A Reverend No More…..

Holy Week has often been a time when people renew their faith, join the church, or change old ways of doing things.

For me, this week involves all of the above. Eleven years ago, I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America. I took vows that I would uphold the doctrines, peace and purity of the church. I carried those vows over into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church about five years ago. These vows included the charge that if I ever found myself out of line with any of the major doctrines of the Presbyterian church, I would make those views known to those in authority over me.

This week, I started the process to end my ordination in the Presbyterian Church and to step out of formal ordained ministry.

Why this step? My basic reasons I’ve listed below. However,  allow me to take care of a few possible misconceptions.

First, I’ve not lost my Nicene Faith. My belief in the Nicene Creed is firm, committed and unshakable. Second, I’m not under the discipline of the church for any reason. Third, I don’t hate the conservative Presbyterian Church nor will you see me deliver hate filled broadsides. I never understood people who make everyone miserable just because their own theological views change.

My change is done with a full heart and conviction.

So, why am I doing this?

I’ll try to lay out my reasons in the most non-technical, non-theology Geek terms. I won’t expand or develop my thoughts. If people want to ask questions, they may do so in the comment section. I’ll answer. I don’t claim the below statement is  fully developed or gives a ground work for a wholesale change for anyone. I would never claim anyone should follow my path. That is the height of theological arrogance. I’ve no wish to exchange one pride for another.

Four Intellectual Reasons:

1) I’ve become fully convinced that the Episcopal form of church government, that is a church run by Bishops, is the most biblically and historically accurate form of church government.

2) Along those lines, I believe church tradition has way more of a role in biblical interpretation. I can no longer hold to the strict idea of “Sola Scriptura.”  It’s my belief the rest of Protestantism doesn’t either, as we really interpret the bible through our own historical, theological grid. I’ve just chosen to explore a deeper, wider historical biblical grid than the one I’ve previously embraced, Reformed Presbyterianism. To this end, I’ve found myself gravitating towards a more sacramental view of the scripture and the world.

3) I no longer believe in the doctrine of Double Predestination. This is the idea God chooses who will go to hell.

4) I believe American Evangelicalism is broken or breaking. I believe we encourage “pastor worship” and “pastor destruction” through our current hero worship mentality. Oddly, a Bishop/Priest system discourages this on all levels. Indeed, I’m often struck by how many evangelicals worship their pastor more than the Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox do their priests and bishops. This pastor worship/destruction is one of the reasons so many Protestant ministers have affairs, keep a bottle of whiskey in their desk, or one day just walk out, never to be seen again.

Four Emotional Reasons:

1) I’ve realized I’ve long repressed my need to “feel” God’s presence. I’ve lived entirely in my head and in my doctrinal obsession. This isn’t to say books are bad or reading is bad. I read more than most. But, I convinced myself this reading was enough to develop my spiritual life. Turns out, it’s not. In the past two years, I’ve been attending Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox services. I’ve felt God so strongly in these places. So strongly, I usually end up in tears by the end. While I never like to make emotional decisions, I can’t deny my emotions have played a strong part in laying aside my Presbyterian ordination. I needed to lay it aside so I could find God again.

2) God has been moving me from being a minister into being a writer and an artist. For a very long time, I fought the “artist” label as too pretentious and too annoying. Then I started having conversations with writers, artists, and creative folks. I realized how deeply I resonated with them. In contrast, when I would talk to my fellow ordained ministers in the past few years, I realized we weren’t speaking the same language. I realized how much my personality had either shifted or became more revealed as I started writing novels. This fact doesn’t mean there ought to be a hostility or misunderstanding between ministers and artists. They’re just different sorts of people with different spheres of influence. I’ll be seeking to combine them in some shape or form.

3) Along those lines, I’ve realized all my favorite writers are Anglican, Catholic or Orthodox. I’ve listed many of them in my blog. Suffice to say, I’m struck how powerful their “sacramental” view of the world impacted their writing. When I first started, I really had a hard time bringing the world into sharp focus through my words. Then, an interesting thing started to happen. The more my theology changed into a  sacramental view of things, the more my view of the Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper went higher, the better my writing seemed to get. Can I quantify that? No. Can I give a fully explained theological reason for this transformation? No. I just know it happened. Through my writing and my reading of sacramental authors, there is no doubt I’ve been lead down this path. Further, as I progress into novel writing, being ordained is neither required nor a real help.

4) Finally, I have a real desire to be honest in all things I do. I’m not very good at it, but I’m trying. To finally have this out in the open is a huge relief, as I felt I was hiding many of my growing convictions. I was afraid I would be judged by many of my friends and people would not understand. I hope they do “get it.”  If they don’t, I can’t really help it. For the first time in a long while, I feel peace and relief. I just want to worship without having to worry about “mission statements,” being “missional,” or feel like the Kingdom of God depends on every action I make. If it does, we’re all in trouble.

This doesn’t mean I’m laying aside my commitment to Jesus’ commission to “go out and make disciples.” During my time in ordained ministry, I found myself deep in tasks that never allowed me to focus on loving God, loving others and making disciples. I felt like I was always serving “the mission,” whatever that meant to individual churches I pastored, and it burnt me to a raw crisp.

So, that’s pretty much it. Please feel free to fire any questions at me. Please just do so in a respectful manner. I’ll do my best to answer each of them. This has not been an easy or comfortable process for me. It’s been a sort of a death.

Written on the Passion of Our Lord, Good Friday, March 29, 2013.

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out early next year along with a powerful new Young Adult Trilogy, Revolution of the Wolf and a moving middle grade series, Ghost Bear.

  • peteenns

    I respect your decision, Jonathan, and have lived it (apart from ordination). Many, many people have walled this path. I resonate with nearly all of your reasons. (though you did not mention inerrancy?). It is especially healthy not to harbor bitterness. You are not moving on to fight old battles, but to leave them behind. Go with God.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Pete,
      Knowing your story, and having followed it, your words mean a ton. Thanks.

  • Creto

    As a seminarian at the end of my time in “the bubble,” I find myself with similar thoughts and feelings. I’ve been tempted to walk the road to Canterbury (or ACNA) more than once. However, my family and I tentatively remain in the Presbyterian circles. Thanks for your honesty. We need more of it in Church. Maybe we wouldn’t feel as disillusioned if we were really honest in Church?

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Creto,
      I agree. Honesty n the church is sorely lacking. If you feel the tugging towards ACNA, please consider hem. They are in desperate need of young priests.

  • http://www.mikeduran.com Mike Duran

    Jonathan, I pastored a non-denominational church for 11 years, no formal theological training, eventually merged churches with a sister church only to watch everything crumble. I didn’t abandon the faith, though I was mighty tempted. Along the way, I found my view of God and the Church broaden. I also started writing, which I do now semi-professionally. All that to say, I totally appreciate where you’re coming from, think you’re doing it for good reasons and in a good spirit.

    The question I’d ask has to do with your statement, “I can no longer hold to the strict idea of ‘Sola Scriptura.’” I understand that tradition and history have played a part in shaping or isolating essential Christian creeds. Nevertheless, it seems like many in the “spiritual but not religious” crowd jettison the “strict idea of ‘Sola Scriptura’” for relativistic, self-styled nonsense, inching them closer to ideas historically viewed as heretical. My question to you is: As you move away from the “strict idea of ‘Sola Scriptura’” to something more experiential, how will you know when/if you’re going the wrong way? Blessings on the journey!

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Mike, I share your concern about being relativistic. I should clarify, I’m not moving towards a more emergent type of faith. Im moving towards an Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox understandingof the Bible. In this case, 2000 years of church history, the Bishops of the church and the teachings of the church are the biblical restraint.

  • Ron

    I’m interested in your point about no longer believing in the doctrine of Double Predestination. As a background, I was raised in an Arminian tradition and attended a Reformed Presbyterian college (Geneva). I have rather firm beliefs on the subject but would be interested in hearing more about how you came not to believe that doctrine.

    Blessings to you as you follow our Lord’s leading. May your relationship with Him grow immensely.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Ron,
      Thanks for stopping by! That particular discussion might be a blog post in of itself. In the end, I discarded it for two reasons. I find such an idea inconsistent with the revealed character of God in scripture and church tradition as a whole.

  • http://lyndonperrywriter.com Lyn Perry

    Echo much of your thoughts. Thanks for sharing the struggle.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Thanks very much, Lyn.

  • http://geezeronthequad.com Dave Swartz

    To pursue a new calling from God, any and all prior callings must die and that dying is hard. Also your pursuit of this may cost others and they won’t be asked if they want to pay. Artistic and creatives are saying a lot of important things relevant to following Christ; their language and intuitiveness lend themselves well to Christian spirituality. Know of my prayers.

  • Mav

    Hi,
    This is a really great post on so many counts. I appreciate how your top priorities are loving God and loving others, and that you are willing to give up and move on to keep in line with your priorities. I feel this is true faith, and I wish you well on your path.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Thanks, Mav. Grateful for your comments.

  • Laura V

    Jonathan,

    I’m excited for you and proud of you for writing about this. And its great to hear someone in your position admit to wanting to feel God’s presence. I find it’s kind of something that’s made fun of or taken lightly, or something one should maybe feel guilty for desiring…I don’t know. Just my experience.

    Hope to talk about this more the next time I see ya! Interested to hear more.

    Laura

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Thanks, Laura, much appreciated.

  • Greg Blosser’s

    The Anglican tradition is a fine Christian tradition and one from which I’ve benefitted personally (particularly in personal use of the book of common prayer as well as many of the writings of NT Wright, and others). As an ordained minister in a confessional denomination (Presbyterian Church in America) I’ve never felt it in conflict with my ordination vows to borrow liberally from various Christian traditions whenever I find in them something true, honorable, pure or beautiful. It’s true, I am a Presbyterian Minister. But I am a Christain Minister first. As such every properly Christian tradition is “my” tradition too. For me, having that perspective has helped to keep the particular shortcomings of the presbyterian tradition (and all traditions have shortcomings) from swallowing my sense of Christian identity and call.

    Secondly it is my sense that my tendency as a minister to allow ministry tasks to overshadow love of Christ and neighbor has nothing to do with my role as a minister and everything to do with the focus of my heart- something every Christian must address! Likewise, I suspect the struggles and challenges that face many Protestant and Evangelical pastors are faced not only by Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox priests, but by Christians that lead people regardless of the field, wether inside or outside of the Church. I think it’s likely the pressures of public leadership on sinful human hearts regardless of the church tradition. I won’t cite examples.

    All of these things have lead me to live as if Jesus cares very little about what denomination I’m serving in, and as if he cares very much about the focus of my heart and mind as I serve. Some would see this as providing the freedom to leave a denomination or a tradition. And it is. It’s also the freedom to stay.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Thanks, Greg. I certainly made a broad over generalized statement about evangelical ministers. It wasn’t my intent to say they are the only ones with problems. Not at all.

  • http://www.gcepc.org Chris White

    Jonathan,

    No condemnation here! May the Lord continue to bless your ministry.

    ctw

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Thanks very much, Chris.

      • http://www.gcepc.org Chris White

        Seriously, this is great. You went from good to good. Plus, we all know that you just wanted to be able to wear just your boxers under all those robes.

        ctw

        • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

          I did wear shorts once, that’s true. I think that was a wedding though….

  • Greg

    Chris, I happen to know Jonathan had a shorts under the robe gig while he was a Presbyterian minister! I don’t know if his church was aware or not.

  • http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com Byron Borger

    I can’t think of anything wise or astute, or funny, although I like the question of what you wear under your robes. Ha. Dude, you know I love you, respect you, and think this is a remarkably helpful post for those on the journey. You know that we really value ecumenical conversations and you embody some of that in your own being. (Do you know John Armstrong and his ACT3 ministry, a guy I really, really admire and respect? He was ultra-conservative Puritan and began to know dear Christians who were Episcopal or Church of England or RCA or Catholic and he just couldn’t square his rather narrow church experience with this broader experience. Interestingly, it was an essay by J.I. Packer that really inspired him to a more catholic view of the Body of Christ.) Anyway, good for you. Keep strong, in Christ. Artists can get a little funky, you know. Go! Go! Go!
    I dare not remind you now that “Christ is Risen” as our custom is to live in the pain of death a while yet. The dysfunctions of the church are part of this Death, but He is, as we will shout shortly, Risen Indeed. May you live in whatever capacity or denomination, to advance His Kingdom.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Byron, thank you so much. You’re friendship and guidance means the world to me. Thanks, buddy.

  • Donald Buck

    I “get it,” Jonathan; and am going through it, too.
    I often wonder how impressed Jesus is
    with the distinction of ordination vs. non-ordination.
    (I suspect Jesus is not one jot or tittle impressed.)
    Blessings upon your continued ministry.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Donald, thanks very much.

  • Alex Manson

    Marcus Grodi is a former Presbyterian.
    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=journey+home+presbyterian&oq=journey+home+presbyterian&gs_l=youtube.3…39618.41607.0.42063.13.13.0.0.0.0.72.752.13.13.0…0.0…1ac.1.V9ZUUnOWpvM

  • http://khaalidah.com Khaalidah

    I admire your honest and bravery, not just with others, but mostly with yourself. It is refreshing and beautiful. Good luck.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    Greetings from the Pagan Channel. You never know who’s going to wander in when they put you on the front page…

    Your need to “feel God’s presence” resonates strongly with me. For thousands of years, religion has been about what you do and experience, not about what you think. I love books, I love theology and philosophy (Paganism doesn’t really have doctrine… yet), but there is no substitute for facing the rising Sun or standing in the middle of the forest and _experiencing_ the Divine.

    As a Pagan, I have no opinion as to whether an Episcopal structure is more or less correct than other structures for a Christian church. I will say that an Episcopal structure is inherently more conservative (in the generic, non-political sense of the term) than other structures. I agree that the Episcopal structure lessens the likelihood of pastor worship, but it increases the likelihood of institutional worship – of serving the church and its traditions and hierarchies instead of serving your God.

    Finally, I congratulate you on your integrity. Many ministers stay in their churches with far greater doctrinal differences than yours because of habit, family preferences, or financial concerns.

    I wish you well as you seek to refine your calling and better serve your God.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      John,

      Delighted to have you. I think this could be a fruitful conversation between a pagan and a newly sorta born Anglican. What say you?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

        Thanks for the welcome, Jonathan. I enjoy good religious conversation where ever I can find it.

  • Laurel

    I’m happy for you Jonathan – I’ve known many who have come down the road you’ve come, including, in some particulars, myself. I came all the way home to Rome, however – which wasn’t so acceptable to some of my Evangelical friends. May God guide you to where he wants you!

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      That is still a possibility for me, Laurel. I was raised in the Catholic Church and have deep sympathies there. For now, it’s Anglican.

    • Bonnie

      Oh, my! I am so heartened by this discussion. I to0 have recently left my non-denominational Evangelical walk of 39 years to return to my Roman Catholic faith. I sorely missed the structure AND the accountablity, the liturgy, the degree of respect and solemn honor given to Jesus Christ. I have been so pleasantly surprised that my own prayer life has taken off and blossomed like I never thought it possible. I have also encountered disapproval and suspicion from friends who are left bewildered. I still fellowship with them and love them all very much. But, have found a wonderful pathway to deepen my relationship with God first and others next.

      • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

        Bonnie,
        Thank you for your lovely comments. They made this geek a bit weepy.

  • Tiff
  • Becky

    Jonathan~
    I have made the rounds through many different protestant and evangelical churches, and have found the same thoughts as you. Marcus Grodi’s ministry is specifically for people like you, Coming Home Network Intl~ http://chnetwork.org/ Not only was he a Presbyterian minister, but so was Scott Hahn, who is an amazingly knowledgeable apologist. He has written several wonderful books on many topics, including his conversion to Catholicism. I am making this journey with you, but skipping over the Anglican and going right to the source :) Blessings to you on your journey…

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Who knows, Becky, I may join you……I’m not sure how this ending will be written.

  • Leonard Wathen

    Jonathan- You will be in my prayers as you discern the future! My wife and I were born as Catholics, but took a short, significant detour through Evangelicalism before rediscovering (and more fully appreciating) our Catholic roots. I echo the recommendations that you should look into the ministries of Scott Hahn and Marcus Grodi if you haven’t already. God bless you in your journey!

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Thanks, Leonard. Much appreciated!


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