When I was a small child, I had my exposures to Christianity. At the time, my family forced me to attend a Presbyterian church, and I was even forced to be baptized in that church. Eventually, my family stopped attending church altogether, and I was left with a perception of Christianity that was seriously flawed, and very negative. When I stopped going to church in my early childhood, I did not understand the Bible, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the Apostles Creed, and so many other parts of the Christian faith. For my family and I, Christianity was essentially a cultural gathering rather than the Way. For much of my childhood after this, I stayed away from Christianity, especially the Mainline churches that I had negatively experienced as a child. It was not until a few years later that I would begin going to church again.
Not long after my older brother had converted to Christianity through the Pentecostals, he had persuaded me to go to church with him. I did not believe in it, but I respected the teachings of Jesus and the community, so I gave it a try. The church that we attended was an Evangelical Free church (which really appealed to me since they only baptized those who voluntarily chose Christ). Despite the wonderful, lively way of doing church, the Evangelical faith that I was being exposed to was only a facade. On the surface, they appeared to be non-hierarchical and modern, but just beneath the surface was Christendom. Behind the rock bands and charisma was the backing of coercive missionaries, Republican politicians, and war. I had to leave.
Despite having only negative experiences with church growing up, the Bible — especially the gospels — made a profound impact one me, and still wanted to find a way of expressing a Christian faith. I traveled all over the place at this point. I tried out various churches: Methodist, Catholic, Acts 29 (think Mark Driscoll), and even Gnostic! Â Eventually, I even felt a very strong pull to be a pastor (and I still do). Also, I came back to my family’s old denomination — the Presbyterian Church (USA).
My return to the Mainline Protestants was, as before, met with failure. My individual congregation was hijacked by fundamentalists, which made it a hostile environment, but I also felt something missing in the Mainline churches in general. The Evangelicals had a post-Christendom facade with a Christendom faith. Basically, they had this nice contemporary and voluntary way of worship on the surface, but they went on supporting state institutions, war, and so much other evil. What I have found in my personal experience with Mainline Protestant churches is something similar.
Where the Evangelicals are currently fusing themselves into the United States government and military, the Mainline churches are direct descendants of the colonial European governments, and still have institutions and big church buildings that reflect this. Mainline churches do not seem to have the activity, the charisma, of the Evangelicals. There is a kind of assumption that people will just regularly attend church by default. Basically, I have found the Evangelicals with bad theology and good practice, and I have found Mainline churches with good (or better) theology and bad practice. (Of course, this is only based upon my personal experience.)
I was (and am) stuck. I could not fit into either dominant expression of Protestantism. Both of them just felt empty and co-opted in some way. Then, over the last couple of years, I have found pockets of Christianity that were in a similar situation. The first such example that I found was the emerging church, but the one worth mentioning here is Anabaptism.
While I do have my criticisms of Anabaptism (as I do with all things), it is something that I think really has potential, and it could be very appealing today if it was more familiar to the general population. We have the Evangelicals being rejected by many in this generation and future generations, and then we have the Mainline churches which are in horrible crisis. Today, as with the Reformation, Anabaptism acts as a “third way” — one between the historical-institutional behemoths and the evangelical reformers. I have certainly found Anabaptism appealing to me for this reason.