Yes, Athanasius Had the Right

August 12, 2009

James Swan was good enough to give a different perspective on whether the Reformers had the right to reform the Catholic Church (it was reposted on free republic with some interesting comments). He compares the right of Athanasius, who fought against the majority holding Arian opinion (that Christ was not fully God), with the right of the Reformers who also fought against a majority. He asks, “Did Athanasius Have the Right?” and supposes that if you answer in the affirmative then must also do so for the Reformers, assuming that their situations were the same because they both argued from Scripture against a majority. However, their situations were not the same. My answer is yes, Athanasius had the right. No, the Reformers did not.

The major differences between the case of Athanasius against the Arians and the case of the Reformers against the Catholic Church are as follows: Athanasius was an archbishop, an authority holding position in the Catholic Church, whereas the Reformers were not. His beliefs were orthodox and he was faithful to the teachings of the fathers, and the Reformers were not. He argued with an orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures, whereas the Reformers argued with new interpretations of the Scriptures, forsaking previous teachings and understanding.

Some people may object to my first reason, that Athanasius was an archbishop and so possessed “ordinary authority” to oppose the Arians, on the grounds that his opposition were also bishops, and there was also an Arian anti-pope installed in an attempt to force the Church into Arianism. However, the position of bishop is still that of authority, though some obtained it illegitimately and abused it. So how is a lay-person on the ground to know who to follow and who is right when leaders disagree? The next point is a good place to start:

Athanasius was orthodox in his beliefs and understanding, conforming to established doctrine. He believed that Christ was begotten not made, in one being with the Father, as had been professed and taught by the Apostles and their successors, and codified in the Nicene Creed. James Swan quotes James White’s article in which he states Athanasius went against the “established church”, but this is backwards. Athanasius conformed to the established church, and the Arians presented new doctrines to overturn established doctrine, though they at times may have outnumbered orthodox believers. The established church is not the same as the majority of the church. The orthodoxy of Athanasius’s beliefs were openly acknowledged by his opponents. In his History of the Arians, he writes about the Arians:

“[T]hey were not ashamed to say in their letters, ‘since Athanasius suffered, all jealousy has ceased, and let us henceforward receive Arius and his fellows;’ adding, in order to frighten their hearers, ‘because the Emperor has commanded it.’ Moreover, they were not ashamed to add, ‘for these men profess orthodox opinions;'”

In his Four Discourses Against the Arians, Athanasius disparages the Arian unorthodoxy as grounds in itself to dismiss their beliefs as heresy:

“But if they themselves own that they have heard it now for the first time, how can they deny that this heresy is foreign, and not from our fathers? But what is not from our fathers, but has come to light in this day, how can it be but that of which the blessed Paul has foretold, that ‘in the latter times some shall depart from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, in the hypocrisy of liars; cauterized in their own conscience, and turning from the truth?'”

“Or how are they of the Catholic Church, who have shaken off the Apostolical faith, and become authors of fresh evils?”

It’s similar to what Tertullian says of heresies in relation to orthodoxy:

“[H]ow comes it to pass that the things of God were on their course before it was known to what God they belonged? That there were Christians before Christ was found? That there were heresies before true doctrine? Not so; for in all cases truth precedes its copy, the likeness succeeds the reality.”

The Reformers, unlike Athanasius, presented a gospel different than that taught by the Catholic Church, one that was news to the people of the day. They went against the established doctrine and so against orthodoxy. This demands much greater proof that they speak the truth. They must prove that God has sent them to change the gospel and reform His Church, a Church that He promised would not perish and paid for in His precious blood, sustained and guided by the Holy Spirit. How is such an extraordinary mission to be proved? Through miracles alone. It is not enough that they twist the bare letters of the Bible to fit their own meanings.

James Swan seems to think Scriptural support of their argument was sufficient for people to accept the authenticity of Athanasius (although I have already shown he has more to recommend him), and is also sufficient for us to accept the truth of the Reformed gospel. The Holy Scriptures are authoritative, yet sometimes both sides claim to derive their solution from Scriptures. Such was the case of Arianism. Athanasius bemoans the twisting of Scriptures that heretics use to “prove” Arianism, and in his discourses he painstakingly sets straight the orthodox interpretation of passages that had been misinterpreted by Arians. In other words, he is relying on the interpretation of Scriptures taught by the fathers of the Church since the Apostles. This is the much misunderstood importance of Tradition. It ultimately questions whether the gospel presented is the one preached from the beginning (1 John 2:24), despite supporting evidence that heretics and schismatics invariably give from the blessed and authoritative Scriptures.

Here are a few examples of Athanasius propounding the orthodox interpretation of Scriptures, and lamenting the twisting of Scriptures common to heretics:

“If then the use of certain phrases of divine Scripture changes, in their opinion, the blasphemy of the Thalia into reverent language, of course they ought also to deny Christ with the present Jews, when they see how they study the Law and the Prophets; perhaps too they will deny the Law and the Prophets like Manichees , because the latter read some portions of the Gospels. If such bewilderment and empty speaking be from ignorance, Scripture will teach them, that the devil, the author of heresies, because of the ill savour which attaches to evil, borrows Scripture language, as a cloak wherewith to sow the ground with his own poison also, and to seduce the simple.”

“And yet, needless though it be to refine upon these passages, considering their so clear and religious sense, and our own orthodox belief, yet that their irreligion may be shown here also, come let us shortly, as we have received from the fathers, expose their heterodoxy from the passage.”

“But since they allege the divine oracles and force on them a misinterpretation, according to their private sense , it becomes necessary to meet them just so far as to vindicate these passages, and to show that they bear an orthodox sense, and that our opponents are in error.”

In their works against heresies, Tertullian and Irenaeus also speak of the twisting of Scripture, showing by their testimony that it’s a trait common to heretics. Like Athanasius, they advise individuals to discern the true understanding of Scripture using the Catholic understanding of it, because that is consistent with the Apostolic Faith.

In Tertullian’s Perscription Against Heretics, he shows that orthodox Apostolic doctrine is the only true doctrine, and with it the only true understanding of Scripture, since heretics will always insist their interpretations are right:

“Truth is just as much opposed by an adulteration of [Scripture’s] meaning as it is by a corruption of its text… They rely on those [passages] which they have falsely put together, and which they have selected, because of their ambiguity…

It is indeed a necessary consequence that they should go so far as to say that adulterations of the Scriptures, and false expositions thereof, are rather introduced by ourselves, inasmuch as they, no less than we maintain that truth is on their side…

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures;… (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions

From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles… If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.”

Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies, like Tertullian and Athanasius, describes the adaptation of Scriptures to the heretic’s own ends, and the importance of adhering to the the truth of Apostolic churches and their correct understanding of Scripture to resist such falsehoods:

“[T]hey maintain that these are great, and wonderful, and hitherto unspeakable mysteries which it is their special function to develop; and so they proceed when they find anything in the multitude of things contained in the Scriptures which they can adopt and accommodate to their baseless speculations.” [Book 1, Chapter 1]

“And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a steadfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” [Book 1, Chapter 3]

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures… For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world. 1 Corinthians 2:6 And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth…

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth… It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.” [Book 3, Chapter 2]

“Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God— namely, strange doctrines— shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, as were Nadab and Abiud. Leviticus 10:1-2 But such as rise up in opposition to the truth, and exhort others against the Church of God, [shall] remain among those in hell (apud inferos), being swallowed up by an earthquake, even as those who were with Chore, Dathan, and Abiron. Numbers 16:33 But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did. 1 Kings 14:10

Such presbyters does the Church nourish… Of whom also did the Lord declare, Who then shall be a faithful steward (actor), good and wise, whom the Lord sets over His household, to give them their meat in due season?… Matthew 24:45-46 Paul then, teaching us where one may find such, says, God has placed in the Church, first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers. 1 Corinthians 12:28 Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles… For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things;… and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.” [Book 4, Chapter 26]

“He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms… For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism. He shall also judge all those who are beyond the pale of the truth, that is, who are outside the Church;…

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy…” [Book 4, Chapter 33]

The idea that Athanasius was some kind of proto-Protestant, much like the idea that other Church Fathers are proto-Protestants, probably comes from his extensive use of the Scriptures. Yet we also see he is concerned with the teachings of the fathers and with orthodoxy. Sometimes these men often failed to use traditions and orthodoxy in their arguments against heretics and outsiders because heretics and outsiders do not value them. Which is why they were heretics. The Fathers could still use Scripture in their arguments, because many heretics still hold the Scriptures as authoritative. The Fathers often lamented their inability to use tradition, as seen by James White’s quote of Augustine “I must not press the authority of Nicea against you, nor you that of Ariminum against me; I do not acknowledge the one, as you do not the other; but let us come to ground that is common to both- the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.”. It does not mean they held no regard for traditions, just that they were often unable to use them against people with wonky ideas and those who despise authority (2 Peter 2:10). In this particular quote, the council of Ariminum was set up to overthrow Nicea, the established doctrine, and Ariminum was not approved by any valid pope and the decrees were annulled by Pope Liberius after he returned to his see, so of course Augustine wouldn’t recognize it’s authority. The fact the Arians felt the need to hold a council in order to impose their beliefs shows that councils were indeed important and the bishops held authority in determining doctrine.

There is one difference between Athanasius’s time and the Reformers time that some people might think justifies a reform against orthodoxy. At the Reformation, those on the side of orthodoxy had become corrupt and irreligious men, abusing their position, which led to a widespread devaluation of the Church heirarchy. In my initial post, I have already answered that this is not a sufficient excuse for Christians not to follow those God has placed in authority over them. We are called to discern truth using the foremost three rules of Faith – the Holy Scriptures, teachings of the fathers (Tradition), and the authorities of the Church (Magesterium) – but not to overturn all three rules in favor of our own perceived truth.

Is it too hard a thing to ask that we trust in God, though all men be false (Rom 3:3-4), and by trusting in Him believe He will guide His Church in all truth (John 16:13), that it is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15), that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18)? But who thinks that God has abandoned His visible Church so that His flock scatter dangerously without seeing or knowing their Earthly shepherd, when God is most able to gather and lead them? If you say He is unwilling, you say He is not Love or Truth. He has preserved His Church, a much lesser thing than when He created it by the power of the cross. Who says He has let it fall denies the power of the cross. Who says a mere sinful man can destroy what God preserves doesn’t know the power of God.

Athanasius had the right to oppose Arianism, because he held ordinary authority in the Church as an archbishop, he retained the Faith given him by the fathers, and he used the orthodox understanding of the Holy Scriptures to show Christ revealed as both fully God and fully man. He had the three highest rules of Faith on his side: the Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magesterium. The Reformers fail on all three points. They did not hold an office worthy of their impertinence, they did not retain the faith given to them and instead overturned it, and they used new interpretations of the Holy Scriptures to form their arguments and beliefs. Their faith was a new invention, like Athanasius says, it was not given by the fathers, so is it not obviously a foreign heresy?

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Sifting for Lies

June 15, 2009

Last night Chris turned the tv to Joel Osteen’s preaching while I was knocking about the kitchen getting ready for bed. I was listening, responding with the occasional snort and scoff. Chris said, “Stacey, what he’s saying is right. He’s not wrong.” So I sat down on the couch, next to my less critical husband, prepared to defend my assessment.

At first I was worried there was no hard proof for my accusation. Osteen was encouraging the football stadium filling congregants to do their work, whatever they do, unto the Lord, and to do everything for the glory of God. Of course there’s no problem there, in fact, it’s a vital message in the Christian life. But then, he said (paraphrased), “When you excel in the workplace, that is the best witness,” with an unnatural emphasis and satisfaction at his last words, as if to witness Christ to others was the only reason you offer all your work to the Lord. I grabbed onto this small shred of evidence, and told Chris, “Can’t you see where he’s headed? What he’s telling people to do is right, but the motivation is wrong. It’s as if the only reason to excel is to evangelize.”

After listening a little longer, Chris agreed. I went on, “And he doesn’t put any value in the work itself, done for God. There’s no encouragement that our suffering is united to Christ’s so that we may be glorified with him. It’s right there in Romans, Chris, why don’t they notice it?” Chris said Protestants don’t really talk about suffering that way, which is true, but silly. It’s in the Bible. They get everything they believe from the Bible. Right?

As Osteen went on, it became glaringly obvious that he was exhorting people to excell not only that they might be a good example of Christ to others, but so that others might “see something they want in [Christians]” and we should work hard without holding back so that “God doesn’t hold back a great release” from us. Evangelism wasn’t his only motivation, reward here on Earth was also a motivator. He talked about promotions, commendations, recognition, superstar basketball players earning over half the team’s goals. He talked about working hard and doing out best so that others notice, we are blessed in return, and others envy that blessing and want to become a Christian so that they can be blessed as well. That’s twisted.

He ought to have said that our work offered to the Lord is valuable as it is, regardless of its usefulness to others. He ought to have said that regardless of anyone else noticing or rewarding us, God will reward us in the next life. He ought to have said that we should expect nothing of a return for our labor from this world, no promotions, no raises, no envy, but instead will normally receive hate because Christ was first hated. If we are so blessed, we thank God, but never expect it.

As Chris said, Osteen’s message does nothing for the factory worker doing a repetitive and thankless job. It does nothing for the teenager working at McDonalds where there is little hope of promotion or recognition. It does nothing for my dad, 18 years in a job that takes advantage of him and loathes a higher standard, denying pay raises whenever possible, who wonders what God’s plan is for his life and why his current situation seems to be fruitless. I worry about the despair that results from a message like this. How many people in that stadium will fall away from Christ because they don’t see the results they expect and lose any value in their suffering? There’s so much truth in what Osteen says. Is it enough to mitigate the lies? Does he still point the way to Christ?

I’ve become pretty critical when listening to Protestant messages, always sifting through it to find the lies. Besides trying to find where they go wrong, I’m trying to find where I’ve gone wrong. I have no idea what I’ve believe in the past because I thought it was standard Christian beliefs. I don’t know where it all comes from. I’m always evaluating. Maybe this is a failing on my part and I should ease up on the Protestants. They do love God, after all, and do His work. Perhaps this is a step in my journey. I’m still watching to see that my current path is the right one.


My Ecclesiastic Past in Excrutiating Detail

February 19, 2009

I often make reference to the bad experiences that I had as a Protestant, so it’s only fair that I detail what those experiences were and what I make of them now. Keep in mind, although I know that not all Protestant churches are as self-glorifying, nonsensical, and downright un-Christian as some of the churches I’ve attended, I believe that the foundation of Protestantism, that is the rejection of earthly authority combined with a reliance on an individual’s spirituality or intelligence (either your own or that of the pastor or theologian you esteem), naturally and necessarily gives birth to this kind of Christianity. That said, I warn everyone, this is a long ‘un.

The first church I remember attending was a Word of Faith church when I was about four years old. The only things I really remember from that church are the orange tic-tacs the pastor’s wife used to give me and this really odd experience in Sunday school. A visiting guitarist told us that we had to speak in tongues as evidence that we were really saved and had the Holy Spirit living in us. I was encouraged to just open my mouth and start talking in my private tongues language. I could not and would not. As a result, for years I thought my salvation was in jeopardy. Recently I told my mom about this and she was horrified, wondering why I had never said anything earlier. Then she related an experience with that church that I don’t remember. At some point I no longer wanted to attend my Sunday school class, so my mom came in with me to see what was wrong. She found the Sunday school workers were rebuking the kids in the name of Jesus when we did something wrong! My mom took this up with the pastors and they stopped. Already, by the age of five, I had experienced abuses in Protestantism from individuals using their own interpretations.

We moved, and so joined an Assembly of God church. The only thing I remember from this church is that I wasn’t given the role I wanted in the church production. I remember I wanted a dancing part, but my sister warned me not to try for it since she knew the daughter and friend of the Sunday school leader would get the part. I stubbornly refused and tried to be a dancer. I ended up as an extra angel while my sister was proved right. Although this isn’t of great theological import and nepotism is a human frailty, it occurs again and again in different Protestant churches. It makes you see a little wisdom in mandatory celibacy for priests. This church split when the AG board wanted to appoint one pastor and half the congregation wanted another one. My family left with the schismatics, but we moved again soon after to join the church that would be the bane of my adolescence.

I will mention specifics with regard to this church, because I don’t know if the breadth of the issues involved can be understood otherwise. After our move, we joined Metro Christian Fellowship (which was previously called Kansas City Fellowship and then Metro Vineyard Fellowship) because my uncle went there. This church was led by Mike Bickle, a good man on the whole, but highly inexperienced and easily misled. He was under John Wimber and closely involved with Paul Cain and the Kansas City Prophets. The goings on in this church are hard to describe for anyone who has not seen them, but I’ll do my best.

There is a charismatic Pentecostal end times revival movement which believes that a recent renewal of the gifts of the Spirit has occurred after an extended period in history during which they were absent. These gifts include speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, etc. This particular movement has been dubbed “charismatic renewal” by Hank Hanegraaf and is familiar in the sensationalism of those like Benny Hinn. For a full history of its sordid past, I recommend Hank Hanegraaf’s Counterfeit Revival. The character of those involved is decidedly not Christian and the basis of many of their beliefs are heretical. For example, William Branham rebaptized his followers in the name of Christ only and denied the Trinity. Metro Christian Fellowship was deeply mired in charismatic renewal revivalism and intimately connected with Joel’s Army and Latter Rain beliefs.

Joel’s Army (Joel 2) is the army that God will raise in the end times to be victorious over those who oppose God’s church – literally in battle. The Latter Rain movement emphasizes a restoration of Christ’s church in the end times. They believe the five fold ministry of prophets, apostles, teachers, pastors, and healers as well as the unity of the church will be restored in the last days for a “great harvest of souls”. There are also other beliefs that did not come into my experience as much so I will not belabor those points here. All in all, theology didn’t really enter into things at Metro. Everything was very experience driven. They would call on the Holy Spirit in order to “experience” God in a personal way. They claimed God was “loving on” His church and filling them up with the Spirit to get them ready for end times revivals and trials. They repeatedly encouraged people to abandon reason and so open themselves up more to the Holy Spirit. This “experiencing the Spirit” manifested as uncontrollable laughing or crying, being “slain in the Spirit” or falling flat on the ground unmoving, strange demonstrations such as barking like a dog, convulsing, visions, miraculous healings that I never saw, and prophetic words that were never verified, among other things. I went to the private school under this church for a year, and they occasionally stopped classes to accommodate the “movement of the Holy Spirit”. I can remember a classmate of mine describing a vision she had of a beautiful flower, although later she admitted faking it.

Although many people do admit faking it, there are many that are sincere in these manifestations. They either sincerely experience nothing, like I did, or they sincerely experience the more bizarre behaviors. Of course, as a young person who was told that this was the power of God, it didn’t occur to me that there could be another explanation. An alternate explanation is that these people worked themselves up into a frenzy. They repeat phrases, verses, and songs over and over waiting for the Holy Spirit until people start manifesting. I think the brain is wired to slip into an altered mental state when you concentrate in such a suggestive way. The effects are similar to those of kundalini awakenings brought on by Hindu gurus. To be clear, as I have been misunderstood before, I am not suggesting that these Christians tapped into their shakras and experienced awakening. I am suggesting that in both cases people abused their bodies and minds in such a way as to induce an altered mental state that may be physically, mentally, and emotionally damaging. For more information on these practices, I again recommend Counterfeit Revival.

I don’t know what to think about the authenticity of the Holy Spirit moving in such a manner and whether or not God touches people through such practices. God moves in mysterious and frightening ways, like at Pentecost, and He is certainly capable of prostrating us forcibly in His presence. But He never moves in a useless or detrimental way. I do know that in my experience, and in those associated with this particular movement (like the Toronto Blessing, the Pensacola Outpouring, or the most recent Lakeland Revival), sensationalism has been used to gain an audience rather than edify the body of Christ. It has been used for renown, financial gain, and personal satisfaction. As a result, Christians focus less on Christ and more on the spiritual superstar on stage and the fantastic experiences they’re chasing. Christians end up feeling abandoned, used, misguided, and distrustful from broken promises while the superstars move on to their latest ministry project. Two banners used to hang at Metro, one said “Passion for Jesus” and the other “Compassion for People” and both mission statements fell short. Little pastoring and fellowship occurs in the charismatic end times revival scene. That does not sound like God’s work to me.

Whatever the origin of such manifestations, I abstained from them. I was determined not to prevent God from doing such things with me, but never to force it. As a result, nothing happened. It’s strange. I felt less spiritual than those around me who performed and were prophesied over. There was an uber-spiritual in-crowd at Metro which they liked to call “forerunners”, usually staff members and their families, and it was understood that they were really spiritual and God was doing something in their lives. I grew to despise them and yet still felt inferior to them for some reason. I was an every day Christian, and as such did not fit in. There was little room in the missions of this church for those who just go to work and school, go home, and do so for the Lord. Never was a sermon preached on how to live like Christ. With such little content to find there, my sister and I began skipping out on the sermons, which could run nearly two hours in length, and opted instead to visit the nearby McDonald’s or hang out on the train tracks. I drifted further away from church, aided by a youth ministry with ever-changing leaders leaving to fulfill their own private mission. It didn’t help that the pastor’s sons would have keggers on Saturday night and try to lead us all in the Spirit of the Lord on Sunday morning.

We were perpetually promised revival, miracles, and greatness and it all fell flat. I remember once tagging along with my parents to a home group focused on growing in the prophetic. There was a woman there who was prophesied over. She was told that her desire to be a leader instead of a follower, and to not be just another one of God’s sheep, would be fulfilled. I was about ten years old at the time, and I can remember thinking, “What’s wrong with just being God’s sheep? We can’t all be leaders. They’re just telling her what she wants to hear. I don’t want to be a leader. I want to be His sheep.”

My attendance lagged until Mike Bickle left Metro Christian Fellowship starting the International House of Prayer in an effort to revive the old practice of “contemplative” prayer. He repeatedly praises the Catholic Church for their prayerful practices, which he is often criticized for doing because, as we all know, nothing good can come from Catholics! His contemplative prayer bears little resemblance to the traditional Catholic prayers though. There is a difference between repeated prayers during which you contemplate God’s glory and His mysterious and put forth your petitions, and repeated short phrases or verses that are chanted while you clear your mind and try to force the appearance and manifestation of the Holy Spirit. So I believe the kind of contemplative prayer committed at IHOP is tailored by repetitiveness to induce hyper-suggestible states like those seen above. When Mike Bickle left for IHOP, Metro Christian Fellowship split three ways. There was a remnant that remained “Metro Christian Fellowship”, another group left with Mike to attend the church at IHOP, and a third group dispersed but a majority of these joined Christ Triumphant Church, or CTC.

I feel violated by the things that happened at Metro, because nobody stopped it. There were no leaders that said “This is not of God!” or kept the church grounded in reality. There was no tradition that said “Return of the gifts? They didn’t go anywhere!” There was no one to correct the pastors, because Protestants have done away with earthly authority. There is nothing protecting Christians from such abuses. The Bible was used to back up everything these people had to say, and so it was proved to me first hand that the Bible can be misused to support ungodly things and its meaning can be twisted to attain the ends of those who interpret it. I can’t just escape to Catholicism out of reaction to a bad experience. However, these bad experiences prove to me that Protestantism invites abuses by the very nature in which it began – that is, the spirit of self-reliance and skeptical inquiry which bucks authority.

After the congregation at Metro dispersed, my parents went searching through several churches to find one that was “alive” with the Holy Spirit and was a “good fit” for them. Among these was a Word of Faith church I attended only once. For a time, my parents settled at CTC, but my brother, sister, and I refused to go to any church as insincere and flamboyant as Metro. In an effort to lure us back, they tried to find a more conservative atmosphere. This led them to a non-denominational, start-up church that began meeting in the local theater until they gained enough of a following to fund their own building. At this time, Chris and I were engaged, so he had the privileged of attending there for a time. Then, a man from Metro started his own church (a fourth spin off), and my parents have settled there. Although this final church has refrained from the flamboyant end times revivalism found at Metro, the formula is the same: upbeat music for an hour, allowing for the Holy Spirit to guide them, and an hour from the pastor on his latest personal revelations. I do like this pastor, he even married my husband and I, and he preaches more on the every day level than the revivalists, but I felt that there was something fundamentally lacking. I don’t think God’s church should look like a personal effort on the part of the pastor, which is what Protestantism has become. The vitality of a church depends on the pastor’s preaching and ability to gain a following. From a lack of oversight, experience, and unity, Protestants have lost their effectiveness. The “word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb 4:12) and it should not be ineffective.

Going back in my story to shortly after Metro scattered and while my parents church shopped, I left town for college. For a time, I avoided churches altogether and it was just “me and my Bible under a tree”. I never believed God wants us to be self-sufficient and so I eventually built up the courage to find a “good church”, though I was incredibly gun shy after the mess I had been through. I started rather small, and attended a start-up church near my college. The atmosphere was stale and I felt like crawling out of my skin rather than returning the plastic smiles of those around me. I then attempted an Assembly of God church that a friend of a friend took us to. First we went to the young adult Bible study, which wasn’t bad. Then we went to the Sunday service, though I should probably call it a Sunday exhibition. Their services were televised and the church was so massive that they had giant television screens so the people in the back could see. Not only that, but there was a camera crew roaming around on stage getting power shots of the pastor and worship team. That was more conducive to worshiping the pastor than to worshiping God.

I ended up in another Assembly of God church that was much more conservative. The pastor at this church was a good speaker and had his doctorate in physics to boot. I loved being able to relate to his off the wall references and intellectual approaches to things. I attended the Young Adults group, befriending a couple really great girls and we formed a Bible study. I was in a relatively good place when I met Chris, and wasn’t expecting to be derailed from my new found security.

Through my investigations into history, theology, Catholicism, and Protestantism, I now believe that my experiences were the inevitable result of the fundamental principles of Protestantism. Hilaire Belloc wrote countless books discussing this including Survivals and New Arrivals and The Great Heresies. He believed that Protestants took the Catholic teaching that Scripture is God-breathed and turned it against the Church, elevating Scripture to a thing worthy of worship, therefore initially practicing Bible literalism and self-reliance, which necessarily led to self-contradictions and self-worship, which then devolved in not knowing who to believe and what the Bible meant at all. He believed the next step is a completely subjective religion, neo-Paganism, of which we see the fruits every day. Belloc lived and died before the charismatic renewal movement, and I wonder how he could see, over 75 years ago, that people would begin to ignore even Scripture and rely on their personal experience of God to lead them.