Chapter Three: Total Commitment- Promoting Zeal
Crucifying The Self
The Keswick doctrine of death to self was another dominant theme in LE’s teaching (Keswick was an old British deeper life or holy life movement). The self was some evil entity in people- the central core of the human person- that spawned all types of individual sins. It was the trunk of the tree where individual acts of sin were the branches.
We were taught that if we put the self to death, then all other sins would wither up like leaves in the fall and blow away. We would then become victorious Christians, gaining victory over the world, the flesh and the Devil.
LE preached numerous sermons on crucifying the evil self, explaining that it involved not just denial of self or suppression of selfishness. Not good enough. It had to be death to self. LE’s trashing of the self was part of his admirable effort to be unselfish but somewhere along the way he lost a sense of balance and ended up viewing everything of the human self or even remotely related to the self as evil. As his students, we were made to feel guilty about referring to ourselves or even using the pronoun I. It was a dehumanizing extremism.
At the time in life when developmental psychology tells us that young people are still developing a sense of themselves and need positive reinforcement, at that sensitive stage of development LE was beating into our brains that the very essence of what we were as human beings was evil and had to be destroyed.
And God wanted us to put the self to death, by faith. We could never do it ourselves as we would then be acting in the flesh and we would therefore only fail. Self-effort was of the flesh. Only the Spirit could do it through us, by faith.
Did any of us really know what all that mumbo jumbo was about? I don’t think so. I never understood it.
I recently heard some Toronto televangelists talking on a religious program about living the Christian life. One of them said, “You know, it’s like the vine and the branches that Jesus spoke of… You can’t do it yourself, it has to be Jesus doing it through you”.
The other responded, “We have to walk in the Spirit, not in carnality and naturalness, not in our own strength. We have to abide in the vine and live off the vine. If we try to get fruit, we only fail. It has to be Christ’s life in us, Christ living his life in us by the power of the Spirit”.
“Yes, we have to rely on him, watching what he does and rely on what he does, walk in his energy”.
“Yes, you have to appropriate his life by faith, so it is not of the flesh”.
“And it is resting in the strength of Jesus by faith. We must never try to do it ourselves or we only fail”. I have no idea how they got all those ideas from a metaphor about a grapevine. But back and forth they went, grinning at each other like a couple of baboons, all the while trying to outdo each other with Evangelical deeper life-speak.
Deeper life preachers also found messages to support their teaching all through the Old Testament. Verses talking about Jubilee, harvesting, the Sabbath (just rest and let Jesus live his life through you), other OT rituals, and even verses about OT buildings all held hidden messages on the deeper Christian life.
I have also heard numerous Evangelical leaders and pastors urge people to do such things as turn their lives over to God in faith and trust. If ever pressed to explain exactly what they meant, few could make much common sense out of such gobbledygook.
Aside from the question of anyone understanding such confusing talk, there was also the question of the dangerous passivity that such ‘let go and let God’ teaching engenders. God does not control anyone nor does he want to take over anyone’s life. When dictators take over other’s lives then most democratic people will protest and prepare to fight in order to free the conquered people. God certainly is more democratic than any of us are. He wants us to take personal responsibility for our own lives and in true freedom we are to make choices and live by the consequences of our choices. I realize that terrifies most people but it is the only way to develop and grow as a truly human person.
Too often the challenge to not live by one’s own strength but submit to God has been an effort to get people to submit to some religious group and its leadership. That is blatantly using God to control people.
Returning to the slaughter of the self, one summer break we attended a revival meeting in the Alberta town of Red Deer where people were being called to go forward and get right with God. They were then taken out into side rooms for counseling. The preacher, Lou Sutera an Italian evangelist, was speaking about dying to self. He was a charismatic type of speaker who always shouted and screamed feverishly at his audiences. Convincing and converting by decibels.
“You must put self to death”, he screamed that evening. “You must nail self to the cross by faith. And then don’t let it down again. You can’t do it yourself, but only by God’s power”.
Sitting in the audience and desperately wanting to get it all right so I could become a good victorious Christian and gain God’s approval, I tried to visualize what he was talking about- putting my self (whatever that was) up on the cross and nailing it there and not letting it come down again. But after 4 years of theological education and endless books and sermons on the topic I still had no idea how to do that. It was still all mumbo jumbo and hocus pocus.
So I went forward once again, hoping this time for the promised blessing. But nothing happened and I had followed directions to a T.
I guess the damn self came back down again.
I was such a sucker for altar calls. Speakers would come to the big conferences at Prairie and follow the same predictable pattern. First they would talk about sin.
“Have you sinned? Have you been unselfish in any way? Annoyed at others? Impatient? Maybe lustful?” Yes, I had been.
“Then you are not right with God. There is sin in your life and you have grieved the Spirit of God”. I felt shamed and guilty once again.
“You must get right with God and confess your sin or you will never know God’s power and blessing in your life. You will be exposed and shamed at the Judgment Seat of Christ”. I was caught. They had trapped me again. I didn’t want to miss out on blessings or suffer the ultimate shame and punishment.
“Now I’m going to give an altar call and ask you to come forward and get right with God”. No, not again. I had been humiliated too often before. I had been there, done that. But it was no use resisting.
“The Devil will try to convince you to stay seated. Don’t listen to him. It could be your last chance to get right with God. It you don’t respond, God may forsake you forever and leave you to the Devil”. Yikes.
There was no escaping. I had to go forward again and I wondered how anyone could stay seated. I knew that I was not the only imperfect one there. I had seen impatience, selfishness, goofing around, and all the other sins that grieved God. Why wasn’t everyone going forward?
It was a traumatizing thing to walk forward to the front of an audience of several thousand people and kneel down admitting that I was a sinner, a bad person, a failing Christian. People would surely imagine the very worst about me. They would especially wonder what was wrong with me for continuing to respond to altar calls at subsequent conferences. Why couldn’t I get it right once and for all? But the tight reasoning and threats of the preachers always trapped me. I suppose I was just trying to be too honest. I had not yet reached perfection.
In my self-consciousness, my heart would beat wildly, my knees felt like buckling and my mind tried to block out the thought of thousands of curious eyes, many of them probably critical eyes, all focused on me- the sinner, the failing fraud, the exposed and shamed scoundrel.
A Christian psychologist once said that guilty people are easily manipulated. They will do anything for relief. He clarified for me how the preachers talking about sin could get people to go forward to cry and confess in public. Guilt is a powerful motivator.
One summer evening the Canadian evangelist Ken Campbell spoke at a downtown Three Hills meeting. The meeting was held in the sports auditorium, which seated about 700 people. It was an effort to convert the town people, but only Prairie believers attended.
First he tried to convince any non-Christian people foolish enough to attend to stand up in his first altar call. No one stood. Then he moved on to try and get Christian people to recommit themselves to Jesus. That usually gets some response. But still no one would stand. Disappointed, he then tried some new moves on us. He asked everyone to stand and close their eyes in prayer. We stood and after a few moments my mind started to wander.
He apparently told the audience, “All those who are right with God may be seated. The rest will continue to stand”. I thought it was quiet except for a mighty rushing wind sound like hundreds of bums settling into seats. My mind wandered again in the quiet auditorium. Moments later, I felt a tug at my elbow. I opened my eyes and to my shock and shame I was the only one still standing in the auditorium. Ignoring the usher who would ush me to the front, I dropped into my seat and slid down into a humiliated slouch. Damn, they had caught me again. I paid more attention after that.
Speakers try to get some sort of response when they give an altar call because it is the critical sign that God is blessing them. If no one stands, then they fear that maybe the Spirit has left them and they no longer have God’s power.
While I was at Prairie in the early 1970s we had regular ‘seasons of revival’. Revival is where believers get right with God. They confess their sin and recommit themselves to be obedient to God and his will. The missionary, Koos Fietje, called such meetings “The big wash”. They were similar to the public confession meetings the Communists once used in China to correct wrong thinking and instill right ideology.
Revival, according to our leaders, was God coming down from his abode in heaven. And we were warned that when God came down he would make us all feel intensely ashamed about our sin and imperfection. Those visits of God from way up above always gave me the heebie jeebies. And I was confused by all the yo-yo antics of God. He was always going up or coming down. I guess he was a travelling man. But there are a lot of strange things said about God in the Bible. Like the time Moses saw only his arse.
One evening as I sat in a revival meeting, I remembered all the stealing that I had done during my teen years. I knew then that I would have to pay back the people I had stolen from. During a subsequent summer I went out and worked 4 months to earn money for restitution. I then made a list of all the people that I had stolen from and proceeded to contact them. I was scared silly that some of the people I planned to contact would become upset and hand me over to the police for prosecution. But that never happened. Not even close. Instead, most of the people that I contacted went into something like a seizure.
One man responded, “No, I won’t accept any payment. It’s enough that you contacted me and apologized. I have never had this happen to me before”. Another man started pacing back and forth in his store looking stunned. He also refused anything. That response became the norm.
By the end of that summer, I was feeling incredibly free. I owed no debt to any person. My conscience was completely clear and I believed that I had no longer had any un-confessed or hidden sin.
Years later I met a man who was preparing to go as a missionary to another country. We talked about our pasts and at one point got around to discussing past wrongs and how to deal with them. He mentioned that he had once stolen some building supplies from a hardware company. I asked him if he had made restitution. He laughed and said, “No. I would never bother to do that, as it was no big deal”. I guess some people can live with that. But I knew I could never live with nor respect myself if I didn’t clear up every past wrong. And maybe I am just too obsessive about such things. Maybe it’s just different strokes for different folks.
As part of my effort to earn restitution money, I worked in the northern Saskatchewan village of Buffalo Narrows. Some Evangelical missionaries who worked there, Mr. and Mrs. H, provided me a room to stay in. It was my first introduction to real missionary work.
The Hs considered all aboriginal Canadians to be thieves and spent most of their time trying to keep the locals away from their vegetable garden. Local people loved the H’s carrots. Because of that loss of carotene, the Hs did not like the local people. And the locals returned the feelings.
Every Saturday afternoon Mr. H would set up an old loudspeaker on his front lawn and point it toward the village center several blocks away. He would turn up the volume and play scratchy Christian hymns. Converting by decibels again. While the records played, he would go inside and sleep on the couch. That was his missionary work.
At one set of Prairie revival meetings, LE urged us to call sin by its real name. “Do not make light of sin or God won’t forgive and bless you. For instance, don’t just excuse yourself as being upset with another brother, but call it by its real name- hatred. Be honest and truthful about sin and you will gain the real blessing”. Many of us young zealots wanted to make sure that we went far enough and nailed sin hard. We wanted to confess sin properly and thoroughly in order to please God and LE.
In one meeting, LE told us that if we had been goofing around then we should confess that we were fools. “Write the word ‘f-o-o-l’ on your forehead”, he said.
As much as anyone else, I wanted to make sure that I would receive God’s blessing. Many others had gone forward to testify that after confessing their sin they had received victory over sin and joy from the Lord. And leaders were telling us that God had come down in a special way to bless people and fill them with his power. We were warned not to miss the visit and blessing of God. So caught up in the frenzied excitement of a special visit from God, I went forward in a following confession meeting and confessed before several thousand people that, “I had been a fool”. I had goofed around during my first year at Prairie.
Going forward before thousands people and saying that was one of the most traumatizing things I have ever done. I went straight home afterward; a very shaken young man feeling very much overexposed. I knelt down in our family living room fully expecting the heavens to open and God’s promised blessing and joy to come flooding down. But there was nothing. Instead, I felt frighteningly dead, empty, alone, and humiliated. I had once again yielded to threat of punishment and made a fool of myself before everyone. I had taken my religion and its leaders too seriously.
LE never talked much about his past, but he told us in general terms about one experience he had as a young man. It had obviously been a defining experience in his life. Apparently, he had done something wrong and had to confess his sin to someone else. “It was”, he said, “a devastating and humiliating experience”. He did not go into much detail regarding it, but it shaped his thinking in a profound manner and became the pattern that he set before the rest of us. LE felt that if the more humiliating the repentance then the better it was for people.
If you could be crushed and broken in spirit and mourn for your sin then out of your ‘death’ would flow rivers of life. Repentance to LE meant brokenness, sobbing and humiliating confession.
Years later, Robert Brinsmead would challenge the Christian view of repentance as crying and mourning. He would argue that people could change their lives while laughing and celebrating. You need not cry or mourn. Change for the better does not have to be accompanied by demeaning humiliation or moroseness. But I had not yet met Brinsmead.
The house managers who prosecuted Bill Clinton held to the same archaic view of repentance as sorrow and weeping. They felt Bill Clinton had not yet shown true repentance, according to their definition, and therefore he should not be forgiven yet. He had to be punished and suffer more. That harsh stance of demanding the humiliation of others before you forgive is no forgiveness at all. It is simply cruel inhumanity.
Again, as Brinsmead said, “A God who does not forgive until the debt is paid knows nothing about real forgiveness”.
Sin, Sin, Sin
The thing that was scorched into our consciousness more than anything else at Prairie was sin. But an excessive and relentless focus on sin can decimate the human spirit. In our daily Bible reading and prayer we were urged to watch for sin. We were pressed to continually look for sin in order to be right with God, to be in favor with God, pleasing to God, and to get his power. Also, we were urged to deal with sin in order to avoid punishment, losing our salvation and being sent to hell. We read the Bible to see what God might be saying to us about some sin that we needed to deal with. We prayed God would show us sin so we could confess it and get his blessing. It became an endless process of search, repent, confess, commit, obey, submit, get right, and stay right with God.
“Keeping short accounts (staying up to date in confessing sin)”, said LE, “is the most important thing in life”.
If you were an introspective type of person, you could implode in on yourself. Introspective types usually were crushed by it all. I was.
The constant search for sin becomes a treadmill of debilitating negativity that destroys the human spirit and leads to all sorts of pathology. Under such an intensely focused glare on human imperfection people’s consciences become scrupulous and overly sensitive.
One Prairie student stood in a public testimony meeting to confess, “I was walking along a sidewalk one day and saw a toothpick lying on the ground. I continued walking on by but then I was stricken with guilt and convicted by God for my carelessness. My conscience rebuked me so harshly”, he said, “that I had to return and pick the toothpick up and take it to a garbage container”. After the testimony meeting some less zealous students laughed at his scrupulosity. They thought he was nuts.
I became mired in prayer guilt. We were told to faithfully pray for people and we were warned that if we failed to do so then terrible things would happen to those people. So I agreed to all sorts of requests to faithfully pray for people. My prayer list eventually became burdensomely long. Daily I would go over the list bored to death but guiltily enslaved to repetitiously naming people and places and afraid to miss someone out of concern that some disastrous thing would happen to them if I did not pray for them. And again, remember the obsessive compulsive element that can emerge in these practices.
We were told many stories about people who forgot to pray for someone else and consequently the unlucky benefactor of prayer was hurt or suffered loss. Poor God. He was unable to look after his people unless praying Christians told him exactly what to do.
A local paper also reported the story of another conscience stricken man who phoned the police to confess that he had driven 4 hours to his home without his drivers license which he had accidentally forgotten in a hotel room (in Canada a minor regulation requires people to carry their drivers license while driving). The policewoman who received his confession thought he was a little nutty for reacting so extremely to such an insignificant thing. But he was wracked with guilt. I understood something of that excessive scrupulosity.
LE told us, “You can never be too careful. It’s better to be safe than sorry”. But it was nothing short of traumatizing. The sense of badness and imperfection became overwhelming at times.
I found the constant checking and rechecking to see if I might be harboring secret or hidden sin and second-guessing if my motives were pure enough, to be at times almost a form of insanity. I’m sure psychologists would label such behavior a sick obsession or addiction of some sort. It was. I am sure there is a possible OCD element in all this. But LE taught us that it was the only way to please God and be a successful Christian.
Then having taught us to search our hearts, LE would sometimes turn on us and berate us for too much navel gazing, for being too concerned with our inner condition. The bastard.
We were taught to look for the basic sins of the Bible, mainly those listed in the Ten Commandments. There were also many New Testament lists of sins- lasciviousness, licentiousness and the like. We had no idea what some sins were. Then there were also the lists that each Evangelical group came up with to keep their members in line. Mainly, those would be whatever was in disagreement with the ideas and practices of a particular group.
In our group, short skirts on women were sin and so was rock music. The music teachers at Prairie said that rock music had a syncopated beat, a cut-short or incomplete beat and that was the evil essence of rock. It left you sinfully incomplete, hanging there waiting for a complete holy beat. What idiocy.
The lists of sins were endless. They included thoughts, desires, and even feelings that fluttered across your consciousness. Things like moments of selfishness, unkindness, carelessness, and laziness were all on the lists. Anything that was not Christ-like or godly or anything that did not glorify God was sin. Those categories were broad and almost anything could be included in them. Even walking by a toothpick could be included as sin. I often felt that just being human was sin.
Sin, sin, sin and more damn sin. It was such a harsh response to human imperfection. I would like to suggest that sin is just a religious creation. How should we then view what religion calls sin? We all still experience residual animal drives and feelings. Those are the drives to exclude, dominate, and punish others, and to express aggression and territoriality. Within our developing human brain we still have the residual animal brain with all its archaic animal drives. As someone said, “Something that has been selected for over millions of years will not suddenly disappear”.
But we are all in the process of becoming more human. We are learning to love, to share, to be free and equal, and to cooperate with and serve each other. Our humanity and human consciousness continue to emerge and inspire us to express our humanity more.
The failure to be human at times should not be viewed so harshly as sin or evil but it should more correctly be viewed as succumbing to residual animal drives and influences still present in human mentality and emotions. People sometimes give in to aggressive animal-like drives and act more like animals than human beings. It is commonly expressed in most cultures that someone acting inhumanely is “Acting like an animal”. We all understand such descriptions. The consequences can be devastating for others.
Yeah, I know… I’m back on to that evolutionary biology stuff again. While not overly useful, it does help explain some things.
The endless focus on sin, sinfulness, guilt, punishment, threat of loss or abandonment, and fear may explain in part what Sociology claims is a notably higher suicide rate in Protestant countries. Most Protestants will never go as far as suicide, but many become mired in anxiety, depression, and alienation.
Years later, a professor that I sat under suggested that Catholics committed suicide less often than Protestants because they experienced less personal guilt over sin. According to her, the rituals of Catholics gave them more of a group sense of forgiveness or something to that effect.
In the effort to get right with God and rid their lives of sin, people would often dump on others. “I’ve been angry with you, please forgive me”, they would confess to someone. The confessees gained some relief, but the people they confessed to were left wondering why they had been so awful that others had to come and confess to them.
One Christian writer (J.I. Packer) in a moment of lucidity said that the search for sin was an endless treadmill that leads either to discouragement or to lying. No human being will ever become free of imperfection. Sensitive people can become very discouraged by that realization, especially when they live in an environment that demands perfection on pain of hell for failure.
Others try to deny the normal human condition and convince themselves that they have actually attained perfection. But those people are only lying to themselves and others. If we try to deny imperfect human reality and pretend we are no longer part of that normal humanity, then we have deceived ourselves in the worst way.
No one at Prairie ever openly questioned the possible damage to people’s psyches from all the negativity. But we knew there were people falling off the deep end. One staff man jumped out of a Calgary hospital window to his death. He became convinced that he had committed the unpardonable sin and was irretrievably damned. Many of us just became discouraged and depressed.
Some would leave the school in an effort to escape the insane pressure and try to return to normal life, but they were rarely allowed to leave peacefully. They were made to feel that they had left God and his will. It was not easy to escape back to normal life once you had joined an Evangelical organization. Few people knew how to make the transition without feeling damned to some degree. After all, you were leaving God for the Devil.
I think of the young man who was expelled from a Fundamentalist group because he could not tolerate the strict domination of the group’s leaders. He was banished and told he was damned for leaving the truth. Later, in an interview he stated, “I may look all right to you on the outside, but inside I am one messed up person”.
I remember in the story of Pilgrims Progress where Pilgrim was able to escape the world and the devil. But it is much more difficult to escape from religion and far more dangerous to your well being if you don’t. Pilgrim should have just stayed in the world.
Divided Inside And Out
The religious focus on sin and the evil self that must be destroyed is an unhealthy focus on the negative. It is a perverted negative view of the human person, the human body, and normal human existence. The root of that negative Christian attitude toward the self and the world has been traced back to ancient Greek dualism. In that ideology, the spirit or reason (the higher inner part of man) was seen as noble and good but the body and its desires were viewed as base and evil. Christianity adopted that dualistic Greek view of the human person and further refined it into an intense anti-human system. It became part of the developing anti-world and anti-life ideology of Christianity. Normal human drives such as sexuality were considered evil and were to be crushed and suppressed no matter what the cost to human well being.
The Christian demand to avoid sin and worldliness produces much confusion and conflict with normal humanity and its drives and emotions. It also produces conflict with how to relate to life and people around you. In Christian ideology the world is not a place to be enjoyed but is instead viewed as an evil place of sin and temptation- the Devil’s sphere and under his domination. Every day and in every way Satan is trying to tempt the Christian to sin and then drag him off to hell. “Heaven”, Christians claim, “is your home and you are just passing through this evil tempting world that is trying to drag you down”. During your journey, you are trapped in an evil body whose evil desires must be constantly suppressed and eliminated entirely if possible.
The Christian consequently views himself as locked in combat with the Devil, the world, the human race and even his own body. All are his enemies. Such a view of reality produces horrific internal conflict and confusion.
All people outside of Fundamentalist Christianity are considered to be worldly people- the malicious children of Satan who are trying to help Satan trick the Christian into hell. They are enemies that the Christian must never compromise with nor cooperate with. And all other religions are considered to be the deceitful work of Satan which he uses to trap people and keep them from the true religion of God- Evangelicalism.
That demonization of others results in an obsessive fear of people who are different. They are viewed as enemies who are maliciously trying to destroy the true believer. Consequently, Christians develop a bunker mentality and try to cloister themselves away from others who disagree, limiting contacts and relationships mainly to those who think exactly as they do. Such cloistering only reinforces group beliefs. It does not encourage thought, questioning, creativity, diversity, or development.
If your family is not Fundamentalist then you must even cut them off as they will hinder your commitment to God. Faithfulness to God and to God’s religion must always come first before even the closest earthly relationships. Didn’t Jesus say that he would turn son against father and daughter against mother? He said he would bring a sword and divide families, so expect conflict and destroyed family relationships.
The Making Of Endless Enemies
Fundamentalists view the world as divided clearly between black and white. There are some good people in the world (fellow Evangelicals) but most of the human race are bad people. Only a small remnant are the people of God (the Bible says that only a faithful few find the narrow way) while most are the children of Satan (all non-Evangelicals). It is a very animal-like view of life- our true band against all other bands.
A Fundamentalist must always have an enemy, someone who is evil or bad in opposition to his good. His view of life demands enemies. Someone said that after the Cold War was over, US Conservatives no longer had the Commies to beat up on, so they looked around for new enemies. Japan was one nation that they tried to make into the new enemy of Christian America. US Conservatives (they are often Fundamentalist Christians) are now trying to make Islam or China into the new enemy of the Christian West. There must be someone to demonize and to make into Satan- the ultimate enemy. In fact, creating a devil is the ultimate demonizing of enemies. Anthropologists also speak of that primitive need to oppose others, to have enemies. The drive to oppose and fight others is a primal animal drive.
Fundamentalists cannot accept the fact that God considers all people to be his one intimate family and instead they opt for an animal-like view of reality with competing or opposing bands. Fundamentalists cannot accept a unified view of humanity, but demand instead a return to the opposition, competition, and conflict of base animal reality and existence.
The Fundamentalist also cannot accept that the universe or the world is basically a good place, a place of love. It is true that God in freedom has encouraged life to develop on its own. In that amazing freedom early life chose to prey on other living organisms for nutrients and sustenance. That led to predation- some species dominating others. Predation has resulted in brutal competition, domination, and exclusion of others. While it has resulted in much misery in life, it does not negate the fact that the world is still basically a good place.
What of the good that other people do? Fundamentalists say that the works of good people who are not Fundamentalists are all dirty rags (Isaiah 53) and are of no value in God’s sight. Despite the good they do, non-Christians are still evil, sinful and damned because they do not hold Fundamentalist beliefs and follow the lifestyle of Conservative Christianity.
In the Christianity that I was part of, even mother Teresa was considered to be lost and damned, as were all Catholics, Bhuddists, Muslims and all others outside the Evangelical fold. They did not have the true faith and the true salvation. That excluding view of others led Jerry Falwell to declare, “Almighty God does not hear the prayer of a Jew”.
And in the minds of many Evangelicals, Christians who are not members of Evangelical churches are considered to be false Christians. And even Evangelicals who are not sufficiently zealous are viewed as possible being false believers. They are weeds among the true wheat that God will eventually separate out and cast into hell. Only the truest of believers will make it into God’s paradise.
Fundamentalism is a brutally intolerant mindset, isolated and alienated from the rest of humanity. It expects persecution and its contrariness to all others usually prompts some negative response. That ‘persecution’ then confirms to the Fundamentalist that he is a true believer worthy to suffer for God. Such a mindset can come dangerously close to working as a self-fulfilling prophecy which looks for the promised conflict and even acts to bring it about, much like the American men who went to Jerusalem in an effort to become the two witnesses that are prophesied as being slain on the streets of Jerusalem just before Jesus is to return. They were armed and planning on provoking a violent confrontation where they would have to be killed.
Coming Soon To A Place Near You
There are a many Bible prophecies which state that things will get worse just before the cataclysmic end of the world. Christian people are constantly looking for confirmation of such prophecy. Consequently, they tend to see only the worst in society and in people. Increasing evil is to be expected they claim. It is inevitable for it is the predetermined and prophesied will of God. It cannot be avoided.
An especially cataclysmic end is expected for the Mid East. That is where Christians believe Armageddon must start, with some enemy trying to destroy Israel. When I was at Prairie during the period of the Cold War, Evangelicals believed that Russia would spark the final Armageddon battle by attacking Israel. Islam has now probably replaced the Russians as the new Armageddon spark. It certainly will not be a giant asteroid a la Bruce Willis.
Some smart alec even suggested that with all the genetically altered food coming out today we will soon probably die in Farmaggeddon. Franken foods will do us in.
Part of end-time Bible prophecy also states that there will be increasingly more floods and earthquakes just before the end of the world. Evangelicals view every such natural disaster as confirmation that things are getting worse just as God predicted they would. Therefore the end is near. But science has shown there is cyclicity to natural processes and events. Overall, many things occurring in nature are no worse now than they ever were.
The belief that things must inevitably get worse tends to undermine incentive or effort to improve life in the world. Why put in effort to improve things if God will only destroy it all in the near future? Such a belief engenders resignation and passivity in the face of the unchangeable will of God.
In the years that I was at Prairie there was also a lot of excited talk about the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ would be Satan incarnated as a charismatic leader who will come to earth in the last days to deceive all people, even Christians, leading them to organize under one world government. We were told to watch for people trying to cooperate, such as those in the Ecumenical movement or any other movement which urged the greater brotherhood and unity of all people. Any such cooperating was believed to be the work of Anti-Christ, the mother of all bogeymen. That helped me to understand why Fundamentalists stubbornly refused to tolerate non-Evangelicals or to join cooperatively in endeavors with the wider human community. They believed such cooperation was the work of the Anti-Christ.
For a while the Christian community suspected that Henry Kissinger was the Anti-Christ. He appeared suspect because he was promoting peace and cooperation among enemies. I have no idea who the latest suspect is. But that expectation of some satanic person coming to persecute Christians, can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People get strident and offensive in exposing the sins of others and telling them that they are the children of the Devil and going to hell, which any normal person will react to. That reaction is then proof to Christians that they are being persecuted for their faith and the Lord’s coming is nigh.
There was also a lot of fear related to the return of Jesus. The expectancy of his Second Coming reached fever pitch in the years that I was at Prairie. Some visiting speakers were even predicting specific time frames, “Not longer than in my lifetime, and definitely in your lifetime”, they would convincingly proclaim. And they inevitably added the threat, “You had better be right with God and doing his work or you may be left behind to suffer under the Anti-Christ”. We were terrified at the thought of being abandoned by God and turned over to Satan who would run wild on earth. Consequently, we were easy to manipulate and control. We spent our days studying the Bible, praying, confessing sin, and witnessing for all we were worth. Some students even quit school so they could go out and win souls before the soon return of Jesus. There was no time left.
You cannot be too angry with such people. Feeling sorry for them is a more humane response. They are often sincere people trapped by a harsh belief system, living under the worst threats and fears imaginable to the human mind.
Finding The Truth Out There
How does one then find God and truth in order to escape the coming horror? According to a Fundamentalist you must first stumble on to the right group, one of the true churches and elect groups of believers. They are rare. Their Bible says that few will remain faithful. When you eliminate all the Christians who are liberal, then you are left with only a tiny fraction of humanity that are the chosen saved ones- the conservative Evangelicals. The rest are all damned.
Many other religious groups also view themselves as the remnant elected by God. Walbert Bulhmann has documented the belief in elect peoples in his book “God’s Chosen Peoples”. That doctrine of election has led to much abuse and domination of others who, as the cursed of God, are open to be abused and dominated.
Once you find a group of true believers, then you must say the correct salvation prayer, usually a prayer of accepting Jesus into your heart. That is the conversion experience. It is inextricably related to joining an Evangelical church and then beginning to learn that church’s complicated system of beliefs or doctrines. Notable mindbenders to adopt as truth are things like the Fourth Century creation- the Trinity (one God, three persons). Try wrapping your brain around that hydra-headed monstrosity.
Then there is the new culture or lifestyle of Evangelicalism to learn. The adoption of the Evangelical lifestyle is what Christians call the process of sanctification or becoming holy. It involves becoming filled with the Spirit, dying to self, trying to become like their view of Jesus, constantly looking inward for sin, confessing and repenting. There is also endless praying and Bible study.
Submission and obedience to the Evangelical authorities is also essential to becoming a holy Christian. The religious bosses will tell you exactly what to think, say, and how to behave in every situation. There are rules, rules and more damn rules to cover every situation in life.
All such submission and obedience is to help you find and do the particular will or plan of God for your life.
The Will Of God
Ooooh, the will of God. Now there is confusion and a heavy burden to bear. We were put under constant pressure to be sure that everything we did, said or thought was the will of God. The guilt about being “in the will of God” was never ending. We were warned not to miss the will of God or to dare settle for less than the first or best will of God. Finding the will of God is another guilt-ridden burden that consumes Christian lives.
At Prairie the ultimate will of God was to become a missionary. Yes, if pressed the leaders would grudgingly admit that others could be doing the will of God as ordinary workers, but they rarely used such terms to describe their work. They were just “staying by the stuff” which was an Old Testament phrase to describe some people who were not able to accompany King David to war. The background understanding of the real will of God pretty much eliminated any consideration of the will of God as just working somewhere.
The monthly Prairie alumni magazine contained pages and pages of columns with short blurb reports from former students now living all over the world. Typically you would get this sort of update: “My husband Joe works as a security guard and I teach high school. But we are also trying to be involved in the Lord’s work by teaching Sunday school at our local church”. Those apologies from guilty former students for being normal human beings filled the pages of that alumni magazine. They were trying to show that they were getting involved in religious work- the Lord’s work. It was pathetic and embarrassing at times to read.
Regarding the will of God people would often say “The Lord told me…” or “The Lord spoke to me about…”. Often a Bible verse that “The Lord gave” would be quoted to validate the statement about doing God’s will.
In trying to do the will of God, people were always watching for strange sensations in their bodies that might be the Spirit prompting them to do something. Leaders said, “You must be sensitive to the impressions and urges of the Spirit”. But strange urges led people to do the most irresponsible things and to totally disregard common sense at times. F P, a staff member at Prairie, was always leaving in the middle of semesters to go travel off to some strange place in Latin America because the Lord had prompted him. He always left his poor wife behind by herself. She looked like a Russian babushka and maybe that influenced his urges.
When people said, “The Lord spoke to me”, I always assumed that it was some audible voice they heard. I never heard any such voices. I would later read Julian Jaynes, the historical psychologist (The Origin of Consciousness), who would argue that people who heard the voices of gods were actually very easily manipulated people, the ones easiest to hypnotize. They were not the most spiritual people as we always assumed they were for their sensitivity to the voice of God. According to Jaynes’ research, they were the most easily dominated people, evolutionary throwbacks if you will. Religious addicts in today’s terminology. Not a very good thing.
All the God-talk was intimidating though. At Prairie being spiritual was the most important thing and the people who talked a lot about God and how God was speaking to them and leading them, well, we all felt they were obviously the most spiritual among us.
I did not realize at the time that true spirituality was simply being human in normal everyday life. Spirituality did not mean becoming adept at the lifestyle of some religious group and speaking incessantly of God. That is a sign of religious addiction and obsession, not true spirituality.
The understanding of simply being human as the one requirement from God helped me in later years to evaluate all things in terms of whether they were human or not. It also led me to conclude that the good things that religious people do are because of their humanity and not due to their religion. Human goodness springs from the common humanity we share with all other people and it is not something that comes from religion. You can be a great, loving and good human being without ever going near a church. In fact, you can be more human outside of religion because you do not have all the distorting influences within religion that pervert humanity- intolerance, arrogance, exclusion, isolation, and love as converting or controlling others.
The competition to be more spiritual was unrelenting. The most spiritual people spoke publicly about the Lord and his working in their lives. At PBI they held weekly student meetings when all 700 Bible School students and 300 high school students had to attend and listen to testimonies. Anyone could go up and give a testimony. The most spiritual people testified often.
Many testimonies were of the blessings type. “I’m so happy the Lord is blessing me” or “The Lord is good and the blessings of the Lord are many”. I could never figure out exactly what they were talking about. But I knew blessing was a good thing.
The leaders always talked about blessings, but few of them ever explained exactly what they were. Some promised us that if we were obedient and good we would get lots of blessings. Others warned us that if we were not obedient or good then we would lose or miss God’s blessings. That did not appear to be a good thing. Blessings were always used to manipulate us, to entice or to threaten us.
Some people would get so worked up while talking about the Lord’s blessings at the testimony meetings that they would start to cry. I think it was the nervousness from the stress of all those people watching.
Witnessing was another revered Christian tradition taught at PBI. It was the defining activity of the good Christian life. Always and everywhere we were supposed to witness to others. If we didn’t, then we were not good Christians and not doing the will of God. We were not true spiritual Christians.
To witness we would sometimes just stop people on the street and confront them right there or maybe we would sit beside them and strike up a conversation, which we soon turned to Jesus. I was always embarrassed when I witnessed to young people my age. It was easier to try and convince older people or drunks to say a salvation prayer or come to the skid row mission and listen to our testimonies.
You could also give people tracts (leaflets about God or Jesus and how to get saved) or just leave the tracts all over the place. One mission organization- Operation Mobilisation- existed to cover the world with Christian booklets.
The grocer in downtown Three Hills became quite pissed off at Prairie students witnessing. He found tracts under heads of lettuce, behind the canned goods, and in his public washroom. Such a mess of paper to always be cleaning up. He complained to the school and asked them to tell the students to stop it.
In our witnessing we tried mainly to just quote verses of the Bible at people. We were taught that God’s word was powerful like a sharp sword and it would go deep inside people and convict them of their sin (slay them). That would then inspire them to repent and be saved and then join our church. In our witnessing there was little real dialogue or exchange of ideas. What a waste of time anyway to listen to the nonsense that came from a sinner, a child of the devil. What could they say of any real value? They were deceived by Satan and all their ideas were lies.
That is where Evangelical love goes completely off the rails. Our leaders taught us that the highest love and service was to convert people, to save their souls. That always meant converting them to Fundamentalist Christianity. The refusal to freely accept people as they are and the pressure to make them religious, distorts love entirely.
In witnessing we always felt the obligation to get out the whole plan of salvation in at least capsule form. It usually meant telling people something like the following:
1. You are a bad person, a sinner (quote a verse or two).
2. Jesus died or shed his blood for your sin (quote another verse).
3. You must repent of your sin and believe in Jesus, accept him into your heart (more verses).
4. You must then join a church and become a good Christian, reading your Bible and praying all the time (and more damn verses).
We tried to get those little sermons in wherever we could, especially the part about Jesus dying for sin, just like Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell did when they used to guest on Larry King Live.
The ultimate witnessing venture was to go overseas as a missionary to evangelize the lost world and win it to Jesus. Winning lost souls for Jesus was the ultimate reason for our existence. But until we graduated, we had to settle for going to the mission in Calgary and witnessing to street people there. Or we could go out to surrounding hamlets on Sundays and do door to door visiting.
Our instructors told us that when we witnessed we were being like the faithful watchman on the wall who warns people of an attacking enemy or of the danger of walking blindly toward a cliff. If we did not witness then people would fall off the cliff into hell because they would not hear about Jesus and have the opportunity to accept him into their hearts. So the eternal fate of billions of people depended on how we felt about witnessing.
To encourage us to spend more time in soul-winning we were given a little bulletin from a fellow Fundamentalist, John R. Rice. The bulletin had small pictures of people who had won 100 souls in the past year, larger pictures of those who had won 200 or 300 souls, and the largest pictures for those who had won 500 souls. Kind of like salesmen of the month awards.
According to Evangelicals, the reason for all witnessing was that long ago (about 6000 years ago) people lived in a paradise somewhere in the Mid-East where there was no suffering or death. Then ancient man (Adam) ate a forbidden apple and that made God so angry that he damned those people to suffering death and hell. They became sinners. Their sin and damnation was passed on to all their descendants- that’s us. We all became lost and damned souls needing to be saved through blood sacrifice. Then God sent Jesus to spill his blood in order to pay for all sin. That appeased the angry God. But now people must hear about Jesus and accept him into their hearts in order to be saved from hell. Then they must join Evangelical churches and become practicing Christians. That’s what witnessing is all about.
So Christians are taught to be very concerned about getting souls saved. And it is very important what people do before they die. They must repent of their sin and say a salvation prayer. If they wept while doing that then we were more certain that they were really saved.
If people did not say a prayer or repent before dying then they were lost in hell forever (no matter how decent, good or human they may have been). And we could not tell the relatives of deceased people otherwise. We had to be faithful and let the relatives know that the dead people were in hell. We could be very cruel to grieving loved ones. But we had to be faithful to our God.
Such beliefs created horrific emotional conflict over children who died. Were they damned to hell because of the sinful nature they inherited from Adam? Or were they pardoned because they were still too innocent to knowingly sin? What was the age at which children started to knowingly sin? Such self-created conflict consumed endless hours of debate among Christians. The safest conclusion always seemed to be that it was best to get children to accept Jesus as soon as they could, just to be sure.
I once waited outside the office of LE Maxwell and listened to him and Ted Rendall (vice president of the school) discussing a man who had just died. They were debating if there was any evidence that the man had been saved before he died. LE thought he might have repented and been saved. But Ted Rendall disagreed, “I don’t think so. I saw him smoking just before he died”. Smoking would eliminate you from the elect. Just like smokers today have to stand outside buildings by themselves and puff in the cold. They are not ‘insiders’.
I was really confused years later when I saw some Southern Baptists smoking outside a church in Oklahoma. Could there possibly be such a thing as a saved smoker? The theologians would have to wrestle with that one.
And Evangelical theologians wrestled obsessively with personal salvation issues. The most important thing in becoming saved was accepting Jesus into your heart. First, as noted above, you had to repent of your sin (admit bad things you had done and ask forgiveness), then you had to open the door of your heart and invite Jesus to come inside. Exactly how a person does that I do not know. Things that had no connection at all to normal processes of reality always confused me.
Some people who accepted Jesus would then fall back into sin. They would go back to their old lifestyle, to pre-Christian behavior, whether smoking, drinking, gambling, dancing, or sex. Christians called it backsliding which is sort of like going down a slippery sliding slope, but only backwards.
Well, when a saved person backslides then the debate begins. Did they now lose their salvation? (Like the losers in Monopoly-type board games- Return to square one. Do not stop at Go. Do not collect $200. Start all over again). Or were they ever really saved in the first place? These are issues that are subject to endless debate and they are the topic of zillions of Evangelical sermons. What are the signs of a truly saved life? What behavior shows that a person was really and truly saved? What basic beliefs and habits must a person have as evidence of really being born again (another term similar to saved)?
Attending an Evangelical church was one good sign that a person was saved. Someone recently told me that Pierre Trudeau’s son was attending an Evangelical church just before he was killed. To them that was the evidence he was saved. They wanted Mr. Trudeau to know that his son was all right in heaven.
An Evangelical theologian, Neal Punt, wrote a little book entitled “Unconditional Good News”. He argued that based on Romans chapter 5 all people are saved anyway. That chapter says that just as all died in Adam so all will live in Christ. The ‘all’ means the same in both usages.
More important is the evidence that there was no fall into sin in the first place. The Fall is a myth. No one ever became a sinner. God never became angry with anyone to the point of damning them nor has he ever intended to punish anyone in hell. And anyway, there is no such thing as hell (even the Jesuits have admitted that recently). So no one needs to be saved. We will note more on that later.
Another Evangelical theologian, Edward Fudge, wrote the Biblically based book “The Fire That Consumes”, which clearly shows that even the Bible does not teach a literal hell. He argues that bad people are just annihilated altogether. Psssst….. poof. The people on X Files call it spontaneous combustion. Theologians like Fudge are people within Evangelicalism that do not agree with its basic teachings. Studies show that about 60% of people sitting in church pews do not believe what their leaders teach.
I mention these books by Evangelical writers, not because I support Evangelical teaching or what they are saying, but just to show that even respected Evangelicals disagree on fundamental teachings. Also, these efforts to question basic Evangelical truths may provide a starting point for others to begin the journey toward freedom from religion. Such questioning may provide a small spark of freedom to help people begin to find their way back to humanity.
What about prayer and prayer meetings? Don’t let me forget about prayer meetings. I dreaded public praying. In public prayer meetings I could never focus on God alone but only fretted about what others were thinking of my praying. I wrestled with impure motives- Was I sincere and focused on God or was I just making it up to impress listeners? Public praying always made me feel dishonest, like I was play acting.
I prefer the idea of prayer as just normal thoughts throughout the day. Thinking well of others and wishing them the best. Being a decent human being and trying to be loving toward others. But Christianity has developed ideas and practices of praying that don’t allow for such normal humanity. Christian prayer requires special religious training and special religious techniques that only a select few ever seem to become good at performing.
In public prayer meetings at Prairie the leaders would open up a meeting for all members to participate. They would say, “Go ahead and pray… as the Spirit leads you”. I had often come ready to participate and show that I was spiritual. The spiritual ones had boldness; they stood up and spoke out loudly. If you were always just sitting in meetings then it became obvious that you were not spiritual. “You are not free and bold for the Lord. You are bound by pride and sin”, they told us, “and therefore you are not filled with the liberty of the Spirit”. I also wanted to pray out loud in order to impress LE.
But like most people I had a natural fear of public speaking. Add to that the challenge that you must be led of the Spirit, well that knocked the wind out of me. I never knew what the prompting of the Spirit was. I never felt it. With all the normal churning of fear going on in my guts as I waited to possibly stand up and speak, I could never sort out what the Spirit’s leading would feel like in that swirling mix of unpleasant emotions.
What if I just stood up to pray? Everyone would know that I was in the flesh and not in the Spirit. I would be exposed and the spiritual ones would know that I was not led of the Spirit. And anyway, no one could stand and pray like Mr. Stanley Firth. He could pray for a full half hour and sound like he was actually talking to God while he preached to us at the same time.
I always felt my motives were too impure with concern about impressing others. I could never pretend that I was talking to God alone.
Once, while witnessing on the streets of Chihuahua Mexico during a religious vacation, another Christian brother came up to me and said, “You were acting in the flesh”. I was hurt and apologized to him, though I had no idea what I had done to earn that rebuke. Had I been in the spirit all the other times that I was with him? How did he discern between flesh and spirit motivation in my heart? I couldn’t even detect the difference.
Why such concern about inner motives? Christianity teaches that God not only sees actions but he also watches inner thoughts and feelings. An adulterer is not just some married guy who screws around with the ladies, but is also the man who like Jimmy Carter lusts in his heart after other buns than his own beloved’s. Adulterers are not just between the sheets but also between the ears. You have probably heard that our biggest sex organ is our brain. I’m afraid it’s true.
A murderer is not just a man with a gun, but a man with a scowl. So watch the road rage. Watch your motives, your thoughts, and emotions. Keep them pure before God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points all this out very clearly in his book “The Sermon On The Mount”. That intense reflection and second guessing your motives will drive you nuts.
Prayer As Superstition
Another thing to know about Evangelical or Christian prayer is that it often is used as base superstition. It is one of the central practices (along with Bible reading and church attendance) used by Christians to try to ensure that God will help or bless them. Very much like a good luck ritual or charm. Prayer is used for good luck (blessing in Christian speak- they hate the word luck) in the same manner that people avoid black cats or walking under ladders.
I have heard many Christians say, “Make sure that you pray before going on that trip so nothing bad will happen to you”, or, “Make sure you pray before doing that (some potentially dangerous thing)”. They hope prayer will protect them from accident or misfortune.
Recently at a party a Christian lady came up my brother-in-law who was unemployed at the time. She said quite callously, “You see, if you had only prayed more, these bad things (unemployment) would not happen to you”. That is callous cruelty to dump such guilt on people already suffering from misfortune. It is also the basest form of superstition. My brother-in-law soon found another job, without even praying.
Others use faith in that same superstitious manner to obtain good things and avoid bad things. They claim that if you only have enough faith then you will get whatever you want or avoid whatever you don’t want. It is another way to manipulate your God.
I remember a Christian man who said to a lady in a wheelchair, “If you only had more faith then you would be able to get up out of that wheelchair and walk”. On top of her physical handicap he cruelly added the burden of guilt. She was lacking in faith.
One Sunday morning I watched Earnest Ainsley, the twangy hillbilly preacher from the American South, conduct a televised healing service. To warm up the audience, he strode back and forth across the stage shouting loudly, “The power of God is now coming on the man of God”.
Sufficiently full of himself, he then started urging people in wheelchairs at the front of the audience to get up out of their chairs. “If you have faith, then you will be able to stand up now and leave your chairs behind”, he shouted hysterically.
One seriously handicapped woman leaned forward in her wheelchair and struggled and struggled to stand. It was disgusting to watch as Ainsley berated her and others for not having enough faith to stand up. As the woman continued to desperately struggle to stand, the camera mercifully panned away from her. Ainsley continued to pompously strut the stage and berate faithless people for not healing themselves.
Can you imagine how that poor woman felt as she labored to wheel herself home that night? The cruelty of such insanely superstitious beliefs knows no limits.
Every fall and spring there was a big conference at Prairie to whip up zeal and get people really hot for God. All the believers from the surrounding countryside would attend. I was always nervous as those conferences approached because that was when the altar calls were most likely to occur. It was the time for getting right with God if you had become lax in between. It always seemed that I had become lax.
At one conference meeting, LE stepped to the pulpit and shamelessly asked for funds to buy a new Land Rover for his missionary son. No one thought anything questionable had occurred when the next day all the money ($25,000 in 1973’s dollars) had come in. No other staff member was ever allowed to do that for their kids. In any other situation that would be considered a serious conflict of interest. But not at Prairie. We learned to live with such contradictions and special favors for the godfathers.
Some staff members regretted having become caught up in the giving zeal that the school advocated. Leaders said that donating to the school was actually giving to God. Volunteer work at the school was work for the Lord. Some staff members had sold their homes and given all the proceeds of the sales to Prairie. But they later felt that the calls made by the school to give up all possessions and donate them to the Lord were misleading. The school took such gifts and invested them. It had millions in investments while it continued to teach others to give away everything in order to be a good Christian.
The leaders told staff and students to just trust in the Lord for their needs. But those same leaders traveled regularly to speak at churches and conferences, which attracted the attention of supporters to them personally. The supporters would then give gifts to those visiting leaders and their accounts would swell. They had access to income opportunities that the average staff member never had. They also sat at the top of the school hierarchy holding power over how all the gifts were to be dispensed. The average staff member had no say in such decisions.
The leaders preached that we were all one big family and they claimed that everyone received an equal income. But that egalitarian ideal seemed less impressive when you knew the leaders were getting extra income from the extra opportunities they took to present themselves to supporters.
While at Prairie, I never questioned such inconsistencies. Many other things occurred that we just tucked away in the deep recesses of our minds and tried to forget about.
One time we asked a visiting conference speaker to come to our house for supper. My sister Barb and me went to pick him up at the agreed time. Just as we were leaving the dorm where he was staying, LE rushed up and pushed himself in between the speaker and us. He then forcefully took the now protesting man by the arm and led him off to his house for supper. The speaker struggled to turn around and explain that he was going with us, but LE dismissively waved us off and continued to drag the poor man along. We did not know what to think for we were still too in awe of LE to ever suspect him of selfishness.
Later that evening in a public meeting, LE was apparently asked to make an announcement for the visiting speaker who wanted to meet us and apologize. LE sounded very annoyed when making the announcement, like a spoiled child who had been caught doing something wrong but did not want to admit it.
It’s funny how a little moment or incident that reveals normal humanity can reduce a revered god to fallibility. In the 1970s Bill Gothard was one of the main stars of Evangelical Christianity. He used pop psychology to communicate and promote Fundamentalist beliefs and practices. He had become hugely popular and filled stadiums in cities all across the US. Evangelicals in those years walked around stating, “Gothard says this…” or “Gothard says that…”. His teaching had become the new authoritative Evangelical viewpoint on a variety of issues.
I attended one of his mass seminars in Los Angeles at UCLA and at the end of the meeting he came to the edge of the stage to bend down and greet audience members. He was very IBM, wearing dark blue suits and short neat hair. Thrilled to be near such a great man of God, I watched him shake the hands of people in front of me. Then I noticed his shoulders. They were covered with tiny flecks of off-white dandruff. I looked at his hair. Even though it was neatly combed, it looked greasy. My mind churned trying to understand how a great man of God could be such a dirty unwashed bum. I left the seminar wondering if cleanliness really was next to godliness.
Gothard also taught that when men and women were attracted to each other it should first be a spiritual connection then an intellectual connection and last of all a physical connection. That was the correct and godly order of things, he said. Notice that he could not bring himself to say sex in the last part. The closest he got to that was “physical connection”. He was very Fundamentalist.
Well, if anyone ever took that order of things seriously the earth would be depopulated in no time at all. Gothard followed it and remained single all his life. Such silliness in trying to suppress sexuality only leads to perversion.
It came out years later that the puritanical Gothard had a private resort for his top staff and a private jet to fly them around. His ministry started to go down in flames when it was also discovered that his younger brother was sleeping around with the office secretaries and Gothard would not stop him. People at Prairie, where Gothard was viewed as god-like, said the whole unseemly mess was an attack from the Devil to discredit Gothard’s ministry. I think it was just normal hormones and greed exploding out from under an inhuman suppression.
Another time I attended a meeting in Calgary to hear a famous pastor who had been tortured in Russia for his faith. After finishing his speech, he took a seat on the stage to answer questions from the audience. Young men brought him pieces of paper with questions written on them. One young man leaned over to whisper something in his ear and very rudely the pastor brushed him away with his hand. I was perplexed. The pastor, somewhat embarrassed, explained to the audience, “You see that 20 years in prison has not made me very patient”.
All that excessive respect for Christian leaders and heroes now reminds me of the Jonathan Swift poem in Ernest Becker’s “The Denial Of Death”. Swift portrays a young man who feels torn apart with the horror of the fact that the beautiful and even the divine were still inextricably linked to basic animal functions. The young man in the poem could not accept that the beautiful woman who was the object of his affection would share the base bodily functions of normal people. Too many young people hold the illusion that beauty (and divinity) is all head and wings with no bottom to betray it. But as Swift quotes the young man, “No wonder I have lost my Wits, Caelia, Caelia, Caelia shits!”
Four years of my life- the prime years of my youth- spent at a Fundamentalist Bible school studying Bible, theology, witnessing and missionary work. Was it a complete waste of time and effort? At times I have tried to convince myself that it was not a total waste. I was exposed to valuable teaching on unselfishness, sharing, giving, love, spirituality, God, and a sense of responsibility to community.
But looking back and honestly evaluating matters, I eventually realized that even the good things that I learned through Evangelical religion were severely distorted and that greatly lessened their value. The love that I had learned in Fundamentalism was too often motivated by reward from God or fear of punishment. Also, it was focused mainly on changing people to my intolerant viewpoint and lifestyle. It was a love conditioned on people converting to Evangelical Christianity. It they did not convert, then they were damned. So much for love, eh. Our Christian love was not a free acceptance of others as unique, equal, and diverse people. It was therefore not normal human love. It was religious converting love, which is a distortion of genuine human love and compassion.
There was also considerable emphasis on freedom at Prairie. The teachers said that true believers were free in Christ. But that freedom was always tied to what they called absolute enslavement and submission to the will of God. It was freedom from personal desires and choices in order to be enslaved to God’s will. That submission to God then came full circle to mean submission and obedience to some Evangelical group with and its leaders, doctrines, rules, and unique culture. It was a religious freedom that led right back to the same old religious slavery.
Freedom was always buried in submission to leaders, law and conformity to religious systems. Forgiveness was always smothered by punishing justice. Love was always conditioned on religious conversion and often lost in condemnation and judgment. Humanity- well, it was just evil no matter what.
Most Evangelicals are aware of the criticisms of outsiders and have become adept at apologizing for the contradictions of their religion. Many are quite good at defending their system as harmless, misunderstood, and actually very good for everyone. In fact, if you ask an Evangelical about his system he will swear that it is not religion. The only important thing, he will claim, is a personal relationship with God. In saying that, Evangelicals are reacting to the widespread public disillusionment with institutionalized religion and its life-destroying culture.
But it is all just silly word-games. Get a little closer and listen carefully. To have a healthy relationship with God you must fellowship with other believers. That means joining a church, Evangelical of course. And there you are, right back to the Bible, detailed law, a complex system of doctrine, and religion. In that religion you can never be a normal human being and simply have normal relationships with other people in daily life.
Evangelical groups are now advertising on TV in Canada, using famous sports personalities (a very Madison Avenue technique). They tell audiences that if they want to have a personal relationship with God then they should call the phone numbers provided. But you can be certain they will not encourage you to just remain in normal life. They will try to get you to join their religion and become a faithful member of one of their churches. Knowing God personally will soon become knowing God religiously and Evangelically.
But despite my criticism, one thing I try to be grateful for having experienced in Christianity was the more thorough introduction to one of history’s most inspiring persons- Jesus. Christianity has done a terrible disservice to Jesus, burying a life of striking humanity in all sorts of religious garbage. But despite two millennia of accreting barnacles, something of that truly human life can still be seen. While I would have eventually discovered the historical Jesus outside of religion, I do appreciate some elements of that discovery during my detour in Christianity.
I go back and forth about my religious past and its affect on my life. I try to be fair and generous in my evaluation of religion. Sometimes I feel that as a young person involved in the drug culture maybe I needed the quick snap and break with the past that sudden religious conversion provided. But then I remember that even before my ‘conversion’ I had already stopped doing drugs (not that a person has to do that in order to be a good person). I stopped simply because I was not an addictive type personality.
I also try to be grateful for religion’s focus on God, a focus that you do not often find in other areas of life. But God is a human idea, common to all humanity throughout most of human history. Religions like Christianity take that common reality and try to isolate it from the common mass of people, making it a solely religious idea and religious reality available only to religious people. Religions thereby distort and dehumanize God profoundly. Especially with their conditions.
Ultimately I conclude that religion does more harm than good for humanity.
I realize that others had a much better experience at Prairie than I did. They did not take Evangelical teaching so seriously. But who was the person that said, “The committed people aren’t civil and the civil people aren’t committed”? I saw no other option to total zealous commitment. I had heard Prairie’s leaders say repeatedly that the best Christians, the people who pleased God the most, were the totally committed and obedient. They were all out and out for God. On fire. How could you not take it seriously if you were going to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and be exposed and shamed before the entire universe if you did not fulfill every detail with the utmost seriousness?
To be a true believer you could not be civil; you had to be completely committed and constantly telling others they were wrong, they were damned and they needed to get right with God. They needed to join Evangelical churches. For many Christians, including myself, there was only one right thing to do and that was to take it all with the utmost seriousness. All other avenues had been cut off as less than the best and therefore not God’s will. Anything aside from God’s will, as defined by Evangelicals, was punishable by God with horrific loss or even possibly hellfire. People who did not read their Bibles all the time, pray endlessly, attend all the church meetings, and witness to every person they met, well, they were subject to terrible threats and penalties.
Some students stubbornly refused to yield to all the threat. To them, Prairie was not all sin and darkness and dread. Fortunately, the human spirit can never be completely crushed. It keeps breaking forth to lighten up the most deadening situations.
Once several students hid in the out-of-bounds-underground tunnels that laced the campus and tricked the staff watchmen into going down and chasing them. When the staff watchmen were halfway between tunnel entrances the naughty students turned off the lights. They reported later that, “There was a lot of holy cursing down in those tunnels”. It was hilarious fun, but in the estimation of us zealots, such students were frivolous, lax believers not serious about doing God’s will.
A small percentage of us even came to feel that many Christians at Prairie were not committed and zealous enough. They were not living like the early Christians who gave up everything to devote themselves constantly to prayer and witnessing. So we began to hold all night prayer meetings for revival and we spent days fasting. We would go out on extra visits to witness to others, well beyond the minimum required service necessary to graduate. Our zeal went beyond all others. We wanted to be God’s favorites even among his elect people- a notch higher than the rest. We wanted to please God more than any other Christians did and thereby gain more blessings than the rest.
On Christmas breaks when others went home to be with their families, we traveled to a Mormon town in southern Alberta in order to witness to people there. We even went to Mexico one winter to give out tracts to people in the town of Chihuahua. Our zeal to be totally committed Christians led us to do all kinds of extreme things.
Once after several days of fasting at home, my sisters (Gail and Barb) and I were very weak and barely able to stand (don’t try this at home kids). Gail went slowly to the kitchen and tried to reach for a cookie in a jar. Barb and I quickly rushed over and each grabbing an arm, we dragged Gail back into the living room, all of us laughing uncontrollably now, to continue the fasting which would make us more holy.
LE encouraged such zeal. He said that David Brainerd, a 19th century missionary to North American Indians, was the holiest man to have ever lived. Brainerd would pray all day long for weeks on end. On LE’s recommendation, he became my hero and the standard I wanted to follow.
Brainerd often prayed all day outside in the snow. Eventually, he died of tuberculosis or pneumonia. Dad thought he was nuts.
For many of us there was no alternative to such total zealotry. We had to be out and out for Jesus, on fire for God. We went to the furthest limits of Christian commitment because we did not want to suffer shame before the entire human race at the Judgment Seat of Christ. For us there was no option to remain half-hearted or lukewarm. The book of Revelations said God would spew such people out of his mouth. That meant hell.
Living under such vivid threat, I felt the constant pressure to be zealously committed to the Evangelical lifestyle and obedient to God every moment of the day.
Along with the emphasis on constant obedience, Evangelicals also promoted a subset teaching on the Spirit of God and grieving that Spirit. They taught that the Spirit of God was always prompting Christians to confess sin, to do some service, to witness to someone, to talk about the Lord, to quote a verse, or to pray. Christians were urged to be constantly aware of and obedient to the Spirit’s promptings. People who ignored the Spirit’s prompting were lazy, cold or worldly believers. Such people needed revival where they would catch fire for God and become zealots who were constantly sensitive to the Spirit.
Our teachers told us that if we were not sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings then we would grieve him and scare him away. It would then become very difficult to get him to come back and bless us. And if we grieved him often enough then he might never come back. He would forsake us and abandon us to the Devil, they warned.
So careless believers were in danger of being rejected by God and even damned. If you think parental or family rejection is traumatizing then try facing the possibility of rejection or abandonment by the Creator and Judge of the universe. That is real trauma.
In teaching such things as the above, Evangelicalism actually taught us a very tight cause and effect view of reality, of which we were the initiators. For everything we did there was an appropriate response from God. If we were good, then God would bless us. If we were bad, then God would discipline and punish us. Consequently, we felt the heavy burden of carefully watching everything we did, said, thought or felt. If we forgot to pray for someone or witness to them or have the correct word from God for people, then they would suffer unnecessarily or be forever lost. It was a horrific burden to watch every thought, word, action and feeling to make sure they were right for the moment and subservient to the exact will of God. An easily angered God is a huge burden to carry around on your back all day long.
Ready To Go
During my years at Prairie a steady stream of speakers visited the campus to give inspirational talks. Those were usually challenges to us students to serve the Lord or to do the Lord’s will, which always meant doing something religious like becoming a missionary or a pastor. We rarely, if ever, heard the term “The Lord’s work” used in regard to regular secular work, like a job in the business world. We assumed God would never really lead anyone into such worldly work anyway.
To emphasize the point about doing only the Lord’s work, LE regularly told us his favorite story about a missionary who backslid. The missionary had gone overseas to teach the gospel but gradually became involved in other projects in an effort to help people. He then began to neglect the teaching of the gospel to spend more of his time on projects such as raising chickens (Fundamentalists called such projects “social work”). According to LE, “He eventually ended up backslidden in the chicken pen”. He had left the only important thing in life, preaching the gospel, and became a disobedient Christian involved in social work projects.
Backsliding is moving backward away from the zealous practice and promotion of the Evangelical lifestyle. In the Evangelical culture, backsliding is a regressive slide toward loss of reward and hell.
My obsessive zeal would not let me indulge anything less than ‘God’s very best’. During a break from school one summer, I worked in a large department store in the nearby city of Red Deer. One day a man approached me and said, “I’ve been watching you and I want to offer you the opportunity to come and join our company in a management training position”. I thanked him and then looking him straight in the eye, with all the Evangelical joy and zeal I could muster, I replied, “No. I am going overseas to become a missionary and do the Lord’s work”. I wanted him to feel guilty that he was not as zealous for God’s will as I was.
In my zeal, I would sometimes confront my classmates with questions like, “What is God leading you to do with your life when you graduate?” The implication was clear- Are you going to become a missionary like me? Just remembering such arrogant zeal embarrasses me even now.
Some classmates would respond with hesitancy, stumbling for an answer and offering what I thought was excuse making and avoiding the clear demands of God.
I had become a first order zealot. I had bought the system wholesale, even more than my Dad. Dad was actually feeling left behind by his zealous children who were all planning on becoming missionaries.
He would sometimes say things such as, “I’m praying the Lord will give me a million dollars. Why can’t he do that?” We would immediately jump on him for being worldly and not forsaking all to follow Jesus. Dad would come back with, “Well, God gives us common sense, you know”. He felt uncomfortable with our excessive zeal and it worried him that he would not have prosperous children to look after him in his old age. For our part, we would warn him of his luke-warmness and call into question if he was really saved. His now obsessively committed children were making his life hell.
In our extreme zeal we thoughtlessly ignored Jesus’ warning about religiously obsessed people who refused to fulfill their normal human responsibilities (to parents and others) because they were devoted to God (Matt. 15:3-9). Jesus called them hypocrites.
Verses like that never made sense to my Evangelically-possessed mind.
One of the central themes in LE’s teaching was the cross or death of Jesus. It was not the death of Jesus for sin that impressed LE as much as the death of Jesus as an example for us to follow.
LE often challenged us to take up our own cross and follow Jesus. According to him that meant leaving all personal desires behind to do some horribly difficult and distasteful thing, something that went against all our normal drives and wishes. It had to be something that was like a death to us. Bearing the cross meant giving up everything, every personal desire in order to follow the Evangelical Jesus.
We were told that we existed to be like Jesus, to live and speak as he did. The closer we mimicked his life, the better Christians we were. And most important, they said, was bearing the cross as Jesus did. It was another element in Evangelical teaching that was used to keep us zealously committed.
In our Evangelical world, bearing the cross meant going overseas as missionaries- giving up family, friends, career plans and postponing any love-life to go off and convert the lost world to Jesus, or at least to Western Evangelical religion as we would eventually find out.
Prairie’s leaders told us that if we did so, then life would spring up in us- blessing and favor and joy from God. “The seed must first fall into the ground and die”, LE often quoted, “before it can bring forth life”.
I was now pretty much as Evangelical and Fundamentalist as it was possible to become. I was ready to give up everything, take up the cross and go overseas to save sinners. I had fully adopted the Evangelical vision of going out to convert the lost world to Jesus and Evangelicalism.
One of the more memorable speakers who came to Prairie campus was Don Richardson. He had gone to Irian Jaya and converted some 900 upland tribal people to Evangelical Christianity. Years later we would hear from another more sober co-worker of Richardson’s (John Mills) that there were only 125 church members and they were very weak Christians. I would soon find out for myself how commonly missionaries inflate numbers.
Nonetheless, LE was thrilled with Richardson’s apparent success and paraded him about the campus. He was asked to speak at all the meetings that he could be booked into and LE praised him much before us all. It stirred our young Evangelical souls and reinforced in many of us the desire to go out and do the same. We revered our Moses and would love to come back to the center of our world, Prairie, to be lauded and praised for similar success at winning souls for Jesus.
Before Richardson’s visit I had already decided to take the Bible more literally than most Christians do. I wanted to live exactly as Jesus had lived. I wanted to give up all material possessions and normal life plans to become a missionary. That seemed to me to be the only logical conclusion for someone who professed to believe in and follow Jesus.
My sister Gail had already become a missionary to the people of Northern Saskatchewan. She had set an inspiring example by living in an isolated village and giving away all her remaining money every month to the poor.
Going overseas was also the fulfillment of a childhood dream to travel to the exotic Orient. Even in my days of bumming around on the streets of Vancouver I had often dreamed of heading for Asia. One day a friend and I had boarded numerous freighters in the port area of Vancouver to see if we could possibly stow away somewhere. We had looked over the sides of many of the ships to check the distance we would have to drop into the water once we arrived in Asia. The idea of jumping so far into deep dark water pretty much killed the idea of stowing away on a ship.
Aside from my newly adopted missionary ideology, I also wanted to help people. My going overseas was not due solely to the fear of damnation for disobedience. As a human being I did feel empathy with the suffering of others. I wanted to do something good and useful for people and try to alleviate human suffering as much as I could. I wanted to use my life in the best possible manner and not just waste it. As an old Puritan writer once said, “Life is about doing as much good as you can to as many people as you can”.
Religion fanned that desire to do good into a flame, but unfortunately directed it to the wrong activity of making other people religious.
The Bible As Tiger Balm
We were dismally unprepared for a career involving cross-cultural existence and communication. We had no credible preparation for understanding the complexity of other cultures aside from our Bible school training.
Mr. A D had taught us cultural anthropology but aside from the title his course had little to do with real anthropology. He was a small man from rural Saskatchewan with a squeaky voice like Preston Manning’s. His only formal training was Bible school and his course was mainly anecdotal. During the course he told stories like the time a pilot disembarked and then urinated against the front wheel of his plane somewhere in South America. He would watch to see our shocked reaction, then talk about culture shock. It was pitifully inadequate training.
Despite our insufficient training, we felt ready for cross-cultural work because we were told that the Bible had all the truth necessary to set people free, people who were enslaved by the Devil. They were in darkness and the ideas of their cultures were lies from Satan. They were therefore, anxiously waiting in misery for us to come and bring them the truth and light that would set them free from Satan. Somehow, magically, all other problems we would encounter would work themselves out satisfactorily. After all, we had the Bible with the answers to every problem in life.
The Bible was kind of like Tiger Balm, the Asian medicine, whose producers claimed could cure anything from the common cold, achy bones, warts, TB, all the way up to cancer.
The Call To Go
Before leaving to go overseas we had to be certain that it was God’s will, that God was leading us. God had to call us or speak to us about going. The call of God was our special signal to go.
It was a fundamental Evangelical belief that God would guide each Christian. He would speak to them through Bible verses, voices or inner urges and thereby lead people to do his specific will for their lives. I had heard endless testimonies from people who had been guided in that manner by God. Candidates who were planning on joining a mission organization always talked about God speaking to them or giving them a verse that directed them clearly to a specific mission.
I read pamphlets on missionary organizations and prayed for guidance but nothing happened. I did not get a clear call or hear any voice.
So I continued to read pamphlets and look for verses. Time was passing. I watched my emotions and guts for something that might feel like a call. Nothing. Then, feeling the pressure to get going, I went ahead and picked a missionary organization. I applied and they invited me to come to their orientation course. I then convinced myself that God had given me the sign to go through some verses that I read in the Bible. God, I told myself, was leading me to join this group. I had my manufactured my call.
The headquarters of the organization, World Evangelization Crusade (WEC), was located in a rural wooded area of large maple and oak trees near Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful old restored castle of large granite stone and elaborately carved woodwork.
Soon after arriving at WEC headquarters, I discovered that they were charismatics who spoke in tongues and sang a little too rambunctiously and excitedly. LE had often let it be known that he did not like charismatics and thought they were too open to satanic influences. That unsettled me.
People at Prairie were very formal and well behaved in public meetings. No one ever raised their voice or clapped while singing. Such displays of charismatic enthusiasm would have grieved LE’s God.
The WEC orientation course consisted mainly of lectures on their unique beliefs, their rulebook, and the life of their founder- a kooky guy who often felt led of God to stand on chairs and preach. His God had a fetish for chairs. It was all a bit nutty.
One morning at the WEC daily prayer meeting a visiting Dutch missionary told the assembled group that while she had been praying and meditating on the Bible, God had told her there was evil in the castle because it had carved figurines at the ends of the wood fixtures outside, some grimacing and gargoyle-like. They were demonic and they were to be cut off immediately, she demanded. An old office worker named Mildred protested her word from God. “I don’t think this is from the Lord”, she intoned in her Georgia drawl. But the Dutch lady angrily stared her down and how-dared Mildred to contradict God who had personally spoken to her.
Later that day a large group of us marched around the castle and other buildings sawing off beautiful wood artwork that had survived for almost two centuries but now fell to the Dutch lady’s petty discomfort. Her word from God was probably the result of a hangover from too much gas due to beans eaten the night before. Gas will make anyone cranky and nitpicky.
About a month later the mission leader stood in a public meeting and confessed to us, “I think we were led on a wild goose chase in following that lady’s directive to cut off the wood figurines”. But it was too late to save the artwork.
It is very difficult to refute people who claim God has spoken to them.
The WEC people were simply too loopy for me. They were charismatics, which LE considered to be off base. I did not want to be part of something that LE considered off because LE’s opinion mattered a lot. I wished that he would just tell my parents to get their son out of this group then I would know it was God’s will to leave. LE didn’t. And God did not give me a clear sign that I should leave. He never gave me signs.
Confused, I wrestled with what to do. I had come to their orientation course and they wanted me to join. Also, I had convinced myself that God had led me to this organization. But now I had become too uncomfortable with their kookiness and I wanted out. I would have to make a choice myself and live with it and I did not want to do that. I wanted God to tell me exactly what to do so I would know for certain that I was doing his will. I dreaded the responsibility of choosing for myself because I had no idea how to find God’s will by making a personal decision. I had always been taught that Christians had to wait till God gave guidance through verses, voices, or visions. But God had never answered my prayers for voices or any other form of guidance.
With no clear direction from God, I pulled out of WEC and went home in a daze of confusion. That resignation led to a severe crisis in my life. Had I been misled in seeking God’s will or was I perhaps refusing the cross? Was I refusing to do something very distasteful, but God’s will nonetheless? Carrying the cross usually meant doing something you really didn’t want, like Jesus carrying his cross to his death. But he had bravely submitted to God’s will where I had pulled away from something that I really did not like. Maybe I was running from the cross and rejecting the will of God.
After years of intense striving to be totally committed and obedient to God I had now crossed into the radically new territory of apparent disobedience and blatant refusal of the will of God. From the viewpoint of my religious worldview I was beginning to feel that I had committed a terrible sin.
If I was refusing the cross or the will of God, then according to Evangelical teaching I would never get God’s blessings and power. LE had told us many frightening stories of people who refused the first and best will of God for their life which had required suffering under some awful burden. They ended up pitiable, wretched Christians wasting their lives on the second best and waiting forlornly for the great shaming at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Was I now one of those cursed wretches?
After returning to Three Hills, one of WEC’s leaders visited Prairie and warned me about pulling out. He told me that if I was running from God’s will then I would regret it. It was the same old threat and fear. God was gonna get me. “You will never know God’s power or blessing”, he warned. That shook me profoundly and intensified my guilt. I felt like Jonah fleeing God.
In my confused state, I was invited to apply to another mission- Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). I wrote them and was accepted to the orientation program at their headquarters in Toronto. They were an old English organization with a very British culture. LE liked them and had often spoke highly of their organization.
My crisis over missing God’s will continued at their headquarters. The confusion and distress heightened as us candidates were all scheduled to go before the directors to be questioned about our call to their mission.
The night of my interview, I was tense with anxiety that they might ask me what verse God had given me and then I would be exposed as a fraud for having none. I was an escapee from WEC, a Jonah on the lam, AWOL, running from God’s will and the horrible cross. A gutless coward, afraid to suffer for Jesus.
Fortunately, no one asked for a verse and I was accepted into the mission. But I felt that I had slipped in undetected. I also felt that I was now hiding a dark secret, almost like a hidden sin. That guilt-inducing secret would wear at my psyche in a profoundly damaging manner over the subsequent years.
I soon found out that OMF was just a British version of Prairie Bible Institute. We were not allowed to become romantically involved with the opposite sex unless they were also members of OMF. That rule severely limited the pool of available partners. If we did become involved with someone outside of OMF, we would face the same condemnation and shaming expulsion that Prairie used so effectively to keep members in line. The powerful tools of control were operating in OMF also.
After the orientation course was finished, the leaders set a date in 1975 for me to depart for Singapore where their overseas headquarters were located. We would go through several more months of orientation there.
Orientation was very important for Christian organizations. They wanted new members to learn how to think correctly and how to respond organizationally in every possible situation. They wanted candidates to become OMFers. It was another layer of isolating bureaucratic identity on top of “Committed Bible believing, missionary minded and Conservative Evangelical Christian”.
The isolating layers of identification reminded me of the time that I was driving through Memphis Tennessee. On one street I passed a church called “The Church Of Jesus Christ In The Holy Spirit”. Just a block further down the same street was a breakaway branch of that same church. It was called “The Church Of Jesus Christ (But Not In The Holy Spirit)”.