Orthodoxy for those living with doctrines

Nazarene-logoI’d like to continue my line of thought from my previous post while swinging to the other “extreme”.

After having grown up in a Disciples church and not having any creeds or doctrines in front of me to guide me or direct me, I reflected upon my Disciples upbringing and could not help but notice that nobody actually took the time to explain to me that I needed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I cannot remember anyone showing me that I needed to ask for forgiveness for my sins. The Disciples church i grew up in spent so much time wandering around through people’s opinions on things that orthodoxy was never an issue. And, that’s the issue….

After high school, I pulled myself out of church for about 3 years. I felt church was a waste of time and I also felt I hadn’t learned anything. I wanted to do my own thing for a while and I did. I slept in. I stayed up late. I stayed up all night, many times. I did what I wanted to do.

But, anybody who knows what this life following the Lord is like knows that God does not leave you alone. My best friend from high school had found Jesus while trying out for the Marines. He didn’t make it, but he did find Jesus. He came home determined that all of us in the beer drinking circle of friends was going to find Jesus. I was the only one who responded. Maybe the Lord brought him home just for me. Maybe that’s a bit narcissistic.

My best friend had grown up in the Church of the Nazarene out on the south edge of town. I knew nothing about them. My Disciples upbringing had left me sheltered. I had no understanding of other churches or belief systems or doctrines. After asking Jesus to come into my life in June of ’92, I followed my friend out to the COTN. Since I had no formal teaching in doctrine, I ate up everything they put in front of me.

In Feb ’93 I began school at Mt Vernon Nazarene working towards ordination. For the first 4 or 5 years I just nodded my head in approval to everything they put on the table. It was quite a change going from a church where nothing was ever mentioned int he way of doctrine to a group that put everything on the table. The Wesleyan-Armenian viewpoint agreed with me. It made sense. After having accepted Christ, inviting him into my heart, responding to the knock at the door of my heart, the teaching about grace and faith working together made sense to me. God draws us in by his grace, but we need to respond in order to enter this life and actually be a part of it. The Calvinist viewpoint did not agree with my taste buds. If God simply picks and chooses who gets to go to heaven and hell, our existence seems pointless here.

During my junior & senior years of high school I worked at an IGA grocery store in my hometown of Shelby, OH. I missed alot of church on Sundays because you got paid time and a half to work that day. We also got an hour break for lunch. For the longest time I would frequent the deli and grab 4 of these subs made of bologna, salami and some swiss cheese on a sesame bun, with a 20 oz Mt Dew. Every Sunday that I worked this would be my lunch time break food. Plowing through 4 of these small subs and downing that Mt Dew. Ah, nothing finer. Then came the day when I sat down and began to partake. Part way through the first sub it just hit me. These little subs were disgusting. Maybe it was because I had been eating them so often that I simply was getting tired of them. It was my steady diet, especially on Sundays. I put that sub down and threw the 3 1/2 left into the trash can. Several months later I remember trying it again, as if, taking that time off had corrected my taste buds. It did not. I threw them away and I never went back to them. There were other foods to try. These little lunch meat subs were not going to do the trick anymore.

All these years later, after I had accepted Christ, after i was 5 years or so into my schooling for the ministry, I remember getting this similar feeling in my gut over the doctrine that was being plugged into my heart and soul. While I did not agree with that viewpoint in much of what Calvinism promoted I could see some truth in it and related to it through the immaturity I saw in my own walk at that point in my journey. I was seeking and pursuing more and wanted to walk with Christ. That seemed to be the major push in Wesleyanism. To seek to be like Christ. I did not see that same emphasis in much of Calvinism. However, the idea of being ecumenical with others in the Christian faith – Baptist, CMA, Church of God (Cleveland, TN or Anderson, IN), and anyone else who showed up at McDonald’s on a Wednesday night after church – I felt the need to find a common ground we could converse and discuss on.

What I saw being promoted in my Nazarene ranks was a superiority to others outside of our faith group. I heard it on Wednesday night during bible study. In the early 90’s we studied the book The Upward Call. Written by four prominent Nazarene leaders, I can actually recall the point being brought forth in the course of the book and our study that the only place we could find truth and true support and fellowship was through our own ranks and with people of our own Nazarene group. I can recall the Wednesday night when that came out of the mouth of the pastor’s wife who was leading our study. That was not how I flt in my heart and spoke up and let it out. “I get a lot of fellowship with all the church people who show up at McDonald’s on Wednesday night!” That viewpoint, of course, was not received with a chorus of cheers.

At college, in my course of study classes for ordination, I felt and heard more of an emphasis about how we as Nazarenes had everything right and other had it wrong. Any one here who has spent some time with the Nazarenes might have experienced something similar. I heard lots about the “three C’s” and heard them labelled as such. The Calvinists. The Charismatics. And, the Catholics. They had it all wrong. We had it right. We had the right doctrines and the right emphasis. Those outside of our faith group had it wrong. The Calvinist didn’t have the right viewpoint on salvation. The Charismatics misused the gifts, especially tongues. The Catholics had a bad example of church government and spirituality. There was something about all of this that just wasn’t settling right in my gut. I recall driving home one night from Mt Vernon in deep thought about how all of our viewpoints could work together. Everybody had their place and each part could fit in next to one another if we would take the time to listen to where we were coming from. I was having a harder and harder time dealing with the separatist mindset of staying away from other churches and faiths.

What is it about seeking orthodoxy that makes us rear the ugly head of superiority over others with a different viewpoint? Some of us have recently seen the insults of Martin Luther who wrote extensively in support of the Protestant faith we promote. Yet, he was not afraid to say exactly what he thought of those who did not share the same explanation for what he, himself, believed. Do we have any of that spirit of superiority within our ranks at the UMC? Oh, my…did I just open a can or worms? I do that occasionally. In my six years of Course of Study work at MTSO I can say I’ve heard a hint of just that. We might tend to tone it down a bit, but I have noted where there has been a sense of our right vs. their wrong. The current tussle within orthodoxy vs progressive views is a prime place to seek out such unneeded attitudes.

Sometimes I appreciate my Disciples of Christ upbringing. We were told creeds and doctrines were divisive and man-made. All we needed was the bible. Yet, I was and still am, in many instances, a person who needed a bit of guidance and help in what we need to believe. Just reading the bible wasn’t enough. We need some help to understand what is there. In seeking out that understanding, we run the risk of finding explanations and doctrines that don’t mean a hill of beans to our faith. Things we will pick up and inherently dig in only to, at some point, take it away from our mouths and go, “What the…”  It’s all part of the process.

I’ve been seeking out orthodoxy for some time now. Many times I feel as if I still don’t have a grip on the right things to believe. My desire is not to be arrogant about what I only think I understand. My desire it be transparent and open about what I need to research and contemplate. I might find a lunch meat sandwich I’ll regret later. I might find something really really good. And, I might actually learn something from just reading the bible.

If this makes any sense to you, help me…join me…follow me.

I’m seeking out orthodoxy. Maybe we’ll find it together.

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