Q & R with Greg Albrecht – Growing pains as we receive new insights
I’m writing because I feel you are one of the few people I can talk to about these matters. My wife and I have been reading and learning so much about the love of God. But, we do so with two realities in mind: 1) As you know, we came out of an authoritarian and legalistic church, and of course what we learned about God at that religious address was so very wrong. Since that time we have found fellowship with a far more spiritually healthy group, but now we are once again learning more … when we left that authoritarian and legalistic church, we went through much pain and the loss of many friends. Now, we are wondering whether some similar painful experience is on the horizon again. Will we be able to talk to anyone about the new and wonderful insights we now embrace? Will they understand?
At this point, I don’t even know what to say to you or how to ask for your help. I realize the people who have taught all these false ideas are not bad people. They are Christians like you and me. They are just wrong about a lot of things.
I’ll leave this open ended for your comments.
1) Much has been said about the many changes in Christianity, particularly within North America, over the past 20 plus years. Traditionalists yearn for “the good old days” when people automatically attended the same church and subscribed to the same religious customs and traditions as did their great grandparents, grandparents and parents. Such a lock step pattern of faith preferences may or may not be healthy – my point is that change and vitality is not always found within staid denominational locations. One of my dear friends once told me he envied me for the transformation of faith I have experienced, since in his denomination, by his description, it takes 300 years to change one word in the hymnal.
2) The New Testament is clear – we are being transformed. We grow in grace and knowledge. We are renewed day by day. Therefore, it must be true that If we are truly in Christ, attached to the vine as it were, we are always becoming more than we were before. We may do that with the same friends while remaining in the same systematic institution we have “always” attended, but more than likely, we will not.
3) One mistaken assumption within Christendom seems to go something like this: If one is in the “best” or “right” or “better” denomination/church, then they are part of a liturgy and dogma and creeds that are always the same, proven true historically over the long haul, so folks can rest assured they are “safe” – in a spiritually healthy environment, and let the church authorities keep the heretics and heresies on the outside.
True and false as far as I am concerned. No institution has the right to proclaim itself as the ultimate spiritual destination. No religious institution can effectively say to its members/followers – you hand over your freedom and we will give you bread (that is, we will “minister Jesus and grace” to you). Sorry. That’s religion, not authentic faith. Understandably, people would rather hand over their “freedom of thought” and rely on religious authorities to be middle men and middle women for them. Many prefer to check their brains at the door of their church and have the authorities just tell them what to do and when to do it. Why? Well, who wouldn’t rather make it easy and secure and comfortable? Why not let the church/religious authorities do the “heavy lifting”?
4) As I perceive religious institutions within Christendom today, across the spectrum, many if not most are completely set in their ways. They have their traditions and their customs and they are proud of them and they see no reason to even question them let alone change them. I could but will not offer specific examples. So what one gets in many religious environments is the same old, same old – but I hasten to add and recognize that change for the sake of change and being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching … “ (Ephesians 4: 14a) is not necessarily a Christ-centered endeavor. In some cases the same old, same old is a heck of a lot healthier than “… the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14b)
5) Faith in Christ is a dynamic and alive enterprise. Faith in Jesus is new wine that bursts religious containers. Do not, of course, confuse sound and noise and emotion and activity with the new wine of Jesus. Many who traffic in emotion and glitz, in the name of Jesus, are at the end of the day, “all show and no go.”
6) Religious institutions are, by their very nature, somewhat like a castle – with a moat, drawbridge, gates, towers and fortresses – so that “sacred” treasures and relics and customs can be guarded, In many such castles great pride is taken in their great men and women of old, endlessly citing them. That kind of “environment” if you like may or may not be a spiritually healthy place, but it is terribly deficient because ….
7) The Gospels don’t depict Jesus spending a lot of time in religious “castles” – when he did he was overthrowing tables and in general his teaching was turning the temple/castle establishment every which way but loose. Jesus is more like a pilgrimage, following him is somewhat like the pilgrim’s progress. We see the great chapters in Hebrews, and passages from Paul who says that he doesn’t feel he has fully attained … so the other picture emerges. A wagon train – a caravan – pilgrims on the road, ever learning, ever growing, not content with the status quo, even while grounded in historical faith.
Perhaps the full picture is that castles of faith are not bad, but Christ followers are not intended to be “cooped up” in religious libraries, museums and cemeteries. No doubt both the castle is helpful, in grounding us in faith – our historic faith, the faith of our fathers as it were – but we are transformed to follow Jesus. We are transformed to go forward. We are going somewhere, rather than endlessly wandering around a religious museum gazing at icons and memorabilia. We are on the move, and such a journey implies challenges, new vistas, new and dynamic encounters – the Old Testament of course is filled with such symbolism as well as the New.
8) In my experience it is on the road with Jesus, the open road, where Christ followers discover the incredible love of God, his amazing grace – and start to question entrenched, unchanging dogmas like the wrath of God, penal substitution, an ever burning hell fire of torture, etc. Now of course, in the castle, one is able to “fellowship” with people who conform in almost every way to their own practices and beliefs and thinking, to the degree there is any – and have coffee and cookies and chat about all the things they agree upon. The open road following Jesus is a little more risky – a lot more troublesome – lots more adventure – the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing and sacred cows are dropping like flies!
9) That does not mean that folks who are more engaged in their faith and perhaps more alive in Christ (I do not mean a direct relationship to charismatic practice) are better than folks who are a little more traditional. This does not mean that folks like me who do not attend a brick and mortar church and whose only membership in any spiritual body is the universal body of Christ are better or worse because of identifiable, outward expressions than those who choose differing faith expressions. I do not and most likely will never (apart from a really amazing miracle of God, which of course is entirely within his domain) speak in tongues. I have had and have many friends who do. I do not make it a test of faith – those some of them have proposed that I am not as mature since I have not had the second in-filling, or whatever. I find incredible strength and wisdom and encouragement from drinking deeply from the well of God’s grace – some brothers and sisters in Christ seem to be content with a taste every once in a while. They are my brothers and sisters, and there is much disparity within the body of Christ. I strongly defend my Christianity Without the Religion, radical grace, all Jesus all the time perspective, and feel with Paul I am not inferior to the “chief apostles.”
10) In Christ, we are fresh each morning – God is always doing a new thing in us, and we never arrive on this side of eternity. So if that troubles our more staid and starched brothers and sisters in Christ, then so be it.
Hope something I have said is of help.
In friendship and in Christ