Maybe church has become too inviting

Bear with me, I’m just thinking out loud here.

Though I am generally a rational person, there are many instances in which I rely on my experience and feelings/intuition. If you were to classify my personality, it would fall into the stylized category of INTJ, or Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging, and the description(s) is fairly accurate: I think things through a great deal, but I also trust myself and am pretty self-confident. Part of this intuition, particularly in the realm of theology, comes from the spiritual gift of discernment that God has given me, by which I can discern both the correctness of a teaching and the difference between spirits. In very brief laymen’s terms, I can tell the difference between something from God, something from humanity, and something from Satan.

I can likewise see and interact with angels and devils, though occurrences are rare. And whether it’s due to my past experience or my ineptness, I tend to meet devils with far more regularity than I encounter angels. ((As an interesting sidenote, I generally find devils to be alone and angels to be in crowds, though there are always exceptions. Not sure why this is, though I could hazard some guesses.)) I recently encountered a devil in a rather unexpected place, however: a traditional, Sunday morning church service.

The sermon that morning happened to be on spiritual warfare, a subject not often preached, and I was surprised to sense the devil in the congregation. They aren’t, as you might imagine, visible to the naked eye, but this one was quite bold. It was clearly present in the sanctuary with no fear of remonstration or attack, subtly working its ways among the attendants. As the minister stated that many people in the congregation probably didn’t even believe in devils despite the stories of them in the Bible, I heard it whispering to people, strengthening their disbelief. “Devils, pah… we don’t hold with that nonsense. I’ve never seen one, and neither has anyone else. If there’s a Devil, it’s Man and War, etc. It’s all just metaphor. We don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that the greatest victory of Satan was convincing people that he doesn’t exist.

The worst part was when I confronted the devil, asking what it was doing there.

“I was invited,” it replied with a sardonic grin. The truly frustrating part is that this is the second time I’ve received this response in a church setting from a devil.

At any rate, it made me wonder if our Protestant churches haven’t become too inviting. In our bid to be seeker sensitive, to welcome everyone regardless of creed, and to ask relatively few questions or make any demands of parishioners, we often invite in those we would do better to keep outside. I’m not saying we should bar our doors from unbelievers, the poor, or most any individual–since this sort of argument has been used to rationalize blocking all sorts of people from church in the past, I want to make it clear that I advocate no such policy–but I wonder if we aren’t harming ourselves with our open-door policies.

I don’t have a clear solution, but my thoughts as inspired by this experience are as follows: maybe the Catholic Church had some decent reasons for requiring everyone to subscribe to the same core beliefs, to go through classes and professions of faith, and to undergo some testing before being admitted to the church; for excluding people from certain practices at the church before undertaking the sarcraments and such; and maybe our (by which I mean mainstream Protestants) disbelief and avoidance of all things spiritual, including the giftings of God and spiritual warfare, are leaving us vulnerable to Satan. If I had gone to the senior pastor of that church and shared my concern about devils being present in the sanctuary, I am fairly confident he would have been very kind, accepting, and patronizing. He might have let me consecrate the building. I doubt he would have really believed or done anything himself about the matter.

It is the flock that is hurt by this, so I feel like we should be doing a better job to protect them. We, by which I mean mainstream Protestantism as I have encountered it, are not doing a good job training our parishioners for spiritual warfare, and I certainly haven’t seen the leadership of the Protestant churches training themselves to protect the parishioners on their behalf. I don’t know where the Catholic Church stands on this sort of thing anymore, but I operate under the assumption that they’re more active about it than Protestant churches as a general rule.

I’m not about to become Catholic, but I again find myself thinking: they’ve been around for many centuries longer than Protestant churches, so maybe we should be taking some lessons from them on some matters? ((In addition, I’ve been learning some things about Judaism and their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible that answer a lot of questions Protestants ask, yet for some reasons these teachings haven’t made their way into Sunday morning sermons.)) I don’t know where the line should be drawn, or how, but I think we should at least be more aware that there’s a friggin’ war going on. If you duck your head in the sand, all you do is provide an easy, non-moving target.

Unapologetic

The back porch was screened with bamboo shades that descended along its sides like nature’s blankets, smooth and serenely complacent as if they had always rested there. Little light was available, but we had gone past the point of reading our Bibles and were conversing about something or other. The details of our evenings on that porch are hazy for me, but I recall the long drive west of Springfield to reach their home, the awkward feelings in my throat because I knew so few names, and the hesitant way I would smile at people and they might smile back as we talked briefly about God. I mostly just sat and watched.

My head came up when the associate pastor’s son began to speak about authenticity though. His tone caught my attention, and as I looked up, my eyes met his where he was staring at me with a fierce intensity.

“Yeah, some people go up to the front to pray, I guess. But I think there are some who go up there just to show off. Just to be up front so everyone thinks they’re holy and great. It’s all just a show,” he spat derisively, words clipped in a harsh staccato beat.

I felt my world drop out from under me. He was talking about Sunday mornings, where there was a weekly altar call for anyone who felt the need for prayer. They would go up front and those who felt led to do so would join them, praying as they knelt together. God regularly asked me to step forward and pray with people, so I did, but from that moment forward I would question myself and God. I didn’t want people looking down on me or thinking me a phony. I didn’t want to be on the outside yet again.

For the next six years I would struggle with singing in worship, praying with others, or even talking about my faith. I have not overcome that poisoned barb, and for the last six or more years I feel like I have been shrinking away from God.

There was a family with whom I ate lunch after church on Sundays, and one day I mentioned talking with God. He and I have had a very communicative relationship since long before I was Christian, and my salvation experience was similar to that of Saint Thomas, where God was very direct in convincing me of his authenticity. The response from the father of the family, a pastor, took me off guard however. He was jealous and upset. “I have served God for over 30 years,” he said, “and He has never spoken to me! So why would he speak to you?” he asked. From that day on, I would be hesitant to share my faith with others.

The time has come when I must learn to be the man God has made me. God has gifted me extravagantly in a variety of ways, with my health and intellect, my various skills and talents, and with spiritual giftings that He would have me use. I fail God daily when I do not do so.

I have been apologizing for the last six years for my relationship with God. Every time I failed to confront a friend who sinned, I was apologizing for my God’s commandments. Every time I failed to go forward and pray with someone, to raise my hands in worship as the Spirit moved in me, or to seek out the devils that plagued those around me and confront them in power, I failed my Lord. I am done apologizing for my wonderful God or my relationship with him. It is time to be honest.

A friend of mine replied with disbelief when I shared my testimony with him, “I’m sorry, but this just falls outside my worldview.”

“Then you will have to expand your worldview,” I stated, “because it is true.” For those of us who express belief in God Almighty, it is no stretch to believe in angels or devils. And if you can believe in God, his angelic servants, and those who turned from God and were cast from heaven, it is likewise not hard to accept that God has gifted his humanly servants in extraordinary ways. Saint Paul writes of spiritual gifts and expresses that all Christians share these gifts. I am not unique in this.

Nor should I be ashamed. God has freed me from sin, though I often wander from God and stumble over it again and again. What would it be like, I wonder, if I were to live free from this fear of judgment as well? If I were to give it up and stop apologizing for God’s gifts?

My primary gifting from God, or the one with which I am most familiar and comfortable, is that of discernment. It is the gift to discern the spirit of things, be they from God, humanity, or Satan. It is applicable in both testing the veracity of teaching as well as spiritual warfare and the testing of spirits, and I have begun expressing it more often. I feel that God has called me to learn more of him and the Holy Spirit, and to become more faithful, for the times ahead.

Therefore I will be bold. If the Lord is for me, who can be against me?

Thoughts on Buddhism – Reincarnation

The thing I find most fascinating about reincarnation within Buddhism is its state as a natural law within the culture of south and east Asia. Within Buddhism, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is called samsara, and it is this that, by way of enlightenment, one seeks to escape in nirvana. By achieving nirvana and eventually dying… well, the religion is a little hazy on what happens next. You sort of dissipate, sort of cease to exist, and yet the Buddha (and all the others who have achieved nirvana) is believed to exist on a higher plane, somehow, in some form. We’re going to learn more about this later in the semester to try and clarify the subject.

Part of the belief in reincarnation is that an individual can, through meditation, gain knowledge of their past lives. Regardless of whether they were human, god, or in hell (or, for most people, all six of the states I mentioned in a previous post, since there are hundreds of thousands of lives we’ve had in the past), it is possible, though certainly difficult, to meditate and learn about one’s previous lives. Indeed, when seeking enlightenment, knowledge of one’s previous lives, mistakes, and lessons can speed up the process significantly.

When I was a witch, years ago before I converted to Christianity, I believed devoutly in reincarnation. Of course, I’m not the sort to assume most anything. I have to test everything and prove the truth of the matter to myself. Therefore, I withheld judgment regarding the afterlife and anything else that might happen until I obtained such truth. In my case, the proof came in visions of my previous lives.

One morning, I was considering the subject while I lay abed, and eventually gave up. Throwing the blankets off myself, I sat up and, while still perched on the edge of the bed, a vision slammed into me, taking my breath away. I do not have the words to describe it elsewise, for I sat there somewhat stunned by the revelation.

  1. I had seen a vision of a previous life, when I didn’t know such was possible.
  2. In my vision, I had been in love and married with a beautiful, red-headed Irish girl.
  3. It was about 600 years ago.
  4. We were soldiers.
  5. We had both died at the end of the vision in an attack by bandits, and I had to watch her die before I was cut down.

Over the next couple of years, I spent quite a bit of time meditating and learning of other previous lives. I only saw a few, some more peaceful, some longer, some shorter and more violent… but in all, I was quite convinced of reincarnation. Until I became Christian.

As one might imagine, I didn’t know what to think when I became Christian. I had figured out a lot of the religion, enough that I felt I could convert in confidence, but mostly I took the vows because God told me to. I knew that Jesus existed and the Bible was true because he told me so, and there’s no arguing when the voice of God tells you something. These things being true, I knew that heaven was true, and reincarnation didn’t fit into the picture, but I didn’t know what to do with that. How do I address my visions of past lives?

Within the world, there are three spirits that influence our thoughts and behaviour. The first is God, who tends to be subtle in his guidance, more so than even the devil. The second is Satan, who tries to guide us away from worship of God and towards worship of pretty much anything else. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, good or bad, so long as our worship is on anything other than God. The third is the most direct and yet the hardest to detect sometimes, and that is ourselves.

I had to sort out what spirits had been influencing me all my life. Every action I had taken in the past had to be considered, disected, and refiled. One of the spiritual gifts that God granted me was the gift of discernment, or the ability to judge between spirits and the validity of teachings, and this gift enables me to see if something or someone is being influenced in a particular way. Using this gifting, I was able to sift back through my memories and, slowly, painfully, take things apart, examine them, and put them back together with a better understanding.

The visions of past lives were a carrot dangled in front of me to lead me along, to set me up for a greater fall, and to embolden me with self-assurance and self-confidence that could not come from my relatively short life and experience. I learned a great deal through them and experienced more than anyone at my age should have, and Satan secured my faith. I knew reincarnation was true because I’d seen it.

Except it isn’t. In re-examining my memories and those visions, I see things that could not be corroborated by recorded history. I see my emotions and desires influencing them to show me what I wanted to see, rather than some sort of truth, and I see Satan’s hand in their sending. Satan got them started, while my own limited knowledge of history and extravagant desires wrote the scripts.

As Descartes would observe, our eyes can deceive us. I deceived myself, and it is something I have worked hard to avoid since then. My own knowledge is limited, and therefore I must corroborate my conclusions outside myself. Having reached this decision, the concept of taking reincarnation as a natural law simply startled me. I have spent long hours and weeks considering each facet of Christianity to discover its truth, and have thus far been satisfied. But to simply not think about it…

The Bible says that it is good for those who have seen and believed, but better still for those who believe without seeing. I fall in the first category; my faith comes from having spoken with God, having been shown, as Saint Thomas was, quite directly. And while I admire those who have faith without seeing (more admiration than I can express), I also fail to understand such “blind faith.” It runs counter to my entire life; even when I was deceived, I was still trying to figure things out. If I hadn’t been, I never would have investigated Christianity to begin with.

So, reincarnation as a natural law. It boggles my mind.