Monday, March 03, 2003

Church Journey

There have been distinct times in my Christian life when I have made decisions that were not based on logic, but rather an inner sense that told me which path to choose. For example, in 1973, an employment counselor told me that the computer industry was a closed field. I took my excellent qualifications (not quite a BA in Philosophy and a 2.2 GPA) and became a printer operator at Dallas County Data Services, because I "knew" it was the place to be. A year and a half later, I was a well respected Systems Programmer. I eventually joined IBM and have had a good career with them and other computer companies.

This post is about two more such decisions.

I became a Christian in September 1970, when I was 20 years old. I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ in 1971 and joined their staff in 1972. This paved the way for me to move to Dallas, TX. I did not stay with Campus Crusade for long, but I did stay in Dallas, because I had met my future wife and she was, and still is, beyond the price of rubies.

Dallas, Texas is the home of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and that institution has impacted the churches in the area. There is a solid, albeit dispensational, core of biblical teaching that exists in Dallas churches. I became involved in a strong Bible church that downplayed its DTS roots and sought to teach the scriptures with integrity. It was a rewarding 10 years. That Church is Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, TX and I highly recommend it. My week to week relationship with this church came to an end on 1987, when IBM transferred me to Atlanta, GA.

The choices that I had, coming into Atlanta in 1987, were sparse indeed. My wife and I  found and almost liked a church named Community Bible Church, which featured a pastor from Dallas Theological Seminary. In their way, they were very legalistic. Not from a works salvation sense, but in a "these are the principles by which you should live" sense. We discerned that we would soon be squirming in a tight box trying to get a breath of fresh air. For example, when I mentioned being transferred, by IBM, to Atlanta, I was informed that I should have moved only if I had a known ministry in that place. From their viewpoint, I should have left IBM and stayed in Dallas. They did not seem to remember that the Lord told Abram to pick up and go and worry about the details later.

We attended a Presbyterian Church (PCA) for a year. Our best friends in the area went there, and it was a good place to rest from searching. There were several reasons that piled up all at once to move us into searching again. The most serious was that the pastor and a segment of the congregation began to quarrel bitterly. We left before we had to take sides and remained friends with everybody. The week after we left the church broke apart at the seams (not because we left).

Since we were looking again anyway, we took the opportunity to visit Beth Hallel, a Messianic Jewish Synagogue. The Jews there are believers in Messiah Yeshua, the Son of Adonai. Although they have a love for Torah, they understand that salvation is by faith alone. Their distinctive is that they worship Yeshua in a Jewish way.

It met on Friday nights and did not interfere with our Sunday explorations. The people, initially, were not all that friendly. The rabbi, Robert Solomon, asked for money constantly. He considered himself a preacher and not a teacher, which meant that he was inspirational in tone, but soon you knew everything that he had to say. He always gave an altar call, and I hate altar calls. Eventually we realized that he ran a very tight ship and that he was the guy in charge. I mean really in charge. Indeed, when I asked the elder what his responsibilities were, he responded, "To do what the rabbi tells me to do." Also, I could tell that it was charismatic at some level, and I was not sure how I felt about that.

But the worship in that place connected me to God. For that reason, we kept going Friday after Friday after Friday. I came to enjoy the Jewish liturgy.

On Sundays, we began attending Grace Community Church. This was a good place. Sunday mornings were well run. The church was overseen by a group of mature elders. The members were serious about the Bible. Before long, I began teaching in their adult Sunday School.

In terms of my Dallas bred values, Grace Community Church was the place to be and Beth Hallel was not. The curious thing though was that my children (which had grown in number to 7 by this time, but that's another story) were thriving at Beth Hallel and dying at Grace. The other curious thing was that I suddenly saw the rich supply of qualified students and teachers of the Bible at Grace. Beth Hallel's resources were meager.

Beth Hallel became the first anomaly in my Christian walk. I dearly love to teach and Grace Community Church was a theological match, but we left it, in February 1989, and joined Beth Hallel. I went where I saw the greatest need. GCB would thrive whether I was there or not, but Beth Hallel might gain benefit from my teaching gifts. I told my self that it might take me as much as five years to earn the right to be heard. It would take me awhile to get to know people and for them to get to know me. I would have to relate to their Jewish sensibilities and sensitivities. I could hardly believe that I was making this decision. To this day, I have no regrets.

Thursday: The second anomaly in My Christian walk.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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