Should I stay or should I go? (part 2)

The second reason this story resonates with me comes from my own journey of deciding whether to stay in a Church which no longer advocates my beliefs, or separating from that community of believers. I faced the same dilemma of “should I stay or should I go” that is eventually faced by many who are part of a belief-based group, but recognize their on-going (and scripturally directed) responsibility to choose for themselves what they believe. This responsibility to choose can frequently stand in opposition to the definition of a group, that set of beliefs held in common which forms the foundation of the group’s identity. Just as the Anglican bishops experienced, I reached a crisis point when I could no longer remain within the community of Jesus followers where I was a leader.

I didn’t come to this conclusion easily and wrestled with several questions for some time. “Is it part of my responsibility as a member of this community to stay and continue to represent beliefs that are either in the minority or even opposed to the official dogma?” “Should I find a new community whose beliefs more closely align with my own?” “What course of action will allow me to best represent the image and nature of God?” These questions echoed through my mind and certainly framed my decision to “leave the Church.” These questions don’t have one set of answers. It’s simple to say just leave and be done with it. However, embracing that perspective avoids the part of community where grace is administered as we wrestle with our differences. Valuable opportunities to grow in our understanding of and relationship with God would be lost. It’s also simple to say once you’ve made a commitment to the group, integrity and faithfulness require that you live up to that commitment and remain in the group. Embracing THAT perspective can lead to exclusion and emotional exhaustion as we experience the isolation of holding ideas and beliefs that are rejected or condemned among the larger, like-thinking group. I guess if these questions had simple answers, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to make my decision.

The overarching question for me concerns inclusion. If we believe in one church, as in “the Bride of Christ” and “one community of believers”, we must determine how we remain true to what we believe to be the truth, while still making room for others who profess themselves Jesus followers, but don’t agree with all our beliefs. As Jesus followers, we’ve wrestled for centuries with the tension between acceptance into the community based on grace, and maintaining integrity of doctrine, theology and belief. If we continue to accept any interpretation, we will eventually lose our identity as Jesus followers. If we place too heavy a weight on conforming with one particular interpretation, history proves we will undoubtedly become Pharisaical. I recently read an excellent post from Paul Wilkinson at Thinking Out Loud (http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/why-are-non-trinitarians-included-among-christians/). His focus was very specifically acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity and whether that should be required to be identified as Christian. However, the questions he asked and the discussion he generated are all meaningful contributions to this topic. Plus his gracious attitude was refreshing when so many of these types of discussions have become heated arguments devolving into name calling and baiting.

I can only speak to my own experience. The decision to leave my Church was painful. My understanding of what it means to be part of a community of Jesus followers says we must make room for others who follow Jesus, but interpret His teachings somewhat differently. I completely disagree with the theological position of the Anglican bishops, but I completely understand the undoubtedly difficult decision they made to leave.

2 Comments

  1. Gee

    I saw your article in a CBE email. So I thought I’d check out the BLOG. This article hit home with me, I could have written this years ago. I too wrestled with these same questions.
    Being raised in a particular church setting and a particular denomination, it was difficult to come to the a conclusion, to leave or to stay. After much debate and prayer, if I was to “spiritually survive” I had to trust God there was a better way for me to minister. My belief was not their belief and no matter how I tried to dress it. I always fought the same battle among my peers. Although 12 yrs after my leaving I still have some resonating questions. One of which, “what if I would have stayed.?” It’s not that I live in the past, but the relationships that brought me joy got lost in the leaving. Did I escape the battle of fighting for women? No but I have an wonderful ally and as I continue to serve in another capacity, I can’t go back to a place of bondage. I am now a pastor of a small group and the first thing I did as a pastor was to develope a program for women called into ministry. Controverisal sometimes, but it gathers interest from other church pastors and women.
    As time passes, I see more women having spiritual freedom, even in denominations, to serve and come to the conclusion God has called them. Isn’t this what was prophesied in Joel?
    I know faithful is he that called me and whatever good has been lost, I must believe the God I serve…. It is not really lost at all just hidden. There is always a remenant. There is one for you.
    Amazingly due to the wonderful world of internet, there have been those that seek me out. Yes, God is Good. Yes free to serve. I have freedom to choose in Christ. I laughingly think, how many others have felt this…Did Eve?
    It is with His service I take the cross He has given to bear…. An advocate. I bear it sometimes willingly, other times not so willingly, but TRUSTING God above all things…the steps of a person who loves Jesus Christ are ordered by Him. I pray you find all He has in store for you, as He heals the inner minister.
    God does NOT make mistakes. He is with you always.
    Blessings to you.

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