The Beginning of My Faith Journey in the
Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement Churches
I was born at 11:09 am, Thursday morning, 21 September 1967 in Wichita, Kansas. I was born a few weeks premature. My dad was working out in the field on my grandpa’s farm when my mom went into labor, and they had to race to get him in a world before cellphones. At birth I had some breathing problems, so I remained in the hospital for several days. But soon I was brought to a loving Christian home.
Much of my early childhood I remember only in fragments. I have memories of church and Sunday school, of Vacation Bible School, and listening to my parents or one of my relatives reading the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s Gospel every Christmas Eve. I remember prayers over dinner and memorizing Bible verses. From things my aunts and uncles tell me, I was an avid reader of the Bible. But I don’t remember much of this, except for a children’s New Testament I received from my maternal grandparents. But it wasn’t till I was about seven years old that I had any real conscious memories of prayer and relating to God personally.
When I was seven, over the Christmas school holidays, I one night lay awake waiting to go to sleep. I’m not sure what prompted the thought, but I distinctly recall the words “You should be baptized” coming to my attention. I lay there thinking about them a little further. I thought that God had spoken to me, so I shortly thereafter went into my parents’ bedroom and told them I wanted to be baptized. My grandfather, who was then a minister, came to visit and questioned me to make sure I understood, as much as a seven year old could, what I was doing. I must have satisfied him, so on 5 January 1975 (as I now know, the Eve of Epiphany) during a Sunday morning worship service at Countryside Christian Church, Grandpa baptized me in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the remission of my sins and that I might receive the gift
of the Holy Spirit.
My life after baptism was the same as any other Midwestern kid raised in the mid- to late-seventies. I prayed. I went to church most Sundays. I tried to live within the moral framework my parents and church had set for me. There were summers at church camp, Little League baseball. I read the Bible and other Christian books. I memorized Bible verses. I was taught what our churches believed.
The Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement churches
I was raised in, and spent most of my adult life in the Stone-Campbell movement churches, sometimes called the Restoration Movement churches. Historically, these churches arose out of primitivist and revivalist Christian movements in the early nineteenth century. These revivalist happenings are known as the Second Awakening (following on the first Great Awakening in New England in the eighteenth century), and one of the greatest of these revivals occurred at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, home to Barton W. Stone, a one-time Presbyterian minister, one of the early founders of the movement. At that revival a great Protestant ecumenical work was done as Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian ministers, some thirty or forty or so, ministered in unity to the thousands that came to the revival. Cane Ridge is considered, by many Restorationists, to be the incipient event launching the Restoration movement.
The other family involved in the founding of the Stone-Campbell movement was Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander, from Scotland, also Presbyterians. Barton W. Stone has often been noted as being the great catalyst toward unity in the movement. The more philosophically inclined Campbells, Alexander in particular, lent the movement its other emphasis on purity of doctrine based on Scripture alone.
For the first three decades or so of the movement, it was much more a loose association of various groups who agreed on the twin foci of unity and sola scriptura. Something more like a parachurch organization, the association soon found themselves unwanted as they pressed their home churches to forego creeds and confessions, perceiving them to be instruments of division, for the simplicity and purity of doctrine arising from a singular consideration of Scripture. Seemingly unable to work this “second reformation” from within the existing churches, the association eventually formed their own group of churches and called themselves the Disciples of Christ.
The balance of emphases on unity and doctrinal purity was a hard one to maintain. Soon even within the Disciples there was a major hermeneutical difference that centered on the use of instrumental music in worship. The more Southern branch of the movement asserted that since the New Testament didn’t explicitly command or allow the use of instruments in worship, then their use was forbidden. The other northern churches in the movement asserted that silence was not prohibition, but rather could be seen in this instance as freedom. If instrumental music were not explicitly condemned, then, as it did not violate any other clear command of Scripture, musical instruments could well be used. In the years following the Civil War, these more conservative a capella churches split from their northern neighbors and became known as the a capella churches of Christ. Though ostensibly about worship practices and biblical interpretive methods, clearly sociological differences exacerbated the tensions as well. The non-a capella group continued to call themselves the Disciples of Christ.
In the twentieth century, the Disciples of Christ were not immune to the battles over theological liberalism that raged through most American denominations. The more conservative group resisted this trend by establishing Bible colleges and eschewing many of the institutions of higher learning. But when some of the Disciples wanted to form their own denomination, the more conservative group utilized it as a catalyst for the enjoined struggle. Eventually, the more conservative group split away as the Disciples formed their own denomination. The conservative churches generally called themselves the independent (as in non-denominational) Christian churches and churches of Christ. These, together with the a capella churches are what are generally referred to when use is made of the phrase “Restoration Movement
Renewal of Faith
I was born in the aftermath of the split in the Disciples, so my upbringing in the Stone-Campbell churches reflected the difficult feelings resultant from the split. My understanding of the Church was staunchly anti-denominational, and, to a degree, anti-intellectual, both reactions to theological liberalism and to the denominationalism that forced out most of the former Disciples
As is often the case with young believers, my teen years proved a difficult time, especially concerning faith and morals. Although I would not have denied the central Christian doctrines I had been taught–such as the divinity of Christ and the Trinitarian understanding of God–in terms of moral behavior, I succumbed to those fairly typical temptations of teen years. Being a year-round sport letterman, I fit in with the “macho athletic” crowd, got into some fights, and picked on other kids. At the same time, being in the accelerated study program, I was held to higher expectations, and was fairly frequently in outright rebellion with my teachers and other authority figures. Although drugs made inroads among my peers, by my own parents’ involvement in my life, as well as the mercy of God, I was kept free from drug use. Too, I’d seen the effects drugs had had among my own family members, losing an uncle to the downward spiral drugs inflict, and so had a strong influence against using drugs.
During my sophomore year of high school, my dad was transferred by his employer from Augusta, Kansas, to northwestern Washington state. We settled in Bellingham, Washington, and for the first several months, I hated it. More than once I woke up amidst dreams that I was back home with my friends, only to realize as full consciousness came that I was some two thousand miles away. But as summer approached, the anticipation of the football season hit me. I had made friends through working out in the high school weight room with some of the upper classmen who would be leading the football team in the autumn. In June there was a football camp near where I lived, to which many of my fellow teammates were going. It was a Christian camp put on by former NFL professional football players. I went, had a good time, and met some professional athletes, Christians, whom I quickly grew to admire.
But after the camp was over, I continued the “nominal” Christian life I’d been living for most of the time following my baptism. On 1 August 1984, that all changed.
One of the professional football players at the camp, Brian Flones, a former linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, was giving a talk at the local Assembly of God church in town, Calvary Temple. I was familiar with the church, having gone to it several times with some of the high school acquaintances I’d gained after arriving in Washington. On the morning of 1 August, I received a call from Mr. Flones. He told me about the talk, and invited me to come. He said that it might work out afterwards if I had any questions or wanted to talk that perhaps I could go with him and the youth pastor for a soda. I told him I’d go, and hung up the phone.
Despite being called by a man who’d played professional football, and anticipating going to the talk, I nonetheless almost didn’t go. I went to the gym in the late afternoon to workout prior to the talk, and wrestled inwardly while cleaning up as to whether or not I’d really rather go to the talk or go home and enjoy a nice summer evening watching TV. As you may already guess, I
went to the talk.
He gave his testimony as to how he became a Christian. I didn’t quite relate exactly to all that he had to say. He’d lived a different life than mine prior to his becoming a Christian. His life had a marked “before” and “after” relative to his conversion, whereas my conversion was at such a young age that there wasn’t that sort of demarcation. But what he said about living the Christian life in the power of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God through faith struck a chord with me. I went home and lay in bed praying. I told God that I’d messed up a lot, but though I’d at times repented and tried to get my life right, I just could never live the way he wanted me to. I just didn’t have the strength to do it. I finally told him, in terms that are probably best not used when addressing Deity, that if he wanted me to live the Christian life, I would do it, but I couldn’t do it on my own strength. He’d have to do it through me. But if he would do it through me, I’d sure let him. I’d do my best not to let him down.
I had discovered, at fifteen years old, the biblical understanding of grace as synergy. Or as Paul puts in in the letter to the Philippians, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure.” And so, not surprisingly, by the mercy and grace of God, I have not turned away from that decision even more than twenty years later. I surely have sinned since then. And I have had some brief periods of rebellion. But they have always been followed by heartfelt repentance as I continue to grow in the faith.
Shortly after this renewal of faith, my parents went through a difficult time in their marriage. As a high-school aged kid, I was both aware of things my parents tried to shield me from and also blinded by my loyalty to my parents to some of the issues around which their marital struggles revolved. This was a very dark time for me, especially having just begun to take seriously the faith in which I’d been baptized. But two things helped me bear up under these challenges.
I’m not sure how or why, but shortly after I’d been renewed in my faith, I began praying and reading the Scriptures every morning. It was immediately a habit. I never experienced the struggles most people go through in making a time of daily worship and Bible reading part of their faith practice. Of course, I’ve often missed days. And indeed, for most of the time I was in the Episcopal seminary, I didn’t keep this habit (though I returned to it soon after I left the seminary). But it has nonetheless been a life-long habit all the years since.
By the providence of God, I had also made friends with a classmate, a year ahead of me in school, who went to an non-denominational church, Immanuel Bible Church, there in Bellingham. Through my going to church with him, and through our friendship with his family, my family (except for my father who was separated from us) also began to attend, though what the church taught about baptism and the Lord’s Supper differed markedly from the teachings with which we’d been raised. But it was a church home, and one other very important factor marked my earliest months of rededication to Christ.
One of the most important aspects of the church life there at the parish was a strong discipling ministry that the high school youth group had. Young college age men, young fathers, as well as a few older men, all ensured that we young men (the girls and women were similarly matched up) were taught the basics of the faith and how to defend our beliefs in a world antagonistic to belief in the deity of Christ and his bodily resurrection from the dead. It was an important time. I saw people older than me but near enough to my own age whom I could both respect and admire living out the faith fearlessly and boldly. These were adults who took their faith seriously and gave of their time to ground us young men and women in the faith.
My mother, of course, was quite concerned that I might be persuaded to accept doctrines foreign to what I’d been taught, or to reject them for other beliefs. But she need not have worried. Though there were clearly influences toward premillennial dispensational eschatology, and salvation without baptism, I was largely immune to these things because I was mostly indifferent to them. I was more taken with the fact of these leaders living the faith day in and day out, and that I could give a rational defense of my faith.
Senior Year Decisions
Through all these things a good solid foundation of faith had pretty much just been laid when the summer of 1985 came around. My parents, after several weeks’ separation, made another attempt to reunite. And they decided to try to get jobs back in our hometown area so that we could move back to our hometown. This would enable me to graduate with the class with whom I’d grown up. As much as I once had hated to leave Augusta, I now was ambivalent about returning. There was excitement to see my friends again, but I was not enthusiastic to leave my first real church home.
But return we did. It proved to be a year of mixed blessings. For the first time in several years the football team not only had a winning season, but made it to the district playoffs. We missed the regionals playoffs by a single point. I was involved in the school plays and forensics, and won some awards. I got involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at high school. I dated a long-time friend. And I looked forward to graduating.
But in the late fall, my parents split again. This created turmoil for me. I began to act out in school, and was all but told not to enroll in the second semester of my German language class, lest I be kicked out of it. I skipped school. My girlfriend and I broke up over the Christmas holidays. And I had no clue what I was going to do for college in the fall. My mom and I made a few (for me) half-hearted school visits. But I was adrift.
The spring I was to graduate, I read Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor, an account of the mission work among the Auca Indians of Ecuador and the martyrs’ deaths at the hands of the Aucas of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and their companions. It was a moving story, and it gave me a clue as to a way I could live the dedication I felt to my Christian faith. A few months later, I decided that I would go to Ozark Christian College and train to become a missionary.
Just prior to that decision, I had made another decision. Since our return from Washington, I had mostly attended the local Baptist church with my friends. While my dad, who was raised Southern Baptist, would not have cared, he was not living with us. My mother, however, cared deeply. She and my dad had decided, by means unknown to me, that my sisters and I would be raised in the churches she’d grown up in, and in which her dad, my grandfather, had ministered–the Restoration Movement churches. Since the Baptists did not believe that baptism was essential to the process of salvation, and did not observe the Lord’s Supper weekly–and perhaps for reasons less oriented to doctrine and more influenced by our chaotic family situation–she repeatedly refused to allow me to go to the Baptist church with my friends. But being physically larger and stronger than her, and having my own set of keys to Dad’s pickup, I simply walked out the door on Sunday mornings and went to the Baptist church.
Nonetheless, sitting in the worship service with that morning’s conflict with my mother still ringing in my head made me absolutely miserable. I could see no valid reason why I shouldn’t worship here–especially since my own mother was at that time not consistent in attendance at her own church–and no reason how this was in any way really disobedient to my parents. After all, didn’t God take precedence if a parent told their kid to do something that was against God’s will? Nonetheless all this rational analysis would not allow the uneasy feelings to dissipate, so in April I formally joined the Restoration Movement church she considered home.
With that decision, and the subsequent decision to attend Ozark Christian College, I had made my adult commitment to the Restoration Movement churches.
The First Years at Ozark Christian College
My five years at Ozark are a period in my life to which I look back with nostalgia, thanksgiving and joy. There were struggles, to be sure. At one point, as will be explained, I considered leaving. But even knowing what I do now, I would not hesitate to re-live, as I first had lived it, that period of my life. Indeed, it is precisely because of what I learned, and the mentoring I received, that I eventually came to where I am now, at home in the Orthodox Church.
My first three years at Ozark were a mix of discerning my vocation (should I be a missionary, youth minister, pastor, campus minister?), learning how to defend the faith and growing in my ability to read, understand, apply and to teach and preach the Bible. I took three years of Greek, two years of Hebrew, and had exegetical classes in: Mark, John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, and Revelation; and also took two (of six) semesters of a class entitled the “Life of Christ” which was a synoptic, chronological exegesis of the Gospels. I took a year of Old Testament history, and had a few classes in apologetics. There were ministry classes as well, but this will give a glimpse into the biblical worldview that was being shaped in my mind.
Mine was a fairly normal college experience. I had a few girlfriends while studying there, and went on dates. I rebelled against campus curfews. I played practical jokes on friends. I debated politics and religion with my friends. I played racquetball and went to the gym at the Y. And, seeking my vocation in the churches I was training to serve, spent most weekends as a student youth minister in Stockton, Missouri; later as a student pastor to yoked parishes in Mound City, Kansas.
But through these first three years imperceptible if no less fateful decisions and changes were occurring. First and foremost, I bought in deeply to the “plea” of my churches: to see the life and faith of the New Testament Church made a reality in my lifetime. I very much longed for that which the New Testament-era Christians had: a direct connection to the Church founded by the Apostles.
Secondly, I also bought in deeply to the insistence of my churches that our doctrine and the content of our faith conform to that of the Apostles. I very much longed for an adherence to the original Faith in all its purity.
Finally, the last important element was an insatiable appetite to understand ideas, and the skills to research them. This was to bear fruit in the last two years of college in terms of the papers I wrote and the friends I associated with, but I will write about that later. One early example, was my purchase of a Greek-English text of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, including Ignatios of Antioch, the Didache, 1 Clement, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Shepherd of Hermas, and so forth. I bought the book during the Christmas holidays of my freshman year. Another example was my Church History class. Though I didn’t keep any papers I wrote for that class, I very much attribute to that class my awareness of such things as the Church Councils, the battle against heresy, the Fathers of the Church and their writings, and so forth.
So by the time I began my fourth, and next-to-last, year at Bible college, the foundations had been laid for the changes that were soon to take place.
An Individual Renaissance
The academic year that began in August of 1989 did not give any obvious portents of what was to come. Earlier that summer my girlfriend and I had broken up and I ended the student youth ministry I had served for a couple of years. During the summer I had worked on the grounds crew at the local refinery in my hometown, and had done some supply preaching to area churches. Toward the end of the summer I sold my first car for a new Ford Tempo. When the school year began, I ended up changing my major to the more solid five-year theology degree (since I already had most of the classes I needed for it). I dated a little bit at the beginning of the semester. And I worked at odd jobs that I could pick up around town.
But two things did happen in the first month that started the process of change that was coming. I saw the movie Dead Poets Society, and was invited to an informal study group led by a local minister and adjunct professor at the college.
Dead Poets Society–though it did, after all, win an Oscar for best screenplay; and was nominated for best actor, best director, and best picture–has its obvious weaknesses. Nonetheless, it struck a chord in me that opened up my mind and life to a broader world. I had pretty much grown up on pop music, read science fiction and fantasy, and read popular Christian books. I was a decent student, but really had no interest in the serious study of the classic works of English literature, or of Greek and Roman literature, and definitely no interest in classical music. But Dead Poets changed that.
I’m not sure why the movie struck me in the way that it did. I wasn’t unhappy with my heritage churches, or my Bible college experience. It’s true that I chafed under campus rules that were stricter than what I’d had when I was at home. It’s true that by this, my fourth of a five year program, I had begun to realize that there was still a fairly strong anti-modernist, anti-intellectual strain at the school left over from the controversies of theological liberalism from the era of the school’s founding, and those tendencies began to be problems for me. But overall I was very happy at Ozark, and had begun to form friendships that were mutually edifying and supportive.
In any case, soon after seeing the movie a couple of times, I began using it as a guide for introducing myself to classical music (by writing down the works from the movie’s credits) and to the poetry read in the movie. I acquired copies of Whitman and Frost, and an inexpensive edition of Shakespeare’s complete works. But what began as something like imitation, soon spread out to other arenas. I became hooked on literature generally, and “found” favorite authors in Dostoyevsky, Annie Dillard, and T. S. Eliot Partly due to my dissatisfaction with my philosophy class, I struck out on my own and focused on those authors generally classed with existentialism: Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre and Camus. I began to think along new pathways and to write more broadly. I began to engage the wider world. For a paper in my ministry class, instead of following the usual path and focusing strictly on church model paradigms or biblical text interpretations for the foundation of the paper, I decided to glean insights from Thoreau’s Walden.
At the same time that this Dead Poets Society-inspired transformation was taking place, the second major catalyst was also furthering that transformation. At the invitation of a couple of my classmates, I started attending, intermittently at first, a small study group of like-minded friends.
We began to look at what was to us a new concept: worldview. We utilized recognized evangelical tools: Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? movie (and I later read the book), Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton’s The Transforming Vision, and Os Guiness’ The Gravedigger File. We watched Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, read and discussed T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Annie Dillard, wrote and read our own poetry (blank verse almost exclusively), discussed linguistics and deconstruction, and pretty much any other topic we wanted.
Our group facilitator and mentor, a local minister and adjunct professor at the college, Kyle Gardner, was a model of open inquiry on solid Christian foundations. Though stricken with multiple sclerosis, his mind was, and remains, sharp, and his dedication to serving the Church and to Jesus Christ have marked me. He is a man who knew, and knows, what it means to suffer for Christ’s sake, and his example was a paradigm for all of us, and remains so for me.
We were about as disparate a group as one could imagine. We had an artist (working in many media, but mainly oils), a poet (who eventually went into journalism), a former self-confessed occultist (my roommate), a future youth minister who had an interest in film making, a future philosophy professor (one of my friends), and me. At the time I was pretty much your standard ministry student, but was reconsidering what I had taken to be my vocation as the worlds of English literature and philosophy opened up to me. In fact, by Christmas break that year I seriously considered not returning. I began to carefully consider whether God had really called me to ordained ministry. Given the gifts I was discovering I had, could it be that God was calling me to academia to teach literature?
As it so happened, of course, I did return to Ozark for the Spring term after the new year. But that short four-month experience wrapped around Dead Poets Society and Kyle’s study group opened up the future for me and started a serious wrestling with a vocation I had once thought to be so clear. That vocational struggle would last some fifteen years.
But as much as I was going through what was to be something of a renaissance for me (that would last a couple of years), what was shortly to happen upon my return to classes in January 1990 would bring what was to eventually be the end of my journeying among the Stone-Campbell churches, and the beginning of the path to where I am today.
The Discovery of Liturgy and the Longing for the Historic Church
I returned to campus in January 1990, intent on finishing my degree, but becoming more conflicted about my developing worldview understandings and the tenor of the intellectual climate at school. One of the classes I enrolled in was Professor J K Jones’ “Practical Ministry” class. As the name may lead one to believe, it was very much about the practical aspects of ministry: conducting weddings and funerals, administering baptisms, pastoral calling, taxes, personal finances, sermon preparation, time management, and, most important of all, the minister’s personal worship discipline. To facilitate that last, we were required to purchase Bob Benson’s and Michael W. Benson’s, Disciplines for the Inner Life, a devotional book that is very much modeled on the daily office. There was a weekly theme, with lectionary and readings. A structure including an invocation, a psalm and a benediction. It was liturgy—though I didn’t then know it.
Up to that time, my “quiet time” or “devos” amounted to daily reading a portion of Scripture (usually two to three pages), some brief reflection and some prayer. I also normally included some journaling. But with Disciplines, I found myself doing the unthinkable: praying the same prayers each day. And I found my response to be surprising as well: I began to grow in my worship practice.
It will only take brief moments to tell how from that one book, which I used everyday for a year, I was eventually led to a greater understanding of the historical development of the daily office, to various liturgies, and particularly to the Book of Common Prayer. I soon read Robert Webber’s Worship Old and New. I began to learn about the daily office in monastic practice.
And through both of these I developed an increasing longing for a connection to the historic Church whose worship was liturgical from the very beginning.
The catalyst for my eventual leaving of the Cane Ridge trail was not some great doctrinal dissatisfaction. It was not the suffering of personal hurts at the hands of fellow Christians, though both of these things have some truth about them. Rather, what propelled me from Cane Ridge first to Canterbury and finally to Antioch was the discovery of the historical and liturgical worship of the Church.
Having begun using Disciplines, I soon found I could not return to my old worship practices. By August I had purchased my own copy of the Book of Common Prayer, and began immediately to use it for daily worship—a practice that would remain in place for a bit more than a decade. I soon grew tired of the orientation at my college, and in many of the churches I worshiped at and later served, toward “contemporary” pop-and-rock-driven music and spectacle.
But most important of all, it was the liturgy that awakened me to the need for sacramental worship. When one approaches God from the standpoint of a liturgy which shapes reverence and seriousness of purpose, one cannot but help to wonder if this bread and wine one handles isn’t really something more, or whether this water in which one baptizes doesn’t hide the spiritual forces of the deep and the trailing glory of the footsteps of our Lord. If the public service is little more than hymn-singing and teaching, one may be forgiven for supposing that one should shape a service oriented toward the needs of the congregation. But if the public meeting is the work of the people who are there to honorably and reverently render God praise, then everything changes.
I continued to meet with Kyle’s group through the rest of that school year. In January I also began to serve a pair of yoked parishes in Mound City, Kansas, which would continue till just after graduation. But though outwardly many things were progressing forward along the Cane Ridge trail, inwardly many other things were happening. My mind was being changed on a number of important issues.
A Change of Foundational Thinking
So, from the fall of 1989 through the end of my schooling at Ozark, significant changes were occurring, changes which involved a major restructuring of my worldview as well as major changes in my theological understanding. These changes were mutually reinforcing of one another. A change in theology would entail a revision of my worldview, and vice versa. In time, I moved from a naive modernism, to something of a chosen anti-modernism, to eventual postmodernist understandings, and beyond postmodernism to Tradition and orthodoxy.
As most gen-x Americans, I was raised and educated in a world which believed that man was the measure of all things, and that human reason, flush with the success of the moon missions, and other technological advances, could pretty much figure out the world and change it. Though elsewhere in the world, the modernist worldview had been called into question, and deconstruction had already begun to make inroads, in the U. S., the proverbial “man on the street” was still mostly modernist.
And as I tried to live into the renewal of faith that had begun when I was in high school, I was confronted quite directly with the modernist attacks on Christian faith. To assist me in standing firm in my faith, my youth leaders provided me with apologetic resources that took these attacks head-on and showed their internal contradictions or simple falsity. This continued at Ozark, where I had entire classes devoted to these matters. It was at Ozark that this naive modernist mindset which I’d pretty much grown up with turned into a more self-chosen anti-modernism. By anti-modernism I do not mean anti-intellectualism (though it can be, and often is, that), but rather a mindset that mostly unconsciously accepts the tenets of modernism (the centrality of human experience, the authority of reason, the belief in objectivity, etc.) but uses these same presuppositions to undercut the attacks of modernism on faith.
Anti-modernism essentially shows the dead-ends of modernist criticisms, but fails to appreciate the impasses of modernist first principles. And in that failure, anti-modernism is consumed by its own devices.
As quickly and as easily as I took on the anti-modernist mode of thought, I as quickly came to see its emptiness. It defined itself over against modernism, and without modernism it had nothing else to say. Of course, much of this came to me unconsciously, but with the study we were doing in Kyle’s group, this eventually came to my conscious wrestlings and made for further rifts with my heritage churches and with the school.
But the move into and out of modernism through anti-modernism continued on with its trajectory, so that within a few years of graduating from Ozark, I was firmly in agreement with many of the tenets of what is now called postmodernism. Given my faith background and the work we did in Kyle’s group I began to see that postmodernism, though not inherently friendly to faith, could itself be exploited for the purposes of faith. And I remained in this mindset for some seven or eight years, though I did not come to consciously understand it for what it was until roughly the autumn of 1994 (three years after I graduated from Ozark).
These broad worldviewish moves resulted in some concrete changes of belief. I began to question the very “Restoration Plea” which was a center piece of the life of my churches. As I’ve noted previously, this plea asserts that the beliefs and practices of the New Testament Church need to be restored into the life of the churches today. Now, of course, I still believe this—but not in the way it was taught me.
My churches taught that the beliefs and practices of the New Testament Church (up to the death of the Apostle John) became, in time, corrupted, buried and transformed under layers and layers of human tradition. It was our job, as Restoration Movement Christians, to return to the New Testament, have done with all these later accretions, and believe and live the simple and pure faith of the New Testament. Of course, we did not ask how it was that Everyman could lay aside all prejudices, all preconceptions, and understand the New Testament in precisely the way the original authors intended. We just assumed Everyman could.
Soon, it became clear to me in my hermeneutics class that to accomplish the Restoration Plea would take a particular hermeneutic; namely, the historico-grammatical method. One could not accomplish the Plea with an allegorical or tropological reading. Furthermore, even using the same hermeneutic, there were going to be important questions that could not be answered: is it permissible to use instruments in worship, or is it forbidden? All of these things begged the question of first principles. We only get the same conclusion if we come to the text with the same presuppositions. So it was not true that Everyman could utilize a simple and unsophisticated reading of the text and come to the same conclusions as his neighbor.
Not only that, but the use of the hermeneutic was inconsistently applied, based on the presuppositions which oriented the hermeneutic. Case in point: baptism versus the Lord’s Supper. We Restorationists believed that God’s salvation was applied to the person in the act of immersion in water. We used Scripture to show that it was an essential part of the process of salvation that one be immersed. On the other hand, we did not believe that the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper was anything more than bread or wine or that Jesus was any more present to us then and there than at any other time. The Lord’s Supper was merely a memorial meal. We used our hermeneutic to show the texts on baptism were intended to be taken at face value. The texts on the Lord’s Supper, which would give an understanding that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of our Lord, were taken as merely metaphorical, allegorical and not to be taken literally.
1 I remember that the import of 1 Corinthians 10-11 and the Lord’s Supper came home to me, in concert with my growing understanding of the liturgy, as I sat quietly during the distribution of the communion elements at one of the churches I served in Mound City. I had just given the meditation and prayed, and we all sat quietly in contemplation and prayer. At that moment I knew that the bread and wine had to be more than just water and flour and pressed grapes. Christ, himself, was offering himself to us, to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood.
In a move then-unusual for me, as well as for our small congregation of stone-faced farming families, I slid out of my chair and knelt on the floor. I did not then have any understanding about the sacraments, the necessity of apostolic succession, or whether anyone could make these tiny slivers of cracker bread and thimbles full of grape juice into the Body and Blood of Christ. I just knew that if I interpreted the Scriptures on the Lord’s Supper in the same way I did the Scriptures on baptism, that something deeply mysterious and holy was going on. I wanted to acknowledge that.
I’ll not run through a catalog of the changes in my beliefs that happened over time. Nor is it necessary here to trace my philosophical and theological developments out of anti-modernism and into, then back out of, postmodernism. That all will become evident in time as my pilgrimage from Cane Ridge to Antioch takes shape. But suffice it to say, from two simple events at the beginning of my next-to-last year at Ozark—seeing the movie Dead Poets Society, and taking part over the course of two years in the study group with my friends—my mind and heart were being shaped in ways that ensured I could not stay where I was. I would need to move on and follow the longings that were developing within me for a tangible connection to the historic Church and its sacramental,
Leaving the Trail, Looking for Canterbury
By autumn 1990, I began my final year at Ozark. I was a much different person than when I’d begun four years earlier, in 1986. Having been raised in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement churches, in April of 1986 I had made my first adult commitment to those churches, and later that summer had decided to pursue a vocation in ministry. I had explicitly owned the Restoration Plea, and served various student ministries as part of my training and education. But by the start of my final year, I’d begun to question the Restoration Plea, had come to new theological and philosophical convictions, had owned the legitimacy and normative standard of the Church’s historical liturgy for worship, and had begun to come to an understanding of the sacramental nature of Christian faith. I
longed for some sort of tangible connection to the historic Church, the New Testament Church which I was in the process of concluding had never disappeared nor ever had its faith diluted or changed. I had been introduced to the Book of Common Prayer, and had begun to make connections between my evangelical heroes of the faith, C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, and Dorothy Sayers, and the Anglican church of which they were faithful members. At the same time that I was reading a biography of T. S. Eliot, I was also reading Robert Webber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail.
The process of leaving Cane Ridge for Canterbury was a long one, and was not accomplished in one single decision. Part of that dynamic was the period of pain and disappointment I was about to enter during this final year at Ozark and that would last for another five years. Part of it involved a constitutional inability to come to a quick decision. But not to be discounted was the strong and supportive relationships I had formed in my time at Ozark.
I owed a lot to the men who mentored me, professors and ministers. From Kenny Boles I gained my knowledge and love of Greek. I also learned from Brother Boles not to take the solemn pronouncements of various Restoration Movement leaders too seriously, given that time often brings new perspectives and understandings. From Mark Scott, I learned my love of Scripture and the utmost respect we are to pay it. But I also learned that the core of Christian living was a heart and mind surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. From J. K. Jones, I learned to see ministry from the standpoint of cooperating with the work God is already doing in a person’s life. I learned to be a midwife to the Spirit, to cooperate with the grace working itself out in the individual heart, not to assert my own agenda. I learned from Brother Jones to wait, to listen, to pray, and then to act. From Kyle Gardner, I learned that loving God with all my mind was not optional but was central to discipleship. But I also learned that loving God with all my heart, soul, and strength involved suffering, that no Christian life was exempt from suffering, and that only through it can Christians be given integrity.
There were the many friends and parishioners who supported me, and to whom I had, and have, a great responsibility. I owed it to them, and still do, not to lead them astray from the faith of the Church, and to embody in myself the life that God desires to live in me. At that time, during my last year of Ozark, and for the next several years, I was not always sure that heading away from Cane Ridge was a good thing. My mind and heart told me one thing, my sense of obligation told me another. I was sure of the things I was learning. But as is always the case with me, to make such a momentous decision takes a level of certainty not usually granted us this side of heaven. I would have to take the steps which I was convinced God was demanding of me, and to trust to him the outcomes and consequences.
But more to the point, certain events began to unfold which took my attention away from these decisions, and gave me a focus on mere survival.
During my last two years at Ozark, my parents’ long-troubled marriage began to unravel, and during the Thanksgiving holiday break of my fourth year, my father told me one on one in our kitchen that he would be separating from my mom, and moving out. The long months from that point till their eventual divorce was an unforgettable period of the pressure to take sides and the dealing with the dissolution of the only meaning “home” had ever had for me. Forever forward, the peace and joy of family holidays would be destroyed in lieu of competing allegiances. Weddings would be marred by various conflicting demands. And even the celebration of the arrival of children would be always colored by the darkness of divorce.
Not only was I fighting the demons on the homefront, the solace I hoped to find in dating and vocation was soon shown to be misplaced. I made horrible decisions with regard to dating, and endured the consequences. At one point in my final semester, I simply hibernated and recluded myself in my dorm room. I emerged to fulfill my student ministry obligations, but for little else. Friends kept me up to date on class assignments, or brought “health food” to keep me bolstered.
I eventually emerged from blue funk, preached my senior sermon, graduated as salutatorian (including giving an address at graduation), and was eventually installed as a campus minister after graduation. More suffering was to come, but this is better told in the account of my journeys along the road to Canterbury.
At this point, I was till a Restorationist Christian. I enrolled in a semester at seminary, while serving as a campus minister. But I had found liturgy and the historic Church, and nothing would dissuade me from pursuing it till I found it in its fullness. That would first mean leaving the Cane Ridge trail for the Canterbury road.
© 2004, 2007 Clifton D. Healy