We live in a sick world.
Look around. You will see physical sickness, emotional sickness, mental sickness, sick religiosity, and demonization. But it hasn't always been this way. And it doesn't have to be this way now.
In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth and all of the creatures on land, in the waters, and in the air. Then God created Adam and Eve and blessed them: "Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!"
God looked over everything He had made; it was good, so very good!
That is the way it was in the beginning.
Then Lucifer led one-third of the angels in rebellion against God and they were forced to leave Heaven. Adam and Eve rebelled too and they were forced to leave the Garden of Eden.
I can imagine Jesus saying, "Lucifer lost his brillance and became the adversary (satan). Adam and Eve found what they were looking for, but it wasn't what they expected. It breaks your heart to see what has happened to your children, doesn't it, Father."
And the Father's response: "Yes, it does. So long as their knowledge came from trusting and obeying Me, they enjoyed a glorious paradise. That's lost for now. But we have a plan, don't we, Son!"
In our modern evangelism that emphasizes salvation to escape hell and go to heaven, we sometimes miss the fact that we are saved to companionship with God. Before the fall, Adam wasn't religious. He walked with God. He had a personal relationship with his Father. Jesus came to earth and paid the price to restore that relationship between God and man. Then Jesus returned to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.
In the modern emphasis, the Holy Spirit is seldom defined as the Person of God now on earth making that restored relationship a reality. But that's who He is and that's what He's doing. Now I'm letting Him do it for me.
But I didn't start out that way. Like many others, I started with satan's substitute: RELIGION.
My Experience With Religion
I was baptized at the age of 14 during the summer of 1946. That is when I became a Christian. It is also when I became a member of a Church, and I would serve that Church for the next 40 years.
I was taught that it was Christ's "one true Church" and that one must be a faithful member of this Church in order to be saved and go to heaven. All other Churches were "denominations" made by men and the people in them were deceived and lost. (I learned later that members of some of those denominations thought their Church was the "one true Church" and that we were the ones in error.)
In order for a Church to be the "one true Church", I believed it had to have the right name, the right organization, the right terms of membership, the right worship, and the right work.
Worship was something we did in a Church building or Church service, which we attended "every time the doors were open" in order to be faithful. We had "five acts of worship" which included singing, praying, preaching, the Lord's supper, and the collection.
The singing was congregational only (no solos or special group singing). I was taught that it is a sin to sing hymns and spiritual songs with a piano or other musical instruments. I believed that women must keep silent in Church services (unless they were singing).
I believed that a Church member must observe the Lord's Supper (using unleavened bread and unfermented grape juice) every Sunday and only on Sunday, and that observance at any other time was a sin.
There were "five steps to salvation": one must hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized (in that order).
Baptism made one not only a new creature and a member of Christ's body, but also a member of the local Church organization. If you moved to another location, you became a member there by "placing" your membership in that organization. Heavy emphasis was placed on baptism (immersion) in water, but little or no emphasis was placed on the Holy Spirit's part in making one a new creature.
Elders were elected to a position of leadership in a local Church organization. We were taught that they were given divine authority to rule over the members.
I believed that miracles and spiritual gifts had ceased with the death of the last person on whom Jesus' apostles had laid their hands in the first century, and that the work of the Holy Spirit ended when the New Testament canon was complete.
Our slogan was: "We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent." I believed we must do all things according to the "pattern," and that the "pattern" was the book of Acts and the other New Testament letters. I believed that I must have authority from God for all of my religious beliefs and that authority was determined by specific commands, approved apostolic examples, and necessary inferences found in the "pattern."
I took great pride in all of the above and was painfully humbled when I began to learn that I had been doing a lot of speaking where the Bible is silent and had been silent on some very important things about which the Bible speaks loudly.
I worked very hard for the Lord in this Church. At least at the time I thought it was for the Lord.
I was a workaholic. I earned my wages as a "full-time" employee elsewhere, while I "earned" my salvation as a "full-time" volunteer. My goal was to attend every Church service, every Bible class, vacation Bible school, and gospel meeting (our own label for what other Churches call revivals). I attended men's training classes, singing classes, business meetings, and Church work days. I took my turn cleaning the Church building and mowing the Church lawn. I taught Bible classes, preached from time to time, wrote religious articles for the Church newsletter and brotherhood journals, prepared visual aids, signs and advertisements for Church lecture series, served as a Deacon and later as an Elder.
In 1966 I began writing and drawing a cartoon series called "Our Religious World." I did not realize at the time the first one (below) was published in July of that year that this cartoon applied to our denomination just as much as it did to other denominations. (Of course, at the time I denied that our "one true Church" was a denomination, even though it had all the earmarks.)
Our preachers did not wear clerical collars and we would have said that we did not subscribe to human creeds. But during the years that followed, I would come to understand that some of our doctrines did not come from God. They came from a hard core group of preachers whose faith rested apparently in logic and their ability to use it -- syllogisms with major and minor premises, and sometimes Bible verses taken out of context, to produce infallible, inerrant conclusions! These conclusions were printed in books and brotherhood journals, church bulletins, tracts, and visual aids for sermons and debates, usually with a scripture reference to show that God was in agreement.
So we had human creeds like other denominations. We loved our human creeds. And fought for them! And we became more and more divided.
I believed that if God had an organization called the Church, it should be the best organization in the world. Therefore, Sylvia and I decided to publish Gospel Teacher magazine to help Churches fulfill the Great Commission in the most effective manner. We devoted several years of our lives, working days, nights, and weekends to the magazine, and used our savings to support it. We finally put most of the money from the sale of our home into the effort.
If during this time of great personal sacrifice someone had asked me if I thought I would go to heaven if I were to die, I would have said, "I hope so. I hope I have done enough. And I hope that just before I die that I have an opportunity to ask God for forgiveness for any sin that I may not be aware of."
I did all of this for the Lord, but it had never occurred to me to ask the Lord if this was what He wanted. After all, I thought God stopped talking after the first century.
After exhausting all of our resources, we had to discontinue the publication of Gospel Teacher. And I went through a period of burnout and deep depression.
It was while we were publishing Gospel Teacher and traveling around the United States advertising our publications that we began to get a more objective view of our religious system. Much time was spend fighting among ourselves over such matters as what could be done inside Church buildings and how Church funds could be spent.
Gospel Teacher was a how-to magazine dealing with teaching techniques, audio-visuals, and graphic arts as applied to the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ, and we tried to make it available to as many people as possible. But each way we turned we were met with a party-spirit that was devastating. We were criticized by preachers in our own division of the "one true Church" for selling subscriptions to anyone who doesn't "have our fellowship." Preachers in what we called the "liberal" division of the "one true Church" suspected that our magazine was a plot that those of our persuasion had come up with "to get a foot in the door" and canceled our paid advertising in their publications. And some in Churches we called "denominational" canceled their subscriptions when a Bible verse that mentioned "baptism" was quoted in one of the articles.
Once we got outside of our own group, I began to see first-hand how divided our "one true Church" really was. I noticed that the members of other factions were just as sincere about what they believed as we were. They honestly believed they had "the truth" and that we were the ones who were deceived and in error.
In retrospect I remember raising questions about some of our doctrines myself over the years. And finally, after being a dedicated member of organized religion for 40 years, I terminated my membership with a letter to the local Elders of that denomination on December 17, 1987.
The Body of Christ
My spiritual journey had begun, but I still did not fully understand the difference between a Church as defined by leaders of organized religion today and the body of Christ as defined by the apostle Paul and other writers of the New Testament letters.
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul tells us that the spiritual body of Christ is like a physical body, which is made up of many different parts (members) that have different functions, all very important.
In my physical body my eyes have the gifts (abilities) of seeing. My ears have the gifts of hearing. My tongue has the gift of speaking. And so on. The same is true of the body of Christ, except in this case we're talking about members of a spiritual body with spiritual abilities instead of members of a physical body with physical abilities. As members of the body of Christ we have different functions and we need the abilities ("spiritual gifts") to perform those functions.
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men." (verses 4-6)
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another the ability to speak in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines." (verses 7-11)
All of these gifts (abilities) have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.
Unfortunately, our enemy (the powers of darkness) has convinced many church leaders and members that the Holy Spirit is not active today and that spiritual gifts (spiritual abilities) were for the first century only. Such unbelief has crippled the spiritual body of Christ in the same way that a physical body can be disabled by members that don't have physical abilities.
It is not all that complicated. In fact it is pretty simple, and makes perfect sense now. But at the time I still had some confusion and legalistic issues from my own religious background to deal with and sort through. Fortunately, I would not have to make that journey alone.
Little did I know back then that the Holy Spirit was still here on earth and that I would soon hear His Voice.
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