I'm sure it had to have begun much earlier, but this was certainly a defining moment in my spiritual journey. I know I heard him correctly, for the way this large man bellowed, no one could have missed it. His frankness in asserting that this was his "fifth time getting saved" left me dumbstruck.
His hair still dripping from his recent baptism, he confided that he "liked to do it every once in a while to keep things right with the Big Man". That same feeling I get when someone drinks a diet soda with a Quarter Pounder and fries, or follows a Vitamin C tablet with a drag on their cigarette...that same, "That. Just. Isn't...enough..." feeling smothered me. A choking desire to scream and sob all at once left me speechless. Judging from the others around me all smiling, hugging and slapping the back of this poor fellow, I must have been the only one with misgivings about what I had just witnessed.
I knew I was not completely alone, though. Mr. Visionary and I had just the previous week been discussing his first experience officially going "soul winning". On a Saturday, he was paired up with an "experienced soul winner" and spent the first half of the day walking around an apartment complex trying to find folks with whom they could witness. The tally at the end of the day for this pair was one soul "won". After Mr. Visionary explained that the woman to whom they spoke was stone-cold drunk, and barely able to repeat the "sinners' prayer", I could not help but wonder...what about all the other thirty souls "won" that day? The soul winners who announced their totals the next day in the worship service all seemed proud enough, and the music and applause afterward were certainly booming. Yet, the nagging whisper did not go away. If the numbers of folks who had been "saved" through this congregation's efforts were so vast, where were the folks? Or better yet, assuming they could have gone somewhere else to church...the numbers cited were approximately ten percent of our large city's population...why hadn't the face of our entire city been changed? What was wrong with this picture?
Our background coming into this lesson was certainly one of believing that something was missing in the church, that there had to be something more to salvation than what we had always been told (and believed ourselves). It was a frequent occurrence that I would walk someone through the Roman Road, sweetly assuring them that all they had to do was believe. I would calm their fears, and settle their minds. When they asked, "Isn't there more to it? Don't I have to *do* something?". I would always say, "No, that's the beauty of His grace...all we have to do is believe." When later, the same person was living like hell again, with no recognizable difference in their life, I would be sad and frustrated and think, "I know I said all they had to do was believe...but...but..."
A major truth that Mr. Visionary and I had to accept was that no true doctrine can lose anything by closer inspection. Inside, outside, upside down...the truth is the truth is the truth...and our tearing it apart to make sure it is true could only lead to two outcomes. Either we would discover that it was wholly or partially false, or we would be that much more firmly grounded in why it is true. "...Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" 1Peter 3:15b. There are no other options, and we could not lose.
We can fully relate to Kirk Cameron's testimony. He tells that he first got saved with the Jesus-loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life spiel. It wasn't until much later that he heard the bad news that he had transgressed the holy standard of a holy God, and experienced true repentance. Since this was our story as well, we have for several years only preached the good news with the bad, to our children and those we come into contact with. But even with the Bad-News-First plan (Here's the law...see, you broke it...but here's what God has done to fix it), there was still something missing. We were determined to dig until we found it. Even if it meant that our neatly boxed paradigms were shattered once and for all. We were willing to take that chance to find the truth. Having already worked through the Demolishing Strongholds materials, and both of us having prayed earnestly that Father would remove from us any spirit of deceit...that we would see only His truth...and nothing else...we were ready to begin.
This lesson was pivotal in our journey to understanding the true gospel. What in the world did the Old Testament have to do with the gospel? What exactly was this gospel that the Early Church preached? I'm sure we had no idea...but we were going to find out. I was fully and forcefully convicted, however, that I could not keep saying that I believed the Bible was God's Word, that it was infallible, and utterly sufficient for all of life if I was to continue treating the Old Testament the way I had. The truth is, it had been good for stories for the children, for debunking the theory of Evolution, for pulling out a few gems for parenting, and for my self-righteous Reading-Through-In-A-Year plan, but I mostly ignored it as irrelevant. I had to repent, and in the changing of my ways, my Father has once again showed unending mercy toward me, by teaching me what it was I had been missing.
My prayer is that this would be your testimony as well.
Here is the link for Lesson Six.
(Please note that this was a post in a series from a study we are working through on Restoring The Early Church. You are welcome to join us at any time! Please start at Lesson One, which is HERE.)