Having my eyes opened to a deeper understanding of grace was not an easy process. Here are a few emails I wrote to Mike along the way, edited for spelling, clarity, and to remove a few personal comments:
Subject: That pesky Galatians stuff
Date: 1/21/99 10:01
Mike, I got up this morning to read part of Galatians...again. I was reading it out of my New Geneva Study Bible (the only Bible with truly theologically-correct notes
What really struck me this morning so forcefully is the part about beginning in the Spirit and then trying to continue in the flesh. I've been so struggling with the whole issue of the place of the Law in our lives. Some of your lessons have been difficult for me to read and I have to confess that I've completely avoided others. And I've held myself back from sending you scathing emails demanding things like, "Well, since Jesus didn't speak out against incest, is it OK now? Since he didn't condemn rape, is that OK now too? What about bestiality? How do we know it's wrong? HUH? HUH? HUH?"
It's so scary to let go of a system, any system. I'm feeling a bit cut adrift. At the same time, what I read this morning in Galatians made my heart sing.
My husband and I, in the few moments before he left for work, jumped into our marriage-long debate over the Sabbath. Now I'm seeing this with different eyes and am finally getting what that faithless antinomian...er, uh, I mean my dear husband...has been trying to say all these years.
So pray for me. This is both exciting and terrifying.
Subject: Re: That pesky Galatians stuff
Date: 1/21/99 14:10
On the date of 01/21/1999 13:35, Mike stated:
No offense intended, but many reformed folks will not -- they just
call me names.
Uh, that would have been me a couple years ago. Now I like to think I'm kinder and gentler.
I would ask you to make the attempt to read all my lessons, as each one is built on the conclusions of the previous ones. And if you find what you think is error -- please speak up. You are not the only one receiving these lessons who has reacted like this. I am accustomed to it. I have attempted to be as thorough as possible.
I'm more afraid that you're right than that you're in error. In fact, I think I know that you're right. (How's that for sounding sure?)
But once one really understands -- deep down inside -- his real freedom in Christ -- there is almost a giddiness!
Then why does it feel so absolutely terrifying at this point?
I've spent about six years now studying various aspects of the Reformed Faith, not really as in depth as I'd like, but still more than simply brushing the surface. And it's the first time that anything about Christianity really excited me on an intellectual level. Plus, the deeper appreciation and understanding I gained about the sovereignty of God is what has made such a big difference. And grace! Wow! It's been an exciting time. I've felt as if I've come home.
The big question is...and I can't explain why this brings me to tears...if I believe you---really, really believe you...than what will I DO? Don't ask me to explain what on earth I mean. I don't know how right now.
I kept peppering Mike with questions and more questions. Then I wrote:
Subject: DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU'RE ASKING ME TO DO???!!!
Date: 1/23/99 11:25
[Please read the subject line in a loud, shrill voice with an edge of panic and hysteria.]
You're asking me to concede my marriage-long debate on how we should spend Sunday as a family. I'll never hear the end of it. Sundays will degenerate into racing home from church, wolfing down a sandwich, and then doing yard work or some project around the house, or heading off for some frivolous and completely unedifying activity. My younger children will never experience anything remotely similar to the genteel, cultured, restful, and civilized Sunday celebrations of my youth. The only thing that will mark Sunday different from Saturday is that we'll attend church in the morning. Might as well pack away my nice dishes and bring them out only on holidays; a special meal on a specially set table, my husband will remind me, is not in keeping with treating one day as another. (He makes a concession for Christmas and Easter because he doesn't want to spend those days like any other.)
You're asking me to throw out the Westminster Confession of Faith, or at least some significant portions of it.
And what am I supposed to do on communion Sunday at church, when we all recite the 10 commandments together? Shout out loud, "But we're not under them anymore!" (You'd have to know our church to know that any shouting out loud would probably cause half the people to fall over in shock.) How can I believe all this and still be comfortable in our church? And how can we leave without heartbreak?
Mike, please take this as being entirely in love, but you are completely infuriating me.
I had to get if off my chest.
Subject: Re: DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU'RE ASKING ME TO DO???!!!
Date: 1/23/99 17:50
On the date of 01/23/1999 15:18, Mike stated:
That is VERY loaded
Sigh. He'd probably rather do some sort of work. For awhile he had this bizarre idea that as long as what you did on Sunday qualified as "fun", it was OK. Don't ask me where he got this idea. No doubt as some sort of defense mechanism against my constant arguments about the whole topic. At any rate, his idea of "fun" on Sunday usually meant doing some sort of woodworking project.
Those who choose to do so are free to do so. But -- those who DO choose to do so MUST understand that the Bible clearly states that those who do NOT choose to do so are just as free to choose NOT to do so! They are no less godly or spiritual than those who do. In fact -- a case could be made that they are MORE spiritual, because they understand their freedom, while others do not.
Oh, but that's no fun! How can I feel smugly morally superior while my husband is working on some mysterious project in the garage and I'm listening to hymns and enjoying a sanctified cup of coffee? How can I then congratulate myself on having had the foresight to be born into a far more spiritual family, who set the example for proper Sunday behavior? (But I don't want to give the impression that they had all sorts of rules. It was more that my mother turned every Sunday into a celebration.)
But remember -- we are also free to treat Sunday DIFFERENTLY.
Guess it just means I'll have to drop the morally superior tone the next time my husband and I argue this issue. Sigh...how humbling.
Subject: Re: More answers
Date: 1/23/99 18:06
On the date of 01/23/1999 15:45, Mike stated:
If it [referring to the Westminster Confession of Faith] is wrong at that point, what would cause you to hesitate to throw it out?
Uh...'cuz it sounds so nifty to say, "I hold to most of the WCF"? 'Cuz it makes me feel somewhat connected to a wonderful tradition? 'Cuz I feel like I *belong* and, as someone said, "It's neat to be elite"? 'Cuz...never mind. Sounds kinda lame, even to me.
The confessions are NOT our rule -- the Bible is our rule.
This is one of my BIG problems with those in the Reformed faith. I have had many discussions about this with scholars and preachers, and the consistent position I see is the attempt to interpret the Bible by the confessions, rather than the other way around.
I have to admit that this has bugged me as well. I threw somewhat of a tizzy fit (once we were safely home) when our pastor brought up some issue and said that it was important to have a Biblical understanding of this issue and then spent far more time discussing what the WCF said about it and various theologians said about it than what the Bible said---and we only got to hear the Scripture passage after being told the WCF's take on it.
But -- the FREEDOM is worth it! The JOY of REALLY knowing grace is
worth it! The exhilaration of being able to throw off a yoke of slavery is worth it. But there will be heartbreak -- I can guarantee it.
But the really sad thing is that if we did leave [referring to leaving our OPC church], I have no idea where we would go. It was so difficult and so painful for me to go through the church search process, even though my husband saw it all as a fun adventure and wanted to visit every single church within a 20-mile radius. (Someday I'll bore you unmercifully with all my sad church stories.) Most of our family friends go to this church. There is so much good there. At the same time, I've been discouraged and have felt stifled. And yet there's been hopeful signs that God is dealing with our pastor on some of the very things that have discouraged me.
The sad thing is that I don't think there's a church out there that will ever feel like home to me...at least not for very long.
However -- the real question is -- and you ought to be able to say this with me by now -- you have read my stuff before. The real question is -- what is the truth? Are we free from the law or not? Is the sabbath abolished or not? Are we going to "fall from grace" or stand firm in our liberty? WHAT DOES THE NT TELL US TO DO?
Hhhhmmm...I don't know. Maybe I should ask Ezzo and Gothard what they think.
I really think your husband needs to read all the lessons.
I just printed them all out for him and will hound him until he reads them. Why, I have no idea. It will just make him say, "See? This is what I've been saying for years." You and he will become fast friends and then when he quotes you during our next debate over what to do on Sunday, I'll be driven to shout, "Who is that Mike guy, anyway? What is his family like?!!"
Subject: More shrill screams
Date: 1/24/99 21:40
Mike, I am really, really struggling with all of this. I got up early this morning and read through parts of Galatians and Romans. Then I read a section in my New Geneva Study Bible about the Law, which contradicted some of what you wrote. "Aha!" I cried out in great delight. I was about to run upstairs and write you a scathing email demanding to know why you, some guy from Texas, dared disagree with the great and learned R.C. Sproul, and that you should repent at once, when I decided that maybe my time would be better spent getting ready for church.
I've been on the verge of tears all day.
I told [a friend of mine] that I felt as if I were standing at a precipice, being urged to jump. I know God is there, but I have no idea what He will do. I've had to admit to myself that it's not His Law that I'm even clinging to---it's my own system that feels like such a protective and comfortable box. I don't know who I am or what to do without it. Even though I feel like a dismal failure half the time, I can convince myself that I'll somehow manage to get my act together---and that I'm failing less than other people are. The hardest thing is that I've had to face how prideful and judgmental I've been.
A few years ago, I attacked some people on AOL who really weren't saying anything different than what you're saying. Hhhmmm...maybe I need to go back and find them and use Gothard's umpteen conscience-clearing steps with them. Only I couldn't figure which was the greater offense: when I called them "antinomian" or when I called them "brazen". So I'm stuck.
My husband spent the afternoon studying your lessons and made it about halfway through. "What did you think?" I asked. My heart soared when he said, "I found some mistakes." Turned out he was referring to two typos. Of course he agrees with everything. Sigh...in fact, he said I should suggest that you emphasize the Jerusalem Decree as recorded in Acts 15. "Nah," I said, "I don't want to give Mike any more ammunition."
Now what? I simply cannot accept this. It's too painful. I wept all over my husband and he quoted a friend of his who said something about the best place for a Christian to be is to be utterly destitute, completely dependent---and know it. So will this ever stop hurting?