Tag Archives: The United Methodist Church

My Testimoy Part 6: The Prodigal Returns

There sitting on the couch in my living room I was truly born again after surrendering my life to Jesus Christ and confessing him as my Lord and my God. TWI’s rationalizations for why the many passages of Scripture which stated or alluded to Jesus being Divine in the fullest sense of the term couldn’t really mean that unraveled from there rather quickly as I continued to reexamine what I had come to believe so adamantly before.  Bear with me briefly as I get a little technical for a moment.

Hebrews 1 is one of those passages where Wierwille’s blithe dismissals couldn’t really stand up to scrutiny.  There the author of Hebrews, after saying that God created the worlds through the Son in verse 2 (Wierwille tried to argue that it should be “for” instead of “through” or “by”, as it is in the King James, but there is really no substantive reason to translate it as “for” with the particular Greek case that it occurs with, which is why no translation that I know of does so,including the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation and they also argue that Jesus is not fully Divine.  Compare John 1:3.) and speaking of the Son in other incredibly exalted ways in verse 3, has the Father referring to the Son as God in verses 8-9.  There he is using Psalm 45, which does initially refer to the human and very fallible king David as God in the sense that he is God’s vice regent and representative to carry out His justice on earth.  Wierwille rightly argued that this was originally referring to king David as God’s representative not as God in the flesh.  Moses similarly was referred to as being appointed as God to Pharaoh because his brother Aaron would serve as Moses’ spokesperson like a prophet would for God (Exodus 7:1).

Such is the way Wiewiile and TWI explains away God the Father referring to the Son as God in Hebrews 1:8-9.  Nevertheless, although Wierwille stopped there, the author of Hebrews does not.  The Father’s statement regarding the Son continues to the end of chapter 2.  Verse 10 has God the Father applying Psalm 102:25-27 to the Son as well; and that passage clearly is referring to the LORD God as creator of the heavens and the earth Who, unlike his creation, is unchanging and eternal.  This reiterates what is stated in verse 2 about the Son “through whom God created the worlds” and it echoes what is later clearly stated about Jesus himself in chapter 13:8; namely that he is “the same yesterday and today and forever.”

And it’s not a matter of pitting certain verses against others; it must be noted that all of the above mentioned verses occur within a context where the author of Hebrews argues that Jesus is far superior to the angels (v. 4) and that the angels should worship him (v. 6).  In chapter 2 he also reveals that for a while Jesus was made a little lower than the angels (v.9) when he took on flesh and blood (v. 14) and became like his human brothers and sisters with whom he shared humanity and the temptations that come with it (v. 17-18; also see 4:15).  He took on humanity and became something that he was not before, which is in harmony with what John 1 and Philippians 2 also reveal.  As John 1:14 puts it, the Word, which was God (v. 1), became flesh.  As Philippians 2 puts it the one who was in the form of God (i.e. “form” indicating the outer appearance that corresponds to one’s essence or nature, hence, the NIV’s translation “the very nature of God”) and equal with God who emptied himself and took on the form and likeness of a human slave.  This theologians have called the “incarnation.”  These along with many other passages, some of which I mentioned in my previous post, render TWI’s claim that Jesus did not exist in any real form prior to his conception in the womb of Mary untenable.

The reality is that the Bible does indeed say many things that made the doctrine of the Trinity necessary.  Although the word Trinity never occurs in the Bible, it was a word that was coined to capture a concept that one certainly encounters in the Bible.  The New Testament reveals that Jesus shares glory with God the Father, which Isaiah 42:8 indicates will not be shared with any other outside of God Himself.  The New Testament repeatedly indicates that Jesus shares this glory in various ways.  Phrases such as “every knee will bow …” from Isiah 45:23 are applied to Jesus (Philp 2), as are titles such as God and even the Divine name translated as Lord as seen in Hebrews 1:10.  Jesus isn’t a lord; he is the Lord!  The fact that Paul can split the title God and the name Yahweh (translated LORD) between the Father and the Son from the famous “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 indicates that Jesus was viewed by his earliest disciples as Lord in the highest sense of that term (see 1 Corinthians 8:6).  The basis of the name Yahweh is the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush, “I Am”, a name that John depicts Jesus claiming for himself in John 8:58 to the utter shock of his opponents.  According to Revelation (1:8; 22:13) Jesus also shares the title “the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” with God as revealed in Isaiah 44:6.

Not only does Jesus share Divine titles, Revelation also reveals that he receives shared worship, “blessing and honor and glory and power” with God the Father (see Revelation 4-5).  Indeed the Son is clearly honored as the Father is honored (John 5:23) as they share the glory that only the One True God deserves.  Moreover, the Lord God and the Lamb make up the one temple and the one source of light in the new Jerusalem where they share the same throne (Rev 21-22).  There is much more that I could say, but a blog article isn’t the place to elaborate further as it would take a voluminous amount of space and much more time.  There are plenty of resources, however, as these issues have been debated throughout the history of the church.

I am well aware of the plethora of objections; I used to make them all very strenuously myself.  What I realized is that all of those objections were rooted more in what seemed to be logical inconsistencies more so than actual statements of the Bible in context.  Eventually I also realized that the arguments that TWI and I made against the Divinity of Jesus and the Trinity were really not even against the doctrine of the Trinity itself, but more against modalism and probably docetism, heretical teachings also rejected by Trinitarians.  I realized with God’s help the difference between illogical and incomprehensible, between contradiction and paradox.  The teaching of the Bible that Divinity and humanity were combined inextricably in one person in time and history, Jesus of Nazareth, is certainly paradoxical, beyond full human comprehension.  Nevertheless, this is the teaching of the Bible.

People in groups like TWI and Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) aren’t the only ones to reject the Trinity.  Doubtless, many others have rejected the Trinity, some like TWI have tried to argue that the Bible has simply been misinterpreted, others, however, have acknowledged that the Bible does indeed reveal God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet reject the Divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity on supposedly rational grounds.  That is, they recognize the Scriptural grounds for these doctrines, but see them as byproducts of an irrational bygone age when it was easier to believe in the supernatural.  Many scholars have argued that the view Jesus was Divine was a later development, a superstition that evolved not after the New Testament cannon was closed as groups like TWI and JW’s argue, but within the New Testament itself.  This line of thinking became very prevalent among scholars after the Enlightenment as reason was exalted above revelation.  Some form of official or unofficial unitarianism was the result.  Thomas Jefferson makes a good case in point whereas, as a “rational” Deist, he rejected references to miracles in the Bible along with references to the Divinity of Christ, both of which he rejected on “rational” grounds not Biblical grounds.  Jefferson literally cut those passages out of his Bible.  Many other scholars since have followed suit more so with rhetoric and an ink-pen than a pen-knife.

The point I am making is either way it is the supposed irrational, logical inconsistencies that drive the arguments.  In the case of groups like TWI and JW, as well as Islam, the supposed logic leads to conforming the witness of Scripture to the logic rather than allowing one’s logic to be transformed by the higher logic of the revelation of Scripture itself.

When I surrendered  my life to Christ that day my mind was transformed.  I knew, though, that people very close to me would think that I had lost my mind.  As a matter of fact some very near and dear to me, the many friends that I had made in TWI, would not only think I had lost my mind, but that I was possessed.  TWI taught that if anyone actually passionately believed in the Trinity that person had to be possessed with a devil spirit called the “spirit of whoredom.”

Indeed I had lost my mind; I lost my mind, but I believe I gained the mind of Christ that Philippians 2 speaks of and I was filled with the Holy Spirit.  I began to realize then and more and more thereafter that Jesus didn’t die so that I could get everything I want, but so I could be forgiven and empowered to follow him by giving everything that I have.  Slowly, but surely, “the law of believing” also dissipated from my heart and mind.  I clung to a increasingly more qualified version of it for a while, but soon realized that it was just a pagan teaching that had crept into many Christian circles, including the mainstream church, and had been imposed on Scripture.

After that day, I prayed and pondered what to do.  Christi was quite skeptical of my conversion.  Not that I was converted; that was obvious.  What she doubted most was the content of my new faith and how I could so quickly go from being a devout believer in the doctrine of TWI to being such a devout believer in that which was so antithetical to it.  She also doubted my belief that we needed to get into a church as soon as we could. For a couple of weeks I prayed and talked to a couple of Christians we knew about where we should go to church.  My mind kept going back to my home church, just a mile up the road.  So that’s where I went and Christi reluctantly came with me and the kids.

There I shared my conversion experience and apologized to my mother and others at the church for my hardheadedness and hardheartedness over the last decade.  I got involved with a men’s Bible study group.  I kept reading and studying and truly growing in the faith.  The most helpful thing was actually reading through the Bible, a practice that I have continued to do on a regular basis.  I also remember realizing the importance of testing one’s self and the freedom of not being afraid to put my own convictions to the test by examining them in light of others’ counterarguments,and especially in light of a careful and close reading of the Bible itself.

Christi remained quite skeptical for a while, but after getting involved with a women’s Bible study and attending a “Women of Faith” conference was born again not long after we started attending.  Later that fall of 2006 I reaffirmed my faith and Christi professed hers as well in front of the congregation.  It was a wonderful homecoming of a long lost prodigal son for sure.  I was, and still am, incredibly thankful for the people who had prayed for me and tried to reach me before.

Me and Moma
Mom and I at a Chestnut Grove UMC Homecoming last year.

My mother stood up in front of the congregation – something that was incredibly courageous for her to do as she is also naturally very shy and terrified of public speaking – and shared how she had prayed for me for over a decade, and how thankful she was that I had come back to the faith that I had professed as a 9 year old, painfully shy boy who had felt called to be a minister even then.  Many others, more than I know, had prayed for me as well.  I also didn’t forget that pastor who I had talked with over a decade before, before I took the plunge into TWI, who was then pastoring a much larger church.  I wrote him a note of apology and thanks.

It wasn’t long before I was leading that men’s group that I had joined; and it wasn’t long after that I was going through the inquiry process about becoming a pastor.  By January of 2008 I was preaching every Sunday as an assistant to a pastor on a three point charge; by July I was the pastor of a congregation of about 75 people near Oxford, North Carolina; and by the end of August I was a full-time student at Duke Divinity School in Durham, fulfilling the vision that I had while mowing my parent’s yard shortly after I had taken the first PFAL class with TWI over 13 years before.  I’ve served as a United Methodist preacher and pastor ever since.

It also wasn’t long before I realized that you don’t have to get involved with a cult to wander from “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), and that wandering from the faith doesn’t just happen to individuals but can also happen to entire denominations, as it had happened with the entire nation of Israel.

Earlier this year I was sent to a conference with several other newer United Methodist clergy, recent seminary graduates.  There we listened to a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, who in her book “Pastrix” says that she believes the Wiccan goddess to be the same being as the God of the Bible and writes about using the baptismal covenant to bless and rename a woman who was “transitioning” into a man, an event which she compares to the conversion of the apostle Paul and Martin Luther.  She was held up as someone we should emulate.  At the conference she also bragged about using the baptismal font as a chocolate fountain for a party after a worship service as an act of “holy irreverence”.  She, along with countless other “progressive” Christians in mainline denominations, promotes the full acceptance of sex outside of the traditional Christian parameters between one man and one woman in holy matrimony, and bashes and mocks those who insist that we hold to the traditional teaching of the historic orthodox universal Church.  Some have relentlessly argued that the Church has simply misinterpreted the Bible on these matters; others, some of the leading liberal scholars, have admitted that the Bible really is clear on these issues, but have insisted that it has been proven wrong and, therefore, should be rejected in light of contemporary reason and experience.

In the summer of 1995 I stood at a crossroads and I took a path that lead me away from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”.  I chose the wrong path and ended up in a desperate state, but thankfully by God’s grace and a miracle of mercy I came to my senses and made my way back home (see Luke 15).  I pray that the United Methodist Church doesn’t follow the path of the other mainline denominations and officially reject the straightforward commandments of God regarding sexual holiness and the new covenant of which they are a part.  I pray that the many who already have and who continue to push the denomination in that direction will humble themselves, repent, and submit to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.  I have been a member of one cult; I do not wish to be a part of another.

I pray for all who have wandered from the faith, away from the Good Shepherd who leads us to true abundant life on a narrow path often marked by suffering.  Thankfully God is merciful and relentless in his pursuit of that which is lost; and He will never turn any returning prodigal away.

Zechariah 1:3 “… Return to me, says the Lord of Hosts, and I will return to you …”  (ESV)

My Testimony Part 5: Humility and Salvation

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.

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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 mindLet 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).


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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)****

My Testimony Part 3: The Plunge Before the Fall

“Well, Clifford, I can’t really tell you that this is wrong?”

After exchanging the normal greetings and pleasantries, this is what my United Methodist pastor said to me regarding The Way International (TWI), the anti-Trinitarian ministry to which I was on the verge of committing my allegiance and support.

This wonderful man had been my pastor since I was in Jr. High School.  He was a very talented, creative, and passionate preacher, a very bright and capable leader.  He led our church in a much needed building project aptly called, “An Endeavor in Faith.”  As a result, it seems, this little rural church with one of the most beautiful views of Pilot Mountain grew from being on a charge with another church into a single station appointment (for those unfamiliar with Methodistese this means the church went from sharing a pastor with another church to supporting it’s own full-time pastor).  It also eventually started an after school program in the new building and has been one of the strongest rural Methodist congregations ever since.  It has certainly changed a lot since I was in elementary school, when it was on a three point charge with two little churches in Pinnacle.   At any rate, this pastor was one of the brightest young Methodist preachers, who would go on to pastor some of the largest churches in the Western NC conference.

Pilot Mountain

As we sat there in his study in the lower level of that beautiful new building, his statement, that he couldn’t really say TWI was wrong disarmed me and relaxed much of the anxiety I was feeling, not only about having that conversation with him, but also about the potential imprudence of getting further involved in this group I didn’t really know all that much about .  As I said, I intuitively sensed the enormity of the decision about which, by this time, I had become more aware of just how drastic it would be.  The folks withTWI made no bones about how drastic and stark the difference was between them and mainstream “Trinitarian” churches; yet my Methodist pastor didn’t seem to see the difference as starkly, perhaps due to the influences of ethical relativism and religious pluralism, and a commitment to “theological diversity” present in mainline denominations and seminaries.  Who knows?

Nevertheless, in spite of his initial charitable statement, to his credit, he did go on to try to explain to me why the doctrine of the Trinity was so important to the Christian faith, and even how it was heresy to deny it.  My almost 20 year old, not well-read mind wasn’t quite sure what the word “heresy” meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.

By this time, however, through conversations with folks in TWI and by reading Wierwille’s book with the not-so-subtle title, “Jesus Christ is Not God,” I had been quite effectively inoculated against Trinitarian arguments:  The word Trinity never occurs in the Bible; if Jesus was God then who did he pray to?; the Bible says no one has seen God at any time (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12), yet plenty of people saw Jesus, etc.  I had already memorized many of the TWI prooftexts.  As I voiced those objections, my pastor seemed unsure how to reply.

He did mention that in John 17:1-5 Jesus speaks of the glory that he had with the Father before the world began; but I had bought into TWI’s argument that Jesus as the Word, only existed in the foreknowledge of God rather than in reality.  When he questioned whether someone could be saved who didn’t believe that Jesus is God, I insisted that Romans 10:9 doesn’t say that someone has to believe Jesus is God in order to be saved; it just says that you have to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, which seems to make a clear distinction between Jesus and God.  I had also bought into the TWI argument that for Jesus the title Lord was not a title of Divinity but only a title of respect for one who is superior in rank.  In short, these arguments were compelling to me because of the apparent logical contradictions that result when you pit the humanity of Christ against the Divinity of Christ, and conflate the persons of the Trinity with the Being of the Trinity.  Besides if the Trinity really wasn’t Biblical then why bother with it in the first place?

As our conversation began to wind down, my Methodist pastor gave me a book on “Christian Doctrine” of the same title by Shirley C. Guthrie (1994).  Later at home I zeroed in on a passage in chapter five under the subheading, “Biblical Roots of the Doctrine of the Trinity.”  There I read on page 76: “The Bible does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity.  Neither the word “trinity” itself no such language as ‘one-in-three,’ ‘three-in-one,’ one ‘essence’ (or ‘substance’, and three ‘persons’ is biblical language.”  These two sentences played right into the hands of TWI whose own narrative of church history insisted that the Trinity was of pagan influence and imposed on the church via a former pagan emperor, Constantine, by force.  Although I read the rest of the section in which Guthrie goes on to say that the church didn’t simply invent the doctrine but used the available language and philosophical concepts to interpret what the Bible actually does say about God and Jesus, and that the Bible does indeed say some things about God that make the doctrine of the Trinity necessary, I rashly concluded that TWI was right; and I wanted to be right too; I wanted to be “Biblical”!  And I probably just wanted some relief from the tension and confusion I was trying to work through.

What I would like to think began as a desire to know God and be right with God, had already begun to morph into a desire to just be right over others.  The former is a recipe for humility; the later a recipe for pride and its ugly cousin contempt.  I took the plunge; I committed my self to the teachings and ministry of TWI.

The next day I drove over to the home of the TWI leader in King and excitedly debriefed with him and his wife about the conversation I had had with my Methodist pastor.  We all discussed just how silly and spiritually blind people who believed in the Trinity are; and of course just how enlightened we were to just simply believe the “plain teaching of the Word.”  I was in.  All in.  And that meant, to the angst of my parents, Methodist pastor, and some church members who had known me since I was a baby, I was out of the mainstream church.

Sometime later that summer, a wonderful man – one of the most devout Christians I know –  who had been my Sunday school teacher, the lay leader of my home church, and even my driver’s education teacher in high school came to talk with me.  By this time it was too late though.  I was already a better apologist for TWI than most regular church members, and perhaps some pastors, are for orthodoxy.  I popped off prooftexts left and right and blithely dismissed his own explanations of Scripture, which he insisted confirmed the deity of Christ.  But I was already beyond reach.

At another point that summer of 1995 the laid-back fellow, whom I had meet in the room in the basement of ECU at the public explanation of the PFAL class, called me up and invited me to go to a week-long festival and teaching conference at the headquarters of TWI in New Knoxville, Ohio called “The Rock of Ages.”  At first, I declined because that would cause me to miss a week of my summer job, on which I depended to make a little extra money for college expenses.  Again, for the second time I was challenged to believe God that it would all work out and that He would make up for the week of missed income.

By this time, I had been taught full-well TWI’s doctrine called the “law of believing.”  This, Wierwille taught, was a principle written into the laws of the universe that if we believe positively and confess with our lips positively according to what is available from God’s Word then we shall absolutely receive whatever it is that we are believing for and confessing (prooftext Matt. 21:22).  According to TWI, the law part of it also has a dark side because if you think and speak negatively and begin to worry an become fearful then you will reap negative consequences (prooftext Job 3:25).  It’s a law, he said, that works for Christian and non-Christian alike.  This was the second time I was challenged to “believe for” something like this, but it wouldn’t be the last.  Eventually, I would do my fair share of challenging others like this as well.

So I went with this fellow and his wife and son to “The Rock of Ages” at TWI headquarters, the longest trip this poor country boy had been on since me and my folks visited my father’s buddy from the Korean War in Palm Beach Florida in our 1967 white, four-door, Chrysler Newport when I was in the fourth grade.

Me in front of the big top tent at TWI headquarters
Me in front of the big top tent at TWI headquarters

There in New Knoxville I heard the president of TWI, Rev. L Craig Martindale, who had been installed by Wierwille himself in the mid 1980’s, rail against the rampant “idolatry” of the Trinitarianism that was being promoted in “stained glass whore houses” (i.e. churches), as he called them.  The bluntness of his rhetoric matched the intensity of his convictions.  He pulled no punches.  What a difference just a few months made since I had been slightly perplexed by the offhand remark of Wierwille in the PFAL class?

I listened intently to the blazing rhetoric, increasingly impressed with the Greek and Hebrew words that were expounded upon along with the other seemingly razor sharp “principles of Biblical research” propounded by TWI that – as Wierwille would say –  make the Word fit like a hand in a glove when “rightly divided” as it says in 2 Timothy 2:15.  I was being built up in my knowledge and appreciation of the Word according to TWI and I was loving it.  I was enamored with my new found knowledge, a knowledge that set me and others in TWI apart from the vast majority of Christians, not to mention the rest of the world.  It felt really good to be right!  But feeling right does not necessarily mean truly being right with God.

Nonetheless, I continued to grow in my knowledge of “the Word” according to TWI.  Over the next couple of years I quickly advanced through their multiple classes and seminars and devoured all of their books along with countless other weekly teachings from Martindale, which were recorded on little white cassette tapes.  I also faithfully read the current articles from their bi-monthly, “The Way Magazine.”  During the time that I got involved I actually got to take the PFAL advanced class taught by Martindale before it was faded out along with the PFAL video class taught by Wierwille.  Not long at all after I got involved the entire PFAL series was replaced with a new series called “The Way of Abundance and Power.”  TWI has a foundational, intermediate, and advanced class, along with some other special topics classes.  I quickly gained a reputation as one of the red-hottest and most committed TWI believers.

I excelled through everything they had to offer in the first few years; and I quickly reestablished an official TWI campus organization on the ECU campus.  I also served as an assistant coordinator of a couple of different TWI home groups eventually becoming a home group leader (once called Twig coordinators but by the time I was in the position it was called “household fellowship coordinator”) for a while.  I even had definite aspirations of eventually going into TWI’s minister training program called “The Way Corp.”  It seemed to be the way that I would fulfill a call to ministry that I sensed was on my life since the time I was a painfully shy, anxiety-ridden elementary school student.

This was the most exciting time in my life up to that point.  I was filled with a incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm, directed by the all important purpose of “moving the Word” (i.e. spreading the message and ministry of TWI).  I made some wonderful friends and meet some truly accomplished and quite remarkable people, licensed psychotherapists, a PHD from MIT, small business owners, former college and pro football players, a PHD in child psychology, public school educators and counselors, police officers, a former Marine Corp helicopter pilot, many smart people from all walks of life.  I share this to answer the oft asked question of what kind of people would get involved in such an organization.  I was one of them.

I was in and I was growing by leaps and bounds, but as I would eventually discover, I was growing in a special kind of knowledge that builds one up in pride with the corresponding fruit of contempt for others.  And you know what the word says about pride?

It’s really quite amazing to think about how much of this part of my life hung on that one conversation with my United Methodist pastor.  Who would ever think that a theological conversation could impact the life of a poor country boy who grew up in a junk yard so much?!

I took the plunge; I chose The Way, The Way International that is; and I was being steeped in pride.  It would take a miracle to save me from the fall.  Stay tuned …

Proverbs 16:18 (KJV) “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

 

About Me Part 2: A Wall at the Crossroads: Which Way?

Sitting on a five gallon bucket in the midst of the old rusty appliances scattered in front of the huge two bay garage that adjoined my parent’s country store, I had declared to my longtime friend, whom I had known since we played Pee Wee football together for the King Dolphins, that something told me that Christianity was true; and I was going to find out.  This knock on the door of my two bedroom apartment, which I shared with a friend whom I had meet in the seventh grade, could it be the answer I was looking for come looking for me?  Well, we’d have to answer the door to find out.

(Read Part 1 Here)

My father, Marcus Wall, (front) with friend.
My father, Marcus Wall, (front) with friend.

Actually, the first knock we heard was on the door not of my own apartment but the one beside mine.  One of my drinking buddies from the night before -really one of my best friends ever – decided to be funny.  As a well dressed middle-aged man and woman, whom he could see as he peered through my door scope, knocked on my neighbors door my friend knocked on mine from the inside as he snickered and chuckled along with me and our other friend.  I think we had all watched too much “Beavis and Butt-head” on MTV!

Soon though the snickering turned to alarm as the knocking moved directly to my door.  My friend scurried off to my bedroom like a feral cat from a back porch.  A bit embarrassed, I opened the door.

After apologizing for my buddies foolishness – I wasn’t going to take the blame – I asked, “what can I do for you?”

They explained that they were in the area with several others telling people about a wonderful class that the ministry they were affiliated with offered.  It was a class that would explain the Bible and answer life’s most important questions.  Before I could really say too much they began to ask me a few questions themselves.  One was if I knew how to be saved.  I rambled on a bit about growing up in church and trying to be a good person.  Unsatisfied by my response, the man pulled out a King James Bible and turned to Romans 10:9-10, which he insisted was all their was to it – to being saved that is.  He asked me if I believed what those two verses said.  Hesitantly I said I think I believe that.  They emphasized how easy is really is to be saved, and how so many people who go to church just don’t realize what “the Word” (the Bible) really says.

They also began to share some of the other benefits of this class they were promoting such as learning the keys to prosperity, overcoming fear, and how to pray effectually, among other things.  The conversation wasn’t all that long, and they mentioned that they really didn’t live in the area, but they said the local branch of their ministry would be offering a further explanation of the class in the near future.  They asked for my name and number so someone could followup with me about that.  Reluctantly, yet deep down, longingly, I gave them my information.

It wasn’t long before I did receive a phone call inviting me to a public explanation of the class they were talking about.  It was held in a room in the basement of the student center  at ECU.  Reluctantly, but expectantly I went.

As I entered the room, still early in the spring semester, I was greeted enthusiastically and very warmly.  Everyone seemed to be incredibly nice and cheerful.  There was a TV set up playing a band singing a brand of Christian music that I had never quite heard before; it was the band and singers from this ministry’s headquarters in Ohio.  After a brief period of introductions with a few people in the crowd of about 20, someone stood up in front to explain more about this class that so many in the room were obviously absolutely enthralled with.  Then a woman got up to share her testimony for how this class had changed her life so much for the better.  The leader then explained that there would be an opportunity to sign up for the next class that evening.

Afterwards I was approached by a laid back, very friendly gentleman in his late forties.  He explained how he had taken the class when he was a student at ECU in the 70’s and how it had changed his life as well.  I was a bit intrigued by the way he cussed a little as we talked.  I can’t say that I had ever really heard that in Christians circles before.  His demeanor was quite disarming and relaxing to someone like me prone to extreme social anxiety, especially around authority figures.  He pressed me to sign up for the class, which involved a $50.00 registration fee.  “The bottom line is that this just works”, he said.  “It really brings positive results”, he insisted.

The thought of being better able to understand the Bible led me to believe that this class just might be the answer that I was looking for; learning the keys to prosperity and success and overcoming fear sounded wonderful to the ears of that poor anxiety-ridden skinny kid who hoped he’d never have to prime another row of tobacco or load up another truck with watermelons or corn to peddle in parking lots and city streets in downtown Winston-Salem – or live in a junk yard, I suppose.

Me in the store with Daddy's blue ribbon watermelon.
Me in the store with Daddy’s blue ribbon watermelon.

Yet I was reluctant to sign the card and pay the fee.  Would my anxiety outweigh my longing to find the answers that I had declared I would find?

I hemmed and I hawed about how I was just so busy, which I was – a full course load, Air Force ROTC, and an officer in a fraternity – I didn’t know if I could squeeze in the dozen or so sessions that would be required.  The $50.00 caused me pause too, but not too much when I thought about how many hundreds of dollars of student loan money I had spent on booze – one time about $100.00 drinking beer and taking shots in the bars in downtown Greenville, a night I would never forget if I hadn’t blacked out.

By this time the leader for the ministry in Greenville had joined in the conversation.  As I proffered excuses he challenged me to believe that God would make a way for me to take this class, a principle I would learn much more about when I actually took the class.  I signed the card; I paid the fee; I took the class called “Power for Abundant Living” (PFAL) offered by a nondenominational ministry called “The Way International” (TWI).

The class was taught by the founder of TWI, Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille, who was by that time deceased.  He had his teachings recorded on video tape even while he was still alive so they could be disbursed as far and wide and as fast as possible.  From the start I was captivated by his charisma, impressed by his boldness, and delighted with what seemed to be his clear, logical teaching straight out of the Bible.  He referenced Scripture profusely such that it seemed he backed up virtually everything he taught with the Bible.  He insisted that it was not his own views or the views of any other preacher or theologian that mattered, and that what he was teaching was “the Word and nothing but the Word.”  I was hooked.

Everything just seemed to make so much sense.  I felt a deep sense of trust in the “accuracy of the Word,” the Bible.  At one point during one of the class I found myself rubbing my open Bible in awe and adoration.  I was infused with a tremendous confidence that I had never experienced before.  During that class I became a wild-eyed fanatic for the Word, at least the Word according to “The Way” (TWI).

Wierwille said something though at a later point in the class that jolted me just a bit.  It wasn’t the main point of what he was talking about, but something he just mentioned in passing as he quoted, Acts 2:22, which says in part, in the King James, which is what he was teaching from, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God …”  Here Wierwille briefly paused and adamantly insisted that the Bible just teaches that Jesus was a man and it was wrong and just plain silly for other preachers and theologians to teach that he was God since the Bible here just plainly states that he was only “a man approved by God.”  He then quickly moved off of this tangent and back to his main topic.  Although I was slightly taken aback, I quickly gave him the benefit of the doubt because of how it had really seemed that he had substantiated everything else he had taught.

This class really did change my life, in many ways for the better.  My addiction to alcohol was broken and my desire to grow in the things of God and the word of God exploded.  I was so excited that I wanted to share what I had learned and was learning with anyone and everyone who would listen.  The PFAL class ended just before the spring semester did; shortly I would take my new found excitement and confidence back home with me, along with a big bag of dirty laundry for my mother to wash.

At first I didn’t take my completion of the PFAL class to mean that I was to become a full-fledged participant in TWI exclusively.  I very enthusiastically began to go back to my home church, Chestnut Grove United Methodist, with an eagerness that I hadn’t had since I was a very young little boy.  The sermons of our Methodist preacher seemed to pale in comparison to the teachings of Dr. Wierwille, but I did not take that to mean that I at that time needed to stop going to church and just attend TWI meetings.  As a matter of fact, early on in my summer break that year, I even had a vision while I was mowing my parent’s yard that I would go to Duke Divinity school and become a Methodist preacher after graduation from ECU.  As of yet I didn’t see the stark difference between the mainstream churches and TWI.  Pretty soon that would change.

It wasn’t long before a TWI fellowship coordinator (TWI groups meet in homes) in Winston-Salem and the one in King came to pay me a visit.  They began to fill me in on those stark differences and insisted that mainstream churches, while they had many good people, even some saved people in them, taught the “false doctrine” of the Trinity as well as encouraged spiritualism by teaching that there is conscious existence after death.  They insisted that I needed to stay away from mainstream churches and call others out as well to join with TWI.  Suddenly that passing comment Dr. Wierwille made had to come off the back burner of my mind; a wrestling match for my soul ensued.

I wanted to be right with God; I wanted to know the truth.  I listened carefully to the folks from TWI; I read Wierwille’s book “Jesus Christ is Not God”.  Wierwille’s logic, which his loyal followers had made their own, and the apparent confirmation from Scripture were compelling to my theologically ill-informed, naive 19 year old mind.  Nevertheless, I intuitively knew that I was on the precipice of making an enormous, life-altering decision.  I was getting ready to take a major plunge, either way; and I wrestled with which way I should go.  My mother was also extremely concerned, to say the least.  Even though I was more and more convinced by the arguments of TWI, I wasn’t quite ready to make that turn, to take that plunge.

I asked for a meeting with the pastor of my home church.  Little did I just how much hung in the balance and on this one conversation with my rural United Methodist pastor.

That and more later …  Stay tuned.

About Me: From the Cradle …

I was born in Winston-Salem, NC, raised in Stokes County in a little rural community called Pinnacle pert near the foot of the Sauratown Mountains.  My parents, of whom I am their only child, owned and operated a small country store on a long country road through the tobacco fields between the towns of King and Pilot Mountain.

sauratown mountain

By the time I was in kindergarten my parent’s business began to wane.  From around 1959 to 1979, my father ran a grocery/convenience store on wheels, a 50’s something model full-sized Chevrolet school bus stripped of its seats and furnished with fully stocked shelves and a cash register where the right front passenger bench used to be.  It was a light blue bus with a white top and “Wall’s Rolling Grocery” painted in red down both sides. With the addition of larger chain stores expanding into nearby towns, resulting in shrinking profit margins for my parents, the rolling grocery bus came to a final stop, but not before leaving many fond memories for countless customers, neighbors, family, and friends.

To make ends meet my dad started learning how to repair household appliances.  It wasn’t long before our store, which had our two bedroom apartment where we lived attached to the back, was surrounded by used appliances and parts, not to mention the remains of the three old buses that Dad had acquired over the years.  He made use of them by filling them with parts that he might need for his appliance repair and used appliance sales business, and whatever else he thought he might need some day.  So I grew up in an old country store in a used appliance wonderland that some might call a junk yard.

I was a painfully shy, anxiety-ridden, somewhat socially awkward kid who mumbled more than talked.  At the same time I also had a red-hot temper, honestly acquired from my father, with a generous dose of athleticism to go with my short, slender, but wiry frame.  When I wasn’t cutting wood or working in tobacco I played basketball, baseball, and football all at some point during my childhood.  I was decent at the later two, but definitely better at and more interested in hoops.  If not for my severe performance inhibiting anxiety and a streak of juvenile delinquency, I might have been able to play some college ball; nonetheless, it’s still a game that brings me much joy to this day.  I still have some skills even if not the stamina and the legs.

As an infant I was baptized in the local United Methodist church, just a mile up the road, Chestnut Grove UMC, by the pastor after whom I was named, Rev. Clifford Weller.  A couple of his grandchildren attended my elementary school, one in my class.  Early on I loved church and really sought the Lord.  Once, inspired by a “Little House on the Prairie” episode, I climbed to the top of a big hill near my house to get closer to God.  Inspired by the preaching of our evangelical Methodist preacher and Rev. Billy Graham, who I sometimes watched with my grandma Wall, who lived in the old white farm house next door, I publicly committed my life to Christ along with other confirmation students in my church when I was nine years old.

I remember struggling to really live out my faith after that, but by the time I was a teenager the struggle was gone.  Not because I had reached some kind of sinless Christian perfection, but because I had given into sin, and was really just going through the motions at church, which we attended faithfully together as a family before I went to college.

Before I finished Jr. High I had a trespassing charge on my record that could have easily been breaking and entering.  For that I got community service at the King public library.  Before I graduated from South Stokes High School I had a drinking problem that one time almost got me arrested, but instead just landed me an underage drinking charge which is on my record to this day, not to mention several other indiscretions of other varieties for which I did not get caught.  By the time I was in college the drinking got worse and the risky behavior escalated.  Only by the grace and mercy of God, did I not get killed or kill someone else, especially when I would drive when I was even too drunk to walk.  I’m also fortunate that I didn’t die of alcohol poisoning, which a few did die of during my time at East Carolina University.

During my freshman year there I did begin to experiment with drugs, and once even took a hit of acid.  That scared me enough to back away and stay away from the marijuana and other hard drugs , but my strong desire for strong drink remained, along with a small but ever increasing desire to really know God.

During this time while I was trying to find fulfillment in all the wrong things, I also was on a search of sorts for righteousness and the One from whom all blessings flow.  During deep discussions – as deep as you can get in smoke filled rooms with pyramids of empty beer cans and water bongs – when the topic of ultimate things and the purpose of life came up I found myself ineptly trying to defend the  Christian faith of my upbringing amidst harsh ridicule.

In one exchange with someone who was adamantly insisting that Christianity was just too stupid and silly for consideration, something welled up in me and I insisted that for some strange reason I believe it is true.  My friend was taken aback by the smile on my face and the gleam in my eyes as I strangely  (because I really wasn’t living for Him) spoke up for Christ.

During my time in college I did occasionally attend church, often with a hangover.  I went to several different churches, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and more.  I also attended a couple of Campus Crusade meetings.  Nothing seemed to stick, but the desire to know Truth remained and grew.

Over winter break in the midst of my sophomore year that found me drinking less and studying more – to greatly improved academic performance I might add – I was sitting on a five gallon bucket in the midst of the old appliances in front of my dad’s garage drinking beer with a long time friend who was expressing some serious skepticism regarding the Christian faith of his own upbringing.  Again something welled up within me, and I insisted that I really believed Christianity was true but I really didn’t know why.  Then and there I declared that I was going to found out.

A couple of months later, after a long night of lots of longnecks with some friends from back home, I got a knock on the door of the apartment where I lived in Greenville off of 10th street, just a few miles from the ECU campus.  It was a knock that would change the course of my life in incredible, painful, wonderful, and even miraculous ways.

More on that with the next post.  Stay tuned …