In seminary the problems we had with Evangelical belief were only exacerbated. From my early days as an Evangelical I had been aware of the many differences in interpreting the Bible and the plethora of Protestant groups all claiming to have the “correct” biblical teaching. This awareness intensified at seminary as we studied various Protestant traditions and their interpretations of the Bible.
Through my history classes I quickly realized that all allegedly “Bible only” groups actually had an extensive extra-biblical tradition for interpreting the Bible. This tradition was influenced by specific ways of reading texts and ways of explaining uncomfortable passages that don’t fit with the system. It was also heavily determined by historical, social, political, theological, and philosophical factors. In many cases Protestant traditions had surreptitiously adapted the traditional teaching of the historic Church.
My theological research at this time was making me aware that even the Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that the Lord’s Supper should be taken weekly. My religious sentiments naturally inclined me to awe and great reverence for God. Contemporary Christian music and contemporary Christian churches were missing something. The awe and reverence were replaced with a shallow emotionalism that just didn’t ring true. Something was missing, but I didn’t know what it was.
My father is a retired Assemblies of God pastor. My parents had a deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ. Their lives expressed who Christ was. I vividly remember being awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of their praying — praying for each of the people in their congregation.
Taking dramatic steps of faith runs in the family. In the eighteenth century, my ancestors left Switzerland for the new colony of Pennsylvania to find religious freedom. The two Longenecker brothers were Mennonites — members of an Anabaptist sect so strict that it had been persecuted by John Calvin.
As an active Protestant Christian in my mid-twenties, I began to feel that I might have a vocation to become a minister. The more I studied, the more perplexed I became. At one stage my elder sister, a very committed Evangelical Protestant with somewhat flexible denominational affiliations, chided me with becoming “obsessed” with trying to find a “true Church.” “Does it really matter?” she would ask.