Some 37 years ago, my wife and I moved to Houston. We lived there for almost five years, and belonged to two churches during that time. The first church was actually recommended to me by a football player for the Miami Dolphins. We sat next to each other on an airline flight to Indianapolis (big guy, his tie had dolphins on it, and he wore this ring which said SUPER BOWL, so I thought, “I wonder if he’s a football player?”). He was a fan of the head minister at a church in Houston, a big church, with some 12,000 members, and this was before anyone had heard the term “mega-church.” It was part of a big national denomination.
The minister was an excellent preacher. We joined the church, and then went looking for a Sunday School class. We found a young marrieds class, which had about five other couples. That should have told us something right there – a 12,000-member church and only five couples in a young marrieds class?
We really liked the class and the people in it. But after several months, we began to see that the teacher had some unusual ideas. I’d been a Christian for all of a year, but even I could figure out that something was odd about a church teacher questioning the authorship of the Bible and how some of the stories probably got stuck in there long after the Bible was written. That was for starters. We’d ask questions, and get looks like we were aliens. Which we likely were.
I went to a bookstore, found the denomination’s latest doctrinal statement, and knew we had a problem. We were aliens in that church; the teacher was teaching the church’s theology. We eventually heard about another church, a non-denominational church not terribly far from where we lived, and we visited and found our home.
Then we moved to St. Louis. We were confident that we could find a church something like ours in Houston. And – we were wrong. We looked and visited and looked and visited. One church we almost joined made a big deal about the consumption of alcohol – and you had to sign a statement that you wouldn’t drink. We said no. (We learned later that virtually everyone in the church ignored the requirement, including the elders.) We finally landed at a church that was part of a small denomination, but after we joined we heard all this talk about the heresy connected to the Armenians. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why the teachings of a small area of the Soviet Union near Turkey was so feared (yes, I was that naïve about theology).
Someone finally took pity on my ignorance and explained that it was actually “Arminianism,” the doctrine originating with Jacob Arminius, and that it was diametrically opposed to the true teaching of Calvinism, or what people fondly referred to as “the tulip.” Arminians were doctrinally wrong, frowned upon, and often ridiculed. We then realized that “Arminians” included the church we’d attended and loved in Houston. (For the record, no one at our Houston church ridiculed or even talked about the tulip, which we had previously understood to be a flower.)
The issue for us wasn’t the theology; it was more the lack of love. And we thought people were crazy to think they were fighting the Reformation all over again.
Since then, we’ve migrated a few times, learned more about theology, and understand why it’s important. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains it as simply and succinctly as I’ve ever heard it: “Theology is like a map…Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God…And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map.”
That makes sense. If you don’t know how to get where you’re going, a map is a necessity.
We've been discussing Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. To see more posts in the discussion, please visit Sarah's site, Living Between the Lines. The links can be found in the comment section.