I heard a story recently about a woman who had grown up Catholic in another country. As the story is told, it was one of those Catholic upbringings — lots of guilt and obligation and rigid authority. She came to America as a child, and throughout her life here she searched for God, until, finally, she was “saved” in an independent evangelical church, at which she tearfully told her story. In this experience and in this community, she found the Grace that had eluded her all her life.
I heard another story about a man who was raised in an independent evangelical church. It was one of those independent evangelical upbringings — lots of noise and action floating lightly above an undercurrent of reactionary anger and denial. He became a famous writer, he wrote Important Books that would reform his church. He realized that all along he had been searching for God, and in the middle of his life, he converted to Catholicism. In the quiet presence of the Eucharist, in the long, slow history of the Tradition, in the nuance of the great Catholic minds, he found the Grace that had eluded him all his life.
I’ve heard this story many times: Charismatics becoming Episcopalians; Episcopalians becoming Eastern Orthodox; Eastern Orthodox becoming Pentecostals; Pentecostals becoming Quakers; Arminians becoming Calvinists; Calvinists becoming Arminians; Catholics becoming Evangelicals; Fundamentalists becoming Liberals; Liberals becoming Fundamentalists; Evangelicals becoming Anglicans becoming Catholics becoming Eastern Orthodox becoming Evangelicals again; all of them searching for God, finding, perhaps, some measure of Grace along the way.
Maybe Grace only appears when change becomes necessary. Or, maybe Grace is always there, and we don’t see it until the weight of our inherited and accumulated self-righteousness provokes a crisis of change. Maybe the final surrender to the inevitability of change releases our souls to receive Grace. Maybe it’s more about the change than the substance.
Yet the Word is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). So, maybe the change moves us towards the Substance. Maybe change itself is Grace. Maybe God draws each person to Himself on pathways known only to Himself for reasons known only to Himself. The Orthodox and the Catholics and the Anglicans may be right about the Apostolic Succession. The Orthodox may be right about the Great Schism of 1054, or the Catholics may be right. The Baptists instead may be right about local independence, or the Presbyterians may be right about oversight (and Calvin) or the Methodists may be right about it all (including Calvin) or the Anabaptists and Quakers and New Monastics might live more faithfully, or the leftist Episcopalians or the rightist evangelical Anglicans or the obtuse Anglo-Catholics. We each have to trust, I suppose, that God is giving us the Truth we’re prepared to handle, and that Grace is pulling us along.