We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: -- Numbers 11:5
When the Lord called Saul of Tarsus, one of the bitterest enemies of the new Jewish sect, everything about the man was immediately different. Paul was a devoutly religious man, destined for great things, yet he chucked it all and spent the remainder of his life in service to our Lord. Personally, I don't believe the transition was that difficult. Gamaliel's foremost student, he knew the Scriptures and did his best to live them, as the Talmud taught. When the Lord's grace opened his understanding, all the Messianic prophecies must have come alive for him. He knew. And he served God the Son even as he had served God the Father.
It isn't always that simple to leave the old life behind. Though the Jews were eager to leave Egypt when God sent Moses to lead them out of bondage, after a time of wandering in the desert, existing on His provision of manna, they began to long for the leeks and garlic of Egypt (Numbers 11:5). For Lot's wife, leaving Sodom was incredibly difficult. So difficult, that she could not resist "one final look back." And it cost her life. (Genesis 19:6)
A very dear sister in Christ knows from her own experiences how difficult it can be to leave Egypt. Deeply involved with the Church of Christ, she was aware when God called her, and this motivated her to even greater service within that cult. In her eagerness to serve Christ, she thought that deeper involvement with the CofC would be pleasing to God. Then, she began to listen to the Holy Spirit and no longer was able to continue in many of the services in which she had been involved.
What follows is her story, told in her own words.
I came to the faith about 14 years ago, when my oldest son was six months old. For some reason, it took me about that long to realize that I was going to be this poor child's mother. I'm not sure exactly what I thought up until this time...maybe that I'd absent-mindedly leave him in a shopping cart, or forget to feed him, I guess. And then, the child had colic. I knew no healthy child would scream and cry like he did...something serious HAD to be wrong. But all things pass, and at his six month birthday, I realized that we were in this for the long haul and I needed to stop and evaluate what kind of a home I wanted for my son.
As I began to look at my life, the Lord allowed me to see how very helpless I was to create the kind of family I wanted. My dear husband had fallen away from the faith we both professed shortly after we married, so I knew that my son would not be raised in a 'Christian' home. I knew that the responsibility for teaching Patrick about God was mine alone, but my life was not one that honored God. As I evaluated my character and lack of discipline, I realized for the first time that not only did I sin...sin was a natural thing for me. I was a sinner, and that sin was against a Holy God. I was completely undone.
At this point, I was not thinking in terms of Heaven and Hell, or of Saved and Lost. I knew tremendous shame and guilt and instinctively I knew that the only hope of forgiveness lay in Jesus. After three days of tearful misery, I confessed my helplessness and my repentance to God. It was, hands down, the most frightening moment of my life. I knew how little I deserved forgiveness.
God met me at that point...it was shear grace on His part. What a relief! He gave me assurance of His forgiveness and lifted the crushing weight of my sin and guilt. I wish I had words to describe the joy and gratitude I felt. I was pretty sure I'd never sin again.
As is often the case, my heart was way ahead of my head theologically. I knew that whatever had happened was a big deal, and that this must be salvation. Nothing else in my life had been like it...suddenly the Bible made sense to me, I desired to be in church and to learn, and my mind was always thinking about God. I went to the evangelist of the assembly I attended and explained the experience to him, asking to be baptized.
The Church of Christ (CofC) teaches that baptism is the appropriating instrument of salvation. According to CofC theology, what I had experienced COULD NOT have been a salvation experience because there was no baptism by immersion involved. Since we always define experience according to doctrine (and not doctrine according to experience) the evangelist gave me two choices. Either my baptism just now "kicked in" even though I'd been immersed 15 years previously, or this was a "second call" of the Holy Spirit. According to his experience, it's not uncommon for lifetime CofC members to suddenly 'get it' and be called to a life of greater service than the rank and file. The evangelist went on to say that he had experienced the same kind of call in his early 20's. We agreed that a baptism was not necessary at that time...I've since come to see we were in error. We did not have the theology to define the experience of regeneration.
As time passed, I became more and more involved in church activities, especially in teaching. I began teaching in the Sunday night youth program, and within two years was running the Sunday night program. Gradually I taught more and more, always being sure to be my son's teacher. When second child came along, I was regularly teaching Youth Group and running the Children's Worship Program. Just before I moved to the Reformed Baptist in July of 1998, I was Children's Director at the CofC church, in charge of curriculum and staffing nursery through Jr. High for four programs a week. I was also the Sunday School superintendent, ran the web site, was the resident alpha-geek for the church computer systems, coached the High School puppet team and had taught an adult class.
But...teaching the Adult class was life changing.
All the members in this class had been in the church 20 years or more. We were all in leadership, and we were all looking for a deep study. I was quite flattered to be asked to lead the study, and had determined that I'd make sure we all understood every verse before going on to the next one. I keep trying to remember who's bright idea it was that we study Romans.
I've looked back through my Romans teaching notes to help me remember a little about my mindset at that time. The introductory lesson explains how Martin Luther just didn't 'get it' when he talked about salvation by faith alone, if that gives you any idea about the arrogance and error of the early lessons. All that changes when we hit Romans 4.
I remember reading that chapter in order to prepare for the lesson, and seeing for the first time (or at least, REALLY seeing for the first time) Romans 4:4+5 "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man that does not work, but trusts God who justifies the unrighteous, his faith is counted as godliness."
These verses are impossible to explain according to CofC theology. Trust me, I've TRIED. The CofC teaches that saving faith = obedience and trust. We are saved by faith, according to this teaching, but not until we obey. Continued obedience is required to continue in a state of grace. Someone obviously didn't explain this to Paul, who said that God justifies the UNRIGHTEOUS, not the obedient. He says it twice in this verse...the one who does NOT work, and the UNRIGHTEOUS are the ones who receive salvation.
I didn't just read this, drop everything and find a new church. I looked up the verses in every CofC commentary I could find. I took the verses to my Elder and asked for an explanation, then to the evangelist. Although there were many theories about it, no one had an answer that satisfied me. After weeks of struggle, I decided to ignore that section and admit defeat...but God kept that verse in front of me constantly. It seemed my Bible fell open to that section when ever I picked it up. Romans 4 kept coming up in sermons, on the radio, and in my lessons plans. There for a while I'd even wake up in the night...and there it would be in my head. I really began to hate Romans 4.
I still had lessons to prepare while this struggle was going on, and it did go on for months. I gradually became more and more uncomfortable in my teaching positions, as I grew to believe that more and more of our doctrine was in error as I taught through Romans.
For example, the CofC doesn't teach inherited sin, so Romans 5 was quite difficult to understand. Romans 9 taught us about God's sovereignty in choosing, Romans 10 told us about the error of those whose zeal was not based in knowledge. It was truly miserable to be the teacher. Again, I was in constant contact with the Elders through the whole process. At the same time they asked me not to teach any doctrine that disagreed with their position, they urged me not to disobey my conscience in teaching what I didn't believe. Their advice was to "teach around" any points of doctrine that were a problem. I had to eventually quit teaching Adults for conscience sake, but it never entered any of our minds that I would someday leave the church. The Elders grounded me from the Epistles and urged me to take a break from study and concentrate on relationships, instead. We all thought what I needed was a break and a fresh perspective.
Understanding error was the negative side of the process of leaving the CofC. For several months I was stuck out-of-step with the rest of the congregation...not believing as they did, but not having a good idea what correct theology was, either. God did not leave me there.
About this time last year, I was searching the Internet for an answer to one of the children's questions about the resurrection. I stumbled on to an apologetics site that had a chat room. Thinking that I'd just ask the question on-line, I joined the room. I never did get that question answered, but I was able to eavesdrop on folks who explained doctrine and talked about the Bible in ways I had never heard before. I was immediately fascinated and ordered some of Dr. James White's books about the doctrines of Grace.
It was like a light suddenly came on - all I had read about the Doctrines of Grace 'clicked' . I was going to have to leave the CofC. I wish I could tell you I rejoiced to know the truth. Actually, I threw up for days. I did not want to leave my church, but to stay would have been direct disobedience. I'm ashamed to tell you I considered staying anyway.
I've been trying to think of an analogy to help you understand how this felt. Try to imagine waking up tomorrow and having God clearly show you that the RCC was really correct after all. If your imagination can suspend disbelief long enough to picture what that might feel like, and the ramifications to your family, how you'd have to relearn doctrine, what prejudices would have to be overcome, you might get a glimpse of what I was going through.
The first week in July 1998, I turned in my church key to the evangelist at the CofC. We cried together that things had come to this point, but he let me go with his blessing. The Elders met, and decided to let me go "see what the world had to offer" fully sure I would return to them, like the prodigal.
This would be a much better story if I had been an Abraham, but I confess I was more of a Jonah. I was reluctantly obedient in leaving the CofC. My heart stayed there for some time, even though physically I was in my new church.
They also had some trouble letting go.
We will always be grateful for the welcome we received from the congregation of the new church those first few Sundays. My youngest son and I were so frightened that first Sunday! I think we both cried that morning. He has been the real hero, being obedient and cheerful about the changes when he didn't understand all the reasons for them. He misses his friends, but doesn't complain.
I'm also very grateful for the opportunities you've given us to learn. Leaving the CofC has opened up a whole world of Christian literature that was forbidden to us. My youngest son and I are learning the [Heidelberg] Catechism together, and even my older son is participating. We're ready, now, I think, to forget what lies behind and look ahead, and I'm grateful for the opportunity.