Category: conversion

I start doubting Tracy was ever truly a Christian–so it’s okay to separate myself from her fellowship

Some will say, “If your abuser is or is not a Christian, what difference is that to you?  Don’t judge another person’s eternal destiny!  What’s in his heart is between him and God!”

But whether or not our abuser is really a Christian, affects us, because the answer determines how we act.  There are all sorts of Bible verses instructing us how to act during disagreements with fellow Christians, because the unity of the Body is vital.

But when abusers refuse to admit they have abused, and continue to torment the victim, it is impossible to follow St. Paul’s instructions.  This causes guilt in the victim, who feels far more anger than forgiveness.

It also affects whether or not the abuser should be treated by the Church as a believer, or put out of fellowship because of unrepentance and danger to others (especially the victim).  Do you want the victim’s salvation and healing to be threatened by being forced to face their abuser every Sunday at church?

Victims also commonly ask how a Christian, saved and regenerated, can abuse others–then not only refuse to repent, but take Communion along with the abused!  Communion is not to be taken lightly, as the Bible warns, lest harm come to the person taking it “in an unworthy manner”:

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.

32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.–1 Cor 11:27-32, NIV*

From What does it mean to take communion in an unworthy manner? by Matt Slick:

It seems most probable that Paul is telling people to examine their motives, make sure there is no dissension with other believers, to take the supper solemnly, and that they were to rightly understand that it represents the sacrifice of Christ.

This is why I wrote the e-mail to Richard back in July 2010, which Tracy did not let him see by forcing him to block my e-mails.

From Jeff Crippen’s former post on the Cry Out for Justice blog,  Repentance and Abuse: Real Repentance Bears Fruit:

And this, once again, is why we insist that a person who is dominated and characterized by a mentality of power and control, of entitlement to what is essentially worship, who without conscience can enforce his power and control over others through the use of wicked means, is not and cannot be a Christian.

You can be sure that where there is no fruit of repentance, there is no repentance.  And where there is no repentance, there is no salvation.

The fruit borne by real repentance and faith always evidences itself in increasing holiness of life and in obedience to Jesus Christ as evidence of having been cleansed by His blood.

We have heard of pastors who tell abuse victims that they must regard their abuser as being a Christian, even though the abuser shows no repentance and his life is characterized by habitual evil.

Being baptized or having said a prayer to accept Christ or being a church member does not make anyone a Christian.

…Oh yes, many unregenerate people appear quite moral. Think of the Pharisees for instance in Jesus’ day. But they never practice their morality out of a motive to glorify God.

They do it only for self and for the gain that it will get them from the world, which they love. Some even choose the facade of religion — of Christianity — and yet it remains only that, a facade.

In reality, the unregenerate heart is hostile toward God and cannot obey His Law, no matter how pious he may seem outwardly. The Christian, in contrast, is grieved over his sin because it is disobedience to the Lord whom he loves and is in opposition to the law of God which has been written upon his heart.

Thus, the Christian will always repent when he sin. The unregenerate never will. Like Esau, he may weep and wail and seem to show intense remorse, yet is it all motivated by a love for self. Esau only grieved because he gave away something he did not value at all, but was sorry that it cost him being first.

[Written between February and probably May 2011:]

It’s a struggle sometimes just getting up and going to church because of its connection with Richard, especially when twice he’s shown that he’ll still take his family there despite our estrangement, and that he won’t tell his wife to make peace with me for the sake of unity and peace in the body of Christ.  

When I see Tracy take the Eucharist but make no move to come to me to make peace, I feel so sick, like her hypocrisy makes me want to run to the bathroom and throw up.

I know at least some of her abuses, not just of me but of her husband and family, because I lived behind closed doors with her for a time, yet she goes to the Eucharist while making no attempt to change things. 

There is also 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, which speak of judging not outside but inside the church, putting away from our fellowship those who claim to be Christians but behave in reprehensible manners, such as swindlers, thieves, and various other things–including revilers:

Reviler – Verbal abuse (also called reviling) is a form of abusive behavior involving the use of language. It is a form of profanity that can occur with or without the use of expletives.

While oral communication is the most common form of verbal abuse, it includes abusive words in written form. –an earlier version of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reviler

From Rev. Renee:

To many of us, the words “Christian” and “abuser” don’t seem to belong together. They are, or should be, a contradiction in terms.

And yet how many of us have heard of a minister’s children who were raised with cruelty and abuse? How many of us know of an upstanding, church-going man- or woman- of- God, who turns out to be a criminal or a child molester?

Who can forget the huge scandal in the Roman Catholic church, when so many of their so-called “men of God” priests were exposed as pedophiles, child molesters who were using their position in the church as a source of obtaining new victims?

Calling oneself “Christian” does not make one exempt from abusive behavior. And calling oneself “Christian” does not make one a REAL Christian, either!

One Scripture which addresses this point is 1 John 3: NO ONE WHO LIVES IN HIM KEEPS ON SINNING. NO ONE WHO CONTINUES TO SIN HAS EITHER SEEN HIM OR KNOWN HIM.

DEAR CHILDREN, DO NOT LET ANYONE LEAD YOU ASTRAY. HE WHO DOES WHAT IS RIGHT IS RIGHTEOUS.

HE WHO DOES WHAT IS SINFUL IS OF THE DEVIL, BECAUSE THE DEVIL HAS BEEN SINNING FROM THE BEGINNING. THE REASON THE SON OF GOD APPEARED WAS TO DESTROY THE DEVIL’S WORK.

NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD WILL CONTINUE TO SIN, BECAUSE GOD’S SEED REMAINS IN HIM; HE CANNOT GO ON SINNING, BECAUSE HE HAS BEEN BORN OF GOD.

THIS IS HOW WE KNOW WHO THE CHILDREN OF GOD ARE AND WHO THE CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL ARE: ANYONE WHO DOES NOT DO WHAT IS RIGHT IS NOT A CHILD OF GOD; NOR IS ANYONE WHO DOES NOT LOVE HIS BROTHER”.1 John 3: 6-10 NIV. —The Christian Abuser- Twisting God’s Word To Justify Abuse

If you were abused by a person who called him/herself a Christian and said that they knew Jesus — I assure you that this was the Greatest Deception and lie that they ever told.

At best they might have heard about Jesus, I doubt that they ever personally met Jesus in the SuperNatural, because when you truly meet Jesus you are Transformed by His Holy Love and when you follow Jesus you turn away from evil, and the closer you walk with Jesus, then evil is no where to be found, so when Jesus is in you and you are in Jesus you can do no evil.

And Abuse is the Manifestation of Evil. So the Counterfeit Christian lied about being an Authentic or True Christian. Just because a Person calls him/herself something doesn’t automatically make it so, look at the fruit of the Behavior they are producing to reveal their True Nature. –Soaring Dove, The Journey Out of Nothingness

On false Christian narcissists, and whether or not we should judge them as false Christians and separate from them, also see:

From Narcissists Suck: No Contact: Because Their Evil is Contagious
From Narcissists Suck: “From Such Turn Away”
Can a narcissist or sociopath be a Christian?

“Let it be understood that those who are not found living as He taught are not Christian- even though they profess with the lips the teaching of Christ.”  – St. Justin Martyr ( c.160 )

I get greatly annoyed by Christian groups who accuse each other of being false Christians because of doctrine or practices.  But the Bible does indeed warn us to discern false Christians by how they act, evil behaviors which any Christian group can agree on, whether conservative or liberal.

We are not told to let the poison of narcissists, abusers, users, deceptive ministers, thieves, con men, and the like infect us just because they’re “Christians” and we’re supposed to “love and accept and not judge fellow Christians.”  Quite the contrary: We’re told to toss them out of our fellowship!

Christ was able to hang out with sinners because he’s God and could influence them without them influencing him.  But God knows very well how fallible we are, how easily influenced by the bad behaviors of our friends.

From the Orthodox Study Bible note for 1 Kings 19:10: “The children of Israel forsook the Lord because an angry and wrathful temper took hold of them, for God cannot be known in that kind of disposition.  He can only be known in and through the virtues, such as gentleness.”

 

[Added 4/26/14:] From a Cry for Justice:

In summary, the pastor’s duty to the abuser is secondary to his duty to the victim.  Regarding the abuser, the pastor must 1) Be able to avoid being deceived by the abuser’s ploys, and 2) exclude the abuser from the congregation in order to protect the victim and the flock.  All of these actions will be costly. —Part 3

 

Prevention is better than cure.  This applies to abuse within the church as well as to our physical health.  It is better for us to create an environment in our churches that is alien and hostile to evil.

A place where righteousness and truth reign to a degree that evil just has to leave because it is exposed.  The question is, why aren’t our churches such places?

And apparently it is not exaggerating to say that they are not because victims of abuse come with the same stories over and over about how their abuser was able to hide, was able to gain allies, was able to be enabled within a local church.  What has gone wrong? —Part 5

 

In the church, unrepentant sin is to be pronounced from the rooftops, in the hearing of the entire church.  It is to be exposed and dealt with openly, so that those who profess Christ’s name yet cause that Name to be blasphemed by unbelievers are expelled from the body of Christ, and Christ’s Name thereby is once more honored.

If a pastor is going to deal biblically and righteously with an abuser who is a member of his church, that pastor must resolve to do so in openness and in truth.

There can be no cover up, no minimization of the evil, no political maneuvering designed to save face or cover anyone’s tail end.

The evil must be exposed for all to see, and the unrepentant evil one delivered over to the realm of darkness, outside the church, in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. —Part 7

 

The large majority of the readers of this blog do not need to be told that a false gospel, gutted of a call to genuine faith and repentance, is the abuser’s great ally.

This “gospel,” which the Apostle Paul says is no gospel at all (Galatians 1), only produces nominal Christians, meaning that they are Christian in name only.

Survivor after survivor will tell their stories of how their abuser hides in the pews, playing the role of “Christian” and enjoying the affirmation of his fellow church members.

Where a false gospel is preached, false Christians are produced, and an environment that is ripe for the practice of evil is cultivated.  Sadly, we must admit that such a false gospel is widely preached in our churches today, as it has been for decades now. —Part 9

 

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house 

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me 

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children 

5. My frustrations mount 

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

 
8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing

*Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version.  Copyright @1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society.  Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

 

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Nyssa’s Conversion Story–Or, how I discovered Holy Orthodoxy: Part 4

 

Parts 1, 2 and 3

I bought the Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament version) and began using the prayers in the back of the book.  I began practicing the sign of the Cross.

I left Evangelical forums which opposed everything even remotely Catholic, and joined an Orthodox forum to learn more.

I became more and more dissatisfied with contemporary worship services, megachurch practices and Protestant doctrines of all types–Charismatic, Evangelical, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran.

I also learned that “River of Fire” is very controversial, though I e-mailed the guy who answers questions on the OCA site, and he said that the fires of Hell are metaphorical.  I also found this in catechisms here and the Orthodox Europe site.

On this and other things, I have to agree with a Lutheran blogger who wrote that it’s hard to pin down what exactly the Orthodox believe on many things, because you’ll read one thing and somebody will say, “No, that’s not true Orthodoxy.  Try this website instead.”

The more I study the Early Church Fathers and histories, the more convinced I become that the Orthodox faith has the pure faith of the Early Church–and that it’s the most loving of all denominations I’ve investigated.

With our local PCUSA church going into the megachurch “relevance” mindset, I just can’t stay there anymore.  There’s a huge crack in the denomination, formed over some 25 years of arguing, and a recent denominational decision has started a split.

Our local church could get silly at times in the services, with skits or people dressed as clowns or silly little movies done by people in the church, and often used Hollywood movie clips on PowerPoint to demonstrate points.  Usually the movie clips were not Christian, and had very little to do with the Bible.

Purpose-Driven Life and The Message Bible were praised and encouraged, but at the time I didn’t know where you could go to get away from such things.  To my dismay, the church had done “Forty Days of Purpose” (based on Purpose-Driven Life) in 2003 or 2004, shortly before we began attending in June 2004.

Adult Sunday School classes were based on such things as “praying the movies” (something about using Hollywood movies to inspire prayer–I don’t understand it) and other theologically iffy subjects.

Once, a newcomer led a class on End-Times prophecy.  The PCUSA is amillennialist, and the General Assembly once brought up a resolution for churches to make clear to their congregations that Left Behind books have poor theology.

However, I later heard from other church members that the class leader, who came from a fundamentalist background, taught the premillennial dispensationalism which is in the Left Behind books, rather than Presbyterian views on End-Times prophecy.

In September or October of 2006, when we were still going to the PCUSA church, the pastor announced that the 10:30 service would be “blended,” with contemporary and traditional worship.  I thought it already was blended, since we sang contemporary fluff along with the hymns.  But apparently, “blended” meant even more contemporary fluff and even fewer hymns.

I sang the songs along with everybody else, but I felt so–empty, strained.  I feared the songs did not please God because they did not fit a “proper” worship service–maybe a youth group meeting, but not a worship service.

I had only just read in the Old Testament God’s prescription for worship: complete with beautifully crafted artwork, rich clothing, and ceremony, far more like a Catholic Mass or Orthodox Divine Liturgy.

And sometimes the theology of the songs seemed wrong.  If you don’t know what these modern praise and worship songs are like, combine Evangelical theology, pop psychology, the motions of kids’ songs, trite lyrics, and formulaic, mass-produced pop music.

I looked over the books and class descriptions for adult Sunday School for the fall.  The books were from Willow Creek and other Evangelical sources; the topics included something about laughing your way to a good marriage.  Was this a Presbyterian church, or an Evangelical or non-denominational church in the tradition of Willow Creek and Saddleback?

Because of man-centered worship services, weight rooms, food courts, coffee shops, iffy theology and the fact that Purpose-Driven Life and Purpose-Driven Church were written by a megachurch pastor, I had a dim view of any church trying to imitate a megachurch.

One week, after the changes of fall 2006 in our PCUSA church, I had to stay home from church, indisposed as I often was in those days.  Cugan came home with notes about a sermon based on some passage in the Old Testament.  A new temple was being built and celebrated, but the old folks, who remembered the old temple, cried.

I saw it as the old folks being sad over the past and happy to see a new temple to replace what was lost.  The pastor interpreted it as showing that people get upset when changes are made, but changes still need to be made.

When I was able to go to church, the pastor praised the concept of making worship more “relevant.”

Another Sunday, when I was indisposed again, I recalled the sermon was something interesting, though I forgot what exactly, and asked Cugan to take notes.  It was, “What does it mean to be Reformed and Always Reforming?”  (This is a catchphrase of the PCUSA.)

I thought this meant, the PCUSA struck out the horrid section in the Westminster Confession about unelect babies who die being eternally condemned.  I thought it meant women being preachers.  I thought it meant constantly examining the Scriptures to make sure nothing has been misunderstood.  But apparently, now it means how you worship.

Cugan came home and reported some astonishing things.  The pastor passed out copies of the article “Surviving the Rapids of Change?” by Herb Miller and Lyle E. Schaller.  This article came from the January 2006 issue of The Parish Paper.

I don’t know much about this publication, but it’s a newsletter for pastors, published by the Conservative Mennonite Conference (source); the website is here.

Following are the pertinent points of “Surviving the Rapids of Change?”:

1) Mainline congregations with traditional services are shrinking; various congregations with modern services are thriving.

2) The American culture has moved from Producer-Driven to Consumer-Driven; people go wherever the church meets their needs.

3) There has been a shift from inherited allegiance to personal choice.  Children no longer stick with one job, one career, or their parents’ church.

4) The Baby Boomer culture is driving the modern worship/church trends.  (Eh, so they’re the ones to blame?)

5) Thriving congregations replace the organ with a band, replace the hymnal with PowerPoint praise music, replace missionary spending with building a relationship with a sister church in Poland or Peru, replace adult Sunday School with peer-led relational groups, and double their worship attendance within five years.  (By the way, all these fit my church.)

6) A church which doesn’t change despite a push for change from the younger generations, “continues its cherished traditions, with a gradual membership decline, a rising median-age of attendees, and a slide toward extinction in two or three decades.”

7) (The Conclusion.)  “Four sentences summarize the whole scenario: First, millions of Americans born and reared in a producer-driven culture view the current wave of consumerism as somewhere between a) betrayal and b) proof that the Devil is alive and at work in this world.

“Second, the most effective way to reach the generations born after 1960 is to be sensitive and responsive to their concerns.  Third, changes in procedures produce conflict.  Fourth, church leaders choose between a) allowing their congregations to sink and disappear and b) thoughtfully negotiating the rapids of change.”

On the front of the article was a Friar-Tuck-like figure praying, “Not my father, nor my mother, but it’s me, O Lord…looking for a place where my needs will be met!”

The church was already thriving and growing rapidly before this new relevance kick, yet starting in September or October of 2006, it seemed that the main point of every sermon–no matter the topic–was, “We must become relevant or we will die.  Relevance is a good thing!”

We also had a new worship leader.  (By the way, his enunciation was so poor that I had to stifle a smile whenever he spoke or sang.  Without the PowerPoint, I wouldn’t have a clue what he was singing.)  On November 5, 2006, right before leading a song, he went on about how relevance is important and, “If it weren’t for [relevant services/music], I wouldn’t be here [a Christian] now.”

After a series of “Dream Sessions,” in which congregational groups gave their “dreams” for the church (we missed going for some reason I forget), a PowerPoint presentation showed the results of the brainstorming.

Some ideas were fine: parent groups, SERRV (fair trade) store.  But there were also pictures of a pool, a weight room, a colisseum….I had to wonder if my church was trying to be a Willow Creek or Saddleback megachurch, with all sorts of fancy, expensive trappings that have nothing to do with the Gospel.  (I talk about this here.)

Then there was a series of sermons on following the dreams God gives you–hardly theological meat.

Because of some trouble with a fired secretary and questions about how the church was run, we now had deacons to help keep the congregation informed about what was going on, and to take care of the big congregation (about 600 people).  Our assigned deacon called and asked if we had any issues with the church, which they were doing with everybody.

Cugan wrote his own concerns in an e-mail: This church was starting to look a lot like the Evangelical Free Church, including the music, and Cugan was feeling wary, because he had felt spiritually abused by the Evangelical Free Church.  There was a push to do things for the church without much emphasis on healing a person’s own wounds first.  He feared that legalistic preaching on tithing would soon follow.

I thought the church was trying to be like the megachurches–not a good thing.  I also mentioned the End-Times class, and wondered what our church would do if the PCUSA finally split.  Some congregations had been going to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but that was too Calvinist.

The liberal side was doing all sorts of outlandish things; we even had people who prayed to “Sophia” instead of “God the Father.”  When Cugan saw our pastor wearing a strange symbol which looked like an ankh, we couldn’t tell if she was joining the Sophia people (who also incorporate practices from other religions), or if this was a form of cross we’d never seen before.

Around this time, we were asked to be deacons.  That surprised me, considering what we had just written–and that neither of us had any sort of theological training.  Cugan had too much going on, and I was just about ready to escape to the Orthodox Church, so we turned them down.

By now, I came to the conclusion that the Lutheran church was the closest to correct of all the Protestant denominations.  Despite Luther’s shortcomings and coming up with new doctrines and basing doctrines on Augustine’s errors, I knew that the Catholic Church had allowed in all sorts of errors and corruptions which made the Reformation inevitable.

The other Protestant denominations seemed ever more schismatic; Lutherans kept many good things from Catholicism, while the other denominations kept coming up with all sorts of outlandish things, from the Puritans to the Charismatics.  If you disagreed, you split and formed your own denomination or synod.

But from what I now knew about Orthodoxy’s claims, even Lutheranism had its doctrinal problems, many of which were based on the errors of Catholicism.

I wavered between becoming Orthodox, staying where I was or becoming Lutheran with Cugan.  At first, Cugan promised to go with me wherever I decided to go.  But I could tell he didn’t want to become Orthodox, so I released him from his promise.

For a long time, I figured I could be Presbyterian with Orthodox theology, because the PCUSA allows such a huge diversity of beliefs among its members.  But what I heard in church kept grating more and more on my soul as I learned more and more about Orthodoxy.

And what about the liberal members?  Though for a while I was about ready to be liberal myself, I had discovered the errors in their doctrines.  (Some of them even wanted to ditch the creeds, the Virgin Birth, a literal interpretation of the Gospels, and other essentials of the faith.  The Bible was more a tool to prove points by twisting it however you liked.)

But the liberal side continuously fights the conservative Presbyterians, always chipping away at the rules in the Book of Order until one day they make the PCUSA completely liberal–whether by changing the doctrines, or by chasing out the conservatives.  (I’m not talking about political liberals; politics are another matter entirely.)

Then in November 2006, I read Bishop Kallistos Ware’s story of his conversion to Orthodoxy.  His concerns with the Anglican church were the same as mine with the PCUSA–answering questions I had, such as, is it okay to stay where I am, and should I become Catholic rather than Orthodox?

By the time I stepped into an Orthodox church in November 2006, I was finally ready to submit myself to the teachings of the Holy Apostolic and Orthodox Church.  I was exhausted.

The mere thought of going back to the PCUSA church the following Sunday, made my stomach twinge.  I was looking for the oldest, purest doctrine and practice, something I could trust; I found it here.  Here I also found holy worship, and a means to union with God.

Every day that passes, I feel more sure that Orthodoxy is the original faith of the Apostles–that I’ve finally found what I was looking for.  And that’s why I entered the catechumenate of the Greek Orthodox Church on December 2, 2006, and joined the Church on January 10, 2009.

By the way–Cugan has gone back to the Lutheran church and is happy again, as well.

Why I feel that St. Gregory of Nyssa, my patron saint, also led me to the Orthodox Church: 

First, “Nyssa” was one of my favorite characters on Dr. Who.  In high school, I began using the name as one of my many handles on a local Dr. Who-based BBS, the Panoptic Net.

I also happened across an article on St. Gregory of Nyssa while looking through an old Collier’s encyclopedia at my house, as I often did, and was surprised to discover “Nyssa” was a real place name, and that a saint was attached to the name.

I used “Nyssa” after high school/college as my main handle on BBS’s and Internet forums.  I also used it as my SCA name, though not officially because it was hard to document it to satisfy the heralds, even though I have found “Nyssa” is a real-life name that has been used in some cultures in a few variations–Scandinavian, Jewish, Greek.

I began looking into claims of universalists back in 2005 because some commentator in Presbyterians Today wrote that some people in the church are universalists.

I was intrigued, since for years I had been wondering if God truly would condemn, say, a religious Jew killed in the Holocaust, or a Muslim woman who was sweet and followed her religion and did her day-to-day stuff and took care of children just like I did, trusting that she would be saved.

Some people are truly evil and may not even want to change that, even if they have all eternity to do so.

But most people–Christians or not–are just trying to do the best they can with the knowledge they have.

In poking around universalist sites, I found St. Gregory of Nyssa and Origen most often referenced as universalists; I also checked out St. Gregory’s “On the Soul and Resurrection,” which was often cited.

One day, I began thinking it was time to join the church officially, after being an inquirer/catechumen for a couple of years.  That same time, a guy at church asked me when I was going to join, which almost seemed like a sign from God that it was indeed time.

I was not paying attention to what day it was when, soon after, I picked a date, and told my priest that I would be chrismated as Gregoriana, with St. Gregory of Nyssa as my patron saint.

After everything had been decided, I discovered that I was to be chrismated on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s name day, which happened to fall on a Divine Liturgy day that year, which makes me think St. Gregory was guiding me to choose that particular date.  It also gave yet another reason to think that St. Gregory had been guiding me all along to come to this church.

Update 3/25/14: I am still Orthodox, though my opinions on PCUSA theology have altered a bit: I have gone back to being more liberal on the homosexuality debate.

Entire story

 

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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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