What an excellent website! I'm so thankful I found it. I've spent the last few days inhaling Tozer, Ravenhill and D. Campbell, and I'm looking forward to participating in the forums. Like Joshhh, who introduced himself earlier today, my testimony is a little bit disconsolate, but here it is...
I first heard the Gospel when I was 15 at a Jesus People church meeting in an attic in Stone Mountain, Georgia, called the Upper Room. A hippy with a gigantic Bible taught from Phillipians for an hour-and-a-half, and I hung on every word, because I knew deep down that this was the Word of God; this was the Truth I'd been searching for all my young life. I left there transformed. I went home and read the Bible and the Words of Christ rolled off the page like thunder. Within a few weeks I was bringing a carload of kids to church three times a week. At the time I didn't even understand what had happened to me, because there was no altar call, no evangelist who led me in the "sinner's prayer" and pronounced me "saved." What happened was that I heard the Word of God and believed, and was born again...I think.
Later that year, my family moved to Detroit and we settled on a charismatic type church. There was something missing. The preaching was incomprehensible and the music was obnoxiously loud. The youth group was a gang of party animals whose parents dragged them to church but who had no interest in spiritual things. I started to slip spiritually. One day I read a sermon of Charles Finney's called "True and False Conversion." It shattered my faith. He was essentially saying that if you do not live in a state of sinless perfection ("disinterested benevolence") you were not even saved! I had been taught that Finney was a great prophet and at the time I didn't have adequate Bible knowledge to discern sound doctrine from false, so I took this message to heart. I was in a state of shock for days afterward: "Oh my God! I'm not saved!" I prayed, fasted and groaned trying to get some assurance of salvation, but it was as if there were a ten-foot-thick wall of lead between me and Heaven. After a few years of "altar-tramping" (i.e., going forward and getting "saved" over and over again)I deliberately put the Bible up on the shelf one day saying, "I've got to take a break from all this holy baloney before I lose my mind. I'm going to go out and have some fun. Maybe I'll try God again at a later date. He'll forgive me..."
By the age of 21 I was homeless, half crazy on booze, hallucinogenic drugs and the occult, and had had about all the fun I could stomach. One night, when I was sober for a change, I realized I'd made a wrong turn and said, "Maybe I was wrong, maybe Jesus is the way." At that instant, a huge shooting star came down in front of me and a light went on inside.
For the next ten years, I was very devout, active in the ministry and an elder in the church. I read hundreds of old books, mostly revivalist literature, made pilgrimages all over the country to any place where revival was said to have broken out, and befriended Leonard Ravenhill (who in person was so sweet, you wouldn't have believed he was Leonard Ravenhill!). But all those years I was tormented by Heb. 6:4-6 and that verse in II Pet.: "If we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth there remaineth no more sacrific for sin..." I never could shake the notion that maybe I had sinned away my salvation by turning my back on God as a youngster.
After an unpleasant experience with the Third Wave movement I began questioning everything. I visited a different church every Sunday for over a year and found them all boring or silly. So I started checking out the cults: Children of God (a.k.a., The Family), the Moonies, Russellites--you name it. After all, hasn't the religious establishment always persecuted the true church? Maybe the True Church was to be found among one of these groups that the apostate professional clergy labelled "cults." That, too, was a dead end.
I started drinking again and reading Barth and Kierkegaard, and then on to Nietzche, Schopenhauer and Sartre, and went from Bible believer to neo-orthodox to liberal to theist to agnostic to atheist. Through the depressive effect of alcohol and all the garbage I was reading I just got to the point where I said, "I can't believe this stuff anymore." And when I lost faith, I lost all restraint and became a full-fledged alcoholic. Then it was ten years in and out of hospitals, rehabs and out-patient programs, getting fired from one job after another, etc. I started attending a Bible based recovery program called Reformers Unanimous--purely for nostalgic reasons. I didn't believe a word of it but it was nice hanging around with Bible-believers because it reminded me of the good old days when I was a Christian and tolerably happy. I actually envied the people who had the gift of faith and wished I could believe like they believed! But of course, I was far too intelligent to believe all that stuff...
Last October found me in the hospital once again (delirium tremens). The guys from RU took turns visiting and praying over me and for reasons I cannot explain, I came out of the hospital a believer again. There was no rational process. I just came to realize I was an incurable alcoholic and that Christ was my only salvation--if only I could muster up the faith to believe in him! Now I really wanted to believe! But how could I choose to believe? After all, we can only believe according to evidence. One day I was reading in John where Jesus says, "If any one does the will of my father, he will know the doctrine..." So I resolved to obey the teachings of Jesus, to the best of my understanding, and see if that shed any light on the subject. I'm not suggesting that my efforts at righteousness earned God's favor, but within a matter of days the light began to grow, gradually, until I came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
I'm still bewildered about a lot of things: why did I wander in the wilderness for 27 years before finally finding peace? Was I saved when I first heard the gospel, or just awakened? Maybe someday I'll understand, but for the present I'm more concerned with what lies ahead than what lies behind. I'm devouring the Bible everyday and sense that something big is just around the corner.
Sorry this story is a little long, but I thought you might find it interesting, or maybe even edifying. Joshhh, I hope you read this; we seem to have a few experiences in common. Be encouraged! You may feel like you're stumbling in the dark now, but where there's a shadow there's a Light.