And then the path began to get bumpy. And poorly marked. And populated with lots and lots of people giving me contradictory directions.
In my reading, it soon became clear to me that there were about seventeen bazillion different theories, opinions, doctrines, and teachings on Christ and what He wanted His followers to do. One group claimed that the Trinity was an idolatrous creation, and it was Jesus alone running the show, yet I could easily find half a dozen groups denouncing that teaching. Another group insisted that drinking and dancing were hell-worthy offenses; other groups didn’t seem so bothered by it.
I vividly remembered a conversation I’d had with a loved one a few years previously, who was agonizing over officially joining a church she really connected with. The problem arose from the fact that this new church only accepted full immersion baptism as valid, and although she’d been baptized as a young adult in another church, it wasn’t through immersion, and so this new church wouldn’t recognize it.
I marveled at that, and grew steadily horrified about its implications. If something as necessary and fundamental as baptism couldn’t be agreed on, how could we humans know that we were getting any of it right? It seemed to me that anyone with an opinion about God and an audience willing to listen to it could start his own church. And all these churches teaching contradictory things certainly made it difficult to reconcile Jesus’ promise to Peter, that the gates of Hell would not prevail upon the church He was clearly establishing.
As I puzzled through that, I was also trying to get a clear answer about why even go to church at all? When Christ said He was establishing a church, did He really mean an actual, physical structure? Couldn’t I spend Sunday out in nature, giving thanks for God’s creation, and be engaging in worship? After all, what did I find at church that was found exclusively there? The internet made accessing a multitude of pastors and their sermons a cinch, so I didn’t have to go to church to hear instruction on the Word of God. There were plenty of Bible study groups in the area, so I wasn’t dependent on a church to connect me with fellow believers. Those who very much associated worship music with their church experience could find it on the local Christian radio station every time they got into their car. Even things like marrying in a church, as my own experience showed, weren’t dependent on attendance. So what did church offer that I couldn’t get anywhere else? And even if I could find an answer to that question, there was still the 5,000 pound elephant in the room of which church?
The story draws to a miraculous conclusion tomorrow, in the fourth and final installment.
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