Nyssa’s Conversion Story–Or, how I discovered Holy Orthodoxy: Part 3

 

Part 1

Part 2

I no longer wanted to be Evangelical, so becoming Presbyterian (moderate/liberal) was fine with me.  I no longer agreed with Evangelical doctrines, such as the necessity of a “born again” experience for Christians who were born into the faith, the purely symbolic idea of the Eucharist and baptism, baptism being “wrong” for babies, or the literalist view of the End-Times.

I wanted nothing more to do with all the furor over Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, Halloween, public schools vs. homeschools, evolution, school prayer, etc. etc.

The strange thing was, I found out that Presbyterians could be Evangelical if they wanted to, and that my church was Evangelical without the fundamentalism.  It was very confusing.

Still, the PCUSA was a very safe and comforting place to be.  I had no reason to leave it, no reason to look elsewhere.  My research into other theologies was mostly out of intellectual curiosity, as I also learned about Presbyterian theology.

I was on my way to becoming a liberal Presbyterian.  I principally studied both Lutheran and Presbyterian theologies, since they both came from the Reformation and had similar ideas.  I also had some questions about theology, things which I did not understand, trying to figure out which teachings from my upbringing were correct, according to the PCUSA.

The PCUSA does not teach the Nazarene, Fundamentalist or Evangelical version of Hell, a version which I had begun doubting.  But what it does teach is unclear.  I discovered that some people in the denomination are universalists, that it is allowed, so out of curiosity I began checking it out.

Universalist webpages described teachings of Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa, claiming that the Early Church was originally universalist, but when Constantine made Christianity legal, paganism infused the church–leading to the demise of universalism.  They also debated the use of the translation “eternal” for “aonion” or “ages of ages.”  I didn’t know what to make of this.

Then, one day, some time in mid or late 2005, this guy Richard posted on a Goth Christian Web forum, listing the problems with Evangelicalism.  We were on the same three Goth Christian forums.  He was Greek Orthodox, a new convert.  He wasn’t received very well by the other posters, but I had (thought I) left Evangelicalism by going to the PCUSA, so I was more receptive.

I knew very little about Greek Orthodoxy, so I asked Richard what GO believes on various doctrines I’d been pondering.  He couldn’t answer everything, but his answers amazed me, especially one that said his priest told him that the meaning of “eternal” has never been dogmatically fixed.  I was impressed by the ancientness of the Orthodox church, and that it still uses and understands the original Greek, not Latin translations.

Universalist writers described it, particularly its five ancient patriarchates and various Greek writers, such as Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa.  I’d been searching for information to confirm or deny the universalist version of church and doctrinal history, such as the idea that universalism was the original view of the Church, only changed when Constantine made Christianity legal and pagans supposedly poured into the Church.

If the Orthodox history matched with the universalist history, then I would know whether or not the universalist doctrine had a leg to stand on.

So I began checking into the Orthodox view of Hell, using websites Richard linked for me, and came across River of Fire by Alexandre Kalomiros in late 2005. It blew my mind.  If you read it, you’ll understand why, after that, everything changed.  As I sometimes describe it, on my way to becoming a universalist, I tripped over Orthodoxy and fell into the Apostolic Church.

I kept searching the Orthodox websites Richard gave me, such as for GOARCH, OCA, and Orthodox Info.  Originally I just wanted to find out whether or not the universalists were right about Church history.

Instead, I found that the Orthodox version of history was a bit different, though it did indeed have the five patriarchates.  Also, the Orthodox had better theology about Hell than the universalists, acknowledging that the wicked must be punished, but more loving than the fundamentalist doctrines I was used to.

They say that Hell is locked from the inside: Whether Hell is a literal fire or the metaphorical fire of the wicked soul’s response to God’s searching love, it is of our own making.

They don’t presume to say how God will judge non-Christians or Christians of other denominations.  The Spirit works where he wills; He could even be the reason why some people who haven’t heard of Christ become Christlike, according to my priest.

The Orthodox point to the way Christ divided the sheep from the goats at the Final Judgment: The goats didn’t care about people, while the sheep did.  They point to the words of Christ that some who called him Lord, will still be shut out of Heaven, because they did not do what He said.

(This may very well refer to those who follow outward forms of Christianity, such as not drinking or smoking, and talk “Christian,” but have no love in their hearts.  For examples, see Rev. Trask on Dark Shadows or the “benefactor” of Lowood Hall in Jane Eyre.)

My dad had told me about the Harrowing of Hades, though he didn’t tell me the name for it; it always comforted me when thinking about the pagan generations who died before Christ.

Then Cugan told me that Lutherans don’t believe in it, and figured those generations would have been saved in exactly the same way as later ones, because the Cross was effective for the past as well as the future.

I didn’t know what to believe.  Then I discovered that the Orthodox do believe in the Harrowing of Hades, and that was a great relief.

I also learned that the Orthodox do not believe in the single predestination of the Lutherans and moderate Calvinists, or the double predestination of the traditional Calvinists.

Rather, they believe in synergy, or God and man working together: It is not Pelagian, the heresy that man does everything on his own power, or Reformation doctrine, that man can do absolutely nothing while God does everything.

God predestines, but this is based on the choices He foresees us making, not on His own decision.  Because He loves us, He lets us decide, and does not force us–just like ideal human love.  This was another great relief.

The Orthodox and Catholics seemed to have similar interpretations of End-Times prophecies; it was not at all like the premillennial dispensationalism of the Evangelical/Fundamentalist churches.  (For more information, see page 1.)

The more I searched, the more intrigued I became.  I used to think the Orthodox were just Eastern Catholics who let their priests get married and had a Great Schism with the Pope in the Middle Ages.

Instead, studying the Orthodox Church became, for me, like an archaeologist coming across an island full of Stone Age people: the Early Church preserved throughout the ages, untouched by the various changes in Western Christianity.

I had issues with various doctrines–what Protestant doesn’t?  Unfortunately, in the beginning I used Orthodoxy and Catholicism as tools to prove to those “fundies” on the message boards that even the ancient churches did not agree with their biblical literalism.  It was a way to prove that the Evangelicals and Calvinists were wrong about literal creationism, the Rapture, God caring about reputation more than us, tithing, etc.

Orthodoxy and Catholicism did not agree with me on women’s ordination, birth control, homosexuality and other issues, so I was not looking at conversion in the beginning.  (I still disagree with them on those issues.)

However, as time went on, and I read various articles on the Web and posts by Orthodox and Catholic Christians on message boards, Orthodoxy became more and more intriguing.

I began to wonder if the Orthodox claims were correct–Did it really have Apostolic Succession, or the Spirit passed from one bishop to another, a succession which was broken by the Protestant churches?  Would I really “plug into” the current of the Holy Spirit by becoming Orthodox?

Was the Holy Spirit not absent from, but diminished in, the other churches?  Was the Eucharist really the body and blood of Christ?  Was women’s ordination truly not an issue of gender, but of the priest representing Christ, who in His earthly form was male?

Did the Early Church look more like Orthodoxy or Catholicism than like the Evangelical churches which claimed to imitate the Early Church?  Was it truly desecration to cremate?  Was it truly wrong to use birth control to prevent having children when you weren’t poor and had no medical reason to avoid childbirth?

Was homosexuality truly a sinful passion, not just “the way God made you,” but something to fight rather than embrace?  Was singing contemporary music in church really a symptom of wanting what I want rather than what God wants in worship?

What I knew for sure was that dozens or even thousands of Protestant denominations and countless, competing doctrines had worn me out.  I didn’t know who to believe.  I wanted to find the doctrine and worship of the Ancient Church, the standard against which everything else must be compared.

[UPDATE: This was written in 2006.  I had to admit, the theology for the pro-homosexual stances seemed poor, and article writers seemed to have no qualms about twisting and beating God and the Bible to fit their views.  But by 2012, I had moved back to my 2005 beliefs that homosexuality, birth control, etc. are not sinful.  I’m also not happy with the rule on cremation, because all these billions of people will fill up a lot of needed space if they’re not cremated.  My views these days, both in religion and in politics, have become liberal–though not to the extremes I’ve seen at times, such as throwing out the Virgin birth and that sort of thing.]

To be continued….

 

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Nyssa’s Conversion Story–Or, how I discovered Holy Orthodoxy: Part 2

 

[Part 1]

To this day, we’re still skittish at the words “glory” and “glorify,” afraid of encountering Calvinism again.  Cugan feels the Evangelical-Free church was spiritually abusive, especially since it’s taken him a while to recover from it.  Even when he’s in a church and hears the same songs the E-Free church began singing before it turned Calvinist, he fears that church will start going in the same direction the E-Free church did.

And yet, I’m glad we went through this experience, because without it I never would have had an inkling that American Evangelicalism is suffering from great sicknesses: Not only is there materialism and pop Christianity in the churches these days, but bad theology keeps going hither and thither.

Also, while I did not agree with much of Cat and Dog Theology, it did have some good points which influenced me.  For example, the idea that we’re not supposed to base worship and other things on our own inclinations.  I resisted this part at first, thinking that one’s favorite music can be powerful in church, but eventually it sank in.  The results of this are below.

Also, I was influenced by the idea that praise and worship songs should not focus on what God does for “me,” and agreed that American Christianity was becoming far too focused on “me” in various ways.

By the way, on May 2, 2007, I discovered on the EFCA website that a new Statement of Faith was in the works.  It went into far more detail than the vague 13 statements we were familiar with.  According to page 13 of the third draft revision (no longer available on the Web), “Throughout this Statement, we affirm that God’s glory is the ultimate aim of all God’s works in creation, revelation, and salvation.”

This Calvinist theology was nowhere to be found in the original Statement of Faith; it was not mentioned in the New Member classes; we never heard it in the sermons until the pastor introduced Cat and Dog Theology.  So, essentially, it seems like bait-and-switch.

Has the denomination changed its views in the past several years for whatever reason–reading John Piper, following Evangelical trends of bringing in Calvinism, resurrecting the Calvinism which I’ve discovered has influenced much of Evangelicalism, moving away from the Arminianism of the other side of Evangelicalism (Arminianism=free will)?

Or has the denomination always believed this way, but kept it under wraps for whatever reason?  Supposedly, you could be Calvinist or Arminian in an Evangelical Free church, but the supremacy of God doctrine tilted it toward Calvinism.

In any case, if the old Statement of Faith had been as clear as the third draft revision of the new Statement of Faith, we never would have stayed in the Evangelical Free Church for so long.  Rather, we were given to understand that outside of the 13 vague statements in our version, there was plenty of freedom.  That would have meant freedom to reject the pastor’s supremacy of God doctrine.

The third draft revision of the Statement of Faith could have forbidden from full membership anyone who says this doctrine is unbiblical and against the traditions of the Church.  There was no way we could stay in that church with a good conscience; this third draft revision confirms that.

The strange thing is that the revision says Christ is the center of theology/the Bible.  Our E-Free pastor said that God’s glory was the center.

I did a lot of searching on the Presbyterian Church-USA website, which is full of information, and felt satisfied that it was a good denomination.

They did not appear to follow the supremacy of God doctrine, and had left traditional Calvinism far behind, especially double predestination.  The local church is thriving, and has plenty of programs for children.  Tithing is encouraged, but you’re not accused of a lack of faith if you can’t manage it.

The PCUSA allows considerable theological freedom among its members; I could be a conservative Calvinist, a liberal who believes homosexuality is perfectly okay with God, a universalist, or somewhere in the middle.

Since I was in the midst of theological searching, and no longer believed in inerrancy, premillennialism, or strict literalism in the first chapters of Genesis or in Revelations, this was a comfortable place to be.  Cugan and I became members in April 2005, and felt we were finally home.

I discovered Cugan and I had an HTML website free with our Internet provider, and began tinkering with it.  I posted a theology page as a reaction to things the E-Free preacher had taught, a way to deal with them, then began expanding it.

As I searched for theological webpages disputing the supremacy of God doctrine, they seemed to be sadly lacking, and I wondered if we were wrong.  Then Cugan, being Lutheran, found a webpage by Lutheran writer Don Matzat that contrasted the theology of glory to the theology of the cross.

As it turned out, this did not deal with God’s passion for his own glory, but with man’s constant striving to be “good enough” for God, the Sinner’s Prayer, rededicating your life to God when you “fall away,” etc.  My own Nazarene church fell under this kind of theology of glory.

In the first reading, I was offended that it said the teachings of Holiness churches were wrong.  After a second reading, I was amazed at how much I needed to reexamine what I believed.

Then, while reading a paper on the Lutheran (MS) official website disputing premillennial dispensationalism, I discovered that dispensationalism, along with Calvinism, are sources for the doctrine that God does everything for his own glory.  Lutheran theology disagrees vehemently with this, saying that everything is centered in the Cross.

Not only that, but I discovered the Nazarene church is premillennial dispensationalist, and that many of its teachings are wrong.  This was quite a shock; I couldn’t tell which doctrines were correct and which were wrong anymore.  I believe this was in the summer of 2005.

I kept searching around Lutheran websites, particularly http://www.lcms.org and the writings of Don Matzat, who was trying to return the Lutheran church to traditional Lutheran doctrines.

Since Lutherans and the PCUSA agree on single predestination, or the doctrine that believers are elected based on God’s choice because we are totally depraved and can’t possibly make a decision for Christ on our own, I studied this as well.  I tried to convince myself of it.

(Traditional Calvinists believe in double predestination, or that believers are elected to be saved, while unbelievers are elected to be damned, based not on our decision but on God’s glory.)

Some of it made sense, but how can you have one set of people elected to be saved, without the rest being elected to be damned?  I read the answers to this question, but just could not understand it.  Still, I tried to stop being “Arminian,” or believing that we make a decision for Christ, because it wasn’t the theology of the PCUSA or the Lutheran Church.

The more I searched the Lutheran Church website, the works of Don Matzat, and blogs on various issues, the more convinced I became that evangelicalism was full of wrong doctrines–but I wasn’t sure what was correct doctrine.

Hubby and I tried reading Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, but it was full of prooftexting and wrong conclusions, so we couldn’t finish it.

I read most of the way through the Message Bible, which our E-Free pastor had recommended, but discovered it took far too many liberties with the original text.

The pastor of our new church occasionally asked the congregation to do motions to songs, but we didn’t, standing there motionless while the people around us did these motions.  We’d had far too much of this at the E-Free church, especially when visiting song leaders told everyone to do “clap offerings.”

I began to see the problem with emotionalism in worship services, because I felt manipulated by song leaders.

Then one Saturday evening, probably in 2004 or 2005, I sang one too many silly songs in our new church’s contemporary service, and began to want to sing hymns again.  For examples of these “silly songs,” see here (“Trading My Sorrows” by Darrell Evans) and here (“Every Move I Make,” which also has motions, by David Ruis).  I posted about this on a Christian Goth web forum.  Others there agreed that many modern praise choruses were awful.

I also didn’t like the invasion of Powerpoint into church services.  I preferred looking down at a hymnbook–which usually had information on writers, original sources of tunes, dates, etc.–to lyrics being posted on a screen.

I looked up critiques on the Web of Purpose-Driven Life and praise music, to see if anybody agreed with me.

Many sites opened my eyes to the problem of bringing modern culture into the church, rather than influencing modern culture with the church.  These may have been Calvinist and conservative Lutheran sites, where you can often find a backlash against the rise of “contemporary services” in the churches.

While I went to the Evangelical Free church, I loved Willow Creek type services, with bands and modern music.  I wanted to see the day when Goth or metal music was sung in church.

But now I was beginning to see the man-centered nature of trying to bring your favorite styles of music into the church, where first and foremost you are to worship God with reverence.

[to be continued]

 

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Plugging My Books

I have two works of supernatural fiction, combining fairy romance and various Gothic elements.

My book The Lighthouse is available in hardback, paperback and e-book here.

Enter the world of the Lighthouse, a club for supernatural beings and social misfits.  In this Gothic story collection you will find castles, ghosts, vampires, romance and terror:

Bedlam Castle–An American college girl loses herself in the hallways of a 900-year-old castle.  Eccentric characters invite her to dinner.  One is a genie, one is an undine, and most of the others are ghosts.  One man intrigues her the most–but is he a mortal man or a supernatural creature like the rest?

Jarkin–Becky Stevens falls in love against her will with Archibald Jarkin, an eccentric, austere and charismatic preacher.  Their passionate marriage is tested when Jarkin’s TV ministry turns into a witch hunt.  When Becky discovers the Lighthouse, their life together takes a startling new path.

Alexander Boa: Or, I was a co-ed vampire slave–When a young woman’s college is taken over by a vampire, she becomes his secret mistress.  Will she be torn apart when her friends decide to kill him?

Candida–A young man is stricken with a girl who falls under a vampire’s spell.  Soon married and pregnant with the vampire’s baby, she has no idea what danger she’ll be in if the baby is a boy.

All Together Now–This story combines characters and settings from the other four stories.  Jenny, a social misfit, is introduced to the Lighthouse, supernatural creatures, and a deceptive man.  When he leaves her and then accuses her of stalking him, she can only vindicate herself by facing the horrors of a haunted cave.  Will she survive?  Will she fall in love again?

 

All the editing is finally done!  Some of these stories were first written between 1992 and 1993.  All except for “Jarkin” were originally based on dreams.

“The Lighthouse” was originally a short story based on a dream, written somewhere between 1992 and 1994.  This was expanded and changed into “Jenny’s Story,” written in 1999, and later transformed into “All Together Now.”

“Jarkin” is the youngest, written in 2001.  The first draft of the story collection was finished and sent to readers back in 2002.  So this is many years in the making and I’m glad to finally get it finished!

 

Also find my book Tojet:

A fairy tale for adults.  A mysterious girl named Tojet appears in a convent-run school one day.  Two teachers, Sister Elizabeth and oddly-named Merkit Terjit, take her under their care.

But is she a lost, imaginative orphan or a time traveler with fairy powers?  How does she know who Merkit is and how he was named?

Tragedy drives her away, but she returns as a young, beautiful woman, far more mature than she should be.  She shows Merkit a world of obsession and dark fairies.

He can’t help falling in love with her, but what about the monastic vows he’s about to take?  Can he fight the temptations that surround him?

Tojet keeps getting glowing reviews from readers.  To read them, visit my storefront.

 

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