A couple of months after Anna was born Christi and I were visiting in Greenville. While we were there we attended a TWI (The Way International) home fellowship. We shared with them how Anna had been miraculously delivered from death, and that even though she had gone without a breath or a heartbeat for at least 10 minutes there were no lingering physical or mental complications. By this time we had been to other doctors for followups, and, to the amazement of every single one who read her medical records, her pediatricians, a kidney specialist, and others, she continued to show no signs of damage or developmental delay. With the exception of some concerns about weight gain, which pretty quickly got on track, there seemed to be no other problems. It was a miracle.
After I shared this story with them, stressing the mercy and grace of God, someone came up to me and said, “You must have had a tremendous amount of believing for such a wonderful miracle to have happened.” When I heard that my heart sank and my stomach churned, even though in my head I hadn’t yet completely abandoned TWI’s teaching on “the law of believing.” I immediately responded by saying that it wasn’t really so much our believing as it was God’s grace and mercy. The person I was speaking with seemed to have a puzzled look on her face but heard my reply without offering any reproof for me crediting God’s grace and mercy rather than my own positive thinking and confession. I was actually still a bit puzzled myself as I hadn’t completely worked through all the implications in my own thinking in terms of the relationship between believing as it was taught by TWI and the mercy of God that we had experienced.
In reality I had only begged God for mercy as a confused and lost soul. Wierwille had taught that we had to get a clear mental picture of whatever it was that we were praying for, like focusing a camera, but the only picture my mind could muster was of a funeral for a still born baby and her devastated, depression-prone mother wailing uncontrollably over a tiny casket. All Christi could do was plead for our baby’s life without knowing exactly what was really going on. We didn’t name and claim anything; in reality we just begged and pleaded. And God was merciful, not because we are so good, but because He is.
Within a couple of weeks after Anna was born we discovered that we weren’t the only ones whose believing wasn’t quite up to official TWI standards. When I went to the TWI fellowship near Winston-Salem, which I used to be the coordinator of, no one even knew what was going on with Anna at all. The reason … the leaders didn’t want to hurt the positive believing of the people with a potentially very negative outcome if Anna actually did die or ended up being seriously disabled in some way. It seemed like they were more concerned about the image of TWI in the mind of their followers than they were us.
The United Methodist pastor from my home church, Rev. Nathan Snider, got a call that we were in distress and he came to pray for us even though we did not attend the church, where I was still an official member on the roll. He really didn’t even know us, but he came; he came quickly. He was there while Christi was in recovery and prayed with us before we first got to go in to the NICU to see Anna. That made a powerful impression on Christi. No one from our local TWI came or even called, although I know some of them would have had they known, especially one couple who had gone through very similar struggles and probably as a result were much more compassionate than most. I think it was several days before the Way Corp branch coordinators, a husband and wife, came to the hospital. That’s when they explained that they didn’t tell anyone else because they didn’t want to stir up negative believing they said.
For a while we kept going to the TWI home fellowships in the Winston-Salem area, but progressively more reluctantly. We both often felt like we just shouldn’t go at all at times. Sometimes we would even turn around and head back home only to turn around and continue on. We would tell ourselves that it was “just the Adversary trying to get us off the Word.” That was a phrase heard a lot in TWI circles. “It’s just the Adversary.” We and all other TWI believers had been warned repeatedly about the danger of “stepping outside the protection of the household” (meaning TWI) as that would make us more vulnerable to the attacks of the devil. We were even told about some who had died because they left the “household.” The way Martindale had put it was that you’d be “a grease spot by midnight.” Looking back it was all quite spooky really. Nonetheless, eventually Christi decided that she had had enough; she wasn’t going back anymore. She had wrestled with this for a long time, and the only thing that gave her pause is the thought that I might leave her if she left TWI.
It was a very courageous move, which I tried to talk her out of, but her mind was made up. I continued going by myself for a few more months after that, but there came a point at which I could no longer ignore my own feelings that I needed to step away, at least for a while. It was an excruciating decision for both of us. I really believed that TWI taught the Word like it hadn’t been taught since the first century as Wierwille so audaciously claimed. Where else could we go and find “the accuracy of the Word” outside TWI? It felt like nowhere.
Before I decide to leave myself I remember talking with a co-worker, an occasional church goer and fairly casual Christian, about my dilemma. He said, “why don’t you just go to another church?” I said I couldn’t go to a mainstream church because I didn’t believe in the Trinity, and never could.”
But I did step away from TWI and I decided to begin a process of reevaluation. I did what we were warned never to do in TWI, for fear of being possessed; I went on the internet and began reading criticism of TWI. I read and I read and I read. I also decided to read explanations of the Trinity and I even reread that book that my United Methodist pastor had given me over a decade before. I read other unitarian arguments, binitarian ones as well. I read and read and read; and I prayed and prayed and prayed. I also continued reading my Bible, but seriously tried to simply read what was written, as even Wierwille said that we should.
One day while sitting on the couch in my living room reading through Paul’s letter to the Philippians I lasered in on these words in my King James Bible:
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-12)
I had read those words many times before. Philippians was one of the seven epistles of Paul, Romans through Thessalonians, that was literally about to fall out of my black leather bound Cambridge edition King James Bible from excessive reference (TWI taught, according to their hyper-dispensationlist theology, that those epistles were the only books of the Bible addressed directly to the Church today so we spent a lot of time in them). Years before I read that passage in the apartment at the end of 5th street in Greenville, which I shared with another very devout TWI believer. He had been involved with TWI for much longer. We were the closest of friends. As I read that passage that day, trying to simply read what was written, I said to my roommate that it sure does sound like this passage is saying that Jesus is God when it says he was in “the form of God.” I quickly said, however, that I knew it couldn’t really mean that, but asked what does it really mean? He said, he wasn’t really sure; it was just one of those things that we would just have to put on the back burner until Christ returns. My curiosity was satisfied with that for the time being. We so easily dismissed it because we were taught that the clear verses on the subject overwhelmingly ruled out the possibility that this passage could be saying that Jesus really was God. I would discover that what we were actually doing was exalting our limited human logic and understanding above what the Bible actually really does say about Jesus.
I read this passage carefully and closely there in my living room in Pinnacle, which used to be my father’s old country store, which by this time Christi and I had renovated into a house with a huge front living room. I guess one of the first things that jumped out at me was that this was really a passage calling readers to be humble like Christ. So when it says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus …” the emphasis is on being humble like him not that we too can think of ourselves as being equal with God as we in TWI thought.
Yes that’s right! TWI, along with other Word of Faith and prosperity preachers among some Televangelists, taught that we too could think of ourselves as equal with God because this passage says that we should think like Christ. This idea fits nicely with the teaching that through positive thinking and confession we can “calleth those things which are not, as though they were” (Roman 4:17), meaning we can create the positive circumstances that we desire. The only problem is there it is talking about an ability that God has, not people; and the problem with reading Philippians 2 as if it says that we should think of ourselves as equal with God too is that the mind it actually says we should have is the mind of Christ who humbled himself. The emphasis is on humility and putting others before one’s self; and Paul uses Jesus as the ultimate example of humility that we should follow. It says even though Jesus was in the form of God and was equal with God, the most powerful being in the universe, he took upon himself the form of a humble human slave and offered humble obedience to God by giving his life on the cross for others. I was seeing that this passage was really about me following Christ’s humble example of self-sacrificial love not arrogantly and blasphemously thinking that I too can think of myself as equal with God, as “a little god” as some famous Word of Faith preachers teach.
The other thing that really jumped out at me this time now that I was not reading so much through TWI lenses is that this passage clearly did seem to be saying that Christ existed in one form and took on another. TWI teaches that Christ did not literally and really exist before he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in womb of Mary. Philippians 2 seems to clearly indicate otherwise. He existed in the form of God, equal with God, but at a point in history took on a humble human form.
I began to ponder the parallels in the gospel of John, the Word that was both with God and was God (John 1:1-2) through whom the world was created (John 1:3;10) that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The same Word made flesh who during the last supper removed his outter garment (emptied himself?) and wrapped a servant’s/slave’s towel around his waist (took the form of a servant/slave) and humbled himself to the embarrassment of one of his closest disciples, Peter, and began washing his disciples’ feet, a task for the lowliest of servants (John 13). Afterwards he said to them: “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one anothers’ feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:13-15). In other words, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
I also began to think about that passage that my United Methodist pastor had referred to more than a decade before in his office, John 17:1-5 where Jesus prayed to the Father to glorify him with the glory that he had with the Father before the world began. If Jesus shared a glory with Father before the world existed was it only in God’s foreknowledge or, as Philippians 2 says “in the form of God” being equal with God? If it is only the former then is Jesus asking to once again just go back to being a thought in the mind of God or about being exalted and sharing the name that is above every name? Indeed throughout John’s Gospel Jesus repeatedly says that he came from heaven and to heaven he would return (John 3:13; 6:38, 51, 62; 14:2). While I pondered and studied these things I also discovered that Paul was actually applying words from Isaiah 45:23, where God says, ” unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (in context meaning all will eventually recognize the God of Israel as the only God and Savior) to Jesus himself.
Later I would learn more, but in this moment with the presence and prompting of the Holy Spirit this was enough for me to finally lay down my pride and humble myself to accept Jesus Christ for who the Bible says he is in spite of how impossible it is to fully comprehend. By God’s grace I placed my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and as did “doubting” Thomas, I confessed him as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28) “to the glory of God the Father” (Philp 2:11).
Several months before God had saved my baby daughter’s life; that day while I was sitting on the couch in my living room, because I humbled myself to the word of God and the God of the word, He saved my soul. What would I do next? Stay tuned …
****Read some further reflections on the Trinity, specifically the deity of Christ, after a conversation I had with some Jehovah’s Witnesses HERE)****