chaliceI was raised in the Christian Church. Our particular group was a Restoration Movement church that became part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) when the denomination was formed in 1968. My father and grandfather were elders in the Church. As I was growing up I aspired to that post, an honor that I eventually attained. With respect to Christianity, I am an insider rather than an outsider and I have often thought that those of us who have that privilege have less dramatic testimonies than those who have been miraculously converted. There is a sense in which that is true, but drama is not necessary to testify to the workings of God. Through out time God has had His Faithful remnant and that is what I claim to be. That said, arriving at the point where I would presume to publish this web site does involve something of a story. There are actually two themes to this story. The one is my personal journey and the other the changing landscape of the institutional church. The two are linked. The schooled observer will notice the logos several denominations along the right side. These are here to punctuate the story and also to show why the rest of the site is such a hodgepodge of traditions. God is too big for any one denomination to express fully and we do ourselves, other Christians and the world in general a great disservice when we imply that our tradition has all the details right. My involvement with all of these denominations shows why I can rightly claim to be an Evangelical-Pentecostal-Anglican.

 

When I was growing up my mother read us Bible stories every night as we were going to bed. First from a Children's Story Bible, which we read through several times. As my brothers and I grew older the reading moved from the children's bible to the RSV. The stories were of a God of love who delivered and cared for his people despite their faults. There was very little about a powerful devil, although the notion of sin and temptation were clearly evident. The society of my youth was comfortable with a firm understanding of right and wrong. Indeed there was great consensus on such matters.

Our church practiced Believers' Baptism; responding to an alter call and making a personal commitment to Christ, followed by baptism. This was required for what we called Church Membership. The decision to go forward was more agonizing than the introductory paragraph would indicate. I did associate the act of going forward with the notion that somehow one had been perfected, not as the first step in a sanctification process, or even the first part of witnessing to the power of God in one's life. I recall repeatedly asking my parents what you had to do to go forward. The answer was always the same: believe that Jesus is the son of God. That I could easily affirm but still I held off. Like many I was under the impression that you needed an audible call from God. Finally at the age of 13 I went forward half expecting to be greeted by great choirs of angels or something. What I got was a hand shake from the pastor followed, in some weeks, by a dunk in the baptistery. Following my profession and baptism I took the Pastor's Class that was customary for those who were considering baptism. I did this partially to find out what I had missed. I actually found that there really was nothing. I already had the head knowledge which is really all that you can teach in such a class. The pastor did however confirm what I had already experienced for some time prior to my confession and baptism. That we can be consciously aware of the presence of God in our lives. That presence is hard to describe...it must be experienced...it is the peace that passes all understanding. We can have assurance that prayer is two way communication, not just casting words at the ceiling.

ucclogo4My mother had been raised in the Congregational Church much of which is now part of the United Church of Christ. That tradition, and that part of the family, followed the 'catholic' tradition of infant baptism. I did not understand the difference at that point and thought that it was probably wrong since the babies generally cried. Probably not the best analysis, but I was quite young. It was also toward the end of the time that the Disciples required people who had been baptized as infants to be rebaptized by immersion for Church membership so there was no firm teaching from our church. These differences in the outward and visible sign have been big over the space of time. The original arguments for this baptism requirement had to do with consistency of teaching rather than efficacy of a sacrament delivered in a particular manner, but that notion had been lost and a form of legalism had taken hold. In the 60s, some of this legalism was beginning to break down, being replaced with a liberal ecumenicalism. In retrospect my baptism would have been less painful if it had occurred when I was an infant. Hopefully the holy agony would have been transferred to the time of my Confirmation. After all the Baptism liturgy after all says "...may you grow in the faith into which you are baptized... profess it yourself at confirmation..." I cannot say whether a confirmation class at age 12 would have produced the same dilemma as going forward had. I could easily have memorized a catechism or read out a confession and still not have been transformed. At some point in all of our lives we do have to decide what we are to do about our relationship with God and what to do with Jesus Christ in particular. The family pressure and production mill that can accompany confirmation and first communion do in many instances produce the decision but more often than not they don't. Humans are good at the outward and visible sign part, God has to grant the inward and spiritual grace. There are too many who do not even know to look for the inward grace.

My parents seemed not to recognize denominational boundaries, however, as we would attend some sort of protestant church whenever we traveled. My mother quoted her Grandmother, a former Roman Catholic, in that regard: "you can find Christ in every Church." That attitude is also part of the Restoration Movement tradition that says with Augustine: "In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity." Of course more likely Augustine said: In necessariis unitas, In dubiis libertas, In omnibus autem caritas.

This is, as we know, easier to say than it is to live. It is easier to live as a visitor than a member. It is almost impossible to live as a part of the leadership within a particular congregation. Remember the mode of baptism argument of the early restoration movement was based on consistency of teaching. More on this later but the leadership of a particular Church must be united in their teaching because the bulk of the people do not understand (or even care about) many of the arguments. The divisions that result from this lack charity are a blot on the witness of all Christians. The world (the people outside the Church) sees religion more as a prescribed set of rituals rather than a relationship with God. (Even for many on the inside the Church this can be true.) Many inside the church follow traditions with little consciousness of the message behind them and that there are any issues that may divide.

When I was at University my brother and I attended the Congregational Church that my mother had attended when she was in school. The pastor was the very academic sort that suites a college town and many times he came off more as an agnostic than a Christian. The people were warm enough but I found something lacking. I continued to attend for a couple of years until one day when I was walking to church and stopped into a church, that my brother had also attended, that was associated with the Assemblies of God. I began attending this church sporadically.

AG SHIELD 2CThe people at the AG church were open and welcoming and introduced me to a form of worship that focused on praise rather than meditation. Their relationship to God seemed more friendly and comforting rather than dry and academic. Being Pentecostal, the service did seem like a mad house at first. (See I Corinthians 14.23.) The spirit, however, I recognized, and it seemed more palpable than I had experienced in some time. At any rate I really learned to pray but it was not the eloquent prayers of the elders of my youth but a more mystical sense of basking in the presence of the Lord. To really enjoy being in His presence almost setting the intellect aside. The AG call it praying in the spirit and I have often thought that it is what Paul is talking about in Romans:

In the same way the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. We do not even know how we ought to pray, but through our inarticulate groans, the Spirit himself is pleading for us (Romans 8.26 NEB).

I am convinced that many of the elders of my youth knew this sort of prayer although by a different name. Many times they would begin a prayer in a normal voice and end with a distinct quiver as the spirit would wash over them. From the Orthodox Study Bible footnote to Romans 8.26, a liturgical tradition, we see:

Believers do not know how to pray effectively. The guidance of the Spirit in prayer aids in overcoming our weakness by teaching us how to pray and by interceding directly for us when our own prayers are inadequate. The Fathers [of the Church] identify three stages of prayer: (1) saying the words of prayers; (2) saying the words with meanings and concentration; (3) praying without words, when one is so filled with the Holy Spirit that human words become inadequate, the highest form of prayer.

Here is recognition from a liturgical tradition that true prayer consists of more than the words written in the prayer book. There is even more than saying the words with feeling. There is a mystical level as well.

That particular AG church at least seemed to lack the intellectual rigor I was used to so I finished my collage years bouncing back and forth from the Congregational and AG churches. I also began to be curious about these denominational divisions and why some saw them a wide and some saw them as narrow. For me, I can wander into a liturgical church or a Pentecostal church and feel equally at home.

As often happens in college my faith was challenged by my friends. One friend asked if I read the Bible and if I knew where a particular passage was. The truth was that my Bible was collecting dust on my shelf and I actually did not know and I had no good way to find a particular passage. I was challenged by other friends as to whether my faith was my own or merely a habit that I had inherited from my family. (There were few in the dorm who would don a suit and tie on a Sunday morning and schlep across campus to church.) After all, they said, don't all religions teach pretty much the same morals. Aren't they all based on a bunch of made up stories for weak minds. I decided I needed to answer both of these challenges. I had intended at that stage to explore various religions to see if the notion that they were all pretty much the same was true. As this site grows it will reflect some of this search but my conclusion then and now is that Christianity stands apart from all the others (see the religion pages.).

I decided to start with Christianity as that was my heritage and because the Bible challenge had come from a young lady, priorities being what they were, I enrolled in a Bible as literature course to satisfy an English requirement and build some knowledge in this area. In that class we read through most of the Bible, including much of the Apocrypha, in a semester. In retrospect this was one of those places where you would not have expected an epiphany. The class introduced me to J, E, P and D of the documentary hypothesis, in spite of this, the professor treated the Bible as one story albeit cobbled together. The unit quizzes always asked "What was the significance of this bit to the story thus far." It was not permissible for the purposes of the quiz to see Jesus on every page but the story of deliverance by the grace of God rather than the works of man was quite clear in the text and a permissible theme for the essay. I am sure that there were those in the class who tried to contrast J and E, but I focused on the unified story. At the end of the course I fancied myself as something of a Bible scholar--factually incorrect and a wrong attitude. As Paul says "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (I Corinthians 8.1)." I am not sure that I was unloving, but I was not using my new-found knowledge to build up the body of Christ, in fact my acquaintance with modern scholarship was tending in quite the opposite direction. Still I was hooked on Bible study. Additionally several of the men on my floor followed me through the course in the next term and we had not a few discussions on Biblical topics. I don't know what happened to the girl, but she had given me a great gift.

After graduation I set off for a job in San Diego. For a kid from the Pacific Northwest California seemed like the Mecca of the conscience-raising I'm-OK-your-OK-psychobabble that had permeated my Speech and Psychology classes at University. Transcendental Meditation and a number of such things had been big on the University campuses at the time—the birth pangs of what we now call The New Age movement. In California, I met people who had actually 'gotten' EST and encouraged me in that direction. To sort all of this out I read Adam Smith's Powers of Mind (Simon & Schuster, 1975). The book is a somewhat whimsical romp through the conscience raising systems of the time: From Rolfing to sensory deprivation and many I cannot remember. He even talks of Christian prayer as an attempt to enter an altered state of consciousness. In his book, Smith tells us again and again, "your mind is not necessarily your friend..." a postmodern notion of truth in 1975. It could be debated whether Smith concludes that all of the movements he catalogs are figments of the imagination, he seems to allow that there could be something apart from the subconscious at work. He leaves unresolved the 'true' nature religious experiences inside and outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. From a postmodern position Smith could not know. From a Christian perspective we can know: Unless we gaze out into the infinite and find the Loving God of the Bible we have no way to anchor our lives. If we find nothing there but more of the infinite we are indeed cast adrift.

These were post-Vietnam-war days and when I was doing my interviewing for Jobs I had talked to the Peace Corps. My job in San Diego was not what I had expected and one day an offer from the Peace Corps arrived that I could not refuse. On the encouragement of one of my EST friends I was off to Fiji.

scompassWhen I was in the Peace Corps I began to sing in an Anglican Cathedral Choir. (A member of my Peace Corps group was the Choir Master and needed a tenor that could read music.) The Anglican tradition is both catholic and protestant at once. The Campbellite tradition of my youth was skeptical of liturgy and ritual, yet we observed the Lord's Supper every week. We generally looked down on prayers that were memorized or read yet reciting the Lord's prayer was part of our weekly service. Of course we had also said that "we were not the only Christians, but Christians only" so I was under no illusions there. Through the nearly two years I was part of the Choir a gained a respect for the catholic tradition. I eventually made peace with the liturgy and really loved the extensive scripture readings that are part of the Anglican tradition. It is true that people can read the prayers rather than praying them, but it is also true that those of us from the free traditions can end up singing the songs and making a shopping list during the prayers. We can come for teaching in the ways of God, and find ourselves planning the week's activities during the sermon. We then leave the service not having met with God but with the week lined out and the shopping planned. Not altogether a waste of time but missing the point. True, in the liturgical traditions, the prayers change little week to week but many in the free traditions end up praying the same prayers repeatedly except, perhaps, not as eloquently. Worship is not external form but internal substance. This is hard for those devoted to the forms of religious observance to understand. This sort of thinking is not unique to me, we have seen it from the Orthodox above and it is also in the writings of C. S. Lewis, an Anglican.

anglogoAbove is the Anglican compass and at the right is the Diocese of Polynesia cross. The Anglican communion is world wide but it is expressed locally. There are significant differences between these expressions. The Anglican Church does indeed point the way as does a compass. I met among the Anglicans in Fiji many true followers who were living by the spirit even if they would not have used those words. I also was confronted with one of the big problems of the institutional church which is in Augestines' words: in omnibus autem caritas... In all things charity. I was aware of the fact that, unlike the Episcopal Church in the US they were a closed communion and did not approach the alter until I had been repeatedly invited by one of the seminarians who also sang in the choir. One day when I was working on the organ the Dean of the cathedral asked me if I was an Episcopalian, I answered honestly no, that I was a Christian. He then asked me not to approach the alter during Eucharist. The reason he gave was that there were those conservative members who insisted that the rules be followed. I had to have the charity.

As I was never confirmed I cannot properly claim the name of Anglican. I did attend all but one of the adult confirmation classes. It may sound surprising, but at 25 I had never heard of consubstantiation and my questions must have belied that fact that I did not, at that stage, hold material things sacred in this earthly realm. That and, as something of a fundamentalist, I brought my Bible to confirmation class and tried, gently, I thought, to have the Dean justify his material Biblically. The Dean did not know how to take me, and when, at the last session, he announced to the class that I was just an observer, I am sure he did not know how much it hurt. I attended the classes confirmation and that was essentially the end of my involvement there. In fairness to the Dean he had told the class that daily Bible study needed to be part of every Christian's life. He said: "As you read the Bible the people in it will come out to meet you." In that, at least, we wholeheartedly agree.

I claim the name Anglican as a connection to the catholic tradition which I first met there and believe that the evangelical church needs to value more than it does. I claim the name Anglican because to this day the liturgy informs my prayer life. I claim the name Anglican because today I can go in and really worship within the grandeur of the mass. And when I do I feel at home.

At the same time as I was in the Anglican choir, repairing their organ and doing other odd jobs around the Cathedral, I found a Church of Christ at the other end of town that was led by an American missionary. (The Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have common restoration movement roots, they split over the use of instrumental music in worship.) I attended the Church of Christ in the evening and sang in the Cathedral Choir in the morning. The folks at the Church of Christ could not figure me out either. Many of them were stuck in a different set of rules. This sort of objecfication (considering the outward form above the substance) continues to be a problem for the institutional church and is responsible for many of our divisions.

tools library cross cgif 100X181The Cross and flame to the right belong to the United Methodist Church (UMC) and while I was associated with the UMC for a time, I experienced the real power of the Methodist tradition in Fiji. The Methodist Church in Fiji seems not to have a logo which may indeed be an indication of the true church. During my last Christmas with the Anglicans, we did a joint Christmas program with the Presbyterians up the road and some odd Methodists. (Not that the Methodists were odd, but the program did not have the full participation of the Methodist choir.) In that choir I met another American and a much better tenor who introduced me an American woman who had only just arrived in Fiji. I began attending a bible study at her flat. I had never attended such a group and found the prayer time at the end to be the most rewarding part. The small group ministry of many of our large evangelical churches in the US produces this sort of life changing experience. In such groups you find that there are others who experience the presence of God on a daily basis and help you to do the same. You share concerns, prayers, fellowship and study.

The truly life-changing result of attending that group was meeting the woman who is now my wife. As that relationship developed, I found myself attending Wesley Methodist Church, Butt Street, in Suva. It was actually like coming home as they had a real evangelical zeal and did not worry about things like confirmation and instrumental music. A number of the youth from that congregation joined Youth With A Mission. One sailed away on a mercy ship and another went to China. This notion of missionaries from Fiji sounds strange to most Americans. The truth is that here in America many of our old mainline churches have lost their message and could do with some missionary activity.

The Methodist Church in Fiji is organized into circuits and if it were not for the lay preachers they could not have the ministry they do. In the above designation Butt Street identifies the point in the Wesley circuit where we met. The office of the lay preacher really strengthens the church. The ordained minister has the job of equipping these people for ministry this produces a theologically literate congregation (but often erratic sermon quality). This is probably an old Methodist trick that has been forgotten in the US and the UMC would do well to rediscover.

Every year Wesley would have what they called a mission. It would best be described as a cross between a revival meeting and a crusade after Billy Graham's model. One year the speaker was Harry Westcott. Harry is a Charismatic from Australia and held healing services. The whole thing must have been something of a shock for much of the congregation. The Charismatics did have their meeting on alternate Wednesdays but were in no way a majority in the congregation. (Note that the Methodist Church in Fiji in large measure contained its charismatic movement while many churches elsewhere split over it.)

I was asked to be a councilor at the mission and with some trepidation I agreed. At our all-to-short training, Harry challenged us to read the Bible. To get a Bible that did not have any of our own makings in the margin and no helps. He said that not all helps were helpful... the Spirit would interpret... and the real test is the word of God. He confessed that at one point his preaching Bible had more of the words of Harry in it than the words of God... that is not as it should have been.

The meetings produced no miraculous healings of which I am aware but I did purchase a new Bible and began to read at the book of Genesis. I was in the middle of Samuel, in a story of David running from Saul that I had what I call my Knolly Street experience. (After John Wesley's Aldersgate experience, but I was living in Knolly Street.) I felt my heart strangely warmed and knew that I did trust in Jesus for my salvation. I do not remember the passage, but I do remember the experience. If I did remember the passage, I would certainly be tempted to say something like "You see! it's right there!" The Biblical passage will not have that same effect on everyone. While the words are helpful, it is the call of the Spirit, not the words that make the difference. Some might say it was a conversion experience, I would say that it was a confirmation experience. There are many (including Wesley himself) who refer to Wesley's Aldresgate experience as his 'conversion.' That is hard for me as he was an Anglican priest at the time complete with degrees, orders and failures. His experience did mark a major change in his confidence, his mission and perhaps his call. Christianity became real to him in a new way. What had been academic became a passion. That is also what happened to me.

Another bit of wisdom from Harry Westcott is: "If your testimony is old you do not have a testimony." The point being that you can have a conversion experience, even a Knolly Street experience and not be living in communion with God. Often times conversion stories are dramatic and memorable but you do need to live your testimony now. Your life needs to be transformed or at least transforming in the present. What you do is a louder witness than what you preach, teach or put on the web. We should always pray that our lives should be a worthy testimony. Our neighbors only know our faith by our actions.

Upon returning to the US we moved to Hawaii and attended a United Methodist Church. The UMC was colder spiritually than the Congregational Church of my college days. On our first Sunday there I remember praying not to be led to that church. That was not, of course, what God had in mind so we joined with that congregation for the 4 years we lived in Hawaii. (Although I would often attend a Baptist Church on Sunday evenings as our evening service was in Tongan. This confused the membership of the Baptist church but not the pastor.) There are UMC congregations that are full of life, I experienced one in Tennessee, this one was not and oddly enough that fact was a topic of discussion among the parishioners. Having experienced the Wesleyan flame in Fiji this came as something of a surprise. It seems equally strange that you can know something is missing in your Christian walk and not know how to appropriate it.

When we attended the annual conference one year a retired pastor told me that he thought that all the worship leaders should attend conference to see how it was done. Therein lies the problem with so many of our churches these days. Many think that if we had better leadership the worship service would be more meaningful. This pastor did not seem to realize that the congregation assembled at conference consisted of the leadership of all the churches in the conference. These were the committed praying people from all the churches. The key to corporate worship is the hearts of the people not the skill of the musicians. The problem that is common all over the Church is that of the heart. Head knowledge and musical skill are important but getting the heart right is key. I am convinced that there are many pastors preaching to dry bones without the results of Ezekiel. In fact it was not Ezekiel that achieved the results, but delivering the words of the Lord. There is a school of thought that many of these pastors preaching to dry bones are dry bones themselves, having first doubted the words of the Lord. This would not have to be, but the greatest enemies of the Christian message seem to be within the church rather than without it. As the mainline church embraced modern scholarship with its higher criticism and demythologization, for me at least, the primary message of the gospel was lost. What remains is the shell of ritual and/or the speculation of philosophy. Neither correspond to the Biblical story of fellowship lost and fellowship regained. In the Bible story God seeks after a wayward mankind. Modern interpretation often has mankind seeking after an all to distant God. We will not find God on our own, we have to be shown the way. It seems difficult to me to build your relationship with God on testimony that is not reliable. If the Bible is indeed a cobbled together mass of quaint stories from E, J, P, D and Q; if the epistle writer Paul can be set against epistle writer James; if church tradition is all contrived then you have no foundation for faith. The Bible is the most ancient testimony of the Church. This statement is historically accurate; not just an article of faith.

For many years I had felt like I was on a mission to the apostate church. This sounds harsh to write, but it is even harsher to live. The answer to my prayer in Hawaii was to stay and minister. That is what I did. I like to think that our involvement even sparked some life into the dry bones of the pastor. A man with whom we still exchange Christmas cards and the occasional visit. I was astounded to discover that people can spend a lifetime attending a church not know much of the gospel. Years latter, when I did become an Elder in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I found the same thing true there.

Over time the more I have studied the Bible the more true it seemed and the less acceptable the conjectures of modern scholarship. The story in the Bible is uniform even if the text is not. The Documentary Hypothesis does not provide a useful foundation from which to teach—It causes more confusion than clarity. There is a school of scholarship that accepts the Bible at face value; Admittedly from different fundamental assumptions. Engaging in the debate has made my faith stronger and led me in the opposite direction from the leanings of my denomination. I resigned my eldership and left the denomination of my youth when my prayer meetings and Sunday school lessons became rebuttals to the pastoral teaching and articles that ran in the denomination's magazine. (Many of the articles questioned the essentials of historic Christianity.)

I read somewhere that division and self-righteousness are the main complaints that the unchurched have against Christianity. Leaving a post of leadership is seen by your unbelieving friends as a blot on your witness. They do not know much of theology to start with and it is impossible to explain the theological differences that cause you to leave. I left so that there would be unity in the place that I left and so I could find unity in a new place. There were few at the old place who understood that there was division at all. That is probably the way it should be. The word of God is hidden in the ritual and tradition of the church as much as it is in the pages of scripture. God can call from either in spite of the best efforts of those who shepherd the flock. As we see in Isaiah:

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55.10, 11 ESV)

The wider context of this passage is that God's mercy will accomplish what is impossible for man. This does not mean that people in general and Church leadership in particular will not be held accountable. There are indeed special warnings for those of us who presume to teach. But for those of us who are called to proclaim the gospel of salvation it is impossible to be silent. That is why there is this site. It has come out of a crisis of institution more than a crisis of faith. I started it when I was not in a teaching position in the Church we attended at the time.

This whole site is a testimony and much of it is in response to the teaching of the modern church. It is offered in love and with respect. If you are not a Christian and have made up your mind already about Christianity there is little I could say on a site like this that would change your mind. If you are from the liberal post-modern church you should read this with an open mind. I think that you have been sold a second-rate copy. In most cases the skeptics have no textual evidence and use minority readings and the writings of heretics to make their points. The traditional reading is the traditional reading because it represents what the church has always taught it is the majority report and has been for centuries.

In the end your relationship with God is up to you. The Spirit is calling but you must answer. I will not be able to argue you into the Kingdom. I can testify about what a I know. If you put God in the middle the rest becomes clear. It is summed up best in a Hebrew sentence that features in most of the blessings in the synagogue service, it is an acknowledgement of who God is which has to be the stating point for our relationship with Him.

Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God and Ruler of the World