“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” -Matthew 5:28
Receiving the baptism of the holy spirit, in the Full Gospel church, was, in a way, to become an adult member of the church. At only ten years old I was allowed to speak in front of the church, share testimonies, and take part in the laying on of hands when the prayer service began. Some in the Pentecostal faith believe that children have a purer, less tainted by the world, form of faith and so it wasn’t all that uncommon for a member of the church to specifically ask for the children who had received the baptism to come forward and pray for them. It was exhilarating to be respected in the way that I was by both the adults and those my age who had not received the baptism yet.
We spent the next couple of years in attendance at this church. I loved the fast pace of the services, the music was like a rock concert, there was a bassist, a guitar player, and a drummer who could really get the place booming. The preaching was incredibly fire and brimstone, everyone outside the church was evil and decrepit, everyone inside the church who hadn’t yet been baptized were usurpers of the spirit though not nearly as looked down upon as those outside the church. The saints in attendance, who were spirit filled, we likened to the apostles themselves. Everyone in the church had a ministry and each person could speak and be heard as the “spirit” led them. It was an absolutely thrilling experience for a child my age, that is until one day we stopped attending.
For no apparent reason we simply stopped going to the Full Gospel church and started attending an Assembly of God church in the same town. I would ask why we started going to “the boring church” as I called it, but would be told to hush and when i needed to know why I would be told. Little did I know the massive scandal that had caused us to leave our former home church.
I remember, sitting at my grandparents house during thanksgiving and my grandfather made a joking remark about my aunt being pregnant by immaculate conception. Everyone looked very upset, and my aunt started to cry. I wanted to know what the big issue was and it was then that my father took me aside and told me. Our former minister, had an affair with my aunt and she was pregnant. I then learned that the former minister had been arrested for doing therapy sessions in which he would initiate sex as a form of penitence for sinful women in the church. I was completely shocked. Not only was our former minister a man of god who had been married for over thirty years, but one of the topics he talked about the most was lust and how god removed lust from the hearts of believers. It was the first time in my life that I realized a minister could be just as evil and wrong as any other human being.
As I said before, I found our new church to be an awful experience. The minister was stiff-necked, dogmatic and angry about just about everything. There was no laughing in his services and the movement of the spirit was relegated to certain times during the service or special revival services. He also did not like children much, and while I had been seen as basically an adult in my former church, I was nothing more than an annoying child in the new place of worship. Worse yet, even though I was younger, I had been attending teen youth events and Sunday school classes at the old church, but here in our new surroundings I was stuck in a little kids Sunday school class. It was at this point that my skepticism really kicked into swing, even if it only lasted a brief period of time.
I became an absolute pain in the ass, I would spend my time during Sunday school asking the questions that no Sunday school teacher wants to answer. Questions like: If god created everything, who created god? If god is eternal, then what did he do for all the years before he created the earth? Explain the trinity to me? If god created the devil, and the devil is where evil came from, then god created evil, and so….is god evil?
Generally when this happened I would be taken to the sanctuary, sat in the front row, and told to keep quiet until the end of services. I knew that this would result in a spanking once I got home, but the adult classes were more interesting and by that point the spankings I did get weren’t hurting all that bad anymore. So I’d sit and listen to the adult class, enjoy the song service, and then listen to a long and boring service by a pastor who would, more times than not, point out that rebellious youth who didn’t do what they were told used to be stoned in the old testament times.
Though I questioned my teachers I still at this point never questioned God. I would pray and speak in tongues during my nightly prayers and would read the bible diligently attempting to memorize as much scripture as possible. I thought if I got close enough to god I would recognize the call that my grandfather had prophesied years earlier. Over time though, when I hadn’t felt the call, I began to be convinced that maybe my grandfather had been wrong. I questioned the prophecy, something that isn’t explicitly called a sin but is treated as such in the church. I wasn’t really worried about it but I did wonder if my doubts were what was preventing me from hearing the call of god.
As with most young boys of twelve, my voice was starting to deepen, I was noticing hair where there had been no hair before, and my bones ached from the growth spurts I was experiencing. I started to notice that girls weren’t icky anymore and I thought several of them were fairly pretty. Puberty was hitting and I was headed for a traumatizing experience that still gives me chills thinking about it.
One night, I awoke after a lustful dream, probably the first one I had ever experienced. I had experienced a wet dream, a perfectly normal experience that almost all people have from time to time, especially during puberty. However, to me, I had committed a horrible sin. Not only had my mind conceived lustful thought but I had committed a sexual act within my mind and so I was no longer saved. I remember crying for what seemed like hours and begging god to forgive me, but no answer came. I sought out every sin that I could remember committing and confessed it all to god, still no answer came.
Finally, in near exhaustion, I said, will you forgive me if I agree to preach? Something clicked, I felt something turn within my mind and thought I heard someone say yes. I asked again.(This would become my standard procedure in the future to see if god really wanted me to do something. It seems silly not but at the time I believed that maybe I could trick myself once but only god would speak directly to me twice.) This time I clearly heard an audible, “YES!” I got out of bed, knelt down and prayed.
“God if you will forgive me for the sin I have committed tonight, I will become a preacher as soon as possible.”
I felt a calming sensation and I knew that I had been forgiven. I changed my clothes, laid back down and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. The next morning I awoke and ran downstairs. I found my mother and I told her that god had told me to preach, leaving out the rest of the story as I think any young boy would. She praised god with me and we prayed together. She then had me call my grandfather and tell him the news. He congratulated me and then told me that he wanted me to give a sermon to his church when we visited next.
I don’t think any sentence has ever filled me with complete and total horror as that sentence coming from my grandfather. I had told god that I would preach as soon as possible but I didn’t realize how soon that would be. My brother and I would spend two weeks in June with my grandparents, and it was nearly May. Just a month and some change later I would get my first taste of real preaching and I wasn’t ready. I was horrified!
For Part 4 click here.