From Fundy to Orthodox to Apostate
My upbringing was entirely Protestant. My family were good Protestant “churchians” (people who go to church regularly “’cause that’s what good folk do”). The faith, such as it was, was just cultural really. I did know some real Christians (all Protestant) and I admired them, but I wasn’t one of them any more than the rest of my family was.
Somewhere around 14 or 15 years of age I realized that the religion I’d been brought up with was largely dead, worthless, and meaningless, so I stopped going to church. That lasted about four or five years. During that time my parents somehow started taking the faith more seriously. When I was 19 they asked me if I’d like to come along to church with them. They had a good reason. The preacher, they told me, was a very good speaker who made sense and was logical. Now a sensible, logical, interesting, skilled speaker in a church was a whole new concept to me. I just had to see it to believe it. So I went.
Sure enough, the man lived up to his reputation. In fact I was so interested that I went back a few times. Then my parents told me there was a youth group full of interesting, intelligent, lively guys and gals my age. So I went there too. And they lived up to their billing.
With time and study and being around Christians a lot, I began to learn about the faith and to grow in it and to like it. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. I went to bars more than a few times. During my first college semester away from home I stopped going to church or studying the Bible entirely. Then I got into another group of dynamic, growing, dedicated, young people. This new group helped me learn to study the Bible systematically and to develop a full theology that affected all of my life. In essence I learned then that the faith had to be practiced every day, not just Sunday.
Leap ahead several years. I’d been a dedicated evangelical/ fundamentalist/ non-denominational type Christian for many years. I’d marry a woman of similar stripe, and we were raising kids in the faith. But the wife and I had began to see the bankruptcy of the evy/fundy way. The process happened over at least 7 or 8 years and involved great amounts of study. Perhaps the single, best starting point was the book “Evangelical Is Not Enough” by Thomas Howard. Reading that book brought into focus all the problems we were trying to identify and qualify. Rather than virtually reproduce it here, I’d suggest you just read it. It’s actually a pretty short book. (A note that Howard ends the book as an Anglican but he went on soon afterward to become a very orthodox Catholic.) Some of the most notable things that chased us out of Protestantism were: shallow worship, the lack of standards or cohesiveness in the Church globally, the madhouse of interpretations, and to no small extent the widespread Calvinism amongst evy/fundy types.
Once we’d identified the problems with the evy/fundy Church – and by extension most of Protestantism – and started to grasp the significance of tradition and liturgy, we went to older, liturgical churches to learn more about liturgy first hand. It took us a bit over a year to really focus on the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC). Frankly they just seemed too much like the Alien Mother Ship. But once we did go there and get to know the people, it was like finding the home we didn’t know existed.
The EOC has been growing a lot over the past couple decades. This stems from a lot of people learning that evy/fundyism really isn’t enough. Some other old, traditional, liturgical churches have also received a growth boost from that; notably the Catholics.
In case it’s of interest to anyone, here are just a few of the books that were significant in our path out of evy/fundyism. All are fairly short, and would give a good idea of what path we followed.
- “Evangelical Is Not Enough” by Thomas Howard
- “For the Life of the World” by Alexander Schmemmann
- “Becoming Orthodox” by Peter Gilquist
We found our way to the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) because our study of history showed us that it was the church with the best claim to an historically consistent tie all the way back to the first century. We were also drawn because of its deep and ancient liturgical understanding.
All seemed well then. We loved the EOC and its services. And we loved the neat people in our parish. So what happened to make it all fall apart in less than 2 years? … Heck it was still going well as of the summer of 2006, so it really all fell apart in a lot less than 6 months. It was such a whirlwind that I actually find it hard to recall it all now.
As a result of diligent prayer having no impact on a lady in our church who was diagnosed with mental illness, I began an exercise to carefully sift through 25 years of praying. Not just my praying, but others’ praying too. And I realized that no prayer had ever been answered, in a clear, unmistakable way, so far as I was aware.
I also started to look at the lives of Christians compared to the rest of the world. Very few differences could be found between Christians and non-Christians.
In short, I couldn’t find anything to indicate any substantive reality behind the Faith. No changes in the lives of believers compared with non-believers, no miracles, no answers to prayer. Nothing.
Another core issue centered around God himself. When you look through the Bible, you don’t see God hiding. He’s quite visible in many ways. Pardon me then if I expected that the same God ought to be similarly visible today. But of course He isn’t.
In addition, since any descriptor of God is meaningless, we must worship, “We know not what.” How could I have any relationship to that which I could not even vaguely define? How could I believe in something that I could not even grasp at an elementary level? How could I sensibly embrace the nonsensical?
So I was facing a mountain of skepticism and evidence that I’d accumulated. Then came the critical question for me. Would I accept what I now saw as the truth, or would I push it away? I couldn’t push it away, so I was stuck. In an ironic twist, I found myself in a version of Martin Luther’s position: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Over a number of weeks I slowly let go of the Faith and could no longer believe. Fortunately, once I accepted this new life, it was fairly easy to build a life without an “invisible friend”. The future isn’t frightening and life goes on.
(written on September 22 2007)