“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – Herbert Spencer
Are you living in everlasting ignorance because you fear to question the doctrine of your church or the beliefs of your ancestors? Or is it that you are quite comfortable with your belief and it is truth that you fear? Are you in bondage to “that form of doctrine” which cannot give you assurance of salvation in either this world or the world to come?
Acts 2:38 – Matt. 16:18 – Romans 16:16 – 2 Tim. 2:15 – Do these verses of scripture sound familiar to you? Does a certain “interpretation” of these verses control your life the way it once controlled mine? If so, I urge you, read on.
I was born into a devout “Church of Christ” family. My parents were the pillars of “the church” in our community. From a baby, I was indoctrinated “in the way.” I was taught that everyone outside the “Church of Christ” was lost and on the way to hell. I was told that I was very fortunate to be born into a family that had “the truth.”
I was taught all the “right verses” and all the “right answers.” Before I could read or write, I could quote all the books of the Bible. I was drilled continually and was taught how to “rightly divide” the word. At that age it didn’t really mean much to me and I could have learned some of Shakespeare’s sonnets just as easily. It wasn’t because I was intelligent, but because I was indoctrinated by the method of drilling and repetition. This is the same method used to make a Soviet child a communist.
I remember, quite well, how I was taught to “rightly divide” the Word of truth. It was as follows:
Question: Who does the church belong to? Answer: Matt. 16:18.
Question: Then which church is right? Answer: Church of Christ.
Question: How do we get into that church? Answer: Acts 2:38.
Question: Why do we know that our name is right? Answer: Romans 16:16, etc., etc.
I knew many more answers by the age of five. A child who has been taught all the answers doesn’t have to ask any questions. But I did have questions! When I asked them, I was told that what I had been taught was “truth” and that it was DANGEROUS to question “truth.” They told me that questioning “the truth” was a sin – that I had to believe it.
However, I don’t ever remember being taught the love and mercy of God. I was taught the wrath of God and divine retribution. In short, I was taught the “keeping of ordinances” and FEAR. I was told it was a SIN to listen to any other preachers, because they taught lies. Thus, I was completely controlled by “that form of doctrine,” which I was told was the gospel everyone had to “obey.”
At the age of nine, I was baptized “for remission of sins.” This I did mostly out of fear (that was all had been taught) because I realized I was a sinner and didn’t want to go to hell. From that point on, I made a devout effort to keep all the ordinances, but could never quite “live up” to all of it. Thus, guilt was added to my fear, because I was less than perfect. (Please note here that in the “Church of Christ” you do not get saved, you only get baptized. Your salvation is not decided until you stand before God at the Judgment.) Therefore, I had no real hope. I was, of all children, most miserable. The only times I ever remember hearing the word “Grace” used, was in reference to one of the ladies in the congregation. Grace was her name.
By the age of fifteen, I was having “emotional problems.” (Is it any wonder?) My family became concerned and took me to a psychiatrist. He prescribed tranquilizers, which I later overdosed on, in an attempt to take my own life. My attempt failed and I was told I needed the Lord. I was very much aware of that fact, but I didn’t know where He was. I was convinced that perhaps my first baptism didn’t “take” because I had been so young. Out of desperation, I agreed that I should “do it over” as they said. Nothing happened. The Lord was not in the water. I became worse instead of better. Nothing “the church” had to offer seemed to help. I didn’t have the strength within myself to keep “the law” and direct my own way. After awhile, “the church” gave up on me and I gave up on “the church.”
I really wanted to “live right.” I was just weak. I needed more than self-will to keep me “in the way.” At eighteen, I came back to “the church” again, made my confession and asked them to forgive me. They took me back in. I really tried hard this time, but my will-power failed and, eventually, I gave up again. I didn’t find an inner strength this time either, and I couldn’t walk it alone. The church kept telling me, “You know the truth; it’s up to you.” Did I know “the truth” and was it up to me?
Driven by fear, insecurity and the guilt of sin, I ran from this God of vengeance, that I was taught about, and escaped into the world of alcohol and drugs. It wasn’t long until I became a full-blown alcoholic and a drug addict. I couldn’t seem to find a way to God. The only relief I could find was in liquid or pill form – but I didn’t want to live like that either. I wanted God in my life. I just didn’t understand how to get Him there.
So, at the age of twenty-six, I decided that I’d try “one more time.” I was getting very good at repentance, but I couldn’t get the baptism to “take.” I had complied with all the ordinances and nothing happened. I reasoned that my baptism wasn’t right. Again I repented, and again I was baptized.
I managed to stay straight for about two months. By then, I had become such an embarrassment to the church that they began to shun me. I can’t really blame them, because they had all the answers, yet they couldn’t tell me how to find the Lord. And after all, the ultimate test of any doctrine, theory, etc., is quite simple – does it work? It may look good on a chart, but does it work? The “Church of Christ” doctrine did not work for me. It could not work because it did not bring about a spiritual re-birth (born again) that Jesus, Himself, said we MUST have (John 3:6-7). The church taught “faith” in water baptism and the keeping of ordinances rather than faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
But praise be to Almighty God for His infinite mercy and grace. “Any ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). I gave upon the church and its doctrine, but I never gave up on finding God. I knew He was somewhere. I just didn’t know how to reach Him. But He knew how to reach me and He worked in mysterious ways to do so.
At the age of twenty-nine, and after eighteen car wrecks, eight county jails, a dozen trips to different mental hospitals, thirty-two shock treatments, plus three baptisms, I finally met the Lord!
I had been talking with some recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who had found a spiritual program of recovery. It was based on belief in and surrender to God. I saw it working for them, so I knew it must be real. I had also began attending and “investigating” a church that taught salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. However, my mind was still so cluttered with “doctrine” that their way seemed too “simple.” I didn’t understand, but I did listen and knew they had found what I had been searching for. They told me to trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This was almost impossible for me because I had always been taught that God didn’t hear the prayer of a sinner.
But later, in a moment of desperation, I locked myself in the restroom of a DC-9, somewhere over North Carolina. I cried out, “from my heart,” to this God I didn’t understand, and He answered. I can’t explain what happened, but for the first time in my life, I felt the presence of God. I knew that Christ was with me and would do for me those things I could not do for myself. This God was real and He made His presence known to me. I got on that plane a hopeless alcoholic, no longer able to reason. I got off sane, sober and SAVED through faith in Christ as my Savior. I have remained that way to this day, by His grace. He saved me, not because I was righteous or had obeyed a “form of doctrine.” He saved me because I cried out from my heart and trusted Him to have mercy on me, a sinner. I surrendered my life to Him that very night to do with me as He saw fit. I was saved by grace through faith and that not of myself. It was a weak faith at that time, but God saw my heart and answered.
A miracle? Yes, without doubt. God delivered me from alcoholism and drug addiction and saved me. This was something the “Church of Christ” and its doctrine had been unable to do. This is “The Answer” they do not have.
God didn’t stop there. I’ve seen and experienced many more miracles in the five years since then.
When the Lord saved me, I was completely bankrupt in all areas of my life – financially, emotionally and spiritually; I had lost my business, my home and my self-respect. My professional reputation was destroyed and my wife divorced me. I had absolutely nothing but the Lord. But He was all I needed.
Since then he has restored to me far more than I ever could have hoped for. He has met my every need and then some. He has given me a devoted Christian wife, another home and another business. He raised me up out of the mire to a position of respect within my profession that far exceeds my ability to comprehend.
Then, two months ago, He called me into the ministry – His ministry. I have accepted the call and am now a student of His gospel.
It’s not enough to know about the Lord. Do you know the Lord?
If the “truth” that you have has not made you free, or if there is any question in your mind about whether you have eternal life TODAY, then lay aside your contempt and investigate. Cast aside all of your preconceived ideas about what you thought you knew and ask the Lord to lead you into His Truth.
“I am the way, the truth and the life: No man comes to the father but by ME” (John 14:6).
By Clarence Vanover, 1982