Should I give up on church?
For several years I wrestled with this question. The short answer was “no.” I wasn’t angry at God, I wasn’t angry at people, and I knew that Christians are not supposed to forsake “assembling ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25).
But my church experiences left me unsatisfied. My husband and I dragged our children to one type of church, then another in our quest for…something. We met wonderful people doing wonderful things. And yet…
Something was missing in Christianity as I had experienced it. I knew it in my bones, but I couldn’t define it.
The inner heaviness had been growing for years. I was frustrated with worship music that was mostly about my feelings towards God (regardless of whether I felt anything at all), the constant stream of new programs, new books, new ideas, new whatever to jumpstart my spiritual life. People who are deeply committed to Christ spouted endless opinions and doctrinal positions, ever fervent about Truth even as they cherry-picked their views from the endless buffet line of Protestant faith and practice.
All the old answers for spiritual renewal—more time in prayer, more time in the Word, checking to find some deeply hidden sin that might be unconfessed—were not working.
You could say that we just needed to find the right church. But what does that mean? Our family tried just about every flavor of Protestantism, including a charismatic church (which has since split), an “emerging church” (which has since disbanded), and an Evangelical Presbyterian Church doing significant work with the poor in their community. But at that church (still whole and unsplit, I hope) people had donuts and coffee during the worship songs, and the service of Communion was so casual it seemed borderline irreverent to me.
Is That All There Is?
In the casual church, filled with many wonderful, loving people, I experienced a revelation. Maybe here and now, far from Eden and not yet in heaven, everything is unsatisfying. My yearning for…something…might not be caused by a problem with me. It might not be a problem with church. Maybe dissatisfaction is simply the result of living in a fallen world. Seemed logical, but the prospect of facing 40 years of Sundays in a state of resignation was incredibly depressing. The band might have been be playing “How Great is Our God,” but in the back of my mind Peggy Lee was singing, “Is that all there is?”
An Unrecognizable Gospel
The next big moment of disenchantment came at a nondenominational gathering for youth. I took my youngest child, a middle schooler at the time, to an all-girls event in a large venue—a traveling show filled with skits, brand-name Christian rock music, and brand-name Christian speakers. I was annoyed with the entertaining, pep-rally feel of the thing, but I’ve always been skeptical of we’re-just-as-cool-as-the-secular-world relevance. I tried to keep an open mind.
I listened carefully. And when the time came for the big Saturday evening talk, the one that was supposed to bring all these girls to salvation or recommitment to Christ, I learned that God loves me, He really wants me to come to Him, and I can trust Him with my heart. That’s it. Nothing about sin, nothing about repentance, nothing about humbling myself before Him. And of course nothing about getting baptized or partaking in any sacraments or being a part of the Church.
None of the adults around me seemed bothered by this. I can’t remember if this talk was before or after the Christian rock concert with all the screaming girls. But I realized I had just witnessed the natural devolution of the Protestant experience—no creed but the Bible, interpreted my way. Christian faith is all about Jesus and me. Especially me.
I knew something was very wrong with American Christianity, and I didn’t know where to find answers. Many Catholic writers have enriched my life, such as the late Henri Nouwen. But there are some specific theological reasons that kept me from exploring the Roman Catholic faith. That left about 20,000 or so Protestant denominations to sample—each of them promising better theology, better programs, better music, or the Next New Thing.
Discovering a New Path in the Ancient Faith
What I really needed was the old, not the new. Something very ancient, very beautiful, and very foreign—to me, anyway. A providential encounter with a Facebook friend introduced me to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. That friend led me to a book with a title that summed up my condition: Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells by Matthew Gallatin, a philosophy professor and former Calvary Chapel worship pastor. His journey paralleled mine and gave me hope.
I began to test the waters of a stream of Christianity that had flowed for 2,000 years, resting on the first seven Ecumenical Councils, without adding new doctrines or subtracting old ones. By embracing the old, I found something new: renewed faith and hope, consistency, depth, and abundant grace.
I’ve also experienced struggle, confusion, adjustments, and more questions. This blog will address the history and beliefs of Orthodoxy but will focus more on Orthopraxy—the practice of living out the ancient faith in a distracting, secular, and sometimes hostile culture. The why’s and how’s of living a life of faith.
If you’re looking for an expert guide, keep looking. But if you’re a Christian who is burned out on church, or if you’re sort of Christian-ish and searching for something you can’t quite define, I’d be honored be your traveling companion. Together we will journey through feasts and fasts, prayer and apathy, and the ascetic struggle of trying to live out Jesus’ commands and embrace the wisdom of the saints.
I hope you’ll journey with me.