Many have described life as a journey, a story, or an unfolding narrative. Within the life of the average American, there are a number of noteworthy events that occur, many of which our culture celebrates: graduations, a new job, getting engaged and married, having your first child. But there are other events that shape our lives as well: that book you read in high school, that one class in college that opened your eyes to your career, a specific conversation with your parents or grandparents. Whether celebrated or not, in each life there are turning points, events that indelibly mark and change the journey moving forward. Today our family of two consciously takes a step toward an event that we believe will powerfully shape the rest of our narrative together, the beginning of our “Great Church Search.”
Before delving into what this next phase of our life will entail, a bit of back story seems necessary. Jacob was born and raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, being baptized as an infant and confirmed while in grade school. After his family’s move to Michigan, they were unable to find a Lutheran Church that fit their family’s need for a strong youth program. Through what could only be characterized as the Hand of God, they ended up attending Berrien Center Bible Church, where Hayley and her family had been attending for years. While there, Jake met Hayley and the rest, as they say, is history. Having grown up in Christian homes, making commitments to follow Jesus Christ, and regularly attending church, “theology” (here meaning thinking about God and how to live as followers of Jesus) had long been an important part of our lives. While in school, Jake made a commitment to expose himself to as many different church denominations as possible, if for no other reason than to experience how other Christians live and worship. While courting, we devoted hours to theological discussion of any number of topics, ranging from doctrinal and historical issues to contemporary concerns with Christian living and our desire to help our fellow Christians think through the important issues of our culture and context.
When we got married, Jake was working as a Youth Ministry Intern at BCBC, a ministry path that we followed for several additional months together after moving to North Carolina. Over the past several years as our lives have grown together and especially in our time together in North Carolina, we have come to realize something about ourselves: while we readily affirm our following Jesus Christ and seek to live as He would, we have failed to find a community of fellow Christians who live as we seek to live. This is in no way a reflection on the local churches that we have been a part of in recent years, but instead has developed from our own lives and convictions. We have come to see the practice of cheap grace in our own lives, rejecting with Dietrich Bonheoffer “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession…. Grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Cost of Discipleship). Though we despise the division of Christ’s unified body into sectarian denominations, we nevertheless have increasingly felt the need to find a church home, somewhere we can belong, continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2.12), and (Lord willing in the future) raise our children.
In our increasingly postmodern world, we believe it remains important for Christians to not only be committed to the truth of the Gospel, the love of God and love of others (Mark 12.28-34), but also to demonstrate the practicality of that commitment by living as active members of the visible church (Matt. 28.18-20). In recognizing the seriousness and long-term nature of such a decision, we desire to approach this search in a systematic, ordered, and open fashion. From an overarching perspective, our search is based on three major assumptions: that there is a transcendent God, that He has revealed Himself to the world, and that the general Christian tradition best makes sense of His revelation to the world. Worldviews that do not align themselves with these assumptions are worldviews that we are in no way inclined to personally follow. Through our experiences, both in churches and in the wider world of theology, we have come to the conclusion that almost anyone can claim to be Biblical, historical, or the “true church” and offer proofs for those claims. As we ‘do’ theology, then, we believe our thinking should include the ‘handmaidens’ of the ‘Queen of the Sciences,’ namely that our theological thinking be supported by history, philosophy, and philology. Our purpose therefore is to find a church that offers a Biblical and historically sound account of God, the world, and humanity that makes sense of and forms our worldview, our experiences, and our practices in light of the truth of Christ’s Gospel.
We want to be clear that we are not attempting to find the perfect church or perfect denominational affiliation (precisely because we affirm that our joining such a church would cause it cease being perfect). In a word, Martin Luther was correct when he wrote that, “The Church is like Noah’s ark. If not for the storm outside, one could not stand the stench within.” We are seeking a church that has the essentials of Christian faith correct, and has most of the non-essentials correct as well. Though we certainly have ideas concerning what doctrines and practices are Biblically and historically acceptable, we are committed to learning, growing, and, if necessary, changing through this process. This is a “Church Search,” not a “Church Selection,” and we do not claim to have all the answers. Further, we want to affirm that we are not seeking to find a church home at the expense of all others. We have friends and family in a variety of churches and denominations, and continuing to fellowship with them as Brothers and Sisters in Christ remains important to us as we find where we best fit into the often very different communities of the People of God, where we can serve and grow in Christian fellowship.
As we examine various churches and denominations, we expect to do so through experience, study, and fellowship. As far as it is possible, we hope to visit a variety of different churches while on this search, to meet people, to experience worship, to hear teaching, and to see the lives that are being influenced. We plan to undergo extensive study of the official and non-official doctrines and practices of each of these church bodies, learning about the history of each church, their doctrinal and practical developments, and their stances on various issues. In fellowshipping throughout this search, we hope to converse first-hand with our fellow believers about their lives, their passions, and their perspective on Christian faith and living. As we engage in the process of examining various churches, we hope to focus on three general categories of consideration: Faith, Practice, and Reason. We will expand on these categories in tomorrow’s post.
Obviously, there are reasons that we’re posting this on our blog. One reason is accountability. We hope that at least a few family and friends follow our journey and see how we’re doing. Another reason is to help us think through things, which at least one of us (cough, Jake) does better when writing. A final reason is that we hope our journey encourages at least one other person to sit down, ask some hard questions, and change their life if necessary. We believe that the unexamined life is not only not worth living, but that it fails to fully glorify God. Again, we don’t claim to have the answers, but are pilgrims on a journey of faith, seeking the Way of the Master. We bid you to come and follow our journey of faith. Soli Deo gloria.
Jacob and Hayley Prahlow
 Our use of the term “church” in this document should be taken to mean churches in a broad sense, meaning with a wide focus on church denominations or groups instead of necessarily reflecting specific churches.
Originally posted 28th July 2013 by Jacob Prahlow