My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 2

For Part 1 click here

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
                            -Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

I have often been asked throughout my life, especially after leaving the faith if the things I witnessed in church seemed odd or strange at the time. With a few exceptions the answer to that is no. Being raised in the Pentecostal faith, things like speaking in tongues, people getting slain in the spirit, and prophesying were regular occurrences. As a child, you would ask your parents what was happening and they would give you their dogmatic explanation.

Some people still seem to have an issue with this explanation and think that they would still find these things as odd regardless of if they had been born into the faith. To those who say this I ask if as a child they believed in Santa. Think of all the illogical and weird things that you must simply accept as true in order for Santa to exist.

  1. A Man lives on the North Pole
  2. Elves are real
  3. Deer can fly
  4. A diet of milk and cookies can sustain you
  5. Santa is able to break into everyone’s home
  6. He is fully capable of carrying an seemingly infinite number of gifts
  7. He can see you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.
  8. He can reach every home on Earth in a single night

Now why do we as children simply believe this absolutely out of this world story? We believe it because our parents tell us that Santa is real and, in our minds, parents don’t lie. So too is true with anything that I experienced in a Pentecostal church.  Speaking in tongues was god’s angelic language, being slain was God’s power knocking someone over, and prophesying was god speaking through someone a truth that someone else needed to know. Simple as that, I believed it because my parents told me to believe it.

So after the prophecy, that I would be a modern-day Elijah, things basically went back to normal for a while.  I did however get glasses which made my eyesight much better than god seemed to have the capability of doing. Being able to see the world and get around without bumping into things was an amazing experience for my 6-year-old self. Things were going fairly well and then I started school.

Going to school for me was an absolute nightmare. I realized very quickly that I wasn’t the same as everyone else there. I acted differently, I talked differently, and the kids that I saw knew almost nothing about the Bible.  I would talk about a story, such as Noah’s ark, and kids would laugh at how ridiculous it sounded to them. It seemed to me that I must be going to school with a bunch of evil people who hated god and his word. It seems funny to me but I clearly remember thinking to myself, someday they are going to try making me bow to the devil and then they will try killing me because I won’t do it but Jesus will save me.  Needless to say I had a very dark and vivid imagination for a child that young.

One of the reasons that I thought in that way is that I can’t remember a time when  I wasn’t completely aware of my own mortality. As Pentecostals, we believed that Jesus was going to return any day now. The rapture, when Jesus returns and takes the Christians to heaven with him, is talked about in almost every sermon given in a Pentecostal church.  This is taught to children in Sunday school as well. Jesus would return and take us all away and that could happen today.  I knew my life was going to be very short and I absolutely hated that fact.

When I say I hated the rapture, I truly mean that. My parents would plan something fun for a couple of weeks in the future and I would spend hours at night praying that god would hold off the rapture until we got to have our fun day.  I would pray for god to wait until the first day of school if it was summer. I’d pray for god to hold off until after Christmas. Most nights were spent with me praying that god wouldn’t rapture us so that I could continue enjoying my life.

To get back to where I was, school was a nightmare. Not only was I different but I was picked on for being different. My school years were spent in absolute hell during the week and complete solace during the weekend. I loved church, I knew all the stories and by the time I was 8 I could quote scripture better than my Sunday school teachers. I was the kid in Sunday school that the teachers hated because it was around this time that I went through my first rounds of doubt.

If something didn’t make sense to me I was going to question it, and if the teacher didn’t have a good answer, I’d ask the minister in the middle of his sermon. I was an absolute pain in the ass, but it does show me that even then I had the makings of a skeptic that would come in handy much later in life. I didn’t lose my faith at this time, in fact I felt like my faith was getting stronger. Every question I asked and understood pushed me closer to god and closer to being the Christian I wanted to be.

My family had switched churches when I was about 7 years old. The church we had been attending was an Assembly of God church, known to be one of the less strict Pentecostal denominations, and the church we began attending was Full Gospel. The Full Gospel church preached a very hard-line Pentecostalism. The Assemblies teach that you are saved by faith with no other requirement for salvation, the gifts of the spirit are for doing God’s work but must be sought after. The Full Gospel church taught that salvation was only through the baptism of the holy spirit, and only by demonstrating your ability to speak in tongues.  This was fine when I was younger because it hadn’t stuck me yet but by the time I was 10 the realization of what this meant hit me full on.

Both of my parents spoke in tongues and so they were saved, my grandparents all spoke in tongues and so they were saved. I on the other hand had only prayed the sinners prayer and had never spoke in tongues, I was going to hell! I remember being so horrified by the fact that I had been taught wrong in the past, I had been told I was going to heaven but now I knew I was on my way to hell and needed to get the holy spirit quick!

The next Sunday when the minister asked if anyone would like to receive the baptism of the holy ghost, I raised my hand. They led me to the front of the church and had me kneel before the altar. I once again was guided through the sinners prayer and told to remember any sin I might have committed because the holy ghost will not enter an unclean temple. I prayed for a while and the minister asked me if I felt forgiven, I told him I did and so he called the church forward to pray.

Now something that I haven’t told you yet is that I absolutely hate being touched. So the moment that the church started laying their hands on me I felt waves of panic come over me. I wasn’t going to let this stop me though, I needed saved from hell and I wasn’t going to get up until it happened. Receiving the baptism was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life.

Receiving the baptism was basically following whatever directions any member of the church shouted out the loudest. I was told to raise my hands, put my hands down, cry out, remain silent, stand up, kneel down, shout, cry, scream, look up, look down, open your eyes, close your eyes, etc… I was terrified, both because I didn’t think it was going to happen and because I was being screamed at by everyone in the church.

After what seemed like hours, but was in reality only about thirty minutes the minister began to give cues that we were going to give up for the night. I began to cry, I knew I was going to hell, I was going to die unsaved and nothing was going to help me. All of a sudden a syllable came to my lips, I repeated this syllable over and over. The preacher told the congregation to pray harder because it was starting to happen. A few moments later a second syllable and then a third and then a full string of syllables started pouring out of my mouth. I felt an overwhelming joy spread over me and I knew that i had received the baptism of the holy ghost. Not only that but I knew I was saved and I knew that I could put the fear of hell, finally, behind me…..or could I?

 

For part 3 click here.

 

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My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 1

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:”   —-Joel 2:28

 

As any former fundamentalist will tell you, there isn’t a time that they can remember not being Christian. Oftentimes your first memories occur in the church or are in some way completely enveloped by the church. My story is no different.

I was born into a low middle class family. My mother was a homemaker and my father was a deputy sheriff for the county we lived in. While I didn’t see much of my dad when I was young, because he worked nights and would oftentimes be asleep while I was awake, what i did see of him was always fun and happy. My mother might be called today a helicopter parent, she was always there, which was fine since I suffered from bad eyesight and occasional convulsions as a child. My parents were both good and loving, I was spanked when I misbehaved but so was everyone else my age at the time so it wasn’t considered abusive by any means. I led a pretty common place life at the time.

One aspect that was different though was that my parents were Pentecostals. The Pentecostal faith had been in our family for at least three generations. My grandfather and Great Grandfather on my mother’s side were both Pentecostal ministers and my parents, along with my aunt, were in a traveling Pentecostal singing group. My birth was especially central to our faith since it actually brought my Grandfather back to the ministry.

At a year and a half, I was rushed to the hospital, after I had gone into convulsions and stopped breathing. My grandfather, who had been backslidden for the decade prior, was said to have gotten down on his knees and prayed to god, promising to return to the ministry if god saved my life. I lived, he re-entered the ministry, and the families faith in Pentecostalism was completely rejuvenated. I was a miracle walking.

So by the time that memories started to develop, we were in church at least three to five times per week. At one point, during the 1980’s, our church held a revival that was set to last a week and ended up going for nearly a month. We were there for every single service and I remember falling asleep underneath a pew almost nightly during this time. Services oftentimes lasted until well after midnight, and even then there was the “afterglow,” a prayer meeting after the service that could by itself last another few hours.

At three years old, I remember my first taste of the ministry. My mother had prepared a simple rhyme for me to say in front of the church. “I’m only half past three, you see, but I love Jesus and he loves me.” Somehow I got it into my mind that this was in the same vein as the pledge of allegiance. So when I spoke, I said “I’m only half past three, you see, but I love Jesus and he loves me, by the United States of American.” The church roared with laughter and applause and I was left with a sense of accomplishment.

Just before the age that I would be starting school, another revival started at my grandfathers church. Though it didn’t last as long, it was marked with an occurrence that would follow me throughout the rest of my life. During the prayer service my mother brought me up to have my grandfather pray for my eyesight. I would soon get glasses and see for the first time how man could succeed in fixing an issue where god had seemingly failed. Anyway, my Grandfather began praying and then he started prophesying, or telling the church a message that God had directly told him to give.

That message was this…

“Matthew is being called to the ministry, he will fulfill the promises of Joel and be a prophet and minister in the same vein as Elijah.”

Those words would follow me throughout my childhood, at times haunt me, sometimes torture me, but they never left me. Even today as I write this I am reminded of the feeling of pride and awe that I felt that night. I honestly had no idea at the time what my grandfather was talking about but I remember clearly the weeping of the people around, the praises, and the respect that the adults in the church showed me that night. It was a feeling that I would search after, many years later, once I had joined the ministry.

This marks the beginning of my jouney. Thank you for reading and I look forward to writing part 2 soon.
An Atheist In Iowa

Continue on to part 2 here.