Monday, August 08, 2005

Say the word

My thanks to Bryan Bird, one of the other bloggers featured in the Chronicle-Telegram article, who placed a link to my blog on his blog, sending a flood of traffic my way. Welcome to the show, everyone.

In response to my difficulties with modern Christianity as well as my relationship with God, I received the same advice from two different people- Steve, a resident of Elyria, and Carla, a blogger who has two listings in my list of links, her site and the Emergent No site. They both counseled me to get into the Word. Let’s run with that for awhile. When I first got saved the Bible was my food and drink. I couldn’t get enough of the Bible and read it every chance I got. It was within the same timeframe that we first got cable, and the world of TV preachers was opened up to me as well. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and lesser known ministers such as Gary Greenwald and Larry Allen took up my TV watching time. On the radio I listened to WCRF and WTOF until the late hours of the night. They preached out of the Bible and that’s what I was hungry for.

I was attending Christian Assembly of God in Lorain, OH at the time (later Church on the North Coast), and they didn’t call it the Bible, they called it “the Word.” “Get into the Word, brother!” I would be admonished. “What is the Lord speaking to you through the Word?” Calling it the Word seemed to make it more personal, more immediate. It was as if Jesus himself were sitting across the couch from me, speaking it to me himself. The Bible wasn’t a textbook but a companion. I read it for food; I wasn’t mining it for ammunition.

There came a point, however, when reading the Bible became less enjoyable and more like a chore. Perhaps it was when I became more aware of the differences between Protestants and Catholics. Maybe it was Witness Lee, fantastic Bible teacher that he was, who saw a hidden meaning in every verse possible. If Paul said “Jesus Christ” instead of “Christ Jesus” in a passage, that meant that a different aspect of Christ’s redemption was unfolding. Could it have been John MacArthur’s anti-charismatic beliefs, discovered as I was attending a series of charismatic churches? John MacArthur was (and still is) a great speaker. How could I reconcile the disparity between what I was hearing on his radio broadcast and what Louis Kayatin was preaching from the pulpit? They both loved the Lord, as well as all of the other preachers I was listening to. Why can’t two people who love the Lord, or three or a dozen or a thousand, fellowship with each other?

It became worse when I started reading books by Catholics who could match Protestant objections at every step. Now this church which obviously had no support Biblically for their beliefs (or so I was told) had to be observed in a completely different light. Jesus’ flesh and blood in the communion elements? John 6, buddy. Bothered by a priest being called Father? Annoyed because the Bible says to call no man Father? Then what do you call your male parent? The Bible became a battleground where thousands of people slung verses at each other, not out of loving concern for each other’s souls but in order to put a butt in every 22 inches of pew. And what is funny is that most of these groups are not that different from each other. Catholic Traditionalists defend the sacredness of a 16th century liturgy; King James Only advocates defend the sanctity of a 16th century translation of the Bible. The Catholics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville may think it a sin to attend a Protestant charismatic worship service- it's not "real worship", after all- but when they want to use worship songs written by Protestants for their services? Oh, well, that's OK. Two of the Baptist churches I attended were incredibly anti-charismatic, but put those beliefs aside to sing songs written by men and women they would never share a pew with. What the heck is going on here?

Finally I just gave up. I quit trying to make heads or tails out of the Bible. I put my Bible up on the shelf, next to the other ten copies that were gathering dust, and grabbed a wrestling magazine instead. I went to see a Kiss concert in 1996 and was swept up in the pure joy of seeing the hottest band in the world put on the makeup one more time. And I thought to myself, if I can be this happy at a rock concert, then such joy is definitely possible… so why can’t I get the same sense of happiness reading the Bible? I'm not talking about fake, pep-rally types of manufactured joy, but the kind of joy that makes you shed tears because the emotions are so powerful they just have to be expressed.

This sense of hopelessness still resides within my heart today. When I hear Carla and Steve implore me to “get into the Word”, some part of me deep within my soul wants to believe that it would work. I so desperately want it to mean something again. I just don’t know how to get there.


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