Reconciling Christ with Christians
The man who was preaching the day I professed faith in Jesus Christ said that Jesus would give me a new life. I believed him. I expected it. But as an immature child I did not understand how this new life would be implemented or come to pass. I expected God to work magic. I thought that I would lose my ability to do anything wrong and be supernaturally forced to do everything right, whether I wanted to or not. I was utterly disappointed. God didn't take away my responsibility to make my own decisions and choose to obey Him. He simply stayed with me every day, all the time, and pricked my conscience when I knew I was about to step on the wrong path. The two greatest struggles I faced as a teenage Christian were my own inclinations towards sin, and the seeming inconsistencies of other Christians around me, especially adults.
My mother came to the Lord several months after I did. As I said before, Mrs. Houck had been talking to her for quite some time without apparent success, but some of what she was saying sunk in. One of the things Mrs. Houck did that really aggravated my mother was sending home Christian literature with me whenever I came home from church At first Mom would throw it all away, but eventually she began picking it up and browsing through it. One of the magazines that I broughthome was The Pentecostal Evangel. Mom didn't get much out of the articles at first, but she was fascinated by reading the testimonies of healing. Finally, one day she read a testimony about a healing similar to what she had experienced with me. This aroused her curiousity to more closely investigate a church that believed in the same things she had personally experienced. She decided that she would go to church with me on the next Easter Sunday morning. Of course, she didn't miss her party Saturday night.
April 9, 1967 was Easter Sunday. Mom didn't really feel like getting up that early after having been out the night before,but she had promised me and herself that she would go, so she got dressed and we went. There was another special singing group there that Sunday,"The Nolen Golden Trio." I stayed downstairs in Sunday School that Sunday for some reason, so I missed the upstairs service. When I finally came upstairs at the end of the service my Mom met me with tears streaming down her cheeks running her mascara and said, "Randy, I have a birthday present for you, your mom has gotten saved." That was really the beginning of massive changes at our house. Mom was very sincere and knew she had experienced a real encounter with God. Her life did change suddenly. She no longer desired the drinking parties that I had grown accustomed to for years. She hungered to learn more about God and how to live for Him.
Dad was a little taken aback by Mom's abrupt changes but he was willing to test it out to see if it was real. Three months later during a summer evangelistic crusade, Dad walked forward and "got saved" too. Our entire family, including my little sister, were baptized in water as a testimony of faith in August 1967. It was a glorious time. But in just a few days an event would take place that would once again change our entire lives.
Obeying God Rather Than Men
The Assemblies of God at that time was a small, Trinitarian, Classical Pentecostal sect with roots reaching back to the Holiness movement of the late 19th century. Whereas its doctrines were forged out of the holiness traditions, its polity was borrowed from the Baptists. A/G churches were and are congregational in their form of church government. While this does have its good points, there are also many disadvantages to it as well. One of them is the fact that in small groups cliques have a tendency to form, and these people use natural political and economic power to influence the direction a church goes instead of allowing godly spiritual leadership to set the direction according to the Scriptures and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In the church we were attending at that time, the Pastor had been there for 9 years. This was an unusual record in the Assemblies of God, and in that particular church only one other pastor had ever come close to that tenure in over twenty years of the church's existence (and none have matched or surpassed it ever since). I liked the Pastor because he always treated the children like they were just as important as the adults. My parents like him too and it was through his leadership and ministry that all of us came to know God in a real way. However, there were a group of people in that church who were more interested in their own agenda than in the other people or the kingdom of God. They worked things out so that at the annual business meeting of the congregation, the Pastor was voted out of the church.
At that time pastors were voted in for three year terms and then had to be reelected. The Pastor was not reelected and the news really shocked my parents who had only been in the church a couple months. Some people, however, did not agree to submit the wishes of the oligarchy. They approached the Pastorand his wife, who at that point were considering moving back to Kansas where they had come from, and asked him to stay and start a new congregation. The Pastor prayed and felt led to do so. Without any advertising or public announcements plans were made to start a new congregation. The Pastor was voted out in September; the new congregation's first meeting in a rented church facility was on October 22, 1967. Calvary Temple of Terre Haute was born!
My parents made the decision to go with the Pastor and the new congregation. Thus, I was torn away from the church where I was saved and the friends that I had made there, including my neighbors who still live beside me.
The Pastor was stripped of his credentials by the Assemblies of God and he had to find a new fellowship to carry his ministerial papers. But, in the first year of its operation, God blessed the new church to such a degree that it had everything physically that it needed to carry on ministry in the community. The new congregation decided that they didn't want a board of men running the church. They wanted the Pastor to be the leader and lead the Church according to the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. The greatest heritage I received as a teenager from this Church and the Pastor was a devotion to and an understanding of the Bible as the infallible, inerrant Word of God. Many times in the pulpit the Pastor would say, "Don't believe what I'm telling you just because I am the Pastor. You go home and read the Scriptures for yourself, and if you can't find what I'm telling you in the Bible,then don't believe it!"
The result of this church change and observing the attitudes and actions of several who professed to be Christians, was a period of consternation and confusion in my life. I was an idealistic young man as well as stubborn. I had very little patience with the way things were. I wanted them to be the way they were supposed to be and I was willing to try to make that happen by the force of my own personality. There finally came a time when I had to make a decision. Would I allow the actions and attitudes of other people to determine my relationship with God, or would I choose to follow Him no matter what anyone else said or did? I decided to follow him regardless of what others thought or said. It was hard at times,because I have had to face religious traditons as well as just plain old stubborn human nature and resistance to change.