Today feels worse than Maldanado’s missed kick two weeks ago. Danny O’Neil, Calvary Fellowship’s head pastor, announced two things: That he will be resigning and a church from Springfield will be taking over our building. All of this will transpire before Christmas. Until today, these things were in the future; sometime next spring maybe. But now, they’re three weeks away. And, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m feeling a little shell-shocked.
No, I’m not surprised by it all – Danny’s decision to resign or the building being sold. But I am finding the reality difficult to deal with. I’ve never really been part of a different church body here in Eugene. I have plenty of friends who go to different churches and I’ve hung out with them a few times. But being active in a different church setting is something I haven’t experienced. Knowing that I don’t have too long to decide has put me in a strange spot.
What’s so difficult about possibly changing churches? Why am I hesitating in leaving the community and fellowship I’ve known and loved for the past five years? It’s because I have questions. I don’t see the Bible as black and white on a lot of issues and most – or at least many – church communities do. Calvary Fellowship with Danny O’Neil taking the snaps (it’s a quarterback reference; he’ll get it) has provided an environment where those who like to think are welcomed.
No, I’m trying not to say all other churches are lame and only mine is cool. I’m just saying most churches are lame, some are cool, and mine’s the coolest…
But seriously, I do not think someone like me with questions like mine would be welcomed into a modern-day evangelical community. Why? Because in many church communities, truth is black and white. Using your mind to think things through (much deeper than the surface) is discouraged and borderline heretical. Challenging “central” doctrines like the Trinity, inerrancy, or Sola Scriptura would demote any leadership role you might have or aspire to have, unless you came to the “light” and believed what they believe. Again, I’m probably over-generalizing a little too much, but honestly, I’ve been advised to leave Calvary because Danny was supposedly a “heretic.” My generalizations aren’t actually that far off the mark.
Evangelical Christianity needs to change. Danny O’Neil took a stand not against a group of people, but against an idea – an idea that demanded your compliance rather than encourage your exploration. This idea practically walks hand in hand with evangelical Christianity and quite frankly, it’s disgusting. It’s disgusting because while we preach this gospel of grace – what should be the most inclusive message in the world – we push so many people away. Instead of emphasizing loving God and our neighbor, we’ve gotten into the habit of emphasizing the right belief and “sound doctrine,” and that only after those beliefs are established could you emphasize God’s love.
But Jesus said it’s the other way around.
Danny invited people up to the front to say a few words about Calvary or about his preaching before we closed in prayer. One man came up and directed our attention to the two most important commandments and said that “Jesus didn’t hesitate in answering.” Love God, love your neighbor. It wasn’t “Read the book of systematic theology before I say these next two things.” Love God, love your neighbor. And yet, we’ve taken that to mean we’ve got to correct everyone’s flawed thinking about the Bible, Jesus, God, and Truth altogether and that in so doing we’d be “loving” our neighbor.
When I was wrestling with the doctrine of inerrancy a couple years ago, Danny asked me what I was really placing my faith in: God or a book. But thinking back on it now, I don’t think it had anything to do with the Bible, but rather what the majority of my Christian peers were saying about the Bible. I was wrestling with whether or not I agreed with the idea that the Bible needs to be perfect in order for faith to take shape. I was wrestling with whether or not I wanted to fit in.
Danny saw this flaw in evangelical Christianity a long time ago, exposed it, and received the undeserved consequences of false rumors, slander, and not being considered a true Christian. What is that flaw? We have neglected to love God with all our minds. We set up these lists of doctrines, theologies, and various belief systems to provide our intellects with a comfort zone so we can get to the more important things of converting people over to our side, signing up for one of our memberships, and training people in our way of thinking so we can keep the wolves out more effectively.
So many people are indirectly barred from possibly meeting Jesus because we refuse to intellectually relate with someone else. We refuse to question the Bible, our pastor’s authority, and those smart guys who wrote some really cool creedal statements a long time ago. But, whether we like it or not, we live in a postmodern world.
It’s a world that’s growing and developing its own dialect – a dialect we must, at the very least, learn how to speak if we want to spread the gospel message. But, like learning any new language, the most important first step is learning how to listen to how the language is spoken. What’s most troubling about this language of the postmodern world is that it requires us to ask the tough questions. Is the Bible telling the truth? Did Jesus even exist? Is God even real? And those are just the surface level questions.
My whole point is that modern-day evangelicalism needs to adapt and Danny O’Neil’s leadership style has given us an example of what that actually looks like. So much of me wishes he could stay and Calvary Fellowship could keep going, but the reality is God wants each and everyone of us to change. As Ethan Holub shared for a moment after service, the influence we’ve received from Danny O’Neil can be what we leave others with in different communities.
Two weeks remain for Calvary Fellowship as we know it. It really isn’t too much time to decide what we want to do or how we want to move forward. But what I hope (for everyone, not just Calvary members) is that we begin to ask questions. Why does the church have to sign on to creedal statements and theologies in order to follow Jesus? Why do we have to approach non-Christians with some sort of conversion agenda? Why are we clinging to commandments of men rather than the commandments of God?
Life with God is an exploration; physically, emotionally, and even intellectually – but only if we allow it. We can close our minds and coast on through to the day we die in our mental comfort zones or we can dare ourselves to trust God and God alone. Christianity’s tomorrow hinges upon our trust in Him today.