I’m the purified and/or putrefied product of a Protestant potpourri. From the mainline to the sideline to the outsiders trying to break from tradition and back again, I’m originally a Protestant by providential circumstance, and I’ve grown to be a Protestant by professed conviction. And the confessional contours of my present Protestantism are more akin to the premodern medieval variety than the popular evangelical variety.
United Church of Christ
I was born into a family who were a part of a Congregational Church in my hometown which was affiliated with the UCC by that time. The local congregation has roots in the German Reformed Church. I was baptized in that church on November 25, 1979. And I attended that church regularly during my whole time in my hometown. I still think of this as my home church despite various changes in affiliation that it’s undergone. It’s now an independent community church.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
I moved from my hometown to another small town in a neighboring county in eastern South Dakota in the Fall of 1989. And there I began attending the local ELCA from fifth grade through eleventh grade.
By my middle-school years, I became engaged with religious and philosophical thinking on my own and was self-motivated to attend church. I found value in my three years of Confirmation classes studying the Faith through the classic Lutheran catechetical model of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles Creed. I cheerfully went above and beyond the mandatory minimum requirement for taking and submitting my sermon notes in the Confirmation process.
My biggest takeaway from this season in my life was the simple foundation of a healthy fear of God and respect for his commandments. I had a conviction under the Law. And I had an inherent trust in Scripture as the Word of God despite knowing very little of it.
I can think of two notable developments in my faith at this time: I began engaging with the issues of creation vs evolution and the exclusivity of religions.
I consider this my backup home church, coming second in rank merely because it came second in chronology.
Milestone: This is where a pastor affectionately called me a smart-ass for the first time.
United Methodist Church
In the Summer of 1996, I moved from eastern South Dakota to south-central Minnesota and attended the local UMC as a high school senior. I don’t have anything particularly notable to report about that year or so with respect to that UMC. Maybe just the fact that the end of it came when I shared some creationism materials with the pastor during my freshman year of college and his reply about his views (on politics) told me all I needed.
Independent Fundamentalist Charismatic Church
As a high school senior, I took college freshman classes. On the college campus, I made a connection with a local Charismatic campus ministry. And I remained engaged with it for twelve years. It was a roller-coaster ride. Or perhaps it was a love-hate relationship.
I can definitely say that the most beneficial and formative aspects of this campus church were the boot-camp ethos that instilled discipline and character and the commitment to heavy engagement with Bible reading and study. The young adults in this campus group tended to become the student leadership in the other Christian campus ministries.
At the same time, frankly, it was a bit cultish with a holier-than-thou air of elitism and its selectively uncritical attitude toward approved Charismatic authority figures and their teachings. It had a number of quirky and confusingly heterodox doctrinal traditions.
As far as Charismatic Christians go, I consider this a significantly grounded group. And I’d attribute that to their strong commitment to Bible study and holiness practices. This has spared them from much of the hazardously antinomian kookiness that’s endemic to Charismaticism which has earned the broader group the epithet “Charismaniacs”.
For better or worse, I’m a product of this particular fundamentalist Charismaticism, and that has shaped the fashion I inhabit my particular sort of post-Charismaticism.
Ultimately, I had diverging theological convictions that made it difficult for me to grow or exercise my particular gifts and calling in this church environment.
Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church
During my sophomore year of college, I was involved and became a member at a local independent fundamentalist Baptist church. This happened through my contact with another campus ministry supported by that local Baptist church. My membership at the (cessationist) Baptist church was short-lived as my commitment to the teachings of my Charismatic campus ministry won my allegiance at the time.
It was the Charismatic campus ministry that convinced me at the time that I needed to be subject to believer’s baptism. And I underwent that believer’s (re)baptism at that local Baptist Church on a snowy Sunday evening in January 1999.
The best takeaway from this IFB church was the lifelong connection I maintained to the campus evangelist whom I met and his family. They’re now my in-laws! And they’re not IFB any longer. My father-in-law has described himself as a “Recovering Baptist”, and my in-laws attend an large Evangelical Free Church.
Assemblies of God
When I was out of college, I started attending the local Assembly of God. This was mostly on the insistence of my Charismatic campus pastor since I wasn’t regularly attending the home church for the ministry, which was a long distance away from where I live. I was a member of the local Assembly of God for six years. That spans two pastoral regimes.
I did very well under the first pastoral team and the church culture that existed when I arrived. I eventually had a very fulfilling ministry teaching adult Sunday school. In the interim between pastoral staffs, I started volunteering with the youth group.
But after the regime change and a completely new pastoral staff, I became increasingly marginalized by the differences in the ministerial approach I held and that of the new team. That and my theology became self-consciously Calvinistic in an environment that was unsympathetic on several levels. Eventually, my own divergent views boxed me into a place where I lost all of my agency in the church.
I took it as a clue that perhaps I was better off seeing if there was another local church in which I was a better fit.
Presbyterian Church in America
I left the Assembly of God in August 2008 and the Charismatic campus ministry (and its new local church plant) in November 2008. I felt very adrift, like someone newly divorced and without my family.
I tried out the local Evangelical Free and Evangelical Covenant Churches, but neither one particularly clicked for me. On the suggesting of a few friends, I reluctantly tried the local PCA church. I soon experienced the warmth of a welcoming tight-knit congregation with a love and passion for a traditional liturgy to which I’d grown to hope to return one day. Despite some doctrinal differences, I stayed. And I grew to find the doctrines persuasive. From 2009 to 2013, this felt like a glorious new golden age in my life. I’m pretty sure I’m irreversibly Reformed as a result.
But there was a change in pastors and a change of congregational composition. And after a long struggle for a host of complicated reasons that I can’t resolve solely on my part, my wife and I didn’t think this could be our church home any longer. We left in May 2016.
Milestone: This is where a pastor affectionately called me a smart-ass for the second time.
Evangelical Covenant Church
My wife and I sought to recover and make a fresh start at a local ECC church not far from our house. We were friends with a number of people there. But we ceased being fans of contemporary evangelicalism a long while prior in our lives. No local church seemed like a great fit, but we knew we couldn’t neglect attending church somewhere. We decided we needed to be somewhere for a season. And we were. And we had our ups and downs with it. And we eventually reached our limits on a variety of fronts.
United Methodist Church – Part Deux
My beloved former PCA pastor connected me with a man who became a new friend to me and who was starting a three-year pastoral commitment at a local rural UMC church. As a result of our sudden friendship in the Fall of 2017, my family and I started attending that little UMC country church and became members. There’s a familiar comfort to the rural blue-collar notionally conservative congregation. But it’s not without its struggles for me. On the one hand, I’m a Calvinist in a Wesleyan denomination. On the other hand, I’m a theistic realist in a mainline denomination full of theistic anti-realists and theological revisionists that’s on the verge of fracturing into pieces. The future looks rocky here.
Milestone: This is where a pastor affectionately called me a smart-ass for the third time.
The Future of My Protestantism
I don’t know what the future of church life and affiliation holds for me. But I know I want to return to a local Reformed church someday. We’ll see what God in his wise providence has in store for me and my family.