Pastor's Blog

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me with Roman Catholicism was a priest who called me an obscene name in catechetical class (Sunday school) because he didn’t like my answer to a question he posed.  That was the last Catholic service I attended.  My parents didn’t use language like that and neither did I;  I was taught it wasn’t pleasing to God.  How could a priest address me that way?

I came to evangelicalism looking for something more than mindless repetitive ritual.  Evangelicals said that faith was not about religion but was a personal relationship with Jesus.  It was about being born again -- the Spirit of God entering your soul and your life and making you a new person.  The old passes away and all things become new.  The Holy Spirit changes your heart, your understanding, and your perspective.  You see and understand sin and want to turn from it.  You see the wisdom and rightness of what God says; you agree with it and want it in your life.  The Spirit gives you the power to change. 

Being born again is what the New Testament (or new covenant ) is all about.  The Old Testament (or old covenant) – the law of Moses -- was a temporary arrangement between God and man, a set of signs pointing to the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that would bring forgiveness and end all need for sacrifices.  That old covenant would give way to the new.  God’s law would be inscribed on the hearts of believers, not tablets of stone.  People would be changed from the inside out by the power of the Holy Spirit within them, moving them to obedience.  I believed with all my heart that Jesus had brought the new covenant to change hearts and lives and save the world from sin. 

But I had more and more trouble squaring the promised new covenant with my experiences as a Christian pastor.  I expected persecution and cruelty from unbelievers, but I received far more of both from professing born again believers.  I understood that people aren’t perfect and that we all still sin, but I couldn’t believe how hardened hearts could be – how unwilling to listen or entertain different perspectives and how cruel people could be – willing to lie, slander, and defame another rather than say that they were weak or had made a mistake and needed to make changes.

When I sought insight from other pastors, I was told my mistake was thinking Christianity had anything to do with moral behavior.  Christianity, they said, was about relationship with God, not moral behavior.  One pastor told me he didn’t bother confronting sin, even adultery, in his congregation.  Why cause an uproar when you know these people asked Jesus into their hearts in elementary school?  They were going to heaven;  adultery didn’t really matter in the long run.  If I was smart, I was told, I would stop worrying about challenging sin.  That was too discouraging a message.  Give people comfort and the reassurance of forgiveness and heaven, not constant reminders of their failures and shortcomings.

I struggled with counsel like this.  If this was the best God could do – if this was the heart-softening power of the Spirit of God, the life-transforming new birth, the world-changing new covenant – well, it looked pathetically meager to me.  It didn’t seem much different from the priest who cussed me out. 

Is this all there was to Christianity?  Was there even anything there???  Was God even there?  My head kept fighting but my heart started to give up and drift away.  I had expected a lot more of God.  I thought He was bigger and more powerful than that.  If this is all there was, the promises of the new covenant rang hollow and false.  Could I in good conscience even preach a faith like this?

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