Sunday, November 27, 2005

 

Wayfaring Strangers, Part 26 - The Last Wayfaring Strangers Entry

(Wayfaring Strangers was a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

Personal Advent

In his biographical profile blurb, the Unseen Blogger says that he's a "Practicing Christian," practicing because he hasn't gotten it right yet. That's funny, and I think that all Christians can relate to it. Nonetheless, I'd suggest that he's gotten it right to a far greater extent than I have. Reading his blog makes it fairly obvious that he's done a good job of figuring out what he believes and which church gives him what he needs (needs rather than simply wants) in his journey toward Christ. Figuring all that out has been a windier road for me, and it's been a road full of many self-created obstacles. Last spring, Wendy and I made the decision to finally leave the nominal Christian church we'd been attending and try to see what would happen if we "went to the source," if you will. We decided to try Roman Catholicism, to make an honest effort to dedicate ourselves to it, and I decided to keep an online journal of the learning process here at this blog.

Looking back over the entries I've posted I can see my enthusiasm and dedication to Roman Catholicism growing in leaps and bounds. Now, granted, it could be argued that I'm getting more out of the Catholic church simply because I'm dedicating myself to it more than I ever did to any of the fundamentalist churches I attended as a child and as a young man. I've considered that, and I don't think that's the case. I think that the reason I'm getting so much out of it is because this is the church for me. I think I've finally found my home, in Christ, on earth. I know where I belong.

Nonetheless, when I look back over these Wayfaring Strangers entries, it does seem that I've spent a lot of time airing my gripes about fundamentalism. That's time that would have been better spent enthusing about Catholicism, which I've honestly come to see as the best of all possible paths to Christ. (After all, if I hadn't come to believe that, there'd be no reason to convert.) The tone and mood of much of what I've written has been that of a, ahem, "Recovering Fundamentalist" instead of a happy Catholic in the making. That has to change.

It's time to stop carrying a chip on my shoulder about fundamentalism. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and maybe it's providential. Maybe now is the perfect time to finally put it down.

With that in mind, this is going to be the last post in the Wayfaring Strangers series. This will be the last post from someone who sees himself as an ex-fundamentalist who's outside the Church he believes in. I'll still write about my conversion experience, and I'll still write about faith. I don't think I have any choice in that. Those topics are the ones I enjoy writing about, the ones I feel compelled to write about. I write it more for my own benefit than anything else, anyway. It's good to keep a journal. Getting occasional comments and feedback from people who are kind enough to read it makes it that much more therapeutic.

Still, it really is time for a major shift in the way I approach this topic. My dissatisfaction with Fundamentalism shouldn't be the focus anymore. It's time to settle that particular account. With that in mind, I'll take a page out of Martin Luther's book... albeit on a much smaller (and maybe sillier) scale. When Martin Luther left the Catholic church, he famously posted his 95 Theses on the Cathedral door. It was a good idea, and I don't mind ripping it off. Granted, I don't have 95 reasons to leave Christian Fundamentalism behind at his point in my life... but I do have seven sound reasons. Bear with me as I post them, figuratively speaking, on the door of Fundamentalism. These are my reasons for leaving Fundamentalism, for making the journey toward Christ via Rome. I'll post them here and get it out of my system.




Darrell's Seven Theses



  • 01: The "Sola Scriptura" Trap

    The Fundamentalists I grew up with and have lived my life with consider themselves "Bible Christians." They believe in the inerrancy of the Bible... and I do, too. The thing is, I believe in the inerrancy of the spiritual truth in the Bible, and they believe in the Bible as a history book.

    For instance, they believe in a literal Adam and Eve, in a literal forbidden apple tree, in a serpent that actually spoke, etc. That kind of literal-mindedness was always a roadblock to me. Especially considering that it hinges on a hostile rejection of the theory of evolution, which I think has been all but proven to be scientifically valid. None of that made sense to me. It was only after my agnostic years, when I'd rejected the Garden of Eden as a fairy tale, that it started to make sense to me. Isn't it possible, I thought, that the Garden of Eden is a holy myth, an Old Testament Parable, that tells us something hugely important about our creation and our relationship to God? Isn't it possible that, speaking in terms of science as humans understand it, the theory of evolution is as close as we'll ever get to an understanding of how God made us out of clay? Isn't it possible that what's most important about the Garden of Eden story is what it teaches us about failed human nature, rather than what it might teach us about the historic origins of man? Those questions were rejected by every Fundamentalist I ever discussed them with.

    The basis for this literal interpretation of the Bible is Fundamentalism, an outgrowth of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura teaches that only the words of the Bible are necessary for salvation. It's the reason that the Fundamentalists I know have rejected 2000 years of Catholic Church tradition. They believe that if it isn't in the Bible, it didn't happen, and that if it isn't in the Bible, it isn't necessary for salvation. Well, there are obvious problems with that. The most obvious one is that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura isn't scriptural. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Church tradition must be rejected and that only the Book itself must be used by Christians as the roadmap to Christ.

    Sola Scriptura, in short, is a human invention. Somebody invented it, and this man-made idea has been adopted as infallible by all the Fundamentalists in and around my family. Papal infallibility is rejected, but the man-made doctrine Sola Scriptura is accepted as infallible. There's a huge conflict in that.


  • 02) The "Sola Scriptura" Vacuum

    The Fundamentalists in my family, in spite of their doctrine of "The Bible and the Bible only," don't even stick to their own beliefs. Every one of them, to a person, believes in the "rapture," a science fiction idea that is not in the Bible and is more at home in the fictional works of the Left Behind series than it is in any serious Christian church. These supposed Bible Fundamentalists believe that there's going to be a Rapture of Christian souls, that Christ is going to come down in secret and sneak all the true believers to Heaven, before the terrible period known as the "Tribulation." Those "left behind" during the Tribulation will be tormented by the forces of evil for seven years, and then Christ will come back, cast the devil out, and reign for a thousand years in peace. After that thousand year period, he will judge every soul who ever lived. Besides the fact that this theory is (on the surface) really silly sounding, it's entirely unscriptural. It was created out of whole cloth by John Nelson Darby, an English lawyer and self-styled evangelist. Those who believe in it point to a few passages out of the Bible that they claim supports it. None of these passages holds up when read in context.

    That's the problem with the Fundamentalists I know... they pull verses out of the Bible one or two at a time, and use them devoid of context to support all kinds of beliefs. I don't know if any of them have ever sat down and actually read a whole book of the Bible, from the first page to the last. I was absolutely shocked once I finally read the book of Romans, in it's entirety. I'd been raised to see it as an absolutely angry, hateful book. It's not. It's beautiful theology and an amazing, instructive guide to the Christian life. I wish my Fundamentalist loved ones knew that.

    So they claim Sola Scriptura, and then they reject it by believing in totally unbiblical science fiction notions about the end of times.


  • 03) The "Sola Scriptura" Distraction

    Sola Scriptura and it's cousin, Sola Fide (belief that we are saved by "faith alone") have been used by the Fundamentalists I know to justify all kinds of unchristian behavior and ideas. They believe that it is our faith and our faith alone through which we are saved by Christ. Alright, fine. I don't have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with, however, is the idea that having real faith in Christ doesn't produce a radical change in your behavior. The Fundamentalists I know love to justify their beliefs by quoting Ephesians 2, Verses 8 and 9:

    For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.


    Fine. The problem is, they stop reading there. They don't read the very next verse:

    For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.


    The emphasis above was mine.

    In short, yes, it is our faith that allows us to be saved by grace... but once we are saved by grace, IT SHOWS.. Don't just talk it. Live it.


  • 04) Rejection of Christian History

    The Fundamentalists I know are very hostile toward the Catholic church, and yet they don't know much about the Catholic church. They believe a number of wrong ideas, and they're not interested in learning much of the truth. The shame of that is that if they want to learn the real history of their own church and their own religious practices, they need to trace it back to the Catholic church. The Bible, for instance, is seen (and rightly so) as a holy and inspired book. Of course, the Bible was written by Catholics and Jews. Somehow, the Fundamentalists I know have blocked that out. Yes, it was inspired by the holy spirit, but it was Catholics and Jews who were inspired to do the writing. Furthermore, it was a council of Catholic Bishops who canonized the New Testament. Catholic Bishops picked out the books that make up the New Testament. Am I to believe that the Holy Spirit moved through the Catholic church during this process and ONLY during this process?

    Fundamentalists go to churches that are rooted in the Bible... but the Bible itself is rooted in the Catholic church. It is the Catholic church's gift to the Christian world.


  • 05) The Trap of Literal Interpretation

    How come there are two different accounts of the death of Judas in the Bible? There are, you know. One in the Gospels and one in Acts. Look it up.

    I've asked that question for years, plenty of people have. The answers I've gotten from Fundamentalist clergymen have never answered the question.

    They'll tell me that I'm wrong, that there aren't two different accounts of the death of Judas. That's not true. I've read it myself. The accounts are short and simple.

    They'll tell me that the accounts are really two different descriptions of the same thing, that both accounts happened to Judas. Huh?

    They'll tell me that both accounts are correct, but that the details need to be understood as having taken place in a very specific order. The text itself contradicts that order, however.

    The point is, one of the accounts has to be wrong. At least one of them. The greater truth of the matter is the spiritual circumstances of the death of Judas, not the specifics. A Catholic priest told me that. Why couldn't a fundamentalist ever have said that to me?


  • 06) Bible-olatry

    The Fundamentalists I know accuse Catholics of Mariolatry, the worship of Mary. Well, we don't worship Mary. We venerate and honor her, and there's little we could do to honor her that would go beyond the honor that God himself placed upon her at the annunciation. That's not the point of this, though. I've written plenty about Mary in the past. The point of this item is that the Fundamentalists I know are guilty of a form of idolatry of their own: the worship and misuse of the printed text of the Bible.

    The Fundamentalists I know don't see the Bible as a document of church History, inspired by God. They see it as something separate and different from the church, and they see the church as subservient to the book itself. This strikes me as worship of the book itself. Of course they'd argue that they don't worship the book, that they use the book to get closer to God, that they're only giving the book the honor it deserves in the scheme of salvation, and that they see the book as a template for the Christian life. The fact that that's the same argument that we Catholics use to justify our honoring of Mary is beside the point.

    What really bugs me about the Fundamentalist approach to the Bible is how they use the Bible as a weapon, pulling certain verses out (and out of context) to hurl at others as evidence of their sinful ways. Never as a way of examining their own sin, just as a way of indicting others.

    I believe, like the Fundamentalists, that the Bible is a living book. I believe it is the living water of Heaven. I think, though, that it should be used to nurture sinners (including this one), not to drown them.


  • 07) The More You Learn, The More You Can't Forget

    Granted, I'm biased... but I honestly believe that sitting down and reading the Bible and the works of the great apologists and Christian historians leads one, inevitably, to the Catholic church. It seems obvious to me, at this point, that the Catholic church really is the Church that Jesus founded on earth, on the rock of Peter, who was given the keys to Heaven and was told that what he bound and unbound on earth would be bound and unbound in Heaven. There's just no getting around it for me at this point.

    Which makes my confirmation unavoidable. I believe it is what Christ expects of me.

    I've come to truly believe that Jesus Christ is the salvation of the world (and, more directly, the salvation of ME), and that the church he founded and wants me in is the church that's stood for 2000 years. At this point, knowing what's been written on my heart, for me not to join would be blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. That's a big, big, big no-no.

    There. That's my list. Those are the reasons that I had to leave Bible-based Fundamentalism in order to find a fundamental relationship with Jesus.





  • And, with that, the Wayfaring Strangers series comes to an end.

    I'll still write about my conversion process, I haven't been confirmed yet... but the tone has to change. I'm a pre-Catholic now, not a post-Fundamentalist.

    I imagine, in fact, that I'll continue writing about Christ and the church long after my confirmation. It's what I'm most interested in, what I get the most joy out of, and what I like reading and writing about more than anything else.

    Thank you, reader, if you've read this or any of my posts on the topic... and thank you for any feedback you've contributed. There'll be plenty more to comment on along these lines. This is not the end of my journey. This is just the first small movement of the very first step.


    I know you will complete,
    This work started in me,
    I need you more than ever now that I've come so far.


    "Portrait" -POD

    Comments:
    I stumbled on your blog quite by accident and found it very interesting, particularly the remarks about idolizing Mary, or idolizing the Bible, but there is a third approach...idolizing a particular church. I have a different approach to the Bible than your post-Fundamentalist "literary" interpretation, or your pre-Catholic "myth or legend" interpretation, particularly about the creation of man. You might be interested in my approach, but rather than making an overly extended comment about it, you can scan my side of the debate at [http://abbreviatedabstractions.blogspot.com] Abbreviated Abstractions - November 23,2004 Post #285. I do plan to visit again. I like the way you write and look forward with keen interest to further discussions.
     
    A friend once told me that she was first attracted to the Roman Catholic Church because it was the only church she ever attended that didn't bash other religions.

    Just like a good mother, the Church prays for all her children to come home and when they do...heaven rejoices!

    God bless.
     
    I found it interesting that one of your issues with the "fundamentalists" was that they took the Bible as history. When I was at college (back in the dark ages) a year of religous courses was still a requirement. I chose one that taught the Bible as a history book. Those classes actually brought me back to Christ, slowly but surely.

    As a Yankee, I have plenty of problems with southern fundamentalists, btw. They can make something that is so logical (to me) totally illogical.
     
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