Well, I missed a week but I now have a beautiful daughter so it all worked out! Now back to regular scheduled programming…
I should come clean. Last week when I used the term “cult member” it might’ve been a bit strong. Usually when one pictures a cult member, it’s someone on the brink of being psychotic or highly unstable. It tends to be someone who is obviously a bit cuckoo. This person was a close friend of mine for quite some time, was a high functioning employee that I worked side-by-side with and was all around a good guy. He wouldn’t define himself as a cult member (most don’t) and neither would any of us who worked with him. But in the end, after I learned more, the reality is he was one.
Let’s back it up. Here I was working at Chick-fil-A on the closing shift and for quite some time it was this guy and me locking up at night. Although this guy (let’s call him Frank) wasn’t known to be a cult member, he was known to be a Christian. A very serious one. And by that I mean an extremely legalistic one. But I would find these things out later.
In the beginning, we discussed theology and the Bible in general. I was learning a lot on my own at this point and even holding Bible studies with other employees. My memory is fuzzy on the accurate timeline of everything but eventually we began doing Bible studies together and he brought a booklet with him from his church to teach us about doctrine. It was a bit weird but I figured I could learn something so kept rolling with it.
But then he invited me to his church. I wore regular, casual clothing. Jeans and a t-shirt. Big mistake. When I walked into his church I was extremely underdressed and was obviously the only new person there. It must’ve been maybe like twenty-five people in the church and they were all dressed in formal clothing. Men in suits and ties, women in dresses. I felt like the odd man out, which I was, but they were nice enough to me. Next, the singing began. No instruments, only singing. Another weird thing that stuck out to me. The night went fairly well and I didn’t think too much about it all.
After visiting his church we continued to hold bible studies and others joined us. The more I learned, the more I thought about my baptism in the hotel room. I started to feel like it didn’t count. (Insert reddened cheeks as I grow in embarrassment). For some reason, as I read scripture I realized there always witnesses around for baptism. Someone performed it and others witnessed. I had the silly thought, “Well, if my two baptism weren’t legit, perhaps it will take a third!” And Frank, who desired to be a pastor, was ecstatic about the idea. He was willing to do my baptism. They had a tank at his church but it wasn’t offered to me so instead, we landed on my parent’s jacuzzi.
It was a brisk night and I climbed into the water. Frank climbed in with me and our poor witness sat outside the jacuzzi likely wondering why he was friends with us. The baptism went about how you’d expect. I went under the water and then came back up. Nothing different.
Later when I began to search the internet things started to get weird. I was curious to know more about the denomination he belonged to: Church of Christ. This is when I realized it was a small sect of Christianity that was viewed as a cult. Things started to make sense to me about him and his church. They believed God didn’t accept worship with instruments, thus why they had none at their church and only sang. Note that this is different than preference, they believe God doesn’t ACCEPT worship with instruments. They also view missing church, even once, as a grave sin. I didn’t realize this even though every time we had a work meeting on Sunday they were late or didn’t show. The same with when we would have work parties or events on Sunday. They couldn’t miss, even once for a special event. There were plenty more things but before I bore you, let me tell you about their view of baptism.
They follow the rare belief that being baptized is where you come in contact with Jesus’ blood and cleansing power of sin. That the water literally becomes God’s blood where it washes you away. Thus, those who are unbaptized are not forgiven. Even if they are belivers! Because, as he would put it, they haven't acted on said belief. He told me this to my face when I asked him about it. And then when I told him I didn’t believe that and that when he baptized me I didn’t think it was for my forgiveness, that’s when he told me that I was still in sin and going to Hell.
As you can imagine, this was the beginning of the disruption to our relationship. We remained good friends but it was awkward. Especially when people would ask me something about religion and he was around. Eventually, as I began to go to Biola, he told me to be careful because your mind can be corrupted at Bible school...where they teach and train you academically...to read the Bible on your own and intepret it...It was obvious at this point he was in a cult that shut itself out from any outside information. I imagine he thinks I'm corrupted now. A sinner headed for Hell. Here and there I comment something I shouldn’t on his posts. He’s a pastor now, somewhere in another state and likely terrorizing his congregation with a poor theology where they can’t miss church even once or they’re in trouble with God.
I have no ill will against this guy. In fact, I wish I still hung out with him to get to know more about what he thinks on issues. But most of the time when we debated it went around in circles.
This comes down to a works vs. gospel question once again. Does one need to do something in order to be forgiven or made right with God? Or does one receive this gift of acceptance from God free of charge or action? I would fall under the belief that our acceptance from God is purely grace and received free of charge, baptized or unbaptized. And this was one of the first big speed bumps in my faith when I realized how different one could interpret things in the Bible.
And, of course, as you can imagine, I slowly began to wonder if my baptism was tainted by the cult leader and the theology I entirely disagreed with. This would lead me to my final baptism at Mars Hill Church which I will write about next week!