I think I understand why people find it so difficult to change their minds and why they are skeptical of others who do make changes like that. It is because they believe that the change they are considering or the change they observe in others requires the repudiation of all that has gone before. In most cases, however, that is simply not true.
It has certainly not been true of me. I grew up and began my ministry in Baptist Fundamentalism. I no longer identify with that community in any official or institutional sense, but I retain some of the convictions which I developed there, and I have some good memories. True, I have shed the tendency to judgmentalism and legalism which was (and is) too often part of that tradition. But I have maintained a love for the Bible, which was instilled in me back then, and I genuinely appreciate the depth of devotion to their beliefs, even if they are a bit skewed, for which Fundamentalists are rightly known.
When my view of the parameters of the Kingdom of God expanded beyond the limits of Fundamentalism, I found a home in non-denominational Evangelicalism. The character of the faith I observed in Evangelical Christianity was less strident, less doctrinaire than that of Fundamentalism, yet its roots were still firmly planted in historical orthodoxy. That balance is important to me even now.
The blog post I wrote on January 23 was titled “My Debt To Anabaptism,” and it described my pilgrimage from mainstream Evangelicalism to the Mennonite Church as well as the elements of belief and practice from that tradition which had the greatest influence on my life and ministry. My view of the importance of the Kingdom of God, my ongoing appreciation for the character of radical discipleship, and my commitment to biblical nonresistance all took shape and began to develop during my quarter-century among Mennonites.
All of these traditions have contributed something important to my life experience. They have all helped to make me who I am today. I come to Anglicanism out of an admixture of Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism (which also included exposure to the Charismatic Renewal), and Anabaptism, and I am richer for the experience. I’m grateful for the diversity which my pilgrimage reflects. I believe my preaching has been enriched, my teaching enhanced, and my pastoral gifts honed through my association with believers from a wide variety of traditions and communions.
I have changed my mind on some issues. And yes, I have concluded that I can no longer embrace some of the beliefs and convictions which I once held. But I don’t repudiate any tradition with which I was formerly associated (although my attitude toward Fundamentalism comes close, on occasion).
There is a down side to a pilgrimage like mine. It can be very lonely. It can lead to confusion and suspicion on the part of those who can neither understand nor accept the scope or the nature of the changes which I feel God has directed me to adopt. And each time I have moved from one communion to another, I have been required to develop a completely new network of colleagues and associates. My old networks have not transferred to my new contexts. Further, since I came to each new home from outside the tradition, I have sometimes been regarded as an interloper. The process of gaining trust and building relationships is time-consuming and, for an introvert like me, emotionally exhausting.
Has it been worth it? If you had asked me that ten years ago, my answer would have been an unequivocal yes. My transitions, first to Evangelicalism and then to Anabaptism, were relatively smooth, although not totally without some loss and pain. Still, the benefits far outweighed the sacrifice. This time, however, things are very much different.
In the first place, the cost of my transition to Anglicanism has been far higher, both materially and emotionally. Moreover, my moves to mainstream Evangelicalism and later to Anabaptism both resulted in numerous opportunities to use my gifts in vocational ministry. I felt genuinely needed. More often than not since moving to Anglicanism, I have felt superfluous. I have a theory about why that is, but I’ll save it for a later post. In the meantime, has it been worth it? The best I can say at the moment is that it’s too soon to tell.
So, I’ve talked about the down side of changing my mind. Is there an up side? You mean in addition to the incomparable satisfaction of knowing I have been faithful in responding to what I believe to be the movement of God’s Spirit in the depths of my conscience? Yes, at least in these ways.
First of all, I am far more tolerant of those who disagree with me than I used to be. In many cases, I have been where they are; I have held many of the beliefs which they now hold with such fervor. I understand the attraction, and who knows? They may be right. In any event, I cannot disparage their positions without bringing judgment on my own earlier motives and discernment.
And further, I hold my own current convictions far more lightly and, I hope, more humbly than I used to. If I was wrong once, or at least not completely right, I can certainly be wrong again. These days, there are far fewer hills on which I am prepared to die than I once imagined.
It is really difficult to make substantive changes in our fundamental beliefs. Believe me, I know. I also know, however, that sometimes the sense that God is prompting the change is so strong that the only appropriate response of faithful discipleship is to make the change and trust God in the consequences.