Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bait and Switch - A Christian Conundrum

This morning I listened to a C-SPAN interview with Frank Schaefer, the son of theologian Francis Schaefer. Mr. Schaefer ll was promoting his latest book "Crazy for God". The book is a memoir of his life growing up in the Christian community, L’Abri that was started by his parents.

L'Abri was a chalet located in Switzerland that was visited by tourists, those seeking the counsel and teaching Francis and Edith Schaefer and celebrity Christians. People were constantly coming and going. If any of you have ever lived in a community there is no privacy and no alone time. But I digress.

I've been thinking lately about several things and Frank Schaefer's words helped put both thoughts into perspective.

1. Why do our children turn out so differently than our expectations?

2. What has happened to the Church? Why have old friends gone in so many directions? Why do I cling to evangelical Protestantism and my wife clings to Catholicism? Who is right? Is there a right way or do both paths lead in the same direction?

As to my first thought I believe that there is a normal progression after childhood to be rebellious. You are testing out the waters of adulthood. You are demonstrating to your parents that I don't need you telling me what to do because I can handle life.

Shortly after this, life comes at you with all its fury. You get the papers to prove your new found freedom as an adult, i.e. car payment, utility bills, insurance payment, taxes are due notification along with subsequent late notices and penalties, the doctor is telling you that you are going to be a parent. This is LIFE whacking you up-side the head and putting things in perspective.

I have noticed that not only my own children, but the children of old friends and colleagues that had similar Christian experiences as myself seem to have children that seem rebellious to the principals and tenants we tried to guide them through. I do not have a solution. Perhaps there is no need for one. I pray for my kids and grandkids and I know that God directs them. As my own children are now in their third decade I see them becoming more receptive to God's direction in their lives. I trust in Him.

Frank Schaefer's book, "Crazy for God" addresses his rebellion with his family and the direction that his life subsequently took. As my wife is fond of saying, "It's all good stuff."

The second point is what happened to the Church?

I was first told that Christ died for my sin and offers a new chance. God has sent His Holy Spirit to guide me in His Ways. I need to read the Word of God, The Bible, go to Church, pray with and for others and trust God in all things. By being baptized and accepting Jesus into my heart I was now a Christian, a follower.

So in 1970 I became a born again Christian. One night when I was at a church I felt God reach out and grab me to announce to a crowd of strangers, "Yes I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sin and I want to be a part of the New Life He offers to me."

Shortly after that I joined a group of believers that were not affiliated with an established Church. Remember these were the days of The Jesus Movement. At the time, I learned that some of my new found friends had left their established church due to disagreement over church doctrines.

Wait a minute! What's this doctrine business? When I walked out into the frosty November Ohio River and was baptized, I was not shown any fine print about doctrine. Nobody told me about this!

When I felt the Spirit of God literally move me to the altar of that church on York Street in Newport, I didn't have any addendum fall out of the sky that said, "Please read carefully below, sign & date to acknowledge your understanding."

But as I grew, I learned that some folks worship God one way and some are more robust in their expression of worship. Some state you must be dunked, some dipped and some are sprinkled. Some places of worship are adorned with statues of men and women that were faithful and others do not want depictions of any human or animal form. 

There are places of worship don't want anyone playing a musical instrument. For example the Non-Instrumental Church of Christ while other churches seem to have been built around massive pipe organs.

I live and accept most of those examples. It is when The Church started imposing their doctrines of We are Right and those who disagree are going to hell. When the membership and pastorate of one group says "What's up with those who do not speak in tongues? They are losing out on so many blessings. What a bunch of losers." And then another group of believers says, "Those Christians that speak in tongues are a bunch of heathens. Let's keep them away from all of us true believers so we do not pollute the faithful."

These attitudes make me cringe.

I have also experienced acquaintances being told that they or their family member was not healed due to their lack of faith.

Through my walk in Christ, the small group that I was a part of splintered off into a larger group and then split again. My wife and I splintered into yet another group and were subsequently dismissed due to my wife's interest in Catholicism.

It is no small wonder that so many have been disenfranchised from the Church. And it is no small wonder that we are not eager to return. We discovered we were victims of the Bait and Switch strategy. Promise us one thing, strings attached, and then hit us with all the caveats.

The Jesus Movement became the Charismatic Movement and has been replaced by the Mega Church Movement. Linny and I recently went to a mega church and came away thinking, "Where is the worship?" Yet this group has two are three services each Sunday that draw crowds of two to three thousand people at each service.

A few years back my wife had contacted a local minister and we were invited to come to her church. The group had just come from a Benny Hinn Crusade and was talking about the wonders they had seen. In my humble opinion, Hinn is a snake oil salesman and should be run out of town on a rail.

With all respect celebrity Christians, I believe Jesus can work through them and we should glorify His Name, but not theirs. Any church group that is placing more emphasis on a man or woman's works and essentially mirroring them does not want me for a member. Any man or woman that is putting more emphasis on their name and works and not sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is but a white-washed tomb.

My walk with the Lord has gone from simply "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved," to "Do that... and oh, by the way, here is the rest of the rules which are subject to change and management's discretion."

Frank Schaefer had enough of the evanglical/charismatic movement and joined the Greek Orthodox Church. He motive was stability.

Many years ago I met Duane Pedersen. Duane published the Hollywood Free Paper, an evangelistic newspaper that was at the forefront of the Jesus Movement. Duane went on later in life to become clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Church and was active in a prison ministry.

My wife Linny for years has been a convert to Roman Catholicism and has extensively studied the church. It is surprising how much more knowledge that she has than most of the priests or nuns we have spoken with throughout the years. These people have all turned from traditional evangelical Protestantism because of the myriad of ever-changing doctrines. With these older well established churches the rules are stable and not subject to the whims du jour of the leadership.

I hold tight to my original faith. I don't know where I will be lead. But I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and I trust in God Almighty. May God have mercy on His Flock.

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