Layers of Beliefs — Seeds of Deconstruction
I was deconstructing before deconstruction was cool. That’s assuming you define deconstruction as taking a hard look at what I believe and adjusting when something didn’t measure up. By that definition, I’ve been deconstructing and reconstructing most of my Christian life.
It’s impossible to overstate the impact of my entry into the world of the Charismatic Movement. I leaped from a liturgical church full of reverence and awe and quietness to an exuberant faith overflowing with noise, activity, and unabashed joyfulness. (Praise the Lord was my new favorite expression.) I had discovered a faith with raised hands and loud voices. A faith that believed nothing was impossible with God, including miracles, healing and, yes, the ability to speak in supernatural heavenly languages. A faith that was bold and brash. An in-your-face faith.
These two worlds overlapped when the Charismatic Movement, which was at that time sweeping through denominational churches like wildfire, came to Trinity Episcopal Church in the form of a charismatic renewal workshop. I don’t remember much of anything about that time except that it was where I finally spoke in tongues for the first time. Up to that point, even though I was going to a charismatic Bible study every week, the experience of tongues had eluded me. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it. But there at my liturgical church in an “after meeting” I prayed to receive the “baptism with the Holy Spirit.” Something changed and I started speaking in tongues that night. My heavenly prayer language became an important part of my spiritual experience for the next few years.
My entry into the world of “charismata” and neo-Pentecostalism marked a new stage of my Christian life, one where I was adding layers of doctrines and teachings to my belief system. What do I mean by that?
I grew up in a church where there wasn’t much Bible teaching. After I came to faith in Christ, I learned to build the structure of my belief system any way I could. Ironically, although my learning methods were haphazard at best, the audiotapes I’d been listening to about the cults (Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults) gave me a solid grounding in the essentials of the faith. I also had a basic understanding of what I would later learn to be a belief system known as dispensational premillennialism. (The pretribulation rapture theology and end-times prophecy I learned from the Hal Lindsey tapes grew out of this system). I didn’t know much else. So, whatever new things I learned I soaked up like a sponge, provided they didn’t set off any alarms.
The best way I can describe it is that for the next few years of my life I added layer upon layer of new teachings to what I started with. And I added those layers uncritically. As long as they didn’t fall into the cultic errors I’d learned about from Walter Martin (e.g., denying the Trinity or saying Jesus wasn’t God incarnate, or that a person had to earn their salvation through works, etc.) I was game!
But those layers of teaching also brought with them the seeds of my first deconstruction. As powerful as my charismatic experience had been those first few years, doubts began to creep in. Certain things didn’t add up.
One time I’d gone with some friends to a revival meeting. The guest preacher (who was very animated) proclaimed that God had given him understanding about Ezekiel’s prophecy of the great army from the north that would invade Israel.
When I heard this, my ears perked up. Remember, I didn’t know much but I’d been immersing myself in end-times teaching.
To the best of my recollection the preacher said something like this: “God told me that that prophecy doesn’t mean Russia is going to invade Israel! God told me that they’re going to have a great Holy Ghost revival in Russia and then all the people are going to go down to Israel and they’re going to have a great Holy Ghost revival in Israel!”
That didn’t track with me. I’d been listening to and reading Hal Lindsey too long and at that time I was convinced that in the last days a huge army from the Soviet Union would invade the nation of Israel. But this preacher was a bit over the top anyway, so I just chalked it up to his being overzealous.
Another time I expressed admiration for a pastor and church I’d been attending on Sunday evenings. (Sunday mornings were still for Trinity Episcopal and altar service.) I was warned by an older, wiser friend to be cautious about that church. “They believe in a doctrine called ‘the manifested sons of God,’” my friend told me. “They believe their pastor is one of the manifested sons.” My friend didn’t elaborate, but I respected her deeply so I was cautious, but still kept visiting that church. (The music was awesome!)
Something else that gradually began to bother me was the emphasis on opulence at so many of the Pentecostal churches I visited. I remember one pastor bragging about how their church had an elevator. I went to another that was adorned with crystal chandeliers and satin. And there always seemed to be such an emphasis on money. By this time I’d been reading my Bible for a few years and I found the emphasis on material wealth to be inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings.
There were a lot of other little nagging things that I noticed, but I just filed them away. To use a biblical phrase, I “stored them up and pondered them.”
But I didn’t begin deconstructing my charismatic belief system until a few things happened that gave me pause and one that, quite frankly, frightened me.
All posts in this series: A Deconstruction Observed
Note: The things I share in these posts are not intended to disparage anyone’s beliefs. Indeed, as I look back over my Christian life there are many things I treasure and value about all of my different spiritual heritages: Episcopal, charismatic, Bible church, Baptist, and so on. I’ll probably write about them some day. But for now, this my story and I’m trying to tell it as honestly and graciously as possible. Please bear with me.