My concern a year ago was hypocrisy.
Then I left, which I think was the right thing to do... but the next question is, "now what?"
So we spent a few months in a traditional Anglican church. There's a lot to be said for the traditional Anglicans, but there are some serious problems there as well. Those problems have been working their way into focus from the periphery, and we've finally concluded they're deal-breakers. We're not happy about that: we've really enjoyed a lot of things about the Anglican church. But what can we do?
So I know I've already made a couple lists of what I'm looking for, but I'm going to make another one. See, a lot of this blog is me articulating things in such a way that my poor mind can start to understand them. This blog is largely a story I tell myself to try and make sense of my walk down here until He comes to get me.
The first thing I'm looking for in a church/assembly/gathering is core doctrine. By "core" I mean things that are really very important. Ideally I would like a place where I am in 100% agreement with everything said and taught. That will probably never happen, so I'm going to have to make some judgment calls about what's "fundamental" and what's something I can allow some latitude on. I'm pre-trib, pre-mil dispensationalist. I'm willing to compromise on a lot of that: in fact, the characteristic Anglican ambiguity on a lot of this is all right with me. That's not to say I'm not sure I'm right, it's just that I see no reason I can't have genuine Christian fellowship with an amillenialist. But some things are non-negotiable. Jesus Christ is Man and God: He is the consubstantial Son, He is a real Man. This is non-negotiable. All men are born sinners, without Christ all perish eternally. This is also non-negotiable.
The second thing I'm looking for is worship-centered gathering. I know a couple pre-trib, pre-mil dispensationalist churches in this town, but the meetings are basically just lectures. I shall probably visit them at least once; but it's my honest conviction that gathering more or less just to hear teaching---no matter how good it is---fundamentally misses the point. Intellectual stimulation is not worship (although the intellect is inarguably mixed in with true worship). I have literally hundreds of books I can read, if sound teaching is what I'm after. The gathering ought to be much more than just getting "the truth". It's telling that I hung out with Anglicans for a few months, despite doctrinal differences, because the liturgy is all about worship. I finally realized that some of those doctrinal differences were bigger than I had realized, but I'll tolerate a lot to be in a place where worship is the main event.
The third thing I want is a biblical foundation. It's taken some time to hammer this out very solidly: the one resource we have is the Word of God. I have said that many times over the last 20 years, but it's really been brought to mind very clearly over the last 12 months. One of my main gripes with Anglicanism is precisely that they pay much more attention to patristic commentary than the Word of God. There are all sorts of arguments on why that's valid, but as far as I can determine, they all fail. If we can't trust Scripture, we sure can't trust patristic commentary. If we can trust Scripture, we don't need patristic commentary. Again, commentary from godly men and women is helpful in its place. Its place is not unquestioned authority.
I would say those are the three big things I'm looking for. But there are some smaller things too.
One point I've been willing to compromise on has been the idea of priesthood. I completely (100%) buy into the "brethren" idea that all believers are priests, and we ought not to have clergy. I've been willing to compromise on it for a couple reasons, maybe not all of them are good. First, I've been willing to compromise because I've very rarely seen it work out in real life. Second, I've been willing to compromise because I've been learning the somewhat painful lesson of being quiet. I need to learn to shut up: I have a big mouth, and when I get it going, I can run on forever. The worst is, I can sound really wise and godly when I do it. But it's still me being the center of attention. I've been willing to become "laity" (even though I think that's an unscriptural idea), because I personally need to learn to sit down and shut up. There are probably more reasons, those two came to mind pretty quickly.
If I have a choice, I would really like to be in a situation where there is no clergy/laity division; but that's frankly not as important to me as it once was.
I'd love to find a gathering where there are only one or two meetings a week, but people actually see each other outside of Sunday morning. Real friendship is so much more than sharing a pew... and it seems so hard to cultivate with other Christians. Is it just me? Am I just a terrible friend? Maybe it's my fault, but I have so much trouble getting meaningful relationships going with other Christians. This ought not to be, but it's been my experience. Maybe I just have a serious social disability.
I am really looking for interactive worship. While the Anglican liturgy is very much "run" by the celebrant, there is also a strong sense that the congregation is worshipping, rather than watching someone else do it. I miss that about "brethren" too. I'm not willing to try a Charismatic gathering, but I think they get this part right: they're involved in the meetings, not jsut spectators.
I suppose the question is, why don't you just eat some crow and go back to "brethren?" That's actually a good question. I won't answer it very well in public, because some of my concerns with "brethren" center on some things that I really don't want to publicly discuss. Despite my generally negative tone, I've been holding things back (really!), and I am not interested in being the accuser of "brethren" in a public forum. But in general terms, it was the upside-down priorities that drove me away. It was the consistent attitude that the worst sin someone could commit was going to another church... the casual, instinctive enforcing of sectarian lines and differences.
Are all "brethren" like that? Of course not! Probably the vast majority aren't. But I began to realize that we'd built up a system that allowed that sort of thing to ferment and grow, and eventually dominate.
Will I ever consider gathering with "brethren" again? Of course! I might well end up breaking bread in an "assembly" again. I am not at all disallowing it. But I'm trying to follow the Lord and Scripture right now, not my comfort level.
So I'm going to do something I've never done before. I'm going to actually invite comment. If you have advice for me, or even some sort of answer... or even if you feel like telling me "Ox, you're a waste of human skin," I am asking you to tell me. Comment on the blog, or comment via email (my email address is at the bottom of the page).