Loneliness has not really been a problem for us. We have been on a do-it-your-own-way path for a very long time, more than twenty years, and have had lots of practice being the oddballs in the group. Throughout that time we have regularly needed to compare our thinking with the different thinking that surrounds us, to adjust our mindset when we concluded we were wrong (which has happened many times, believe it or not!) and to resist going along (but in a loving and non-confrontational way) when we concluded we were right.
Scariness is a problem. It comes from having to forgo the support of a community, and there’s no guarantee that one family can be strong enough or wise enough to survive without it. And the scary part is that there’s no turning back.
I’ve learned that going with the flow is less harmful than I once thought, especially compared to the great burden of going it alone. Christian liberty offers the freedom to question anything and everything, and to follow the dictates of your conscience—but it does not give people special prizes in heaven for doing so. Meanwhile, if going along with community thinking, however misguided, allows you to live in peace with your brothers then it may be the better choice.
Let’s say you live in a Christian community which is strongly centered on the institutional church—elders, deacons, pastors, membership, lives centered around church activities, preaching, Bible studies, and so on. Some folks (but not your elders or fellow parishioners!) claim that this is contrary to how church life should be lived, that Christians gather for the sake of edification and fellowship, period, and otherwise live as individuals in the world. How much time should you spend studying the question? Assuming you can live a faithful life in your current community, what exactly does it profit you to probe the weaknesses of its view of the church?
And if you do probe, and come to the conclusion that your community is wrong about church … what now? Do you forsake your community and seek out people you don’t know who agree with your new views? Would doing so make it easier for you to live a faithful life, or have you just started down the road of rootlessness, exalting correct thinking above relationships with brothers and sisters, learning to keep them at a distance in case further changes in your thinking require you to move on?
When I say there is no turning back, I mean that once you take full responsibility for raising your children and shaping your family life, it is difficult if not impossible to turn any part of that back over to the community. We’ve tried and failed. For most of our time as Christians we were very much in favor of being under church authority, of being answerable to the elders. And for fifteen years we attended different churches where the elders thought the same way.
But we didn’t use this organizational approach as an excuse to not keep our own house in order. And having shouldered those responsibilities ourselves, and learned through painful effort how to do it properly, we finally couldn’t keep from asking ourselves: are the men in authority over us actually competent to wield that authority?
In practice, it did not matter. We lived our lives peacefully and righteously; the elders would never have needed to discipline us and in fact paid very little attention to us.
But it was the theory that drove us crazy. We looked long and hard at those men, and realized that they didn’t even come close to measuring up to biblical standards for eldership, much less practical standards. To a man they were less competent than the average person in raising their own families, managing interpersonal relationships, and so on, to the point that I now suspect that it is exactly such unqualified men that are attracted to church offices, i.e. if you can’t do, teach.
The better choice would probably have been to simply ignore them (and the damage they did in the lives of certain other parishioners). But instead we couldn’t stand being part of such a community; it was like possessing some crucial bit of knowledge that most of the group willfully ignored. And so in a way I envy the people who never thought about those things but just went along–they were able to live faithful lives without worrying over matters that were in practice irrelevant to them anyway.
I think the unusual choices we’ve made are valid. But I don’t think they are better choices. In fact, I am willing to say we might be better off as a family if we had been able to choose differently and ended up part of a long-standing, loving community.
We have missed out on a lot of goodness in life because of our thinking, and are experiencing pain that won’t win us any special prizes in heaven. We’re not bitter or regretful, since it seems to be the path that God has set before us. But we envy folks the peace and contentment that can come from leaving certain questions alone.