Denominations: Personal Heart Struggle


#1

Do any of you Unchurchers still connect in “your heart” to your former or another “denomination” even though, by definition, as Unchurchers, we don’t actually ascribe to the whole concept of denominations?

My story is this: I have never connected with any denomination whose church I attended. Mainly this has to do, I am guessing, with a few of my less popular theological beliefs and because my area is densly populated with certain denominations and devoid of the presence of others. Thus, I’ve always felt totally out of place at every church I attended, not only because of the structure but also because of the theology (which is of course an even bigger issue than the structure!). I recently discovered the Wesleyan church, though, and am sort of amazed that there is, indeed, a denomination that aligns with what I believe the Bible says. For the first time ever in my Christian walk, I am feeling a “me too!” feeling.

That being said, I still disagree wholeheartedly with the concept of IC. I have no desire to find a Wesleyan IC near me. I have a misguided but knowingly incorrect desire to call myself a Wesleyan: the whole, “Paul’s baptism/Peter’s baptism” thing makes me wonder why anyone ever thought naming denominations after men was okay.

So, I’m having this tension between my joy over my “me too” feeling, and my belief and firm spiritual conviction that neither the Bible nor the current work of the Holy Spirit validate the practices of the institutional church or even the existence of denominations.

So, this is a really personal/heart-level struggle I need some equally personal advice on. How do you personally and spiritually relate to your old denomination (assuming you had found one you agree with theologically) now that you’ve opened your eyes to biblical ecclesiology? Is this merely another attempt to define myself and belong (something I have always wanted but failed to do: denominations, churches, personality tests, clubs and teams, etc.) which might be something I need to learn to just let go? Do I just want a shorthand for my belief system (“I don’t believe in the institutional church or denominations, but my beliefs are closest to Wesleyan.”) rather than having to explain?

Blargh, maybe I’m just thinking “out loud” and I know nobody else can truly answer this quesrion for me But I would love to hear about other people’s personal situations as I attempt to figure out my own!

:heart_decoration:Sarah


#2

The only way I know to respond is that I read, study, journal and discuss doctrine daily because I love it. But I love not being in someone’s box just as much.

Full Disclosure: I am a recovering pastor.


#3

Thanks for your long and well-thought-out message Sarah! I understand all of these feelings…even years after leaving the IC behind, I felt like it was important to belong to some sort of tradition or grounding “thread” within the history of Christianity so I wasn’t just floating in the breeze so to speak.

At this point, I’m pretty open to a lot of different theological perspectives and ideas, to the point where I want to seek out voices I probably wouldn’t even agree with, just to help stretch what I’m able to contemplate. In the past I was in situations where the thinking around me was so rigid and so focused on certain concepts, I felt like I’d be “sinning” or something even to entertain any opposing viewpoints.

So…all that to say, I think it’s great to want to belong to a certain tradition or a certain historical set of beliefs—nothing wrong with that—but if it ends up limiting your thinking only to that tradition, to the detriment of any new ideas, then that’s probably not the ideal approach. Hope I’m making sense here! :slight_smile:


#4

@jaredwhite - That makes a lot of sense! Actually, my interest in the holiness tradition churches is actually an extreme broadening of my previous IC views! As I formerly considered myself a Reformed Baptist, I am coming from a very rigid belief set toward a more expanded one. My movements away from Calvinism are actually what are driving my search for new schools of thought. Less John Piper, more Tozer, if that makes sense? I guess I don’t want to belong to a denomination, but I want to have some blogs, authors and sites that I can go to when I need theological guidance (I wish I understood and could apply the Bible perfectly myself, but I often need insight!) that are not Reformed.


#5

Hi Sarah,

I resonate and am full departure mode from the “Reformed” school. The following are some of the resources I found helpful, educational, encouraging (and stretching!).

-Christianity Without the Religion (https://www.ptm.org/blog). They have an online subscription magazine too but the blog, moderated by Brad Jersak, is free. He is the author of “A More Christlike God,” another highly recommended resource. What you will discussed here I have not found elswhere.
-Stephanos Ministries (https://stevecrosby.org/). Not internationally famous, but Dr. Crosby knows the Bible DEEPLY, particularly in its original context, the only way it can be properly understood. Very life giving.
-Have you read any N.T. Wright? (http://ntwrightpage.com/). He’s ordained in the Church of England, but a very good teacher that like Jersak and Crosby offer sound scholarship behind their teaching.

Anyhow, I hope these are helpful, let me know if you have any questions. Again, these have just been anchoring resources for me in my own journey away from the Reformed school and needing some new, solid theological ground.

Let me know your thoughts!

Best,

Tim


#6

@Tim_Kuhn,

Wow. Thank you! Not only for the resources but for letting me know you can relate. We are in a real desert here in MN as far as other unchurched believers go, and I sometimes feel pretty isolated! My husband is on board with me, but other than each other, we have no like-minded people in our lives. This can be hard if we don’t have insight for the other on a particular topic (like this one!).

I have checked out the Christianity without Religion blog and immediately zeroed in on the post about the Narrow Gate (and it’s not being about following the rules or being a “good enough person”) and felt like jumping for joy. Thus is exactly the kind of resource I was talking about! Jersak’s book is a bit outside our budget right now but I have added it to my wishlist and will watch for a price drop or wait for a holiday. :slight_smile:

I haven’t had a lot of time to peruse the Stephanos website but read an awesome article against the whole “prophetic word declaring victory over you for the New Year”. I will have to look it over more as time (and 2 little ones) permit!

I have heard of NT Wright and seen him quoted elsewhere, but his books never seem to go on sale - popular guy! I will have to check my library!

Thank you SO much for sharing your resources that are enriching and dear to you personally. I can’t wait to explore them more! And I look forward to learning more from you here! This site seems quite quiet lately, but you and I seem to be new and active. :slight_smile:

Thanks again for your time and care,
Sarah

Edited to add: I have been reading more on the Stephanos site. Wow. Even just his “statement of Faith” and the comments thereon and the bio page have had a HUGE impact on the direction of my thinking. Thank you so much.


#7

@LuckyandSarah

Glad you are enjoying these resources! I thought they would resonate with you based on your post and being a fellow traveler in this “unchurched” population. One thing I have observed is that many (not all) of those who have left the IC found that it was only the first of many steps on a journey with no clearly(as of yet) defined destination! More and deeper theological questions ensue. More searching for oneself to test the validity of what we’ve only been told was true all our lives. It is an exciting, and unsettling time and it is encouraging to find scholar/theologians who are helping to articulate sound Biblical cases for new paradigms.

As well, there are many all over the country like you and I who find ourselves geographically isolated. So many, in fact, I have come to believe that God is surely up to something with this. Part of may be that we are being challenged to ask whether or not God is asking us to rethink “community/fellowship” on even deeper levels than we ever entertained when we first left the IC. For instance, would we consider building relationships with the marginalized in close proximity to us where there is nothing (at first glance) in it for ourselves, and have that be our new source of meaningful relationships? A worthy question to be asked. The second question I think is being asked of us is, what price are we willing to pay to have face time with our brothers and sisters in Christ? Perhaps we have to drive a little further or go to an end of town we’re not normally comfortable with. I gather together with an eclectic group of folks about 3 times of year that come from Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Massachusetts, and other states. We mix it up where we decide to meet each time, but the purpose is the same: to spend time loving on each other in fellowship, prayer, teaching, encouragement, meals, etc., with folks we do not have to explain ourselves to (and some ICers also attend!).

Anyhow, these are questions I don’t fully have the answers to yet, but I think as this journey unfolds it will become clear that we are being called to deeper water (and hence deeper trust), to take more risks, to pay a higher price (for the sake of the Kingdom), and to reap the greater (temporal and eternal) rewards for so doing.

Just my take on things.

Thanks for indulging!

Tim


#8

Tim,

The concept of doing it differently is groundshaking for me. From your reply and from sime info and comments on the Stephanos website, I am starting to totally rethink not only my “old IC life”, but even my “home church” mindset. That it might not even look like Acts is pretty revolutionary. Scary, but freeing, and exciting and…wow! My brain is way too all over the place to be able to formulate a good reply, but just know you have totally blown my mind!

That being said, can I ask how you met your long-distance, like-minded folks? Besides here, is there another place “people like us” congregate?

Thank you for everything,
S


#9

Hi, Sarah.

I can hear your heart and will pray that God will give you answers to questions you may not even be asking even as He gives you peace as you wait.

In my long journey out of the IC I studied many denominations looking for the place where I would feel at home. I found many good things but would inevitably find the errors that I knew I would not be able to overcome. I recently finished listening to all the Unchurching podcasts which gave me a greater appreciation for what God is doing but most importantly, for me, I heard real people talking about their journeys and I was so encouraged. I gained a better vision of the variety of ways the Holy Spirit is leading and growing the Church. I think it might be encouraging to you, too!

If you find a place where you believe God is leading you, this does not mean you have to join or sign off on everything. You might simply be able to join a prayer group, a study, a whatever and begin to connect.

I once knew a young woman from a different country whose father was a diplomat who moved often to different countries. In each situation, they would find the nearest (because they were usually on foot) Christian church to gather with and they, as a family, would filter out what they did not agree with as biblical and would appreciate what was. They were ambassadors of their own country and of the Lord so they had an amazing opportunity to practice being ministers of reconciliation and loving their neighbors.

Belonging is so important. If you are wired in a particularly social way then your longing may be more intense. The Body of Christ has many members and we need to be connected to one another. We were made to be! What you long for is good and God honoring and I hope the very best for you and your husband as you continue your journey.

Peace in Christ, Stephanie


#10

@stephanieturney -

Thank you so much for such a heartfelt and kind reply. It made me tear up!

I especially loved you mentioning belonging and questions. I have so many questions, and I end up with more every time I try to answer one! I am not naturally the type to be calm in a process (I am happy and settled at the end, but the journey is tough for me), and all these questions are as hard for me as they are exciting.

Listening to the podcasts is a great idea. I usually don’t listen to much media because a.) I am not an aural learner and often struggle to take in what I am hearing and b.) I am a stay at home mom to a 2 and 3 year old, who have both stopped napping. But I will make an effort to try to listen after bedtime (without falling asleep!). Are there certain podcast episodes that were most encouraging, or can I not really go wrong if I just pick one?

Thanks again for your time and kindness,
S


#11

Sarah,

Essentially, I was part of a loose knit group of unchurched friends in one area and then moved (twice) to areas very remote from them due to various life circumstances. This experience taught me to value those relationships and do whatever it took to hold on to them, including less than ideal connections such as phone and Skype. Over time, people others I met began asking for regular connections to the point that my weeknends are generally full of regular calls. I can’t explain it futher than that, I often marvel at the number of people God has me connected with at this time of my life, all remote, some even internationally. And then a few of us said we need some face time on a regular basis and began planning around that. It’s not something I planned or schemed to have happen, but I applied that fundamental value of relationships above all else and worked my life around it. I don’t know if that helps or not, but its my story. Yours and other’s may not be identical but in the search for community it seems so many of the UC search for, it seems to me that you do what you have to do to make it happen even if its less than ideal. Does that make sense?

I hope its helpful!

Tim