Saturday, October 4, 2008

"Cover," said the Spiritual Authority

My wife and I sat in folding chairs together with the other congregants. It was an early spring morning. In these ancient, rounded mountains, spring means chilly air and bright sunshine hinting that warmth will soon banish winter's bitter wind. My mind wandered back and forth between Terry's sermon and my own thoughts. I wasn't bored. This is just the way my mind and heart work. I am selfish to think my own thoughts when the social expectation is one's outward focus. I constantly connect the outer stimuli with ideas and experiences already in residence within the brain. I suspect the reader understands.

The every word Christian reference Terry had just used, attracted my thinking. The term, in part, had engendered my respect for this group. Its use drew great hunks of Christian practice into a circle of inadequacy and helped explain my lack of interest in things Christian for those many years I rejected Christ. Further and more personally, that some Christianity was not every word, resolved why I had wrestled as high school youth through college freshman with a lack of power over sin. Such lack convinced me at my then age of nineteen, Christianity wasn't viable. Inevitability I would sin again because I wanted the sin. I decided sinfulness was practical, irreversible fact and my true identity.

Now and for the previous three years, I accepted GCC theology as a greater insight into the Bible than was known among denominational churches. Every word had expanded to include the phrases sold-out, hearers and doers, and spirit-filled. Whenever a GCC practice or interpretation of scripture was at odds with traditional theology, one of these three phrases helped distinguish the why we did or didn't do what they did or didn't do. Tying our tongues up being our distinctive difference and, for me, the profound evidence of my connection with the source, the Holy Spirit, which enabled me to resist sin. Resisitng sin was not just the path to holiness in an abstract way. I understood it to be the only way I could enjoy the life I had found in Christ.

Resist I had. Everything about my new family in Christ held meaning for me and supported my rapid growth in spirituality. The teachings expanded my thinking of the nature of God and His work. The worship released my bottled-up emotions in expressions both exhuberant and satisfying; I found a connection with authentic joy. The substantive fellowship was emptying insecurity from the well of my soul, a shaft in my heart formerly filled up by a wrecked, alcoholic family and my years of sinfully manipulating others. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and church attendance I adopted gave me needed structure. Most wonderful of all, God strengthened me to choose marriage in faith, and the fruit of that union lifted me all the further into adoration for the Lord Jesus. This incredible woman who loved me sat beside me. I reached for her hand and gave my attention back to the passionate teaching.

The rationale of being every word Christians and hearers and doers of the Word once again reached its logical conclusion. GCC would now do something the unlearned of Christianity had yet to see as significant spiritual practice. Terry explained the elders (he and three other men) were leading the church to adopt I Corinthians, chapter 11's description of women wearing head coverings when they prayed or prophesied. The elders had determined women should abide by this scriptural instruction if they prayed silently or vocally with men present and included whether the gathering was church or a meeting in a home.

Spiritual authority over our family of believers had taught, requested, and I felt so moved. Freida questioned a bit as we drove home. She stated some misgiving with the teaching. We were silent a moment. I was often not sure of what to say in our limited eighteen months together. My father was no example to draw from and teaching from the pulpit created my only framework for decision-making in this relationship where I had a husband role to play. I suggested perhaps her reaction to Terry's words was in part made more intense by her advancing pregnancy. Silence.

Gently I said, "We're sold out, right?" Nothing. I drove through the last stop light before the turn into our apartment driveway. "Sin is more than resisting temptation; isn't refusing to move in obedience to commands in the Word a sin, too?"

After a moment she answered quietly, "Yes."

Exiting the Chevette my wife brought into the marriage, we shifted talking to our growing excitement with parenthood just three months away. I was thankful God helped me know what words to use leading my wife!

Learning true authority seemed an important backbone of life.

15 comments:

Chip said...

Ah, yes... The head coverings.
That practice really used to bug me. Now I just smile and shake my head at the memory. The coverings ran the range from very simple, to hebraic, to Victoria's Secret-ish, to somewhat elegant, to carefully color co-ordinating with dresses to.
I remember my wife arranging to buy a head covering from a woman in the church who made the best of the obligation but turning a profit as she became a supplier to the covering-less.
My favorite memory, though, is being in the grocery store after a service and reminding my wife she still had her head covering on - how embarrassing. She whipped it off really fast so the other grocery patrons wouldn't know we went to a weird church.

We never agreed with the teaching. We went along for the sake of participating in the music ministry. Which shows me that LOTS of folks go along with outdated orthodoxy - whether they agree with it or not - simply to continue to be accepted within the established religious system - and allowed to participate in it's programs and social events. The head coverings, then, exemplify much bigger fish in the ocean of organized religion.

Hey, we're visiting up your way this week and hope to stop by and see you and the Mrs.

ded said...

Thanks for your comment, Chip. I am encouraged you easily made the connection between GCC and the larger institutional church. I have been concerned that people who know the real GCC will see me bashing that group. I remember much of the eighteen years spent there with deep appreciation for what Jesus did for me and my family through the associations we had.

The significance of associations/relationships and the cost to these of institutionally-based decisions is the over-arching theme I am driving toward. I intend at the close of my personal story to discuss the issues involved for everyone across the spectrum of institutional church.

craig v. said...

It might be helpful to clarify what makes an organization an institution and how that leads to the problems you had to live through. One could argue, for example, that the church you describe wasn't institutional enough. It saw itself as the sole interpreter of Scripture and so didn't see a need to listen to other church communities.

ded said...

Interesting thought, craig v. (Good to "hear" your voice. I had decided you were out of town or something.)

I understand there is difference between the older traditions and upstarts like I found myself in. I haven't given a great deal of thought as how that might have greatly altered the overall impact. On the specific issue, I am aware that in the 1950's it was quite common for women in "older" traditions to cover their heads. Though it was more a social tradition of fashion by then, but still rooted in some denominations with the scripture in question.

GCC was a church plant from a governing body. The head covering thing lead to problems with the "mother" church. So the larger issue of covering, mutual agreement on doctrine through multitude of counsel is still to come.

Thanks for speaking up!!

craig v. said...

My mom took a turn for the worse so I flew to California to be with her and family. She died a couple of weeks ago. I've been following your blog (how could I not) but haven't had the energy to comment.

The break with the mother church was the sort of thing I had in mind. We could say that the local body was abusing its authority. We could also say that the local body wasn't giving proper weight to the authority of the larger church. Both could be true.

ded said...

My condolences, brother. My mother died in 2000. She was my last parent.
I know some of what you are going through. I still sometimes find myself missing her.

Terry Henry said...

As one who has "shadow-boxed" with his own past relationship to this self-same governing body, I can only say: good show mate.

In my heart of hearts I sense however that something is missing in your narrative that would give those not already familiar with the subject text a landing place of sorts.

Maybe I am too close still and looking for you, in your writing, to fully bring things full circle for all of us.

There is a very real part of me that thinks we have dwelled to long in the land of GCC.

The other side of that same thought is the fact that in order to move beyond the damage done, we have to come to some sort of terms with our own participation with that structure that in essence kept that train a rolling.

Don't get me wrong. I can hardly wait until your next entry but I am beginning to have this erie feeling that no matter how much we write, say or think we understand—the pain of betrayal will never fully go away.

And this is on a fairly good day my friend. What we have left is our friendship and the continued fellowship that presents itself to us on an ongoing basis.

ded said...

Terry,

You said, In my heart of hearts I sense however that something is missing in your narrative that would give those not already familiar with the subject text a landing place of sorts.

I am not sure I am tracking with you here.

I am not really heading to exposing or dwelling on a betrayal, though certainly that may be seen by some in what is yet to come. Certainly my decisions in the face of this authority may be identified as betrayal, as well.

I am honestly attempting to construct the narrative in such a way as to give me logical places to reference why I am thinking what I think is the function of authority in the spirit-filled/led life.

Thanks for sticking with me in this! 8^)

Terry Henry said...

I am not sure I understand either. It is almost to complex for me to get involved...but I keep trying.

Keep up the good work.

Jimazing said...

I am so engaged with your story. I left GCC several years before you, but your story so far intersects with my story in a huge way. Hearing your memories reminds me of mine and helps me to process things. Knowing how I got to here is important to me. It's not about shame or blame. We were who we were then and our motives were mostly good and pure. We were cocky and arrogant, but we wanted more than anything to serve God with our whole heart, mind, soul & strength. I still do... it just looks very different than it did back then.

ded said...

Jimazing,

Thanks for your encouragement! If this memoir helps anyone to put the pieces together for themselves in any way, I will find a great sense of serving some purpose here beyond catharsis.

Heather said...

I think so far that Jimazing says it best in that the heart issue is to follow Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Fortunately, I think God simply looks at the heart and sees the desire to please Him no matter how foolish we as humans can be. I know in this particular case that the association of churches it was involved in were all doing this. It would be like any denomination that follows tradition for tradition sake. At least there was a place that they took a step back and realized it wasn't necessary for Godliness. Enjoying your process!

ded said...

Thanks for commenting, Heather.

It was much like a denominational teaching. I think as you do.

It underscores how as people, Christians included, we often decide something is legitimate if we can find others who will do the same thing.

sandi mcclanahan said...

Chips opening comments cracked me up....I can totally picture every headcovering he referenced- as well as the "dangit" moments I forgot to take off my headcovering before heading to the Western Sizzling lunch line... I finally realized I could get a brown covering to blend in with my hair so it would not be so obvious if I left it on...I hope these light hearted comments do not offend anyone. Just some random thoughts too late at night~

ded said...

I think we all just smile today at what we went through, Sandi. No one is offended by your practical brown head-covering, I'm certain!