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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 8

Why I Believe As I Do

To this point I have endeavored to lay out, at least in part, the scriptural picture of God’s dealings with men down through the ages. Since the fall of man into sin and death God has reached out in mercy at various times and in various ways. Although man in his condition would never seek God, God has nonetheless sought him.

In Noah’s day God declared, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” and His judgment clock began ticking. Genesis 6:3. Yet He held off His judgment ... in this case, for 120 years ... to allow for a final witness and to allow His people to prepare and escape the judgment.

We looked at a number of parallels between the world before the flood and the nation of Israel. Ultimately, the believing remnant out of Israel was delivered and saved and terrible judgment fell on Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Then we looked at an overall picture of the gospel age, from Pentecost to the coming of Christ ... and specifically the last period of time at the end of the age. It should be obvious by now to any discerning reader that I believe we are in that last period, the countdown to judgment ... sudden death overtime. This is not a theological issue with me. It is a real inward conviction I have lived with literally for decades.

I believe God wants us to know something of the hour we live in and yet, as I look around I mostly see spiritual slumber reinforced by entrenched religious tradition. Some talk about the coming of the Lord yet it so often seems to be more a parroting of traditions they’ve been exposed to than it does a revelation of the Word.

And Satan has specially made it his business to promote much deception in this area. His aim is quite naturally to deceive, confuse, divide, put to sleep, and generally cause people to be unaware and unprepared both for this present hour of darkness and for the coming of the Lord. Let me simply share why I believe as I do and then let you prayerfully be the judge.

My Background

I was born into a preacher’s home. Most of my childhood occurred in the relatively tranquil 1950s. Of course there were problems and the seeds of what was to come were there, however it seems, particularly looking back, that there was a remarkable measure of restraint upon many of the evil tendencies of human nature compared with today. Our leaders were men who had experienced two world wars and the great depression. They knew what it was to persevere and stand for something in the face of adversity. Authority was generally respected.

I’m sure that my perspective is limited but the world I remember was in many ways the world of “Father Knows Best,” and “Leave It To Beaver.” At the very least, those two TV programs were popular prime-time entertainment, something the society of that day could relate to and enjoy. The young people of today have no idea of the dramatic changes that have taken place since then. The 1960s changed our world forever.

As the 1960s began the great concern on everyone’s mind was the threat of nuclear war. Many people built and stocked “fallout shelters.” Communism seemed to be on the march everywhere and Khrushchev promised to “bury” us. Castro took over Cuba and invited the Soviets in to set up missiles aimed at the U.S. Our spy planes caught them at it and precipitated the Cuban missile crisis.

I was one of millions of Americans who sat glued to their TVs to see what President Kennedy was going to do about all this. As a young man, I had a very real concern that I might wind up going off to war.

Thankfully that particular crisis was defused but the decade seemed to bring one crisis after another. And it wasn’t just a matter of problems being addressed and gradual change coming about. It seemed as if the whole fabric of our world was under attack, called into question and rejected by many of my generation. Of course, this included all of its professed moral and spiritual values as well.

I attended a Bible college during much of this period and was no doubt somewhat sheltered but it was impossible to be of college age in that era and not feel the winds of revolution that swirled around our land. I have spoken with those who were in secular colleges at the time who recall the militant spirit of many students. There were underground newspapers circulating on campuses and elsewhere that explicitly called for the overthrow of the government and the rejection of all of our cultural values and moral absolutes.

Everything that represented the “establishment” ... government, business, religion ... and especially the military ... needed to be overthrown and replaced by the hippies’ vision of “peace” and “love” ... not to mention drugs and sex with no outmoded moral restraint. I can still hear the haunting ballad that called a young generation of empty rebels to a “love-in” in San Francisco. If only they had had eyes to see what it was that pulled and drove them.

All of this took place against the backdrop of the difficult and divisive Vietnam War. I salute the men who did their duty and fought in that terrible conflict. But that war played no small part in creating the climate for dramatic and permanent change.

From a spiritual perspective it was very evident that the changes we were witnessing were in general driving men away from God and not toward Him. Something was definitely happening! But what?

As I mentioned I was in Bible College during the mid 60s. Specifically I was there because I believed God had called me to missionary service and this was the natural course of preparation. That being the case I became generally more serious about spiritual things. I needed to know more about what I was getting into!

I sought out fellowship with those who seemed more “spiritual-minded.” I read missionary biographies. I listened ... and watched ... and noticed.

Things I Noticed

I noticed the tide of intellectualism that was rapidly displacing any real emphasis on spiritual power and anointing. Here we were being equipped to do battle with an unbelieving world in the realm of their minds using natural ability when God wanted men through whom He could reach men’s hearts, totally relying on the power of the Holy Spirit.

I noticed the differences in ministries. I guess I had always noticed to some extent but more so at that time. Most “ministry,” though scripturally accurate, was dry and empty. Some men with a natural talent for speaking could hold my attention and tickle my intellect somewhat, but with no real spiritual impact. But here and there I was privileged to hear someone speak by the anointing. What a difference! Those few occasions stand out in my memory like a blazing light in the midst of growing darkness.

I noticed how different the modern evangelical churches were from those portrayed in the pages of the New Testament. There was a simplicity and a power that were missing in all the religious machinery of modern denominationalism. So much was ignored or explained away.

From time to time there came into my hands reports and writings that let me know that there was more. Some of these involved doctrinal matters and each issue drove me prayerfully to the Word for answers. For example, I began to see that the body of Christ was not merely a theoretical picture of the “mystical” church but a practical order of things. I saw in a measure that Christ had established apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers ... men taught and anointed by Christ the Head ... for the work of the ministry, etc. (Eph. 4:11-16). This order was to continue until we all came into the unity of the faith unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. As far as I could see that hadn’t happened yet!

It seemed that everywhere I looked men had their own ways of doing things. Men trained other men to perpetuate their traditions. Most “ministry” was little more than human religious effort. God was on the sidelines somewhere ... or out of the picture altogether.

Was it all black? Was everyone around me lost? No! God does have a remnant even as He did in Israel, but I sensed things heading in the wrong direction in the churches even as they were in society as a whole. A strong tide was driving both and I had a strong feeling of foreboding.

I mentioned reports. I heard accounts ... some of them pretty dramatic ... of God mightily moving somewhere with anointed preaching accompanied by miraculous power. Some of these at least rang true and made me hungry for more than I saw around me. While I knew and respected the fact that the devil is very much in the sign and wonder business to deceive, my conviction grew that anything God had ever done was possible today. He hadn’t changed!

It was a challenging time, hearing many voices, trying to discriminate among them. Sometimes from the same source I would glean some good things yet others just didn’t stand up to the witness of the Spirit or the Word.

Just for one example: I had certainly not been raised as a Pentecostal yet that was a natural direction to explore. I did encounter one particular independent Pentecostal church that had an unusual measure of life. For awhile I attended there on Sunday evenings and found it an oasis. The people worshipped with uplifted hands. I heard some preaching that had some life in it. There was a measure of balance and order in the exercise of spiritual gifts. I witnessed genuine miracles.

I’m thankful for the experience. It came at a dry time. And yet, as hard as I tried, I could never quite reconcile their doctrine of “tongues evidence” with the Word. And I saw ... and experienced in a measure ... the effect of that false teaching as people tried over and over to somehow “get” this experience that was supposed to be the doorway to just about everything of spiritual value.

It was a great blessing later on when I met Bro. Thomas who saw the same things in the Word that I did about the issue ... but who nonetheless himself actually had the gift of tongues! But for a time I felt like I was in a strange no-man’s land and that issue was just one example. On the one hand were those who didn’t think much of tongues and on the other were those who thought too much of them! Why not an honest scriptural balance?

Doctrine of Christ’s Coming

One area of doctrine that is particularly relevant to our subject here is that of the coming of Christ. The denomination of which I was a part is unashamedly premillennial. That is, they believe that Christ will return to this present earth to reign over its nations for 1000 years of peace and prosperity. Frankly I never seriously considered the matter until later.

Of course there are differences among those who believe in a coming millennium. Some embrace the dispensational “rapture,” tribulation, Antichrist, millennium scenario made popular by the Scofield Bible. Others teach that believers will be here for “the tribulation” and Christ will return after it to establish an earthly kingdom. The denomination did not take sides in this issue, caring only that its people believed in the so-called “millennial reign” itself.

However, I cared! The more I looked into the issues and the Word the stronger my conviction became that the dispensational rapture teaching was dangerously wrong. In the strictest sense I don’t believe in the rapture at all. That will no doubt shock some but hear me out!

The term “rapture” ... a term that appears nowhere in the Bible ... refers to the theory that Christ’s coming will be so secret that the only evidence of it for the world is to be the sudden mysterious disappearance of millions of Christians. Only after the Christians have literally vanished into thin air (with pilotless planes crashing, etc.) will the real trouble start. Then after seven years of progressive hell on earth Christ is supposed to come again ... again ... this time openly ... and begin His reign.

I definitely believe in the second coming of Christ ... just once ... and openly! Every eye will see Him! This is one issue I felt very strongly about ... and still do. How many careless, sleeping Christians are sitting in dead churches vainly expecting the Lord to “snatch” them out before things get bad? And ... worse ... how many in those dead churches even know the Lord at all?

Even then I had an inward sense that things would get progressively worse till the end. I saw the Lord using the fires of tribulation to come to purge and purify the true church that she might be a fit bride for the Heavenly Bridegroom.

This is a fairly sketchy overview of my college years. It was a time of learning and changing, listening and evaluating, trying to make sense of all the religion around me, and trying to discover where I fitted in. I sensed that I was going in a different direction than many of my classmates but didn’t see any clear alternative to the road I was on at the time.

The Next Step

The next step on that road was to apply to the denomination as missionary candidates so that is what my wife Sue and I did. We were accepted and I spent the following year as a student in their “School of Missions.” The denomination had a sensible policy of “proving” their missionary candidates. Rather than sending them directly overseas they assigned them to some kind of ministry service in the U.S. for two years. Their assignment brought us to central North Carolina in the summer of 1968.

I won’t say a lot about my brief pastoral experience except to say that it furthered my “education” in the condition of much of the evangelical church world. Part of that education was a growing realization that I was not equipped to do much about it ... certainly not to “turn things around.”

Just before Christmas of that year I believe the Lord anointed me in a measure to preach a couple of messages that at least served as a witness to that church. One message was directed to those who knew the Lord and one was directed to those who didn’t (probably most of the congregation).

A Strange Feeling

After the second message I felt very strange. I had the distinct sense that I had turned some kind of a corner although I couldn’t have explained the feeling beyond that. It was as though I could hardly remember things that had just happened. They seemed hazy and distant. I felt that something different lay ahead but didn’t know what.

On New Year’s Eve Sue and I attended a joint “watch night” service at a church some distance away. It was a Tuesday evening. Unbeknownst to us, Bro. Jen Hartman and his family were also attending a service that evening ... at the Bible Tabernacle in Southern Pines, about 50 miles away from where we lived! The next evening was our regular midweek service and Jen excitedly told us about their visit and shared some copies of the Midnight Cry Messenger they had brought back.

As I read the papers I became more and more interested and excited. I recognized in them many of the things I had privately become convinced of during the previous few years. Besides that, the church had been experiencing an amazing phenomenal visitation of God during the previous year and a half especially. I devoured everything Jen had brought back and just thought and prayed about it all.

At the time the Bible Tabernacle was holding 4 services a week ... Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and 2 services on Sunday. This made it convenient for me to visit as the midweek services didn’t conflict with ours so I determined to visit and see for myself on the following Tuesday. And so we went.

The church building was (at that time) a pretty non-descript block building on Route 1 in Southern Pines. The meeting room held maybe 200 or so people. As soon as we stepped in I knew that the Lord was there in an unusual way. There was an electric air of anticipation and every seat was full. The worship was free and real and the preaching of the Word was anointed. I had experienced a measure of these things here and there but nothing like this!

The people warmly received us and before I left I had gathered up a lot more reading material and I’m sure some tapes of services as well. During the following week I devoured these materials and continued to weigh and consider.

Meeting Bro. Thomas

At this time Bro. Thomas and a few others had just moved to Jacksonville, Florida to begin the work there. On the following Tuesday evening we went back for another visit and were overjoyed to find out that Bro. Thomas was back for his first visit since moving! The level of excitement in the air was even greater than it had been on our previous visit and we were in for a treat.

One thing was certainly different: there was a vision that came forth during the service! Bro. Thomas, knowing that I was a visiting minister, spent about ten minutes explaining for our benefit what was going on. He explained that the church had been experiencing visions for more than a year, something they had never sought nor anticipated. He explained that they had carefully examined everything that had come forth by the Word and by the Spirit and had had to conclude that they were of God and honored the Word. He explained that those who had visions had been carefully instructed to resist the devil with all their might anytime a vision began to form lest it be of the devil.

He said that these visions were like the vision Peter had on the rooftop when he went into a trance. Later on I witnessed many of these when the seer would simply become motionless for a period of time. Then they would come out of it and be enabled to write down exactly what they had seen and the words they had heard. They would then recount what they had seen and the body as a whole would consider and discern the content. I don’t at this time remember the vision that particularly came forth on that occasion but I do remember that it was spiritually edifying and “rang true.”

And then Bro. Thomas began to preach! I had heard messages that were anointed before but nothing like this! It was so evident that I was hearing a real living message from God and not just a “sermon.” What a difference! As someone who had been trained to construct (prayerfully, of course!) sermon outlines and then follow them I was amazed to observe Bro. Thomas just get up and yield himself to the Lord and literally minister by the hour with no notes whatsoever! And what he said was so engaging, so highly charged with life that after an hour and a half or more it seemed inconceivable that more than 15 minutes had passed!

I can still remember that message. He titled it, “Complete in Him” and it became Tape No. 092 on the old tape series. How wonderful it was to see Christ and what He did at the cross so exalted and set forth in such clarity and power. What light it shed on the “second work of grace” doctrines that put so many into bondage. How full and edified we all felt as we drove home after the service. I was getting a pretty good glimpse of the new direction the Lord was taking us.

A Critical Issue

Over the next few weeks I continued to read and listen all I could. There was very little that I had much of a question about as I believe the Lord had been at work preparing us to receive many of the things that the church believed. One issue, however, was crucial to us in particular: the millennium!

I later learned that Bro. Thomas himself had only recently been led to consider and reject the traditional belief in a future millennium. As I said earlier, I had been brought up in a denomination that believed in it and I had never seriously looked at the doctrine or considered anything else. I was vaguely aware that some of my professors had privately had their doubts about this belief but of course were in no position to say anything about it.

It didn’t take long as I examined some scriptural writings on the subject and examined the scriptures themselves ... prayerfully ... to conclude for myself that when Christ comes everything will be over. One scripture alone should be enough: “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.” Luke 17:29-30.

If God destroyed them all ... and it’s going to be like that when Christ returns ... who will be left for Christ to reign over?! God didn’t come down to set up a kingdom over Sodom (!); He came to rescue Lot and destroy it.

This is certainly the “short version” of my examination of the subject but there was no question that I became thoroughly convinced that my former belief had been in error. At this point things changed. Up to now it had been exciting to learn and grow in the light of the things we were experiencing and learning. But now I had a scripture-based, prayerfully-considered conviction that clearly was at odds with my denomination. What to do?

Here we were, missionary candidates who would be expected to sign a premillennial doctrinal statement. I could not, in good conscience, do that. I don’t believe in “blind” loyalty to anyone. I believe that the Lord expects us to seek Him first and foremost and to walk in the light of His Word as He reveals it and to have a good conscience in doing so. For example, I highly respect Bro. Thomas and seriously consider anything he says but my convictions are not the result of closing my eyes and saying, “OK.” They are the result of being a good “Berean” (Acts 17:11) and going to the Lord and to the Word until I am convinced by the Lord.

Obviously something had to give! I’m afraid that too many ministers in this position just swallow their convictions and then rationalize their decision to do so. That is the power of religious tradition and the religious “systems” that hold so many captive. I’ve had men sincerely tell me that they proposed to stay in the “system” and work to make things better from “inside.” I wish it worked that way! People don’t understand the real power behind religious systems. It is so much more than merely sincere but misinformed people. Demon power is involved.

And so, in a few weeks there came an opportunity to formally leave the church and the denomination behind and begin the scary and wonderful journey of moving ahead and trusting the Lord to lead and provide. He has never failed!

I wish I could say that it was all easy! Many did not, of course, understand. Some were convinced that we were off following the devil, etc. The devil, himself, wasn’t too happy and made it his business to try to inject as much oppression and confusion as he could muster. For the most part I kept to myself over the next few weeks, reading, considering, praying, asking the Lord to teach me and show me what I needed to know.

I didn’t know much! And there was a lot to “unlearn.” But the Lord is faithful. The fact is that we’ll continue to learn as long as we are here ... if we are willing. In process of time we (the Hartmans and Sue and I) moved to the Southern Pines area and became a part of the church there. I’m so thankful! It hasn’t always been easy but following the Lord in this world is never without its challenges. But what other way is there?!

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