My Spiritual Journey
As a teenager, I became drawn to the idea of studying theology and becoming a pastor. I did not want to tell anyone about my plans, however, because I felt that I was not the right person for such a calling, and I was sure that it would be embarrassingly obvious to anyone who knew me that the idea of me as a pastor was ludicrous. So I decided to work on improving my piety and aptitude for the pastorate. I volunteered for more leadership tasks in church, only to prove even more convincingly to myself that I was really not good at this.
At the same time I was doing a lot of soul-searching. It was important to me that my heart was right in what I was doing. I scrutinized my motives for wanting to study theology, and I realized that the primary reason was that I wanted to be admired by other Christians. The people I admired most of all were the leaders in the Christian community, and I wanted to be looked up to by others just like I looked up to pastors myself.
At this low point in my self-esteem as a Christian, I became more attentive to the biblical message of grace and forgiveness. One mature Christian pointed out to me that Aaron was instructed to attach a blue cord to his turban, in order to “bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be” (Exod 38:37-38). In other words, even our Christian ministry is covered by God's forgiveness.
From then on, I started looking at myself and my ministry in an entirely new way. It was not about being good enough or about being holy enough, but it was all covered by grace. My favorite Bible verse quickly became Romans 5:20: “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” I was no longer ashamed to tell people that I wanted to study theology, because I knew that Christian ministry was not about my qualifications but about having received grace from God and about telling others that the grace I have received is also available to them.
Having experienced the liberating power of the word of God, I became very committed to the authority of the Bible. As a young student, I saw it is my calling to ensure that the authority of the Bible was upheld in the church. To do so, I felt it was my responsibility to point out (often publicly) the many deviations from pure doctrine that I found among other Christians, including some of my own teachers. In my zeal, I started on the quest for the pure church, which had to be unblemished by all kinds of theological error.
Having been on this quest for a while, I realized that this church had to be very small indeed. Eventually, it became increasingly clear to me that my purity quest was profoundly at odds with the doctrine of grace that I so enthusiastically professed. While my words proclaimed the gospel of grace, my actions proclaimed the doctrine of self-righteous isolation. If God can show his patience and grace to me and use me despite all my sins, who am I to say that he cannot use someone else, simply because there is some element of God's revelation they have not understood correctly? Am I not in need of the very same grace myself, extending also to forgiveness for the parts of his revelation that I have misunderstood?
The pastor who confirmed me, Gunnar ěstenstad, once said: “The church is the community of forgiven sinners.” This is the best definition of the church that I know, and I am still in the process of learning what it means.