The Final Break
by Fr. John Whiteford
Things finally reached the point where I was more than ready to convert, and my wife was also comfortable enough with the idea of attending St. Benedicts, that I was ready to make a final break with the church I had been raised in. On June 29th, 1990, I informed the head pastor of my Church that I would be leaving the Church of the Nazarene. I didn’t tell him where I was going to go, because I knew his church was in a shaky financial state, and I thought that if the average person in that Church knew why I left, it might cause him problems, and I didn’t want to be the cause of that Church finally folding. I am not sure, in retrospect if this was the best plan, but I knew most of the people in that Church would not be able to understand my decision, and I didn’t see the point in causing anyone to be scandalized. I figured I would tell those that I was close to later, including the head pastor… and I did several months later, but unfortunately, few of the friendships that I had in that Church survived my conversion.
My family also had a strong reaction. For example, when I informed my mother about my conversion, she seemed to take it pretty well, but then called me back about an hour later, and told me that I was going to hell. She did later apologize, but was vocally critical of my decision for many years thereafter.
I should point out that I did not leave the Church of the Nazarene angry. I was grateful for all that I had learned that was good and true, and the many sincere and loving people I had encountered. At the time I left, I thought of the Church of the Nazarene as a conservative denomination with many good qualities, but after discovering the patristic views of what constituted the Church, I simply became convinced that, as well meaning as it was, it just wasn’t the Church of the Fathers.
Had I never attended SNU, or had my professors at SNU been more in the tradition of the Holiness movement, I probably would not have been pressed to ask the kind of questions that led to my becoming Orthodox. I had several of the same professors that my older brother had when he attended SNU earlier in the 80’s, but the liberal professors that my brother had, were the conservative professors that I had, and they hadn’t become more conservative in the process. The older conservatives had mostly retired, and were replaced by professors who were even more liberal than the previous liberals had been. All of that is of course relative to the Church of the Nazarene which was a fairly conservative Evangelical denomination in those days (James Dobson being one of the most prominent examples of a Nazarene in America).
Later, after I graduated from SNU (and had converted to Orthodoxy), I had the chance to attend Phillips Theological Seminary with a full scholarship. However, because it was then located in Enid, Oklahoma (which is not near a major city, in which employment would be more easily obtained), I decided to dip my toe in the water and take a satellite course that they taught in Oklahoma City. That course was taught by a professor who made even the most liberal professor I had at SNU look like a fundamentalist by comparison… I am honestly not sure if he even believed in God, but in that class he certainly gave no evidence of any faith.
The second half of my Sola Scriptura essay (The Orthodox Approach to Truth) was actually written as a 10 page preface to a paper written for this professor, which I wrote to explain why I was not going to approach the Scriptures in the way that his assignment called for. Unlike my professors at SNU, it became clear that disagreeing with his perspective was not welcomed, and so I made the decision that it would not be worth my time to spend four more years covering the same ground, but in an environment less opened to engaging ideas that were not part of the dominant liberal perspective of the school.
So in retrospect, I came to see the liberal professors I had at SNU in a more charitable light. I suspect that they had been confronted with that sort of dry liberalism at some point in their education, became convinced that much of the scholarship was accurate, but still managed to reconcile it with their own faith, and sincerely wanted to help their students better prepare for the shocks that they were to face along the path of their academic studies. So while I never came to see things the way my professors did, I came to better appreciate many of the good things I had learned from them, and sincerely appreciate the fact that they made me ask the questions that led to my discovery of the Fathers of the Church.