Rants, Musings, and Mental Meanderings of a former Conservative Christian Mother. Standing Strong against ignorance, preconceptions, labels and excessive housework. Celebrating original thought, religious freedom, parenthood, free enterprise and chocolate.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Semi-Recovered Fundamentalist

I have really been enjoying a new blog I came across, adventures in mercy. I find a lot of what this author is going through really resonates with my own experiences. I don't share all of her beliefs, but that's the idea! To be free to question, to believe differently, to have different priorities... she embraces these qualities in herself and her readers.

I have been meaning to post for some time on my recent spiritual developments, but lack of time has been the biggest hindrance. I will try to scratch the surface, but I could honestly write a whole book!

I guess I consider myself a semi-recovered fundamentalist. I used to say "recovered" or "recovering," but the more I read, I realized I still am pretty fundamentalist in a lot of my views. What has changed the most drastically is the priority I put on my beliefs, as I try to more closely align myself to what the Bible says as opposed to what man adds to it.

An interesting turning point for me was my study on Pharisees, beginning in Matthew 23. Being raised by pulpit-pounding, hellfire, brimstone, aisle-running, sweating and spitting Baptist preachers, I took this teaching style as the norm. This was just the way it should be. Anything less, and you were a wimp. A liberal. A spineless sinner that just couldn't hack it with the real Christians. Unfortunately, the more I studied Pharisees, the more I saw some frightening similarities to way I had been raised, and the way I was living my life. I say "frightening" because this was the only group Jesus ever verbally and physically attacked! Hmmm... That can't be good. Now, we had been taught that verses like Galatians 5:1 were simply verses that liberal Christians used to justify their sinful behavior. If someone quoted Galatians 5:1 to me, I would retort back with Galatians 5:13 and I Peter 2:16 and feel quite smug. After all, that's the only reason you would seek liberty, right? In order to SIN. (And you had to say "SIN" with a sneering, scary voice to get the full effect.) Sad to say, I saw enough churches and Christians that did just that. They went to church simply to have the best of both worlds, but there was no attempts to pursue holiness or righteousness in their lives. They could live like the devil all week and go to church Sunday with the same crowd they partied with. Their relationship with God was so shallow, fleshly and self-serving, that they seemed to corroborate my views of Christian liberty by all of the wickedness in their lives. (And don't say I was just being judgmental, because, well, although I was, I am not talking about "gray areas" here but some really icky stuff.) So I threw myself with a passion into pursuing holiness through legalism. I crossed my t's, dotted my i's, wore the uniform, sang the songs, etc. I joke now that I "never met a standard I didn't like" during that phase, which lasted until after I got married. I was doing everything by the rules, but something still ate at me. Something (or Someone?) kept whispering to me that maybe there was a middle ground. Maybe there was a balance. Maybe I had been wrong.

Although it percolated for a few years, and my husband and I gradually began making changes, things really reached a breaking point when our girls came along. Two girls in two years, and our lives turned upside-down. It was time to take a step back, and start over from a spiritual perspective. So many things that my husband and I had been tolerating suddenly became a very big deal. We might be able to ignore the fact that the majority of our church prioritized such beliefs as "you couldn't possibly be right with God and wear blue jeans" over issues that really mattered. We might be able to withstand not being taken seriously spiritually because we didn't belive in whiting our sepulchres with the same whitewash most of them used. BUT, what would it do to our daughters? What kind of stumblingblock would we be placing in their way if we continued to keep all these superficial rules? How seriously would they take our authority when they realized we were branded as rebels? How could we tell them, "The church says this, but they're wrong" about one thing, and not expect them to wonder why they should acknowledge any of it? We realized we had to break free of the authoritarian model we had both been raised in. My first instinctual thought was, "I am a failure as a Christian. I am rebelling and can't submit to my God-given authority (meaning the pastor). I just can't hack being a Christian, so rather than grow up and do something for God, I'm going to wimp out, become a liberal, lose my kids and have no effectiveness for the Lord." A very depressing thought, let me tell you. I spent so long crying, trying to submit, begging God to just convict me and my husband of this long list of things we should be doing. But the more I cried, fasted, prayed and studied my Bible, the more I understood God's silence. This was not the path He had chosen for us. Now, again, I could write a book on all of the things He began to reveal to us, but I'll try to sum it up. First of all, He opened our eyes to our mistaken view of just who the so-called God-given authority in our lives was. We suddenly realized that the "Submit to our rules now, the convictions and peace about it will come later" methods were not Biblical! In the Old Testament, the prophets literally spoke the Word of God. They had to be obeyed unconditionally, because they were the only access to God's Word the people had. We realized that applying this as doctrine to the New Testament church was very, very wrong. The pastor is no longer our prophet, our direct line to God. We all have access to God's Word on our own, and the pastor's teachings should only expound on and corroborate what you have already learned in your own study!!! There is no absolute authority in a man anymore, so when a man takes an "application" of a verse (and Bible verses have many possible and perfectly legitimate applications) and turns it into an "interpretation," which essentially makes it a doctrine, therein lies the error of most fundamentalist churches. It's not that it's wrong to apply verses the way they do to their own life, but it IS wrong to teach this as a doctrine that applies to everyone else. The era of the prophets (as I previously defined them) has ended, but the teaching sadly hasn't in so many churches. Once my husband realized that he was head of the home, and Christ was the head of him, not a man to be set up on a pedestal and blindly followed, the walls came crashing down and we experienced the joys of true Christian liberty.

So why do I consider myself only a semi-recovered fundamentalist? Because even after we blew apart our faulty logic, I was able to embrace the things that I truly believed without being ashamed. We base our beliefs, standards and priorities on what the Lord reveals to me and my husband through the Bible, and we try to heed Matthew 23:23 and not get caught in the trap of the Pharisees. That's not to say we don't think we can learn from a preacher, or that we are above anyone else because we are now " mature and enlightened," we just run all the "you should be doing/wearing/avoiding _______ if you call yourself a Christian" through the filter of the Bible. If it fits, we apply it. If not, we discard it. We don't judge those on either side of the aisle, legalist or liberal, since every man will give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). Many people, when they finally stagger free of legalism, are so afraid of being sucked back into it (or so bitter about the experience) that they go to the opposite extreme. They stop attending church altogether, chuck any moral standards in their life in the trash can, let their kids run wild and in general just trade one set of problems for another!!! Hubby and I were fortunate that we were able to escape legalism while still realizing that we did have an ultimate authority in our lives - the Word of God. So, now I have people mad at me on both sides. The ones who get out of legalism - and decide to throw out the Bible and Christianity as well - think I'm still brainwashed and ignorant because I still have a moral compass in my life. The legalists in my life assume that I just want to be liberal because I am lazy, fleshly, and not totally "sold out" to God. They're both wrong, but I'm okay with that now! I am comfortable in my own spiritual skin, secure in my identity as God's child.

This is a big topic to try to bite off in one post, but I know I'm not the only one out there who doesn't want to go to one extreme or the other. Hubby and I would sometimes get so exasperated and feel like yelling, "Isn't anyone out there just a NORMAL Christian?" Then we realized, there is no such thing.


Anonymous said...

Dear Angie, First I want to say I love your blog,It really makes me feel like I am still part of the family...I have experienced every emotion reading your words...I cry with you, ponder what you say and I really laugh a lot. I find my self checking your blog every day in anticipation that you have something new posted. Also want to ask you how your Pastor is coming along with his treatments before I forget.

The last two postings have really stirred my heart and I have wanted to comment but was really unsure of what I wanted to say except that I am reallly happy for you. I must say that the most important thing in our christian walk is to have a balance, If the Bible says something then you just obey it ...in the grey areas pray together with your spouse, discuss the issue,study what the Bible says, pray more and as the Holy Spirit of God moves you,leads you and directs you then just obey Him. It really doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You can have peace in your heart knowing that this is what God wants for you and your family.

When God was dealing with us we went from one extreme to the other I know God has moved us to a middle balance now, unfortunatly it has effected some in our family to the wrong extreme.
I think if I could give anyone advice as a parent I would say...teach your children at a young age to have a personal relationship with the Lord spending their own personal time with God in prayer and reading His word daily. This is one area I know I lacked as a mom...I did read the bible and pray with my kids on a daily basis but didn't stress how important it is for them to have their own time with the Lord.
I want to say so much more but I just realized that this is just a comment section not a "book" writing section not to mention there is no spell check and I am SOOO bad at spelling and grammar...the blog between the two almost stopped me from commenting LOL any way...just know that we love you all dearly keep writing and inspiring others and when are you coming for a visit...It has been way to long since we saw you last. Love Aunt Lilly:O)
PS. your kids are extremely adorable...oh I just want to hug them so badly.

Angela said...

Thank you so much for that comment! I am crying all over my keyboard!!!!

It is so hard sharing my heart, because I know so many people take things the wrong way. (Not to mention, it's harder to write things than to talk in person, so I might even unintentionally send the wrong message.) Or worse, it's not that people take things the wrong way, they just assume the worst of anyone who disagrees with them. This has been a difficult struggle, and I would love to hear any advice you have to offer. Write all the books you want!!! ;0) You are one of the women in my life I consider truly spiritual, and I value your opinon. To me, you are an example of someone who can throw off the yoke of bondage without completely casting aside the Word of God and what it truly says. This is a hard balance, but I look to people like you to assure myself that it DOES WORK!!!! I love you so much, and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, even if I am sitting here blubbering now when I need to be getting my kids to bed...

molly said...

What a wonderful wonderful post! Yay! Go, God!!!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Angie,
You will never know who needed to hear what God has put in your heart to blog...so when the Spirit of God gives you the thoughts and words to say, just say them...for every one person who may take something the wrong way or gets in their flesh I am sure there are plenty more that God wants you to help and inspire and perhaps even begin to heal from some hurtful stuff they may have gone through from some fundmentalist type person or attitude. I just want to encourage you to keep speaking from your heart and continue to let others see Jesus in you...You and your family have always been such a blessing to me. God has given you such talent to write, it is refreshing to see you use it for Him.
Thanks for your kind words, anything that resembles good in me is only the grace of Jesus Christ.
We love you dearly, Aunt Lilly:O)

abmo said...

Hi Angela,

you left a comment the other day on Molly's blog in a respons to what my wife said. I blogged about it. Can you tell me if I was clear on trying to explain something I find difficult explaining :)


I've read your post and I agree with you. It is difficult in the middle. You get shot from both sides. Christians have this desperate mission to be correct in all things and we end up only with our differences. We should fall on our knees and thank God each day for His patience with us :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Angela, with my darling family down with the chicken pox. I had the pleasure of actually reading your entire blog. I was so touched by this article. You are not alone, my journey is much like yours.

Vicky said...

Oh WOW! I happened across your blog while looking for something else and the title of this post caught my attention. As I read it, I felt like you were my biographer...so much was exactly my experience and my feelings on the matter. I remember screaming in my head in the middle of church that THERE HAS TO BE A BALANCE!!!!! Yes, it was when my two girls were 4 and 2 that my husband and I really came face to face with a HUGE decision of leaving the church. How can we teach our children to learn from God's word and listen to their preachers and teachers when we would constantly have to say "well not that...that's not really in the Bible...even tho it's preached like that." How are they to ever believe ANYTHING the preacher says. It's so good to be out "breathing the fresh air" of a personal relationship with God without having to go through an earthly man! Thank you for sharing your heart!