Note: Some of you who’ve been in contact with me probably already received some variation of what follows.
These past few days, I’ve been recalling all the insights I’ve gathered from various sources throughout my life about the futility of plan-making. I’m not just speaking as an ENFP who’s very “P” and very biased against long-term planning and closed doors and dogmatism. I’m speaking as one who knows and has experienced how quickly something we thought was one way was actually another way, how quickly expectations can be thwarted, how random the universe seems at times. Make plans, but hold them with a loosened grip, I’d say. God, life, others—they have a way of kindly mocking any attempts we make to gain some sense of control of our lives. I think "control" can become an idol, if we allow it.
Please feel free to write me off as being a bit overdramatic, though I don’t feel I’m exaggerating my current sentiments.
As of late last week, I’m no longer a part of the church plant—Trinity Community Church—for which Joann and I moved to Olympia to begin our new married life together. It was unexpected, hard, frustrating, and hurtful. I’m disappointed by this outcome, the decision that led to it, and the philosophy that drove the decision.
Please extend me grace if I speak out-of-line here. I seek to share with objectivity, but am in reality a bit bound by my own subjectivity. That’s kind of the nature of things, I think.
Dan (my co-pastor) and I came to the realization of a significant divergence in our theology, and the conclusion he reached was that we could not minister together.
The issue at hand is salvation. Dan holds a very conservative stance on the matter, basically affirming that those who are Christians in this life will live eternally with God, those who aren't, won't. Eternal salvation is exclusively for those accept Christ.
I hold an inclusivist position on salvation. What this means in short is that I believe that we cannot know who will or won't be with God forever, and are unable to judge this. I believe the gates of heaven are much wider, and that while Jesus is the one who has made the salvation of humankind possible, there will be many people who for whatever reason do not affirm Christ as Lord in this life—people that God, who is a loving, merciful and just judge, will accept as God’s own. Part of the difference is that I believe we cannot know who will be saved, Dan believes we can (Dan is certainly not alone in this belief).
Also, the difference between inclusivism and universalism is essentially that inclusivism allows for people who adamantly reject Christ in this life and possibly the next to, on judgment day, when they truly encounter God, still resist God. Christian universalism or universal reconciliation affirms God's sovereignty and recognizes our corporate identity as humans and essentially says God has already justified all humankind and will eventually obliterate sin, healing all people and relationships and freeing everyone in the end—no matter how awful they were in this life or to what “god” or experience of the Divine they gave their allegiance. I would describe myself as an inclusivist who hopes universalism is true, though I'm not convinced. :)
My theology is certainly Biblical. I've come to my conclusions through my understanding of the God I encounter in God's word and the teaching of Jesus and others, in addition to reason and experience. Dan, however, has reached different conclusions. Both are justifiable positions, as evidenced by how many brilliant scholars and followers of Jesus throughout history have reached both conclusions. However, my view is not Dan's.
Now to be clear, I didn't want to leave the church plant, nor stop partnering with Dan. I knew for a long time, even when I was in China and we had our initial Skype conversations, that Dan was much more conservative than I. However, the issue never explicitly came up. I knew my views were likely different, though I did not realize they would be offensive to Dan and a barrier to serving in ministry together. What drew us together was not our identical theology. It was personality, and a common vision of ministry that had more to do with spiritual formation and empowering people for ministry and what Christian community looks like.
Also, Dan's vision of a plurality of leadership—multiple co-pastors—seemed to allow room for differences in theology, as long as we were all set on the fact that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the author of our salvation, etc. I was drawn to this vision, believing a diversity of Christ-centered theologies is something that challenges and enriches a community of Christians, rather than harms them. However, I was mistaken. Plurality for Dan means different personalities and gifts, not diverse theology. In short, I wrongly assumed there was space for my views and for dialogue about such matters as a church.
Dan wants TCC to have a conservative theology, with a very outlined conservative doctrine. I do not. I wanted us to be very simple in our theology, affirming the historic creeds of the early church (rather than specifically Reformed theology, Catholic theology, Quaker theology, whatever) and focusing more on how we want our community to live and act and be, while giving room for disagreement among the leadership and the whole church body on matters like this one.
So unless I were willing to change my views dramatically, which I don't feel I could do simply for the sake of making this ministry partnership "work," we can't serve together. Unless Dan were to change his vision of leadership and church to allow for differing opinions among leadership—even about an important aspect of theology such as this—it won't work. And he will not budge.
We told our church community last week, and it was awful. People were stunned, and rightly so. We just had our other pastor, Jeff, leave the group several weeks ago for very different reasons. But most appeared supportive of both Dan’s theology and his belief that this disqualifies me from leadership of this church. I was a bit shocked and a little disappointed at how little discussion there was about the matter. I guess it confirms that I don’t belong with TCC, even if I feel they would benefit from someone like me being in their midst. I possess a deep love of dialogue, to explore the paradoxes and diversities of faith and those matters which aren’t necessarily black and white. But, as a friend recently pointed out to me, the nature of those with more conservative theology tends to be that they do not share this love.
So that's it. You can see the logic of the "split" in what I’ve said here, but on an emotional level, Joann (who shares my views) and I feel like we've been excluded, and are hurting right now. To be fair, I think Dan also is frustrated and hurt too, feeling burned by me for not being more explicit with him sooner, and hurt because his vision of leadership is, so far, not working out. I think just as I am disappointed in Dan for the way he's responded to this and what it’s revealed about him, I think he is disappointed in me, and in himself. And then there’s just the pain of disillusionment, thinking this whole enterprise was one thing and finding that it wasn’t. There is a small sort of death that has happened here that Joann and I are mourning.
I've certainly learned a lesson and will be very clear about such theological matters in the future. But whatever things I should have done different, we're here, where we are, and I don't regret that. But I'm deeply saddened by the conclusion that Dan has made, and disappointed that something I was so excited about will not come to fruition. Such is life at times...disappointment, but often disappointment that paves the way for unexpected blessings. I want to always be readying myself to receive whatever discoveries about God, people, the human condition, relationships, and myself might be made, regardless of whether or not something seems a success or a failure. Plans get thwarted. C’est la vie.
I do hope the best for TCC. I care deeply about Dan. He is a gifted communicator, encourager, leader, thinker, and filled with passion. And he is a friend. God is and will be honored by his ministry. I'm not confident about the rightness and goodness of what has transpired. But despite my disagreements and disappointments and critiques, I'm hopeful for his journey in ministry and the light and love and hope that will be brought to many through his efforts.
As for us, I'm not sure what's next ministry-wise...it's a bit too soon to speculate on that. Are we disappointed we came here? No. Olympia has been a great place for us to start our first year of marriage. Joann has a great job. I have a great job teaching English in a diverse, international community (which I've wondered lately if that's the real "reason" I'm in Olympia, not TCC). I think Dan and I both made mistakes in this process, but I certainly don't regret the friendships we've developed here, with Dan and others. Joann and I will be in Olympia until at least next July, and may stay longer. I'm not one to know what's going to happen more than a few months out. :)