Thursday, January 07, 2010

An Ongoing Journey

It was in 1995/6 that I was challenged for the second time to reconsider just about everything I had ever believed. Throughout the 1960’s I had been very involved with the local Anglican Church (amongst other things I was treasurer for 8 years), but gradually became disillusioned because of what I saw as the lack of ‘radical’ Christianity. Later I became a member of the Worldwide Church of God – the church that in 1995 announced that much of its theology had been misguided.  It was in 1998 that I suddenly became aware of the freedom and liberation from the slavery of legalism.  It was in 2003 that I really became aware of this worldwide phenomena sometimes referred to as "The out of church Christians" alongside the Emerging Church / Emergent movement.  It was at this time that I found the book, "So you don't want to go to church anymore" written by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman.

This blog has been in existence for a few years but so much has happened since reading "The Shack" that I created a new blog - "The Room of Grace" - that is a better reflection of my recent journey.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jim's Story

A little background on me: I am a 52 year old pilot for American Airlines, raised in southern California, and now living in Sparks, Nevada (a suburb of Reno). I have been married to my loving wife for 28 years, and have three children - a son, 27, and two daughters, 25 and 16. We had another daughter, stillborn unfortunately, on July 1, 1991. I was raised in a Disciples of Christ church (more non-denominational than anything) which provided a very safe and comforting environment for my brother and I. You might think, based on earlier correspondence between us concerning the doctrine of hell, that I was subjected to one of the many hellfire-and-brimstone churches, but that is actually not the case. In fact, I can't even remember them ever bringing up the subject of hell. For most of my life I never really questioned my faith (at least publicly) but I always had a sense that the "Christian" message never really made sense. I remember wondering many times though, while attending various bible studies over the years, why it was that the others seemed to understand something that I did not. They appeared sure of their faith, but I now wonder (and I think very accurately) if they were just afraid to admit their fears and doubts. I think in a lot of ways the pressure of wanting to fit in with other Christians forces many to put on the false face of a "contented" believer, when all the while they are crippled by self-doubt and the fear of failing to please God. I think that they are operating under the hope that if they can convince others that they are "saved," then maybe they can believe it themselves. If you pretend hard enough - maybe it's true (or so they think). And I very strongly believe that it has been the traditional teachings of the church (that you must be strong enough, or wise enough, or faithful enough, etc., to "choose" Christ) that is most hurtful to us weary sinners. Christ taught us that we can absolutely trust his father to take care of us - and yet the church teaches that this is only true IF we are somehow able to please Him through our obedience.

My biggest "beef" with the Christian church is its insistence on "faith in Christ" when it itself has no faith in his ability to find and heal ALL of the lost sheep. To them "faith in Christ" merely means believing (that he is the Son of God, was resurrected, etc.). But they again have NO faith IN Christ to do all that he has promised - SAVE THE LOST. To me this misconception is at once very simple, and yet truly monumental to our understanding of God's love and plan for us. Do we really trust that God is responsible for us, and is indeed "working all things under the counsel of His will?" Or do we believe that He will throw us away in hell forever if we aren't lucky enough to be raised by Christian parents and come to agree with their beliefs? These questions, starting several years ago, led me to question everything that I had been taught growing up, and everything that my then present church was teaching. Seeking answers from the so-called "experts" (pastors, elders, Christian authors and seminary professors) I found nothing but contradictions and mysteries (how is God sovereign when man has a "free" will - their answer: "it's a mystery"). Through the writings of others I found a possibility that had never even been suggested to me by any of my former pastors - that God has actually planned to, and is able to, save ALL of His children. I began in earnest to confirm this teaching with scripture and my own God-given heart (I know it was the Holy Spirit at work) and was positively amazed that His word indeed supports this belief, and in fact contradicts most of what the traditional church teaches. I now have a peace and contentment that I had sought for so many years, and it is based on a very simple truth - WE ACTUALLY CAN TRUST GOD COMPLETELY TO TAKE CARE OF US (our eternities). Wow! It really is GOOD news! But the church is so caught up in performance based religion that it cannot yet see the simple beauty of God's word to us - Christ is the Savior of the world. And there is not a single IF, or BUT to be found. To me the church only makes excuse after excuse as to how Christ will not save ALL the world, while at the same time begging us to believe that He is our savior (IF we would only "believe" sufficiently!).

I think one of the greatest misconceptions (and false teachings) of the traditional church is that salvation is "being allowed into heaven," and that it depends on OUR efforts (sufficient faith or works). What I believe that God has taught me is that salvation is really a true HEALING of our souls, and it comes through the childlike trust that our Father is completely faithful to, and responsible for, us. THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD. Period. Absolutely nothing - not ignorance, not deception, not our misguided "wills" or the will of Satan. Once we come to understand that truth we will truly feel SAFE (SAVED) in our Father's arms.

As far as sharing my beliefs with others is concerned, that is an interesting (and, as I have found in talking to others with similar beliefs, very common) story. When I tried to share with other members of my former church, as well as the pastor and elders, what I had come to believe, I was basically told to shut up. You would think that my new found faith in God's absolute trustworthiness would be wholeheartedly welcomed, but just the opposite was true. Though they would never say it in so many words, they could not accept that Christ could actually save everyone. What a concept, huh? - that Christ might actually SUCCEED! I was labeled a cultist and heretic for my UNGODLY beliefs and my wife and I were basically shunned by the other members. My wife, in fact, had been the executive assistant to the senior pastor of our church, who called her into his office and told her that he would not allow me to teach lies in "his" church. Those she thought were her friends (the rest of the church staff) never even called to talk with us. I believe now that, like most Christians, they were afraid to even appear to be questioning any of their own beliefs, or to be seen with someone who might be. And I think that pride definitely plays a big part in accepting the traditional teachings of the church. People WANT to believe that they deserve salvation, and that others don't - that somehow they are better than those weak, stupid, unbelievers. But I think God says otherwise and loves us all just the same. And I will just try to be patient while He reveals this to each and every one of us.