Becoming the Accidental Heretic, Nothing Personal
part 3 of a series
I love “flash-mob” events.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it usually refers to a pre-planned event by a large group of people who quickly invade a public place, perform a song and dance routine, and then just as quickly disperse. It’s captivating and spellbinding for the unsuspecting bystanders. That’s kind of what it was like for a Catholic boy to attend his first Pentecostal Holy Ghost meeting.
I wasn’t completely turned off even though I was more than a bit skeptical. I’m extremely inquisitive, however, and I immediately began to scour the tracts and brochures they gave me. The 700 Club had already supplied me with plenty of materials and, of course, a Bible. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a 30 year journey into that book and that movement.
The 700 Club set the stage for all sorts of new concepts and ideas about Christianity. The basic Evangelical approach was evident. I’d heard about the “God-shaped vacuum,” the “four spiritual laws,” redemption and the need for a savior. It was all new to me although Christ was not. Christ as savior was a Catholic standard also, but it was a gift that was imparted to me through baptism, as an infant, so even these teachings seemed new and relevant.
God, they said, wanted a personal relationship with me, not a relationship through a priest, but a direct relationship with no intermediary. He had a plan for my life. I liked that at the time. Turns out, however, they didn’t really mean it. God, I discovered, did not want an actual relationship with me as much as he wanted me to have a relationship with a book.
When Protestants say you should read the Bible, they really mean that you should “study” the Bible. Your “relationship” with God depended on your understanding of scripture and your understanding of scripture depended on the depth of your study. The Bible was inerrant in the original signatures and, although available in many editions, was only reliable in the King James Version. So when they said “study” your Bible they meant your King James Bible.
OK, I got it, the Bible was important. It was, to them, as if God himself had handwritten the text and handed it to them. And it became that to me. It was very soon after becoming a full-time Pentecostal that I learned the Bible wasn’t written in English. In order to fully understand and conduct the kind of in-depth study required of serious sons of God, I’d need a Greek and Hebrew dictionary. There was one in the back of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible that would suffice for now, so it was off to the Christian Book Store to pick up this large, unwieldily volume that would become the center of my studies for many years.
But Pentecostals had one more thing that set them apart from all the other Christians, they had the Holy Ghost. Apart from the obvious manifestations, the Holy Ghost would help me study, he would help me understand the Bible. I wanted that, but my focus on this new goal allowed the original promise to slip right past me. Everything from here on would be focused on that book rather than a “real” relationship with a real, living God.
When I was told that God wanted a personal relationship, what they actually meant was that God demanded a perfect understanding of who he was and what he required, and I’d get that information from the pages of a book. Now that, unfortunately, is a very hard sell.
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