I would say that the pivotal point in my journey happened the day I met my wife. I had no idea, at the time that she would become my wife one day, all I knew was, here is a girl, who I thought is cute, that liked me! We soon became a couple and would spend all the time we could together. I quickly learned that she was Christian and I fell in love. Sappy right? It wasn’t until later that some problems arose. She wasn’t the type of Christian that I was. She was an Apostolic Pentecostal Christian. My heart sank. What was God thinking when he put us two together? Surly he didn’t mean to covert me into that church? I then thought, well, maybe he wanted me to convert her. This became my mission in life. I was going to convert her, mold her into the Christian that I wanted her to be. That seemed admirable enough; besides those Pentecostal’s are a bunch of legalistic nut jobs. It would do her good to get her out of it.
During this time I had been going to a charismatic church that believed in the gifts of spirit and operated in them, so inviting my soon to be wife to church was not that big of a stretch for her. The worship style was very similar in both churches and nobody cared what clothes you wore or how long or short your hair was. You see, I was under the impression that Pentecostals were made to wear skirts and have long hair and always dress in nice suits to church. I believed they were oppressed, and to me being forced to do something is the definition of a cult. My God was a jean’s, flip-flops and tee-shirt kind of guy, as was I.
I made, what I thought was, a little progress in my mission, when she started coming more frequently. What I believe now though, is she only started coming to church so she could be with me. I see now where my mission betrayed me because her only goal was to be with me. She was strong in her beliefs and convictions and I wasn’t going to change that for her. The only thing that I had going for me were her parents. They were out of church and she didn’t have the support she needed at home to continue going to the Pentecostal church so she came with me. Given time she would embrace what I believed and my plans would work. Once again this was all entirely my plan, not Gods plan.
When we got married, we stopped going to church altogether. The first couple years of our marriage did not get off to a good spiritual start. We didn’t pray, we didn’t read Gods word and we didn’t worship God the way he should be worshiped. She wasn’t going to that crazy church so that was a plus but we were not getting any spiritual nourishment either way. It was very depressing I think for the both of us. We could not agree on a church that we wanted to be a part of so we just stopped going. Then something funny happened, God started to intervene again in my life. My wife’s parents started to go back to church. Years of praying and hoping that they would, finally started to pan out, the only problem though, it was the Apostolic Pentecostal church. Insert face to palm here. What!? I mean I’m glad that her parents are back in church but why that church? God must be playing some cruel trick on me. My wife though, was ecstatic. Her parents never went to church while she was growing up, now suddenly they are on fire for God. Naturally she went with them to support their new found faith. I would allow this but we would need to find a church of our own very soon.
So my wife once again became a crazy Apostolic Pentecostal legalistic Christian nut-job. All the progress I had made on my mission gone just like that, and there was nothing I could do about it. Well, there was one thing that I could do though, find everything out that I could about these Apostolic Pentecostals and find some way I could refute their beliefs. Thus began my new mission.
I researched their organizations website, online, and found out who their leaders are and did some background checks on them. Their head guy was guy named David Bernard and he wrote several different books on Pentecostal theology. I asked my wife about him and she said she never heard of him. Ha! Score one point for me. Not even his own members know who this guy is. This was pretty ignorant thinking on my part because I was basing an entire group of people on one person, my wife. I bought one of his books called the Oneness of God. I pored over this book, looked up all the scripture references and it started to make since to me. That can’t be, I’ve had strong beliefs and convictions for myself my entire life. Suddenly I’m questioning my own faith. What was God showing me? Maybe this book was just a fluke.
My wife started to invite me to church. At first I wouldn’t come, I used a lot of different excuses not to come, I was too tired, I didn’t feel good, I’m going to go see my Dad, he lived out of state; pretty soon though I was running out of excuses not to go, besides one can’t be sick every Sunday and magically get well on Monday. I had to start going with her, if I wanted to save our marriage.
At first I tried to just blend in; I sat near the back of the sanctuary, close to the exit. I also chose my seat carefully in the middle of the pew and tried to surround myself with others so I would not to be noticed so much. I was very uncomfortable. Church usually lasted a couple of hours, but to me it seemed like all day. As soon as it was over I made a beeline for the exit and finally felt relief that church was over.
The worst part was the alter call, there was always an alter call, after all it’s a Pentecostal church. During alter call the pastor would invite member and nonmember alike to come forward and get hands laid upon them for healing, prayer and the dreaded baptism of the Holy Ghost. I was afraid that I would be singled out, one of the ministers would come up to me drag me up front and the whole church would pray, that earnest prayer, to get me to speak in tongues. They would yell at me, spit in my face and embarrass me in front of the entire church. I wasn’t having it. I am already a Christian been a follower all of my life. I was baptized, been called to preach and had Gods spirit in me already. Why do I need to go up in front of the entire church, and make a spectacle out of myself? I was perfectly fine all by myself, quietly sitting in my pew, close to the exit, and counting down the minutes to when the pastor would finally dismiss the service.
After a few Sundays of this, my wife, God bless her, ambushed me with two guys who led her small group. We decided to go out to dinner after church and get to know “one another.” That was code for lets pray this guy, meaning myself, through to the Holy Ghost. At the restaurant, I tried to play it cool, didn’t get too much into our different theologies but instead kept the conversation light. This tactic soon failed me and we started to get into the heavy stuff. The dreaded question got asked. Who do you think God is? Of coarse they would ask this! We were doing so well, I stalled, “uh…excuse me waitress may I have some more biscuits.” I’m kidding, but I tried desperately to avoid this conversation.
“Well” I said, clearing my throat. “I think we believe the same thing.” Yes, that will do. I gave an answer that I thought was a revelation from God. I thought that they needed to realize that the differences we had in doctrine were just different approaches to how we read and interpreted the scriptures. Essentially though, it all boiled down to the same thing, whether 3 persons in one in the God-head, or three titles of the same God. We worshiped and believed the same thing. The differences were only denominational lines that were drawn to divide the body of Christ. The differences were only a matter of semantics. I thought they had never heard this revelation before and I was doing them both a great service by telling them. I was wrong. I wasn’t saying anything that they had never heard before. I do have to give them credit though, they did let me speak and I don’t believe they even refuted what I said. All they asked was if I would like to join them for a bible study, I agreed. I didn’t know this at the time but that bible study would change my life forever.
At the beginning of the bible study they asked me a simple question. How do you get to heaven, or what do you think it takes to get to heaven? I’m ashamed to admit but I never gave this too much thought. I just took for granted everything that I have been taught in church. They asked if I would write my answer on a piece of paper and stuff it into my bible, and we would look back over it at the end of the bible study. What was I going to write down, how could I boil down my faith to just a few words?
Well belief in God is first and foremost, that is what the bible says right? But is that the only thing that we must do? Well, we must also confess our sins and confess that Jesus is LORD, so belief and confession. What about living a good life? Okay, belief, confession and lead a good life. These were the keys that got you into heaven. Well I’ve done all of this. I believed in God, I confessed my sins and tried to live up to what I thought were the standards of the bible. So why am I so unsure about this, why am I questioning my faith? Is there more to salvation than simply believing and living a good life? Does the Bible give either further instructions to live by or is there an entirely different plan to salvation to what I’ve been taught? Well, I wanted to get to know God more, who he really is and what his plans were for me moving forward into my life; if anything I would use this bible study to do just that. In the process of trying to refute the teaching of the apostolic doctrine, I would discover exactly what I’ve been looking for, God himself!
Just who is God anyway? Is he some very big old guy with a long flowing white beard who sits on a giant throne, while his subordinates day in and day out declare how awesome he is? By Hollywood’s standards this would be a close assumption. Or maybe he is a long-haired blue-eyed hippy telling everyone to love one another; a certain 1960’s song comes to mind. Maybe he is up there far away somewhere looking down on us, or maybe he is manipulating our lives as if we were a game of chess. Or is God universal; God is the same to Christians as he is to the Hindu, the Muslim or the Buddhist, it’s all a matter of point of view. The fact is of course, these depictions make God seem too impersonal. There has to be just one God, this God would be supreme, everything else is just man-made. So what does the Bible say about God?