Two years have gone by. Prior to that point, I thought I had seen the biggest changes in me, and my life would simply involve serving the church through pulpit ministry. Well, I guess that was not my intended path. Life changed. In a big way. The last two years have been a lamentation, meditation, reflection, study and prayer.
While two years have gone by, and some days before that change are truly glorious, I prefer the present, and look forward to seeing what God brings in my future. I love and respect my family, my former colleagues and friends, and even my church heritage. But, love and respect does not always have enough power to grant opportunity to speak of things learned, especially when those things test the most precious of all things. Let me explain.
When one does the very things one is instructed to do, yet draws conclusions which are at variance with the instruction received, the one drawing the conclusions is now at friction with those who do the instructing. Unspoken truth is: those who instruct expect the one being instructed to have the exact same philosophy about church and theology about God as they, the instructors. So when the student becomes the teacher and teaches differently… well you get the picture.
Unfortunately, there is a misunderstanding regarding love. There are those who interpret love as meaning one is to keep unwelcomed criticism to themselves (ie. if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.). Thus, many seem to view critical thoughts about the practice and instruction of the faith as unloving. Such is not automatically true. If that where true, then God established the worst precedent ever though the Prophets, through the Messiah, and through the Apostles. “But Ray! But Ray! You’re not one of those!” is the retort I’ve heard.
Being critical is not negative. Being critical is examining reality against expectation presented in God’s Word. Doing such critical comparison does not make one heartless. Doing such critical examination does not make one negative. Doing such follows Messianic, Prophetic and Apostolic examples; follows the specific instructions given to God’s people to examine everything – test teachings about the Bible (Bereans, Acts 17.10-11), test spirits are they from God (1 John 4.1), OT instructions for people to test prophets (Deuteronomy 13.1-5).
Genuine love expects assessment. Genuine love receives assessment. Genuine love gives assessment. Genuine love respects assessment. These are companions, lovers if you will. For only true love seeks the best: the best True Truth, the best knowledge, the best understanding, and the best method of communication based on that True Truth. Thus genuine love endures misunderstanding, yet genuine love cannot encourage apathy, complacence or stagnation.
While in Bible School I was given many gifts, but the gift I recall and share most of all, aside from my faith in God and Messiah (which I did have prior to Bible School), is the power of contextual Bible study. However, while completing my studies, I also witnessed and experienced absurdity that left me knowing that something was amiss. In many ways, I left school exhausted and seasoned with some dismay. Those experiences established in me a deep-rooted motivation to search for answers; based on the hope that there had to be an answer to all the problems I had experienced up to that point in my church life.
I do consider myself a servant to the church (one who leads prayers, leads Bible study, teaches, preaches, lends himself to getting things accomplished), but regarding the strife in my religious heritage, I was always third-party (the by-stander, the on-looker, the passive-participant). While I saw vitriol, brandishings, and utter disdain that some brothers (and sisters too for that matter) had for others called “Christians,” the negativity never really came my way. That was until a few years ago.
Along the way, God taught me very difficult lessons. First, I was married to the church (the bride) instead of Jesus the Messiah (the groom). Big mistake – no wonder the situation felt so horrible. Second, the on-going search for True Truth is a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, grit-your-teeth, bloody-knuckles, getting-yourself-kicked-in-the-teeth, blood-letting fight. I was bloodied for everything I am (studies, conclusions, proclamations, faith) – none of which I intend to change.
In my vocational training and experience, I always served in “problem resolution” from advocate to participant. I was one of several who had to research, find, report and then implement the needed item whether for mundane customer service, or complicated vehicle repair, or even to the more complicated minutia-driven, legacy software development where the slightest character error (like a misplaced “period”) makes or breaks the program. Thus, I learned that in order to solve problems one must ask lots and lots and lots of questions.
In my vocational experience I learned to ask questions, and I simply took that experience into ministry. But you see, questions were unwelcomed. In fact, I was informed, “Ray, you ask too many questions.” and by a church leader, circumstances withstanding, I was taken aback to say the least. We must ask questions. We must question assumptions. We must inspect the soundness of that which allows things to operate.
Knowing that, it seems that those who do not make a living solving business and software issues look at problems differently. It seems that the problems either go ignored, or someone else fixes the problems – that is until problems arise again. Nothing, not one single thing, can be “fixed” to never ever again have trouble – not machinery, not programs, not people, not a church. This means nothing that humans put there efforts into can be “so well built” that it needs no attention, even if it originated with God. It is not God that needs attention, but people. If God needs attention, then God would have no right to be God.
Experience has taught me that it is the assumed truths that lead to many problems. So, in order to resolve problems, one has to do a very uncomfortable thing: question assumptions. Doing so is uncomfortable for the one asking and for the one being questioned; this is because both feel derided. But, it is most uncomfortable to the one asking the questions, because they have to do the very thing no one wants: question assumptions. However, when the resolution makes the business prosperous, or program awesome, it is the owner who gets the kudos and praise, while the questioner of assumptions receives few accolades negating the brandishing.
Like the field science, an understanding of the First Century Church, which gave rise to the Restoration Movement, works from “assumed truths”. Those “truths” are true until further research shows the need for an “assumed truth” to be refined, revised or cast aside. Quality modern understanding of the First Century Church incorporates “newly discovered” truth about the First Century, even though that information is really “old truth”. Like quality scientists, quality First Century understanding adjusts because the truth has always been there, but understanding of it has not.
The researcher who is unwilling to refine their understanding, by ever increasing awareness and knowledge, operates on once valid but now incomplete information. As such, the research has value, but to what extent? At the moment, all I can add is that unchecked progressivism is just as deadly as unchecked traditionalism, both get locked into “assumed truths” without wanting refinement of True Truth.
Unknown to me at the time of Bible School and my subsequent ministerial studies, I simply took my vocational training into the religious arena. In my naivete, I assumed that people wanted problems resolved, information known, correct things to come forth, a continuous refinement toward maturation of faith. So, my life’s training (ask questions and lots of them, and question the assumptions) led me to find that sometimes people are simply happy with a thing remaining in need of repair, or worse remaining broken, kind of like marriage.
Some marriages flourish, grow and season so well that the couple makes it look so natural. But, the hard truth is some people are content to live with a broken or an unfulfilled marriage, remaining unwilling to act, afraid to ask questions because the situation is, after all, the way it’s supposed to be. All the while, they are envious of others’ success and sometimes destructive to those who have success. Simply stated, some would rather have what they got, because they fear something worse, and that fear keeps them tied to the imperfect; instead of trusting God to lead them to something better.
I do not, per se, seek “to fix” my religious heritage. It is my studied conclusion that my heritage is a section of people who began well, but a people who grew stagnant in the mission of Restoration. Instead, my heritage became confident in our knowledge and unsuspectingly became the very thing we sought not to be – a creedal fellowship.
If one’s creedo is “Nothing but the Bible!” then humanity’s interpretations and understandings of plans and schemas are ALWAYS subject to be refined, revised or cast aside. Thus, my heritage failed to continue restoring, maturing, and it is what it is. There are those who seek to repair various things. There are those who are happy to remain. There are those who have left. There are those who seek the First Century Church.
From within my religious heritage, I was instructed by men dedicated to Bible Instruction. I used the tools they gave me. After my own work, and these two years, I come to have the ability to say: With the same critical examination I was taught to have for any group of Christians and/or Religions, I use with my own religious heritage. Where my heritage is in-line with the will of God, it flourishes; where it is not, the candle flickers.
I lament no longer. This is no pity party. I simply give background in order to say why I am moving forward.
Wow. Two Years.