But Grace…

by amontondo

Hello,

My name is Angela, and I am a recovering Protestant. For those who have known me well, that statement may come as a bit of a surprise. For those who know me intimately, and have been privy to my life’s circumstances over the past few months, it may come as no surprise at all. Regardless, the journey to (and through) faith is a very personal experience as we were each unique beings created to reflect certain divine attributes of God. Attributes such as love, mercy, justice and self-awareness. Attributes which, when fleshed out as God intends, convey His righteousness and His holiness. However, since the fall of man, those attributes have been continuously perverted and distorted. Over time, human beings have exchanged love for hate, mercy for wrath, justice for injustice, and self-awareness for deception. How could that ever end well?

I was raised in Pentecostal church, but for much of my life, I’ve self-identified as a “non-denominational” Protestant. I adopted that description as a protest against the church culture of denominations, which, in my opinion, does more to divide the true church of Christ than any cultural issue ever will. And yes, it is my sincere belief that the Protestant faith is a much divided body of believers. That is part of the reason that we (as a family) have committed to such a radical change in terms of our beliefs. But it is only part.

We came back to this small town to enjoy closer fellowship with a small body of believers. For a year and a half, we met together, ate meals with one another, and explored some of the more challenging concepts of life as believers in Jesus. And then, quite out of the blue, it all ended suddenly and painfully. I won’t go into all of the details here except to say that I found some things that were deeply troubling to me on both a moral and spiritual level. I cannot stress enough the level of discomfort that we experienced with the things that we came to know (first hand). But “leadership” determined to not answer our questions, and basically admonished both my husband and me to keep quiet so as not to “divide the body.” It would never have been possible for me to continue there after that. I also could not keep quiet, as I submit wholly to Christ’s Lordship in my life. He has shown me what to do, and what is required of me, that I act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before my God (Micah 6:8). Because of this, my husband and I were effectively cut off from fellowship with our spiritual family. The body that had accused us of dividing them with questions separated themselves from us, without cause. To say that stung is quite an understatement.

That set in motion a number of painful experiences that took a bit to get through. It was the most extreme paradigm shift in my life, but in the end, we were able to reconcile things in our hearts to gain a measure of peace. We did that by acknowledging that we are utterly dependent on God to effect change in our own hearts. We must yield. We must change. That is how we affect the world around us.

For a long time, I looked from front to back, side to side, and saw the terrible shape of the world. I started to ask some very uncomfortable questions, but I have always believed ( and still believe) that God is big enough to stand up to any questions. His truth would prevail regardless of my comfort level with it. And that was certainly the case at the end of it all.

I began to see how largely ineffective the (Protestant) church has been in its mission to be “salt and light” (Matt 5:13). We have, in my opinion, lost our saltiness due to doctrinal divides and even cultural disagreements. Settled doctrine is suddenly not so settled anymore.  Bending to the whims of society is blatant heresy. It is a damning doctrine that conveys the justice of God to be dead instead of reinforcing the truth: He is both just and merciful. If we do not partake in the sacrifice of Christ, and receive his mercy, then we can expect to face his justice. His wrath.

I believe that this is why the world today is in such a shape that it is in. It isn’t because sin has grown greater, but rather that the church has abdicated its responsibility to live among (not in) the world, and keep the moral decay at bay by living Holy lives, set entirely apart for Christ. We don’t entertain sin as some little thing that human beings must endure when the Bible is clear that we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to put off the old man (Romans 6:6).

So what is the answer? For us, it is a profound departure from the faith of my youth. I am preparing myself to dive headlong into a new faith ( and a new church), that still relies wholly on the finished work of the cross, but has withstood centuries of criticism and persecution by remaining true to the Gospel and by loving each other as Christ calls us to. This is the church of the (Greek) Orthodox faith. Thankfully, where I couldn’t see a way, the Lord prepared one. No, I have no expectations of perfection in this Church, but I do believe that doctrine is consistent and settled. I also am looking forward to knowing that I am worshiping the same way that my brothers and sisters in Christ ( all over the world) are worshiping during Divine Liturgy. United in purpose and in love for Christ.

I awoke one morning with a Bible passage on my heart. In Matthew, chapter 14, Jesus calls Peter to reject his fear, step out of his boat, and walk on the water towards Him. And Peter did it! He placed his hands on the side of the boat, climbed out, and stood (probably trembling and fearful) on top of the raging seawater. He walked towards Jesus, and as long as he kept his eyes fixed on the Savior, he did not fall beneath the raging waves. But at some point, he became aware of the viciousness of the storm around him. His eyes left Jesus, drawn to the massive waves that threatened to overtake him. And overtake him they did until Jesus reached down and saved him from certain death. And this passage spoke to me, because I had become so hurt with the storms around me (in world and in the church) that I took my eyes of Jesus. I was sinking fast, and death ( of a spiritual nature) was imminent. But grace…

It’s easy to dismiss those who have been spiritually wounded in the church as people who need to just “commit” and “get right” with God. But that is a dangerous position to take. We wouldn’t dare tell people (men or women) who have been abused to go back to their abusers and endure because “nobody is perfect.” We certainly do not legitimize violence or hurt by minimizing it. How is it so different spiritually? I believe that the spiritual wounds are far more severe. The physical scars pass with this decaying body, but the spiritual wounds can lead to a severe separation with eternal consequences. Especially in those who do not have a good grasp of theology, and that is pervasive in the Protestant faith.

So there you have it. I am a recovering Protestant, intent on recovering an intimate relationship with the One who saved me. The One who is remaking me. The One who valued me enough to be nailed to a tree for me. It’s for Him that we begin down this road. So please don’t get offended when I tell you that, while I appreciate the various opinions regarding the church, they are just that: opinions. I am working out my own plan of salvation with due reverence just as scripture demands.

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