Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Church of Believers

I had heard about a church in a nearby town that called itself the Church of Believers. They were endeavoring to restore New Testament Christianity. This meant, above other things, that they were to be led by the Holy Spirit. This was manifested by eschewing institutionalism in all forms (i.e. no formal leadership in picking out songs to speaking messages), emphasizing the gifts of the Spirit (especially prophecy), and freedom to dance and spontaneously sing together for long times our different personal songs harmoniously to the Lord. I had experienced this type of singing in Corvallis, Oregon, and was looking for a church who knew what this was and practiced it.

The Church of Believers was an offshoot of the Later Rain Revival that began at a Bible school in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1948. Prophecy, both to individuals and groups, the “song of the Lord”, and a strong desire for the ‘restoration’ of the New Testament church as seen in the book of Acts, were some of the main emphases. The Church of Believers also baptized in Jesus’ name, and were Jesus ‘only’ theologically. This meant that they had a non-traditional view of the trinity that taught that the Father was Jesus, the Son was Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was the Spirit of Jesus. This was how they protected the unity of God from tri-theism. Since when I had met God I learned that God’s name was Jesus I gravitated towards this type of thinking. Later the Holy Spirit through the Bible adjusted my understanding.

One time I was at Denny’s, a man in the Church of Believers. I needed some gas to make it home. It was late and I knew that no gas stations were open for many miles. I didn’t think I could make it home as I was past empty. Denny kept a large tank for gasoline for his farm stuff. I looked at the tank, it had been painted red, and it somehow looked full to me. I asked Denny if I could have some of the gas in his tank. He told me that he had tried that morning to get some gas and it was empty. But it really looked full to me. So I asked again if he would just humor me and pour some gas into my tank. He protested that this was foolish, as only a German could do, but would do it any way because I insisted. He reached for the nozzle and with a look of disgust on his face, probably because I didn’t believe him, he put it into my tank and pulled the trigger. Whoosh went the gasoline into my tank. Denny was absolutely shocked and surprised. My tank was filled and he had plenty to spare. Years later I asked him if he it was really empty and he assured me that it was.

There was one girl my age, Peggy, who went to church there with me. It was obvious to us that we were destined for each other. Although I had not yet emotionally healed from my breakup with another young lady earlier that year, I became attached to Peggy, and she to me. When I asked her to marry me, she said yes and we went to tell her parents. It was late and they had already gone to bed so we woke them up with our good news. Her parents were less than enthusiastic. They cautioned us to wait a year before we tied the knot. We happily agreed, oblivious to their implicit warning.

Sometime just before Easter, 1972, a man came into our assembly wanting help and some of us discerned that he needed to be delivered from demons. So we, as a group, gathered in a circle around him as he sat in a chair, often called the ‘hot seat’. I got this idea that I was supposed to, as in acting out a prophecy, grab above this man’s head and throw the demon away. This thought was very strange to me and I did not act upon it. Later, when walking Peggy to her car after the service, I shared with her what I had received. She said that she didn’t think that it was odd as she had seen others do that before. I filed this information in the back of my brain for future use.

That Easter there was a big get together in St. Paul, Minnesota for all the churches that were in some way associated with each other. The Church of Believers was a part and most of us were going. On the first night the worship was freewheeling. After the singing and dancing were over a person was brought forward who we were told had demons that needed to be cast out. They asked for spiritual male volunteers to come forward to pray. I decided I was spiritual enough and male, so I went up front.

As we gathered around the guy who needed the ministry I began to get the same leading that I had received earlier at home. I was to reach out my hands above the guys head, grab as if I were grabbing demons, and throw them as far as I could. This time I did it. Yet when I threw two odd things happened. The first was I let out a yell. This was no ordinary yell. This yell was fueled by all the anxiety that had been building up in me since I disobeyed God (another story) hitchhiking from Corvallis, Oregon to Michigan. Contained within was the anxiety of my earlier break up, through spiritual immaturity at all levels, all the way to the stress of Peggy’s parents not wanting us to be married. Not only did I yell, but when I threw I almost hit one of the elders on the chin with my fists, clenched as they were from 'grabbing the demons'.

Not surprisingly the rest of the group figured that there was something wrong with me. They bound demons left and right and had me sit down on the front pew. They left me there and ignored me. While sitting in front the thoughts came to me that if I have demons, Jesus can cast out demons, I have nothing to worry about.

Yet I was left alone. The next day I gathered some of the non-leaders who were leaders in the Church of Believers. I asked them to solve the problem, do I have demons or not? They responded by gathering some of the other leading non-leaders who tried to help discern what condition my condition was in. They asked me probing questions. I responded by confessing every sin, real or imagined, leaving no sin unturned. By the time they were done, they had discerned seven demons. They also decided that it was the demon of lust, discerned through the confession of some of my dreams, that had caused my relationship with Peggy. So they brought her into the room and I had to confess to her that our relationship, on my part, was caused by these demons. She cried and they ushered her out of the room. She was to stay in St. Paul. I never saw her again or have communicated with her since.

These leading non-leaders now had a problem, how to get the demons out of me. I tried to cooperate as best I could. I had heard that sometimes when demons are exorcised the victim vomited. So, on my hands and knees, I tried to vomit, but I couldn’t. Nothing would happen, no demons came out. After a long while, may have been an hour or two, one of the ladies performing the exorcism said that she knew why the demons were not coming out. They were not coming out because I had blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Although I had not been a Christian very long, I knew that this was bad, really bad. Fortunately, the rest of the people did not agree with her, and escorted her out of the room.

In the end they could not cast the demons out. The reason they couldn’t, I was told, was that I had sin in my life. Yes, that really was the reason I was given. I was also told that the demons would try to deceive me and draw me away from the fellowship. If I left the church I would loose my salvation.

I was pretty glum. Someone handed me a book by Merlin Caruthers called Prison to Praise. I read it on the way home. It impacted me deeply. The gist of the book is that God is worthy of praise regardless of the situations we were in. Mr. Caruthers took very seriously Paul’s exhortations to praise God in and for everything.

After I arrived home I decided to put into practice the stuff I had learned reading this book. I stood in the middle of my living room/bedroom, lifted my arms and hands into the air, and began to praise God with all my strength. I praised and thanked God for the seven demons which He, in His wisdom, allowed me to have. This outburst of faith, expressed in praise and thankfulness, must have really tickled God. God filled me with so much joy that for the next two weeks it was all I could do to walk instead of dance wherever I went. The grin on my face was so wide and perpetual that the back of my head behind my ears continually hurt. If God would have injected me with any more joy I would have exploded all over the walls.

When I communicated with the Church of Believers what I had been experiencing, about the joy that didn’t quit, they looked at me with condescension and said that they noticed that I had some measure of joy. I was intimidated by their comments and the intense joy I had been experiencing began to ebb away. Before too long I was depressed and shriveled spiritually.

A friend of mine from another church came over one day and noticed my poor spiritual state. He said that I needed to leave that church. I said I couldn’t, I would loose my salvation because of the demons. He said that he did not believe I had any demons. It never occurred to me that what I had been told might not be the truth.

I began to think about this. How could I be sure it was not just the demons trying to deceive me? It was a logical conundrum. Yet one day I happened to be reading the book of Acts in the Bible. I came across the passage in Acts 8 where Simon the sorcerer believed, confessed Christ, and was baptized. Yet when he saw that the gift of the Spirit was given through the laying on of hands by the Apostles, he wanted to do it too. He offered to pay Peter for this ability to impart the Holy Spirit. Peter took offense and noticed that Simon’s heart was still bound up in iniquity. Before I read the next sentence I thought, now here is the perfect time to establish once and for all that Christians can still have demons from their previous life of sin after they have become Christians. Here is a guy with all the requirements: He was a sorcerer, he believed and was baptized, and now he sins in a big way. Cast the demon out, Peter! Yet Peter didn’t cast a demon out. He commanded Simon to repent. Repent, that was all. Ask the Lord to forgive. I had done that. I then knew that I did not have any demons, and that I was right with God, regardless of what the Church of Believers taught! So I quit my job, left the Church of Believers, and moved to Portland, Oregon.


teresa said...

I find it amazing how so many Christians lose sight of what being a Christian is all about. Sometimes I wonder if they really are hearing from God, or if they are so caught up in doing what they think is right that they ignore God or no longer hear Him.

Steven Ganz said...

Christians aren't the only ones open to the charge of ignoring or being ignorant of God - it's just that they are expected to know more. Christians are just people too. If any charge is to be laid, it should be laid at the feet of those responsible to lead God's people. Yet even they can grow. Denney, a leading non-leader in the group, later apologized to me. Additionally we not only went to the same church together, we became very good friends.