About Jesus - Steve (Stephen) Sweetman

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My Journey
Through The
 Ecclesiastical Maze

 

 

 

   

Contents

 

Dedication


Preface

 

1 – Coming Into The World

 

2  – What Does Ecclesiastical Means?

 

3  – The Holiness Movement

 

4  – We Move To The Free Methodist Church

 

5  – Jesus Meets Us In The Basement

 

6  – Sunday Morning Meetings

 

7  – Youth Group

 

8  – Coming Of Age

 

9  - Gospel To Get

 

10 - The Sovereignty Of God

 

11 - Baptism In The Spirit And Tongues

 

12 - The House Of The Lord

 

13 - The Segregated Church  

14 - The Community Of Christ

 

15 - Koinonia

 

16 - The Horizontal And The Vertical

 

17 - Introduction To Cults

 

18 - Healing Divides The Maze

 

19 - The Jesus People Movement

 

20 - My Last Big Purchase

 

21 - Demons Divide The Maze

 

22 - The Shepherding Movement

 

23 - Submission And Authority

 

24 - Obey Or Move On

 

25 - Let's Make A Covenant

 

26 - The Conservative Christian Right

 

27 - The Legalization Of Church   

 

28 - All Meetinged Out

 

29 - Friendships In The Midst Of  Disaster

 

30 - I'm From Eastern Canada

 

31 - Super Apostles

 

32 - Distinctives That Divide

 

33 - Three Strikes And You're Out

 

34 - Home Groups

 

35 - A New Start

 

Other Books I Have Written  

 

Contact Information

 

 

 

 

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.  www.zondervan.com 

The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

I dedicate this book to the very first pastor I knew in my life, and that is, Miss. Edith Mainprize.  She was instrumental in me being healed of Juvenile Diabetes at the age of six, as you will read in the following pages.  In words that seem to be from a long lost world, she was a dear soul.  She was a beloved woman pastor that we all loved.  You could count on her visiting us in our home from time to time, because, that was what pastors did back in the 1950's.  Yes, things have changed in the ecclesiastical maze, but my memories of Edith Mainprize, certainly have not changed.          

 

 

 

 

Preface

 

The following is a brief, but accurate portrayal of my life in relation to church.  I don't doubt for a minute that our life's experiences affect what we believe and how we live.  I've seen this to be true throughout the years.  For me, since 1970, I've attempted to allow Jesus and the Bible to direct my thinking and influence all that I do.  In this process comes the conflict between the traditions of men and the truths of Scripture.  So, this is my story - the search for truth in the midst of the tradition found within the ecclesiastical maze.   

 

This account could also be seen as a brief historical account of parts of the modern-day church in North America since 1950.  I will comment on my experiences during the last seventy years, and along the way, use them to teach what I understand to be the Biblical truth associated with these experiences. 

 

The following pages have not been edited by any external source, so I admit from the beginning, you will most likely find some grammar and spelling errors.  Hopefully they will not disturb you to the degree that it hinders you from reading this book.  Being, legally blind does not help me to be perfect in this endeavour.  I thank you in advance for reading this account of my life.         

      

 

 

1 - Coming Into This World

 

You may or may not recall it, but next to Ronald Reagan's "tear down this wall" statement, the words "I don’t recall" were some of his most famous words spoken during his presidency, especially during the Iran-Contra hearings.  So, I borrow his words when I say that "I don’t recall it," but I'm told that I came into this world on December 4th 1951, in Belleville , Ontario , Canada .  I can only imagine poking my head out of the darken waters into the dry light of light of day.  Okay, maybe I can't imagine that.  Prior to that precise moment I would have only heard strange noises from without, echoing through an ocean that swirled around my immature, but living body.  I wouldn't have had a clue what those sounds meant.  Some of my friends tell me that things haven't changed much for me in that respect.  I'm still as clueless as ever. Thanks a lot Tim and Robert for those comments.  

 

Little did I or anyone know at the time that within a couple of years of my entrance into this time space environment two major physical problems would be detected in my young life.  One of these deficiencies would produce fear in my parents that eventually led to much joy and my father's salvation. 

One problem was noticed when I was about two years old, and believe it or not, I do actually recall the incident.  It was the very first thing I can remember in my, now, almost seventy year life.  My mother dropped a penny on the carpet of similar colour to the penny.  She asked me to pick it up and when I fumbled around she got somewhat irritated with me.  I was unable to see the penny against the penny- coloured carpet.  There was not sufficient contrast between the penny and the carpet for me to see it properly. 

 

My mom's friend suggested that I should see an eye doctor who consequently diagnosed me as being legally blind.  In Canada that means I have less, and for me, much less, than four percent vision in both eyes with the assistance of corrective lenses.           

 

I grew up in a time where our neighbour really did have a white picket fence, and women did not ware dresses above their knees, and next to never wore slacks.  That would have been a sin.  My mother never wore "men's clothes" as she put it until she had suffered a very bad stroke at the age of 75.  Women dressing like men were sinful according to Deuteronomy 22:5, which was one of six hundred and thirteen rules found in the Law of Moses that my mom was taught to obey.  Of course, she had no ability to obey all those laws.  If I had been smart at the age of two I could have asked our pastor why the church didn't promote all six hundred and thirteen rules.  How did our church decide which laws to obey and which to ignore?  As Christians we often fail to properly understand how to interpret the Old Testament law as New Testament Christians, but maybe that was the light of truth my mom's church had at the time.      

 

I recall seeing toy tiger tails flying out of car gas tank doors back in the 1950's.  My dad got his tiger tail with the purchase of twenty-five cent a gallon gas back then.  Can you believe that?  Of course, his income was not as high as it would be today. 

 

I watched the Flintstone's on a black and white TV, and listened to hockey games on a little six transistor radio.  What I could have done with a computer and internet back then in 1966.  My parents rented a two bedroom house for a grand sum of $45.00 a month in the 1950’s.  So, when I say it was an entirely different world back then, it really was.    

 

My dad wasn't a Christian in the early 1950's.  His love was trains and country music, which kind of go together, don’t you think?  Dad worked for the Canadian National Railroad and played steel guitar in a country band in the late 1940's.  The band had its own radio show and they played at various dances in our area, something my mom detested since that was considered worldly, and worldly meant sinful.  I guess I got my guitar- playing genetic make-up from my dad, although he had more raw talent than me.  I really believe he could have made it to Nashville if guitars weren't so sinful back then.  I can’t quite figure out why the church thought guitars were bad when King David said that we should praise God with stringed instruments.  See Psalms 150:4.  Why could David play a stringed instrument and my dad couldn't?  That's something that was never answered to my satisfaction. 

 

Just to let you know, it took a few years but the church did come around to sanctifying the guitar and my dad did finally get to play his guitar in church.  Proper exegesis of Scripture should always be a priority for us, but it's often not.               

 

My mother was a Christian in the tradition of what was called "the Holiness Movement."  This tradition equates being holy with following certain rules, and by the way, the word "holy" in relation to God first means "to be set apart solely for Jesus."  It only has a moral significance once one has first been set apart to serve God.  Some of the rules we needed to comply with could be found in the Bible while others were made up by the church.  If you weren't knowledgeable, you would have thought that all these rules we had to obey came directly from God.  That's just the way they were taught to people like my mom.  So, my mom couldn't wear slacks, and my dad couldn't play his guitar along to a song that didn't have reference to God or Jesus in it.  This was the religious life in which I was born and raised.  The Holiness Movement was my introduction into what I now call "the Ecclesiastical Maze," and a maze it is.

 

A couple summers back, a little boy actually got lost in a large corn-field maze in our area. It took two whole scary days to find the little guy.  His parents were terrified.  My heart goes out to people like this little boy who get lost in our ecclesiastical maze, and many do get lost.  They really do.  Some never find their way out to safety.         

 

When I was young there were lots of things I wasn't allowed to do because they were considered sinful.  Other things I had to do in order to keep my salvation, like attend church meetings twice on Sundays, and do quiet and restful things Sunday afternoons.  Sunday was, for sure, the Christian Sabbath.  My mom and dad usually slept Sunday afternoon.  That was a pretty quiet thing to do.  I never found out until later that Sunday really wasn't the Sabbath and that Christians weren't obligated to obey Sabbath rules found in the Law of Moses.  "Christ is the end of the Law" according to Romans 10:4.  I'm not sure why my Sunday school teacher never told us that the Sunday Sabbath rule was just a church tradition.  Maybe she didn't know that herself.  I wasted a lot of good Sunday afternoons figuring out how to do quiet and restful things while my mom and dad slept.  I suppose that just thinking could be considered restful as long as I didn't put any thoughts into any kind of physical actions. 

 

 

 

2 - What Does Ecclesiastical Means?

 

Our English word "ecclesiastical" comes directly from the Greek word "ekklesia," sometimes spelled "ecclesia."  This word means "a group of people who are called out of, and separated from a larger group of people for a specific purpose."  Ecclesia was used in a variety of ways in the first-century Greco-Roman world.  In Acts 21:35 it's used in reference to an unruly mob of people.  That sounds a bit like a maze to me.     

 

In Matthew 16:18 "ekklesia" is translated as "church" when Jesus said: "I will build my church."  I view our English translation of ekklesia as church to be misleading and unfortunate.  The word "church," as it's understood by most people today, and as it was understood when the King James Bible was written, does not properly represent or express Jesus’ understanding of ekklesia when He spoke these words.  Most of us today do not understand church as the New Testament understands church.   

 

To be precise, Jesus would not have spoken the above statement in Greek.  He would have spoken it in either Hebrew or Aramaic, two closely related languages.  He would have used the Hebrew word "synagoge."  To Jesus and His Jewish apostles listening to Him, synagoge meant the community of Jews who were in proper relationship with Yahweh and with each other.  Jesus was simply saying that He would create His own community of people, set apart in proper relationship with Himself and each other so they could implement His will on earth. 

 

Inherent in church as the New Testament understands church is community.  Community as it relates to church are people who both belong to Jesus and to each other, with the emphasis on the word "belong."  We are not simply talking about attending meetings or belonging to an organization we call church.         

 

Whether you use the word ecclesia, synagoge, or church, the emphasis must be on a community of people in proper relationship with Jesus and with each other.  Again, at the risk of repeating myself, the emphasis should not be on the hierarchical organizational structure we have today that resembles a Fortune Five Hundred Company.  For this reason, I prefer ekklesia in the New Testament to be translated as the "community of Christ" instead of church.  

 

Church is the community of people in right relationship, and belonging too, Jesus and each other, who, have been called out of the world to serve Jesus in the process of implementing His will and plans on earth.  This is how I use the word "church" throughout this book.       

 

 

 

 

 

3 - The Holiness Movement

 

At least twice a week my mom would take my sister and brother to church.  In the strict sense of the word, Christians can't go to church because they are the church.  How can you go to a place when you are that place?  So you think I'm splitting theological hairs?  Words do matter, and in this case, they really do matter. 

 

Jesus, in Matthew 12:34 said that our lips speak what's in our hearts.  So, if you claim to go to church, I believe you think church is a place you can go to, like a building, or a meeting in a building.  If you say that you are going to gather with those to whom Jesus has called you alongside, well, that would be a much better way of saying it.  If that is what you mean when you say you are going to church, then I have no problem with that.  I simply suggest that we accurately say what we believe.  That's all to my point.        

 

Every Sunday Sabbath, which I remind you, is not a Biblical Sabbath; we would head off to the House of God, as it was called back then.  Again, nowhere in the New Testament is a building called the House of God.  In Act 7:48, Stephen actually said that God does not live in buildings made by men.  Paul, in Acts 17:24 said the same thing.  Anyway, the building these Holiness Movement people gathered in was a simple unimpressive wooden structure, nothing like the impressively massive stone, century old, cathedral with a tall steeple across the street. 

 

As a child I shared a bedroom with my brother.  I always wanted my own bedroom, so, it was only natural for me to think that God would prefer the big stone building across the street over our simple little wooden building.  There was, however, one thing we had that those in the big liberal church didn't have in their building, and that was a sand box for us kids to play in, and I certainly liked that.  

 

It was obvious to everyone that my dad was not a Christian because he didn’t go to church.  It was also obvious because he smoked.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently good about smoking, but the Bible doesn't damn a person to the Lake of Fire because he smokes, although you would never know that from what I heard as a child.  A person ends up in the eternal fire because he has rejected Jesus, the One who could have rescued him from that fate.  One Sunday school teacher actually told us that a person couldn't be a Christian if he smoked.  My dad, then, had no chance of making heaven.  He was doomed before he ever attempted the journey upward.  According to the Sunday school teacher's logic, one is saved if he has faith in God's grace, and, does not smoke.  The addition of the no-smoking rule would make Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross insufficient for our salvation.  We would have to help Him out by adding our do-not-smoke rule, that is, get saved by faith and do not smoke and you will end up in heaven.  Telling Jesus that His death wasn't good enough didn't sound very nice to me, even at an early age.  Telling Jesus that we need to add a few things to His historic sacrifice sounded unbiblical, because in fact, it is unbiblical.  

 

My mom gathered with those who were called "Holiness Movement people."  Each little ecclesiastical cluster of people has their own specific names that characterize them.  These people were unsophisticated, and in many cases, unsophisticated by choice.  It was a theological position they held close to their hearts, and I don't criticize them for that, but, they did take this a bit far, at least in a legalistic sense.  Men didn't wear ties because ties were deemed to be worldly, and worldly meant sinful, and sinful meant no heaven and no salvation.  I don't think a tie is sinful, but not wearing a tie is fine with me.  I don't like the things.  The poor old liberal men across the street choked themselves with their ties tied tightly around their necks.  I guess that was some kind of status symbol for them.  Okay, I agree.  Some people dressed up in what they called their "Sunday best" because deep in their hearts, they wanted to dress the best for Jesus.  If they were dressing that way out of love for Jesus and not for legalistic purposes, I have no problem with that either.    

 

Holiness people couldn't wear rings.  That presented a problem for my sister years later when she asked our Holiness Movement Minister uncle to perform her wedding ceremony.  He declined because of the ring on her finger.  Her fiancé asked his Catholic priest to perform the ceremony but he declined because my sister wasn't Catholic.  Such is life in the ecclesiastical maze.  My Evangelical Anglican minister friend graciously performed their wedding.         

 

Paul told women in 1 Timothy 2:9 not to wear jewellery, which was the reason why Holiness women couldn't ware jewellery.  Paul didn't want women to wear jewellery back then because prostitutes wore jewellery to help lure their male clients.  That's not exactly the case today.  Paul's point is simple. Women were not to dress like a prostitute.  A little lesson in history goes a long way in understanding the Bible.  It's one helpful hermeneutical hint that we all need to take seriously.         

 

For the same reason stated above, in 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul told women not to braid their hair.  In 1 Corinthians 11: 3 through 16 Paul encouraged women to have long hair.  I could never figure this one out.  Holiness women did have long hair as Paul suggested, but, they braided their hair; put it in a bun on top of their heads, defeating the purpose for long hair.  A little clump of hair on the top of one's head does not look like long hair to me. 

 

Years later, in 1971 I met up with a Holiness Movement man, who, because I had long hair immediately thought I was a sinner in need of salvation.  Instead of preaching Jesus to me, he scolded me for the sin of long hair.  He said, "Somewhere in the Bible it says that a man should not have long hair."  The poor old guy didn't know that passage he was attempting to quote to prove his point, so I told him.  "It's found in 1 Corinthians 11:14," I said.  In embarrassment, the Holiness Movement man just walked away. 

 

Paul did not say it was a sin for a man to have long hair in 1 Corinthians 11:14.  He said that it was a shame for men to have long hair, which by the way, would have been the cultural understanding of Corinthian men back then.  Paul's point to men wearing long hair was not a mandated statement of Biblical truth.  He was simply making a cultural issue to help explain his point concerning leadership roles within the Godhead, culture, and marriage.  That's it.

      

That's a brief glance at the Holiness Movement where I began my journey through the ecclesiastical maze. This particular denomination was called the "Standard Church of Canada."  I have no doubt that those people were sincere, something I believe is lacking in many Evangelical Christians today.  I have no doubt that they were saved.  I just question the emphasis on staying saved by following man made rules.  It's not New Testament teaching, and I believe it is very dangerous.  A surface reading of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians makes it perfectly clear; salvation apart from genuine faith along with the Holy Spirit's entrance into one's life saves no one.  It is pure human effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 - We Move To The Free Methodist Church

 

I will carry on with my story, but I'd like to explain something first.  If you think that pointing out negatives in our churches isn't constructive, I'd suggest you consider how negative God was when He spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament.  Yahweh said some pretty negative, and much needed, stuff to His church, Israel ,   

 

If you were a Jew and if you took God's words to heart, you would feel pretty bad, which was God's intention.  He wanted those bad feelings to cause you to genuinely repent and get back on track. 

 

In 2 Corinthians 7:8 through 10 the Apostle Paul said: "If I brought you sorrow … I am glad … because your sorrow led you to repentance … as God intended."  Godly sorrow produces godly repentance that leads to genuine salvation.  It is clear to me that God does speak negatively at times, causing us sorrow that should lead us to repentance.  Jesus was negative at times too.  Just ask any Pharisee and he will tell you that. 

 

The Apostle Peter said that it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.  See 1 Peter 4:17.  I realize there is debate over to whom Peter was writing.  Was he writing to Jewish believers or Christians in general?  Setting that aside, it's clear to me that God does discipline, and even judge, His people.  Just read the seven letters to the seven communities of Christ in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3 and you will see that to be true.  Of course, many of us don't think it's us that need discipline.  It's the liberals, or maybe the Baptists or the Pentecostals needing correction, but definitely not us.  The Biblical fact is that we all need to be disciplined from time to time.    

 

Paul told the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were really in the faith, as seen in 2 Corinthians 13:5.  If we can bring about change because of self examination, God's discipline will be less severe.  Such examination forces us to deal with our own personal negative human traits.

 

I don't write these words out of bitterness.  I have many fond memories as I think about my journey through the ecclesiastical maze, yet the truths of Scripture often conflict with our traditions and our personal experience.  Many don't feel this conflict because they don't take Biblical truth seriously.  Many don't take it seriously because they are Biblically illiterate.  

 

Now back to my story.  For some reason, which I do not know, my mom left the Standard Church to be a part of the Free Methodist Church that met in the basement of a house at the time.  I know why the word "Free" precedes the word "Methodist," and it's not because members didn't have to tithe.  It's because they didn't have to pay for their pews as was the practice with some other Methodist churches decades ago.  I wonder if the Apostle Paul ever thought about building pews and then renting them out.  Then, on the other hand, it might have been a good fund raiser for him as he collected money for the poor saints in Jerusalem .            

 

Talking about pews; I found myself jumping over some pews along with scores of others at a Kathryn Kuhlman meeting in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania , back in 1972.  After standing in line for seven hours the doors finally opened at 10 in the morning for a 2 in the afternoon meeting.  Hundreds of us pushed our way into the building, jumping over pews to get closer to Miss. Kuhlman while others were stretched out on pews in hopes of saving a spot for a friend.  Now that's laying down your life for your brother, especially when it was me jumping over pews.  I jumped over one very heavy-set woman.  If she had lifted her head while I was jumping over her, I would have kicked it off her shoulders as if it was a football.  She would surely need healing then.  I suppose I could rationalize my behaviour by saying I was jumping pews in the Spirit, or, I was jumping by faith, but I can't bring myself to say that.  I was only twenty one years old and caught up in the mob mentality of the moment.    

 

In the basement of a house my mom's Free Methodist friends built a little platform about six inches off the floor and covered it with a dark red carpet.  Along the edge of the platform was a railing that they used as an altar.  As a child I recall the word "altar" from Bible stories.  It was a place where animals were burned as a sacrifice to God.  I don't recall any burning animals on this altar.  A pulpit was placed on the platform behind which our pastor would preach.  I soon learned that a platform, an altar, and a pulpit, were a necessity in order to be considered a valid church.  I'll keep looking, but I have yet to find supporting Scripture for that one.  To be honest, I've already looked.  There is no New Testament support for that one.  All that being said about an altar, an altar did become extremely important in my life, my dad's life, and really, the life of both my biological family and our church family. I'll talk about that next.          

 

 

 

5 - Jesus Meets Us In The Basement

 

When my mother married my father he wasn't a Christian.  I don't know why a Christian would marry a non-Christian, or maybe I do know why.  Sometimes hormones usurp our better Biblical judgment, or, there may be other reasons.  Still, it's not a good idea.  Whatever the case, my mom became "unequally yoked" as her King James Bible put it, with my non-believing dad. 

 

The Apostle Paul told us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 6:14.  One of my Sunday school teachers interpreted Paul's statement to mean that a white man could never marry a black woman.  That didn't sound right to me back then and it certainly doesn't sound right to me today.  Paul was speaking specifically of not being united with unbelievers, not those of a different ethnicity.  Examples of being unequally yoked would be in a marriage relationship or a business relationship.  No wonder James 3:1 tells us that there shouldn't be many teachers among us.       

 

I was the second child born from the union of my mother and father.  Early in my life I could be seen eating tons of sweets and drinking an abnormal amount of water.  I used to take cookies to bed with me so I could snack on them during the night.  If I drank as much water today as I did back then, I'd either require a catheter or spend most of the day in the bathroom. 

 

These abnormities suggested that there was something seriously wrong with me, and there was.  At the age of age of five years old, the doctors at Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto , Canada , confirmed I suffered from a severe case of Juvenile Diabetes.  At one point I'm told that I was in next to a coma-like state.  My parents must have been saddened to see their little five year old boy so sick.        

 

I can recall staying at Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto .  I remember the sickening sweet taste of glucose they forced down my throat.  I recall blood being taken from my thumbs, the kids play-room, and looking out the window from high above to the street below.   

 

My life would have ended at an early age if not for Jesus visiting us in the basement of the house where my mom's Free Methodist church friends gathered each Sunday morning.  I vividly recall that day.  My mom ordered, and ordered is the word, my dad to be there.  My dad complied.  So, after the sermon, I was asked to kneel at the little altar I previously told you about.  Our lady pastor, Miss Main prize, anointed me with oil and laid her hand on my head as it says in James 5:14.  Another lady then cried out to the Lord for my healing.  I mean she literally cried.  It was an emotional prayer, straight from her heart.  She told me later in life that she had always had a special burden for me.  For the record, I recall that morning quite vividly.       

 

I didn't feel any kind of special sensation
at the altar.  There was no visible answer to the prayers that morning, but over lunch my mom noticed I had not touched my glass of water, which was very unusual.  As a matter of fact, I did not drink any water all afternoon.  This part was told me years later by my older brother who recalls that Sunday afternoon.    

 

"He hasn't drunk any water," mom exclaimed to my dad.  "Jesus healed Stevie," she insisted.

 

My dad, with probably some skepticism, said that if Stevie is really healed the doctors at Sick Children's Hospital would confirm it.  So, once again, we boarded a train and headed back to Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto .  Dad had a railroad pass for the trains since he worked on the railroad.  It was a free trip.           

 

The Toronto doctors were totally amazed.  After a thorough examination they could find no trace of Juvenile Diabetes within me.  They admitted that a miracle had indeed taken place.  They just didn't attribute it to Jesus, but that's okay.  We all knew, including my dad, who made me better.  My parent's fear turned to exceeding great joy, but best of all, my dad gave his life to the Lord Jesus Christ.  This miracle certainly had eternal implications.    

Meeting Jesus in a basement of a house is what I call church.  Can you believe that?  Well, I certainly can.  That's my kind of church. 

 

I met up with this precious lady pastor who laid her hands on me about forty five years later.  She told me that the time spend in that basement were precious days.  Her face lit up as she spoke of my healing, but her joyous expression faded as she told me how things changed after the church building was built.  Fund raising, the building projects, and the maintenance of the building, seemed to drain some of the life out of the people.  These words from a traditionalist, but a dear soul, spoke volumes to me.

 

We left the sand-box in the Standard Church for an altar of healing in the Free Methodist Church that gathered in a basement of a house.  A sand-box for an altar of healing wasn't a bad exchange, don't you think? 

It seems to me that ever since the Tower of Babel , humanity, including Christians, like building projects.  That reminds me of what Peter told Jesus after he saw Him talking with Elijah and Moses on the Mountain of Transfiguration .  In typical human fashion he said: "Let us build three monuments to remember the occasion."  That's my paraphrase of Matthew 17:4.    

 

 

 

 

6 - The Sunday Morning Meeting

 

As I have traveled my way through the ecclesiastical maze I estimate that I've attended more than thirteen thousand, yes, that's 13,000, church meetings since my birth in 1951.  I've certainly embraced the admonition of Hebrews 10:25 to not forsake assembling with the saints.  That being said, nowhere in this verse or in the Bible does it tell Christians when or where to meet together.  As a matter of fact, if you understand the Greek text of Hebrews 10:25 and the Hebrew word that has been inserted into it that is translated as "gather together" in English, you will realize that this verse tells us to not forsake those to whom Jesus has called you alongside in His community of people.  This verse has little to do with attending meetings and everything to do with not forsaking those you have been called along side in church. 

 

1 Corinthians 14, however, does tell us what to do when we meet, something much of the western church seems to ignore.  It's thus clear to me that which we call church in the West majors on what the Bible doesn't say about church instead of majoring on what it does say about church. 

 

In the process of replacing Biblical truth with tradition we have Christianized the Jewish Sabbath by moving it to Sunday, and just for the record, nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to meet on Sunday.  Nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that Christians have a Sabbath they must keep.  A study of the book of Hebrews, especially chapter 4, defines what the New Testament Sabbath is all about, and it's not about a certain special day.  It's about our salvation as being a life of a Sabbath rest. 

 

One result of our shift in thinking about the Sabbath is the prominence of the Sunday morning meeting and especially the sermon. 

Back in 1978 I preached one of these Sunday sermons to a Pentecostal congregation.  I asked them if they had no regularly scheduled meetings and no building to gather in, would they still be a church.  In traditional Sunday sermon fashion, I gave no opportunity for a response.  I've since learned that a good hermeneutical based Bible study around a kitchen table is a more effective way to educate the saints in Biblical truth.

 

A sermon provides no dialogue, no chance to ask a question, and no opportunity to challenge what's being taught.  However, these things can take place when a preacher steps away from the pulpit to build relationships with those he is supposed to be caring for.  When the preacher humbles himself and serves God's people in this capacity he can effectively help implement the truth of Scripture in the lives of the believers.  It's called discipleship.  By the way, the preacher will certainly need help in this matter.  He certainly cannot do it all alone. This may be a little messy at times, and it's harder to do than simply preaching, but if that's the route Jesus chose to walk, it should be the route we choose to walk.  Yes, Jesus did teach the masses, but He didn't commission the masses to go into the world as His representatives.  That job was given to the disciples who He spent countless, and I'm sure frustrating, hours, working out God's will in their lives.     

 

This brings me to the Greek word “euangelizo” that's translated as "preach" in the New Testament.  This word simply means "to proclaim or speak."  It's thus a mistake to understand preaching exclusively in terms of a sermon.  You can preach, that is speak, Biblical truth to anyone in any place and at any given time.  It can be on a street, in a coffee shop, or wherever.    

 

Of course, another reason for the Sunday service is the income a church derives from it.  Statistics show that if people don't give on a Sunday morning, they just don't give, and if they don't give, the administration of church affairs becomes a financial frustration.  

 

Scripturally speaking, church is not meetings and buildings.  Church is the living Body of Christ where one individual body part is personally joined in friendship to another as 1 Corinthians 12 teaches.  Each body part has a job to do on its own as well as a job to do with the body part to whom it's joined.  So, when we do gather, wherever or whenever that may be, we all participate as 1 Corinthians 14 teaches.  It's a pretty dysfunctional and disjointed body when only a hand and a foot do their job while the rest sit in pews watching.  I know many won't grasp the full implication of this because our western tradition has hijacked New Testament thinking concerning church, but that doesn't change the fact that church is the living Body of Christ with real live individual body parts joined to other body parts in the service of the Lord.       

 

When speaking of body parts in the Body of Christ I'm reminded of Gary S. Paxton.  He was a Christian singer in the Jesus People Movement of the 1970's with an untraditional approach to his ministry.  He felt like a church castaway, or as he put it, an armpit in the Body of Christ.  In similar fashion, I can appreciate his feelings, but that's me.  The Apostle Paul spoke about people like us when he said that those parts of the body that we think are less honourable should be treated with special respect and honour.  The parts that are not really presentable, should be treated with special modesty (1 Corinthians 12:22-23).  Being an armpit in Jesus' body might not be so bad after-all.                          

 

As I stated in the last chapter, as a young armpit, or whatever I was, in Jesus' body I was healed of Juvenile Diabetes in a Sunday morning meeting.  So, you'll be relieved to know that I don't discount Sunday meetings altogether.  I'm just saying that there is more to church than meetings and buildings, something the first generation Christians knew better than us.  For them, most church activities occurred outside of meetings, and definitely outside of buildings, and, when they did meet; their gatherings were based on personal relationships.  They were all about the individual believer participating in the service.    

 

My dad lived outside of church when he married mom.  He traveled the countryside playing steel guitar in a country band.  When he gave his life to Jesus he quit the band.  The sad fact of the matter was that the Evangelical church at the time didn't welcome his guitars.  That left my dad's talent out in the cold, until for one reason or another; the guitar got saved in the late 1950's.  Finally my dad got to play guitar in church.  Dad would often pack us all in the car and off we went.  Many Sundays were spent in various churches as dad and his friends played and sang their hearts out.  Everywhere dad went he'd tell the story of how his little Stevie, as I was affectionately called back then, was healed of Juvenile Diabetes.  Everywhere we went I felt like hiding under the pew from embarrassment.  

 

I got to tell dad's favourite story on his behalf just minutes before he passed away.  It wasn't in a church meeting this time.  It was in his hospital room.  Forty five minutes before dad went to be with Jesus a neighbour came to visit him.  Dad was too far gone to talk, but I'm sure he heard every word I said as I repeated to dad's neighbour how dad gave his life to Jesus because of my healing.  As I spoke, or should I say as I preached, one tiny tear slowly slipped down dad's cheek.  I can only conclude that in his spirit, dad was overjoyed to hear his story told one last time as he faded away into eternity.  What a way to depart from this life.  My wife and I then laid hands on dad and asked Jesus to take him away.  Within five minutes dad was in heaven.  Now that's some kind of church meeting.

 

 

 

 

7 - Our Youth Group

 

Being legally blind made my childhood days spent in school very difficult.  They were one big challenge.  For example, in grade five a replacement teacher totally humiliated me in front of the entire class.  When he discovered I couldn't see well he pretended to be blind.  He stumbled around the classroom and when he bumped into the chalkboard the class broke out in hysteric laughter.  I dropped my head in despair.  The teacher's insensitive behaviour might have been funny for him and the class, but it sure wasn't for me.  The teacher heard all about it that evening when my father blasted him in a phone conversation.    

 

The reason why the whole issue came up was because I head moved my desk, as I normally did, about a foot away from the blackboard in an attempt to read what was on the chalkboard directly in front of me.  Even then, I could not read it all.  The teacher asked me why I was sitting up at the front of the room.  When I told him I could not see well, he thought I was not telling him the truth.  He thought I was being punished.  I wasn't being punished. I just wanted to see the writing on the blackboard.

 

Reading the blackboard was not my only problem.  Reading books were a big problem too, which they are to this day.  I could go on and on about all of that but I won't.  Suffice to say, making it to grade 13 and finishing high school was not an easy task for me.  It took perseverance, prayer, and the guts to overcome the embarrassment having to do things that looked strange to those in the sighted world. 

 

The best thing my parents did for me as a child was to not send me to a school for the blind and visually impaired.  Working my way through the sighted school system as an unsighted child developed some good character qualities in me.  Far too often the disability of the disabled isn't their major problem.  Their big problem is a lack of social skills that do not permit them to fit into the regular world.  The lack of these social skills is due to being secluded in their own little closed environment with people like themselves.  That was not me and it never has been me.  I have always wanted to fit into the regular world, and I believe, I have succeeded with that desire.                       

 

The highlight of high school was a Bible club led by my physics teacher.  During the first week of high school a very attractive girl invited me to attend the club.  Did I mention how good looking she was?  Well, just in case I omitted it, she was stimulatingly attractive.  Does that shed a bit of light on my beautiful looking friend?  How in the name of being a healthy red-blooded boy could I have ever turned down an opportunity to attend a Bible club with this young lady present?  I certainly couldn't, and certainly didn't, refuse her personal invitation.  I'm sorry to report, though, that my first day at the club was her last day.  That was more than a bit disappointing as you might expect, but despite the disappointment, it all turned out to my long term benefit. 

 

My physics teacher was an example of one who functioned as a member in the Body of Christ.  He was more than one who just attended a church meeting.  He mentored me and countless other young Christians, all of which took place, not in what we call church, but in school and extra curricular activities.  He was heavily criticized for his involvement in our lives because his efforts at discipleship occurred outside the traditional church, but that is where he knew us from.  It only made sense that he'd reach out to us at school.      

 

Although I was shy at school, I wasn't shy in our Free Methodist Church 's youth group.  I felt secure there, something that is important for those who are joined to others in the Body of Christ, and especially for young people.  Like my physics teacher, there was one lady who went out of her way to show a personal interest in the youth.  She would arrange activities for us, many of which were in her home.  Like my physics teacher, she too was criticized for her efforts because they did not take place within the confines of the traditional view of church.  I recall some of the adults in church saying that she was reliving her youth through us young people.  That was far from the truth.  She understood the need for personal relationships with those she was called to care for.    

 

I too was criticized in the early 1970's for my involvement in what was called the Jesus People Movement.  My friends and I would share Jesus in parks, bars, schools, colleges, street corners, coffee houses, and wherever.  We would have prayer meetings in homes, fields, and anywhere we could find a place to pray.  I used to share these things in what was called testimony meetings in the Sunday evening service of our church.  One time I was asked why I didn't do the things I was sharing within the confines of our church.  I had one answer.  The church wouldn't let me do them.  For example, one day a couple of us were praying in a Sunday school room.  When my friend was overheard praying in tongues, our prayer meeting was abruptly shut down.  Besides that, going to a bar, even if it was to preach the gospel, was certainly unacceptable.  Why preaching the gospel was relegated to a Sunday meeting was always a difficult thing to wrap my head around.         

 

On another occasion a few of us were harshly rebuked by our pastor's wife for playing cards in the church building basement, or should I say, "playing cards in the House of God."  Actually, I was not playing cards.  I did not know how to play cards.  No one ever taught me to play cards.  Such activity was pure sin. 

 

As I followed the pastor's wife to the door I persisted in asking her what was wrong with playing cards.  I really did want to know why the great concern.  I really did want to know.  I had no clue of knowing why playing cards was sinful.  She really didn't want to talk to me.  I kept walking with her to the door hoping she would answer me.  She just told me that her husband would have a heart attack if he knew we were playing cards in the church.  As she left me standing at the door of what she called church, she missed a prime opportunity to reach out to one of her young people in need of answers, answers she simply refused to offer me.  As a youth, that didn't make me feel very good about church. 

 

Ironically, the lady who took a personal interest in us youth had a daughter, and here is the story.  It was at camp-meeting, July 1966, when as a fifteen year old guy I fell madly in love with this lady's daughter named Evelyn.  I felt so privileged.  She was simply amazing to behold, and with that mini skirt she sometimes wore?  Well, what can I say?  I think I have mentioned that I am a red-blooded human being boy.  That summer mini-skirts were all the rage among teen-age girls, something she was not allowed to wear.  So, instead of wearing a mini-skirt she would roll up the waistline of her skirt, effectively changing her normal length skirt into a mini-skirt.  This all ended when her mother embarrassed her in front of me by demanding she roll down the waistline of her skirt.  I felt so bad for her.  Just imagine, your mother telling you, assuming you were a fifteen year old girl, to lengthen her skirt in front of her new-found boy friend.    

 

Things equalled out when my mother found us sitting on a park bench around nine o'clock one evening.  "Stevie," mom said in a demanding tone of voice.  "Get back to the cottage.  It's way too late for you to be out,” she continued in the same tone.  At the age of fifteen, Stevie wasn’t really my preferred name, and nine o'clock didn't seem all that late. 

 

It all became irrelevant when the next day I discovered the joy of my heart sitting with Ron, a mutual friend, in the evening meeting.  It was so disheartening.  My first female relationship lasted a grand total of three days.  Three glorious days of next to divine ecstasy had suddenly been buried into the grave yard of lost relationships.          

 

In 1979 I spoke one Sunday morning to the fellowship I was a part of concerning the importance of our children.  I sang the Oak Ridge Boys song entitled "Thank God for Kids."  The pastor who oversaw our local group happened to be visiting us from California that day.  He wasn't impressed with my message.  He warned me that if our group was to ever grow beyond our small numbers we couldn't have children involved in a Sunday meeting as they were that day.  They needed to be in children's church, as it is often called.  Although in the world of traditional church he was right, I didn't believe it should be that way.  I think a good measure of desegregation is always a good thing for children and young adults.        

 

As far as I'm concerned, we must view church in relational terms, not merely in organizational terms.  It only takes one or two members in the Body of Christ to have a heart for the youth.  You really don't need a building and a program approved by head office to reach out to youth.  My physics teacher proved that to be true.  So, if you feel your youth need some special attention, it's your job to provide the attention.  I believe if one sees a need, that one should do his or hers best to help fill the need.       

 

The thing that benefitted me most as a Christian youth was the personal involvement with my physics teacher.  History shows that not all participants in youth groups continue in the faith as adults.  From my observation, however, young people who are personally mentored, or cared for, stand a good chance of keeping their faith as adults.  In New Testament terms, it's called "discipleship."  I'm sure you've heard of that word.  Thank God for my physics teacher who showed a personal interest in me.  

 

 

 

 

 

8 - Coming Of Age

 

In the Evangelical world in which I was raised the altar call was an essential element in preaching the gospel.  This approach to leading people to Jesus was a product of the Great Awakening that first swept across England and then North America in the 1700's and early 1800’s.  Prior to then, altar calls were unheard of.  Charles Finney (1792 to 1875) was a Presbyterian lawyer who came to personal salvation in 1821.  He proceeded to travel throughout the north east United States preaching to the masses.  He was a very controversial preacher because of his use of the altar call.  He ended his sermons with a highly emotional, very confrontational, hell fire, guilt laden, plea to come to the altar to find salvation.  

 

I believe that many people have come to Jesus in response to an altar call.  I also, however, believe that many people think they are saved because they have repeated a short prayer at an altar when in fact they may not have gotten saved.  One is only saved when he is compelled by the Holy Spirit, not just the preacher, to repent of his sins, hand his life over to Jesus, and as a result, receive the Holy Spirit into his life.  Just because one has an emotional experience does not mean that experience is a product of the Holy Spirit's invitation to salvation.   

 

Upon entering the Evangelical world when my dad gave his life to Jesus in and around 1956 - 57, he experienced many altar calls that were accompanied by a legalistic style teaching.  A few years after dad's conversion he became a secret smoker, which back then was a sin that could send you straight to the fire of hell.  One Sunday school teacher actually told me that a smoker could not be a Christian.  A smoker would never make it to heaven.  To add to such legalism, we were advised not to associate with Baptists because they believed in what has been called "Eternal Security."  We were also discouraged from worshiping with Pentecostals because they prayed in tongues.  For this reason mom got quite upset with dad when he accepted an invitation to play his steel guitar in a local Pentecostal church.  I believe such legalism accompanied by a poor understanding of the nature of the Body of Christ didn't help dad's new life as a Christian.

 

Eventually dad stopped attending Sunday meetings.  He would drive mom, my sister, my brother, and myself, to the meetings and then pick us up when they ended.  During my dad's absence from church our congregation installed a sound system in the sanctuary.  If you are familiar with sound systems, especially back in the 1960's, you know they can do strange things at times.  One of these times was during an altar call when a voice besides our pastor's voice was heard over the sound system's speakers saying: "Breaker breaker good buddy - got your ears on?"  To my mom's dismay, the sound system picked up dad talking on his mobile CB radio in our car that was parked in the parking lot of the church building.  It certainly was an unwanted interruption during the most sensitive part of the church meeting. Although I thought it was a bit funny, mom was by no means impressed, and we all heard about it on our way home that Sunday.

 

A few years later, on New Years 1975, while praying in my parent's bedroom the Holy Spirit enveloped me in a powerful way.  As in a vision, my parent's bed became a casket.  Jesus told me that my dad was spiritually dead.  That I already knew, but what I didn't know is what He told me next.  Dad would return to Jesus in the middle of June that year.  I'm not a prophet specializing in dates and times, but by the time the middle of June came around, dad did return to Jesus, just as I believed Jesus had spoken to me back in January of that year.    

The problem with confrontational, emotional, Finney style, altar calls, along with traditional legalistic teaching, is that they stir up unproductive feelings of guilt, which both dad and I struggled with.  I now realize that guilt is not a feeling.  It's a position in which we stand before God, our Judge.  We are all guilty sinners, whether we feel guilty or not.  From my experience, feelings associated with guilt only complicate one maturing as a Christian.  It's something that all Christians must come to grips with and understand from a Biblical perspective.         

 

Another thing I realize now that I didn't realize in my youth is that there is only one way to get saved; one way to stay saved; and one way to get unsaved, if getting unsaved is actually a possibility.  I realize this issue is a long-lasting debate.   I got saved by trusting my life with Jesus.  I stay saved by trusting my life with Jesus, and, I lose my salvation only when I stop trusting my life with Jesus.  As a side note; I am as close to believing in Eternal Security as one can be without fully giving myself to that doctrinal position. 

 

All the humanistic rules I was taught to obey in order to maintain my salvation really don't keep me saved.  It's by faith from beginning to end as Romans 1:17 clearly states.  That being said, getting unsaved may be more difficult than one thinks.  Doubts don't unsave anyone, so you don't have to worry about that.  Individual sins don't unsave anyone.  Besides, more basic to sins is our sinful nature that causes us to sin, and that we will have until the day we die.  What might well be the case is that the one considered to have gotten unsaved probably was not really saved in the first place.  Simply adopting a Biblical lifestyle saves no one.  Simply repeating a sinner's prayer saves no one.  Simply responding to an altar call does not necessarily save anyone.         

 

Another thing I realize now is that our job in the process of introducing people to Jesus is to pray for them and preach the gospel to them.  The Holy Spirit's job is to speak to their hearts and convict them of sin.  We interfere with the Holy Spirit by trying to do His job with our highly confrontational and emotional altar calls.  It's not our job to dig around in the hearts of sinners to make them believe the words we preach.  

                  

One evening all my confusion over these things ended for good.  It was a Saturday evening in mid February 1970 when I turned on our television on to watch Hockey Night In Canada.  The television was set on channel eight.  The hockey game was on channel eleven.  We didn't have remote controls back then so I had to manually turn a dial from channel eight, to channel nine, to channel ten, and that's where I got stuck.  I never did make it to channel eleven to watch the game of the week. 

 

I felt really let down when I saw Billy Graham preaching away on channel ten.  I wanted to watch hockey on channel eleven but how could a Christian pass Billy Graham by to watch a silly old, even worldly, hockey game.  That made no Biblical sense, and besides, I would have felt guilty for days if I had skipped over Billy Graham for a hockey game.  What eternal value is there in a hockey game.  Did God care about who won the game of the week?

 

I listened to Billy Graham expounding on being a luke-warm Christian from Revelation 3:15 to 17.  This had to have been a divine appointment for me.  I'd heard many scary sermons like this before, but this was different.  The Holy Spirit, not Billy Graham, carried the Word of God straight to my heart. 

 

Upon going to sleep that evening I knelt by my bed.  In a three to five second unemotional prayer, I simply asked Jesus to forgive me, assuming I wasn't already forgiven.  Unlike all of the emotional trips to an altar, the result of this short simple prayer was evident.  I woke up the next day knowing I didn't lose my salvation over night.  Believe it or not, but I still felt saved.  From that point on I have had no feelings associated with guilt.  I live the Christian life because I want to live for Jesus, not because it relieves me of feelings associated with guilt.        

 

I finally came of age in the Lord, so to speak.  No longer was I clinging to my parent's faith and their church.  I would find my own way through the ecclesiastical maze. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

9 - The Gospel To Get

 

Whether right or wrong, what I recall most about the Evangelical gospel message I heard as a youth was its focus on having our sins forgiven so we could go to Heaven when we die.  I believe many of the songs we sang prove that to be the case.  Of course, there were some hymns like "All To Jesus I Surrender" that were both the exception to the rule and exceptional in content.  That particular hymn clearly states what becoming a Christian is all about. 

 

Since the primary theme of the Evangelical gospel concerned getting our sins forgiven and going to Heaven, or so I perceived, I call this gospel the "gospel to get."  I'm not minimizing forgiveness of sins and Heaven.  Believe me, I'm not.  If we exclude other aspects of the gospel, new converts will enter salvation with a "what can I get from Jesus" mentality.  Biblically speaking, salvation is just as much about what I give to Jesus as what I get from Him.  As a matter of fact, what I give to Jesus is fundamental in becoming a Christian.    

 

The Greek word "pistis" supports what I've just said.  "Pistis" is translated as "faith" and "believe" in the New Testament.  This Greek word simply means "to trust."  I suggest that if you replace the word "faith" with the word "trust" as you read your New Testament, you will understand Biblical faith much better.  So, "pistis," or "faith," as it is applied to Jesus means that we give our lives to Him which results in our salvation.  Another way to say this is that we trust Jesus with our entire lives, not just for our forgiveness of sins.        

 

One reason for this gospel to get as seen
in many Evangelical churches might be, and I do say might be, due to what was called a second work of grace known as Entire Sanctification.  The first work of grace as taught by the Methodists was accepting Jesus as our Saviour so we could go to Heaven when we die.  That second work of grace as taught by the Methodists was accepting Jesus as Lord.  This second work of grace was experienced subsequent to salvation and that's why it's called a second work of grace.  It was a one time experience that resulted in a spiritual state of perfection in the life of the believer.    

 

John Wesley (1703 - 1791), the hero of the Free Methodist Church , formulated the doctrine of Entire Sanctification.  His opposition accused him of teaching total human perfection in every aspect of life, but that really wasn't the case.  Wesley taught a spiritual perfection where the believer was so dedicated to the Lord Jesus that he no longer committed intentional sins.   Christians would still make mistakes, make wrong choices, get sick, among other human traits, but, when it came to intentional sin, he would be sinless.  Wesley admitted that such spiritual perfection would elude most Christians.  Even with Wesley's admission, I participated in many altar calls that encouraged us to be entirely sanctified.       

 

The word "sanctify" means to be "set apart."  When associated with Jesus it means to be set apart from our surrounding culture in total dedication to Jesus.  This is why those embracing this doctrine of Entire Sanctification say that you first accept Jesus as Saviour and then you accept Him as Lord of your life at some later date.  For this reason, as a youth I felt that most of us would never attain to such sinless state of perfection, and we doubted those who claimed they had reached such a state.  I felt stuck in a spiritual state of limbo.  I was saved and on my way to Heaven, but, being sinless, well, that would always be out of my reach.  I was, therefore, glad to be saved and on my way to Heaven, which by the way. I hoped would never take place before I enjoyed my honeymoon night.  That was the hope of Christian youth like me who did not believe in pre-marital sex.        

 

In Acts 2:36, the Apostle Peter pointed out that Jesus is both Lord and Christ.  We all agree with Peter on that count.  As Lord, Jesus is God Almighty.  As Christ, Jesus is the Saviour for all who trust their lives with Him.  I believe it's an error to teach a first and second work of grace.  When it comes to Jesus being both Lord and Christ, I suggest we think of it this way.  Because Jesus is Lord, He has become our Saviour, the Christ.  That places the emphasis on embracing Jesus for who He is, that is, He is both Lord and Saviour, the Christ.  That means we cannot embrace Jesus as Saviour without embracing Him as Lord.  In fact, we fall at Jesus' feet because He is Lord, and once at His feet, He saves us, because, He is the Christ.  

 

One is saved when he hands his entire life over to Jesus, the Lord God of all there is, and then receives the Holy Spirit into his very being.  That's not a second work of grace.  It's the first work of grace.  Salvation is more than trusting Jesus for your eternal destiny.  Salvation is trusting Jesus with your very life, right here in the present.  When we do that, we are saved.  From then on, from one step of faith to the next step of faith (Romans 1:17); from one stage of glory to the next stage of glory (2 Corinthians 3:18); we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.  In other words, sanctification is a process, not a one time experience known as Entire Sanctification.   

 

If all we understand about becoming a Christian is what we can get from Jesus, we start out on the wrong foot.  We will be trapped in the gospel to get, hoping for the next thing we can get from Jesus.  From my understanding of the Bible, salvation is first and foremost a matter of what we give to Jesus, not what we get from Him.  What we give to Jesus is our lives as the old hymn says:  "all to Jesus I surrender."     

 

 

  

10 - The Sovereignty Of God And The Holy Spirit

 

My mom was not happy with me when in 1972, at the age of 20; I left the Free   Methodist Church .  When I visited the church for a Sunday service in 1986 the pastor preached on the sovereignty of God.  He was right on.  God is God, and there is no other like Him.  He can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, and wherever He wants.  The pastor continued by saying that God sovereignly chooses to visit His people from time to time in special ways.  Evangelical Christians call these times of visitations by God, revivals.  We should, therefore, be ready for His next visitation, which Evangelicals hoped would take place during their yearly week of revival meetings, usually held in the spring.  A good time for a revival, don't you think?    

 

God is sovereign and He does visit His people on certain special occasions.  On the other hand, He, by His Spirit, lives among His people all of the time.  This is one of a number of dichotomies we find in the Bible.  God lives with us and He also visits us, all at the same time.  How can that be?  How can someone who lives with us come and visit us on certain occasions?           

 

One example of God visiting His people was seen on the Day of Pentecost.  Other examples are, the Great Awakenings in Europe and North America in the 1700's and 1800's, the Pentecostal Movement in the early 1900's, and the Charismatic Movement and Jesus People Movement in the 1960's and 1970's.   

 

In the summer of 1970 Jesus visited a dozen of us Free Methodist youth at a lakeside cottage.  We expected to have a weekend of fun but to our surprise the Holy Spirit visited us in a powerful way.  We were in joyous ecstasy for a couple of hours as we were saturated with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  For me, this was amazing.  I had many emotional experiences at an altar, but I had never experienced this kind of joyous ecstasy.  This was a sovereign visitation of our Lord among some of the youth in our church.  

 

Another sovereign visitation of God in my life was in March 1971.  My friend Jim Williams and his wife Marlene took myself and two other Free Methodist youths (Dawne and Rusty) to Christ Centre, in Lexington , Kentucky .  Christ Centre was a product of the Jesus People Movement that swept across North America back then.  I was used to church being associated with a building with a steeple that I visited a couple times a week.  That wasn't the case at Christ Centre.  This building was a large, century- old, inner-city school with two floors and a basement.  It was huge.  People lived there, worshipped there, and ministered to the community from there.  I was impressed that the building was in constant use.  It wasn't left empty during most of the week.  I liked the coffee house ministry with its Christian rock band that reached out to the university students down the street. 

 

Talking about rock music, back in 1969 I bought the "Best of Tommy James and the Shondells" album.  I gave it to my friend Rusty for his birthday.  It caused quite a stir in our church congregation because it was a secular rock album.  What made things worse was that I gave it to him in what was called the House of God.  To my credit, if it means anything, and I doubt that it does, I gave it to him in the basement of the church building, not the main sanctuary upstairs.       

 

You might think that the adults in the church would have preferred us listening to Christian rock music instead of secular rock music, but that was not the case.  Rock music, whether secular or sacred, if there was such a thing as sacred rock, was inherently sinful.  It's my opinion that any particular style of music is neither good nor evil.  I remind you that many of the melodies of the old hymns of the church were borrowed from popular bar-room songs of their day.  Yes, the tune of many hymns was sung by drunken men hoping to find a lonely woman that would spend the night with him. 

 

Larry Norman, a Jesus People rock singer/songwriter expressed my thinking concerning Christian rock music in his song entitled, "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music."   I concurred with Larry Norman back then and I still do today, but my mom certainly didn't.  For my mom, it was either sing hymns or don't sing at all.  

 

My Kentucky trip impressed me on many fronts.  The Christians at Christ Centre were dedicated to Jesus.  They carried their Bibles with them everywhere.  They freely talked about Jesus to anyone in simple conversational style.  Talk of Jesus wasn't relegated to a church meeting.  When they did meet, their meetings were out of this world.  Shouldn't that be what a spiritual type meeting be like?  Most importantly, they introduced me to the life in the Holy Spirit in a way that I had never previously understood.     

I believe the Jesus People Movement was a valid visitation of the Lord.  Yes, like all visitations of God, humans tend to mess things up a bit, but that doesn't disqualify the movement's godly validity.  If that were the case, you would have to disqualify all revival movements over the centuries.  All come to an end because as humans, we mess them up.  Christ Centre was a vital witness for Jesus in Kentucky and it certainly influenced my life in a most positive way. 

 

Prior to meeting Jesus, the young people at Christ Center knew little or nothing about Jesus or church.  When they visited the traditional church they were often criticized for the way they were dressed and the style of their hair.  The church establishment, as they called it, didn't seem to recall Jesus saying that "people who dress in fine clothes live in king’s palaces."  See Matthew 11:8.  Jesus really did say that.  

 

I'm now of an older generation.  It's difficult for me to believe that my generation is on its way out.  I realize that I might be seen as glorifying the good old days of my youth, but I'm not.  The Jesus People Movement brought a freshness to my life that just wasn't there before, and by the way, it has never left me.  Church might not have been dry and routine for my parents' generation but it had become that way for me and many of my friends.  For this reason, I believe each generation of Christians should be allowed to express their love for Jesus in their own special way, that is, as long as their expression of Jesus does not depart from Scripture.  For me and my friends, our new expression of faith was heavily criticized by the previous generation, something I vowed never to do with my children's generation of Christians.  For the record, I've been true to my word in this respect.    

 

God is sovereign.  He can do whatever He wants, wherever He wants, and whenever He wants.  He chose to reveal His Holy Spirit to me in a new and refreshing way in a century-old, inner-city school building, far away from home.  That week in Kentucky was a life changing sovereign move of God in my life.  It really was.

 

 

 

 

  

 

11 - The Baptism In The Spirit And Tongues

 

It was in a Tuesday evening meeting at Christ 
Centre, in Lexington , Kentucky , when I first
heard of the term Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  For me, this meeting changed the direction of my life.  Thoughts of attending a Free Methodist Bible College soon faded into obscurity.  A few years later, I would end up at Elim Bible Institute and College, in Lima , New York , U. S. A. .   

 

We had begun to sing some worship songs that Tuesday evening.  Then came a lull in the singing, after which, a few people began to quietly sing in tongues.  Others soon joined in until this heavenly multi-language melody filled the room.  I had never in my entire life heard anything like this before.  I was used to singing from a hymn book.  Singing with one's spirit, as the Apostle Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 14:15, is something altogether different than singing from a hymn book.  

 

Whatever these people had, I didn't seem to have and I sure wanted it.  I was told they had the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Once that was explained to me, those in leadership laid their hands on me, praying that I would receive this baptism.  Being a bit nervous, I was told that nervousness is normal when one meets the Bride Groom for the first time.   

 

I was anticipating a heavenly visitation, but it never arrived.  Nothing happened.  In my disappointment I was told to receive the Baptism in the Spirit by faith.  In other words, I had to believe I received something when in fact it appeared that I did not receive anything.  I've never believed in this kind of mental gymnastics.  Either you receive something or you don't.  I don't think it's difficult to understand.          

One thing I realize now is that my being nervous had nothing to do with meeting Jesus for the first time as was suggested.  I had already met Jesus.  Obviously those praying for me thought I had never met Jesus.  I was nervous because of the expectations of a heavenly visitation, and I just didn't know what that would be like. 

 

I was told that I would receive the Holy Spirit when I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Now that I've studied this through, I realize why nothing happened to me in response to the prayers offered on my behalf.  If the expectation was for me to receive the Holy Spirit into my life, that could not have happened.  That prayer could not have been answered, and why?  I had already received Him into my life when I gave my life to Jesus.  How could I receive Him when I already had Him?  There is no logic to that.  The one thing I didn't have was the gift of tongues.  That would come later. 

 

I was raised in a non-Pentecostal Evangelical church where I was told that tongues were not for me.  Tongues was from the devil.  I was encouraged to seek the giver of the gifts, not the gifts.  I understood that, but, if Jesus was passing out gifts, I didn't see any harm in standing in line, hoping to receive one.  What was wrong with that?          

 

While I was in Kentucky , my friend Robert was at Elim Bible Institute and College that I mentioned above.  To my amazement, he came home praying in tongues.  The same was true with my friend Dawne who came with us to Kentucky .  Unbelievable!  My two friends got what I wanted but didn't get.  How fair is that?

 

I asked my friend Robert who received his gift at Elim Bible College how somebody like me might pray in tongues.  He told me that if I said the word "halleluiah" ten times real fast, my tongue would just flip over and I'd start praying in tongues immediately.  Of course, he was kidding me, and of course, I never did try his suggestion.    

 

During my search for tongues I noticed some abuses.  One time while at an altar of a local Pentecostal Church I overheard the pastor telling a man kneeling beside me to repeat his words of tongues.  The pastor slowly spoke in tongues while this man attempted to repeat what he heard.  That was not easy, but he did his best.  That did not sit well with me.  If tongues is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, which it is, man's attempt like this one, is just stupid and silly, and really, unbiblical.

 

On another occasion I was told to step out in faith by making up my own tongues.  If I would just invent a few wacky words of my own, Jesus would acknowledge my faithful attempt and give me the real thing.  To my credit, I never copied someone else's tongues and I didn't invent my own tongues by faith. It's all human effort, something Paul warned us against in Galatians, chapter 3.

 

A couple of weeks after coming home from Kentucky in 1971 I found myself in a prayer meeting.  While praying in the presence of the Lord two unknown words slipped out of my mouth.  I did not invent these words.  I did not copy them from another, but, was this real tongues or was I just caught up in the excitement of the moment?  I believed, and still believe, these two words were valid tongues.  A couple weeks later, in another prayer meeting, two more unknown words slipped from my lips.  A week or so later, two more words were added to my new vocabulary.  I now had six words in what I thought might have been tongues, but once again, could six unknown words be considered valid Biblical tongues?       

 

Throughout the summer of that year no more words of tongues were added to my original six words.  I was disappointed, so I gave up on the whole matter.  Six words in tongues didn't seem to me to be valid tongues.  My friends could pray in tongues.  I would stick with my native tongue of English. 

 

Everything changed in September of that year.  While alone in my room, playing my guitar and singing to Jesus in English, the Holy Spirit enveloped me in a powerful way.  I began to sing in words I had never spoken before.  Paragraphs and paragraphs of tongues flowed freely from my lips for an hour or so.  It was simply out of this world.  Nobody was telling me to repeat his tongues.  I didn't invent my own tongues.  I was not caught up in some emotionalism produced by a well-tuned worship team in a well-attended meeting.  I was all alone in my bedroom.  I was not anticipating, or even asking, for this.  This was indeed a valid visitation of the Holy Spirit in my life.  I doubt if there has been a day since then when I haven't prayed in tongues.      

 

There has never been any doubt.  Jesus did give me the gift of tongues back in 1971.  I might not have received this gift in the traditional Pentecostal way, but I'm not the most traditional Christian, let alone a Pentecostal style Christian on the ecclesiastical block. 

 

I wish the church wasn't split over tongues.  My praying in tongues caused controversy in the Free Methodist Church in 1971.  I don't think tongues are as divisive as they were back then.  That being said, which seems to often be the case for me, I'm caught between the two doctrinal positions on this issue.  I do pray in tongues.  That would make me a good Pentecostal, but, I don't believe the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace as Pentecostals believe.  That makes me a doctrinally bad Pentecostal.  So there you go.  I'm Pentecostal by experience but not by doctrine.  If you're interested in knowing just what I believe on this issue you can read my book entitled "Revisiting Pentecost" found on all Amazon sites.  I explain my position in much detail there.  

 

 

 

 

  

 

12 - The House Of The Lord

 

While growing up in Christian Evangelicalism I was taught to believe that the building I visited every Sunday was the House of God.  In my childlike imagination, I understood that to mean God lived in the building we called the church, His house.  So, in respect for God's house, we could talk all we wanted when we were outside of God's house, but, once we entered its sacred doors, we were to speak in a reverent whisper.  I couldn't figure that one out.  God still had the ability to hear what we were whispering.  Okay, I get it.  It was about reverencing God, not hiding our conversation from Him.     

 

After I came of age in the Lord in 1970, I became involved in what was called the Charismatic Movement.  Within this movement were a number of international Bible teachers.  I used to listen to their teaching on cassette tapes.  For those too young to know what a cassette tape is, I'll let you Google that one. 

 

Derek Prince was one of my favourite Bible teachers.  I listened to his twenty eight tape series on Systematic Theology at least five times back in 1973.  Then, there was Judson Cornwall.  I recall his teaching on how a Christian young person could find a lifelong partner.  Being a twenty one year old guy, that topic was of utmost importance.  There was no way that I'd ignore that message.  I wore that cassette tape out.  Among other Bible teachers were Earn Baxter, Paul Petrie, Don Basham, Bob Mumford, Graham Pulkingham, Maxwell White, Malcolm Smith, Charles Simpson, and others. 

 

The very first teaching tape I listened to was by Charles Simpson.  The title of his message was "The House Of The Lord."  The text was Psalm 27:4.  It reads: "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple" (KJV).  

 

King David wrote Psalm 27.  He would have understood the House of the Lord in two ways.  First, he would have understood it to be the people or family of God, the Jews.  Second, he would have understood it to be the temple in Jerusalem , the house of worship. 

 

The Hebrew word "beth" is translated as "house" in our English Old Testament.  When you see the town of Bethlehem in the Bible, it consists of the Hebrew word "beth," meaning "house," and "lechem," meaning "bread."  Bethlehem means "the house of bread."  Many towns and villages in the Jewish Old Testament were named after families.  If I had a large family back then I could call my town "Bethsteve," or, "Bethsweetman," meaning, "the house of Steve" or "the House of Sweetman."      

 

As Charles Simpson pointed out, Acts 17:24 states that God does not live in temples made by human hands during these New Testament times.  He lives in His people, the house or family of God.  So, there you go; God didn't really live in the building I visited every Sunday as a child.  He lived in the people who visited that building, both collectively and individually.  When the people left the building, God left along with them.      

 

It is a mistake to call a building the House of God because it emphasizes the building and not the people who gather in the building.  Nowhere in the New Testament does it tell us to gather in any particular kind of building.  Nowhere does the New Testament call a building the House of God.  The New Testament does, however, tell us how to conduct ourselves when we do gather together (1 Corinthians 14), wherever that may be. 

 

In 1971 I left the Free Methodist denomination to fellowship and serve Jesus with those to whom Jesus had joined me in personal relationships in the Body of Christ.  I didn't leave the House of God.  I just moved to a different room within His house, so to speak.  Like King David, living among God's people became a strong desire in my life.   

 

Psalm 27:4 tells us that David had only one real desire in his life.  He asked God for just one thing, and that was to dwell in the house, or family of God.  That is where he wanted to live forever.  That was where he would inquire of His God.  If we had the same desire, and, if we understood the House of God as those to whom Jesus has personally joined us, things would be drastically different, both in our individual lives and the church. 

 

Church is people, those to whom Jesus has placed you alongside in personal and supportive relationships to accomplish His plans on this planet.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 - The Segregated Church

 

The New Testament teaches unity when it comes to the church, but it does not teach unity at the expense of the truth of the gospel, as some teach today.  John. chapter 17, records Jesus prayed for unity among His followers.  That includes you and I.  In 1 Corinthians 1:12 Paul shows his disgust with the Corinthian Christians who had divided themselves into various factions.  In contrast to these factions, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul taught that church is one unified body of believers, consisting of various people having varying spiritual gifts and ministries. 

 

Our modern western church is no different than the Corinthian church.  Besides being segregated into denominations, local congregations are segregated into preschoolers, children, youth, college and careers, singles, young married, old married, and seniors.  This was my experience while growing up in Evangelical Christian circles, but that would soon change.   

 

As I stated earlier, Christ Center , the Christian community I visited in 1971 in Lexington , Kentucky , was a large two-floor, century-old, inner-city, school.  Each classroom was converted into something useful for ministry, which included living accommodations for those who made the building their home. 

 

When I attended the Tuesday night meeting, the room where we gathered was packed.  It wasn't the number of people squeezed into the room that caught my attention.  It was who was in the room that impressed me.  There were businessmen dressed in suits and long haired hippie looking guys dressed in jeans.  There were young people, middle aged people, and seniors, from all corners of culture.  I found this utterly amazing.  I had never seen such a variety of people in one meeting enjoying both each other and the Lord.  Age or social status didn't matter to these people.  

 

I remember one heavy set man sitting on the oversized windowsill.  Others were sitting on chairs around the perimeter of the room, but the majority of us were sitting on the floor.  That was the first time I spent a church meeting on the floor, but I didn’t mind.  I’m sure Jesus sat on a few floors in His day.  Coming from a background of segregated meetings, this was a breath of fresh air.

 

Upon returning home, Jesus began to do with me and others what I saw in Kentucky .  He personally joined me to a few brothers in the Lord where age, economics, and social status, didn’t matter.  While growing up, my best friends were those of my own age, but after my trip to Kentucky , that changed.  When I was twenty two years old my closest friends in the Lord ranged from twenty years old to fifty five years of age.  Having a personal relationship with these older brothers provided a source of wisdom, stability, and maturity for me, something Timothy experienced with the Apostle Paul.  

 

One such brother in Christ was an Anglican minister named Virgil.  I was a long haired hippie looking guy while he was a balding Anglican minister twice my age.  We spent lots of time together during any given week.  Then, there was another friend who was about fifteen years older than me.  Gerry was actually my dad's friend before becoming my friend and brother in the Lord.  We pretty much lived in his station wagon as we traveled the countryside for Jesus.  This is what I call supportive and functional relationships in the Body of Christ; individuals who are joined together in friendship, and from friendship ministry is born.  It's my position that church structure should be built on personal supportive  relationships, not on a fixed ecclesiastical system.     

The age difference isn't the only thing I've experienced within these supportive and functional relationships.  Those to whom I've been joined over the years haven't always been of my social or economic placement in society.  I have never been a wealthy or influential person.  In the late 1970's I wondered why Bob, and others like Bob who were relatively rich, wanted to be associated with me in friendship and ministry when I wasn't from their social or economic world, but of course, those things shouldn't matter in the Body of Christ.  

 

Church should be about being personally joined to individual people, and from this joining, ministry evolves.  That's not the way it normally is in the ecclesiastical maze.  We like being joined to an organizational structure that is segregated into various groups based on economics, social status, age, and theological distinctives.       

 

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul said that we have been baptized, or immersed, into one united body.  Paul was not talking about water baptism.  He was not talking about joining a church, going to church, or church being a casual concern.  He was talking about being immersed into church, utterly saturated in fellowship and ministry with fellow believers.  He was talking about being immersed, baptized, into the lives of those to whom Jesus has placed you in the Body of Christ.  That is church.   

 

According to 1 Corinthians 3:10 to 15, all of our church building activity. so-called service for Jesus, done outside the will of God will burn in the fire of God’s judgment.  On the other hand, activity, service for Jesus, performed within the will of God will be rewarded.  Paul said that we should be expert master builders.  He was not talking about brick and mortar contractors.  He was talking about building people together in the one unified Body of Christ, something that we, for the most part, have not done in the western-world church. 

 

In John 17:20 and 21 we see Jesus praying for unity in His church so that all people will know that God has sent Him into the world.  It's thus clear to me then that every time a church splits, it tells the people in the cultural environment that God did not send Jesus into the world.  How sad!

 

 

 

 

 

14 - The Community Of Christ

 

One thing that impressed me when I visited Christ Centre in Kentucky in 1971 was the communal atmosphere among those I met.  Yes, some of these people did live communally in the century-old school, but, most of them didn't.  To make it clear, when I speak of Christian community I'm not talking about Christian communes that were popular among those in the Jesus People Movement in the 1960's and 1970's.  I lived in one of these communes in 1971 and 1972.  It was an enjoyable experience for me.     

 

I have learned that church is more than attending meetings and buildings most call church.  Church is about being joined in personal relationships in the Body of Christ.  For this reason, in 1972 I left the Free Methodist Church to attempt to live in Christian community with those to whom Jesus had recently joined me.  Just for the record, I do appreciate much of my Free Methodist upbringing, but Jesus was leading me in a different direction in that period of my life.     

 

One example of how personal relationships worked for me in a practical way back then took place in 1975.  One of my friends was twice my age.  Glenn was influential in guiding many of us young Christians back then.  One day he suggested that I think about attending Bible College after my friend Robert finished his time at Bible College .  Those to whom Jesus had joined me had financed much of Robert's Bible College expenses, and they would do the same for me.    

 

I didn't think much about that suggestion when it was first spoken to me, but over the next three days I could not get it out of my mind.  It was if the Holy Spirit was constantly reminding me of this suggestion, or, as it turned out to be, the prophetic word of the Lord spoken in a normal, natural way.  

 

If I was to attend Bible College I wanted to
attend when Robert was there, and he still had one year left.  If that was to be, I would have lots to accomplish in six short weeks.  It 

was the middle of July, 1975, when I decided that Bible College was the will of God for me, but, actually getting there was a matter of the American government.  Being a Canadian, I needed a student visa in order to enter the United States for college.  To get that visa within six weeks would take a miracle.  Well, the miracle came my way.  I left Canada the week before Labour Day, 1975, and ended up at Elim Bible Institute and College, in Lima , New York , U. S. A. . 

 

My time in Bible College was a life changer for me in many respects.  I have to thank Glenn for his suggestion, or should I say, for the prophetic word from the Lord that he spoke to me.  Along with the prophetic word, my brothers in the Lord helped finance my Bible college years.  They helped in supporting God's will being worked out in my life.  That's Christian community in action; brothers who have the ability to help other brothers in need.  It's what 1 John 3:17 is all about.  You can look that one up for yourself.     

 

  

 

15 - Koinonia

 

I've already mentioned that the Greek word "koinonia," or any of its derivatives, means "to hold something in common."  Acts 2:44 in the NIV states that "all the believers were together and had everything in common" (common - Greek koinos).  Acts 4:32 in the NIV states that "all the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared (shared - Greek koinos) everything they had."  Unlike most of us western-world Christians today, the lives of the first century Christians were transparent in the sense of sharing with others.  They were willing to share and hold in common, that is, the sharing of whatever was necessary for the welfare of their brothers and sisters in Jesus.   

 

There were some exceptions to this sharing.  Men didn't share their wives as the Children of God cult of the 1960's and 1970's did.  In our ignorance, the Children of God entered Ontario , Canada , for the first time in 1971 at the invitation of me and a few others.  Their entrance into our community caused quite an uproar, but I’ll talk about that later.  

 

One thing I should mention at this point is that I'm not talking about everyone sharing the same living arrangements that we called a "Christian commune" in the 1960's and 1970's.  That being said, first century families, especially Jewish families, did live communally in large extended families.  Community for them was much more of a part of their cultural existence than it is for us in the western world today.   

 

The first generation Christian seemed to have no problem sharing their material blessings and holding them in common with those who had little.  Granted, some, like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) had ulterior motives for sharing.  Laying that couple aside, the early church made sure that all believers were taken care of, especially when it came to the necessities of life.  You can see this in Acts 6.  This isn't always the case in today's western-world ecclesiastical maze.  I've seen the needy go without because money had to be spent on buildings, salaries, and other such things in today's heavily structured church.

 

Besides the sharing of material possessions, the most important thing the first generation Christians shared was the ministry of spreading the gospel.  Everyone had a part to play in this ministry.  For this reason they lived in Christian community, not just for the fun of fellowship, but to carry out their God-given responsibility to spread the gospel. 

Back in the 1970's those to whom I was joined in the Lord had the same mentality.  We valued our relationships.  This reminds me of Emmy Lou Harris' comment on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s CD entitled "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," volume 2.  She said that in the making of records, things have gotten so technical and precise that the musicians and singers had lost the living room experience in their music.  In other words, the business of music choked the joy out of playing music together in someone's living room.  The same is true with the business of church.  When we professionalize church to make it marketable to the masses, we lose the living room experience in our gatherings, and by the way, most churches find their roots in someone's living room.  We exchange the living room for the ecclesiastical maze.  I think I can safely say that Jesus’ most important relationships while on earth were living room type relationships.  They certainly weren’t synagogue type relationships.  

 

All of the above being said, the most important thing, if you can properly call Him a thing, that Christians share in common is the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of Jesus lives, both within the Christian and within the Christian community.  That means we share the very life of Jesus Himself.  All of whom Jesus is, thus, should be shared with one another.  It is the unity that Jesus spoke to His apostles about, as is recorded in John 17.  As He and His Father was one, so Jesus wants us as Christians to be one.  That is a pretty tall order, and has seldom been seen in the ecclesiastical maze, but it is still the desire of Jesus.  Sharing Jesus in common means that the very character qualities of Jesus should be shared within the Christian community.  That is true Biblical koinonia.  

 

  

 

16 - The Horizontal And The Vertical

 

In the early 1970’s when my friends and I were attempting to walk the path of Christian community, or koinonia as we often called it, we placed great significance in the horizontal relationships we had with one another.  Our horizontal relationships were to be balanced with our vertical relationship with Jesus.  We emphasized the horizontal because we felt the church was neglecting its importance.  According to our thinking back then, church seemed to be about me and Jesus, to the exclusion of me and my brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

1 John 2:27 was often quoted to support this me and Jesus mentality.  John told his readers that we don't need any man to teach us because we have the anointing, which is the Holy Spirit.  John wasn't saying we didn't need teachers in the church.  If that was his intent he would not have written this letter of instruction.  In context, John was saying that the Holy Spirit would warn his readers of false teachers.  The church doesn't need false teachers to teach the believers.  Christians did need real godly teachers to teach them. 

 

While at Bible College in the mid 1970's one raging debate was between the me and Jesus students and the shepherding/discipleship students.  I'll talk about the Shepherding Movement later.  Some students believed they needed their brothers and sisters while others felt Jesus was all they needed.   

 

One of my Bible College teachers was called a wild boar for his fierce independence and unbending allegiance to Scripture.  Martin Luther was one of his heroes.  The me and Jesus students imitated this teacher.  There was another teacher promoting Christian community.  He told us that if our Bible College actually lived out community as he saw it in Scripture, it would be a drastically different place to live.  Those from the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement agreed whole-heartedly with him.   Myself, well, I liked both of these teachers, and as usual, I was stuck between two polarizing groups, but that always seems to be me.  I'm always stuck in the middle, but as Bob Mumford from the Shepherding Movement put it, "truth often lies between two opposites."  So maybe I'm not in a bad spot after-all.  I agree with Bob Mumford.        

 

Bible College was a funny place at times.  Certain students would imitate certain teachers.  They would follow these teachers around like little ducklings floating behind their mother in a pond.  The fierce independent teacher might come into class; plop his coffee cup on his desk; put his elbows firmly on his desk with his head in his hands, while yawning say: "I am so tired Lord."  The more spiritually orientated students cringed at such an unspiritual way to open class.  They preferred another teacher who seemed to just float into class from Heaven.  She would be singing praises to God as she walked through the classroom door.  Her opening prayer could easily turn into a worship service, and, bringing coffee to class, well, that would have been out of the question. 

 

The debate between me and Jesus and me and my brothers split the Charismatic Movement of the 1970’s.  The debate was seen in Christian magazines and on Christian radio and television.  I recall one radio host on the Christian Broadcasting Network in upstate New York saying: "I can take my brother in the Lord or I can leave him."  The Apostle Paul would have certainly disagreed with that statement, as seen in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 through 14.

 

Back in the 1970's some of us thought that having a personal relationship with Jesus was easy, although looking back on that, people's lives say that's more difficult than we will admit.

 

 Relating to people was difficult at best.  Again, if you are honest, I think you would agree with me.  Maintaining a healthy relationship with Jesus takes time and effort on our part.  The same is true with relating to our brothers and sisters in Jesus.  I believe that the better our relationship is with Jesus, the better our relationships will be with those to whom Jesus has joined us, and to be clear, our horizontal relationships are not optional.  We cannot take or leave our brothers and sisters in Jesus.      

 

 

  

  

17 - Introduction To Cults

 

In the spring of 1971 some of us met every week in the basement of a century-old church building to plan our strategy to share Jesus at an upcoming rock festival that was to be held just north of town.  We called these meetings the SMOTS meetings.  SMOTS stood for the "Secret Meeting Of The Saints."  We pictured ourselves as a youthful clandestine movement that would infiltrate the rock festival and win the hippies over to Jesus.  Maybe you can visualize our youthfulness.  Now, as I'm about to complete seven decades of my life, youth seems like it would be a nice thing to experience all over again, but, that will never happen. 

 

We invited Jesus People groups from across North America to come and help us out in our clandestine endeavour.  As the excitement and anticipation mounted for the big weekend we were informed that the festival had been cancelled.  In the vernacular of the day, that was one "big downer."  For those who may not know, the word "downer" was meant to express the depressive feelings one would experience after "coming down" from a drug-induced" ecstatic high.  That was something I never experienced because I never did drugs.  I may have looked like a freaked-out hippie, but I wasn't one.     

 

We were concerned about the Jesus People groups we had invited to the rock festival that was now cancelled.  What would we do if a bunch of Jesus People showed up on our city's door-step and we would have nothing to offer them?  Fortunately, we did not have a massive influx of Jesus People.  We did, however unfortunately, have one group from Michigan that drove its green van into our city.  That green van became problematic, as I will explain later.  At our request, the cult known as the Children of God entered Ontario , Canada , for the first time.  We knew absolutely nothing about this group but that would soon change.  Anyone around at that time will attest to what I'm about to write.  

 

The COG, as we called them, didn't care about a cancelled rock festival.  They took their brand of the gospel to the streets of our city.  Preaching on the streets impressed many of us youth.  We would soon take up the practice ourselves. 

 

One thing that impressed me about this group was their memorization of Scripture.  They spoke Bible verses as if the Bible was their second language.  So, not to be outdone, I began to memorize the Bible as well.  Within a year I had memorized about two thousand Bible verses.  I could quote the book of Philippians in one sitting without stumbling over words or making mistakes.   

 

The message the COG preached was forsake all to follow Jesus.  That sounded good, but what sounds good is not always good.  They quoted such Scriptures as: "If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).  It didn't take me long to learn that forsaking all meant selling all of your possessions and handing the proceeds over to them.  Some of my brothers and sisters in Jesus did just that.     

 

You have to understand our youthful, excited-about-Jesus, mentality back then.  We were in our late teens.  We were influenced by the 60's generation.  We were searching for a spiritual reality that we struggled to find within the traditional church.  We wanted to see the reality of Jesus outside the walls of church buildings.  At first glance, the Children of God presented us with a dynamic alternative to traditional Christianity, and that caught our attention.    

 

The COG pressured me to forsake all, but I couldn't, and I didn't.  I valued my commitment to work with children at the Free Methodist Church 's children's camp that summer.  I couldn't back out on my commitment, despite heavy handed pressure by the COG to do just that.  Cancelling a commitment is never the godly thing to do.  It is against my very genetic make-up.  I stood true to my word.  I took youth camp over the Children of God, now known as the Family.  I'm certainly glad for my choice of commitments.

 

The COG caused quite an uproar in our city for which they were quite proud of.  They reminded me that the Apostle Paul caused an uproar in most cities he visited, but the uproar that Paul caused was not the same as the uproar that took place among Christians in the summer of 1971 in our region of Canada .  Things got so bad that a couple Pentecostal men got in a fist fight with these guys on the doorsteps of their church building.  I know that Paul spoke about our weapons of warfare in Ephesians 6 but I don't think he had fists in mind as being one of our weapons. 

 

David Burg was an Evangelical youth leader in a mid-western American state.  He claimed that if he had one hundred young people on fire for Jesus he could change the world.  David Burg became Moses David, the prophet and supreme leader of the Children of God.  His group grew to thousands of young people that were spread around the world.  The COG didn't change the world, but it did change David Burg.  As is often the case in the ecclesiastical maze, unchallenged authority turns a leader into a dictator, something Jesus warned against in Matthew 20:24 and 25.  He told His disciples that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their people for their own benefit but that should not be the case with His disciples.   

 

As I mentioned earlier in my account, Moses David promoted the sharing of wives within the group.  It was his, unbiblical, way to express Christian community.  He also used sex as a witnessing tool.  On the streets of our cities in 1971, young short-skirted seductive women with a tract entitled "Holy Holes" prostituted themselves as a means to win men to Jesus.  Adherents of Moses David saw nothing wrong with this practice because, even though they claimed to value Scripture, obedience to their prophet was ultimate.  That's not the first time in church history such things like that have taken place, and it certainly will not be the last time.  In our modern vernacular, some people like drinking the cool-aid, a reference to the Jonestown cult in the late 1970's where the adherents to Jim Jones drank the poison cool-aid that killed them all in the name of Jim Jones.         

 

Abuse of authority isn't relegated to cults.  It has been a problem throughout church history.  Heavy handed authoritarianism; "it's my way or you're out of here," isn't New Testament thinking.  Yes, there are New Testament passages that encourage us to submit to our leaders but those leaders bent on dictatorship misunderstand how the New Testament understands the word "submit."  You don't submit to dictatorial church leaders.  I'll talk about this later in more detail.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

18 Healing Divides The Maze

 

Some segments of the ecclesiastical maze believe that miraculous healing isn't for today while other parts believe it is.  I believe Jesus still heals people today because I would have been dead at the age of seven, eight, or nine, if He had not healed me of severe Juvenile Diabetes.     

 

Some quote 1 Corinthians 13:9 and 10 to say that healing isn't for today.  Paul said this: "For now we know in part … but when perfection comes, the imperfect will disappear."  The controversy stems over the word "perfection."  Some say perfection is the Bible, and since we have the Bible, the gifts of the Holy Spirit seen in 1 Corinthians 12, including healing, have passed away.  That absolutely makes no Biblical sense.   

 

With all of the various Bible translations we have at our disposal today, which one is perfect?  The orthodox view of the doctrine of Biblical inspiration states that only the original writings, not any copies or translations, are inspired by God, and that, sorry to say to some, includes the King James Bible.  The only thing that is perfect is God Himself.  The logical Biblical fact is that the only perfect thing is God, is Jesus, and, when Jesus comes back to earth, the gifts of the Spirit, including healing, will no longer be necessary.  The true Christian will exist in a perfected state, just as Jesus exists today.  It's that simple.    

 

As I have previously stated, I am legally blind.  If someone with twenty twenty vision sees something forty feet away, for me to see the exact same thing with the same detail, I need to be two feet away.  Those with good vision can read a one inch letter from twenty eight inches away.  I have to be about three inches away to read the same one inch letter.  As I read these words on my twenty seven inch monitor, with words enlarged to three quarters of an inch, my nose is one inch from the monitor.  I read books with the use of a pair of glasses with a magnifying lens in my right eye.  While reading with one eye, my nose normally turns black as it scrapes across the printed page.     

 

While at Bible College in 1975 I asked a friend where my fiancé was sitting in the cafeteria.  He told me exactly where she was sitting but apparently, and most embarrassingly, I got his instructions a bit mixed up.  As my fiancé watched from the other side of the lunch-room table, I started sweet talking to the wrong girl with the same colour of hair as my girlfriend.  I soon discovered my words of love were heading in the wrong direction.  Although I was embarrassed, everyone at the table found it quite humorous.  O well; my embarrassment was their source of laughter for the day.  I could live with that.          

 

When I was in my twenties a couple of friends enjoyed embarrassing me in public.  We entered a high class art gallery in Ottawa one day wearing our street clothes.  Apparently there was something special taking place that day at the gallery since there were a number of men dressed in tuxes and women dressed in gowns.  In an attempt to embarrass me in front of these high-class people my friends told me to get close to one particular painting so I could see it well.  They were quite concerned that I see each square inch of this fairly large painting.  Their trick worked.   My nose ended up six inches away from the navel of a naked woman that had been painted on the canvas.  I turned around, hoping to see my friends, but they were long gone.  Those I did see were those dressed in their tuxes and gowns.  "Like smelling women's navels?" my friends asked me as I caught up with them.  Their pleasure at my expense.  Such is life for a guy who is legally blind and who has friends like them.                     

 

My dad believed that Jesus could heal my legally blind eyes.  Of course he believed in healing because Jesus had already healed me of Juvenile Diabetes.  That was how he became a Christian, so, every chance dad had an opportunity he would drag me to an altar of prayer so Jesus could heal my eyes.   That got a bit embarrassing, especially as a child, but I continued the pattern as I grew of age.  I tried every healing formula one can find in the ecclesiastical maze.  I went to two Katherine Kuhlman meetings in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania .  Kuhlman was a well-known lady with a healing ministry.  I stood in many healing lines.  People laid hands on me in prayer, tried to cast demons out of me, had visions and dreams about my healing, and prophesied over me.  I fasted.  I pleaded with Jesus in prayer.  I tried everything possible to get these eyes in perfect shape, all of which obviously failed.   

 

Every year at the Free Methodist Church ’s family camp there would be a special healing meeting.  In 1970 some of us young people fasted and prayed for my healing.  We had lots of faith, or so we thought.  We believed that my healing would take place at the Friday morning healing service, but it wasn't to be.     

 

In 1972 I stood in a Jerry B. Walker healing line in Toronto .  He was a well-known preacher with a healing ministry back then.  If you were to look at me, you wouldn't know that I had a visual problem, so, it had to have been the Lord when Walker put his hands over my eyes and laughed a laugh that seemed to be a laugh of victory.  He had no idea that I had a vision problem, but his actions demonstrated that someone, who must have been Jesus, told him about my bad eyesight.  Walker then proceeded to the next person in line as I went back to my seat, still not healed.  Two years later I stood in another one of his healing lines.  This time he looked at me and just said; "Lord, help my buddy."  I'm still in the dark about all of this. 

 

I have been told by hyper-faith folk that I need more faith.  They tell me that I need to believe and act as if I'm already healed.  So, I purchased myself the smallest print Bible I could find.  Every day I would pick that Bible up.  I acted as if I could read it, but every day I couldn't read it.  Most people could not read it.  It had extremely small print.  I still can't read it.      

 

I've long since forsaken the hyper-faith teaching.  If Jesus heals you, you are healed.  You don't have to trick yourself into thinking you are healed when you are not healed.  Jesus isn't into playing games with our heads.  What I should have said to these hyper-faith folk is that if they gave me the keys to their cars, I'd gladly drive them home from church, because of course, according to them, I was already healed.  We would soon find out who had faith and who did not have faith.    

 

I'm sorry to say this, but the Bible doesn't set forth one specific formula for healing.  We tend to take one example of Biblical healing and turn it into a formulized doctrine, and then we run with it.  I'm sure you remember the time when Jesus spit on the ground and put that muddy mess into a blind man's eyes.  Does anyone want to formalize that method into a doctrine?  Well, that's probably the only one that hasn't been so formalized into doctrine, but I'm sure it has been tried many times over the years, just not on me.           

 

Hyper-faith folk tell me I need more faith, but they don't understand the meaning to true Biblical faith.  Faith is not a commodity that you can get more of.  Someone can't tell you to go and find more faith.  Faith is trust.  One can't get more trust.  Faith is surrendering to Jesus.  Faith is relaxing in the presence of the Lord.  Faith is not striving for something beyond your reach.  I agree with Martin Luther when he said that faith is a passive action, not an aggressive action.  Because faith is trust, one can't get more trust.  One can, however, trust more.  I say all of this because the Greek word "pistis" that is translated as "faith" or "believe" in the New Testament simply means "trust."  That's it.  If you have faith in Jesus, you trust Him.  You rest in His abilities, not your own imperfect abilities.        

 

The three Hebrew men in the Book of Daniel demonstrated real faith.  In Daniel 3:16 through 18 they said this: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He doesn't, we want you to know, O king; we will not serve your gods." 

 

These men's positive confession of faith included the words "but even if He doesn't."  Hyper-faith folk would cringe at these men's confession of faith.  To them, the word "but" suggests doubt, and no one who doubts has true faith.  These men didn't doubt.  They resigned themselves to God's will, whether He saved them from the fire or not.  Resignation, as Luther would have said, is a passive action.  These men did not have to work up some kind of faith.  They did not have to scrounge around and dig up faith they did not have.  They simply trusted in their God no matter the consequences, no matter the results.  They accepted God's will for them, whether that meant life or death.  That is valid Biblical faith.      

 

1 Peter 1:3 to 9 tells us that those who have true faith will have their faith tested.  These tests might well include sickness, or, legally blind eyes.  If your faith is not tested, that tells me that you have little faith, or maybe no faith at all.  If you have no tests of faith, would not that suggest you have no faith to be tested?   In that sense of the word, hyper-faith folk may not actually have the faith they claim to have.  Think about that one for a while.   

 

I stand with the three Hebrew men of Daniel.  I trust Jesus no matter how He responds to my prayers.  I trust Jesus whether He heals my legally blind eyes in this life or not.  I don't get bent out of shape if He decides not to heal me.  That my friend, is what I call Biblical faith.

 

 

 

 

19 - The Jesus People Movement

 

A valid Christian revival is one that begins in church and works its way out into the surrounding community.  I say that because of the meaning of the word "revival."  Something, or someone, who has been revived must have lived prior to this revival and at some point died, or, was close to death.  You can't revive something or someone that has never lived, and the secular community in which Christians live, had never lived spiritually.

 

An example of a revival is the Great Awakening that spread across Europe and North America in the 1700's and early 1800's.  It revived a large portion of a dead church that was left over from the Reformation Movement of the sixteenth century.  A true revival in the church, will, sooner or later, affect the culture in which the revived church exists.  If it does not, you might want to question if it was a true revival.   

 

In England , one result of the Great Awakening was the banning of the practice of slavery by the English parliament in 1833.  It is for this reason that I say that as the church goes, so the nation will go.  If the church is dead spiritually, the nation will be dead spiritually.  If the church is spiritually alive, the church will have some positive impact on its surrounding culture.  We, thus, need to pray for the church.  Unless the church is revived, there will be no national spiritual awakening.  Far too often we are praying for a national revival when we should be praying for a church revival.     

 

I believe the Jesus People Movement of the mid 1960's and 1970's constituted a valid Christian revival.  The movement began in 
California among the youth, many of 

whom were hippies who had never dawned
the doors of a church building.  The movement spread across North American and eventually to many nations of the world.  The movement arrived in my home town in southern Ontario in 1971.  Although I looked like a long-haired hippie back then, I wasn't.  I was a straight-laced church kid who had never touched a cigarette let alone drugs, but I was, impacted by the Jesus People Movement.    

 

The early 1970's were exciting days for me and my brothers in Jesus.  We shared Jesus on street corners, in coffee houses, in bars, in parks, in schools and colleges, and even in church buildings.  On one occasion we led the three members of a rock band trio to Jesus during their stint at a local bar.  They quickly added a few Christian songs to their repertoire of songs they sang to the patrons of the bar.  When their musical set was over, we would head upstairs to their hotel room to pray and instruct them in the Word of God.  O yes, we did also share a bottle of wine.  Okay, I've said it.  I drank wine back then, and, I'm not sorry to say, I still drink wine.  Alright, I drink beer too, and, sometimes whiskey mixed with Pepsi Cola.  Hopefully this admission won't cause you to close this book and throw it into the nearest garbage bin.          

 

I would like to say that I suffered persecution at the hands of a violent sinner when I went flying over a table and onto the floor after being kicked in the head, but I can't honestly say that with a clear conscience.  After getting re-orientated from my fall, I got up again, only to be kicked again.  On to the floor I flew for the second time.  I wasn't being persecuted for my faith.  I was just trying to stop a drunken guy from beating up on a friend in our Christian coffee house.  I wonder if Jesus ever had to break up a fight.  I know he had to break up arguments among His disciples.  I can imagine that Peter the business man got in daily arguments with Matthew the Jewish tax collector who worked for Rome .       

 

While walking the halls of a local high school, my friend got talking to a student about Jesus.  Within minutes a large crowd of students gathered around him to hear what he was saying.  He opened his big black-covered, oversized Bible and began preaching Jesus.  The resulting commotion was noticed by the principal of the school who told my friend that he had to stop preaching.  My friend responded by saying that he, or no one else, could stop him from preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The principal conceded and gave us a classroom to preach Jesus in when the school day was over.  The gathering was announced over the public address system and the room was packed with students and teachers alike.   

 

One teacher scoffed at us.  Being full of divine boldness, okay, also mixed with some naivety, stupidity and youthfulness, my friend quoted 1 John 1:6 to the scoffing teacher.  It states that if you claim to have fellowship with God and walk in darkness, you lie.  The teacher didn't appreciate being called a liar.  As he stomped out of the room in angered disgust, my friend quoted 1 John 1:8 to him.  It states that if you claim to have no sin you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you.  I'm sure you can guess that the teacher was not happy about that one either.  His anger was aroused even more and the room became chaotic.  When it was all over, another teacher stayed behind and asked us to talk further in her history class.  We were overjoyed to preach in a history class.   

 

While sharing Jesus with a girl on a street corner she asked us if we could speak to her college world religions class as part of her assignment she was working on.  Her teacher was a Jew, who, aggressively refuted our testimony about Jesus, her Messiah.  She opposed the idea that Jesus, the Jewish apostate, was her Messiah.  Sad to say, two weeks later this teacher was killed in a car accident, but not before hearing the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, her Jewish Messiah.

 

It was in Florida , in March, 1972 when I met up with a Jesus Person from Brooklyn , New York .  While driving full-speed down Interstate 75 he noticed some hippies in a Volkswagen in the passing lane.  Being full of faith, he drove his van as close as he could to the speeding Volkswagen.  As both vehicles sped down the highway my new-found friend motioned to the hippie in the passenger seat just inches away from him.  He motioned to the hippie that he roll down his car window, and with one hand steering his van my friend passed a track down to the hippie with his other hand.  You might fault us, or maybe I should say my new-found friend, for his stupidity, but you couldn't have faulted him for his enthusiasm. 

 

On another occasion we shared Jesus at another high school.  I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as we spoke.  One student came up to me and asked what drug I was high on.  According to him, I looked spaced out.  Some might suggest that is my normal look, but I told him I wasn't stoned.  I was filled with the Holy Spirit.  That reminded me of the Apostle Peter who was accused of being drunk on the Day of Pentecost.

 

Earlier in my account I said that the Children of God entered Canada from Michigan in a green van.  A green van became significant after my friend Jim bought a green van after escaping the Children of God.   Shortly after his purchase, he, his wife, I, and a couple other brothers in the Lord moved into a farm house.  We soon saw police cars slowly driving by our house.  They were clearly spying on us.  We were under police surveillance.   We later learned that the police suspected us as being the Children of God because of the green van.   

 

Shortly after we notice the police cars driving by our house we were summoned to appear before a local immigration officer.  He figured we were members of the Children of God, who in his mind, entered Canada illegally.  We had nothing to hide.  We answered all his questions, and when it was all said and done, I slid a Jesus tract across his desk.  I proceeded to preach Jesus to the government official.  He wasn't impressed.  Again, you might fault us for our naivety but you couldn't have faulted us for our boldness.  Feeling a little like the Apostle Paul before the Roman authorities, we left with joy in our hearts being privileged to preach Jesus to a government official in desperate need of salvation.  

 

That reminds me of the time I was interrogated by the American immigration and custom officers as I crossed into America via a bus.  While attempting to enter the United States , I was taken off the bus and questioned - more like interrogated - for almost an hour.  My long hair and my Bible seemed to arouse suspicion about me.  They did release me and those waiting on the bus were glad to see me back on the bus.  Both the customs and immigration officer seemed very curious about my Bible.  I suppose me talking about Jesus didn't help matters either, but once again, you can't fault me for my enthusiasm.   

That reminds me of the time my two friends, Robert and Dave, and I were also stopped at the boarder entering the United States .  Again, our long hair and our guitars didn't help our situation.  What made things worse was when a boarder guard asked us why we were entering the United States .  My long-haired friend Dave, driving his father's brand new red Buick, told the officer that we were going to worship the Lord Jesus with our brothers in Christ.  That did it.  We would not enter America right away.  We were hauled off for more interrogation as they ripped our car apart.  Finally figuring out that we were harmless, but quite strange, young men, we were set free to worship Jesus with our American brothers, but before we could do that, we had to put my friend's dad's car back together, with no help from the guard who ripped it apart.       

 

We also felt like Paul when he was questioned before the Jewish Sanhedrin.  It wasn't only the government that was on our case.  The local church community was keeping a close eye on us as well.  One Pentecostal pastor who was convinced we were secret agents for the Children of God visited us one evening in our Christian commune, something I'm sure he disagreed with.  He and his son rebuked us harshly.  We had become a divisive factor in the local Christian community.  I was about to quote Matthew 10:34 to this pastor in support of the division we were accused of creating.  The text states the Jesus didn't come to bring peace but a sword that would divide people into various factions.  As I was ready to quote the verse, I changed my mind.  I didn't think it was proper, even godly, to use a Bible verse as a sword against my brother.  I was dumbfounded, though, when this pastor used that very same verse as a sword against us just moments later.  How weird that was.     

 

We felt the pressure from both the ecclesiastical maze and the government, but that only strengthened our resolve to preach Jesus everywhere and anywhere. We may have been young and naïve, but we were certainly experiencing a fresh visitation of Jesus in our lives which were being felt throughout our community, and, which was a testimony to the fact that this was a valid revival. 

 

As I mentioned earlier in this chapter; a true revival will ripple itself through the civil community at large, and the Jesus People Movement did do that.  Many non-Christians came to Jesus, including some very prominent musicians in rock music.  As a matter of fact a number of secular songs you would hear being played on the radio incorporated Christian lyrics.  Of course, that did not make the performers Christian.  It just goes to show you that a valid revival among Christians does have an impact on its surrounding community.

 

When it comes to the Jesus People Movement and my participation in it, I could go on forever with many stories, but I won't.  I will end it with what I have said.  

 

  

20 - My Last Big Purchase

 

It was 1973.  I had recently read Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth."  I was convinced beyond any doubt that life as we knew it was all over.  The end of the age would crash down on us by 1975.  There was no time to waste.  There was no sense spending tons of money on stuff that I would have to leave behind after I was raptured from earth.  On the other hand, if Lindsey was wrong and there was no pre-tribulation rapture, it still did not make sense to spend tons of money on things the anti-Christ would take from me before he executed me.  The simple life was the way to go, and for that reason, at the age of 22 years old I decided to make the last big purchase of my entire life. 

 

Being a lover of music I had my eyes on two stereo speakers at our local Radio Shack store.  Upon entering the store with a Larry Norman and an Andrae Crouch album in hand, I blasted everyone in the store with my Christian music.  I figured that if I was going to test out these speakers I might as well use the test as a witnessing tool for Jesus.  So there you go.  I left the store $250.00 poorer, thinking I had just made the last big purchase of my short, but entire, life.  I would certainly enjoy my Christian music as I waited the return of Jesus or the beheading of my head from my shoulders, whatever came first.             

 

Once 1975 had come and gone I realized that the ecclesiastical maze was divided into various prophetic corners.  In one corner I was told that the anti-Christ was alive and well somewhere in the Middle East , and we should try to figure out just who he is as soon as possible.  In another corner I was told that we were actually living in the millennial rule of Christ, a period of time with relative peace in the world.  In yet another corner I was told that the Book of Revelation, including the coming of the anti-Christ, had already taken place prior to 70 A. D., when Roman armies overthrew Jerusalem .  In yet another corner I was told that the book of Revelation was just a bunch of symbols that portrayed the history of the last two thousand years. 

 

I began to get weary of bouncing from corner to corner and so I decided to sit on one of the fences that divided the maze.  I watched the various corners battling things out.  Even though I was resigned to fence sitting, there was always a nagging feeling inside to get to the bottom of this prophetic barrow of Biblical truth. 

It took me a few years, actually a couple of decades, but I did settle down in the corner of the Prophetic Futurist.  I believe the Book of Revelation is yet to be fulfilled.  I believe the anti-Christ will dominate world politics at some future point in history.  I believe that Israel is the centerpiece of Biblical prophecy.  Of course, there are other pertinent beliefs that go along with the Futurist Prophetic position, but that is a book for another day and time.   

   

Just to let you know, my last big purchase of my entire life in 1973 was not my last big purchase.  I am now heading towards the age of seventy years and I have to admit that I have made a few more purchases along the way.  One thing hasn't changed.  I still prefer a simple uncluttered life.  Hebrews 12:1 admonishes us to throw off all that clutters our lives so we can run the race that Jesus has asked us to run.  As I get older, and as the end of this age gets closer, this admonition seems more important to me than ever.    

 

  

 

 

 

21 - Demons Divide The Maze

 

Can a Christian have a demon?  That was one big question we and others had in the early 1970's.  Maybe it was a new question for many of us back then, but it had been a matter of great debate for centuries.  To help answer this question my friends and I read a little red-covered book entitled "Out In The Name Of Jesus," written by Pat Brooks.  Brooks explained how to drive demons out of people in a few short and simple steps.  It sounded so easy, so we went fast and furious to do as she taught.  We attempted to cast out every demon we thought we found lingering around in each other's soul.    

 

One day I woke up sick with the flu, or maybe it was a demon; maybe a demon of flu.  Just in case I had a demon of flu, a couple of friends took me down to a private place by a nearby river.  They proceeded to drive that demon of flu out of me.  Either the demon failed to come out of me or else I really did not have a demon of flu.  I went home as sick as ever.  I don't think I had a demon.  I just had the old-fashion common flu bug, and a flu bug, is not a demon.           

 

On another occasion we supposedly drove one hundred and eighteen demons out of one girl.  We followed the formula set out in the little red covered-book.  We asked for each demon's name.  Each one told us its name, and then, we would cast it out of the girl.  It took four of us to hold this girl down on the floor at one point because of the violent reactions when the demons left her.  The book warned us about such violence.  I was actually sitting on the girl's ankles in order to hold her legs down on the floor.  Another friend held down one arm while yet another held down her other arm.  The fourth brother in the Lord was holding her head on the floor.  We did not want her to get a whip-lash as the demons came flying forth from her in a violent rage.    

 

To make a three hour story short, the last demon we cast out of this girl called itself a lying spirit, or so that's what he claimed to be.  I was a bit confused and somewhat curious.  I asked the lying spirit if he was telling us the truth about being a lying spirit.  It's difficult to know if a lying spirit is capable of telling the truth. 

 

When it was all said and done, I don't know if we drove one hundred and eighteen demons out of this girl or if we just drove one lying spirit pretending to be one hundred and eighteen demons out of her.  I wonder if we actually drove any demons out of her.  That being said, there did seem to be more than something human going on with this girl.  At one point this girl literally threw me off of her ankles.  That is not an easy task if you think it through.  She was not a very strong person.  Out of curiosity, I was victorious over her in an arm wrestle the next day.                 

 

At the risk of losing any credibility I might have left, I'll tell you one more story.   We chased a girl possessed by a demon down the street.  We eventually tackled her to the ground in the outfield of a baseball game that was in progress.  We got her back to the house where we were meeting, and once there, she proceeded to the kitchen where she grabbed a butcher knife and hid under a bed.  We finally coaxed her from under the bed and delivered her of her demon, or so we thought. 

 

Now you know why the deliverance ministry has divided the ecclesiastical maze.  I look back on those days and still wonder.  I know we went overboard.  That is certain.  I know we relied too much on that little red-covered book and not enough on the Bible.  On the other hand, I know there are demons, and they don’t all live in Africa as one pastor friend told me.  That being said, I don't believe a Christian, one in whom the Holy Spirit lives, can have a demon living inside of him.  How can the Spirit of God be united with en evil spirit?  I do believe someone can be influenced by a demon if he opens his life up to one.  Ephesians 6:12 says it clearly.  Our fight is ultimately against this demonic world.  We need to take this battle seriously.  We need to live and be guided by the Holy Spirit, and not by humanistic ways disguised as being Biblical.

 

Our attempts at the deliverance died out by natural causes.  We were exhausted.  Many Sunday mornings we would gather for our weekly meeting, after which we would have a quick lunch.  Then, we would go at it.  We would cast demons out of people until eight or nine in the evening.  We had people coming from out of town to deliver them of demons they thought they had.  I can't discount the deliverance ministry outright, but I will say this.  Not all who claim to have a deliverance ministry actually have a deliverance ministry.  Not all who are told they have a demon actually have a demon.  Much of what some call demonic is simply our own sinful flesh.  I am certain of that.  

 

 

 

 

 

22 - The Shepherding Movement

 

The Charismatic Movement emerged in the 1960’s in mainly non-Evangelical churches.  Many people came to know Jesus in a real way by receiving the Holy Spirit into their lives in those days.  I was heavily involved in Charismatic circles during the 1970's and beyond.  Many of those who had been touched by the Holy Spirit in this movement no longer felt comfortable in liberal churches that were forsaking essential Biblical doctrine.  These people, therefore, would attend Charismatic style meetings everywhere they could find them.  Many of the new Charismatic believers found themselves in para-church organizations like the Full Gospel Christian Businessmen.  I was the local youth representative for this organization in the early 1970's.   

 

During this period of time certain Bible teachers were emerging as leaders in the Charismatic Movement.  Four of these leaders were based in Fort Lauderdale , Florida , and thus known as the "Fort Lauderdale Four."  They were Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Derek Prince and Don Basham.  A couple of years later Earn Baxter joined these men.  These teachers taught in conference settings and also through books, magazines, and cassette tape ministries.  One such magazine was called New Wine.  I had the privilege of touring the New Wine facilities in Mobile , Alabama .  Through these teaching formats these men attempted to bring order and continuity to the Charismatic Movement that had little of either.  Many Charismatics weren't grounded into a real expression of the Body of Christ.  They just floated from one meeting to another, and we all know that church is more than just floating from one meeting to another.        

 

The Fort Lauderdale Four, now Five, emphasized discipleship as being normal Christianity.   Jesus told His twelve apostles to make disciples for Him from all nations, or from all ethnicities, as the Greek text of Matthew 28:19 states.  A disciple of Jesus is one who has a working relationship with Jesus and learns all he can from Him.  In the early 1970’s the Discipleship Movement was born to bring stability to these new Charismatic style believers.

 

As time went on the Discipleship Movement morphed into what was then called the Shepherding Movement.  It was a natural transition.  The new disciples needed to be cared for and the caring process was called "shepherding." 

The word "shepherd" is another word for pastor.  A shepherd or pastor is one of the gifts Jesus gives to the church as seen in Ephesians 4:10.  They are apostles, evangelists, prophets, and pastors/teachers.  It is important to know that not all Christians are called to be shepherds of God's flock, and this is where problems arose, at least in my thinking, within the Shepherding Movement.  We were all encouraged to shepherd others.  At one point in time I had five families under my shepherding care.                 

 

In the early 1970’s my friends and I were following the Fort Lauderdale Five.  In 1977 we joined ourselves to the Shepherding Movement when a shepherd/pastor and his family moved from Northern Virginia,  U. S. A. , to our town.  We, thus, brought the Shepherding Movement to eastern Canada . 

 

Shepherding was all about providing personal pastoral care for the believer.  That meant every Christian in the movement was to have a personal pastor, a shepherd who would help in the oversight of such things as finances, marriage problems, the raising of children, and all other things that impacted our daily lives.  That all sounded good, but when those not called by God to be shepherds were shepherding, things went off track because the so-called shepherds neither had the calling from God or the ability to carry out the duties of a legitimate shepherd/pastor.    

 

I was in Bible College in the mid 1970's when our local fellowship came under the care and authority of a shepherd/pastor.  The movement became very controversial at Bible College , mainly because of the movement's emphases on submission to authority, which I will address later.        

   

I enjoyed the shepherding days.  I benefited mostly from the relationships I had with those in the movement.  I benefited less from actually being shepherded.  That being said, I didn't fully embrace the shepherding teaching as being Biblical, because as I have said, not everyone is called to shepherd God's flock, and, when those who are not so called attempt the task, it can do more harm than good.  In part, this is why the movement failed.  Yes, the new Charismatic believers needed grounding in both the Word of God and a valid community of believers, but Shepherding, even with its good intensions, evaporated in the mid 1980's.  

 

Pastoring problems aren't exclusive to the Shepherding Movement.  Pastoral abuses can be seen throughout the history of the ecclesiastical maze.  Some pastors are dictators, not servants.  Some pastors are administrators, not care givers.  Some pastors view their ministry as a career, not a calling from God.  Simply put, much of what is called pastoring in the ecclesiastical maze is not Scriptural pastoring.       

 

  

 

23 - Submission And Authority

 

Shortly after we got acquainted with the Shepherding Movement, I headed off to Elim Bible Institute and College in Lima , New York .  The year was 1975 and the Shepherding Movement was a controversial topic of hot debate at Elim, and really, throughout the Charismatic Movement at large.  While we were in the midst of the debate, something Bible college students thoroughly enjoy, my friends back home committed our fellowship to shepherding under the stream headed by Charles Simpson, one of the Fort Lauderdale Five I've previously mentioned.    

 

The debate at Elim and elsewhere was over the concept of being under the care and authority of a personal shepherd.  The theological term to this is called "submission and authority" or "submission to authority."  Both the word "submission" and the word "authority" are Biblical words, but, they must be understood in terms of how the New Testament understands them, not as we think they should be understood.    

 

Two months after returning home from Elim I was married to my wife Cathy, who I had met at Bible College .  My wife and I submitted ourselves under the care and authority of a shepherd/pastor, who, with his family had recently moved from Virginia to lead our small band of believers in Canada .  Being under this shepherd's care meant that I gave him permission to "speak into our lives," as it was called back then.  He, therefore, had free access to talk to us about whatever issues he felt was necessary.  These issues could include such things as our finances, sex life, or whatever.  Such interaction between a shepherd/pastor was part of the controversial debate. This could give way to abuse, and in some instances throughout the movement, abuses were seen.       

   

Opening one's life in this fashion might sound scary to you, and I admit, because of abuses in some cases, it did become scary.  Despite some well publicized abuses of submission and authority that took place in other localities, we didn't experience them here in our small Canadian city.  Granted, there were a few minor irritations that I found disturbing in my case but I never made a big deal about them.      

 

When our shepherd and his family decided to return to Virginia in 1980, he encouraged my wife and I to follow them.  Following one's shepherd from one locality to another back then wasn't uncommon.  He was our shepherd.  He felt this move would be good for us.  We could have said no, but we didn't.  We followed his lead because he was our shepherd.  We eventually returned to Canada in 1984.

 

Looking back on our move to America , I can't honestly say for sure if it was God's will or man's will for our lives.  I do know that I met some great brothers in the Lord in Virginia .  I learned much and benefitted from our time in America , but whether our move was really God's will is still questionable in my mind. 

 

Over the years I've done much historical and Biblical study concerning the nature of church, I conclude that much of western style church is not based on New Testament thinking.  As I've studied the New Testament, I do see submitting to church authority as being taught within its pages.  The words "submission" and "authority" are Biblical words with a specific Biblical meaning, but they are not understood by many. 

 

In short, the Greek word translated as "submit" in the New Testament was a military word in the first-century Greco-Roman world.  That being said, the New Testament doesn't use this Greek word in its common military usage.  In Biblical terms, submission is not mandated over one as a general would mandate submission in an army.  In Biblical terms, submission is a gentle, well-thought-out, yielding to another based on mutual respect, love and care.  We are to experience such submission to a church leader or a brother in the Lord.  Ephesians 5:21 makes that clear.  Again, submission is based on a mutual, loving and caring relationship, with the emphasis on the word "mutual."  Without a free flow of loving care, submission will normally become dictatorial, and dictating over another is not Biblical.     

 

When it comes to the word "authority," the  New Testament does teach ecclesiastical authority, but once again, it's not a worldly style of authority.  Jesus specifically told us that the rulers of this world lord it over their citizens to benefit themselves, but that should not be the case with those who lead and care for His people (Luke 22:25 - 26).  Those in authority within the church must exercise their authority in a loving and caring way, as a father would care for his children (1 Timothy 3: 5).  A leader in the church is a servant, not a dictatorial master.  You can read more about this in my book entitled "Confirm Your Call To Lead."     

 

Hebrews 13:17 says: "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority."  This verse needs some thoughtful exegeses.  Our English versions say "Obey your leaders."  The word "leaders" is a noun, but, in the original Greek text, there is no corresponding noun.   The Greek text says: "obey the one's leading," which is a participle.  A participle, in part, is half noun and half verb.  The verse doesn't really tell us to obey our leaders as in the ones who hold the office of a leader.  It says we are to obey the ones leading, as in, the ones who are actually carrying out the Biblical responsibility of leading.  Just because someone holds the office of a leader doesn't mean he is actually carrying out his leadership responsibilities in a godly Biblical fashion.  New Testament teaching concerning obeying leaders is that you obey those leaders who are actually called by God to lead and are leading in the way the New Testament teaches.  Our modern church puts way too much emphasis on the office of a leader and not enough emphasis on the New Testament responsibilities of a leader. 

 

The Bible doesn't view leadership in terms of an office.  It views leadership in terms of fulfilling leadership responsibilities.  We, thus, have too many career orientated leaders and not enough called-by-God servant leaders in the present day ecclesiastical maze. 

 

 

 

  

 

24 - Obey Or Move On

 

I've talked about submission and authority as it applied to the Shepherding Movement of the 1970's and 1980's, but we can't blame all of the abuses of domineering authority on the Shepherding Movement only.  It has been problematic since the formation of the church, as seen in the book of Acts. 

 

In Acts 20 the Apostle Paul said his final and sad goodbyes to the elders of the community of believers in Ephesus .  Part of what he said is as follows: "I know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:29 - 30).  "To draw disciples after themselves" is the key phrase here.  That's abuse of authority.   

 

In Acts 20:28 Paul admonished the Ephesian elders to shepherd the church of God .  From this phrase we note that the church is the church belonging to God.  The church belongs to God, not to the elders.  Elders are caregivers.  They care for God's people.  They don't steal God's people and keep them for themselves.  They don't have their own disciples.  They care for Jesus' disciples.  They don't dictate their will.  They dictate God's will.  A pastor cannot call those he leads and cares for, "his people," as I have often heard in the ecclesiastical maze.      

 

When Luke wrote the book of Acts, church leadership consisted of a body of elders, with no one man, or pastor, in charge.  The progressive evolution from this body of elders to the hierarchal Catholicism of the dark ages is easily documented in history.  In and around 100 A D one man began to rise as a leader among this body of elders.  In and around 150 A. D. to 200 A. D. that one man began to be seen as God's spokesman or representative to the church.  In and around 250 A. D. to 300 A. D. this one man began to be seen as the church's representative to God.  This one man pastor had become a middle man between the believer and God, thus the foundation of Catholicism was born and what is called the priesthood of the believer died. 

 

The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer states that all true Christians have free access to God.  This is how it works.  There is only one middle man between God the Father and the believer and that is Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).  Jesus represents us to God.  The believer has free and constant access to Jesus through the Holy Spirit who lives within him.  No man, whether priest or pastor, stands between the believer and Jesus.  We are all priests.  This is where Catholicism went very wrong.  This was a clear abuse of ecclesiastical authority.    

 

The legitimate role of a leader in the church can be seen in what Paul also told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:26 to 35.  "I have not hesitated to proclaim the whole will of God."  Paul proclaimed God's will, not his will.  "I commit you to God and His grace," he said.  In the long run, even though Paul proclaimed God's will to God's people, he left God's people to God's grace, not his own abilities.  "I have not coveted anyone silver, gold, or clothing … these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions."  This, among many other things Paul wrote, shows that he was not a dictator.  He was a servant of God.  He served those to whom God asked him to care for.  Leadership is all about serving, not dictating.  That's not always the way it is in the ecclesiastical maze.     

 

I will speak to this later, but during the 1990's and what was called "The Apostolic Movement," I was deleaderized from the community of believers of which I was a part.  I didn't fully embrace unquestioned submission to our so-called apostle as it was taught.  It was his way or no way.  Obey the apostle or move on.  With great reluctance and a good measure of sadness I was forced to move on.  Such is often the way it is in the ecclesiastical maze.

 

  

 

 

25 - Let's Make A Covenant

 

It was around 2005 when my friend attended a gathering of worship leaders in our city.  The lady in charge presented those in attendance with a covenant that they were expected to sign if they were to continue to be a part of this newly-formed Christian group.  My friend kindly suggested that making such a covenant between Christians was not New Testament thinking.  He declined to sign the document, and thus, was not permitted to attend any more of the group's meetings.   

 

In the mid 1990's my two friends were scolded by their pastor when they left his congregation.  According to this pastor, they were breaking covenant, but they weren't.  Nowhere in the New Testament does it teach that Christians sign contracts, or covenants with a pastor or a local church.  A covenant is a contract.  

 

Early in the 1980's while I was a part of one Shepherding Movement fellowship in Virginia I was told to make covenant with a particular shepherd.  After being slow to respond to this request I was literally cornered in a room and told that it was now time to make covenant.  I respectfully declined.  I said that such a covenant was not New Testament thinking.  Instead of making the covenant I appealed to a higher authority in our shepherding stream.  It was confirmed that the Shepherding Movement was not into making such personal covenants between Christians, especially between shepherds and those they cared for.  The practice of personal pastoral covenants thus ended in that fellowship of believers.  I was glad that I was instrumental in working that problem out.       

 

The simplest definition of the word "covenant" is "a contract or an agreement between two or more people."  Examples of covenants today would be a marriage covenant or a mortgage agreement.   

 

The Old Testament's Jewish concept of covenant can be briefly summed up as follows.  Two or more people would come together and make an agreement.  The agreement would have various stipulations.  Each person was responsible to live up to his specific stipulations or else suffer the stated consequences.  The covenant was then confirmed or ratified by a ceremonial ritual that often included the blood sacrifice of an animal.   

 

Those who believe we should make similar covenants today often point to the covenant that David and Jonathan made between themselves as an example for us to follow today (1 Samuel 20).  To suggest that we make covenants with one another today based on David and Jonathan's covenant is bad Biblical interpretation.  Their choice was their personal choice, and there choice was never meant to be Biblical teaching for us all to follow.  If two believers feel the desire to make such an agreement today, like David and Jonathan, that's their personal choice.  They can't make their choice into Biblical doctrine and teach others to follow their example of making covenant.      

 

The Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 15 is foundational to New Covenant thinking.  If you read Genesis 15 you'll note that God did not make a covenant with Abraham.  After setting forth the stipulations of the covenant, God put Abraham to sleep.  God then performed the sacrificial ritual with Himself; not with Abraham who was asleep.  God agreed, or covenanted, with Himself to bless Abraham.  Abraham's part in the covenant was to simply embrace it and believe that God would do as He stated in His covenant. 

 

The Abrahamic Covenant is significant when thinking of the New Covenant in Jesus (Galatians 3 and4, Romans 4).  Like the Abrahamic Covenant, the New Covenant in Jesus was not a covenant made between us and God.  Like the Abrahamic Covenant, God covenanted with Himself to bless us with salvation.  Our part of the covenant, like Abraham's part in what has been called the Abrahamic Covenant, is to simply enter into God's covenant and believe that He will do what He has promised in the covenant.   

 

Once we enter the New Covenant we are joined in covenantal relationships with God and with all Christians, past, present and future.  You could say that the moment we are born again of the Spirit of God is the moment we enter God's covenantal family.  We don't make personal covenants with each other because we are already in covenant relationships.  Obviously the practical out-workings of our covenantal relationships can only be realized with a few others to whom Jesus has joined us in the Body of Christ.  It's impossible for me to have a personal relationship with a brother in Christ who lives in Africa .  It is possible for me to work out a covenant relationship with a brother Jesus has called me to stand beside in my geographical locality.   

 

The New Testament doesn't mandate that we make personal covenants with each other, or with God.  It does mandate that we enter God's covenant confirmed in the blood sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.  If you and your brother in the Lord feel that you would like to make a covenant, that's fine.  Just don't teach others to do the same. 

 

Bill, the brother in the Lord in Virginia , that I was told to make covenant with became one of my best American friends.  He did become my shepherd, but not based on a covenant.  It was based on a loving and caring relationship.         

 

 

 

 

  

 

26 - The Conservative Christian Right

 

While visiting Northern Virginia in 1977 on my ministry placement from Elim Bible Institute and College I gazed up into the sky to see Air Force One fly overhead.  Gerald Ford was flying home to Michigan after losing the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.  As the Republicans lost the election the Conservative Christian Right was emerging as a political force to be reckoned with in American politics.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Roberson, both from Virginia , led the fight for Christian conservatism.  I visited Falwell's Liberty University and Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network while living in Richmond , Virginia .  It was in this climate of Christian conservatism that I was baptized into American style politics.

 

In 1980 my wife and I moved to Vienna , Virginia , a suburb of Washington D. C..  Washington was exhilarating; nothing like our sleepy little city of thirty two thousand people in Canada .  I quickly embraced American politics and Washington Red Skins football.  I had little choice.  My friends were addicted to both.   

 

I visited the White House, Capital Hill, and other buildings of prominence.  I sat in the U. S. senate chamber and listened to Senator Edward Kennedy expounding his view of what was then called "the Peace Movement," a view that differed greatly from that of then President Ronald Reagan, who I might add is my favourite American president.

 

One can't escape American history when living in Virginia , especially in Richmond , the capital of the Confederate South, where we moved to in 1981.  After visiting the capitol building in downtown Richmond , I left with the impression that the Civil War had just ended the day before.  It seemed that fresh in the minds of our tour guides.  I guess that made them real good tour guides.     

 

I became involved in the Conservative Christian Right during the 1982 mid-term congressional election.  I was a canvassing coordinator for the Republican candidate in our precinct.  I and others evangelized our community with our Republican style conservatism political doctrine.  One thing I intentionally excluded from my Republican gospel was the fact that I was a Canadian, and therefore, could not vote for the candidate I was encouraging others to vote for.  That may sound weird, and maybe it was.  It does go to show how active I became in this new political movement.   

Upon returning to Canada in 1984, I brought my new found American-style conservative views back with me.  I became a member of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, a political party that faded out in a few short years.  

 

Ern Baxter (1914 - 1993) was a prominent Bible teacher in the Charismatic Movement of the 1960's, 70's, and 80's.  I asked him about Pat Robertson's attempt to become president of the United States .  His answer began to temper my political enthusiasm.  As a matter of fact, it was fundamental in changing my view concerning Christians and politics.  According to him, if Robertson became president of the most powerful nation on earth, he must realize that he demoted himself from being a preacher of the gospel to being president.  That was quite an answer, and answer I would never, and I mean never, forget. 

 

I'm not opposed to Christian involvement in politics.  Many of us live in democracies that presently allow Christians to run for political office.  Still, I have come to understand that all governments, including western democratically elected governments, are to one degree or another opposed to Biblical values.  That's becoming more evident as the West departs from any Judeo/Christian influence it once might have had.   I say "might have had" because I do not believe any nation, America included, is or ever has been, Christian.   We're not really that much different from the corrupt culture the Apostle Peter warned his fellow countrymen to save themselves from (Acts 2:40).

 

Jesus said that the gospel of the Kingdom would be preached throughout the world before the end of the age comes (Matthew 24:14).  The gospel of the Kingdom of God is the proclamation that the Kingdom of God will replace the kingdoms of men when Jesus returns to rule the nations with a sceptre of iron. 

 

It's interesting to note that God called the Apostle Paul to evangelize the Roman Empire , which included Emperor Nero himself (Acts 9:15 - 16).  Paul fulfilled his heavenly calling, not as a politician but as a preacher.  Ern Baxter was right.  A preacher is more important than a politician. 

 

Christianizing culture by means of government, legislative or judicial means, has never worked.  Our Biblical mandate is to Christianize culture by leading individual people to Jesus.  Jesus did not die on the cross to save a nation.  He died on the cross to save people within a nation.  Besides, attempting to Christianize any culture through legislative or judicial means has never worked.  The main example of this is seen in the fourth century when Constantine declared the Roman Empire to be Christian.  That led to the dark age of Christian history and the decline of the church of Jesus .     

 

Western society is well passed the point of embracing Biblical mandated Christian values.  It would be nice to have godly prime ministers and presidents, but what we need most are godly prophets and preachers proclaiming the soon coming Kingdom of God to earth.

 

The sad fact of the matter is that Evangelical Christians are now seen more by the general public as a political movement instead of the Christian, or Jesus Movement it is meant to be.  That is not a good witness to our Lord and Saviour, or so I believe.

 

For a more detailed discussion on this topic, and how I view Christian involvement in politics, you can read my book entitled "The Politics Of God And The Bible."  I outlined the history of nations from Babel , of Genesis 10 to the fall of all nations, as seen in Revelation, chapters 18 and 19.  The Bible has much to say about God and his interaction with the nations of men.       

 

 

 

  

 

 

27 - The Legalization Of Church

 

In 1973 my friends and I decided to become a real church in the eyes of the Canadian government.  We drafted a constitution which included our legal name, mission statement, and our organizational structure that included the names and addresses of our board of directors.  We opened a bank account in the name of Quinte Fellowship.  Quinte is the name of the geographical region in which we lived.  Although we became an official church in the eyes of men and their governments, we still struggled with putting the word "church" in our name, and thus, the designation of a "fellowship."  Once we were legalized we were authorized to issue income tax receipts to anyone contributing to our cause.  If we had a building, which we didn't have and didn't really want to have, we would be exempt from paying property taxes.  At that point, we would have to become incorporated, which would have been another step towards traditionalizing ourselves, something we were not excited about doing, and never did do.         

 

In the early 1990's a group I was associated with went through the same legalities to become a real church in the mind of government.  Becoming legal is just the way it is in the ecclesiastical maze.  Historically speaking, and it didn't take long after the first generation Christians died off, church structure began to be organized along the lines of Roman style government, instead of its family orientated Jewish roots.  By the fourth century, legalizing church was firmly cemented into the mindset of what we  commonly call church today.         

 

Becoming legal has had its benefits in the past, and really, in the present as well.  That is beginning to change.  As each year passes, our atheistic secular governments are restricting the legal church from practices it deems to be intolerant, thus inhibiting what was once our legal right to freely express our faith. 

  

The day is approaching that unless the legal church submits to unbiblical government demands, the church will lose its legal status.  When that day comes, I hope we can say as the Apostle Peter said to the Jewish authorities of his day.  Acts 4:19 says: "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God."  The choice will be ours; submit to a godless government and keep the government perks, or submit to Jesus and keep His perks.  You may think there's no real choice to be made, but Christians throughout the centuries have made the wrong choice because submitting to Jesus comes with a great cost.   

 

During the midpoint of the second century Christians in the Roman Empire were presented with this very choice.  Confess that Caesar is Lord and live or confess that Jesus is Lord and die.  That was the choice they were forced to make.  Many Christians confessed that Caesar is Lord.  They rationalized their decision in order to live another day to serve their real Lord, or so they said.  They believed their confessions were just words.  They still believed that Jesus is Lord in their hearts, or once again, so they said.  Others could not verbally deny the Lordship of Jesus.  They publically confessed that Jesus is Lord and lost their lives because of their confession.  These men and women were known as "confessors."  May we be such confessors when our day comes.   

 

Submitting to Jesus and losing legal status will undermine the traditional legal church as we have known it over the years.  It will be a financial disaster.  The traditional church will have to pay property taxes and will no longer be entitled to issue tax receipts, which will sadly but surely reduce the income of most churches.  This may well result in the loss of property because of the lack of funds.  Ministers will no longer be permitted to perform a legal marriage, especially if they refuse to perform same-sex weddings.  On and on it will go.  Personally speaking, none of that bothers me.  I actually say: "bring that day on."    

 

I hesitate to say this because I know life will be difficult when that day comes, but I look forward to a day, assuming I'm still alive, when our culture brings that which we call church to this point of decision.  I welcome the day when church becomes what Jesus meant church to be.  I look forward to the day when Christians living on the same street can function together in relational harmony without being separated by denominational differences.  I welcome the day when individual Christians are joined in functional relationships in a vibrant community of believers that is spread across the land.  I look forward to the day when we're joined in ministry by the Holy Spirit instead of being joined in ministry by denominational organizations that look more like a Fortune Five Hundred Company than the Body of Christ. 

 

The tough fact of the matter is that when that day actually does come, the western-world church will be an underground community of vibrant believers that we see in places like Iran and China today.  It's often been correctly said that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ thrives under pressure, as we will surely see in the days to come.    

 

I do believe that we should submit to government as much as is possible.  Paul clearly taught us that in Romans 13:1 through 9, but, there does come a point where we do have to make that tough decision to obey Jesus rather than Caesar.  It is something we as the church must seriously consider.  We must think in advance what issues we can and cannot compromise.  It is better to think of these things now instead of waiting until the pressure becomes burdensome.        

 

 

 

  

 

28 - I'm All Meetinged Out

 

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day (return of Jesus) approaching" (Hebrews 10:25.    

 

As I write these words, I am almost seventy years old.  I estimate that I have attended about thirteen thousand Christian meetings in my life to date.  I guess that's why I began to be a little "meetinged out," as I call it.  Actually I began to feel meetinged out after returning home from Bible College in 1977.  You might say Bible College was one continuous meeting.  It's not that I didn't benefit from and enjoy the meetings, because, beyond any doubt, I did.  What I really appreciated were those impromptu gatherings with my friends in our dorms.  That should be expected since our relationships in the Body of Christ are fundamental to what church is all about.

 

By the mid 1980's my boredom with the excessive number of meetings intensified.  Along with that feeling was the feeling that being a good Christian required lots of money; money I did not have.  The pressure was always on to attend another conference in another expensive hotel in another big city that was far away from my home.  Just mentioning the "Kansas City Conference" of the mid 1970's will conjure up both good and bad memories for many of my friends who attended that huge gathering in the Kansas City Royal's baseball team's stadium.  I did not go.  I just could not afford it.  

 

In 1979 I attended a men's conference in one of those expensive hotels located three blocks from Capital Hill in Washington D. C..  My friend took an elevator up from the underground parking lot into what he thought was the lobby of our hotel.  When the elevator door opened on the main floor he saw a number of husky and hefty looking women that looked nothing like his brothers in Christ he was associated with.  When he glanced up at the billboard by the front door, he realized he had taken the wrong elevator.  Instead of being in a Christian men's retreat, he was in the midst of the National Transvestite Convention.  It didn't take him long to cross the street to the right hotel.               

 

By the mid 1990's I was pretty well "meetinged out" for good, especially when it came to these expensive weekend conferences that were advertised to change your life for ever, but seldom did.  What changed my life over the years was the ongoing interaction with Jesus and those to whom He had personally joined me in the Body of Christ.  

 

In the church I was associated with in the 1990's we were expected to attend all of the weekend conventions.  It was just part of being in covenant community, or so it was taught.  A couple of us families didn't have the money, or didn't have the faith for the money as we were told, for another weekend convention in another expensive hotel.  We stayed home.  When it was all said and done, our pastor scolded us for non-compliance to our covenantal commitment.  Maybe you recall what I said earlier about making covenants with Christians and churches.

 

"So where do you go to church these days?" I was once asked.  The question assumed that it's routine for Christians to have no lasting commitment to one particular Sunday meeting, and that's a correct assumption these days.  Besides "going to church," as I've pointed out, isn't a Biblical concept.  How can one actually go to church, when in fact, he is part of church?  How can people go to a place when they are that place? 

 

Take a look at the average Sunday morning meeting.  Take another look in two years and you'll see an entirely new crowd of people.  Loyalty to a meeting is not a high priority these days in the ecclesiastical maze because loyalty to one's brothers and sisters in Christ is not a high priority.  The modern church, for the most part, does not understand church as being those people's lives whom God has called you alongside in ministry.       

 

To be honest, from 2005 through 2015 I had not attended too many Sunday morning meetings - maybe just ten meetings.  That didn't mean I would never attend one again.  It just means that I found many Sunday meetings boring, especially if there was no heart felt expression of worship to Jesus.  Simply sitting in a pew and watching a performance on the platform does little for me.  The fact that I didn't, at least at that moment in time, attend a Sunday meeting didn't mean I was not in compliance with Hebrews 10:25 that I opened this chapter with.  I did gather with those to whom Jesus had personally joined me, but not on Sunday mornings.  I actually taught a home Bible study for sixteen years over that period of time.  Besides, there is more to Hebrews 10:25 than simply attending a meeting.  

 

Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us when or where to meet.  What the Bible does teach is what we do when we meet, something that's almost always overlooked in today's church.  Read 1 Corinthians 14 and see if Paul's teaching on Christian meetings looks like the meetings you attend.   

 

Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we should gather together for mutual edification.  The historic reason for this admonition was because the believers were enduring great hardship from their anti-Christ culture.  They needed encouragement in a corporate setting.  Once in this corporate setting, Paul's teaching of 1 Corinthians 14 would be expected to be experienced.  All those in attendance would participate as a vital member of the Body of Christ.  No one was to sit and watch the show. 

 

The foundation of New Testament teaching concerning meetings can be seen in Romans 12:5.  Paul, in the context of writing about the Body of Christ, stated that each member of Christ's body "belongs to each other."  You might want to think about that for a while because it's seldom thought of in today's church.  Paul's statement speaks of close relationships, functioning together, both in the context of a meeting and without a meeting.  Do you believe that you actually belong to your close brothers and sisters in Christ, and if you do believe that, what does that mean?  How has your brothers and sisters in Jesus influenced your life?  In what way do you serve Jesus with these brothers and sisters in Christ?          

 

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us to gather as a community of believers who belong to each other, especially as the day of Jesus' return draws near.  We're obviously closer to Jesus' return now than when Hebrews 10:25 was penned, but like those days, we're beginning to feel the pressure from an anti-Christ culture. 

 

Hebrews 10:25 presupposes that we belong to each other and are in functional relationships with those to whom Jesus has joined us.  I say that because of this.  Our English words "gather together" in Hebrews 10:25 is not actually translated from a Greek word, and, the rest of the book of Hebrews, along with all of the New Testament, was written in Greek.  It is a Hebrew word that was inserted into the Greek text, probably, because the book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews.  The Hebrew word "synagoge" that is found in the Greek text of Hebrews 10:25 finds its roots in the Old Testament, where it meant "a community of people belonging to each other and to God."  In short, and you certainly do not see it in our English Bibles, Hebrews 10:25 is telling us to not forsake those brothers and sisters that Jesus has placed us alongside in the Body of Christ.  This admonition is not so much about not forsaking to attend meetings than it is about not forsaking the relationships to whom Jesus has placed us with, and why?  It is because we need each other, and these needs are best fulfilled outside of the context of meetings, and that is especially so as difficult times come in the last days.

 

  

 

29 - Friendship In The Midst Of Disaster

 

During 1991 and 1992 I was buried in a depressing pit of despair that was not of my choosing.  What got me through those disastrous days was the support from Jesus and two of my close brothers in Christ, Jim and Robert. 

 

Every day during that heart wrenching year I would meet with Jim, who I had known since 1969.  He provided the needed direction and encouragement during this time of turmoil.  He helped me manoeuvre through uncharted and rough waters that life sometimes brings us all.  Organized church can be cold and clinical at times, but not so with friends like Jim and Robert.  Sitting in front of a pastor's desk in a counselling session can be beneficial, but nothing beats a warm, friendly, and Holy Spirit led brother's shoulder to cry on and receive advice and comfort from.         

 

I suppose I could have found a warm shoulder and even more at the local bar, but that would not have produced the results the Holy Spirit provides through a brother in Christ.  It's the Holy Spirit in our relationships that makes our relationships unique, and besides, discovering a lonely lady at the local bar would certainly have led me down the path of destruction.   I might have enjoyed the ecstasy of sin for a season, but as Romans 6:23 clearly states: "the wages of sin is death."  I did not want to add personal death on top of the death of my marriage.      

 

It was the third Sunday in March, 1992, when I finally heard the bad news.  I knew it was coming, but that didn't soften the blow to my saddened soul.  I just didn’t know exactly when it would come, and ironically, it came an hour after a Sunday morning church service that we both attended.  Even though I knew the reality of the situation, it was devastating.  My head was in a daze, and my heart was void of emotion.  I sat speechless on our love seat where no love could be found.  Nothing could have been said that would have made a difference.  All that could have been said was said.  It was all over.  My life stood still.  I was stuck in suspended animation, completely numb of any normal human emotion.  I might as well have been a wooden statue or a corpse void of its soul. 

 

Little did I know that Jesus was working behind the scene on my behalf, and this is where the divine aspect of personal relationships comes into play.  It was the evening of the day I received the bad news; the announcement that a sixteen year marriage was now over.  It was in a Sunday evening church service that my friend Jim didn't normally attend.  Why he attended that evening is anyone's guess, or maybe as I believe, it was divine destiny. 

 

As Jim was leaving the building he was approached by an elderly lady I first met back in 1973.  She asked Jim if he was Steve Sweetman 's friend.  Jim said that he was indeed my friend.          

 

The lady proceeded to tell Jim that the evening before Jesus told her to go to her attic and open an old box she hadn't seen in years.  That was about seventeen hours before I received the depressing news.  The first thing she saw in the box was my wedding invitation that I had sent her in 1977.  Jesus then told her to take the wedding invitation out of the box, place it on her mantel, and pray for Steve.  She asked Jim if I was okay.         

 

Jim was dumbfounded and amazed at what he heard.  He was especially amazed at the timing to this lady's journey into her attic.  Again, Jesus spoke to this prayer warrior just hours before I received the devastating news.  Now she was relating these things to my friend just hours after I received the news, and my friend just happened to be in the same meeting with her that he seldom attended. 

 

Jim proceeded to explain why Jesus had her pray for me, but the story does not end there.    

Two days later I sat on a bench in our local mall.  An elderly lady sat down on the bench behind me.  In a soft and frail voice she asked me if I was Steve Sweetman .  I turned around and told her that I was indeed Steve Sweetman .  She told me her name and I recognized it from the 1970’s.  We had not seen each other since then, and this was 1992.  

 

In a spirit of gracious concern she told me that just three days earlier Jesus had told her to go up to her attic and open one certain box where she discovered my wedding invitation that I had sent her fifteen years earlier.  She told me that Jesus had her take the invitation out of the box, place it on her mantel, and pray for me.  Right there in the mall she began to speak the prophetic word of the Lord to me.  "Jesus told me to tell you that He would always provide a roof over your head and that He would always make sure you had shoes on your feet." 

 

I could not hold back the tears.  There, right in the midst of busy shoppers, the word of the Lord came to me through this dear-old sister in Jesus.  I took the word of the Lord to mean that if I kept living as the Bible told me to live; Jesus would look after me, despite my loss and my uncertain future.  Beyond any doubt, Jesus has certainly done that.  I'm not sure if anyone saw my tears, but I didn't really care.  When Jesus speaks to you in such a miraculous way, you don't worry about who sees you cry.    

 

This prophetic word came from a dear old sister in Christ, Mrs. Fisk, who I had not seen in fifteen years, in a place where I least expected.  It was exactly the appropriate word for the appropriate moment in my life.  This is the community of Christ in action.  Thanks to this dear old soul whose heart was so right before the Lord that she could hear His instructions.  One thing is clear; we should never relegate the gifts of the Holy Spirit to just meetings.  As in the book of Acts, they are for every day use wherever they are needed. 

 

It was about a month later while in a small gathering when a brother in the Lord from Kentucky spoke to us who had gathered to hear him.  This man had never met me before and no one had told him about me and my situation.  After he had finished his message, he walked directly over to me sitting in the second row.  He laid his hands on me, and began to pray.  His prayer turned prophetic.  It was as if he knew every last thing that had transpired in my life over the previous year.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  I was definitely in the presence of Jesus.  It was as if Jesus had invited me into His personal office, sat down beside me on His couch, put his arms around me, and spoke to me words I needed to hear.  The prophetic prayer lasted at least twelve minutes.  Jesus had lots to say to me.

 

One thing Jesus told me was that I was not washed up as a Christian as I thought I was.  There was still more for me to do in His Kingdom.  I had been feeling washed up because in much of Evangelical Christianity divorced people were relegated to the sidelines of the ecclesiastical maze, and that is where I never want to be.

 

Jesus said much more to me during that prophetic prayer, more than I can repeat in a sentence or two.  It was one of those life-changing events in one's life.    

 

When I talk about church, I'm not talking organizational structure, although I do realize the importance of organizational structure.  I'm talking about being properly fitted, or knitted, to a few other believers in divinely appointed, Holy Spirit inspired, friendships.  That's church.  The clinicalization found in many parts of the ecclesiastical maze just isn't church.

 

For further information about what the Bible teaches about divorce and remarriage, and how that was worked out in my life, you can read my book entitled "Divorce, Remarriage, and God's Original Intention." 

 

  

 

 

30 - I'm From Eastern Canada

 

This chapter has been taken out of my book entitled "Divorce, Remarriage, And God's Original Intention."

 

Earlier in the day the reporter on the morning news program announced what every single guy in Eastern Canada wanted to hear.  "According to Statistics Canada, a man living in Eastern Canada has a better chance of finding a wife than a man living in Western Canada ," the news person announced.  With this most valuable news flash fresh in my mind, I stepped to the podium.  "According to Statistics Canada," I said to those in attendance at our weekly Bible study, "men in Eastern Canada have a better chance of finding a wife than men in Western Canada ."  The single men and women in attendance seemed quite amused at my breaking news flash.  Everyone chuckled as I returned to my seat.      

 

Once I was seated, a newcomer to our gathering sitting directly in front of me was asked to introduce herself.  Ironically, or should I say miraculously ironic, once stating her name, she turned around, looked directly at me, and announced, "And I'm from Eastern Canada ."

 

Being caught completely off guard, I did not know how to respond, or if I even should respond.  For once in my life I was speechless and dumbfounded.  Not knowing how to respond I simply asked, "O no, what does that mean?"  She did not answer.  She just left me wondering.   

 

I tried to involve myself in the Bible study that evening but I have to admit that the words "I'm from Eastern Canada " seemed a bit more intriguing to me than the words in the Bible.  Sometimes things do distract us from the Word of God, and I admit that I was certainly distracted that evening.    

 

My friend who had driven this attractive new addition to our Bible study asked me if I would like a ride home from the gathering.  I was more than willing to walk.  I usually did walk, but knowing "I'm from Eastern Canada " would be in the car as well, I did not hesitate.  I felt compelled to accept the ride. 

 

My thoughts were clearly elsewhere as I walked out of the brightly lit building and directly into a cement block wall in the darkened evening parking lot.  I could not believe I actually walked into that wall, especially at that impressionable moment in my life.  I felt so foolish.  How stupid could I have been?  Thankfully, before I had time to be overly embarrassed our attractive new addition asked me, "Are you blind or something?"

 

"As a matter of fact I am legally blind," I replied.

 

Now it was her turn to be embarrassed, but my casual, light hearted, response dispelled any anxiety, as she told me later.  

 

I attempted to sleep that night but with little success.  The lady from Eastern Canada had captured both my attention and my imagination.  As I lay in bed, I wondered if I had captured her attention and imagination.  It turned out that I had.  Four hundred and twenty two days later we were pronounced husband and wife.  An unwelcomed divorce did not nullify God's original intention for me or for the lady from Eastern Canada .  Both of us had experienced an unwanted divorce for no valid Biblical reason.  We were free to remarry, and so we did.  For the record, good things do take place in a church meeting.

 

 

 

 

31 - Super Apostles

 

In the mid 1990's my pastor and friend took it upon himself to submit himself and our local congregation under the authority of an apostle from the United Kingdom .  Although I knew about this in advance, most in the congregation didn't.  They were shocked and surprised when this change of direction was announced.  They were simply told to take ownership for the new direction.  Being told to take personal ownership and responsibility for something that was surprisingly handed to you without warning or without any input, is simply unfair.  It is difficult to take ownership for something that you had no say in the matter or did not even want.  That is just common sense.         

 

I knew the change was coming.  I had talked this issue over with the pastor a number of times.  He had always opposed the Shepherding Movement of the 1970's because of its emphasis on submission to authority.  I told him that the same emphasis was found in the Apostolic Movement that he had just submitted our church under.  The only difference was that we were now submitting to an apostle instead of a shepherd. 

This particular movement taught that each apostle preached his own gospel.  This idea was based on Paul's use of the words "my gospel" in Romans 2:16 and 16:25.  This meant that our apostle had his own teaching emphasis and we were to submit to it.  I believed that parts of his teaching was unbiblical, which included what I thought was a dictatorial view of apostolic leadership.  On secondary issues of Biblical theology, I disagreed, but these secondary issues, I could live with.  Because I could not fully embrace the apostle's teaching, I was deleaderized and squeezed out of the picture.  Within eight months of my departure in 2001 the congregation folded.      

 

I considered much of what this particular apostle taught to be secondary issues that could be debated but not worth separating over.  He and our pastor considered all of their teaching to be primary issues and worth splitting over.  It's my opinion that we should be able to maintain fellowship and ministry with one another even though we may differ on such topics as eschatology, but that's not always the case in the ecclesiastical maze.  

 

I think there's much misunderstanding about apostles. The Greek word "apostolos" is transliterated into English as "apostle."  "Apostolos" simply means "one who is sent."

An apostle, then, would see the spread of the gospel over a wide geographical area.  A pastor, on the other hand would be concerned with the local community of believers. 

 

An apostle is one who is sent out from the local community of Christ upon the understanding that it is God's will.  I know of one pastor who considers himself to be an apostle, but he has been in the same location for thirty plus years.  He only arrived there because of a church split.  He wasn't actually sent out by a local body of believers.  He simply left, and as he left, he took others with him.  He had a ready-made congregation.  The word "apostle" implies movement.  If you're not on the move, you might question if you are really an apostle.     

 

I do believe that the apostolic ministry is a valid ministry for today.  I'm not of the opinion that this ministry died once the first generation church passed away.  Apostles are one of four-fold, sometimes called "five-fold," ministries of Christ that Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:10 and 11.  That being said, I do believe that today's apostles are on a lower level of importance than the twelve Apostles of Christ and the Apostle Paul.  They are the ones that set forth Christian doctrine that all Christians, including present-day apostles, must abide by.             

 

In 2 Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11, Paul made reference to what he called "super-apostles."  Apparently there were some men who were billing themselves as being real special supermen of God.  Paul was disgusted with these supersized apostles and their super superior attitude. 

 

Paul's calling was to preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as a servant.  "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1).  Paul considered his apostleship in terms of being a servant, not in terms of being a super-apostle.  He preached the gospel of God, not his own special gospel, as we were told in the 1990's.  His gospel, was the gospel of Christ.     

 

The fact that Paul and the other apostles were called to preach the gospel tells me that church planting was not their main goal.  The salvation of men and women was the goal.  Once a few individuals came to salvation, Paul and others would help the new believers to live within the confines of the community of Christ.  The idea that apostles are church planters, in my thinking, is putting the cart before the horse.  Apostles are first and foremost soul savers, and then, once the souls are saved, they help implement the community of Christ among these saved souls.  They install elders that give organizational stability to the newly formed community of believers.       

 

In 1 Corinthians 9:2 Paul said: "Though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you."  Paul was an apostle to these Corinthians because he led them to Jesus.  It was now his job to care for them.  How he did that is a study unto itself.  One thing is sure; Paul never exercised his apostolic authority in a dictatorial, super-apostle fashion.  Instead, as God's servant, he cared for God's people to the point of sacrifice.

 

Our modern western-world church is heavily influenced by the prevailing worldly thinking of the day, including the super-star world of entertainment mentality.  This intrusion into church has created super-apostles, super-pastors, and super-preachers.  That's just not Biblical.  If the church is to be effective in the days ahead we must return to the servant leader.   

 

Super-preachers like building super-churches, or mega-churches as they are called today.  It's my opinion, that most mega-churches are too organizationally heavy.  In New Testament terms, church structure and church ministry is birthed out of personal relationships in the Body of Christ.  In much of today's ecclesiastical maze, ministry is birthed out of the organizational structure, of which is highly impersonal.

 

 

 

 

       

 

32 - Distinctives That Divide

 

In the last chapter I mentioned that I could not fully embrace all of the teaching of the apostle our pastor submitted himself and our congregation under.  I considered many of his teachings to be secondary issues, and thus, could be debated but not worth splitting over.  The Apostle Paul addressed some of these disputable matters in Romans 14:1.  He clearly told us not to separate over such issues.  However, the apostle and our pastor considered secondary issues primary issues that were worth separating over.  For that reason, I was slowly but surely shown the door to the church and the people I had come to love.  It's just something else we are forced to deal with in the ecclesiastical maze that we call  church.      

 

One teaching I couldn't support was Replacement Theology, which is a sub-doctrine of Restoration or Covenant Theology.  Replacement Theology teaches that the church has replaced Israel in prophetic history.  Israel no longer has any special significance in the mind of God as it had in Old Testament times.  For this reason, all Old Testament promises and prophecies directed towards Israel are now being redirected to the church.  This means that the restoration of Israel to greatness as promised in the Abrahamic Covenant and as predicted in the prophecies of the Old Testament, now apply to the church, not Israel .  As a result, those holding to this view believe that Jesus will have no other choice but to return to earth once He sees the church perfected as Replacement Theology teaches.    

 

For a number of reasons I reject Replacement Theology, and, it took a number of years for me to come to this position.  The number one reason why I reject this thought process is because God promised Abraham that his descendents would become a great people used of God for His purposes.  That is what God told Abraham and that is how Abraham would have understood God's promises.  If God had something else in mind other than the Jews, like the church, and did not correct Abraham's understanding, then God was being deceptive.  God should have told Abraham that He did not have the Jews in mind when He promised greatness to his descendents.  If God changed His mind farther down in history, and gave the promises to the church, how can we ever trust any of His promises?

 

The simple point is this.  If God promises something specific to a specific person or people, you can be guaranteed that what He has promised will come about as stipulated.  God promised the Jews greatness, and that promise will be fulfilled at the end of this age.  

 

I don't believe we should separate ourselves or be forced to leave a congregation simply because we don't agree with every theological issue, including the issue of Israel 's greatness and prophetic significance.  As a matter of fact, I believe that within any assembly of the saints, different views on secondary issues should be both welcomed and taught so people can decide for themselves where they stand on these issues.  This is not the case in the ecclesiastical maze. 

 

If my pastor was teaching that the Deity of Christ is not Biblical, or, if he wanted to unite Christians worship with Muslim worship, I would protest as I found my own way to the door.  We should never compromise on the essentials of salvation (Galatians 1:8); especially on those issues pertaining to the nature of God, and that includes Jesus. 

 

Believe it or not, there will come a day when doctrinal distinctives won't divide the church, but that won't come until Jesus returns to create the unity He prayed for, as seen in John 17.    

 

33 - Three Strikes And You're Out

 

In August 2001 my wife and I followed through on our pastor's suggestion to move on to another congregation.  Moving on wasn't as easy as you might think, even in these days when believers move from one congregation to another with great ease. 

 

Each year from 2003 to 2005 we attended three different traditional congregations each Sunday morning, with the hope of seeing how we could fit in.  One might call that church hopping, but it wasn't.  Up until 2001 I had been a part of three church streams.  From birth to age twenty I was part of my parents expression of church, that being the Free Methodist Church .  From age twenty one to age thirty nine, my friends and I organized ourselves into what we called Quinte Fellowship.  From age forty to age fifty I was part of the above mentioned church that we were asked to leave in 2001.    

 

By the way, the second expression of church listed above was the product of myself and those to whom Jesus had called me alongside in the Body of Christ.  We chose to shut things down, not because of any split or disagreements.  We simply felt that we were stagnant.  Choosing to shut things down instead remaining in such a stagnated state seldom happens in the ecclesiastical maze because people are afraid to let go of what they have built.  The fact of the matter, or so I believe, is that it is both good and proper to shut church down at times when it becomes irrelevant, and that we did.  I suggest that there are many expressions of church that need to be shut down because they are no longer what they once were.  I also suggest that we shut outdated church down before Jesus does, and we know He does shut church down.  Read Revelation, chapters 1 and 2.           

 

In 2002 my wife and I attended Sunday meetings in a Charismatic style church that was formed from yet another church split.  The meetings were vibrant but those in attendance were far from friendly.  At the time I was leading a home Bible study group around a large kitchen table with no traditional church affiliation.  For this reason, my wife and I were invited to attend home group leaders meetings in this church.  We attended five of these meetings and on each occasion, no one, not even the pastor who sat in front of us on two occasions, talked with us.  It wasn't until the fifth gathering, when my friend Jim dragged a few people over to make conversation with us.  By then it was too late. 

 

On another occasion we attended the pastor's birthday party.  I thought that would be a good opportunity for us to get to know these people.  Social gatherings are good for that, but not this one.  No one, except my friend of thirty five plus years talked with us.  That cemented our decision.  "I'm ready to look elsewhere," I told myself.    

 

In 2003 we attended Sunday meetings at an Evangelical church that one friend coined a "Charismatic Light" style church.  I actually got to play my guitar in Sunday morning worship.  It didn't take long to note the same old unfriendly relational problems.  The pastor's wife refused to speak to me and my friend on the worship team.  I'd say "good morning" to her prior to worship and she'd walk away without acknowledging my presence.  How could she, in all heavenly honesty worship Jesus with me and ignore me at the same time?  Yes, you are right.  We moved on once again.

 

In 2004 my wife and I began to attend Sunday morning meetings at a Pentecostal church.  Upon our arrival the congregation was in the process of splitting apart.  A political style battle was raging between a group who insisted the pastor must go and a group who insisted he must stay.  Like most political battles, there were secret meetings, gossip, manipulation, and people seeking prominence.  I was asked to become an official member of the church so I could cast my vote to remove the pastor.  I, without any hesitation, refused.  "Whatever happened to not being conformed to this world (Romans 12:2 and 3)?" I asked myself.    

 

The dispute came down to a vote after a Sunday morning meeting.  When the votes were tallied and the score announced, the pastor lost by a fraction of a percentage point.  I couldn't believe my ears when one disgruntled parishioner stomped out of the sanctuary.  As he stomped his way by me he yelled out, "Enjoy the fire and brimstones you bastards."  That, I will never, ever, forget, but this seems to be the ecclesiastical maze in the twenty-first century.

 

I've been a baseball fan over the years.  "It's three strikes and you're out" as the old baseball saying goes.  Well, we had our three strikes and I certainly felt out of the game of church, but that would not detour my relationship with Jesus as it has with some I've known. 

 

As Christians, we are often outraged by the sin we see in the world around us.  I suggest we shouldn't be so outraged.  Sinners sin.  That's just what they do.  We should, however, be outraged by the sin we see in that which we call church.  Jesus wasn't outraged by the behaviour of sinners.  He was outraged by the hypocrisy of the leaders of the religious establishment of his day.  How would He feel today?  I suggest that you read His comments to the seven churches found in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3.  There you might find the answer to this question.    

 

It was in 2002 when I was asked to lead a home Bible study group.  After some prayer and thought we began to meet Tuesday evenings.  I suggested we start the study with the book of Romans, my favourite book of the Bible, and once finished we would see if we wanted to continue.  We did continue.  We met together until 2016 when health concerns of some in our group made it difficult to carry on.  Once again, no disagreement caused us to stop our Bible study.  It was a simple and obvious choice to make.     

 

Sitting around a kitchen table where everyone is relaxed and feels free to express themselves, whether right or wrong, is the best way for a person to learn, and that includes learning the Bible.  This assumes that the leader is qualified with sufficient Biblical understanding to instruct, guide, and keep everyone on the right track.  This also assumes that the leader doesn't do all of the talking.  It's called participation, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 14.  The leader asks one simple question; "What do you think the author is saying in this phrase?"   You don't ask, "What are your thoughts about this phrase" because our thoughts are not really relevant in matters of the Bible.  Our thinking is not necessarily God's thinking.    

 

I know that Jesus spoke to thousands on the side of the mountain, but those who were committed to Him and were being prepared to take His place, He taught in a small group or one on one.  He interacted with them on a daily basis.  He took the daily experiences of life and turned them into teaching sessions.  His instruction was not based on organizational structure but on personal relationships He had with His disciples.  We call that discipleship.      

 

Note what the Apostle Paul said about a meeting of the saints.  "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these things must be done for the strengthening of the church … Two or three prophets should speak … You can all prophesy so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged" (1 Corinthians 14:26 - 33).  Effective meetings are participatory.  People don't position themselves in pews and watch a performance on the platform or behind a pulpit.  I'm not discounting the traditional Sunday style meeting.  It has its place, but, learning that lasts, is best accomplished in small group discussions.           

 

The least effective way to learn anything is to just sit and listen to someone talk.  As the church, we've taken the least effective way to teach, which is the Sunday sermon, and turned it into the centerpiece of the church calendar.  According to 1 Corinthians 14, we've got it all backwards, but that's the way it often is in the ecclesiastical maze.         

 

 

 

 

 

 

34 - Home Groups

 

For the first twenty years of my life, church, for the most part, was all about meeting in a building that we called a church, but Biblically speaking couldn't be a church because we all knew church wasn't a building.  Sometimes we called the building the House of God, but according to Acts 17:24, God doesn't live in buildings made by man.  So, if we know church isn't a building and God doesn't live in a man-made house, why do we still call a building church or the House of God?  Maybe we don't know these things sufficiently enough to live out what we claim to know.  Words do matter, and if you are truly convinced about anything, you will say the right words to describe what you are convinced of.    

 

From what I've been saying, you might think that I believe the New Testament teaches home groups or house churches to be the only valid expression of church.  That's not what I am saying because it is not what the Bible says. 

 

When I grew of age in the Lord in 1970 and left the comfort of my parent's expression of church in 1971, my friends and I met in homes.  That was only to be expected since we had no other place to meet.  It was a matter of practicalities, not a matter of our doctrinal position about church.  Over the next two decades we also gathered in parks, schools, hotels, motels, community centres, and wherever seemed convenient at any given time.  Where we gathered wasn't important.  Getting together was the important thing.  Jesus had joined us together for a reason and it wasn't just for the fun of fellowship.  We had a job to do.  We were created to function as vital parts of His body, much of which took place outside of meetings, which by the way, is what we read in the New Testament.

 

Think back to when you were first captivated with love for the opposite sex.  You didn't care where you met up with the love of your life.  You just wanted to be together.  It wasn't about location, location, location, as a real-estate agent would put it.  It was about relationship, relationship, relationship, as the Apostle Paul would have said. 

 

This wasn't the case in 1973 when I sat beside a man on a train who I discovered to be a Christian.  I was overjoyed to meet a brother in Jesus that I'd never met before.  I extended my hand in an expression of joy and brotherly love.  His limp hand shake and his nonchalant response spoke volumes to me.  Meeting a fellow believer for him was no big deal.  I wasn't used to such a response.  My friends and I were always excited to meet a new-found brother in Christ.  A personal relationship with Jesus and others in the Body of Christ was foremost in our hearts and minds.  That didn't seem to be the case with this man, but that too is the way it often is in the ecclesiastical maze.     

 

Although it was common practice for first-century Christians to meet in homes, the New Testament does not specifically teach home churches to be the only valid place for Christians to gather together.  Besides, home churches can be just as routine and traditional as church building churches.  I visited one home church that had a pulpit, chairs arranged in rows, and an offering plate.  The service began with a few songs, followed by the passing of an offering plate, a sermon, and a closing prayer.   Clearly, the room in which you meet is not the issue. 

 

Century-old church buildings that might once have been an expression of faith and worship are now often seen as a testimony of man's artistic talent and ingenuity.  Many of the newer mega-church buildings tell us lots about the organizations that own these buildings.  These organizations look more like a Wall Street Fortune Five Hundred Corporation than an expression of the living Body of Christ.  For the average middle-income church group, buildings are increasingly becoming a financial burden.  The time, effort, and finances directed towards these buildings often inhibit the task at hand, and that is, to be a living expression of the Lord Jesus we claim to serve. 

 

It's interesting to note that for the first couple of centuries of church history Christians were often criticized for not having a specific place of worship like other religions had.  This was the case because the early church understood itself to be a vibrant community of believers joined together in the service of the Lord.  Church was a counter-cultural community of the redeemed who functioned in unified fashion.  Church for them, and it should be for us, was not about meetings or buildings.  Church was, and always should be, about the individual being baptized or submerged into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13) and having a sense of belonging to those to whom he has been placed beside in Christ's body (Romans 12:5).

 

I'm not totally discounting buildings.  If you have one, use it the best you can to serve Jesus' needs, not simply to serve the needs of the believers who gather in the building, which seems to me to be the case in much of the ecclesiastical maze. 

 

 

 

35 - A New Start

 

From 2005 until 2016 my wife and I were not a part of a traditional church.  That does not mean we had separated ourselves from the Body of Christ, because we had not.  After seeing the Pentecostal pastor fired, in typical worldly and political fashion in 2005, I was disgusted with the ecclesiastical maze.  Church looked more like a Fortune Five Hundred Corporation than the Body of Christ we were meant to be.  Church looked more political than Christian.  It was for that reason we did not attend, or, was not a part of, what I call a traditional church for eleven years.  I was, however, still in personal relationship with a few brothers in the Lord that I had been involved with for decades, and that is why I say I left the traditional church but not the Body of Christ.  Don't worry; I did not lose my salvation either.

 

One of these brothers was Robert.  I had known him since the day he was born, and that, just three years after I was born.  I have been blessed with long-standing and close brother-in-the-Lord relationships throughout my life.  Few can say they have had a close or best friend every day of their entire life, but I can. 

 

Another brother, Jim, I had known since 1969 and yet another, Tim, I had known since 1973.  Some of those I had been close to over the decades had long since departed from this life.  I hope you realize that leaving the ecclesiastical maze does not necessarily mean you leave the church, the Body of Christ.

 

All of the above being said, in relation to church, things began to change for me and my wife in August 2015.  A number of times during that month I felt the Lord tell me that come the next year, 2016, things would change for us concerning church.  I had no clue what that meant.  Sometimes the Lord doesn't clue you in on things all at once.  Prior to August 2015, and if meetings matter to you, I had been, and was still leading, a home Bible study group.  So, I did attend meetings, if again, that is important to you. 

 

How things would change in 2016 concerning church, I was in the dark.  I just felt very strongly that things would change.  Clarity began to unfold concerning this change in a miraculous way in October of 2015.  Over the next couple of months a number of small miracles took place that helped shed light on what would soon transpire in our lives.  There are too many miracles to write about here in this book.  

One day in October 2015 my wife and I stepped out our front door to take our dog Jesse for a walk.  We had just walked down the street for less than a minute when we met up with a friend who I used to play music with on a worship team in the 1990's, and, had hardly seen her since those days.  So, it was a welcomed surprise to see Safron on our street, where she would not normally be walking. This is where the miracles begin.

 

Our friend, Safron, had just dropped her car off to be fixed and she had prayed that she would meet someone she knew on her walk home.  One minute after her prayer, she met us.  Now that was a quick answer to prayer, don't you think?

 

We talked about old times for a while and then she mentioned that her and another mutual friend, Heather, were leaders of a worship team in a local congregation.  She seemed quite excited about being able to lead a worship team.  That was one of her passions in life.  She didn't say much more, other than she suggested that my wife Dianne and I get together with her and Heather at some point.  We did just that the next month, November, 2015.

 

My wife Dianne, and I met Safron and Heather, along with Heather's husband Troy at a local restaurant.  We had an enjoyable time talking about the good old days, when suddenly, the reason for our get-together was expressed, and it had nothing to do with the good old days of yesteryear. 

 

"Should we tell Steve why we have gotten together this evening?" Safron asked Heather.  The answer was an immediate, brief, but resounding "yes, please do." 

 

"Would you like to join our worship team?" Safron asked me. 

 

Immediately my heart sank to my stomach.  The joy of our gathering dissipated in one split second.  There was absolutely no way that I wanted to be a part of another traditional church's worship team.  With no hesitation, I was ready to slam this door tight so it would never be opened again, but I couldn't.  These two ladies were friends and I had always had a difficult time saying no to them, so I did not express my distain to their question. 

 

Instead of saying no right away I said that we would attend the next Sunday morning meeting when they led worship.  Only after that, would I begin, emphasis on the word "begin," to think things over.  I did not guarantee any commitment. 

 

Come the second Sunday in December, 2015, we found ourselves sitting in a Sunday meeting at Harvest Ministries.  This group owned an old library in our downtown.  Attending a Sunday morning meeting was something we had done little of throughout the previous eleven years.  Here is where the miracles began to happen.

 

We had just gotten seated and I had learned the lady behind us was a part of the church I was a part of in the first five years of my life.  My uncle Barney was actually her pastor when she was a child.  Within a few moments later, another lady came up to me and asked if I was Steve Sweetman .  After confirming that I was Steve Sweetman , I discovered that she was part of our youth group in the Free Methodist Church in the late 1960's and beyond.  I had not seen her since 1971.  Then, the lady just ahead of us turned around and asked me: "Are you Steve Sweetman ?"  I answered, "yes," and then the music started.  "Who was that lady?" I kept asking myself during the worship service. 

 

After the meeting was over I asked the lady in front of me how she knew me.  She actually was not one hundred percent sure how she knew me.  What transpired next could be a book in itself, so I cannot tell the whole story here.   

 

In earlier pages of this book I mentioned the miracle of a dear-old lady (Mrs. Fisk) who found my wedding invitation in a box in her attic.  You may recall that Jesus actually told her to go up to her attic and open one specific box.  There, she found the wedding invitation that I had sent her back in 1977.  This was just the evening before my first wife confirmed that she was divorcing me.  Jesus told this lady to put the invitation on her mantle and pray for me. You can return to the appropriate chapter to recall all of what I said about this incident.  Well, the lady in front of us that Sunday morning was that lady's daughter.  She had recently found my wedding invitation when she was going through her mother's belongings after her mother died.  I had never met the lady who sat in front of us that Sunday morning and she obviously had never met me.  I began to explain to her, through some tears, the story of how her mother was instrumental in my life, both in the 1970's and through the dark days of my divorce in the spring of 1992, and now, even though she was dead, she still had a profound influence on my life.    

That was one big confirmation, and there were others, that my wife and I were to be a part of this congregation.  It all began when in August 2015 Jesus told me that things would change when it came to church.  When I look back on it all, I'm amazed at myself because I almost slammed the door on the door Jesus was obviously opening for me and my wife.  There is a lesson to be learned here, and that is, pay attention to what Jesus says and keep your eyes open for the doors He opens for you.    

 

I began to practice music with Safron, Heather, and their worship team.  I did not anticipate playing music with them on a Sunday morning for at least six months down the road, but, that would not be the case.  The second Sunday in January 2016, just one month after our first time in this church, I was playing my electric Fender guitar, banjo, and harmonica in a worship service.  Some times things work pretty fast. 

 

Since then, I have become an active Bible teacher in this church, and am accepted by the congregation for my teaching ministry.  In February 2019, upon the request of our pastor Trevor, I was ordained as a minister of the gospel through the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies of Canada. 

Jesus does make changes in one's life if you allow Him to make the changes.  He does give you the opportunity to say no to these opportunities to change direction.  He may twist your arm in an attempt to do His will, but He still, despite your loss, allows you to say no.  I am very glad I did not say no to the door of ministry He opened for me. 

 

What comes next in my life, only Jesus knows.  The ecclesiastical maze can be very unpredictable at times.  There is no question about that.  That has been the way it has been in my past, and it may be the way it will be in my future.  I'll let Jesus take care of my future.  As my friend Jerry from the 1970's used to say; "Whatever happens will happen."  

 

On December 4, 2021, I will be seventy years old.  My dad lived to the age of seventy seven.  His dad lived until the age of ninety six.  How long my life will last, no one knows.  I have already recently escaped the ravages of cancer with the removal of my prostate, which by the way, helped send my father to his grave.  What I do know is that I want to live whatever years I have left for Jesus.   

 

This has been a brief look into my world throughout the first, almost, seventy years of my life.  I trust my future with Jesus.

 

 

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