I left the charismatic “non-denominational” church when I moved away to finish my undergraduate and graduate education. For the next four years I attended a number of different types of churches: Assemblies of God, Calvary Chapel, Covenant Community (a reformed church), and various other “non-denominational ” independent churches. During that time I held onto my convictions about reformed theology.
After graduate school my husband and I found ourselves back in my hometown attending a reformed church started by my former youth pastor. Throughout this time I can recall a number of “friendly” debates with others on issues such as predestination and free will, limited atonement, “once saved always saved,” justice and total depravity. As I look back on those debates I realize that I would use the same small group of Scripture verses which I interpreted in such a way as to support my positions while often missing or dismissing other verses that might contradict the way I’d been taught to interpret the Bible.
During these years I never once questioned whether “my” interpretation of Scripture was accurate or why the reformed interpretation of Scripture was truth. I just “knew” reformed theology was right (rather prideful, I know). But I was like many Christians; I sat in a pew and listened to a man teach his interpretation of Scripture. I accepted it as truth and I allowed it to become the lens through which I interpreted Scripture in my own personal study time.
Funny how that works. Pastors and Bible teachers will tell you “don’t just take my word for it, go home and study it for yourself.” Truth be told most people never go home and study for themselves. And if they do, another tricky situation comes up. They often go home to study the Word but they do what I did, they view the Word of God through some pre-conceived ideas they already hold about what Scripture means. Often those pre-conceived ideas were planted by the very teacher who tells them to go home and study the Word. Which begs the question…
…Can we really approach Scripture as a “blank slate?”
We say we’re being led by the Holy Spirit, and I don’t discount His presence and leading, but aren’t we are also being led by everything else we’ve been taught by others, all that we’ve already accepted as truth, as well as our past experiences, our reasoning skills or lack thereof, and quite frankly, aren’t we also led by our flesh which is drawn to interpretations of Scripture that are “comfortable” and “palatable.” So can anyone really say they interpret “Scripture Alone” with the Holy Spirit a part from other influences?
All of this forces me to posit another question, one that I didn’t consider until I left the reformed church, “Did God really intend for each individual to sit down, alone with their Bible and the Holy Spirit in order to intepret Scripture to determine what is truth?” If so, then why were there so many competing Christian “truths” out there? Assuming truth is not relative and the Holy Spirit is leading each of us then wouldn’t He lead us all into the same truth? I’ll come back to these questions later.
Scott and I attended my former youth pastor’s reformed church for six years. I had a very close bond with my pastor and his wife and many of the people at the church. It was a friendly congregation full of loving people who loved Jesus. And, we were very involved in serving at the church. So it was very difficult when, after four years of worshipping at this church, we started to feel unsettled and began questioning whether this was the church where the Lord wanted us. I honestly couldn’t imagine leaving this congregation but at the same time I was not feeling “fed” or challenged. For the next two years my husband and I stayed at that church, in spite of our feelings and concerns. Instead of leaving we turned inward and asked the Lord if the problem wasn’t us: expecting to spiritually receive more from the church when perhaps we ought to serve others more. So, in a effort to take more responsibility for “being fed” we became more involved and continued to actively serve.
At this point we weren’t even questioning reformed theology. One area in which I served was to teach a women’s Bible study that was full of teaching based on reformed theology. Only months before the Lord finally told us to move on from the church, I was teaching a study on our identity in Christ (a topic I am passionate about). While I still agree with much of what I taught, I regret that I accepted certain assumptions about the “truth” of what I was teaching without challenging the interpretation of Scripture behind them.
It wasn’t until after our first daughter was born that my husband and I knew we could no longer stay at the church. We realized that we had a larger obligation to our daughter; to rasie her where God wanted us to be and not stay where we were simply because we had a community that loved us. One of the most difficult decisions we made was to leave that church community. I had a 17 year history with my pastor, he had truly been like a “spiritual” big brother to me for all those years. Once the decision to leave was made it still took us several months to get up the nerve to even tell him we were leaving. During those months, as we waited to tell our pastor we needed to move on, God started stirring up the theological water, so to speak. This is where things get interesting.
We shared our decision to leave the church with my parents over dinner one Sunday afternoon (we often shared Sunday dinner together). We knew they too were being led to leave this church but we did not know all the reasons why. They asked where we thought we would go. We listed a few churches we wanted to visit. We planned to visit some other churches before telling our pastor and we invited them to come with us. That’s when they told us that they had a different church in mind: The Catholic Church. Needless to say we were stunned. Remember, I wasn’t leaving the church because I disagreed with reformed theology so when my father tells me he’s been study the Reformation, early Church history and the Catholic Church red flags went flying in my head. I immediately started to ask questions and share all the classic Protestant arguments against the Catholic Church.
Let the debates begin!
For the next couple of months Sunday dinner hour was more like the “debate hour.” As the youngest child I am perhaps the most argumentative of my siblings. I’m definitely the most confrontative and I married a man that can more than hold his own and willingly joins in. Of the many anti-Catholic arguments I offered I always seemed to come back to what I thought was THE WINNING ARGUMENT: It can’t be true or it’s a false doctrine because it’s not in the Bible. This was always my “trump card.” Until…