Theology Soup

I started going to church when I was a baby. Which sounds funny because clearly I didn’t think to myself at a few months old, “huh, I wanna check out these Jesus followers.” My mom became a Christian just before I was born and started going to a Southern Baptist church. Before you get a picture in your head of holy rollers, this church was planted in Northwest Washington where even self-titled Charismatics are probably not going to get too demonstrative. (This is a stereotype which several of my friends from home break, I’ll grant you.)

We didn’t holy roll. When it was time to worship, we just followed orders. Hymns, praise choruses, stand, stand, sit. No one said, “Amen,” no one raised their hands.

When I became a Christian for real at age 16, I wanted to be at church every moment. Still Southern Baptist. I devoured my Bible and tattooed it with question marks which I would frequently harass my pastor with through email. I did all the 12 week Bible studies you can think of, Experiencing God, The Mind of Christ, A Heart Like His.

Then, because I felt this call to be a missionary, I found myself at Moody Bible Institute. I was like a toddler on the loose, making friends, staying up late, listening to guys debate theology and kind of in awe of their adult sounding opinions…

At that time I remember being curious about all that Holy Spirit stuff. I had never heard anyone speak in tongues and never really been taught anything except this phrase, “Those gifts are not for today. The one charismatic guy I knew in college took me to some passages in 1Corinthians, but all of it was foreign to me and I came to no conclusions.

When I got home from college (ie. was kicked out for bad grades) my home church had changed enough that my sister and I decided to find someplace new together. We found an Assembly of God church. What did we know? Actually, it didn’t seem all that different, except that people did raise their hands- some of them. They seemed a little bit more relaxed.

But then I went with a small team on a missions trip to El Salvador. This was just after some major earthquakes there, so we were scouting to find something the church could do to help. Here was my first encounter with speaking in tongues. And, friends, it was intense. My friend Krystal and I had come with our AG pastor and another older man… and the sermons they gave were quite different than what they gave up in Washington. When I was called on to pray for people who were shaking and sobbing and speaking in tongues, I found myself praying for God to save me from the horror show and that I could escape without being asked to hold snakes or something (no one held snakes).

Not surprisingly, at this point in my walk with God I became really interested in Orthodoxy. I had this beautiful daydream about wearing plain clothes and studying theology books someplace quiet and peaceful. I longed for liturgy and echoey churches with such tall ceilings that the humans could feel dwarfed and in awe of God’s presence.

Instead of this, though, God led me to Youth With a Mission. If you know YWAM, you know why this is a funny progression.
Again I found myself surrounded by people speaking in tongues, but this time I could sense that God had more he wanted to teach me.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about that except to say that I finally began to understand those passages in 1 Corinthians that had made no sense in college. I began to see the purpose and place for speaking in tongues, dancing during worship, getting Words of The Lord for other people. I didn’t do all of those things, but I saw good fruit from their use.

From there, I settled in a small town north of Seattle and started going to a Free Methodist church because it was within walking distance. If you know anything about the Calvinism/Arminianism debate, you know what a Baptist girl can learn from a Free Methodist. What was most surprising to me there, actually, was that the majority of people, regardless of their leaning, are not really that different. I don’t know any people who lean toward Calvinism who would say there’s no point in doing missions and I don’t know any on the Arminian side who would go around telling people they’d lost their salvation.

There are so many implications to all of these lessons, but what I’ll summarize that season with is this, I love my Free Methodist family.

Next stop on my Christian Cultures Ride, back to YWAM. This is where I am now and where I have been for 2 years. The real difference is not the theology or culture (although that is very different), the real difference now is how I am responding. I had started to write a whole post many months ago about this part of my journey, but I still haven’t quite found the words. What is new in me is that, after seeing several sides to these outward expressions of inward beliefs, I am finally finding out who God has created me to be. I want to continue to be challenged and I still have a lot more to learn, but I’m discovering this about myself; I’m more demonstrative than most of the churches I’ve attended but I’m so much less “charismatic” than many in my missions family.

Theologically, I believe God will keep upsetting my comfort so that I never get stuck in worship grooves. He doesn’t want us to believe Christianity is about raising your hands or not raising your hands, dancing or standing still. He wants us to come to him for real and respond to him naturally and freely. When I step into a group of Christians, I’m not looking for what is popular or accepted, what I’m looking for is Jesus.

Worshiping God is as diverse as are the individuals who come to him. Since his most big picture plan for humans is to dwell with us, I feel safe in saying that he well enjoys hearts that are turned toward him- standing still, shouting Psalms, praying tears or chanting his name.

5 Comments

  1. Jeff Holton
    Jan 15, 2014

    My first experience with a congregation that spoke in tongues was at a concert at a charismatic Episcopal church. It was beautiful and otherworldly and I had the distinct sense that I had been ushered into Heaven and wasn’t supposed to be there yet.

    They were later removed from the Episcopal church for their refusal to quit the weirdness, and they later became Eastern Orthodox.

    As you know, so did I. Though I haven’t personally experienced this gift, I am glad to be in a community that doesn’t tell God how He should or shouldn’t behave or interact with us. He’s squarely in charge.

    But that’s by no means to maintain the ludicrous “I’m right and you’re wrong” mentality. Quite the contrary, the older I get, the more I embrace the soup. I can’t see any other way to make sense of the infinity of God. I find massive quantities of the soup being served inside my own community, but there certainly seem to be at least servings of it running around elsewhere.

    In other news, I love metaphors.

    • pegster
      Jan 15, 2014

      This is good stuff… “Though I haven’t personally experienced this gift, I am glad to be in a community that doesn’t tell God how He should or shouldn’t behave or interact with us. He’s squarely in charge.”

      SO TRUE.

      Thank you for sharing, Jeff. Honestly, for a long time I have wanted to come visit your family and find out what your faith is all about. Hopefully this can happen some day. I really appreciate your perspective.

      Oddly enough, I’m not a big soup eater. I like to chew my food and not have it spill down my chin. It could be why I’ve also never spoken in tongues 🙂

      • Jane Lathrop
        Jan 15, 2014

        A man and his 6 kids come to our weekly Bible study. He says he’s not Calvinist, but spent a lot of time the other night showing us Biblically that God elects some and not others. He told us that we were being misled (by our pastor, I guess) I told him it didn’t matter what we believed about rapture (that’s what got him going) or tongues or any of those things. As long as we all believe that Jesus saved us with His death and resurrection, everything else was debatable. Besides, I didn’t care for his implication that our Pastor was leading us down the garden path or that we weren’t smart enough to read the Bible for ourselves to see what God says. It doesn’t matter as much how folks worship, as long as they worship. God, of course. Not like Satan or something.

        • pegster
          Jan 15, 2014

          The guy who taught John last week would put it this way, “Is this a theological hill on which I’m prepared to die?”

          Obviously ideas about the rapture and about election are not hills on which to die.

          What are you studying in the Bible?

      • Jeff Holton
        May 1, 2014

        Has it really been three and a half months since you said that?

        Sorry for the late response. Someday, perhaps, yes. Given how hospitable other members of your family have already been to me, I would love to repay the favor!

        Let us both hope there will be a time and a place.

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