and efficacy of the Sacraments or celibacy.
- Public profession of Faith is extremely important. Regardless of how you label it, making a public, resolute decision to follow Christ offers the opportunity to intentionally take hold of the Faith that took hold of us in our baptisms (Phil. 3:12). I have found that people who shy away from this, mostly do so because of their attachment to worldly living. Within Lutheranism, pietism is viewed as a historical anomaly from which we must protect ourselves. But don’t we need more PIOUS people in Christendom?
- Being part of an active community of believers. It doesn’t matter whether you light candles and have Eucharist, or play guitar and clap hands… being an active part of a Christian community that sincerely seeks after God through prayer, worship, Bible study, compassion and fellowship is more important than theological accuracy or confessional superiority. Jesus said that the mark of his true disciples would be their love for one another (John 13:35). Christians that easily break relationships and divide churches are an affront to what is supposed to be our main distinctive as a people.
- A disciplined spiritual lifestyle. When you study Christianity from outside of its spectrum, it is easy to notice how most Christians do not commonly practice a disciplined, religious life. In fact, while many Evangelicals shun the word “religious,” their lack of disciplined piety has become a modus operandi that can ironically be termed religious by all intents and purposes. The point is this… while on this plane of existence, fallible human beings need a canon or measuring rod by which they can keep their standards in check. The Christian life is one that is supposed to be marked by continual progress and growth (Eph. 4:11-13) as we seek to become like Jesus. Christian disciples are aware of their spiritual progress and maturation as a result of their spiritual disciplines. Jesus said that those who follow him should carry their cross (Luke 14:27).
“Jesus called his disciples to carry their crosses, not his slouches to carry their couches.”–jcr
- A good sermon. We are a disciplic religion. Whether we like it or not, the Christian service revolves around the teaching, commonly referred to as The Sermon- not Holy Communion. I have seen it all– from pastors who must resort to 20 jokes per doctrinal statement, to Christians demanding that the sermon be given after the church has had Holy Communion and has officially been dismissed. Of course, the majority of churches force their pastors to prepare a wishy-washy, 12 minute sermonette that focuses on one single, (entertaining and politically correct) elementary point. In view of the Biblical illiteracy in the pews, simple sermons are a necessity… but we need sermons that will challenge us to make the resolute determination to grow in discipleship and share the Gospel. The Church needs continual, Biblical instruction… without it, we die.
Christianity needs to change. We must be ready to transcend our divisions and purposely begin to see our differences as simply the various angles of the Gospel Light we have received in Christ.
We have come to a time in history that sincere Christians will have to choose between adhering to the artificial paradigms that keep us divided or become part of an active community of believers that reflect the disciplic distinctives that Christ envisioned for his people.
I am ready to make the jump from being identified as a denominational Christian, to simply being a Christian disciple, regardless of denomination. When I die, it won’t matter whether I’m a Lutheran, a Baptist, a Roman Catholic, a Ukrainian Orthodox or a Pentecostal. In fact, not even my baptism will matter as much as my resolute determination to follow Jesus as his disciple and to live under the conscious lordship of Christ over my heart.
Am I still a Lutheran? YES…It’s just that being Lutheran is no longer as important to me as being a Christian.