Wednesday, September 18, 2013


This thread, and others of Phil Garner's, has been an unusual and important experience for me. I identified myself earlier as one who at age 40 withdrew, after being fired from an eight year promising ministry with no reason given me for why, from my beloved heritage of mainline COC. In time I became a pastor in the UCC and Presb(USA). As a 'liberal' I have had many times over the experience of realizing that I must, to maintain integrity as a Christ follower, to give up an endeared certainty or absolute belief  for I discovered they are not really that certain or absolute. I think the amount of change I've experienced is rather unusual in a life time. No one who knew me or myself could have predicted such a change was in my fate. I think such giving up these absolutes and certainties is a general characteristic of spiritual growth and living by the Spirit, walking by faith ,not by sight etc. I sense that many in this thread group have had their share of this kind of eye opening experience. It  can involve strong sadness and  hurt, being misunderstood and disappointing ones you love. I say all this to get to these points. 

Though it seems to me that spiritual growth involves a broadening and ever more inclusive process rather than the opposite, I would not want to leave the impression that if one  gives up enough certainty or becomes 'liberal' enough that one eventually escapes what it means to sit face to face with another person just as sincere and truth seeking  and realize you have very real and uncomfortable differences. Every church fellowship has arguments, some of them being more productive than others but strong disagreements nevertheless. So we never arrive at some place of no more  need for change, and the tensions involved, is expected of us on our journey. I noticed long before my major changes that a solid translation of 'repent' is to 'see differently afterward.' On the spiritual journey we often come to 'see' some things very differently than we did before. This is a good sign but also a frightening one. An example- I came to 'see' that the NT contains no 'pattern' for the church the way I had placed so much confidence in. It simply doesn't and yet most mainline COC history of  the past 150 years is based on that tragic supposition. Many of the things valued and considered 'truth' for the church came out of that idea imposed on scripture. Intelligent/sincere  people can continue to believe and follow that their whole life.  Unfortunately we can't responsibly wait for everyone to become convinced of  very needed change we have come to whole heartedly  understand and visualize.  Great harm happens to  the many when needed change is not occurring. From such presumptions as the 'pattern' idea  the church  is set up for arguments that no one can win without rejecting the supposed loser.  So there is one church  split after another. As much as we  love  those caught up in such mistaken perspectives on the Bible  I would lie to think that a great spiritual  price has not been paid by such a misguided belief and practice. So what is our responsibility in such a situation?  

Some of us, for whatever reasons, wake up to the disappointment, ' I have to give that up ' for any number of beliefs and practices in our communions. The same for me has been the doctrine of inerrancy of the Bible and a primarily literal interpretation of these Sacred materials rather than a more symbolic one, which I have found to be the natural language of religion. When one finds themselves 'seeing' that important practices and beliefs in ones community are simply not healthy or reflective of the Spirit of Jesus, what do we do? What is our obligation following Jesus? For me it meant the necessity of leaving the community though it will always be very important to me. No one ever finds a replacement for their church of origin. There is so much emotional attachment  to the COC and will be till the day I die. Fortunately,  I do not think my response is what is required or is always the best response with ones new perspectives. I would say you now have a greater responsibility to your fellowship when you become aware of Spirit quenching beliefs and practices. Because every group is in process of change toward what can be  genuinely 'better and more Christ like' church communities, just in different ways and different issues. 

So it is a matter of how we can best be a contributing  'agent of change' to that 'better' you know in your heart you have discovered. To arrive at the  need to  leave a fellowship is like finding we need to leave our family. If that is what is required there is an enormous price. But if we see, what is likely more typical, that our task is to stay and help support change we should take seriously what that also requires of us. For example we may not be ready or think it is most responsible for us to announce that we no longer believe that instrumental music in worship is wrong. We may even suspect it can be an avenue for a church to greater praise God if that is the gifts the members have. But if a member in your church is having to take up the struggle of owning openly that to condemn music, and maybe deny persons using their gifts in that area, is quite wrong; as one who also knows that, would you not have at least the responsibility to let that struggling burdened person know that you personally believe they are right but that you are not yet feeling able to be open about it? I am asking you this ? You may see this as cowardice. I don't.  I'd like to hear how you view such a  typically  real  situation. This way you do not discourage the out front agent of change, such as a woman expressing her concerns that  teen girls are not asked to help serve communion or lead singing etc, but you do take the real risk(Risk I think  is always a necessity in bringing change of any kind. To not take  some risk at some real level is to be content to not be an agent of change. This is central I think to any Christ model of living.) that this woman will respect your need to not yet join her openly. I find that when sincere open changers( ones in our communities who bring a particular gift of potential change) are given this kind of honesty and support they will not violate your trust. But the risk is certainly there, ALWAYS. 

 I have to think if we sit back and let the open change makers take all this heat and often abuse without giving them at least this kind of indirect support is very self deceiving and spiritually dangerous. This contrasts to the  attitude,  'I'll just  be quiet, let the open changers take their knocks  and see what happens.' If one can't be supportive in that way than maybe the  most spiritual  path would be to leave this fellowship and find a place where what you have discovered is 'better and more Christ like' is already the status quo. For by sitting back you are not contributing to the spiritual change you have been informed in your heart that needs to happen for the better.

 My rambling may make little sense to you. But, stumbling upon this group of truth seekers, many from my own background, I wanted to give more explanation of the dynamics of the changes in belief that I have experienced. I have blogged for the past two years in an effort to describe the nature of the spiritual/psychological process I have and am experiencing regarding such  personal change. I do feel I owe much to my  heritage, the Chruch of Christ.  It was so good to me in so many ways, and maybe an honest statement of why and how my changes have happened can be my gift to ones in such a process themselves. I say this also realizing that most of you are several decades younger than I am. 

Blessings to you all. 
An example of my blog:

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