I remember vividly the evening I was born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. It was during a little meeting in a living room at a friends house in Ashe County, North Carolina.
Sandi, my wife, was not with me that evening and I guess in retrospect, that was meant to be. Maybe I felt a little less vulnerable and was able to let go in a way that facilitated my entry into the rest of my life. The point being is that after that evening, what had been mere historical Bible reading became reality to me.
I am talking about the book of Acts.
Sandi and I had only been in North Carolina for 6 months when we were invited to a night of “music and stuff” at a neighbors house. The first time we went after being invited, no one was home and we didn’t know what to think. It turns out they met at a different home that night and forgot to tell us they were changing plans (maybe thinking we wouldn’t come anyway).
The music evening was in fact a small Bible study/home group that a few people had organized after being “kicked” out of some local churches due to the fact they were teaching about laying on of hands and being filled with the spirit—stuff that cut against the grain in this small rural area.
At that time we were attending an Espicopal Church that some friends had invited us to when we moved to North Carolina. We felt comfortable and really enjoyed the fellowship—the covered dish dinners were over the top and the group was a combination of all ages.
One of the things the Episcopal Church does in its service is to have someone read from the Old Testatment and the New Testament during the course of the meeting. I was often invited to play a little flute music in between for color and a change of pace—the rector was a pretty charismatic guy and really looked for ways the congregation could be involved.
After my re-birth, when the Sunday morning Bible readings occured, I remember looking around the Church, heart pounding, to see if anyone else was being stirred like me. All I really noticed was a quiet, almost passive demeaner, as the congregation looked towards the front and waited for the service to continue. I couldn’t believe it—here I was being all excited about the reality of the Christian experience and not finding the same kind of excitement or understanding in the people around me.
Things really took off when I told my best friend, the guy who had invited me to the church and with whom I worked as a carpenter, that you could really have a dialogue with God—that it wasn’t all a monologue as he thought. He looked at me like I was a madman and later told me how frightened he became at my revelation.
It wasn’t long before I was working for someone else and received an invitation to a lunch meeting with the rector. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was to quit proselitizing and leave “his” charges alone. It was his belief that each person’s faith was personal and that it wasn’t to be meddled with and that the emphasis on “being born-again” was also an individual thing and not something he was comfortable with getting into as well.
Some parts of my memory of this time are a little cloudy. But I can tell you that I had never been kicked out of a church before.
However, Sandi and I landed on our feet and it wasn’t long before the little “come over for some music” home group became a small church—meeting in living rooms and basements every Sunday.
During this process, I guess I never really thought about what the church meetings were supposed to look like or the authority structure. Whatever we did was what it was and that was allright with me. I didn’t have a whole lot of alternative church models to base anything on—having grown up in a mainstream Congregational type church. We were meeting in a home (just like in Acts) and even though we had “elders” everyone had a voice. We’d sit around in a circle and though we had a couple of people playing guitars, people would often just start a song and everyone would soon join in. If we could figure out the key they were singing in, we played along and if not we sang without music. And the covered dish dinners were even better than at the Episcopal church.
It wasn’t long before I was teaching the Derrick Prince “Foundation Series” to the newest members of our little fellowship. We’d meet on Sunday afternoons and then all go out to the local salad bar and share a meal. It was simple, it was real and it felt like we were really “having church”!
Even though I had been baptised (sprinkled) after confirmation at 12 years old and again at the Episcopal church (sprinkled), I was challenged to look at the scripture and pray about whether I needed to be baptised again (dunked). I was stubborn and felt like if it hadn’t “taken” after two times, what was the point. But, as in many instances during those early years, the Spirit would gently nudge me and correct whatever hearing problem I was having. After several weeks I was re-baptised in the New River which was followed by—you guessed it—a covered dish supper.
This group lasted about two years or more and then some “end-time” teaching came into the fellowship and divided us into two groups that eventually split over doctrine. We hung on in the new “end time” group for a while, became Pharisees, got delivered from that and as soon as we were released, came to the church we would attend for the next 22 years.
From simple to complex to simple again and then more complex than I ever would have imagined.
I have taken you through this little history lesson to say this: I don’t remember when I started depending on the “Church” to take care of me and mediate my relationship with Christ.
Though many people have had similar experiences with the organized Church and authority structures therein, mine was and is unique. That I and many others out there are still in some sort of recovery mode, speaks volumes.
So…I guess I will close for now and try to pick up this thread later. There is more to say—more to digest—but it is getting late in the day and tomorrow will be soon enough.
PS: I took a bike ride tonight before it poured…It took me a week to get back in the saddle after falling over. I am not totally comfortable yet, but each day will bring a little more release. Enjoy your ride.