My awakening was more a season than a day, collections of vignettes more than a single moment. And though I remember bits and pieces before and during my time at Bible college, I was not yet as sure of my place as I became.
Three extended experiences specifically dominated the end of this season of awakening. The first and second occurred the summer prior to my senior year, when I got married and was hired as interim worship pastor at a small Christian Church.1 The third came later, when I took a readings course in the history of the Restoration Movement.2 An avid fan of history, especially relating to the Church, I was quite excited to learn more about the tradition of my youth.
Unfortunately, the excitement was not to last.
(Now buckle in. I promise the rest of these posts won’t be like the next paragraphs.)
From nearly the first chapter, a disquiet began to grow that, in ensuing months, moved into outright revulsion. The books, online discussions, and my own hands-on experience only helped increase my frustration with the movement’s founding men (because it’s always men) and their modern heirs.
See, I was told I would find men calling for a new kind of Christian unity that would weave through denominational structures. What I discovered were bellicose separatists elbowing their way to the table; scornful of those who disagreed with them, moving the fences of fellowship according to their tastes.
I was told I would find true scholars of the Bible, who didn’t need the traditions and interpretations of mere mortals to help them discern God’s will, for it was plain on the page for all with the eyes to see. What I discovered were men willfully ignorant and even contemptible of those who came before, whose beliefs crafted the very lenses they believed were free of fingerprints.
I was told that, as this movement was free from hierarchical constraints and centuries of dogma, free thought was possible and encouraged, provided one could adequately back up their positions with sacred text and reason. What I discovered was a hidden hierarchy upholding a conventional set of inviolable beliefs, which could not be overturned or evolved, regardless of one’s arguments.
Hey thanks, history.
Needless to say, I immediately began to question the validity of this movement and my desire to remain within it.
But… I also really like to eat.
Oh yeah, and I had a wife who also likes to eat. And wear clothes. And have a roof over her head. And all the other superfluous things Maslow thinks we need.
She’s super demanding like that.
So, with the clock winding down on my final semester and it becoming increasingly clear from the church leadership that my interim position was in no way going to morph into a full-time gig, we found a new ministry. With a week to spare, we were hired onto an Indiana-based Christian Church campus ministry as an associate/worship pastor and in the ensuing months, I quickly grew to love this unique, hybrid-space in the Church. However, from the beginning I began sowing the seeds of departure by sharing my growing misgivings with my senior pastor, co-workers, board members, etc. Apparently that’s not an advised thing to do. Who knew?
Hand that feeds, meet my teeth.
* * *
The awakening to my spiritual tradition was both slow and incredibly jarring, fraught with conflicts of interest and moments when I ought to have spoken up (or not!). My issues with it are no longer relegated to its historical complications, though they are rooted there; nor are they a young man’s vague frustrations, but substantive concerns about the health and continued viability of an institution governed by unwritten rules that disengages from the larger world, views mainstream Christian thought as intuitively suspect, and willingly jettisons its leaders who disagree.
So here I am, awake within a tradition, struggling in a new marriage and career and all I’d like is to go back to sleep.
1. In-house guitar player↩
2. Remember, the independent Christian Church is one of the three streams of the RM, along with the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ.↩