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Posts Tagged ‘Roman Catholicism’

First, before you read this post and certainly before you comment, go back and at least read The Old Limbo Crossroads, to get some background. It’s better if you’re new to this blog to get completely caught up by reading What’s Going On, but the previous Crossroads is really the bare minimum.

Okay, now on to the topic at hand, which is Evangelical Christianity.

I grew up Mormon, but I grew up in East Tennessee, which means that most of my peers were Evangelical Christians of some kind. Most of my close friends were nonreligious or Roman Catholic, but most of the Christianity that I was exposed to in my formative years was evangelical.

In particular, I had one really good evangelical friend whose name was Brock. We had kind of a common understanding that meant we didn’t try to convert each other, but through him I was exposed to a lot of the people that he went to church with. This exposure was often limited, but it was significant: these were people who really believed in Jesus Christ, who lived Christ-centered lives, and who were happy about it. You could see it in their faces, that Jesus Christ had made a difference. It was something that I did not see in my fellow Mormons, and it was something that stuck with me and was not easy to reconcile, even on my mission. I often thought back to these people and wondered how, if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was really Christ’s church on earth, how these non-members could be so obviously and vibrantly Christian.

As I served my mission, my understanding of Jesus Christ developed and it drifted towards a more full understanding of grace, one which I inevitably had to try to reconcile with Mormonism (and I did it by constantly revising the Gospel According To Kullervo). Most of the doubts I had about Mormonism were laced with Evangelical concerns. My personal understanding of Jesus Christ ultimately developed into something very Protestant, with Mormonism’s specific practices and odd doctrinal quirks pretty much tacked on to the side.

Thus, last year when I finally started giving serious voice to my doubts about Mormonism, it was because I increasingly saw Mormonism as something that did not match my understanding of Jesus Christ, the Bible, and what I thought Christianity was all about.

Granted, leaving Mormonism ultimately led me to have to seriously examine, and in the end dig up and re-plant, my belief in Jesus Christ and in God. But I feel at this point that I have come full circle and I am now back in a place where I can state without (much) reservation that I believe in Jesus and I want to follow him.

Anyway, because of all of this, Evangelical Christianity is attractive to me. I have very little interest in theological liberalism (a topic that I will address in a future post), and reading some of the writers in the Emergent conversation (Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Donald Miller) within Evangelical Christianity has done a great deal to resolve many of my major theological concerns, showing me that I actually can be an Evangelical Christian without being a mindless fundamentalist or a rabid Republican. It has all been extremely compelling.

Right now my family is attending Cedar Ridge Community Church, which is a kind of emergent Evangelical nondenominational church, and it’s a really good place. It has a lot going for it. I agree with everything they preach form the pulpit, but in a way that challenges me instead of leaving me complacent. I am excited about their commitment to reaching out and blessing the world in so many ways. It is a church where I have few objections. But the more time goes by, and the more I find myself wanting to seriously follow, serve, and draw closer to, Jesus Christ, the more those objections seem to be a big deal.

Most of my objections have to do with Evangelical Christianity in general as opposed to the church we attend in specific.

The first is a question of authority, or more properly, of authoritative-ness. I guess I believe that all authority is given to Jesus Christ, like it says in the gospels, and that this authority still resides in Jesus, as opposed to being found in a book or in a pedigree of clergy or priesthood. Since Jesus promised us that when we are gathered in his name, he is among us, we have access to his authority when we are acting in his name.

That’s fine and good, and it’s actually kind of a tangent, because it’s not really my problem. My problem is that in the church I attend, there’s a real sense of all being on the journey together, like we’re all trying to be disciples of Jesus Christ in the best way we can, and we’re helping each other do that. That sounds great, but it doesn’t do the trick for me.

While there may be Authority, the kind that actually only Jesus has from the Father, I don’t feel like this set-up is very authoritative. Trustworthy. Reliable. Solid. I don’t feel like this church as an institution has much of any weight behind it whatsoever. It doesn’t feel solid. I’m not saying I think it won’t last- the church has been around for 25 years after all. But what is 25 years in the nearly 2000-year history of Christianity? What institutional experience and wisdom can there even be in an organization that is so new, especially one that is both Evangelical and Emergent, both of which in the context of church history mean some measure of rejection of broad arrays of Christian tradition?

My point is that I don’t feel like Evangelical churches are authoritative. I don’t think the Bible alone makes them authoritative, either, and I also don’t even think belief in Jesus Christ makes them authoritative.

What I’m trying to say is this- I wouldn’t feel confident going to the pastor at Cedar Ridge for personal or spiritual guidance. I feel like he’s just a guy, same as me, trying to figure thigs out. That has a certain appeal, sure, especially from the pulpit (there isn’t technically a pulpit, but that’s beside the point), but at the same time it doesn’t make me feel like he’s a spiritual leader that I could turn to. As far as I know, he hasn’t been to a seminary or anything. It’s kind of a surprise that that matters to me, growing up Mormon with a lay clergy, but as it turns out I think it actually matters a lot.

So with Evangelical Christianity, I have problems with how authoritative I feel the institutions and clergy are. My second problem is more theological. In theory, I believe in Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice, once for all. I believe in salvation by grace through faith. I believe that the price for my sins has already been paid, that I am already forgiven before I even did anything wrong.

My problem is that that sounds great on paper and in conversation, but it seems too abstract in practice. Let’s say I do something wrong, and feel bad about it. What am I supposed to do to be right with God? My theology tells me that inasmuch as I have faith in Jesus Christ, I am already right with God. But that doesn’t seem very real. I feel like I’m left trying to convince myself that I’m already forgiven and that it’s already taken care of and I should just be thankful for what Jesus did for me. But I still feel really bad, and all I can do is try, in vain, to talk myself out of the guilt.

It’s all abstract: I just have to trust that my wrongs were already righted 2,000ish years ago so I have nothing to worry about. But I have a hard time convincing myself of it. Maybe it’s because I really don’t have faith. Maybe it’s because I’m still stuck in a Mormon mindset that demands I earn my salvation. I don’t know. But at the very least, I would like something concrete to do, at least an outward manifestation of reconciliation, so I can have some kind of closure on my sins. I’m not talking about earning forgiveness; I know I can’t do that. I just mean that I want to be able to somehow make concrete the abstract idea of my salvation by the grace of God. And Evangelical Christianity, in my opinion, doesn’t really offer that. It has no real sacraments, no clergy to confess to. It seems like the whole religion is just about deciding you believe, and then being glad about it.

I see it seem work for other people, and in theory I think it sounds great. But in practice it doesn’t seem to have any effect. I don’t feel transformed, healed, or even justified by just “realizing it’s all okay.”

Maybe I’ve missed the point- maybe Christianity is about realizing, for real, that it is okay, that Jesus made it so when you believe in him your sins are gone, and there’s nothing you have to do but acknowledge and accept it, for real. Maybe my insistence on some external performance is holding me back from real conversion, real faith, and the kind of transformational Christianity that I’m hungry for. I acknowledge the possibility. But it doesn’t change anything. And reassurances from other Christians that I’m on the right track are nice and supportive, but they’re not authoritative- they’re just more people like me, in the same boat as I am. What do they know? How are they more trustworthy than I am?

I imagine that the person that I really should trust is Jesus, that he has told me himself that he has atoned for my sins, and that anything else would just be noise. Maybe. But it doesn’t seem to be happening, to really be connecting. Again, I am left feeling like I’m just trying to talk myself out of feeling guilty.

I’ve talked about forgiveness for sins as probably the most important example, but the principles apply to the sum total of religious life. Evangelical Christianity has all of the action happen in the long ago and far away, and thus in the inaccessible abstract.

My third problem with Evangelical Christianity is the form of worship. For the most part, praise bands and Christian pop music do absolutely nothing for me. I want the deep spirituality of liturgy and hymns. I’m not trying to be a worship-consumer or anything, but modern, contemporary worship just doesn’t feel like it has any weight behind it. It is sincere but ephemeral, and seems to be primarily a matter of emotional appeal. Part of leaving Mormonism was the realization that emotions are not the same thing as the Holy Spirit. Emotions are the product of propaganda as often as they are the product of nearness to God.

Evangelical Christianity (particularly, for me at least, the emergent conversation) is firmly rooted in scripture, reason (within the context of faith), and mysticism (i.e. the Holy Spirit), but has abandoned tradition almost entirely. I know the emergent conversation has made overtures at recapturing some tradition, but in my opinion it’s been barely more than a token effort, and comes across as superficial to me.

In fact, sometimes Evangelical Christianity seems altogether tacky and plastic, not anything like an ancient Middle Eastern (or even European) faith tradition, and certainly not anything like the Kingdom of Heaven.

Finally, I have some issues with Community. I feel like Christian community is absolutely critical, as Jesus commanded his disciples to be one even as he is one with the Father. I realize that the emergent conversation has tried to emphasize this, but in practice it seems ot not be happening. How do you have authentic community in a megachurch?

Even at Cedar Ridge, which is certainly no megachurch, it seems to me like the congregation might be too big for authentic community, and although they try really hard (and admirably) to foster community, it seems artificial. It’s like they’re trying to make a plant by mixing the component parts all together in a bowl, instead of planting the seeds, setting up the right conditions, and cultivating it as it grows.

Anyway, I have a strange love-hate relationship with Evangelical Christianity, and I’m hesitant to embrace it more fully than I already have, while at the same time, it has things that I want and need that I don’t know if I really can find anywhere else. And I feel like I must face the real possibility that my hesitation is because of the lingering effects of my Mormon roots, or maybe because I simply haven’t fully been able to understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ is all about.

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In many ways, I’m standing at a crossroads, spiritually. I have some ideas about what I think real Christianity is all about, what God wants from me, what I think is important, and what I want from God. I also see several clear paths I could go down, each of which has definite strengths and weaknesses in relation to what I want and what I think God wants, meaning that they all lead somewhere probably pretty good, but I don’t think any of them really leads where I want to go, where I will find Jesus Christ.

I have said in previous posts that I have a hard time really articulating some of these issues because they are in many ways abstract and sometimes ill-defined. It’s not that I have a clear picture in my head that I can’t put words to so much as it is that I have a vague, fuzzy half-picture in my head that if I tried to define it in words, I’d probably get it wrong. Sometimes when I’m talking about religion, faith, and spirituality, I feel more than a little like J. Alfred Prufrock.

Anyway, in the next four posts, I’m going to try to describe the four paths I see, as I see them, and to explain why I simultaneously want to go down each but also fear that none of them leads where I think I will truly encounter Jesus Christ. The four paths are Evangelical Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism.

Also a little warning- like I said in past posts, I’m feeling a bit vulnerable right now and I want to be able to express myself without having to defend myself. I’m interested in comments and feedback, but I imagine I’m going to be a little quicker than usual to delete comments if I feel they are hostile or overly critical. Just a fair warning.

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One particularly (in my opinion) credulous meme in the Mormon Church is that the time, place, and manner in which the Church was restored was the only way God could have done it. Now granted, Mormon God is not fully omnipotent in the definitional sense (even though the missionaries teach that he is), but seriously, it seems pretty clear to me that if God needed to do the Restoration, he could have done it anywhere he wanted. Europe handled the Reformation, and Protestantism is going strong today. Europe could have also handled the Restoration, assuming such a thing needed to happen at all.

In my last post, I talked about the problems with the doctrine of the Great Apostasy. I want to now deal with a couple more. Primarily, if some regeneration did need to happen, why didn’t God do it within his Church, like he appears to have done at very other time throughout Mormon scriptural history? Why wasn’t Joseph Smith a Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox!) priest who God raised up to be His Pope and restore all that was lost? Unless the Catholic Church wasn’t God’s church, but that could only be the case if True Christians were actually wiped out and replaced by impostors at some point. Gradual corruption never made God totally abandon his Church and start over again in the scriptures, so why would this be the one weird exception?

Because God couldn’t have done so? Poppycock. At best, God didn’t want to. Mysterious ways and all that, but to me that’s really a cop-out. The whole business is one more counterintuitive thing that has to be accepted on faith, or based on an extremely subtle “whispering of the spirit” that is absolutely indistinguishable from the rublmings in my stomach due to not having eaten breakfast yet.

And don’t even get me started on why God waited like 1800 years to restore the truth. That’s nonsense. The bit about how that’s when the time was right is also nonsense. Even if God had to do the whole Restoration thing the way he supposedly has done it according to Mormonism, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t have persevered despite the persecution just like all kinds of other heretical movements throughout Christianity have done.

And seriously, this is God. He can preserve his people from their enemies, right! Didn’t he have an angel kill like 180,000 people in the Bible once to preserve the Israelites? Sigh.

Note- I have also added this post to my Sailing Away From Mormonism page.

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In order for the Mormon church to make any sense, there has to have been a Restoration. In order for there to need to be a Restoration, there has to have been a Great Apostasy. This is fundamental enough that the new Preach My Gospel manual that the missionaries use starts out with the Great Apostasy from the beginning. The main problem, in my opinion, is that there’s no good evidence that such a Great Apostasy occurred, at least to the extent that it would have needed to occur for Mormon theology to make sense.

From the standpoint of Mormonism, the Apostasy meant that 1) there were no more living prophets and/or apostles to continuously reveal the truth, 2) true doctrine became subverted by human ideas and was thus lost (and without living prophets, it was not re-discoverable), and 3) the priesthood authority was gone from the earth.

Each one of those points is incredibly problematic. The first point seems hard to argue with, because nobody was claiming to receive revelation, prophet-style, on behalf of all Christendom. To many Mormons, thats eals the deal. However, the sad truth is that the Latter-Day church doesn’t seem to get ay revelation, either. After Joseph Smith, there’s basically been a long line of prophets who don’t prohesy. Now, most Mormons will dispute this, and their evidence will be geenrally statements that they personally ascribe prophetic-revelation-status to (though the maker of the statement did not), or they appeal to the “probability” that the prophet gets these big revelations all the time, but doesn’t share them with the Church and the world for whatever reason. Or, barring those, they will shift their definition of revelation to include a moregeneral type of inspiration.

In any case, there’s not much evidence that the rate of contemporary revelation right now was any different than during the Great Apostasy. Nevertheless, there’s a differnence- the next two points (true doctrine and priesthood authority) make clear the difference between the Church during the Great Apostasy and the Latter-Day Church.

James E. Talmage, in pretty much any book he wrote, was quick to trot out shady, questionable doctrines and practices of the medieval Catholic church as evidence of its apostasy. What it basically comes down to is that doctrines were changed away from the “plain and precious truths” that were taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles. This is also problematic, for a couple of reasons.

First, despite what Mormons may learn in Primary and Sunday School, many doctrines and practices have also changed during the not-quite-two-hundred years of the latter-day church. I need only mention the big, contentious ones like polygamy, Blood Atonement, and the Adam-God theory. Sure, some of those doctrines have come and gone, but so did some of the questionable Catholic doctrines that Talmage loves to pick on. It’s not limited to the anti-Mormon fodder, either. Plenty of other doctrines and practices have changed or evolved over time and members don;t even bat an eye.

As an aside- a common Mormon metaphor for the Apostasy and Restoration is a broken glass. You can’t just put the pieces of a broken glass back together to make the cup good again; you have to actually make a new cup. The broken glass is the Christian church during the Apostasy and the new-blown glass is the Restored church. If the Apostasy was just a matter of inspired leadership and correct doctrine, then the metaphor is complete junk. Rediscovering old, correct doctrine, if such a thing exists, is merely a matter of going back to old texts and seeing what was taught before the change away from the truth. It is well within human capability, and it’s exactly what the Reformers were trying to do. If it was just a matter of inspiration/revelation and true doctrine, then the Reformation (and accompanying counter-reformation) should have done the trick. The Mormon Church even teaches that those men were inspired.

This is the point in the discussion where the Mormon falls back to the bunker of Priesthod authority, but I am afraid there is no cover to be found there either.

According to Mormon theology, the big evidence for the Apostasy and Restoration, the real clincher, was authority. God’s priesthood, the power and authority to act (and lead) in His name, was gone from the earth. It had to be fully restored in order for God to run things the right way, for the ordinances like baptism to have any effect, and for the Kingdom of God to be built on earth.

However, there’s no real indication that the Priesthood, assuming that it did indeed exist the way that Mormonism teaches that it once did, ever left the earth. In fact, I think it’s completely and utterly unreasonable to think that it did.

Mormonism believes in a lay priesthood- all worthy men can (and these days should and are) be ordained deacons, teachers, priests, and elders. This Priesthood existed in the time of the apostles, but it was lost, so only the apostles themselves could give the Priesthood back to us. Thus, first John the Baptist and then Peter James and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to give them this priesthood, so there would be an unbroken line of authority back to Jesus Christ (for the Melchizidek Priesthood) and to Aaron (for the Aaronic Priesthood).

But that means that this lay Priesthood existed in New Testament times, but it had disappeared by Joseph Smith’s time. The problem is that the Christian church didn’t disappear during that time. In order to have the Priesthood die out and fade away but the Church continue, you’d have to have an entire generation of Priesthood-holders simply not give the Priesthood to anyone else. Simultaneously, you’d have to have an entire generation of Church leadership come in and claim leadership positions without even holding the Priesthood (if you think about that in the framework of the modern Mormon Chruch, it doesn’t even make sense).

The Mormons claim that John, not Linus, was the second leader of the Church (since he got Revelation on Patmos after Peter’s death, and only the leader of the Church would get scriptural revelation like that), which means that the Catholic line of authority was broken from the beginning. The problem with that apologetic is that it confuses leadership with the Priesthood. Linus may not have been “the prophet,” but as a member of the Church, there’s no reason at allt ot hink he didn’t have the Priesthood. Past that, the Catholic church (and the Orthodox Church and even the Anglican Communion) can show an unbroken line of apostolic succession all the way down to the current set of bishops. What reason then is there to believe that all those bishops don’t have the Priesthood?

Sure, they may not use it right, and they may have their heads full of false doctrine, but Mormon theology is pretty clear that priesthood authority doesn’t go away despite personal apostasy. A wicked missionary’s baptism is still valid, because he had the authority, and it was the Priesthood (i.e., God) doing the job, not him. Look at Alma the Elder in the Book of Mormon- he was one of a whole crop of evil clergymen who were ordained by the equally wicked King Noah and were doing al kinds of wring things and teaching all kinds of wrong doctrines. Nevertheless, the line of authority that gave Alma his Priesthood was still a valid one, so he could baptize all of those people at the Waters of Mormon. If he had the Priesthood, then why don’t the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox clergy have the Priesthood?

In short, although there may have been a falling away from the truth over time, there’s no real reason to believe that The Great Apostasy ever happened in such a way as to necessitate the Restoration as it is taught in Mormonism.

Note- I have added this post to my Sailing Away From Mormonism page.

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