DISCLAIMERI will caveat everything here with the statement that I understand that many will be disappointed with us. I recognize that for a few, the things I post here may provide them with some sort of justification…a sort of "I told you so, I knew they were wrong" mindset. For others it may be confusing. However, it is my two-fold prayer that (1) for some, even if it’s only one, our story will be an encouragement and perhaps a bit of confirmation, and that (2) for ALL it will be a catalyst for some degree of independent thought and self evaluation.
It is not my purpose to convince anyone to adopt a particular belief. I only seek to be as transparent and honest as possible in providing a picture of the experiences and thought processes that my wife and I have gone through in searching our souls during our first two years of freedom from CFCMI.
THE EARLY SEARCH
by Phil and Genny DavisWe didn’t have a lot to go on in the early days of our departure from CFCMI. We only had a couple of weeks before we transferred and, quite frankly, there’s not a lot of religious diversity in Leavenworth, KS. In fact, other than prisons and the Army Base, there’s not a lot of ANYTHING in Leavenworth, KS. But, one of the things Genny and I did do before we left Kansas was to sit down with our friend Tom, the Director of Lay Ministries.
To recap, Tom is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and is officially on the staff at the Chapel. He is not a Chaplain and has no seminary training. He describes himself as a “Chapel Christian” who attended and was active in post (base) chapels wherever he and his wife were stationed throughout his 20 some odd years of active duty service. He’s a longtime member of an inter-denominational group known as Officer’s Christian Fellowship (OCF), which is a rather large and active organization. They actually pay his salary.
Tom managed the Neighborhood Bible Study (NBS) Program, consisting roughly of 50 weekly Bible study groups throughout the Leavenworth area. As I mentioned earlier, this program was the avenue through which Genny and I established our CFCMI-endorsed Bible study and “fellowship”.
After having attended a year’s worth of weekly “discipleship breakfasts” led by Tom, attending 3 or 4 functions at his home and getting to know his wife, and finally, meeting with him several times per month to discuss and debate doctrine for 6+ months, Genny and I had grown to know him pretty well and had developed a tremendous amount of respect for his ministry, judgment and counsel. This was all despite the fact that our CFCMI-taught beliefs dictated that he was hell-bound.
Nonetheless, he had some amazing insights into how to properly handle the whole situation with CFCMI that we had just been through and we trusted his advice. Well, he mentioned a particular organization that he thought would be just perfect for us. Remember, his focus was not so much on technical doctrine of salvation, but on where we were in our walk with God and where, from what he had seen of our situation, we would be ministered to the most. We made a mental note of his recommendation, I don’t think we even wrote it down, said our goodbyes, attended a ceremony at the chapel where we were prayed over (along with many in the NBS group that were being transferred) and were set to go on our way.
Now, I already mentioned that we were starting, at this point, to try and open up ourselves for an introspective evaluation of what we believed. We knew FOR SURE that there were several “doctrinal” things that we were taught in CFCMI that were flat-out, no doubt about it, wrong. Bible studies or doctrine along these lines were things like the teaching of Pastorship, Eunichship, the way Communication was twisted, the “Hundredfold Ministry” doctrine, etc. It was obvious that each of these were so twisted and distorted to support the control LRD needed over people to keep up his sex habits that they no longer really resembled anything close to actual messages from God. We figured that if we could be so wrong about these things, we’d better beware about most everything else as well. Some of the other doctrines we questioned right away were the dogmatic approach to Holiness and the ultra-harsh way that Security of the Believer was approached, etc. These types of things represented, to us, at least suspect teachings. When you start pulling that string, though, it becomes really tough to decide where to stop questioning.
Well, we weren’t too overcome by this. We just decided that we would take it all one step at a time, seek God sincerely as we went, not abandon anything without careful consideration and see where God led us.
We tried to imagine the ideal church in our minds and sort of seek out to find if it existed. What we decided we were looking for was a relatively low stress, non-pastor focused church that was fun, outreach oriented and baptized in Jesus’ name. We were specifically trying to avoid churches that focused to any large extent on the pastor, that were very dogmatic in their approach to doctrine (i.e., “legalism”), and especially any church that thought they had a much more enlightened view of God and getting to heaven than anyone else. Oh yeah, and we weren’t particularly interested in any new startup, storefront style ministries either. That’s just how we were looking at things while we were still “on the rebound” from CFCMI.
Nothing special, just show us a laid back Jesus-name local community church and we’d be happy as a clam.
I think now in hindsight, I can say that we both knew deep inside that what we were probably looking for most of all was a certain “feel” to a church, but that climate and aura was hard, if not impossible to define. Again, we figured if we sought God, opened up our hearts and minds to the guidance of his Holy Spirit…INCLUDING allowing him to mold what we previously felt were the foundations of our faith, that we’d be just fine. When we got to where he wanted us, we’d easily know it when we saw it. In the meantime, we were his children who loved him just as much and just as sincerely as we ever had, and in some ways were probably seeking him more than we had in quite a while. We tried very hard to keep from putting pressure on ourselves and trusted God’s promises that we’d be just fine…and we were. It was a very happy, refreshing, exciting time, NOT a particularly stressful one from a spiritual perspective.
I THANK GOD that Genny and I were in step with each other to help get through this transition. I’m certain that if I was doing it without the help and counsel of my wife, the single person I trusted THE MOST on planet earth, things would have been nowhere near as easy…and may not have turned out very good, either.
Well, anyway, as I alluded to above, we didn’t find much to choose from in Leavenworth. We searched on the Internet and found a Jesus-name Apostolic church nearby and decided to give it a try. Well, it was nice and the people were nice (one of the ushers was Allen’s teacher from the post’s child development center, so we were welcomed right away), but it DEFINITELY was not for us. The message on Jesus’ name and everything was familiar, but so was the emphasis on “Bishop Pastor Elder so-and-so” in the pulpit…perhaps even more so. There was also a distinct elitism as well. We were turned off.
We had attended Genny’s sister’s/parents’ church in Iowa throughout the year we were in Kansas, since we visited them pretty much monthly because we knew we wouldn’t be near her family again as long as I was in the Navy. Theirs was an independent (I think) Baptist church, closely affiliated with Bob Jones University. Well, we KNEW we didn’t want anything to do with them. From dealing with Genny’s sister and seeing the way things operated, we recognized serious “group think” right away – something we desperately wanted to stay away from after seeing it’s catastrophic effects on our lives while we were in CFCMI.
As it turned out, just before we were to leave Leavenworth for San Diego (in mid-June 2001), it was my parents’ 50th Anniversary in Florida. I had grown up Southern Baptist (Genny grew up in the Lutheran church) and my parents had helped start a rapidly growing church that was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention around the early 1990’s and had always wanted Genny and I to go with them. Well, we did and it was fine, though they had some “innovative” worship styles that neither of us had seen before. At any rate, it was a decent environment, but not what we were looking for. We were still pretty fresh from our departure from CFCMI and still were working on opening up our minds a little more as well.
One of the things that also began to tug at the strings of our view of the religious world was something neither one of us would have ever really thought would have a serious affect on our beliefs, but for me, it was a real milestone. My father was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and kidney failure after a mild heart attack. Just after the 4th of July weekend (2001) and only three weeks after a wonderful celebration of 50 glorious years with my mother, he became deathly ill. We had just got moved into our apartment in San Diego and I was in the process of bouncing back and forth between the East and West coasts, going to 4-5 months worth of Navy schools before I reported to my ship. The good news was that I had a lot of leave and time between schools that I could take to go to Florida and join my six brothers and sisters in helping out my Dad and Mom. He battled back from the brink of death three or four times over the summer of 2001, had a quadruple bypass, suffered a stroke, etc., etc. Finally, on Sep 7th, 2001, he entered his rest. The funeral was Tuesday afternoon, September 11th, 2001 (that date ring a bell?). Now the events of that day for my family make an ENTIRE story in itself. I’ll spare you.
If there’s one thing throughout my entire life that I heard the most about my father, it was that he was a man of intense integrity. MAN OF HONOR is his epitaph. He was (forgive me if a brag on him a little bit) an orphan from depression-era Mississippi who managed to get a college degree, become a NASA rocket-scientist, stay married to his college sweetheart for 50 years and keep a sense of humor and gentleness while raising seven children along the way.
Perhaps the most consistent thing through thick and thin (and there was a lot of “thin”) was my father’s faith in God. In the Baptist church where I grew up he was a deacon, but at the same time was known as somewhat of a rebel, frequently questioning the “conventional wisdom” of the church board or the pastor. The depth of his faith became truly evident in the three months leading to his death, as did his testimony. In the end, I could not look at this man’s integrity before man and God (something I seriously questioned of the CFCMI leadership that was responsible for teaching me everything I had come to believe, by the way). faith, testimony and life-long walk with God and damn him to hell because when he was baptized, the words “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” were used. Sorry, but the same Bible that I used to slice people up with the Jesus-only doctrine also told me that I would know true Christians by their fruits. I know I’m partial because he was my Dad, but I’d venture a guess that as a minimum Genny would agree with me that his fruits were WAY more apparent and genuine than pretty much all of the CFCMI leadership combined. Consistent good water from a well that’s based on Christ tells you that the well is probably good.
By mid-September 2001 (the time of my father’s death) we had attended a couple of different churches in San Diego and I had attended the base chapel in Newport, RI. We still considered our basic belief in the plan of salvation and the Godhead to be in concert with the CFCMI/UPC type of doctrine. But we were also realizing that it was just that, a belief. Our understanding of the Bible didn’t make it FACT just because it was OUR understanding.
In fact, we had really started to reach a point where we were OK with thinking that went like this “This is what we believe, but it might be wrong…and that’s OK. Let’s just continue to seek God sincerely through his Word.” I may be speaking only for myself, but that’s where I was at spiritually when my Dad died. I believed in baptism in Jesus’ name, etc., but I also believed that my Dad, a life-long, Trinity believing, baptized-in-the-titles Southern Baptist was welcomed by his heavenly Father into heaven. I know from a CFCMI mindset that sounds contradictory. But if you think of your belief as just that, a belief, and NOT NECESSARILY 100% INDISPUTABLE FACT, it makes a little more sense.
So, having been “loosened up” by the Holy Ghost working through many, many wonderful people like Tom, our NBS Group, my Dad (and Mom, for that matter), many new friends we were making at the church we settled into, some wonderful Christian neighbors and Christian friends Genny met during her regular workouts at a nearby YMCA, by Fall 2001 we were full-on into a serious questioning phase in our walk with God. And, by the way, it was GREAT!!!
We were learning all kinds of new things about the Bible, new ways of looking at everything, especially our personal relationship with Christ. And not for one nanosecond did we ever really stop and fret about “OH NO! Am I still saved?” It just wasn’t in our vocabulary. We were seeking God sincerely, had not adopted an ungodly, sinful lifestyle and were trying our best not to be judgmental. And, perhaps most of all, we could really FEEL the Holy Ghost leading our lives. I mean, we were really relying on His Spirit, not an organization, to guide us. Yes, we had settled on an organization, but we intentionally did not involve ourselves in its functioning to any large extent. We weren’t going to do that until we felt the Lord leading us to.