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.

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My Sad Devotion To An Ancient Religion
Martian Love
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 in April 2015


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