Considering Catholicism

Why? There is no way to list all of the reasons here, but I will at least attempt to offer a glimpse of my basic reasoning process. The Christian faith must surely be a durable one, and has nothing to fear from my questions. Even if you do not trust my judgment as I look into this, perhaps you can read my thoughts out of curiosity, and I can read your comments in the same manner. My goal is the fullness of the Christian faith, and this is not intended as a condemnation of people who choose to believe differently, or are content where they are spiritually. Think of it this way: someone who is in pursuit of a master’s degree is not necessarily doing it in condemnation of people who are content with a bachelor’s degree. I am grateful beyond words for those who have brought me up in the Christian faith, and I do not wish to appear as though I’m shrugging off their love and legacy by digging deeper.

First of all, let me establish what is NOT being questioned. Christianity itself, in a nutshell, is the core of this whole thing. My faith is grounded in Jesus Christ, who is (and always will be) my Lord and Savior. The Gospel and the Creeds make up my basic declaration of faith which I can refer to as “mere Christianity.” The questions I’m asking arise out of matters of authority within the Church, proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture, the role of tradition within the faith, and the way that Christians are to live their lives. These questions lead to disagreements over the possible answers. Resolving them ultimately requires putting trust in some person’s ability to understand God (even if you only recognize your own ability). So, the overarching question becomes, “Who do you trust, and why?” I ask this in the sense of a trustworthy source that everyone can use. For me this question is separate from questions like “Who has cared about you?” or “Who has invested most in you?” or “What has your family long believed?” It is important to recognize the distinction. Also, you shouldn’t simply point to the Bible as the means of understanding the faith, when the Bible itself is part of what Christians are attempting to understand. If someone is wondering how a masterful work of art was painted and how to interpret its meaning you don’t simply hand the painting to them as an explanation.

One of the first things about Catholicism that becomes apparent to the inquisitor (no pun intended) is that non-Catholics (and even many Catholics!) have many misconceptions of what Catholic beliefs and Church history actually are. I have learned a lot in the past few weeks simply by allowing myself to see the Bible through a Catholic lens instead of a Protestant one. Note: this “lens” concept is important to realize, especially when bringing up points about what the Bible says. Even if I do not end up joining the Catholic Church, I cannot help but have a greater respect for Catholics and a greater sympathy for them as they face constant misunderstanding and mockery in our culture. It has become somewhat amusing to me (yet frustrating) to see the Catholic Church held up to a standard of perfection and be demonstrated as imperfect, while the great many branches of Protestantism are barely held up to any standard at all and are thus demonstrated to be adequate.

In many ways my spiritual journey began years ago, in my frustration with the various churches that I have been a part of. I ended up experimenting with the house church concept, based loosely on an attempt to understand New Testament house churches. Stephen Ray (a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism) tried a similar experiment earlier in his life and described reverting back to the New Testament house church as being like an attempt to take a full-size tree and revert it back into the form of the acorn that it came from. It is an unnatural disregard of what has transpired within the Church since its founding. I realize now that a person can protest their way completely out of the picture. I suppose my attempt at house church could be thought of as the final product of Protestantism.

In other ways this spiritual journey of mine began as a result of my parents’ divorce, causing me to re-evaluate many aspects of the foundation of my upbringing, and the inadequacies of churches that value freedom more than doctrine. In other ways it resulted from my faith being challenged during my time in a secular college, and hours-worth of discussion with a Muslim friend of mine as we compared our faiths. My encounters with Calvinism and various forms of egoism led me to ponder what Christianity would look like apart from those influences, since Christianity seems naturally opposed to them anyway. It appears to me that many Protestants are more Calvinist than they realize or are willing to admit. Calvinism has a foothold in American churches in a profound but immeasurable way.

The Catholic Church seems to naturally repel Calvinists.

I developed a frustration from reading books like “The Cost of Discipleship”, “Crazy Love”, and “Radical”. These books alluded to a very real and powerful way to live the Christian life, but left me with far more questions than answers.

Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism are worthy of serious consideration, but for various reasons I have set them aside. I would be willing to reconsider them or discuss my thoughts if asked.

The issue as I see it is not whether we will accept a human authority on this earth, but which human authority we accept. Some accept the established doctrines of the Catholic Church, others accept the doctrines of their Wesleyan church, or Baptist church, while others establish doctrines on their own, based on their ideas, readings, preferences, etc. What doctrines are the most legitimate? Again, who do you trust, and why? This is NOT ruling out the Holy Spirit as a guide. It is simply an honest acknowledgement of the countless divisions found within the faith, and the logical assumption that divisions are not a sign of strength. If there is one universal Church, it would be great news to anyone like me who is sick and tired of opinions and guesses being used to determine important questions within the faith. Obviously the legitimacy of the Catholic Church’s doctrine is still questionable in my mind at this point (hence the title of this post), but I cannot help but wonder how it can be less legitimate than all of the various ideas that people outside the Catholic Church come up with on any given day. Established doctrines can mean less freedom it’s true, but I for one am willing to release my grip on doctrinal freedom if Truth is found to supersede it.

I admit that much of the appeal of the Catholic Church is its universality. It spans not only the centuries, but the globe. It still boggles my mind that there are 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church. From what I’ve heard that’s far more than all other versions of Christianity combined. Somebody might be quick to claim that he is smarter than all of those people, but I am not that quick. Like Socrates, learning has made me realize how little I know. An American Evangelical Protestant shaking his fist at Catholicism and declaring it to be “pagan” or some other similar term seems rather self-destructive considering that he is part of a small sliver of the overall Christian population of the world, with the vast majority being Catholic. If the Catholic Church is not Christian, then the legitimacy of all churches around the world looks a bit shaky. It’s more of a question of whether we can justify being outside of it or not. Perhaps we can, but we’d better be sure.

Many different people interpret the Bible in many different ways, and some are quick to accept the responsibility for taking interpretive authority upon their own shoulders. James said “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Knowing Greek is not the same as understanding the Greek of the New Testament, and reading the Bible does not mean we can teach ourselves or others correctly. The “Magisterium” of the Catholic Church takes that awesome doctrinal responsibility upon its shoulders (I wouldn’t want it!), and the Catholics believe that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Even if the Catholic Church is simply regarded as an institution apart from God’s divine preservation, G.K. Chesterton said, “There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years.” It has the accumulated experience of centuries, dating back to the beginning of the Church. We individuals with our limited experience have to sift through more concepts and ideas than we have time for on this earth. There is simply not enough time to get it all figured out, so why try? But it’s still important to base our beliefs on the best sources of instruction. Our eternity may depend upon it.

A few miscellaneous thoughts may help offer some insight as well: I have begun to question Americanized Christianity, allowing myself to be humbled by the age and enormity of the faith outside of our usual perception of it. I have discovered the early Church Fathers. Guys like Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr are some of the best resources Christians have in order to better understand what Christianity was intended to be. The Catholic Church cherishes the writings of the Fathers, while Protestants seem content to ignore them and rely more on their own judgment and modern commentary. I find that to be interesting. I have developed a greater appreciation for great works of Catholics, from the architecture of cathedrals to the imagination behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Things like crossing oneself for prayer and the psychological need people have for confession (and even penance) are making more and more sense. Also, the “age of the earth” debate that Protestants constantly stumble through is practically nonexistent within the Catholic Church, because there are fewer misconceptions running rampant about how to understand the Bible. G.K. Chesterton’s writings have helped me to better grasp the balance between human intellect and the sanity of mystery. I could go on and on, but I’ve shared enough for now.

I ask for your prayers as I continue to follow Christ. Feedback is welcome, and encouragement is always appreciated. I put a lot of careful work into my writing, and this post is no exception. Bear in mind that this post is NOT a declaration of intent to join the Catholic Church. These thoughts are meant to be taken only as thoughts, and I encourage you to keep an eye out for future posts. You may have noticed that I’ve hardly discussed any theology in this post. There will be plenty of time for that. I merely wanted to create a basis from which to launch my future ruminations on the subject of the Catholic Church. Stay tuned…

-Ben 10/19/13

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14 Comments on “Considering Catholicism”

  1. Dapper Dan says:

    Very interesting thoughts. You bring up a lot of points worthy of consideration. I’ve also recently discovered the early Church Fathers, largely because of the video you posted about the possible Gnostic influences on Augustine. It is interesting how Protestants ignore the early Church writings as much as modern political liberals tend to ignore the writings of the American Founders. In fact, when I’ve asked other Protestants about them they don’t seem to understand the importance. Ignatius and Polycarp were disciples of John the Beloved. Clement I was the third successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome (the fourth pope basically). These guys knew Peter and John and Paul. That’s a really big deal. As students of the Apostles, they would know the Apostles’ teachings better than us 2,000 years later. But modern Christians don’t seem to care about them and are content to read Protestant theology while ignoring the theology from the first 1500 years of Christian history. My love of history that makes them significant in my mind and not enough people today appreciate history.

  2. May God continue to guide you to Himself!

    My 2 cents: The Church, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) necessarily existed prior to the Protestant reformation. The Catholic Church makes such bold claims (the Real Presence, divine authority etc.) that it is either a. of God; or b. diabolical

    The vast list of canonized (Catholic) Saints is sufficient evidence for discrediting the latter. The Saints were all obedient to the Church, which they submitted to as they would to God, Who is the Head of the Church. Understood mystically, the Heart of the Church is Love, or the Eucharist, in which we receive Jesus, Who is Love Itself! Many miracles throughout the centuries have confirmed this; the Church Fathers affirmed this; the great mystics affirmed this.

    I encourage you to pray for the grace of knowing the True Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, where He has waited for centuries for our visit. Here is a (very) little book on the Mass that you might like to look at: http://www.bookdepository.com/Wonders-Mass-Paul-OSullivan/9780895554918

    “Have a great love for the Mass and for the Holy Eucharist…” – St. Padre Pio

    Take care and God bless.

    • Ben says:

      Thanks so much for your “2 cents” 🙂

      Your insight is timely and book recommendations are always appreciated!

      I hope that God blesses you as well.

      -Ben

  3. Dale says:

    “It has become somewhat amusing to me (yet frustrating) to see the Catholic Church held up to a standard of perfection and be demonstrated as imperfect, while the great many branches of Protestantism are barely held up to any standard at all and are thus demonstrated to be adequate.”

    Ben, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say it better! Having attended Evangelical Protestant churches for over 40 years, I am frustrated also. I look forward to more of your posts and thoughts.

    Thanks,
    Dale

    • Ben says:

      I appreciate your comment very much Dale.

      I encourage you to look into the subject on your own as well, and I would not want to simply sow seeds of discontent among Protestants, because we know there are some wonderful people and great things happening in many Protestant churches. In future posts I hope to spend more time on positive things, but I do think it was important to cover my bases in this post regarding some of the negatives.

      Thanks again for the encouragement!

      -Ben

  4. Ben says:

    Since writing this post, I have read this book which I want to recommend to others because it is so relevant to the topic:

    http://www.amazon.com/Four-Witnesses-Early-Church-Words/dp/0898708478/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384397760&sr=8-1&keywords=four+witnesses

    -Ben

  5. Mark says:

    I, too, am on a journey of belief. I find the intellectual freedom available in non-denominational churches appealing; however, many use this as an excuse to never take a hard stance on issues. I find Catholicism appealing for their organization, educated clergy, and willingness to stand by their beliefs. In contrast, many protestant churches alter their identity to be more appealing to a demographic (usually youth).

    I recently read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (which is how I found your website). While I don’t agree with all of her concepts, I do find that reason and reliance on our own judgement to be essential. Thus, I take issue with your comment:

    “Many different people interpret the Bible in many different ways, and some are quick to
    accept the responsibility for taking interpretive authority upon their own shoulders. James
    said “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur
    a stricter judgment.” Knowing Greek is not the same as understanding the Greek of the New
    Testament, and reading the Bible does not mean we can teach ourselves or others
    correctly. The “Magisterium” of the Catholic Church takes that awesome doctrinal
    responsibility upon its shoulders (I wouldn’t want it!).”

    I find it necessary to take the responsibility on my shoulders, and encourage you to do the same.

    Thanks for pointing me towards G.K. Chesterton and “Four Witnesses”.

    • Ben says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      Obviously, there is a certain amount of responsibility that we must all take on. However, the tough part is seeing where our responsibility ends, and an acknowledgment of authority begins. So many of us either are not trying to find the dividing line on that issue, or are too arrogant to admit that there is one. Without shirking the responsibilities that are indeed mine, I am attempting to acknowledge the limitations that we all have.

      At the end of the paragraph that you quoted I said this:
      “We individuals with our limited experience have to sift through more concepts and ideas than we have time for on this earth. There is simply not enough time to get it all figured out, so why try? But it’s still important to base our beliefs on the best sources of instruction. Our eternity may depend upon it.”

      So, beyond your own responsibility (and your limited human ability to learn, know, and apply your knowledge), whose instruction/information/translation do you trust, and why? It seems that the choice had better be a good one.

      I grow weary of the doctrinal anarchy of Protestantism, and if there is established Truth in Christianity, the uncomfortable conclusion at the end of the day is that there may not be a lot of difference between liberty and heresy. The question is, who has the legitimate authority to determine?

      “Four Witnesses” describes how the early Church had the authority (passed down through Peter from Christ) to maintain the orthodox teachings of Christianity against the convincing arguments of the Gnostic heresy. Without the Church possessing actual authority, anything goes, and Christianity becomes chaotic (ex. American Protestant churches). Oh, we have freedom all right, but do we have Truth?

      -Ben

  6. Jim or Gib says:

    Thoughts on Protestantism and Catholicism:
    It is a good thing to search things out; we need to think things through, but there is a fundamental thing we must not forget:

    I have two very interesting friends. One is a Protestant and the other a Catholic. The first used to be a Catholic: He left that church for a local community church because, as he put it, all the Catholics he knew (including himself at that time) knew nothing whatsoever about the Bible. They all relied on the Priest and form and ritual. The second friend used to be a Protestant: He left that church for the Catholic Church because of disillusionment of some kind or other. I get the impression he is thinking in terms of the “true” or the “original” church, but I hope to have this clarified in time. Obviously he didn’t see enough of the real thrust of the Christianity he reads about in the Bible (which he is well versed in) in the movements he was involved in here in the valley where we live.
    The reality is that we seem to make too much of the institution (way too much), as if the institution is to be necessarily confused with Jesus’ own ecclesia (church). I always look at Abraham, the “father of those who believe” (Rom 4:11). He had his face in the wind, not in a temple square. In fact, he probably left something like that when he trekked out of Ur (which was undoubtedly part of the point of trekking out of Ur). He lived in one of the world’s early sheepherder tents (what a blessed man!), and, like Jesus, he constantly had his eye on the horizon. His was a walk with God, not a sorting out of movements. Note that this was way before any and all movements and institutions of Jews or Christians. What we learn from Abraham is that the walk is not to fit the movement; the movement is to fit the walk. And if it does not, so much the worst for the movement. He rejected even the money of the king of Sodom, but he paid tithes of his own money to the king of Salam. The invisible church is found in a whole lot of places, some of them quite surprising. We can talk of Catholicism, Calvinism, Arminianism, house church, no church, universal church, etc. (all of which I certainly do), but I prefer to talk about a walk with God. That is why Abraham, not priest nor pastor, is a true father to me this very day. And if we read the Bible, that walk with God is what the Word talks about too—from cover to cover!
    The Christians under the Roman church (which is the earthly heritage of us all) were often as disconnected with the Christianity of Paul as they were with the Paganism of Marcus Aurelius. Obviously, things could not remain that way. That is why Chesterton observed that Christianity is too young to die: it constantly revolts and lives anew.

    In Christ

  7. Gib says:

    The Church as a field vs. the Church as a force

    I thought I might comment further on the nature of the Church itself as the Bible lays it out. After all, this is a fascinating subject. I have included some excerpts from my book which will be out in late January or February.

    Something is missing from this whole discussion. We are not engaged in defining the term “church” in a fundamental area. This word is used by Jesus in describing his followers (the Greek word is “ecclesia”). When Jesus said that He will build His Church—His “Ecclesia”—He did not mean an institution. This word carries with it a far different meaning than that. It refers to any group of people that have been called out for a specific purpose. The New Testament uses it in two other places to refer to people outside the faith (not to mention Plato much earlier). Both are in chapter 19 of the New Testament book of Acts. In verse 39 the term that has been translated “lawful assembly” is “lawful ecclesia.” If you read this you will see it is describing a political body or gathering. What is more interesting is its use in verse 32. Here it seems to literally describe something like a confused mob, of sorts, as many did not know why they had come together. In other words, they did not know why they had been called together. Again it is translated “assembly.” If we were to translate this term the same way we do when referring to the followers of Christ, then both the political gathering and even the rioters themselves would be called “churches.”

    What Jesus was really saying in effect at Caesarea Philippi is that there are many ecclesias in the world, and He will have one too. There are many people called out for any number of purposes, and Jesus will call out a people for His own purposes as well; He will have His own ecclesia. But this ecclesia will be different from any that the world has seen before. This ecclesia would rise up against Hell itself—and win! It would be made up of people from all walks of life and from every nation on earth. Red, yellow, black, and white, as the old song goes, and these “called out ones” will march to a different drummer than any found in this world. It is fascinating to look at all the New Testament words and phrases used to describe this great band of brothers and sisters. In regard to this world they are called “aliens.” In regard to heaven they are called a “holy nation” and a “people of God”; “fellow citizens” (of God’s kingdom) and “joint heirs with Christ.” The list goes on.

    This brings us to the real question: is the Church a field or is the Church a force? This is not a question posed by me; this is a question that reaches back to late antiquity and its then new institutionalism. If we listen to Jesus of Nazareth at Caesarea Philippi, we see right out the starting gate that the Church, the “Ecclesia” (called out ones) of Jesus is a force indeed; and we also see it as a force when that ecclesia swept the Roman world. It is Satan who has a field, and that field is the world fallen, which can include our institutions. But Jesus said that the gates (a defensive metaphor) of hell will not prevail against His ecclesia (called out ones). The entire question of which church has the authority of Christ is based on a notion that the Church is a field, which means it is an institution. But a field doesn’t storm castles and beaches; that is what a force does. Hitler had a field: that of conquered Europe. But the Allies were a force that stormed into France and Germany and took the bum out. Now Christianity also has a field. That field is Heaven. I would suggest it is a very large field indeed. You and I would call it endless, and indeed we will when we get to that place. In the meantime we are strangers and aliens here on planet earth. Heaven has not set up shop here.

    “. . . having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. . . . they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
    —Hebrews 11:13-16 (NASB)

    Let me also point out that I do not see any validity in objecting to various “divisions” of Christianity any more than I see any validity in objecting to various divisions in Patton’s third army. Nor do I object to dividing America’s fighting men and women into Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. The only thing to object to is if some branch or division were to abandon its allegiance in any way; then it would cease to be the force it was created to be. And in looking at the Church, that is the one valid thing for all of us to be concerned with. Hence the lessons of the seven churches of Revelation.
    All our institutions are not the Church; they are simply different organizations of the one Church—tools of the Church, if you please. Here’s hoping and praying that they all remain true to Him who has called.

    In Christ

    • Ben says:

      Thanks for adding to the discussion Gib. I appreciate you bringing up the concept of field vs. force in the way we think of the Church. It is a very effective way of determining where focus should be most effectively directed in reaching the lost.

      Before we focus outward on our mission as Christians, we must determine who exactly we are and what exactly we are called to do. I realized this in my own walk as I found that it was difficult to witness to people until I had Christianity (and the Church) figured out adequately.

      The end section of your comment was particularly interesting to me, because if we are all part of the basic church concept, working toward the same general goal, then we can decide what church we want to be a part of based on our personality and preferences. If God is happy with all of the various versions, if you will, of His Church, then we can just pick whichever one we like, right? Because I tend to be more history-minded, introverted, and analytical, perhaps I can assume that the Catholic Church is the place for me based on the way God made me, rather than the extroverted and more feelings-based Pentecostal Church that I am currently a part of.

      It seems to me that there might be right and wrong involved in the divisions, and not simply different ways of achieving the same goal. As long as our allegiance is to Christ then we shouldn’t concern ourselves with the rest? What about cults and heresies that claim allegiance to Christ? Eventually we need to decide who the real Christians are and why, and what their doctrine is exactly and what their Church should look like.

      Remember that the Allies in Europe had a supreme commander who had the final word in determining goals and rules. Much like the leadership position held by Eisenhower was necessary to win World War II, maybe God knew that a Pope would be necessary to lead the Church against Satan. Divisions are fine in the sense that you speak of, as long as they are cooperating under the same leadership. If we plan to wage a successful war against Satan, each platoon can’t be doing it however they see fit.

      Again, I’m not saying that I plan to become Catholic, but I have yet to see sufficiently convincing reasons not to.

      God bless.

      -Ben

  8. Gib says:

    Ben:
    Good points and questions! And valid when we see the Church as the force that it is. The best way that I can answer the issues for my part is to look at the reality of the big picture, which means boiling everything down to a simple reality.

    First, I really appreciate your putting what books that for you were life changing on the blog. There are three books that are, for me, the top three: “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis, “True Spirituality” by Francis Schaeffer, and last but not least, “The Call” by Oz Guinness. I hardily recommend the latter to you; I think you would really enjoy it. Guinness really gets to the boot leather in this book. He uses a lot of history as illustrative and—Boy!—did he speak to me! The whole point, if I can possibly abbreviate it, is what the call of God in Christ is all about for each and every one of us. I am thankful that he didn’t tell me anything new in a sense, and I am equally thankful that he told me everything new in another sense. This book is like a validation of virtually everything I have ever learned from experience, mentors, and, most of all, the Word.

    Now, back to the force. You point out that each division in my analogy cannot be doing its own thing: that is exactly the point. I argue that the General really is the Lord, and that is more than just a point of doctrine (which means teaching). He really is at work in the lives of millions to the point that they each and every one can spot error and flaws in our institutions. There are plenty of promises in the Bible that point to such a time. Yes, we see diversions from the truth (which is really diversion from the Lord in some way) all over the place. We see error and extremes. But we also see a curious unity too. Ruth and I attend a most wonderful Nazarene church, but we are not Nazarenes. I honestly think that half the folks there are not Nazarenes. I have Baptist friends (the real thing) who are serious about their walk with God, not “religious.” There is a most wonderful Free Methodist church in the valley and I have wonderful brothers who are a part of it. And there is always the proverbial non-denominational church. One of these is pastored by another mentor of mine. And he has been a pastor and mentor to various pastors and leaders all over the place in different churches with no affiliation at all with his own. I have had a very good conversation with a Catholic Priest up in the mountains, and, frankly, I consider him my brother. We sort of hit it off. I have another friend who is partial to the Greek Orthodox Church, but he does not attend there in deference to his family (I think the one in the valley is a bit dead). Let me also point out that I rather identify with your statement about emotionalism in the Pentecostals. I think there is quite a propensity to call emotion the Holy Spirit, but that is another topic.

    But this is undoubtedly the age of the apostate church as well. TV is full of “entitlement” preachers, as a Nazarene sister of mine calls them. This, along with others, is the church at Laodicea, which Jesus is not a part of any longer: He is standing at the door and knocking, looking for any man to open the door. In fact, this is the age of all the seven churches we read about in Revelation. It is also an age when the Corinthian letters (and, of course, others) need to be clearly understood, because it is an age of “Christian” extremes in many quarters. But that brings me to why I would choose one church rather than another (which we all have the freedom and responsibility to do, though the responsibility is one of fellowship, not institutionalism).

    One of my old college professors told me something: that whatever I do with the training I was receiving, I was to keep in mind that there is a famine of the Word out there. In other words, I am not to be looking for a church that will “meet my needs,” I am to be looking for a church that needs my help. I am not to be a consumer Christian. If we are in the right place, then I argue we have a local fellowship that is dependent on us as we are of them. Now that is not to be confused with the “big stuff.” One of my little sisters in the Lord (she’s much older than you guys) gave her testimony one day to the whole church (not canned and unplanned—spur of the moment). She blew our minds, as the old saying goes. I and others told her of the edification she provided that day out of hand, and then she needed to be told to receive it, because she thought she was doing very little at all. Just wait till you read about the young man and his plow in 1815 in “The Call.” It is amazing to further pursue this history (beyond what Guinness points out) and see what God accomplished because of farm work well done. It centers on a famous duel in Ireland, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will tell you this: that I just about fell out of my chair when I realized that I was reading one of the best of Christian books (for me) because of a guy whistling hymns while plowing a field in 1815 (the same year as the battle of Waterloo). And the only thing he knew he was doing was plowing (as unto the Lord, I believe). The Lord sure does cook in some strange pots.

    But that is exactly what He does in all of our lives, and He doesn’t necessarily let us in on what He is really accomplishing. What we think we have done for the kingdom will be quite small in comparison to what we have really done for the kingdom, and that as we are focused on the Word and walking with God, and even living a quiet life as Paul instructs.

    And that brings me to our roll in the current landscape. The pastor and mentor I mentioned said something to a group of us who were taking a theology class from him. Again, these were pastors, missionaries, and other leaders (or training to be). What he told us I have never forgotten: “They nailed Jesus to a cross, and they will nail you to the wall.” And I have been nailed to the wall at times, but so be it. I’m in good company. Ours is to take our stand on the truth, and I insist the truth is not complex. Jesus takes us from our confusion to His simplicity. Notice I say “simplicity” and not “shallowness.” And the reason all of this really boils down to simplicity is because we are made in God’s image. It is ultimately simple to us because we are made to know God and His ways. Ours is to constantly strike a balance, as it were, in whatever fellowship we find ourselves in. And we do that because we know God, and not just about Him. That is why we need not be so troubled over theological and doctrinal debates, and hone in on reality. That is exactly what the Bible does from cover to cover. I find interesting, for instance, the response I get from certain people when I point out the real difference between the so-called Calvinist and the so-called Arminian. There is almost none when we unravel things down to the basics.

    Now I am not speaking about five-point Calvinism; that is a thing that I believe even John Calvin would call a heresy. And how can I say that? Because John Calvin made it clear that Jesus died for everyone, and the only thing that keeps any person from Christ is their own unbelief. Notice that here alone four of the five points attributed to Calvin almost everywhere are wiped out by Calvin himself. The only thing left is the perseverance of the saints, and any Christian can live with that when he understands what it really means. And any believer would certainly want it to be true when he understands what it really means. It is also a lot of fun to point out to genuine Christians who think themselves five-pointers that what they really believe is in what they are actually doing: like supporting world evangelism as if “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” I have a friend right now who fashions himself a five-point Calvinist, but you should see him in action; he only thinks he is a five-point Calvinist, as odd as that may sound.

    I mention all of this because of the points you brought up, which are very good and valid. We are on an adventure; ours is to take up the sword of truth and shield of faith and plunge forward. This is not a passive or esoteric walk we are on; this is the trail through the cosmos itself. I regard the institution a rather small thing when considering this, and I regard the trail as everything. I need the fellowship of those who are on the same trail without blinders. But notice: this can seem a bit of a paradox because it can mean living a quiet life or a hundred other things that don’t appear to be plunging forward. As I said: the Lord cooks in strange pots.

    Any fellowship I choose needs to have a reason that has a whole lot more to it than just me. It needs to be the fellowship of the quest (like the fellowship of the ring), and the quest is to do the will of the Father, as Jesus said. If I can do nothing else in some fellowship at the outset, I can constantly challenge others to clear their heads and hit the trail of the quest. That alone has a way of helping people to stop “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel,” as Jesus said of the Pharisees. And that may just be my service to the Lord and his people, and service is the point.

    • Ben says:

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful insights, Gib. I need to get ahold of a copy of Oz Guinness’ book for sure.

      You touched on so many points that I will not attempt to offer my thoughts on all of them in reply, but I will say that you have given me a lot to think about, and you shared in the most gracious Christian way. Thanks, and God bless!

      You are very welcome to comment on my blog any time!

      -Ben