I enrolled in a university associated with this fellowship of churches (we avoid the word denomination) to prepare me for that future.
I was baptized in this brotherhood, as were my parents, my mother's grandparents, and virtually all the family on my mother's side.
I grew up in an independent Christian Church and deeply identified with our history, the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.
Indeed, I read our histories, studied our leaders, attended our conferences, played Bible Bowl, am attending one of our institutions of higher learning, and attempted to understand our doctrinal trends.
This was my home.
But no longer.
And that hurts deeper than words can express.
In the past two years, I discovered the teachings of the Anabaptists, a 16th century restoration movement born in reaction to the Magisterial Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholics.
As a general rule, they stressed non-violence, the separation of Church and State, cultural non-conformity, and the church as a covenanted community.
This manifested itself in refusing to serve in the military, shying away from political offices, plain dress and head-coverings for women (though the latter was common for all churches at the time), a serious cautiousness to worldly entertainment, and the exercise of shunning and disfellowshipping as a means of church discipline.
This tradition is alive today in the Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, some Brethren groups, the Bruderhof, many independent churches, and more.
Similar groups include the Schwarzenau Brethren and their descendants, and the Quakers.
As I studied this history, the more I saw the similarities between it and my own.
Reading folks like David Lipscomb, Alexander Campbell, Tolbert Fanning on war and politics had convinced me that I could be a pacifist and politically neutral and remain in the Christian Churches.
There was a place for me despite these radical shifts in doctrine.
Yet there were still issues.
I loved how the Anabaptists had a distinctively Christian way of viewing the world, a robust Kingdom framework that didn't simply terminate in one's own personal salvation, invaluable as that is, and helped generate a consistent Christian way of life.
In contrast, the Christian Churches have fully adopted a Constantinian approach to the acceptability of war and the goodness of political involvement just like the rest of evangelicalism.
In addition, the issue of divorce and re-marriage had begun to haunt me, as well.
As I studied the issue, listening to the voice of the early church along the way, I came to believe that when Jesus said "whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery", he meant just that, precluding any remarriage after divorce as licit in God's eyes.
Sadly, I watched the elders of a Christian Church sit on their hands when a couple in their congregation, who had ministered in that congregation, divorced, only to have the brother involved promptly begin dating another sister in the congregation before the legal divorce was even final.
This spectacle unfolded as mature Christians who I had respected and thought better of fawned over this relationship as though nothing was wrong.
"We didn't even mourn for that marriage", one sister said to me.
Not all Christian Churches are like this, but how many of our churches on the landscape would be willing to exercise church discipline if a couple was un-biblically divorced and refused to submit to some kind of counseling?
How many would want them to?
Furthermore, I realized after going off to college that I was one of a few young people who cared about the Restoration Movement and thought it important and relevant.
But it wasn't just that, I became jaded to churches and ministry programs that seemed to encourage young men to use preaching as a way to advance their fame, with our largest conferences being a who's who of the largest churches in our Movement.
The view of ministry held by the young men was totally centered on getting internships at the biggest and best churches, making connections and networking, and advancing personal ministry careers.
The concern for the universal church, the brotherhood, the evangelization of the world, and how our little lives fit into that big picture was few and far between.
And it is not that there weren't exceptions, but for those who did seem self-motivated, their M.O. seemed less like an aberration of the general approach to preaching and the pastorate taken in Christian Churches, but a logical consequence of it.
The approach is that the preacher serves as the face of the church and the great burden of the ministerial tasks, rather than being spread evenly, are put squarely on his shoulders.
We've seen this unfortunate trend borne out as pastors/senior ministers simply burn out and quit left and right.
The thriving mega-churches are the fittest who have survived where others have not and, even then, at what cost?
There were other issues like head-coverings, modesty, and women teaching Christian doctrine to Christian men, but up to the present, I had hoped I could plant a church with like-minded individuals from the Christian Churches where we could have and champion these distinctives while remaining a part of the larger Christian Church family.
I had zero intention of leaving. It wasn't even on the radar (I had been encouraged to join the Mennonites two years ago and wonder what would have happened if I had).
What changed everything was the election.
We had a choice to be a different voice from above the fray of the most contentious election in our nation's history and we blew it.
When arguably the most influential and well-known preacher in our movement, as well as an even more well-known theologian all but baptized a vote for Donald Trump, the question was no longer "is there a place for me here?", but "could I stay here if there was?"
I finally answered the question no.
In conversations with Catholics, Mormons, Witnesses of Jehovah, and secularists, I found myself able to dialogue as to why I disagreed with their community of choice, but unable to offer them an alternative community in good faith.
That stuck with me and was hard to shake.
I wanted to be a part of a community that stood for something.
It was Rick Atchley of the church of Christ (a cappella) who cautioned the Christian Churches against becoming some watered down form of non-distinct evangelicalism.
When I read that caution at the North American Christian Convention several years ago, I took it to heart, and now I fear we are far too late.
One Anabaptist author encouraged converts to Anabaptist thought to live out their convictions in their own faith communities.
I love that advice, but at some point I had to be honest with myself: I didn't want to.
As I look at the (independent) Christian Churches, I cannot see myself here at age 50.
I cannot see the changes I so desperately want to see that would give me an excuse, any excuse, to stay.
Attending the International Conference of Missions last month reminded me of all the reasons I loved the Christian Churches and it melted away much of my cynicism.
I still believe that what that conference represents is the best hope for our Movement.
However, I cannot wait.
If I was stronger, more hopeful, I'd fight it out and do what I could to point us back to our roots and suggest a place for people like me.
But my faith has suffered so much. I have felt alone and disconnected from what used to feel like home.
I prayed and prayed for God to show me the way forward.
|A Group of German Brethren at their Annual Conference|
And, as of now, I believe that way is the German Brethren (New Conference).
This decision has been one of the most difficult I have ever made and will change the course of my life majorly, from my career (there are no paid ministers in this movement), to whom I marry, where I live, and so much more.
I will always be a child of the Restoration Movement and will always draw wisdom from its leaders, leading lights, and voluminous writings.
Yet, I am ready to move on, carrying with me all that it has taught me.
Pray for me as I do so.