T H I S I S M Y S T O R Y
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock :
and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:
and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.
Judas Iscariot had more opportunity than most to hear the sayings of Christ. Where is Iscariot today? The high priest Caiaphas heard the sayings of Christ. Where is long beard now? Pilate heard the words of Jesus. Where is he? Where and how one lives his forever is a measure of his wisdom/foolishness during his moment on planet earth.
Storms do come, rain does descend, flood waters do rise, winds do blow, every house is tested. Your house, my house, his house, her house, their houses.
This chapter is a story of a house that survived many storms. It is my story. And it is a story of a house that did not survive the storm, a true account of People of Faith prayer community.
My story begins in the earliest years of the ’70’s.
Jesus Christ had been a stranger to me the first twenty-seven years of my life. Although I prayed to God and did christian deeds, and though baptized as an infant, and lived, somewhat, according to Christ’s teachings, I had never known Him.
I was a believer, but not a born-again believer. I knew about Jesus, but there was no intimacy. Spiritually, I was a blind man. I could not see.
And then I could!
At the age of twenty-seven I was born of the Spirit of God. My spiritual awakening came suddenly, about six months before I first heard the word ‘charismatic’, about a year before the People of Faith prayer group was birthed in my St. Theresa parish.
I was an eyewitness to the spectacular beginning of the Holy Spirit visitation, and left shortly before its demise after a confrontation with its leadership. I had opportunity to witness firsthand what many have never seen, a lavish outpouring of God that brought life to many faithful adherents of, what I perceived to be, a spiritually dead parish. How quickly my spiritual perspective changed.
The following is my mindset previous to my new life in Christ:
St. Theresa parish. One of three catholic communities in our small city, religious home to my family for almost ten years. The church steeple, white and aged and domineering, overlooks one of the busier streets. To many the old landmark is a comfort. It has always been there.
Sameness. Little doubt in my parish of fellow catholics that sameness was good. It was God who protected the monotony. Custom and ritual were never out-of-date. We knew in our bored, catholic hearts if we remained faithful to sameness we would remain in God’s favor and be rescued from the everlasting atrocity awaiting the rebellious to the status quo.
God. God is big. And powerful. You just don’t mess with God. Don’t ever die with a mortal sin on your soul. Nothing seems to please Him…. except sameness. Though distant, He sees us from a long way off. He peers through roofs and walls and everything. Nothing escapes those penetrating eyes. He scares me.
Jesus. He’s okay. I like Him. Never gets mad. Jesus died about two thousand years ago. The Romans killed Him, but He got resurrected and returned to heaven where He came from. He too can see us from a long way. But that’s okay. Jesus is nice.
Mary. The blessed virgin Mary. Queen of heaven and mother of the church. Most think she’s really nice. God may get mad at us, but Mary?…. never happens. Through select people throughout history she taught us to say the rosary and call on her when life down here got real tough. She also taught us she is the immaculate conception, that is, she, like Jesus, was conceived without original sin. But you know, personally, I’m not so sure about this Mary stuff….
The pope. The pope holds the petrine office…. which is the same office Jesus gave to Peter. Over the years the popes have taught us they are infallible in areas of doctrine, and it’s very comforting to know that, while other religions are speculating, our pope is never mistaken. The pope is a direct spiritual descendant of Peter. It’s true! There’s a list somewhere. I once saw it when I was a kid. You see, Jesus wouldn’t leave the church in chaos, so before He left for heaven He passed on His authority to Peter who, in turn, didn’t want to leave us orphans so he passed on the authority to someone else, that someone else being the second pope, and that tradition of authority-passing got us our present pope. Thus there has always been someone to keep us from error.
Priests. Priests are the last link of a long chain of command, loyal to the church and hard workers. They do mass every morning, hear yucky sins in the confessional, baptize every new baby, bury the dead, attend all kinds of meetings, visit the sick, teach kids catechism. Priests have the power to forgive sins, change bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus and, if they can get there fast enough, save the unfaithful dying from going to hell by given them the last rights. But there’s a price to becoming a priest: no wife, no sex, no kids, and a very small paycheck. And I think it gets lonely in that rectory in th evenings. They can play golf though and things like that. They can have a few drinks and smoke all the cigarettes they want. I once considered becoming either a priest or a lawyer but since both require a ton of education, and since I have never had a propensity for learning, I found it easier to be a high school dropout.
Nuns. I’ve never met a lazy nun. Never met a nun I didn’t liked. Never met one who smoked. Many of them no longer wear their habits, and sometimes I think that’s okay, and other times I think the old days were better when you could spot a sister a block down the road. The sisters make the blah bearable. They are shy, they smile lots and complain little, a very tranquil bunch, true servants of the church.
Mass. Mass is sameness. Monday to sunday, it doesn’t change much. But God apparently likes it that way, so say our infallible popes, so who am I to complain. The priests don’t preach, not like your protestant bunch, they just speak. Can’t ever accuse a priest of getting emotional. Sometimes I go to church every day for an entire month. Makes me feel I’m doing something worthwhile, and I know it pleases God. The focus of the mass is the eucharist – that’s when the priest changes the wafers of bread and the wine into the body and blood of Jesus. I guess it’s the protestant’s equivalent to ‘receiving Christ’. After mass is done Jesus is locked up in a small white tabernacle and stays there until the next mass.
Confession. Going to confession is as much fun as going to the dentist. But it feels good when the ordeal is over and that’s what counts. Whenever I commit a really bad sin I wait for a visiting priest to come by because most of the local priests think I’m okay. People don’t go to confession as often as they used to when lineups were ten and fifteen long. Bet the priests don’t mind though. Listening to all those sins must be a pain.
The devil. Nobody talks about the devil, and I suppose that’s because nobody believes he is real, or maybe they are too scared to talk about him.
Birth control. There was a day when a family with eight or ten kids wasn’t considered large. Lately however, the numbers have been suspiciously dropping. Six. Five. Three! Birth control, other than the rhythm method, is forbidden. Or is it? Some bishops say yes, others say no. Some priests give their okay, others discourage it. Often the ladies have to shop around to find the right priest to give them permission to take the pill. Suddenly the ax fell: the infallible pope said no way and that’s that. What to do? Catholics love the church but they love sex too, and there’s no way they are going to have ten to fifteen kids. Yes, the ladies are in a real fix – can’t take communion while taking the pill and if they don’t receive communion, mass would be pointless and painful, and everyone would think they must have done something real bad. I suppose there’s a lot of women secretly taking the pill and hurting in their conscience every time they receive communion.
Protestants. Now they’re hard to figure. No pope, no mass, no sacraments, no statues, no rosary. Seems so empty. Their ministers get married and even have a couple of kids. Don’t know how they get away with it. I suppose since they are deceived – they must be or they would be catholics – they aren’t responsible. I mean if they don’t know better who can blame them? They will probably make it to heaven if they live good lives and don’t persecute my church.
Billy Graham. See him once in a while on the boob. I’m surprised protestants have so much money – those stadiums must cost a fortune to rent. The man is quite impressive, I must say, and I’m sure if he were a catholic he would be a very good priest and even a bishop by now. This guy gets to preach and travel and have a wife too. I gather by his sermons that if you’re not a catholic you got to get saved.
The Bible. Nobody reads it much, not even the priests. I think most catholics would rather say the rosary. Protestants put too much emphasis on the Bible, and I suppose that’s because it’s all they have. Obviously they don’t understand it or they wouldn’t be divided into so many denominations.
Change. Who would have ever expected it? And yet here it was, all the way from Rome. Our beloved, boring, tiresome sameness, which seemed to be forever etched across the worldwide catholic landscape, was being seriously threatened. Blame it on an Italian pope, John XXIII. Rituals were modified or discontinued. People looked at each other and smiled and even shook hands – right in church! Laymen (yes, laymen!) read from the Bible. Visiting officials spoke about Jesus. The priests seemed to become reflective, genuine. Mass wasn’t quite so boring and people even hung around afterward just to chat. Change didn’t seem so bad. “It’s God!” said one. “It’s the Holy Spirit!” said another. Could it be? Does God consider sameness stale? Though suspicious, I was also hungry for…. something.
Hunger. It took up residence and wouldn’t leave. Made me restless and dissatisfied and got me questioning. I instinctively knew only truth would satisfy this hunger. So my quest for truth began.
Truth. What is truth? An invisible, evasive abstract? A philosophy? Another religion, maybe? A moral code? Whatever it is, I had to have it. “It’s Jesus!” the Campus Crusade tract said. “Jesus is truth!” Jesus?
Jesus. “The way, the truth and the life.” Who would have guessed truth was a person?
Jesus. I bowed my knee and my heart and my life to Jesus.
Jesus. And then I received Him. I received the Son of God. In prayer. “Jesus, I receive you now.”
New life. It just came. I was born again. The light went on in my very dark and dismal life. It was like a celebration going on inside me. Out of the old, into the new. Just like that.
Jesus revolutionized my life. I could no longer be satisfied with the catholic way. He lifted me unto higher, much higher, ground. And then He, through His Spirit, began to teach me.
Jesus knows the importance of understanding. He once explained to His twelve that the one who receives seed (“The word is the seed.”) into fertile ground is the one who hears His word and understands that word. I spent many hours searching the New Testament and reading a few precious books until I had a good comprehension what it meant to be born of the Holy Spirit, to be an adopted child of God, to be a citizen of His kingdom. I could now see where I had come from (escaped) and I shuddered. I am convinced the teachings that became locked in my heart those early days kept me from losing my faith in and love for and attachment to the Lord Jesus. Understanding the salvation message prevents satan from stealing that salvation.
The catholic sister God used to point me to Christ sensed I was becoming distant from the church and tried to reason with me. I responded, “If something really did happen to me, what about the rest of them?” I challenged, looking toward the church building, referencing the many faithful attendees. It was an immense question and there was no answer. I found it hard to believe I had been lifted out of dead religion while so many had been left behind. I would have preferred to be mistaken, and the masses who depended on their church for salvation – through the sacraments, indulgences, Mary, absolution of the priests, the last rites, purgatory – were not really traveling a pointless and cruel path.
But to believe that was to deny what I knew Christ had accomplished in my heart and soul. I was lost and now I was no longer lost. I was outside and now fully inside. I was thoroughly insecure and now I was safe. I could only conclude that those who never experienced my amazing salvation were still lost, outside the family of God, thoroughly insecure, in need of salvation through Jesus Christ. I could not discern one person within my parish who had the Spirit of the Lord dwelling within. Seekers, yes. Believers, yes. Good people, certainly. Born-again, no.
To carry a burden for hundreds, and even millions, of catholics would crush any babe in Christ. Yet how could I forget the multitudes left behind? Eventually I came to the awareness that Christ was the commander of His army and I but a lowly private. It was not my place to carry the commander’s burdens. Jesus once said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I cast this weight at His feet, and received once more His peace that passes understanding.
MY FIRST DAYS
I was a particularly lonely christian in those early days. There was no one to relate with, to share the miracle of my new life. (It was to be three years before Linda received Christ.) Mass was a bore and I was growing suspicious about its relevance and authenticity. So I went to an evening service at a pentecostal church. By myself. I was nervous.
The pastor greeted me at the door and said, “God bless you!” over and over again, perhaps fifteen times. I was wary about anything or anyone non-catholic, but I had to admit saying “God bless you!” was okay. I tried to recall a time someone had said those words to me but could not. The singing and enthusiasm of those pentecostals was stirring. Near the end of the service I was overcome by the Holy Spirit, my first immersion in God’s power. Strength gone, I leaned against the outside wall, only my eyes and ears would function. Had I not sat down I would have fallen to the floor. It was awesome.
Soon after I attended a prayer meeting at a neighboring pentecostal church. The pastor welcomed me into his shepherd heart and over the years became my friend. And the Lord gave me another friend, a young family man like myself, who had an uncommon affection for Jesus and hunger for the Word. A true elder and mentor, his influence on my life was colossal.
One day I made a startling discovery, a catholic charismatic prayer group in one of the downtown parishes. It was incredible! Dozens of people, mostly catholics, were stretching hands toward heaven as they unashamedly praised Jesus. Wow! Catholics just don’t behave like that – singing in the Spirit, quoting Scripture, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and generally behaving more like pentecostals than pentecostals. Inspiring as it was, attaching myself to this group was one of several major mistakes I have made in my christianity, having the effect of postponing my departure from catholicism by four years.
The following wednesday the prayer group leader invited anyone interested in taking the “Life In The Spirit Seminar” a seven-part seminar leading to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Two of us responded. Moments before meeting with this leader, the Lord touched me. I can only call it a spiritual jolt. I suppose it was a warning. The fellow began to show us verses regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit. From there he explained the importance of the ‘blessed virgin’ Mary and expressed his frustration toward fundamentalists who could not understand how to “tie it all altogether”. The Lord had touched me, however, and I left that encounter unscathed. That was the first of many times I witnessed a catholic charismatic try to fit the new wine into the ancient wineskin.
Pentecostals and catholics don’t fuse, not for long. The pentecostals preached the Bible; protective, catholic clergy and laity preached catholicism. Rock versus sand. Which brought tension. Which led to confrontation. Which led to dismissal of non-catholics. Which grieved the Holy Spirit. Which brought a rapid cessation to the prayer group. A mountain of prayer could not revive it because prayer was not accompanied by repentance.
In less than two years the house had fallen. And great was its fall.
PEOPLE OF FAITH
Shortly before the collapse of the downtown prayer group, another had been formed in our own St. Theresa parish. Our God is a great God, a master builder, and I had the privilege of witnessing Him give birth to a vibrant christian community in the midst of a parish spiritually dormant. It was a spiritual community within a spiritual community. Soon christians throughout the city and beyond heard of the signs and wonders so prevalent in our People of Faith prayer group. Crowds of well over a hundred were common as catholics continued to come, to hear, and to be converted to the Lord Jesus. Many experienced deep inner healing and miraculous physical healings. Deliverances from strangleholds from the world of darkness were frequent. Sins of unforgiveness and bitterness were dealt with by the Holy Spirit, using babes in Christ to minister to babes in Christ.
Never had I witnessed such a spirit of brotherhood, of compassion, of sincere concern for others. Small clusters gathered in homes sharing and praying by the hour. So much excitement, so many happenings. The highlight of the week was the thursday evening prayer meeting in the basement of St. Theresa. No shortage of guitarists and talented vocalists to lead the gathering in serious praise and worship unto Jesus. There was a real hunger for God in those catholic hearts and we praised Him brazenly. The session of praise and teaching and sharing over, most lingered to coffee and visit and chatter. It was also a time of ministry, the laying on of hands, the exercising of gifts poured out so generously by the Holy Spirit.
Over the next few years many dozens made decisions for Christ, many were healed of various ailments, marriages were restored. By all appearances People of Faith was a complete success, and some were prophesying continued growth. Unfortunately those prophecies were never fulfilled.
AND THE WINDS BLEW
Had someone dug below the surface to inspect the foundation of the People of Faith ‘house’, he would have found sand. Sand will wash away in a major storm, and the house foolishly built upon it will collapse. So warned our precious Jesus.
At the very beginning a decision was made to keep the prayer group catholic, no pentecostals allowed into leadership, thus occasions for conflict, as in the downtown prayer group, were minimized. Leadership, then, consisted entirely of those only a few years old in the Lord, none of whom had more than a meager understanding of Scripture, none who gave Scripture rightful esteem.
The bishop and the priests were mainly concerned with one question: Whose side are they on?
Leadership, throughout catholic charismatic circles called the core group, did much to assure the nervous clergy of their loyalty to the cc, eventually making a decision to obey the bishop in all matters. How could the Holy Spirit not be grieved by the group that covenants loyalty to a religious system rather than the true head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ? Yet God is love and love is patient and the Holy Spirit endures the incapacity of the young. Kids make mistakes, often and various.
And this is a good time to state that this writer has no denunciation whatsoever toward these young and naive decision-makers. A carpenter friend who worked gratis on a project with unexperienced christian helpers lamented that when there was a right way and a wrong way to do a simple job they always chose the wrong way. Likewise, it seems, christians building whatever – a church, a house church, a ministry – do it wrong most times. Rare, not common, is the one or the group who choose to build on the rock of Christ’s sayings. Though God’s grace is always sufficient, almost always christians bend to peer pressure. When approaching a fork in the road a group or a church consider the matter, scratch their heads, say a prayer, hold a meeting, discuss their options, and…. invariably choose the wrong way. That’s not cynicism, but an observation many years in the making; evidence surrounds us all.
Was it not so with the twelve? Jesus is making His last entry into Jerusalem after telling the apostles of His imminent betrayal and death. And what are the apostles doing? They are disputing about who will be first in the kingdom! Of the twelve, one betrays Him, one denies knowing Him, no one stands with Him when the bad guys come. None seem to comprehend His assurance that He would rise three days after His crucifixion – they were amazed at the report of the empty tomb. I mean, duh! After the ascension of Christ, after the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the upper room, apostles still sometimes behaved like the dumb sheep most of us are. Paul severely reprimanded Peter “before them all” for his betrayal to the gospel and gentile converts (Galatians, chapter 2). The apostle Barnabas bowed to peer pressure and joined others in their hypocrisy. The New Testament and early church history are loaded with examples of our venerable brothers and sisters making dumb choices, building their houses on sand.
Though lacking in wisdom, there was an uncommon love flow and a fresh sincerity in the People of Faith core group. Unfortunately, the charitable and sincere man who builds on sand, like the devious builder, will one day witness the collapse of his beautiful house.
In this charismatic community, as in most, there was an abundance of gifts of the Holy Spirit. But true to what one would expect, these gifts in the possession of youngsters in the Lord were much misused. Instead of checking The Book to come to a conclusion, they often relied on group discernment, or prophecy, or practicality. Or what would be the most loving thing to do. Or what would please the bishop. It’s like Matthew 7:24-27 never existed.
At times, prophecies regarding Mary, “the queen of heaven” came forth. People were never encouraged to give public testimony to their conversion experience by being baptized in water; some were baptized incognito, not wanting the bishop to find out. A few in the core group still clung to the rosary, and this was acceptable to the others. Speakers at a special weekend conference were all priests with one exception, that exception being a nun.
The parish is a huge harvest field and many charismatics looked upon it with hungry eyes of an evangelist. Credibility was essential, they reasoned, and much effort and compromise was invested in maintaining that credibility. Thus charismatics became ideal catholics, attending mass regularly, giving generously to the collection plate, assisting the priest serving mass, and, in general, being quite congenial and never confrontational.
The People of Faith community was making many of the same mistakes as the previously mentioned prayer group (and thousands of others throughout North America), but because leadership was carefully chosen and basically of one mind, and because decisions were compliant to the bishop, serious dissensions and confrontations were avoided. But Jesus did say there would be a storm….
CONFRONTATION WITH FRIENDS
One Sunday morning at mass the Lord spoke to me: “This is the last mass you will attend.” Just like that. It was an ever-so-gentle voice, audible only to myself, so mellow it was hard to determine if He was giving me an order or simply stating a fact. Moments like this are rare in my christianity, and I remember it well. This is the full conversation I had with the Lord that morning:
The Lord: This is the last mass you will attend.
Me: Are You saying this is the last mass I will attend?
The Lord: This is the last mass you will attend.
Me: Are You saying this is the last mass I will ever attend?
The Lord: This is the last mass you will attend.
Me: Do You mean to tell me…. that this is the last mass I will ever attend?
The Lord: This is the last mass you will attend.
Me: Do You mean to tell me…. that this….. is the very last mass…. I will ever attend?
The Lord: This is the last mass you will attend.
I left with my two children before mass was over, yet I was still not fully convinced that this was to be the last mass I would ever participate in. (I mean, duh!)
Previous to this sunday morning I was dangerously close to completing my own charismatic cycle. It is difficult to understand the charismatic cycle but I have seen it played out many times. It begins with frivolous and innocent excitement, a result of a genuine commitment to Christ. Slowly that commitment transfers from Christ to christians, the body of believers one is attached to. If that community of believers is, in turn, committed to a church, it is at the feet of that church that one’s commitment and loyalty will eventually rest. This is adultery and idolatry. The cycle is complete, the house has fallen.
I was advantaged over most. I had not received Christ through the charismatic movement and was not entirely dependent on it for teaching and direction. I had outside influences from whom I assimilated a healthy respect for The Book and occasionally attended a Bible study at a local pentecostal assembly. I understood salvation whereas many of those born of the Spirit did not comprehend their own experience. Possibly the most significant advantage was not being invited into leadership – which would have intensified the pressure to conform. I suppose I wasn’t accepted because I never compromised as much as most, never proclaimed loyalty to the cc, didn’t call the priests Father, didn’t genuflect before the tabernacle, and it was common knowledge I sometimes attended a pentecostal church. I could have been considered a maverick.
All this, however, did not negate the tremendous pressure, peer pressure, to conform. Others seemed to have no problem harmonizing their new life with the catholic way, and the fruit of the Spirit was often evident in their lives. Generally, there was a willingness to pour out their lives for the well-being of others. And there was the strong social bond.
Social bonding keeps catholics catholic, baptists baptist, mormons mormon, atheists atheist. And catholic charismatics catholic charismatics. Lin and I were closely knit to several couples in the People of Faith community. It’s hard to disagree with those you love. It became increasingly easy to reason from the charismatic perspective. I made the common miscalculation that God’s gifts, and there were plenty of gifts poured out in the community, were His endorsement of the people to whom they were bestowed. God would only give gifts to mature, responsible and loyal children, right?
And then, curiously, there was pressure from evangelicalism to stay within the cc rather than leave. A jesuit priest, elevated by televangelists, made the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship circuit across Canada, speaking against the folly of christians leaving their tradition-based churches, thus offending those high up the ecclesiastical ladder, thus creating havoc. I brought my burden to a pentecostal minister…. who strongly hinted I should stay where I was. The aura of compromise was in the air and many were inhaling deeply. I knew it was impossible to fellowship with catholicism and obey Scripture at the same time, but what was my opinion against those who had been christians much longer than me? I was in a dilemma and suffered much inner turmoil. I felt unclean. I was a covenant breaker, a disobedient son, and my spirit hurt.
With sadness I witnessed the dramatic performance of the charismatic cycle conducted in the lives of many. With the eyes of the Spirit I could detect loyalty being shifted from God to religious men. And I could see the childlike innocence and joy being replaced by artificiality and impatience. “Praise the Lord!” was not proclaimed so often, the name of Christ no longer prevalent. New words and expressions – headship, submission, the richness of the church, submission to authority, the sacraments – became politically accepted speech. Mass was introduced into some of the thursday night gatherings.
My older children had matured enough to be influenced by what they heard and seen. Were they also to be the price of accommodation and credibility? Was god tradition going to win their minds and hearts so that Daddy might have opportunity to work in the catholic harvest field? Their trust in me was blind and unconditional. Where was I leading them?
At mass I watched them watching. Dumb is assuming they see as Dad sees. Real dumb is assuming they see as Dad sees even though everyone else in the church sees differently than Dad. Up front behind the altar was the man everyone called Father with a colorful garment draped over his body. Impressive. Must be real important. Looks so official as he he genuflects, and prays, and blesses the people, and reverently lifts the host above his head for all to see. Hey, there’s Jesus in his hands. Sure, it only looks like a white wafer, but it’s Jesus all right. It must be true…. everything must be true…. after all, Daddy brought me here!
Daddy brought me. Daddy brought me. Daddy brought me. The knife twisted over and over again at the thought of my betrayal to my own children. Daddy brought them to a sacrificial altar he knew to be false and empty. Daddy brought them to a religious system that was capturing the hearts of friends.
I didn’t know what to do. If I just left I would upset a number of people including the People of Faith people. Lin leaned on them heavily. She recently committed her life to Jesus Christ and did not need a major upheaval in her life. “Father”, I sincerely prayed, “I stand in Your presence, not knowing what to do. I believe I am where You want me to be. If You tell me to stay, I will stay. If You tell me to leave I will leave. Amen.”
I attended a pentecostal evening service soon after. The preacher declared, “Confusion is mixing the things of the world with the Word of God!” And he repeated, “Confusion is mixing the things of the world with the Word of God!” Again and again, “Confusion is mixing the things of the world with the Word of God!” Looking back, I am sure the Lord spoke those words especially to me through that minister. I finally got it! The light went on! So that’s why I am so confused and distressed. And that’s why everyone in People of Faith is confused and distressed. They were trying to fuse tradition and the Bible. The false with the true. The familiar with the new. Insisting the religion of their heritage be blended with the Lord’s ways.
How simple life was when considered from a scriptural perspective. How complex and burdensome when viewed from an alloy of the true and the not true.
What are “the things of the world”? Simple. The things of this world is everything not the Word. The things of the world is sand, an alternative to the rock of His Word. Simple. This revelation led me to this prayer: “Father, I have made a decision. From this moment I choose Your Word in my life above all teachings and traditions. I commit my life to the Bible. I will never again compromise. I invite the Holy Spirit to reveal those areas in my life that are contrary to Your Word, and I will correct them. I depend on Your grace to help me keep this decision I have made, and I ask for that grace in the name of Jesus. Amen!” And I signed the last page of the Bible, right under Revelation 22:21, as an affirmation to the Lord.
That prayer was revival to me. Confusion disappeared. Sins of compromise and accommodation were forgiven. I felt real good. That was perhaps my wisest decision as a christian. I guess I don’t always do dumb; once in a while I actually do smart. I will spend much of my life convincing others to build on the rock of Christ’s sayings.
Smart, like dumb, often leads into unpleasant complexities. Paul taught Timothy (and us), “All those who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” I have always paid for my decision to be obedient to the Word of God, and that effect has always dribbled down into my family.
The Holy Spirit immediately began to show me where my life was in conflict to His Word. First, I must be baptized in water. The Bible demanded it. But what about my ‘credibility’? No matter, a few months later, about six years late, I was baptized at a local church. Now what about my children? Didn’t they require baptism? So I baptized them, two in a pool, one in our bathtub. And didn’t they need Bible teaching as much as me? I once had them in sunday school, and now reintroduced them. I refused to call the priest Father. When receiving communion I never declared the customary and affirming “Amen” in response to the priest’s words, “The Body of Christ”. But wasn’t my presence at mass an endorsement of the mass?
2 Corinthians 6:14-17: Do not be unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
All this led to the Lord speaking directly to me, “This is the last mass you will attend.” Already some friends tried to discourage us from attending functions outside the church, suggesting if the bishop found out (I am sure he already knew) he would consider it a bad fruit of People of Faith and put restrictions on the entire prayer group. Lin and I discussed the possibility of leaving the cc and decided, if we did so, to inch ourselves out as discreetly as possible. But no, it didn’t work that way.
The following weekend (after having that conversation with the Lord) I was out of town at a Full Gospel Business Men’s gathering. In some ways they were much like People of Faith, heavy compromisers, steeped in the strange logic of appeasing the status quo of all churches. However a friend – a recent convert, a few years ago a pimp in Vancouver, not the most moderate fellow – did speak his mind: “The devil has you and your family right where he wants you, in the cc, and he doesn’t want you leaving.”
Returning home, Lin announced the decision she had made in my absence that weekend: “We will not leave the cc.” Oh-oh.
Would it be fair to the kids to bring such drastic change?, she reasoned. Perhaps catholicism wasn’t so bad after all. No one else seemed to have a problem, just you. Think of the damage our departure would create. Do we have the right to hurt our friends?
The oh-oh led to panic. Before, I always thought the choice was mine. Lin had always bowed to my leadership, but now she was authoritative: “We will not leave the cc.” Panic led to: “As of this moment we HAVE left the cc!!” My decision was final. The Lord was correct when He said, “This is the last mass you will attend.” It was.
I shared my decision with a friend from People of Faith. He was, surprisingly, shattered. Lin occasionally cared for his children free of charge, but now they would no longer be in the same house as me. From him the news spread. I was baffled by the intensity of people’s reaction. I heard that some wept, some gathered to pray that I would reconsider my decision, a priest led his parishioners in a statement of faith and a pledge to remain in the church, bishop and priests – whom I didn’t personally know – discussed the calamity. What they feared most was happening, ‘people’ were leaving the church. I tried to prepare Lin for an unpleasant confrontation from the People of Faith leadership, but she refused to believe they would ever turn on us. A few days later the prayer group leader and his wife pulled into our driveway. Another oh-oh.
The prayer leader is a young, very likable family man. That is, likable in a human sense – that is, by human standards – that is, more likable than most. We are all a bit daffy; sin has done that. At best we are in recovery from the effects of our rebellion and that of others. We do dumb regularly. Our regret list lengthens.
I really like this good man, his beauty of character runs deep, and had wished we could have been friends, could have had long walks and talks, argued about this and that, and really listened to each other. He was the leader of the core group which was the leadership of People of Faith. A sincere man with a shepherd’s heart, carried a heavy anointing, gifted with gifts of the Holy Spirit.
He was very angry that sunday afternoon, not at Lin but me. He said he had always been suspicious of me and was now fully satisfied his discernment was correct. I think he meant that because I put myself and the welfare of my family above the prayer group, I was indeed the selfish person he thought I was. He felt I should have come to others for group discernment before making a decision I knew would effect so many.
Group discernment. That is how catholic charismatics were taught to govern their lives, individually and as a group. Don’t make decisions on your own. Don’t think you can find your answer in The Book. There is safety in numbers. Several can discern the will of God better than one. You see, there was a lot of books at that time directed at traditional charismatics – teachings on prayer, praise, discernment, prayer groups, community living, unity, submission to leadership, spiritual gifts…. everything. Writer to publisher to distributor to book store to core group to People of Faith.
I replied I knew beforehand what that group discernment would be. This good man asked if I trusted his discernment and I replied I did not. He expressed disappointment I did not share my decision with him personally before he learned it from another source. I said that because I had the conviction I was following what I believe to be a leading of the Lord, I owed no apology or explanation to any man. He asked me to watch the fruit of my decision to determine if it was the right one. I replied any bad fruit that may be forthcoming would not necessarily be because of bad judgment on my part.
He then stated that it was the opinion of the core group that my actions were detrimental to the prayer community, and if the core group did not retaliate in some way it would be a sign to the bishop they condoned my decision. Therefore they unanimously decided we were no longer to minister to people during or after the thursday gatherings. Also, I would not be asked to give teachings as I was rarely chosen to do. I asked for an opportunity to contest that decision, and was assured it would be provided at my convenience. It was obvious during this encounter Lin was not on my side. The four of us prayed together, embraced, and said our good-byes. (Today, at the time of this rewrite, the prayer leader is in heaven, his gracious wife married to another, his precious children older than he at the time of this encounter.)
Lin was busted. She put her trust in man and man, for the sake of appeasement to man, had turned against her. We knew and loved every person in the core group, about fifteen, and they had apparently been unanimous in their decision to publicly discredit us. And it was all my fault. Had Lin not tried to reason with me, to warn me of the storm my decision would cause?
The pressure to back down was heavy. And yet through the confrontation and confusion and animosity I could see the real enemy trying to get me to relinquish my grip on the two-edged sword. But I had signed the last page of the Bible. I would not back down. “Father, I cannot bear this burden. I give it to You. It is no longer my fight. It is Your fight. No matter what happens I will be obedient to Your Word. Amen!”
Lin was the more susceptible and it was to her people directed unfavorable questions and comments, always when I was not there to protect her. (Bless their precious, well-intentioned hearts.) But all this did not have its intended effect. Their reaction to our leaving the cc exposed their hearts, and it became evident to Lin that love of church surpassed their love for God.
As mentioned, I requested and received permission to challenge the core group, something far from my pleasure and far from my temperament. I was scared, like big time scared. Yet I felt like a sent one, a messenger with a message from the Head of the church. They were going in the wrong direction and the Lord was giving an opportunity to change course. It was at their wednesday evening meeting that I met with leadership in the leader’s home. One by one they embraced me in genuine affection. I don’t do confrontation well, the most I could do was read from notes. Though this book is a rewrite, the rebuttal before the core group, in the next chapter, is almost word for word.