As we all know by now, Don Miller has “left the church”… or at least, that’s the impression you’d get if you read all the response to his blog posts a couple weeks ago. Since I’ve seen a bit more commentary on the subject over the last few days, I thought I’d finally chime in.
Actually, what Don said was that he doesn’t really connect with God through the corporate worship gathering (he’s critiquing evangelical worship gatherings here, where the worship service is primarily singing and a lecture by a smart Bible-guy), that he connects with God better through nature and his work, and by spending time in robust community with people he cares about–many of whom are Christian.
I can’t say that I was surprised, offended, or even alarmed by all of this. I don’t think that makes me special; it’s just that as a self-aware non-Catholic/non-Orthodox, I understand the precariousness of my position. I belong to and pastor a non-denominational church. We have built our own community, selected our own liturgy, and though we work hard to make sure what we teach and believe lines up with what Mother Church has always taught, still within that we’ve been just a little selective… I love and freely quote Augustine, but I don’t embrace his views on everything. And of course as much as I want to say that we’re submitting our life and teaching to the faith of the Church, one must ask the question – which “Church”? The one that thinks that what we’re doing is probably spiritually beneficial but ultimately not a true expression of the Church (see Roman Catholics, Orthodox, etc)? Or the “Church” that I’ve concocted out of my own mind and within the spectrum of my own selectivity?
These are the problems that Protestants and Evangelicals of all stripes must inevitably face, and they are why the critiques of Don Miller, as valuable as they are, ultimately ring hollow to me. Don has chosen to form a certain kind of community–dependent as it is on Mother Church–that doesn’t worship in the so-called “normal” way. He wants to claim that he has not left the Church, or orthodoxy, but that he understands why those of us he’s supposedly “left behind” do not understand. Does this sound eerily familiar to anyone else but me?
We wring our hands, we fret and worry. How will Don stay orthodox in his faith? What will happen if others follow him? Can you just imagine the departures from fidelity and crazy heresies that will spin out of this? He’s sawing off the very branch he’s sitting on!
I would like to modestly submit that the reason we’re doing this is because deep down, there is a nagging voice in the back of our Protestant heads that says, “Don is doing what we’ve all been doing since the Reformation… we’ve all sawed off the branch we’re sitting on, and we’re deathly afraid that really, we’re all falling.”
That fear must be named, lest we vilify, slander, and ultimately bid “farewell” to Don for crimes we’re all guilty of. Unless we’re all willing to go back to the Catholic or Orthodox Church, we all need to just take a minute and admit that this Protestant/Evangelical experiment that we’re all in is just that… an experiment. We’ve departed to try doctrinal and liturgical experiments that apparently Mother Church never thought of… and when all is said and done, history may prove that it was a good experiment–that it brought needed freshness and reform to the global Church, and that to that extent it was indeed a movement of the Holy Spirit. Or history may prove that it was a complete disaster–heresies, schisms, enmities and factions. Or perhaps history will prove that it was somewhere in the middle–that for a time, some folks with valid critiques stepped away from Mother Church in order to create a sort of prophetic witness against that which they were departing from… that in some ways they succeeded, and in other ways they failed.
None of us knows. I for one sense that the Spirit is breathing on what I’m working on, and what I’ve committed myself to. I believe in the value of it, even if I cannot wrap my mind around how it fits within the plan of God. I make no claim that the peculiar and socially conditioned form of “gathering” I happen to pastor (and prefer, to be quite honest) is something ultimate. It’s an experiment. I sense Jesus in it. I hope that others (particularly my Catholic and Orthodox friends) will respect that and see the fruit of the Spirit in my life. But I can’t demand that they do.
And when the Don Millers of the world say that they don’t want to participate in gatherings that me and my “Protesting” friends have created, and ask that I try to respect the form of Jesus-centered community and spirituality that he (in his protest) is creating, it is disingenuous at best, outrageously hypocritical at worst for me to get angry at him, label him a heretic, and excommunicate him.
I’m not saying that I think what he’s doing is a great idea, but dear Lord, if any of us who have broken away from Mother Church to engage in this experiment are going to try to pluck the speck out of Don’s eye, we’d better be sure we’ve expended the energy to haul the huge friggin log out of our own eye first. And truth be told–so long as we continue in the experiment, the log remains, and we just don’t have a lot to say to Don.