Grubbing about amongst the ruins
Stumbled across this via a link thereto at Free Republic. Seems to be a fairly new place - this set of forums, I mean. The walls and floor are clean - no blood splatter, no unexpended rounds lying about.
I don't know if my "story" is going to find any resonance here (or in the future). Let's see, shall we?
Like you, Robert, my cradle faith was born in climes generally similar to yours, absent the social legalisms. The theological boundaries were pretty well-defined - Biblical inerrancy was the primary foundation of the theological constructs presented to me originally in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church way out in the Mojave Desert of southern California (we did have a yet-unpolluted Colorado River alongside us, though). Later, after a lapse into spiritual indolence, that faith was reawakened by college students newly-discipled in Christian apologetics by their MIT-grad pastor. In a college setting, apologetical rigor and theological clarity (with solid Biblical validity neath it) were mandatory for any college Christian who intended to weather the anti-Christian ethos of that campus.
So, here's where there's a pretty big divergence in my story and yours, Robert (I'm assuming your story provides the archetype for the plot in your book. Am I incorrect?) "Running Away" implies some provocation, some threat, some danger that prompts one to run away. In that sense, I never ran away from my church (i.e. my cradle faith). I did depart it, after 30 years, including a decades-long stint as a vocational evangelical pastor in conventional broadly evangelical Protestant congregations. But, my departure from "my church" for a different ecclesiastical community was not driven by fear of a danger.
Two different things put me on a search. First, there was a jarring encounter in my Biblical studies, in which a primary pillar in my previous theological house got ripped out and tossed far away. This experience did not result in the total collapse of my previous doctrinal convictions. The architectural metaphor here is clumsy, I know. But, imagine if a key pillar in a structure were ripped out BUT instantly an entirely different pillar took its place. I still had my faith. But, the new feature demanded a wholesale re-evaluation of the entire structure, along with modifications, renovations, and so forth.
And, when this happened, I was utterly alone! The environment about me offered no comfort, no help. And that was the second prompt for timidly creeping away from my church, as it were.
I'll not rehearse all the stations from there to here. Today I am the Rector (i.e. chief pastor) of an Anglican parish out in the sub-suburbia of a mid-continental megalopolis. In this capacity, I am - as the subject title of this post reports - grubbing about amongst the ruins, in this case the ruins of a church that once sat as Queen of Colonial Protestantism, the Church of England. If helpful, I can explain later how and why it is a mighty heap of ruins today. We orthodox Anglicans, especially those of us who come to it from outside of it, are the kind you might have encountered a couple of centuries ago. We are pilgrims in a strange and ever-stranger land.
Looking back at the church of my cradle faith, I see today how much from them I have retained! I also see how what I retained from them leads to where I live today. And, yet, I also see those around me who are chronological peers, who were once ecclesiastical and theological housemates - these folks seem incapable of understanding, even perceiving how and why I end up where I have. Stranger and stranger. And saddening.
Enough for now. I don't want to sully the carpets inadvertently.
Hello Fr. Bill,
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us.
Yes, this is a relatively new website which is why there has not been much activity. I am working on building it up and developing a community of people who love the Lord and are interested in discussing these topics in a civil manner. I will soon begin sending out some reminder emails to those who have already participated.
I am open to having people from all backgrounds share their stories here and discuss their commonalities and differences.
Now regarding your story...and mine...
This is quite a journey - to go from Fundamentalism into another faith tradition which stretches all the way back to Henry VIII. Not quite all the way to Rome but still, a long journey nonetheless :).
I am very curious...as I am sure many here will be...what was this pillar which came crashing down? Can you share about that?
As to my own story...the protagonist in my book is LITERALLY running away from his church - in my case, I didn't run away - I simply stepped out into a much fuller tradition (like yourself) - but I still have many dear friends who are in that world which I left.
Thank you again for posting. I hope to have some more people contributing soon.
"... what was this pillar which came crashing down? Can you share about that? "
Sure, though it will likely not have the same impact on others as it did on me at the time. Here's what happened . . .
I was preaching through 1 Corinthians, which has a number of mine-field passages in it. I got (safely, I thought) through the head-covering thang in the first half of chapter 11. The second half was about the Eucharist, and I thought I'd gotten into easy territory. Nope.
Paul explains, as you know, that "... he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." I got to working on that phrase "not discerning the Lord's body." I decided the Nestle-Aland omission of "Lord's" was incorrect, and then had to tease out just what the phrase was saying. That's when the "pillar magic" occurred.
I can still see the office where it happened, what was on the desk, the way the window illumined my work that afternoon. What dropped into my lap was this: if failing to discern the Lord's body is the fault of these sick and dead Corinthian Christians, then it follows necessarily that the Lord's body is ~there~ to be discerned.
That instantly erased all I had been taught in seminary about the nature of the communion, the Supper, the Eucharist, however you want to style it. The surprising and unsettling realization that fell upon me, sounded so Roman! Surely not!
But, I flipped back to 1 Corinthians 10, which I had breezed through with no ghosts of Rome emerging from the murk to haunt me. I reviewed my study notes. I dug back into the exegetical resources I had at hand (nothing like what I have today with the internet!). I ended up rehearsing what Paul meant by saying we had koinonia with the body of the Lord, with the blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 10:16). Very reluctantly, I admitted that the meaning imparted to me by my cradle faith, by my seminary - a notion of mere remembrance of some past event - didn't square with Paul's words.
This pushed me back into Luke 24 and the conclusion of the Emmaus Road. And, then, further back, ending in John 6. An entire lengthy chapter of a textbook for a course on John's Gospel was devoted to disproving the idea that our Lord's teaching there had any impact at all on our understanding of the Eucharist! But, surely, that hideous discourse by our Lord, eating his flesh ("chewing" is one of the words He usd), drinking his blood - I could not believe that this event, this teaching which drove away all our Lord's disciples except the 12, would not have been constantly on their minds ever after.
And, Jesus NEVER answered the question hurled at him: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Do you think that unanswered question never returned to them afterward? Do you imagine that in that upper room, when Jesus offered that matzos to them and said "Take. Eat. This is my body" and the cup of wine and said "This is the cup of the new testament in my blood" they didn't think "So THIS is His answer to that question!"
I was in a mess, Robert. As I said, everything in my spiritual formation and education had deemed such notions to be heretical Roman flummeries. Yet, here it was, obviouisly embedded in the warp and woof of the Bible, which I had been (rightly) taught was the supreme authority for faith and practice.
The remaining evolution of my thinking goes beyond your question. But, I will summarize it like this: I had inadvertently stumbled onto a Christian doctrine with a special name in the history of doctrine, viz. the Real Presence. It was a doctrine which, I later learned, was hotly debated amongst the magisterial Reformers, particularly Calvin and Luther. When I finally stumbled around long enough to learn about Lutheran sacramental theology, I discovered that what I had realized in that sermon prep had been well expounded by Luther. And, by Agustine before that. My stringently Anabaptist rabbis had utterly ignored this historical debate in a 140-hour seminary Master's syllabus!
Leaving out all the connections, I ended up not amongst the Lutherans, but the Anglicans, many of whom have exactly the same sacramental theology as Luther. So, I did not abandon Christianity. But, I did walk away from one of the communities within Christianity, into a different one, for the reasons sketched above.