All but one of the Elder's glared at me from around the official Elder's table that sat in the middle of the always locked Elder's room. I was told I was there because they loved me. Otherwise, I would be out in the parking lot being "skinned." Eight years later this same sceneno was told to another member who had a problem.
"You have a choice," the head Elder said, "You can stay, repent, be quiet in class, or you can leave this Church. We don't care if 37 or 137 go with you, after you are gone, we will have a pure Church left." He went on, "It does not make us any difference what you do." He finished with, "What is your decision?" I did not make a decision then. How could I? I was stunned, left the meeting in disbelief, and drove home in mute silence. I had felt the sting of repressive persecution which powerful Church leaders can apply.
My wife, Mary, three children, and I, had been members of the congregation for nine years. I served as a deacon and had later become one of the five elders. Most all of our friends, and the major part of our social life was with the Church. We even shared a slight suspicion of being the only other "faithful" congregation in the same city. We had worked, played, camped out, laughed, cried, prayed, sang, and studied together. Years of growing together was coming apart and we were helpless in preventing it.
What is wrong with the Elders? Why do certain ones corner me with such harshness after class? I'm hurt, sad, confused. Why would they do this? Am I a villain to be feared? Has my ministry been against Cod's will and dangerous to His body? Why are they so afraid of questions?
My wife, who had been one of my toughest critics, and I struggled with crushed enthusiasm. A sense of being unwanted spilled over into virtually all areas of our life. The emotional ups and downs of the weeks settled more and more into downs only. Optimism was increasingly replaced with resentment and bitterness. Our relationship with the congregation became marred by our fear of a nameless, faceless "they" who seemed to oppose us. We learned honest examination, doubt, and criticism are not highly valued activities in the Church of Christ. We became objects of an unmerciful witch hunt.
We went to Church barely okay and left feeling sick. After receiving hate mail, feeling harshness, not being spoken to, and hearing hisses, we wondered, "Does it make sense to stay any longer?" We were being accused of wanting to split the Church. They don't want us to stay, but if we leave, they'll say we are trying to start a new Church. What do we do? The loneliness was deep inside our souls. Our rejection was the most painful and devastating experience we have ever endured.
Even after all of this time, these thoughts are painful to recall and share. The emotionally wrecking experience I just shared was only half of the story. There was another side of fear, doubt, and even wondering if I were a traitor that penetrated me at the same time.
As the questioning and studying increased, I realized, for instance, that God was completely indifferent to instrumental or non-instrumental music. I felt like I was at the top of a long, steep slide. When I threw out the non-instrument law, I started to slide with a helpless feeling, and I thought, "Where does this end? There have to be some absolutes. How do I decide what is, and what is not, a law of God? Where will this stop?"
I wanted to be pleasing to Cod more than anything else in the world. The grip that I felt on my gut was excruciating, knowing that I had to answer to the living God if I was wrong. I prayed, "Father, if I'm wrong, stop me and stop me now. The cost is too great." I had very few to share my thinking and questioning with, because at the time even my dad was wary of me. So, I would bounce my thinking off my wife to get her response. Even she would wring her hands and say, "You can't throw out the commandments of Jesus." Nearly daily I shared with a friend who was a life long Church of Christer. He would listen to me and respond without puffing up and making the accusation, "heretic."
The slide became increasingly steep and fast. The bonds of Church of Christ legalism were being stripped away. The heavy weight of guilt was being thrown aside. The baggage I had carried around all of my life was being tossed overboard. Suddenly, I stopped my slide and it was clear as a new day. I was at the foot of the cross and Jesus was my righteousness, my only righteousness. I answered to him in loving, humble gratitude for the marvelous gift of grace he had given me. Jesus and I, that's the way it was. No guilt. No webb of man-made laws to live up to. But, praise God, He didn't leave me at the foot of the cross. He lifted me up to the occupied throne, and His glory filled my soul. He made me grace-powered instead of law-driven. My heart thrilled as it had never thrilled before. I realized my groping for God, was really his grasping for me. How clear it became. God deals with us as his children, not puppets, or as "The Church." What brought complete peace and the deep enrichment of life was not mere information or church attendance. It was the spirit of the living Father. I could read scripture with a spirit of surrender to Jesus and let His spirit feed my hungry, thirsty soul. After 35 years of being on the milk, I was feasting at the King's table with the meat of the scripture.
Finally, we left the Church of Christ. We did not want to spend our life with a church that impressed everyone with the idea that they have all the truth while others have none, that they are the only Christians while others are sectarians. We left because we wanted to be free and to think for ourselves. We left for conscience sake. We left for the same reasons that some give for leaving the Roman Catholic Church. To us, there are striking resemblances between the Romanism and the Church of Christism that held us in bondage for three-fourths a lifetime. Both suppose that they alone have the truth; both suppose they are the true church while others are heretics; both are right about everything, infallible interpreters of the Word; both teach their people to stay away from other churches; both are authoritarian and dogmatic; both suppose their priests or ministers are the only true servants of God; both claim that the way to unity is to join them and to do as they do in every particular.
Thank you, Lord! At first we had no Church, and now we don't need one.God alone remains, He is enough.The Lord is our shepherd. What more could wounded sheep need?
Our heart is overwhelmed with deep praise and adoration for the
great mercy of God in our lives. In the past two years He has:
- carved in our soul a deeper understanding of love and forgiveness.
- bonded us to Himself, wrapping cords of love and faithfulness around our souls.
- freed us to search for truth and seek God's will for us, what ever the cost.
- deepened our faith and trust in His great power and sovereignty.
- returned our love and filled us with sympathy for those who had dealt with us harshly.
We thank the Lord for His great mercy in redeeming the shattered portions of our life! "A bruised reed He will not break, A smoldering wick he will not put out" (Isa. 42:3).