I lurked, and saw what became of the Biblier Than Thou Movement.
No, it did not completely die. It did not die as I watched. It did not die years later, according to my information. As far as I know, it still exists. But it's not much of an existence.
The surviving leadership looked deep into their navels, and decided to be less harsh or something. What this amounted to was doing a whole lot less of... well, of everything.
The remaining members seemed depressed or dazed, like survivors of a hurricane. They focused more on family for some reason. The marrieds developed a circle-the-wagons mentality. They wanted to shelter their children from the dark, Satanic world out there. There was a scandal involving a children's leader and pedophilia. So much for sheltering the children.
The church still managed to bring in some new people. Not quite enough to offset the steady trickle of those no longer showing up, but some. And the new people were of a narrow demographic range. They were all of one of two types: married couples with family problems, and elderly women.
Gradually, over time, the sermons became more treacly, more platitude-laden.
There was a vibe to the place. A weak vibe. A sad vibe. A familiar vibe. Then it hit me. This church was becoming a clone of the First Church of Nowhere! I was right back where I started. Nowhere had found me.
The landscape is dotted with Nowhere churches. Sad little congregations that exist purely from force of habit. Once they must have been superchurches, full of faith and ambition. Then they burned out. As a supernova leaves a white dwarf as a remnant, so these churches left behind the church equivalent of a white dwarf. I have watched this happen.
A white dwarf star does not die, because it is not really alive. It glows, ever more feebly, from the remnant energy of the life it has lost. It is undead. The very first church I ever went to was one of these pitiful embers. Coincidence? No, statistical likelihood. Because they are everywhere.
At this point, I just stopped showing up. I ghosted. I said nothing, because there was no point in saying anything and it would only hurt everyone's feelings. This, by the way, is what's done. Many had done it before me.
At this point, I did not know what do do. I checked out other churches, and nothing had changed - except there were these "seeker sensitive" churches that seemed different. Not different enough, though. Not differently different. The great thing about those churches is there's not so much pressure to join.
I decided I needed still more information. I started researching church history. And what I found was... we've already been over that. It was the missing piece I needed. Now came my eureka moment. My epiphany.
Epiphany: Attempts at restoration are all a waste of time. It can't be done - not even temporarily - without the Apostles. The Apostles are the missing ingredient, and there are no substitutes. The Church described in the New Testament is long gone. Barring a literal miracle, it's not coming back.
Corollary: This means there are not - nor will there be - any authoritative interpreters of the Bible to apply Scripture to situations arising now, in your life. No one can interpret it for you. No one.
So, what do we do?
First off, if you take the Bible at all seriously, and believe in the God of the Bible, then you must interpret the Bible for yourself. I'm not saying you may, as if you need my permission. I'm not saying you should, as if it's my place to advise. I'm saying you must, because there's nothing else you can do. It's the only option left.
As no one has authority to tell you how to apply Scripture, so you and I have no authority to tell others how to apply Scripture. But each of us has authority over our own choices. If we make mistakes, we make our own mistakes. (This is why we need grace: because we can't always get it right, regardless.) But you must make your own choices, informed by God's Word. It's all you can do.
What of church? I won't tell you what you should do there. I don't want to be your next blind guide. I will tell you what I do, and you may take or leave it as you please.
I will attend any church that is not a white dwarf and that accepts the Nicene Creed. Yes, it's a creed, but it's early and simple and that makes it a useful litmus test. I'm more at ease with Protestant than Catholic. I particularly like to attend "seeker sensitive" churches.
However, I will not become a member of any church. Membership comes with problematic entanglements that compromise my relationship with God. I'm done with that. No more joining for me.
In my daily life, I let the situation and the Bible interpret each other. Life is the context by which I interpret Scripture, and Scripture is the context by which I interpret life. I am gaining insights and having more success in every area of my life than when I followed the blind guides. I make mistakes, but I learn from them and accept God's grace. I feel as if I am becoming a better person. I feel closer to God.
You could say this is at least halfway to solo Christianity. When the Bible says to be fully committed to the Church, it's talking about a Church that no longer exists, to people long since gone to their reward, not to us in this age. That injunction has no more to do with us than the Mosaic Law. The Church of that age brought people closer to God. Every church I have joined kept me from getting closer to God.
Either God is top priority, or something else is. I have been guilty of idolatry: the idolatry of church. I have repented, and I'm not looking back. But I feel free to attend any church I choose, if my attendance is unto God and not men.
Here endeth the series. I have said my piece. Thank you for reading, and God bless.
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- This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Restorationism and Beyond.
- This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Restorationism and Beyond.