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15 Reasons Why I Left Church


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#41 David Smedberg

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 05:33 PM

Whoa. That is a LONG post.

#42 Buckeye Jones

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 07:50 PM

As an elder in our church here in Cincy, my constant guidance to any of our leadership is to err on the side of grace. Its a constant reminder (certainly for myself as well) because our tendency is to err on judgment. It's messy.



#43 SDG

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 10:04 PM

Attica,

Thanks for all your work in that post.

I'm afraid my reply, at least my first pass, is going to be much shorter.

Original sin is a difficult topic. There is no question that belief in original sin, affecting all men from birth, has always belonged to historic Christian faith. In the thinking of the early Fathers, is because we are all born in sin that infants must be baptized.

Original sin has been understood and described in different ways, but I think too much has sometimes been made of some of these differences. I'm tempted to borrow a page from Chesterton and quip that Orthodoxy and Catholicism disagree about original sin, especially Orthodoxy. In my view, Catholic teaching on original sin, as opposed to metaphors and imagery, is not basically opposed to what I find in Eastern theology.

You opened with a citation from Origin, whose important witness to the faith of the early church I agree has too often been wrongly minimized. Here is what he says: "Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin … In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous" (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3).

Tertullian, in his long treatise on the soul, attempts to articulate at a very early date the uncleanness that every man inherits from Adam: "Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5); in other words, he cannot be holy … Every soul, then, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam until it is born again in Christ; moreover, it is unclean all the while that it remains without this regeneration (Romans 6:4); and because unclean, it is actively sinful, and suffuses even the flesh (by reason of their conjunction) with its own shame … There is, then, besides the evil which supervenes on the soul from the intervention of the evil spirit, an antecedent, and in a certain sense natural, evil which arises from its corrupt origin. For, as we have said before, the corruption of our nature is another nature having a god and father of its own, namely the author of (that) corruption." (On the Soul, chs 39-41).

Again, from Cyprian of Carthage: "If, in the case of the worst sinners and those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this very reason does he [an infant] approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another" (Letters 64:2).

Augustine's thought, as I said earlier, is complex, subtle and formative. As you say, Augustine deeply influenced the subsequent history of Western Christian thought, but he did so precisely because of the power and sophistication of his interpretive approach to articulating the faith in a new context, addressing new question and refuting new heresies. His articulation of original sin differed from earlier fathers at least in part because he had to contend with, for example, Pelagianism, and they hadn't. Anyone is free to critique Augustine's interpetive approach as following a wrong trajectory, but there is no question that he was asking questions and offering answers along lines that earlier generations hadn't dealt with at all.

For precisely this reason, it is not historically credible that Augustine's views would have been regarded as "heretical" by earlier Fathers. Mistaken, one can argue, but not heretical, because heresy refers to denial of core dogma, and that is not what Augustine stands accused of, even by his critics.

I also suggested that Augustine has been misunderstood by both defenders and critics. I'm concerned that your characterization of Augustine appears to be more based on secondary sources than what Augustine actually said. I am not aware that Augustine ever said that original sin completely destroyed freedom, for instance, or that and certainly the phrase "sin nature" that plays such a prominent role in your post is not Augustine's, nor is it the language of Catholic theology. In my experience, it is a phrase that Catholic theology is at pains to disavow.

Some of your other issues seem to me to be arguments about language rather than substance. For example, Augustine certainly taught that God was without passions, so the image of God's wrath (a biblical image in general, certainly) in exiling Adam and Eve from the garden is a metaphor. Augustine certainly held that Adam and Eve continued to be objects of God's mercy, and that God sent Jesus to save mankind precisely out of love for man. So I'm not sure there is really a fundamental theological quarrel here.

We've had lots of involved discussion on the exegetical and theological basis for the historic Christian teaching on hell. I don't see any need to revisit that at length.

#44 TexasWill

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 11:52 PM

I find it interesting that even though I am a member of a church with a theologically-conservative perspective on the scriptures, our church seems to be what Rachel Evans is looking for.

We affirm women in vocational an non-vocational ministry (ordained ministers, teachers, deacons, leaders, etc.), we deal with the hard questions in Sunday School and bible studies - I've actually been able to point out that King David was a user of women in a Bible study series I did where it seemed every week David was finding a new wife or concubine for his use without people getting bent out of shape about it. We deal with the rough edges of biblical characters as well as extend grace to those who come into our fellowship with history and baggage that is distinctly not approved by the evangelical subculture. We see people transformed by the gospel, but at their own pace and according to their convictions as we model what we believe to be a biblical lifestyle. At election time, our congregation gets strangely quiet about politics since we are about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. One thing we do agree on socially/politically is that the church needs to be active in helping the poor, the homeless, and the immigrants - and we have organized ministries to do that. And as we minister to the felt needs, we often earn the right to talk to those dear persons about the grace and mercy of God.

On the other hand, I don't know of another church in our region who is theologically conservative but has the same church culture and concern for the things that I believe that God cares most about. I have no idea where I would go if our church changed or somehow closed its doors. I would probably end up trying to start one with like-minded believers.

Strangely enough, our church was recently analyzed by a Southern Baptist expert and informed that we were "marginally unhealthy" as a church because we had a spectrum of theological and political views represented in the congregation. The "expert" believed that was a recipe for dissension. Strangely enough, it is actually a strength of the congregation since we don't rely on mutual affinities to keep us unified. We are unified by a common experience in Christ and our ability to respect our differences and learn from each other.

#45 Andy Whitman

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 09:36 AM

I find it interesting that even though I am a member of a church with a theologically-conservative perspective on the scriptures, our church seems to be what Rachel Evans is looking for.

We affirm women in vocational an non-vocational ministry (ordained ministers, teachers, deacons, leaders, etc.), we deal with the hard questions in Sunday School and bible studies - I've actually been able to point out that King David was a user of women in a Bible study series I did where it seemed every week David was finding a new wife or concubine for his use without people getting bent out of shape about it. We deal with the rough edges of biblical characters as well as extend grace to those who come into our fellowship with history and baggage that is distinctly not approved by the evangelical subculture. We see people transformed by the gospel, but at their own pace and according to their convictions as we model what we believe to be a biblical lifestyle. At election time, our congregation gets strangely quiet about politics since we are about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. One thing we do agree on socially/politically is that the church needs to be active in helping the poor, the homeless, and the immigrants - and we have organized ministries to do that. And as we minister to the felt needs, we often earn the right to talk to those dear persons about the grace and mercy of God.

On the other hand, I don't know of another church in our region who is theologically conservative but has the same church culture and concern for the things that I believe that God cares most about. I have no idea where I would go if our church changed or somehow closed its doors. I would probably end up trying to start one with like-minded believers.

Strangely enough, our church was recently analyzed by a Southern Baptist expert and informed that we were "marginally unhealthy" as a church because we had a spectrum of theological and political views represented in the congregation. The "expert" believed that was a recipe for dissension. Strangely enough, it is actually a strength of the congregation since we don't rely on mutual affinities to keep us unified. We are unified by a common experience in Christ and our ability to respect our differences and learn from each other.

Amen to all that, Will. It sounds like a great church that, gasp, actually looks and behaves like the Church should. Good for you.

#46 Greg P

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 05:52 AM

On the other hand, I don't know of another church in our region who is theologically conservative but has the same church culture and concern for the things that I believe that God cares most about. I have no idea where I would go if our church changed or somehow closed its doors.

This brings me back to an earlier point: open, inclusive churches like yours, are anomalies-- at least in evangelicalism.

#47 Andy Whitman

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 06:11 AM

On the other hand, I don't know of another church in our region who is theologically conservative but has the same church culture and concern for the things that I believe that God cares most about. I have no idea where I would go if our church changed or somehow closed its doors.

This brings me back to an earlier point: open, inclusive churches like yours, are anomalies-- at least in evangelicalism.

They're anomalies, but they're not impossibilities. I know of several churches in Columbus, Ohio that are similar to Will's church. I don't know how you find them in Miami. Unfortunately, there is no hotline for the National Council Of Theologically Conservative But Inclusive Churches. But I would encourage you to keep looking. Or move to Columbus or Dallas.

On second thought, don't move to Dallas. They apparently have at least one good church, but the traffic is terrible.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 04 April 2012 - 06:12 AM.


#48 SDG

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 06:59 AM

They're anomalies, but they're not impossibilities. I know of several churches in Columbus, Ohio that are similar to Will's church. I don't know how you find them in Miami. Unfortunately, there is no hotline for the National Council Of Theologically Conservative But Inclusive Churches.

The only method I've found of finding a good church is to pray and suffer patiently until God brings you to one. Even so, it's only worked once for me so far. I hope it's enough to last for many years to come.

#49 Greg P

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 07:22 AM

FWIW, i really appreciate the openness and insight here at A&F, represented on this thread and countless others over the years. It's still a great place to argue music and film and jump into occasional gentlemanly skirmishes about the spiritual life.

Had a long talk with the S.O. last night about church and she feels like she really needs to be in a place she can receive instruction on a regular basis. That sorta settles it, right? The search continues!!!

Edited by Greg P, 04 April 2012 - 07:24 AM.


#50 Andy Whitman

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 07:27 AM

They're anomalies, but they're not impossibilities. I know of several churches in Columbus, Ohio that are similar to Will's church. I don't know how you find them in Miami. Unfortunately, there is no hotline for the National Council Of Theologically Conservative But Inclusive Churches.

The only method I've found of finding a good church is to pray and suffer patiently until God brings you to one. Even so, it's only worked once for me so far. I hope it's enough to last for many years to come.

God has a sense of humor (almost wrote "wicked sense of humor," but that would create a significant theological conundrum). I've written here about my 8-year sojourn as a member of a Jesus Freak commune in the inner city of Columbus. That merry band eventually morphed into a 10,000 member suburban megachurch, with a pastor who hangs out with Presidents. This wasn't exactly what I had signed up for, and my wife and I left many years ago, in part because of different visions over what the local church should look like, and in part because of more specific grievances over things like the Reaganite Prophecies (O my people, vote for Ronnie).

But we now find ourselves back in the inner city of Columbus, having raised our kids in suburbia, hanging out with many of the children of the Reaganite prophets. There were a few stops in between, but I can truly say that I would never, ever have anticipated being where we are. We were done with such nonsense, and good riddance. But God showed up. Decades of addictions, of wearing the happy/clappy Christian mask, of furtively hiding who I really was, dropped away, in part because of those kids and their fierce love of God, and my family, and me. They were inclusive enough to welcome a mess, and that's what I needed.

I don't know how or where you find those folks, Greg. I do know they're out there, in a variety of guises and garbs and theological traditions. Don't settle for anything less.

#51 Attica

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 08:23 PM

Hi again Steven.

Here are some further thoughts. I know that it's pretty much pointless for me to write this, as what I say doesn't really matter, and nobody's opinions are going to change. But I wrote it anyhow. B)

First. I realize from another post that you are fairly busy right now, so please do not feel that you need to respond to this post, and if you do want to, then feel free to respond when time allows. Also note that nothing of which I am saying is intended to be a personal insult, but merely an attempt to dig into the truth of the matter, albeit sometimes in an abrupt fashion. I am happy that one can talk on these subjects in a fairly non-aggressive manner.

You had said.

For precisely this reason, it is not historically credible that Augustine's views would have been regarded as "heretical" by earlier Fathers. Mistaken, one can argue, but not heretical, because heresy refers to denial of core dogma, and that is not what Augustine stands accused of, even by his critics.


Possibly not his critics in the Catholic church. But there are others that accuse him of heresy. I've spoken with them. There are increasing numbers of people who are outright rejecting Augustine's doctrines.


You had said.

I also suggested that Augustine has been misunderstood by both defenders and critics. I'm concerned that your characterization of Augustine appears to be more based on secondary sources than what Augustine actually said. I am not aware that Augustine ever said that original sin completely destroyed freedom, for instance, or that and certainly the phrase "sin nature" that plays such a prominent role in your post is not Augustine's.


I'm not aware of how Catholicism regards the term "sin nature". My use of this word wasn't directly related to Catholicism, but rather how Augustine's thought has influenced Christianity at large. The term sin nature is very much to be found in the Evangelical circles which I was a part of, and I believe that this term and way of thinking was historically influenced by Augustine. He didn't have to have used the term in order to have influenced it.

My point wasn't concerned with what words he used, but rather with this doctrine's influence on Western Christianity in general. I wasn't touching primarily on Roman Catholic beliefs.

I admit that you probably have a valid point, in that I have certainly read some writings about Augustine but have not read all his works in depth. I have read some of his writings however, including some of City of God, and to be honest, I find it to be dark twisted and disturbing. For example in my previous post, compare the quotes from the founding fathers on what happened during the fall, to Augustine's. His doctrine is clearly different and darker. The proofs in the pudding, and I don't need to read his writings extensively to see this.

His writing that I have read also clearly shows his lack of understanding of the original Greek languages, connected with Jerome's flaws in the Latin Vulgate. I've already spoken at length about his misunderstanding of the Koine Greek world aionos. But there are others.

For instance.

City of God - book 19 - chapter 28

But, on the other hand, they who do not belong to this city of God shall inherit eternal misery, which is also called the second death, because the soul shall then be separated from God its life, and therefore cannot be said to live, and the body shall be subjected to eternal pains........But in the world to come the pain continues that it may torment.

Book 13 - chapter 15

we are subject to the death of the body, not by the law of nature, by which God ordained no death for man, but by His righteous infliction on account of sin; for God, taking vengeance on sin, said to the man, in whom we all then were, “Dust you are, and unto dust shall you return.”


Now. Compare Augustine's use of the words "vengeance" and "torments" with the earlier Greek and Biblical understanding, related to these words.



Clement of Alexandria (taken from "Her Gates Will Never be Shut" - page 121)

Clement's importance, to my mind, is that he clarifies the NT language for "punishment". Clement insists that God's "correction" (paideia - Heb 12:9) and "chastisement" (kolasis - Matt 25:46) is as a loving father, only an always meant for the healing and salvation of the whole world. He denies that God ever inflicts "punishment" (timoria - Heb 10:29 - vengeance) in the vengeful sense, a word Jesus never used.


As well, Strongs online concordance says this about the greek word "basanizo", which is often translated into the word "tormented".


Cognate: 931 básanos – originally, a black, silicon-based stone used as "a touchstone" to test the purity of precious metals (like silver and gold). See 928 (basaníz?).

[In the papyri, basanos also means, "touchstone," "test" (so P Oxy I. 58.25, ad 288).

931 (basanois) was "originally (from oriental origin) a touchstone; a 'Lydian stone' used for testing gold because pure gold rubbed on it left a peculiar mark. Then it was used for examination by torture.



Thus the Bible properly translated from it's original Koine Greek language says the following (taken from the Jonathan Mitchell New Testament)


[i]Matthew 25: 46

"And so, these folks will be going off into an eonian (AIONOS) pruning (KOLASIS) (a lopping-off which last for an undetermined length of time; and age-lasting correction and rehabilitation; a pruning which brings betterment and which has its source and character in the Age; a cutting off during the ages), yet the fair and just folks who are in right relationship with people and are in accord with the Way pointed out [go off] into eonian life (life which has its source and character in the Age; life pertaining to the Age; or the life of and for the ages).


Revelation 20: 10

And so the devil, the one continuously deceiving them is cast into the lake of the Fire and Diety...... and they will be examined and test by the touchstone (BASANIZO) day and night, on into the ages (aionos) of the ages (aionos)
[/i]


This is a far cry from the vengeful tormenting God that Augustine espoused.

As well, from what I've read of City of God it is noticeably lacking in any real or deep Biblical exegesis, and is in fact mostly philosophy with a few Biblical quotes thrown in. I find it troubling that various Christians have given us mountains of biblical exegesis that is contrary to City of God, but so many people are still bound to the thinking put forth in that book. I don't need to read it in it's entirety to get a gist of his thinking. Even the examples I have given you show this just fine, and prove how these segments of Augustinian thought differ from the Koine Greek speaking fathers, and the Biblein it's original languages.. The basics of his doctrine is well known to Christianity and I don't want to be grieved by this twisted darkness, of a tormenting God.... there are so many good deep studies of the scriptures out there and I'll stick to them.

By the way one of my Bishop friends has read more of Augustine than I have, and he passed along the following.


If you read Augustine's works you get the distinct impression that he was mentally ill. He was paranoid, extremely jealous of others and engaged in warped sexual fantasies. Were he alive today he would be considered a womanizer at best and a sexual pervert at worse. He wrote that an infant suckling on its mother's breast became sexually aroused and formed perverted thoughts. He recognized that he had urges that were difficult to control and so he developed this strict mantra in order to control himself. He would punish himself for having sexual thoughts (Edit: some believe that this was the beginning of flagellation in Christendom). And because he felt he couldn't control his thoughts and desires he formulated all mankind was this way and it must be something they were born with that originated with Adam.


I have read of modern day Psychologists who have said something very similar (in regards to him having psychological issues) about his book "Confessions"


You had said

"There is no question that belief in original sin, affecting all men from birth, has always belonged to historic Christian faith. In the thinking of the early Fathers, is because we are all born in sin that infants must be baptized. ........... that Orthodoxy and Catholicism disagree about original sin, especially Orthodoxy. In my view, Catholic teaching on original sin, as opposed to metaphors and imagery, is not basically opposed to what I find in Eastern theology".

The following is taken from the Orthodox Church in America's website.

“Concerning the original -- or "first" -- sin, that committed by Adam and Eve, Orthodoxy believes that, while everyone bears the consequences of the first sin, the foremost of which is death, only Adam and Eve are guilty of that sin. Roman Catholicism teaches that everyone bears not only the consequence, but also the guilt”


This is drastically different from the Augustinian understanding.


From Orthodox wiki.

In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, Adam and Eve committed a sin, the original sin. The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that no one is guilty for the actual sin they committed but rather everyone inherits the consequences of this act; the foremost of this is physical death in this world. This is the reason why the original fathers of the Church over the centuries have preferred the term ancestral sin. The consequences and penalties of this ancestral act are transferred by means of natural heredity to the entire human race. Since every human is a descendant of Adam then 'no one is free from the implications of this sin' (which is human death) and that the only way to be freed from this is through baptism. While mortality is certainly a result of the Fall, along with this also what is termed "concupiscence" in the writings of St Augustine of Hippo -- this is the "evil impulse" of Judaism, and in Orthodoxy, we might say this is our "disordered passion." It isn't only that we are born in death, or in a state of distance from God, but also that we are born with disordered passion within us. Orthodoxy would not describe the human state as one of "total depravity"........

.........Orthodox Christians have usually understood Roman Catholicism as professing St. Augustine's teaching that everyone bears not only the consequence, but also the guilt, of Adam's sin..............This difference between the two Churches in their understanding of the original sin was one of the doctrinal reasons underlying the Catholic Church's declaration of its dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the 19th century, a dogma that is rejected by the Orthodox Church. However, contemporary Roman Catholic teaching is best explicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which includes this sentence: ""original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted"


This implies that even the Catholic Church is moving away from a full Augustinian teaching.


Taken from the following website.

http://www.orthocuba...n-original-sin/


In Eastern Orthodoxy, God created man perfect with free will and gave man a direction to follow. Man (Adam) and Woman (Eve) chose rather to disobey God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus changing the “perfect” mode of existence of man to the “flawed” mode of existence of man. This flawed nature and all that has come from it is a result of that “original sin”. All humanity shares in the sin of Adam because like him, they are human. The union of humanity with divinity in Jesus Christ restored, in the Person of Christ, the mode of existence of humanity, so that those who are incorporated in him may participate in this mode of existence, be saved from sin and death, and be united to God in deification. Original sin is cleansed in humans through baptism.......

This view differs from the Roman Catholic (Augustinian) doctrine of Original Sin in that man is not seen as inherently guilty of the sin of Adam. According to the Orthodox, humanity inherited the consequences of that sin, not the guilt. The difference stems from Augustine’s interpretation of a Latin translation of Romans 5:12 to mean that through Adam all men sinned, whereas the Orthodox reading in Greek interpret it as meaning that all of humanity sins as part of the inheritance of flawed nature from Adam. The Orthodox Church does not teach that all are born deserving to go to hell, and Protestant doctrines such as Predeterminism that derive from the Augustinian understanding of original sin are not a part of Orthodox belief.


This position is consistent with that of the "Celtic Church" (the remnants of the Christianity which existed in the Celtic lands) which says,

"while humanity does bear the consequences of the original, or first sin, humanity does not bear the personal guilt associated with this sin. Adam and Eve are guilty of their willful action; but we bear the consequences of their act, the chief of which is death."

Other non Roman Churches such as the Coptic Church and Armenian Church reject this doctrine as well.

So then my question is this. If the Augustinian understanding of the Christian faith and "original sin" has always belonged to the Christian church then why does every ancient segment of Christianity outside of Roman Catholicism disagree with it? In fact, in the above writings the Eastern Orthodox make a point of mentioning that they disagree. specifically, with Augustine's understanding of original sin.

Which brings me to Tertullian. I believe that you are reading Tertullian through an Augustinian influenced lense, and that his understanding of the term "original sin" is in fact closer to the Eastern/Celtic views mentioned above. Just because he used the term "original sin" doesn't mean that he had the same understanding of this term as Augustine.

The following is taken from his treatise on Baptism.

CHAP. X.

......And so "the baptism of repentance" was dealt with as if it were a candidate for the remission and sanctification shortly about to follow in Christ: for in that John used to preach "baptism for the remission of sins," the declaration was made with reference to future remission; if it be true, (as it is,) that repentance is antecedent, remission subsequent;......


He makes a point of saying that repentance must come before remission of sins in baptism. We all know that a little baby is unable to repent. He later says the following.



CHAP. XVIII.

But they whose office it is, know that baptism is not rashly to be administered. .......And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children.

The Lord does indeed say, "Forbid them not to come unto me." Let them "come," then, while they are growing up; let them "come" while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ. Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the "remission of sins?" ........

........Let them know how to "ask" for salvation, that you may seem (at least) to have given "to him that asketh."




This statement very clearly shows that Tertullian had a different understanding of Baptism than Augustine. He in fact taught that baptism should be delayed until little children have become able to know Christ, and until they know how to ask for salvation.

So then I would ask..... Why on earth would he say that if he thought that a tiny little baby was going to go to hell if he wasn't infant baptized for the remission of "original sin", according to the Augustinian understanding. This shows that Tertullian did not have the Augustinian understanding of "original sin".


So moving to Tertullian's treatise on the soul.


Chapter XVI.

But, inasmuch as the same Plato speaks of the rational element only as existing in the soul of God Himself, if we were to ascribe the irrational element likewise to the nature which our soul has received from God, then the irrational element will be equally derived from God, as being a natural production, because God is the author of nature. Now from the devil proceeds the incentive to sin. All sin, however, is irrational: therefore the irrational proceeds from the devil, from whom sin proceeds; and it is extraneous to God,


One sees here that Tertullian talks about about our soul receiving it's nature from God, and then says that the incentive to sin comes from the devil, from whom sin proceeds. Thus here he doesn't say that sin proceeds from something within humanity.

He then later touches on the fact that sin is not to be accounted as a natural disposition, but in fact is produced by the instigation of the old serpent (demons) in the passage you had mentioned. He does touch on the idea of the "irrational element" in the soul which probably was an influence on the Original sin doctrine to come.


XXI

. If, again, the evil of sin was developed in him, this must not be accounted as a natural disposition: it was rather produced by the instigation of the (old) serpent as far from being incidental to his nature as it was from being material in him, for we have already excluded belief in "Matter." [1640] Now, if neither the spiritual element, nor what the heretics call the material element, was properly inherent in him (since, if he had been created out of matter, the germ of evil must have been an integral part of his constitution), it remains that the one only original element of his nature was what is called the animal (the principle of vitality, the soul), which we maintain to be simple and uniform in its condition.



Now to look at this passage very closely. He then goes on to sat that the sin is far from being incidental to a persons nature, as it is from being material in him. In other words the sin is not part of human nature or a part of what is material in humanity (being an inherent part of humans material existence). He then says that they have exluded belief in matter. In other words they have denied belief in this.

He then says.

Now, if neither the spiritual element, nor what the heretics call the material element, was properly inherent in him (since, if he had been created out of matter, the germ of evil must have been an integral part of his constitution)

Here he says that neither the spiritual or material element was inherent to the human. In other words it wasn't existing as something permanent or essential to the human. Before he had said that, sin was as incidental to nature as it was from being material in the human, meaning that sin is not a part of human nature as connected with the "material element"..... and now he mentions that what the heretics call the "material element" was not inherent in the person.

So in other words the "material element" was wording that the heretics used, connected with the idea of sin being incidental (permanent or essential) to humanity. Tertullian and others have exluded (denied) this "belief in matter", and instead say that sin isn't counted as a natural disposition, but instead is produced by the instigation of the devil.

Now on to the next part of his writing found in brackets.

Now, if neither the spiritual element, nor what the heretics call the material element, was properly inherent in him (since, if he had been created out of matter, the germ of evil must have been an integral part of his constitution) it remains that the one only original element of his nature was what is called the animal (the principle of vitality, the soul), which we maintain to be simple and uniform in its condition.


He has already said that they have rejected matter.... as being linked to the "material element", which was connected to the heretics understanding of sin being incidental to humanity, and here he says why. Being that if they had been created out of said "matter", and therefore what the heretics call the "material element" was properly inherent in them, if so, (since if he had been created out of matter) the germ of evil must have been an integral part of the humans constitution.

Now to take out the bracketed part.

Now, if neither the spiritual element, nor what the heretics call the material element, was properly inherent in him . It remains that the one only original element of his nature was what is called the animal (the principle of vitality, the soul), which we maintain to be simple and uniform in its condition.


So he's saying here that if what the heretics called the "material element"* isn't properly inherent in the human then what remains is that the only original element of human nature is the principle of the vitality of the soul, which they maintain to be simple and uniform in it's condition.

* (the material element being the idea of sin being incidental to humanity, which is connected to "matter" and the germ of evil an integral part of human constitution),


In other words, to sum this up....he's saying that the heretics considered the "material element" as being connected to sin being inherent in human nature, but he thinks that sin is not part of human nature (as being connected with the "material element"), as this is because this would mean that the germ of evil must be a inherent part of his constitution. But Tertullian rejects that the germ of evil is part of the inherent part of human constitution, and says that the early Christians maintain that the original element of human nature is simple and uniform in it's condition.

This means that Tertullian thought that the heretics believed in the "material element" (the material element being the idea of sin being incidental to humanity, which is connected to "matter" and the germ of evil an integral part of human constitution),

Is not the "material element" very close to Augustine's understanding of "original sin"?

So now I've established that Tertullian believed that repentance must come before "regeneration" and encouraged that infants come to the place of knowing how to ask for salvation, and that he rejected any idea of sin being a part of human nature or the "germ of evil" being part of human constitution. So yes Tertullian's writings were very likely understood to be part of the developing doctrine of "original sin".
But he was far from teaching the Augustinian understanding of this term. Again it's impossible that he could have been teaching the Augustinian understanding because he firmly spoke against infant baptism.



Which leads me to your other quotes.

First.... keep in mind this bit from the Eastern Orthodox quote.

Since every human is a descendant of Adam then 'no one is free from the implications of this sin' (which is human death).


Also remember the quotes I had made in my earlier post, in regards to the early churches understanding of the fall. I'll again post a pertinent one.

In 180 AD Theophilus wrote:

Because of his disobedience, man extracted as from a fountain, labour, pain and grief. At last, he fell prey to death. God showed great kindness to man in this, for He did not allow him to remain in sin forever. Instead, by a kind of banishment, as it were, He cast man out of Paradise. God did this so that man could expiate his sin through punishment, within and appointed time. Having been disciplined, man could afterwards be restored .... (Theophilus to Autoclycus, Book 2, chap. 26)



So if one looks carefully at this Tertullian quote they will find that he is speaking under the early church understanding of mankind facing the consequences of Adams sin.

Chapter XL.

Every soul, then, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam.....


In the context of the above one can see that he is saying that every soul has it's nature in the consequences of what happened from the fall. Our nature is in the "implications of the sin" of Adam. In other words because we've inherited death, and a fallen world from Adam, since we were born our natures have been influenced by this, and we are thus under Adam's original influence on the world. Every soul has it's nature in Adam because every soul's nature is affected by God's corrective punishment on Adam. Granted that this statement could easily be confused with the Augustinian doctrine to come.


......moreover, it is unclean all the while that it remains without this regeneration, and because unclean, it is actively sinful, and suffuses even the flesh (by reason of their conjunction) with its own shame. ........ But what has the flesh alone, without the soul, ever done in operations of virtue, righteousness, endurance, or chastity? What absurdity, however, it is to attribute sin and crime to that substance to which you do not assign any good actions or character of its own!


Here there is no doubt that the soul is unclean because of sin, but this doesn't mean in the Augustinian understanding, because as I've shown, he didn't have that understanding.

So in context he is saying that the flesh has no inherent shame, but only when the sinful soul suffuses the flesh. He says that it is absurd to attribute sin to the flesh when it cannot have good actions or character. In other words the suffusion of sin is directly connected to ones action and character. Thus he is not saying that the flesh is born suffused with uncleaness, That would be contradictory to what I've talked about earlier where he rejected the "material element".



He then says.

Chapter XLI.

There is, then, besides the evil which supervenes on the soul from the intervention of the evil spirit, an antecedent, and in a certain sense natural, evil which arises from its corrupt origin.



So here when he talks about "corrupt origin". He can't have been thinking that we are born with a corrupt origin in the Augustinian understanding because that would be linked to the "material element" (the material element being the idea of sin being incidental to humanity, which is connected to "matter" and the germ of evil an integral part of human constitution), which he says they have rejected.

Instead he would be thinking of this idea of corrupt origin in the biblical understanding. being.

Romans 5: 12

Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through onto mankind, on which all sinned.



Later he says.


Still there is a portion of good in the soul, of that original, divine, and genuine good, which is its proper nature. For that which is derived from God is rather obscured than extinguished.


It is obvious here that he thinks that our original nature is genuine good, and that this genuine goodness is proper to the human being..... so therefore in the early part of the sentence, he couldn't have been saying that the "corrupt origin" is something that is passed down according to the Augustinian understanding of original sin.


He then goes on to some pieces which I have already mentioned, and moves to this.


It can be obscured, indeed, because it is not God; extinguished, however, it cannot be, because it comes from God. As therefore light, when intercepted by an opaque body, still remains, although it is not apparent, by reason of the interposition of so dense a body; so likewise the good in the soul, being weighed down by the evil, is, owing to the obscuring character thereof, either not seen at all, its light being wholly hidden, or else only a stray beam is there visible where it struggles through by an accidental outlet........Thus the divinity of the soul bursts forth in prophetic forecasts in consequence of its primeval good; and being conscious of its origin, it bears testimony to God


So here he is saying that what is good in the soul can be obscured, but not extinguished and at least somewhat of a light always remains, because it comes from God. He later talks about the divinity of the soul bursting forth in consequence of it's primeval good, and is conscious of it's origin. So here one sees that he's talking of the souls origin being in God..... he is not referring to the souls origin being in Adam. The souls origin is in God an thus is of primeval good. This primeval good can be obscured but not extinguished.

So if the "origin" he is talking about here is primevally good because of being in God, then the "corrupt origin" mentioned earlier can't have been in regards to an inherited evil from Adam, but must instead be in accordance to the Biblical understanding mentioned above.



I'll move on from Tertullian but first, I mentioned this conversation to one of my Bishop friends and here is part of his reply.


What did the Jews think about Original Sin? Well, they rejected it. In the Old Testament Jews believed that babies and children were not held accountable for their sins until they reached the age of accountability. See Isaiah 7:14-16,Nehemiah 10:28-29, and Jonah 4:11. As mentioned Tertullian subscribed to this belief as well writing about baptizing infants, "Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins?"

Here he mentions the "innocent period of life". With this in mind Consider Matthew 18:3 where Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus seems to imply that children are pure and without sin, clearly contradicting Augustine who says children are born smeared with sin they inherited.


So I can see how Tertullian could be considered as being part of the progression into the Augustinian understanding of "original sin, in that he introduced the idea of traducianism, which quite likely was an influence on what would later become Augustinian thought. But he certainly did not have the same views as Augustine.

I fully admit that I might be a little off in my exegesis of Tertullian, but it is abundantly plain that his writing, especially his understanding of infant baptism, clearly argues against your statement that "There is no question that belief in original sin, affecting all men from birth, has always belonged to historic Christian faith. In the thinking of the early Fathers, is because we are all born in sin that infants must be baptized."



Now I could go on to quote from practically every one of the church fathers that at some point link baptism to repentance. But I'll touch on your quotes from Cyprian and Origen. First from my Bishop friend.


Now, some churches were baptizing infants before Augustine and there was division about whether you should do so. But, they weren't baptizing them because of Original Sin (Edit: in Augustine's understanding) as that doctrine had yet to come into being. They baptized them for the reason that nobody should be denied the right to be baptized. Cyprian sums this up when he wrote that nobody should be denied this divine gift. Paul had written that baptism took the place of circumcision and it is upon this thought that Cyprian and many others felt infants should be baptized. Others, as in the Apostolic Constitution, felt baptism was acceptable for children based on Jesus saying "allow the little children to come unto me and do not forbid them."

So, in instances where the church was baptizing infants and/or children it was done not because of the need to wash off Original Sin (Edit: in Augustine's understanding), but because it was seen as the Christian replacement for circumcision or because they felt that Christ commanded all to come unto Him and be baptized.

The Early Church Fathers knew nothing of the concept of Original Sin (Edit: in Augustine's understanding); that only came about in Augustine's era. Justin Martyr wrote in 160 AD that Adam put the "whole human race under a curse", in other words mankind was made to feel the consequences of Adam's act. Sin was not thought to be transferred in our genes or blood.



In 180 AD Theophilus wrote

"Because of his disobedience, man extracted, as from a fountain, labour, pain and grief (again speaking to the consequences). At last he fell prey to death. God showed great kindness to man in this, for He did not allow him to remain in sin forever. Instead, by a kind of banishment, as it were, He cast man out of Paradise. God did this so that man could expatriate his sin through punishment, within an appointed time. Having been disciplined, man could afterwards be restored."

Notice, how he speaks in terms of mankind being punished temporarily, not that because of Adam sin flowed through our genes and blood from generation to generation.



It's also worth saying that of the vast amount of founding fathers Origen, Cyprian, and Tertullian are, to my understanding, the only ones noted for having touched on the doctrine of "original sin" (or what was to become this doctrine). Yes there are a tonne of early Christians that talk about sin and corruption in mankind because of the fall, but they do not talk of the understanding that we inherit this sin and stained souls from our parents. In fact if Tertullian was the first Christian to come up with the idea of traducianism, then how is it possible for the Christians before him to even have the idea of inherited sin? They wouldn't have had the concept of the soul being passed to the child by the parents, and therefore would have had no means by which to understand any concept of original sin. Also why wouldn't Christ have passed on this concept to the apostles?

From one of my books.

In all the writings of the Apostolic Fathers the name of Adam occurs but once, and the Earthly Paradise and the fatal tree are not mentioned at all..... G Boas, Essays on Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle ages.


So then my question would be. If the Apostolic Fathers believed in the Augustinian understanding of original sin, then why wouldn't they be talking about something as important as an infants eternal destiny?

I realize that this doesn't go into depth on Cyprian's and Origen's quotes that you had mentioned. I have looked at what Tertullian said in depth and am simply going to quote from the following website as I move into my next point.


http://www.lavistach...fantBaptism.htm


Taken from the website


The Catholic view is based upon the idea that babies are born in sin. Origen had written around the year A.D. 250: "Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. In the church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and according to the usage of the church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous" (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3). Pope Clement IV declared in 1267, that infants who die without baptism die in their original sins and are excluded from the vision of God. The doctrine of "Limbo," the intermediate state between the suffering in hell and the glory of heaven, was developed to satisfy grieving mothers whose children died without baptism........

.......Appeals have been made to the Scriptures to justify baptizing babies. One of the arguments that is made is the reference to baptizing "households.'

Acts 11:14: "and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household."



Acts 16:15: "and when she and her household had been baptized." 

Acts 16:33: "and he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household." 



Acts 18:8: "and Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household." 



I Corinthians 1:16: "now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas."

Those who advocate infant baptism assume the word "household" includes babies. This is just that -- an assumption. The word household could include teenagers or even grown children. Some of these people, Lydia, Cornelius, and Crispus, were people of position and wealth. The word "household" could include servants. 



Those in the household are those who were able to hear words "by which you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 11:14). Babies are not able to understand and accept the gospel of Christ.

"Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord" (Acts 18:8). A baby cannot believe the preached word.

The household of Stephanas "devoted themselves to the service of the saints" (I Corinthians 16:15). Infants are incapable of such a task. 




My Bishop friend gave me the following response to those passages.

Notice again the scripture says they "believed" and then were baptized. Roman Catholics say that there must have been infants in the household and they too were baptized. The problem with this logic is that in Roman times the definition of household did not include infants and children because to the Romans they were essentially worthless since they couldn't do any work. The definition of household was expanded to include servants, who were ranked higher than children and wives for that matter.

The Gospels set out "believing" as a qualifier for being saved. Mark 16:16 says "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Again, how can an infant believe and then be baptized?


You see. The above biblical quotes are often used pertaining to infant baptism because they are the only Biblical passages that can be seen as coming at least within the ballpark of this doctrine. Yet the quotes themselves make absolutely no mention of infants, and in fact have language such as "repented", "believed", and "devoted" in them, which argue against infant baptism, as an infant is incapable of doing these things.

In other words.... Infant baptism in not once mentioned in the Bible, and therefore there is absolutely no scriptural basis for child baptism.

This moves me back to the quotes from Cyprian and Origen. They were but men. Even if they were speaking from an understanding of original sin similar to Augustine's (which I don't think they were), it doesn't matter because infant baptism is not mentioned in the Bible. Now I realize that an argument would be made that the understanding of child baptism would come from the church's "revelation" linked to it's tradition. But this brings up a very pertinent question. Wouldn't God have given some kind of indication of such a vitally important doctrine in the Bible?


Which brings me to one of my main points.


One cannot build a Christian doctrine as vitally important as connecting a little baby's eternal destiny with infant baptism, when infant baptism is never even mentioned in the Bible, especially when the Bible clearly and repeatedly says that regeneration during baptism is linked to repentance, and a little infant cannot repent.

To close this part of my post, my Bishop friend has said the following.

First, there is not a single instance of an infant baptism recorded in the New Testament. The apostles went about preaching for everybody to get baptized and there are many references to that happening, but all involve adults. In Acts 2:38 Peter preaches for the non believers to "repent and be baptized" and as in all the passages where people where baptized the scriptures say “they believed and were baptized”. You see over and over in Acts that a prerequisite that was set out to be baptized was that the candidate "believed" or became a believer. An infant lacks the capacity to make an expression of belief and their parents cannot do that for them.


Also. How is it even possible for someone to repent for another by proxy? That is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.



Now on to what the scripture says in regards to "original sin". First off. I've already mentioned how Romans 5 says nothing in regards to this, but merely that we've inherited death.


You had mentioned Romans 6: 3 which says.

.... whoever are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death? We, then, were entombed together with Him though baptism into death, that, even as Christ was roused from among the dead through the glory of the Father, thus we also should be walking in newness of life.


This scripture makes no mention of cleansing away "original sin" or of the need for infant baptism, but in fact it talks about baptism into death and being roused from among the dead into newness of life. Earlier on in Romans Paul has mentioned that we inherited death from the fall.

What I had shared is consistent with these scriptures. In the fall or humanity began having a problem with death..... in baptism we are are cleansed and given life. Our old humanity "being the man/woman who has become corrupted was crucified in order that the body of Sin (this corruption though our sins) may be nullified.


Moving on. There is no scripture in Genesis that even implies "original sin" in the Augustinian understanding.


In Genesis 3:22 God says “man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil…”. It never says that man sinned or inherited sin. Rather, expressed the concern that man had acquired knowledge and now knew the difference in good and evil and therefore had the capacity to sin.

In Genesis 8:21 after the flood God says “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth”. Notice it says man is evil not from birth, but from his youth. Why doesn't it say that "man was evil from his infancy", except that man is not born with sin in him, but becomes sinful from living in a sinful world. These influences happen as early as one's youth.


But the most powerful passages that speak directly to the point of whether or not we are born with sin in our DNA are these.

Ezekiel 18:4:“The life of every person belongs to me, the life of the parent as well as that of the child. The person who sins is the one who will die”.

Ezekiel 18:20 speaks more directly to the point:

“The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity (some translations say sin) of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself”.

And Deuteronomy 24:16 says

“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin”.


These passages clearly speak directly against inherited sin. If the children can't be put to death for the fathers sin, or suffer the iniquity of the father, then how is it possible for us to have inherited sin and iniquity from our fathers, which is passed down from Adam..... the father of humanity?




You had mentioned Augustine contending with Pelagianism. Which brings up and interesting observation about the Augustine/ Pelagious debates. Everyone agrees that Pelagious (his real name was Morien) had radically different views than Augustine, and rejected Augustine's understanding of original sin.

Morien was tried several times before being declared a heretic.

In A.D. 415 He was brought before a council presided of by John of Jerusalem but the prosecution broke down.

He was later brough before a synod at Diospolis (Lydda)- 415 - with 14 Bishops attending - the synod found Pelagious not guilty of heresy

Pelagious was then tried again and declared guilty under Pope Innocent 1, but then Innocents successor pope Zosimus declared Pelagious innocent of heresy having studied his works.

He was eventually considered guilty after Augustine and his followers bypassed theological authority and brought the squabble before the emporer.


Now in writing this I'm not trying to argue whether or not Morien was a heretic, but simply to note the following. If Pelagious had radically different views on original sin than Augustine, and if many Bishops and a Pope found him to be innocent of heresy (at least at first), then this proves that the Christendom of this time was not universally of a full Augustinian viewpoint. If these Bishops and a Pope had have been fully aligned with Augustine's beliefs on original sin, then not a single one of them would have ever found Pelagious to be innocent. Yet they clearly did find him to be innocent of heresy several times.


With this in mind the following is worthwhile to view (between the 14 and 17 minute marks.







To close. The following is taken from Orthodoxwiki, and shows that the Catholic church itself has been in flux in it's understanding of original sin. Notice that it places this doctrine onto the time of Augustine and not before, and that it mentions that the early Greek fathers had a different understanding. It therefore also shows that the Eastern Orthodox do not view the doctrine to have always belonged to the ancient Christian faith, especially in the East where is still non-existent. This is also interesting in light of Origen's quote, as Origen was of course an Eastern Bishop.


In 2007, the Vatican approved a document called, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, see link below under Sources and further reading. This document is actually very helpful both in tracing the history of the doctrine of Original Sin within the Roman Catholic Church and in reading a reasonable summary of the teaching of the Greek Fathers. While the document deals with infants, nevertheless it must incorporate a doctrine and definition of Ancestral or Original Sin in order to talk about the salvation of infants. Among the helpful comments in the document are:

"Very few Greek Fathers dealt with the destiny of infants who die without Baptism because there was no controversy about this issue in the East. Furthermore, they had a different view of the present condition of humanity. For the Greek Fathers, as the consequence of Adam's sin, human beings inherited corruption, possibility, and mortality, from which they could be restored by a process of deification made possible through the redemptive work of Christ. The idea of an inheritance of sin or guilt - common in Western tradition - was foreign to this perspective, since in their view sin could only be a free, personal act. . ."

.......The Roman Catholic doctrine of Original Sin is harder to pin down because of the development and pendulum swings of its development. It is clear from the Vatican's own documents that Ancestral or Original Sin did include both the imputation of the guilt of Adam and Eve's sin and a widespread and deep-seated damage to the imagio dei, at least during a good part of its history. Thus the infant is worthy of punishment in hell according to both Saint Augustine and St. Gregory the Dialoguist. In the medievalists, this is ameliorated to a deprivation of the beatific vision, which is still considered a punishment, though the infant will only experience happiness. At the time of the Enlightenment, there is a return to a more Augustinian and Gregorian definition of Ancestral or Original Sin. But, by the time of Vatican Council I, the change is in full swing, and Ancestral or Original Sin begins to be seen as the deprivation of original holiness.


Edited by Attica, 05 April 2012 - 08:31 PM.


#52 Joel C

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 10:34 AM

This is a great thread, and very timely to where I am in my own journey. I'm not going to attempt to parse the whole thing, but something Ryan said seems to sum up both the general gist of what RHE is getting at, as well as my own current leanings.

I'm not Orthodox or Catholic yet, mind you. I'm just a lifelong Protestant who has gradually come to the realization that Protestantism isn't quite as stable as he once thought it was. So, at this stage, I'm kind of homeless, untethered to any specific Christian tradition. But once you've abandoned Protestantism, you don't really have many options left open to you.

Exactly. I won't say I'm strictly homeless, as I've continued to attend churches everywhere I've gone, in an attempt to both submit myself to a Biblical structure of authority, as well as interact with a community setting, no matter how minuscule the presence of either the former or latter. But apart from a couple key church interactions, I have often felt homeless, and the feeling has only increased over time.

I agree that stability is at the core of this sentiment. I have recently been reflecting on my own church experience in my formative years growing up, and realized that almost every church I have attended since childhood experienced either a split or a damaging controversy. Some of you who have been here for a long time probably remember my posts here about an excruciatingly public pastoral scandal in a congregation which my family attended.

I have a friend who just converted to Catholicism a couple weeks ago over Easter. We met each other through an Anglican congregation we both attended, and quickly hit it off as we came from similarly stormy non-denom church backgrounds: Multiple splits, getting kicked out of—and shunned—by church communities (or as he called it, being subjected to the "scorched earth policy"). To both my friend and me, Anglicanism had become a sort of last safe haven for refugees from the evangelical wilderness, a place where the desire to find a sense of both trustworthy authority as well as real catholic (little "c") communion in a universal Protestant body were met. Unfortunately, soon after I moved out-of-state, the church went through a painful parting of ways with a staff member, mostly caused by miscommunication and misunderstandings, and caused a lot of long-time regulars to leave. The pain of experiencing the same inevitable outcome in what had seemed to be a place of stability and refuge, along with the recent schism between AMiA and its Rwandan oversight, pushed him over the edge into Catholicism.

I, like my friend, am starved for a sense of authority and commitment. I am tired of being cut off again and again by a historical practice (Protestantism) that is, as my friend would say, schismatic by its very origin (examine, for a moment, the etymology of the word "Protestant"). I have no problem admitting in complete frankness that I no longer attend any new protestant church without expecting that at some point, it will split, and communities will be irreparably driven apart. Perhaps even more importantly, I no longer have an intrinsic faith in the authority structures of most protestant churches. I expect that at some point, authority will fall apart and disorder will reign. I've seen it too many times to push the thought away anymore. I don't know if, as Ryan puts it above, I would personally say that I've yet abandoned Protestantism, but I certainly don't feel a great amount of goodwill or kinship toward it right now.

Personally, I have been dipping my toes fairly liberally in the Tiber as of late. A recent short stint in LA with a Catholic roommate provided for some fantastic discussion about Catholic practice and theology. While I haven't overcome all hurdles of Catholic theology, he helped lower the bar considerably on a number of issues. I've recently been on a literary diet of Thomas Merton and Hans Urs von Balthasar, and am just about to delve into John Henry Newman. I have been attending various Catholic services and seeking out Catholic perspective from friends who are already part of it (I've seen several friends convert). The more I explore and immerse myself, the more I see myself awakening inwardly to a Catholic sort of spirituality, which to me is a potential first step in eventually expressing my faith in an outward practice of a Catholic walk.

I don't feel inclined or even ready to make any unalterable decisions right now, but to my very burned out protestant soul, Catholicism seems refreshingly centered and (relatively) authoritatively stable. This is not to say I entertain grande delusions about some fictional lack of conflict in Catholicism. I look around me and I quickly see abuses and scandals, disagreements and arguments, and a vast theological continuum representing both the fringes of conservatism and liberalism. The difference is that seemingly, when faced with challenges, Catholic authority structures work it out as best as possible within the limits of the church. They don't just leave and go start again somewhere else. I'm not looking for people to be perfect or unrealistically upright. Church is an imperfect practice no matter how you look at it. But I want to know that I won't be left out in the cold anymore. When my former roommate and other Catholics call me to "come home", I can't deny that it highlights to me my own aforementioned feelings of nomadic homelessness, and causes the lights to shine even brighter on the front porch of Catholicism.

There are many other more positive reasons I'm curious about Catholicism, including everything from the intellectual and liturgical draw on my artistic and ideological sensibilities as a composer, to a very strange, powerful desire to partake in the eucharist whenever attending Catholic mass (obviously as-yet unfulfilled). Those things are perhaps for a different discussion, but there is a sense in which positive reasons for change can only emerge from a reaction to negative experiences. As Ryan said, there are few places for someone to turn when wick Protestantism flickers out for them. I can't bring myself to be an unchurched Christian; and so I'm beginning to be forced to look in places that heretofore have been off the map for me. I'm not home yet, and when I do arrive home it may or may not be within the bounds of Catholicism, but having been pushed out of my comfort zone to consider a wider world of spiritual thought has led me to believe I'm not as far away as I might have been before.

I am not particularly interested in choosing a community based on how well its beliefs match my own, but instead on how well it makes its claim to authenticity and authority. Whatever tradition I side with, I intend to submit my own theological notions to that tradition, even if it means the dismantling of the theology that I have very carefully constructed for myself. God demands submission of intellect as well as submission of conscience.

To your last sentence, yes yes yes. The rest of the paragraph is true to a certain extent for me. I'd put it this way: I'm willing to move out of my individualistic Protestant notions into a wider understanding of theology, as long as that understanding is still within the bounds of traditional Christian orthodoxy. For me, Catholicism is easily within those bounds, and in some senses, actually set them in their place to begin with.

#53 Christian

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 11:52 AM

As a Protestant who's following this discussion and appreciates the honesty contained within it, can I make a request of other Protestants in the thread? If you say you're growing weary of Protestantism, can you specify where you're attending, and if you've ever been a member? Can you let us know if you attend a confessional church, and whether there's any leadership system to which you're submitting? This isn't a litmus test, but as a Protestant church officer who takes my vows seriously, including being under the authority of a group of church leaders, I often wonder which disillusioned Protestants are disillusioned because of their local church leadership (on any level), and whether they've expressed their concerns to anyone in church leadership? We've all heard horror stories about that, but we don't hear many folks who leave a church and say, on their way out, yes, I discussed this with my church elders (or whoever constitutes leaders in your congregation).

Edited by Christian, 23 April 2012 - 11:52 AM.


#54 Joel C

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 12:59 PM

As a Protestant who's following this discussion and appreciates the honesty contained within it, can I make a request of other Protestants in the thread? If you say you're growing weary of Protestantism, can you specify where you're attending, and if you've ever been a member? Can you let us know if you attend a confessional church, and whether there's any leadership system to which you're submitting? This isn't a litmus test, but as a Protestant church officer who takes my vows seriously, including being under the authority of a group of church leaders, I often wonder which disillusioned Protestants are disillusioned because of their local church leadership (on any level), and whether they've expressed their concerns to anyone in church leadership? We've all heard horror stories about that, but we don't hear many folks who leave a church and say, on their way out, yes, I discussed this with my church elders (or whoever constitutes leaders in your congregation).

Well, no offense Christian, but when your elders are the ones putting a shun order on you and your family over menial issues of pettiness, you learn to move on to avoid further drawing of blood. When you are called to a secret meeting with elders and the senior pastor starts screaming at you and telling lies, you don't stick around and try to reason. I don't mean to be melodramatic, nor do I want to negate what sounds like a completely purposeful dedication in your own life to lasting vows, but I can't lie to myself or others about my own experience, both in my family growing up, and in my own adult life.

One of the biggest reasons I was initially drawn to Anglicanism, and am now drawn to Catholicism, is that there is somewhere to look upwards in authority beyond elders and executive church staff. No single parish is onto itself, bound to the rules set forth by a single person, or very few people. Too often have I been caught up in an autocratic congregation, in the cult of pastor-worship. To be perfectly honest, Christian, even taking a broader look at my church experience beyond local pastoral authority, every proper denomination in which I've participated has experienced a split (most recently AMiA and PCUSA). Authorities who decide to no longer recognize central authority end up becoming rulers onto themselves. I'm not saying there aren't legitimate reasons people want to leave their denominations. But such reasons don't legitimate church/denomination splits as a healthy practice. It's one of the fundamental problems of Protestantism to me, that authority structures never last, and by consequence trustworthiness is eroded little by little.

As to where I am attending, I am in between churches but currently go to an evangelical non-denom church that my siblings and parents attend for the time being, mostly because I know a couple families there. I'm moving in about 2-3 months, and am not going to set my feet anywhere solid until I land where I'm headed. The last church I regularly attended was an Anglican church in Boston, and I attended it for about 2 1/2 years. It was a mercifully conflict-free time, as it was just being planted when I first arrived, and was mostly up on its feet when I left Boston. Unfortunately, soon after I left it experienced some major upheavals, both in leadership, and with the AMiA split.

For me, I'm just feeling very weary of being blown about. I am sad for the multiple communities that I have been part of in the past, which either haven't lasted, or have seen irreparable damage between members because of conflict and lack of authoritative leadership. I just want some stability. I think I speak for a lot of people in my generation who come from a similar background to my own.

I think back to my experience attending an Episcopal church in Nashville, during the preamble to the first AMiA split off in 2004. During a parish meeting about the split, a long time member in his 50's stood up, and said with tears running down his face that he understood why people felt the need to protest the changes in the ECUSA, but was brokenhearted over the departure of nearly half the congregation, including several pastoral staff members, from a denomination to which he had committed decades of his life. That's a tragedy to me, no matter how wonderful AMiA might have been in those following years. And now, even AMiA hasn't really lasted. I won't claim to be in the same position as the above person, but I've seen schisms and irreconcilable differences too many times to not fear and expect them in any Protestant denomination.

Edited by Joel C, 23 April 2012 - 01:04 PM.


#55 Christian

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 01:52 PM

Thanks, Joel. I'm sorry if I singled you out. Re-reading your previous post, I see that you said a lot about your background and current situation. I'm not trying to dig for dirt. I know that people get to a point where they're ready to look for a new church, and that the process takes time and can be painful. But in asking others about this, I find that people are often willing to discuss their problems with their local congregation to those outside those congregations rather than with those in a position to address the problems within the congregations. And although this is strictly anecdotal, I've gotten the sense in recent years that this tendency is growing.

I'm sorry you had a bad experience with your church leaders.

Edited by Christian, 23 April 2012 - 01:52 PM.


#56 Joel C

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 02:34 PM

No worries, Christian, I didn't feel singled out, but I definitely appreciate the clarification. I think you're definitely right that a lot of people do shirk off their stewardship to interact with church leadership regarding conflict. I definitely don't want to come off as angry with the church; I feel like that ship has sailed in my life already. I'm more in the sad and slightly disoriented phase, asking, "what next?"

And I still have some good touch points for my faith, not the least of which is my family, as well as some faithful friends who have walked through a lot of life with me. I've just finally reached my tipping point of tolerance for leadership and schism failures. I'm not sure where exactly that leaves me, or what it bears for my future; hence the exploratory venturing outside the lines of Protestantism.

Edited by Joel C, 23 April 2012 - 02:36 PM.


#57 Andy Whitman

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 07:53 AM

[Authorities who decide to no longer recognize central authority end up becoming rulers onto themselves. I'm not saying there aren't legitimate reasons people want to leave their denominations. But such reasons don't legitimate church/denomination splits as a healthy practice. It's one of the fundamental problems of Protestantism to me, that authority structures never last, and by consequence trustworthiness is eroded little by little.

Authority always has within it the potential for abuse. And that can happen and has happened in small, non-denominational churches and huge, international, historically rooted churches such as the Catholic Church. The danger in a small church is that there is no external governing organization that can be appealed to in mitigating issues that require cooler, more objective heads. The danger in a large church is that the abuse can be ignored, swept under the rug, dismissed as an anomaly, bypassed for purely bureaucratic reasons, or any of a hundred other factors that allow evil to go unchecked.

There is no panacea, Joel. I'm sorry for what you and your family had to endure. Truly. And given those circumstances, I can understand why, if you bother to stay in the Church at all, you would look for something that looks very different from what you've experienced in the past. But I would also encourage you not to romanticize the appeal of a strong central authority. That has its own set of problematic issues, and wherever you go you will encounter fallen, broken human beings who, at their best, will kinda, sorta approximate what it looks like to follow Christ.

In any case, I wish you healing on the journey.

#58 Joel C

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 09:31 AM

There is no panacea, Joel. I'm sorry for what you and your family had to endure. Truly. And given those circumstances, I can understand why, if you bother to stay in the Church at all, you would look for something that looks very different from what you've experienced in the past. But I would also encourage you not to romanticize the appeal of a strong central authority. That has its own set of problematic issues, and wherever you go you will encounter fallen, broken human beings who, at their best, will kinda, sorta approximate what it looks like to follow Christ.

I appreciate your thoughts, Andy. And I agree with you about the way in which all different kinds of authority are problematic. As I said in my first post, I don't have to look far to see abuse, conflict, and wide difference of opinion in the authority members of the Catholic church (see the current very public row between American nuns and the Holy see). This is not a shining moment in history for Catholicism by any means. But like I also said, when such problems arise, it seems to me that Catholics have a very different way of dealing with them than Protestants. This may sound self-centered, and I don't mean it that way, but there are less possibilities for the kind of authoritative abuse I've experienced, because Parishes aren't autocratic kingdoms.

I'm really not interested in romanticizing anything. I don't think I'll somehow be fulfilled in all much churchly wishes if I convert to Catholicism. But I do see a systemic problem in the way Protestants think about authority, and I don't have to romanticize anything to point that out. My last two posts are really more about my realizations of, and disappointments in, some fundamentals of Protestantism, than about anything else.

Edited by Joel C, 24 April 2012 - 09:34 AM.


#59 Greg P

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 11:47 AM

Our resident restless, evangelical, Rachel Held Evans, is at it again maintaining that Millennials are looking for a change in substance, not style in their church meetings. She says more and more young evangelicals want a greater sense of history and tradition, openness to people of different sexual orientations, higher level of authenticity, less consumerism, a de-emphasis on "performances" and so on.

 

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.  

 

 

I think this is a valid complaint and as usual I find myself saying amen to most of what she writes. I guess the problem is, what does one do if they don't  ever "find Jesus" in weekly Church meetings, no matter how many substantive changes occur? I see Rachel as justifiably bemoaning the failures of Evangelicalism, yet believing that if some key changes occurred everything would be radically different. Somehow.

 

I'm not really convinced this is true. 

 

After over two decades in Evangelicalism and heavy involvement in weekly, practical service (i.e. teaching, music ministry, evangelistic outreach , youth group, etc) I reached the point where I had to admit to myself that even under the best conditions Sunday morning was a time of boredom and emptiness for me and that all of my most profound and empowering spiritual moments in life occurred outside of formal church meetings-- among interactions with family, friends, neighbors, out in nature, traveling and in creating and viewing art. This doesn't mean church attendance had no value for me-- just a somewhat limited one.

 

I also had to reach a point where I acknowledged that many, if not most, Christians simply didn't see Sunday morning the same way as me and that my hope and expectation for a sea change in evangelicalism was a bit unrealistic and unfair. Millions of people experience great joy and peace during Sunday morning services. If I'm honest, I'd have to say that even if the music was awesome, the theology embracing and inclusive, the teaching rich with academic and historical insights, I'd probably still not find true fulfillment in modern church services.  I'm an odd bird. I find worship and spirituality to be deeply private disciplines and that the public, long-form versions do not impact me at all, no matter how authentic. I love fellowship and engaging dialogue with other Christians. I just don't find that sitting next to them silently in a pew, enriches my life or theirs in any substantive way.    

 

I still attend from time to time-- in fact I will be attending Mass this Saturday with friends-- and I'm pretty sure I'll have a decent time. But, I'm going so that I can hang out with  people I love, not necessarily to have a spiritual experience. I most look forward to dinner afterwards so we can talk. And for them Mass is foreplay for later conversation, so I'm indulging them. Some may see this as a rather jaded and burned-out perspective, but it's a willing and deliberate surrender for me. I don't look for sermons, choruses, or a liturgy or order of service to show me the Spirit of Christ. I mostly find that elsewhere. Such a surrender liberates me from the frustration of always trying to wring something from a cloth that has no water.    


Edited by Greg P, 01 August 2013 - 12:57 PM.


#60 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 05:46 PM

Rachel Held Evans wrote:
: Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.

Um, if you're only 32 (i.e. born in the 1980s, and still definitely in elementary school when Nirvana and Douglas Coupland hit the big time in the early 1990s, etc.), I'm not sure you count as Generation X.

But Evans does inadvertently reveal here that there's nothing new in all the "millennial" talk we hear these days. Many, if not all, of the issues raised by the "millennials" were being raised by "Generation X" back in the day.

And by the way, is it really fair to talk about "the evangelical obsession with sex" without talking about the millennial obsession with same?

(I do get a kick out of Evans' use of the semi-redundant phrase "forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees". Yes, Generation Xers are now forty-somethings, just as many grandmothers are retirees. And so it goes...)