Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reader Testimonies -- Ray

We're taking a break from polemics for a real treat. Here is a true story from a new friend of ours here at ABD, who is going by the name of "Ray." He wants to share his story with you in the hopes that you will find something to relate to, that you might be strengthened and come to share in his hope in the love of Jesus Christ. This testimony is one about overcoming the pains of the past, walking forward in faith through uncertainty, and finding your eternal home in the New Covenant.

How often do we get to do this? I'm rather excited about it. When we can we would like to share the stories of the people we have met who have stepped into the New Covenant. We've already shared our own stories, which you will find links to on the Categories page. Hopefully someone out there will be able to relate, and will find strength and peace in these experiences.
Thanks for sharing with us, Ray!

My Conversion (for real)

I have posted on other blog sites such as Facebook and ExitSupportNetwork (who has since deleted anything I've posted) my story of how I journeyed through Armstrongism into saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Mine is a story of years of my childhood going from obeying the "law" because it was the law of the house, to trying to prove myself before God, to total surrender. Here's how it went for me.

As I stated elsewhere, after having been baptized as a baby in the Catholic church and receiving my first communion in the second grade, and attending CCD classes up to that time, life was fairly normal for a young boy from a French-Catholic family from New England. Prayers were recited at the family altar weekly and nightly I remember saying the "Our Father" (Lord's Prayer) and the "Hail Mary" in French yet! I didn't even know what it meant in English! But I did it.

But then one day in 1971 it was announced that we would be soon entering a different church, the "one true church" without which there would be no hope. We would have to drive an hour away to get to this church every week as opposed to our Catholic parish that was within walking distance of our house. I was told birthdays and just about all holidays would never again be celebrated in our house. We would have to alter our diets to exclude certain meats that had been family favorites. We would also be required to strictly observe Saturday as the day of worship and attend annual feast days and the TV would be shut off at sunset every Friday. (that one hurt) But on the bright side, I would no longer be going for my every other week allergy shots that I hated getting from that nasty pediatrician. These became the regular practices but not without some "minor things" that would happen.

Weekly sabbath gatherings with the brethren became all out drinking parties laden with the worst gossip about other "church members" that I have not seen rivaled to this day. My mother and brother came close to death from lack of medical treatment. And I even contemplated suicide for some time during at age 11. Beatings from my father were severe, and necessities like food and clothing became scarce at times because of the "triple tithe" system. I also was dragged two hours away from home to holy day services with a raging fever more than once. And unfortunately, this was all too common with "child survivors" like myself.

But alas, one fateful sabbath in 1976 (I was 12) a strange thing happened, on our drive home from "services" Dad was infuriated by what came out of the pulpit. It seemed the minister had declared himself the ultimate authority and told the congregation if they didn't like what he said "there's the door, and if one's not big enough, use both!" It was all downhill from there. My folks started to read the Bible on their own and made many startling discoveries that many reading this already have as well. At first I wasn't sure what to make of all of it. Our last year in the WCG was curious to say the least. That summer, Dad had announced that the upcoming feast would be our last. I was actually crushed because that was the only traveling we ever did at that point. But that last feast was by far the best ever. We only attended 5 of the 13 mandatory services. We did some traveling and took a drive down from the Poconos to the Dutch country and did some sightseeing and even went to "Chocolate World" in Hershey. We still have the home movies from that event now on DVD! Although I was still concerned about traveling coming to an end with the feasts, but when Dad quit tithing that summer, he celebrated by taking us to an amusement park, first time since we had entered the WCG. What fun that was. But I was still nervous. Although I knew things were going from bad to worse with Dad's relationship with the church, the friends that I had there were the only friends I really had. If we left, then what? Another church was never an option when leaving was speculated. So I was enjoying doing some breathing again, but was somewhat nervous about what the future held. Maybe I can post some stories in the future about how my folks kept getting into trouble that last year by speaking their minds! Some stories are quite humorous. We actually left right after "unleavened bread", even though we didn't observe it. We did attend the first sabbath service on the last day but didn't return for the second. (it was one of those first and last day falling on Saturday deals)

When we left in 1977, we joined a newly formed "offshoot group" with other disgruntled members from our congregation that had also left a couple months earlier. When they formed this group a before we actually left, I wanted us to join them as well. I had known most of the people there since day one, and most of them had kids my age, even though, they were all girls. This newly formed group claimed to have rejected Armstrongism, claiming to believe in grace. But in reality, they kept much of the WCG teachings in tact minus the holy days, the triple tithe, and British-Israelism. Our leader wanted the group to join the Church of God Seventh Day, but was voted down. He did purchase new hymnals from them for our group and that started me on a love for Protestant hymns.

But a couple real turning points happened that following year in the offshoot. The first for me was when Dad brought a book in the house that changed my life. It was Dr. Walter Martin's "Kingdom of the Cults". I started reading some of the book. I was intrigued. Although I thought at the time his arguments for the Trinity and the hereafter were unconvincing, I was able to focus on salvation by grace and what that meant. Another turning point was that year in my freshman year of high school. I took a Western Civilization class. In the spring we arrived at the topic of the Reformation and the story of Martin Luther. I then learned that much of what the reformers originally taught was very much based on scripture and that the Protestant churches were not necessarily "satanic counterfeits" that they were still being categorized as by members of our offshoot.

This all absolutely intrigued me, and it all got me studying the Bible. Dad had just given me a "Good News" Bible of my own, so I began really searching. My search was two-fold, first to understand the way of salvation, second to get back at WCG. It gave me great pleasure to prove them wrong. As time went on while still in the offshoot group, I changed my mind about the Trinity (of which I was ahead of my parents on that one), the existence of an eternal soul, and about the sabbath (again I beat my folks on that one). We had returned to eating whatever we liked and celebrating as many holidays as we liked, even though most in the offshoot looked down on us for doing so. I also was praying regularly. The offshoot by this time, a couple years later, was fizzling fast. So instead, I was l trying to get my "doctrine" correct and focusing on that. But something was missing, what could it have been?

I then realized, of course, I had to go to church! A real church, on Sunday, like everybody else! That would do it. Eventually we tried a non-denominational church about 10 minutes away, and at first I loved it. But alas, the love affair was short-lived. The emptiness and uncertainty returned. "What am I doing wrong???" I would look up and shout. I was ready to forget the whole thing at that point.

But at that time, I started hearing something I had never heard before. I continued to read Christian magazines that Dad had subscribed to (Moody Monthly, and Christianity Today) and listened to Christian radio and watched Billy Graham crusades and the 700 Club. I began hearing about "accepting Jesus into your heart", asking Him into your life, surrendering to Him. I thought, "what, are they crazy?" and "it couldn't be THAT easy!". I wrestled with this for months until one day I was riding my bike through town and the thought finally set into me that if I were to die that night, I wasn't sure if I would go to heaven or not! That hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to prove myself, and if this accepting Jesus in didn't work, then what???

But finally one night at my bedside, I finally gave in. Instead of my normal prayers of a list of petitions, I asked Jesus into my heart and life. Nothing dramatic happened, I crawled into bed and went to sleep. But as the weeks went on, I noticed something different, a peace that I had not had before, a sense of a presence that had been missing previously. I felt joy, and I didn't really know what was happening to me. It took a few weeks for me to really grasp what was happening because during that time I had stopped going to the church I had went to previously with my parents (not the offshoot, the one afterwards) and had started attending a fairly liberal church, that didn't preach much of anything. But I realized what happened when I came across John 5:24 and read that he who believes (present tense) has passed (past tense) from death to life. I then realized what happened, I had been granted eternal life by the Lord Jesus Christ Who died in my place. I later found a gospel-preaching church that nourished me in my very young walk with the Lord.

That was 30 years ago. I have since experienced college, many friends, marriage, parenthood, unemployment, family struggles, church boards, you name it! But in all the good and the bad, Jesus has never left me. Oh, there have been times where it seemed He wasn't, but I later found out, He was closer than I could have even imagined.

I hope my story has been a help to someone reading this. I hope this helps anyone on the fence who has been burned by Armstrongism. There is a God! He loves all of us and desires each one of us in His Kingdom which is now by faith in the future by sight. Don't let a false teacher hinder you from Christ's love for you.

Awesome testimony, Ray. This truly demonstrates that justification is a journey, doesn't it? Thank you!

1 comment:

The Mysterious Writer said...

I can so relate to your testimony, Ray. You are a great encouragment to me. I read the whole thing to my husband. He understand, I've told him a lot about our life in WWCG. He did a lot of research on Armstrong. Also, he bought the book, Kingdom of the Cults, shared information with me. That was a great testimony. Thank you for sharing.