For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 1:5
"For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power."
1 Corinthians 4:20
This article is personal, in the sense that it addresses my own Christian faith and beliefs. It is not meant as a sermon, and not as a tutorial, but is rather a way to share my perceptions, my insights and some of what has been revealed to me by the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, and in the love of Christ, over a period of many years. I speak from my heart, it is my own testimony, and as always, I hope that some will find value in it.
I have found that "Christian" is a loaded word, at least in an intellectual and historical sense. There are many Christian churches, many denominations, many doctrines and dogmas, and yet I have come to believe that there is only one true apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, which has existed from antiquity: The Church of Jesus Christ is the Body of Christ (Corpus Christi) and embraces all true Christian believers, those who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and who are in every conceivable way, "Christ's Own".
Who are Christ's Own? They are those who gather in his name. They could be anyone from anywhere. They could be regular churchgoers, occasional churchgoers, or those who do not attend a church. They could be from any and every racial and ethnic heritage. They could be male or female. They could be converts from non-Christian religions or from no religion at all. They could be those who have received the calling to be preachers, ministers, priests, pastors, or they could be those who are not ordained under the protocols of any church "rule" or "laws". They could be high-profile evangelists or missionaries, or those whose identities remain obscure, hidden but from the sight of God, in a cloister or monastery.
The Church should not be about "religion", it is meant to be about Jesus Christ. Christ's Own are the true believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They live "in Christ" for the resurrected and eternal life of Christ lives in them.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
John 16: 13
One of the most difficult problems I have faced in my dealings with certain types of Christians is the rigid, hide-bound "Fundamentalist Bible Believer" mentality which insists that every word written in "The Bible" is the inerrant Word of God.
These literalists and legalists seem to me to be slavish followers of an indoctrination system by the conventions and consensus of the words of men, rather than seekers of spiritual truth, followers of, and true believers in, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Certainly, they are free to believe what they will, as are we all. The "problem", for me, has been when these Christians attempt to foist their particular set of "religious" beliefs on me, not respecting my right to believe, and to worship God, as I choose. I refuse to argue with them, and especially, it is my policy not to "argue" about scripture with anyone. To attempt to apply pressure on others is a form of aggression, and serves no purpose but to sow discord. If they become too aggressive, I simply bless them and walk away. That is what free will, bestowed by God on each and every individual, is all about.
If I am considered a heretic by these "Bible Believers" so be it. Some have accused me of "denying Christ" or "leading others astray", simply because I refused to conform to their particular rigidly defined standards of being a "Christian", or because I don't consider the Bible the ultimate authority in my life. I don't care for their opinions and do not seek their approval. God Almighty is the only authority in my life. If I'm misguided in my beliefs, I trust that God will set me straight, through the instruction of His Holy Spirit.
As for me, I'm not much of an "evangelist", at least not of the proselityzing variety. I have a JESUS LOVES YOU bumper sticker on my car, but that's about the exent of it. If someone I know asks me about my beliefs, I will gladly tell them. I state on the front page of my website that I am a "Believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ". Christian fellowship is also important to me, whether it's in my church or with other Christian friends, near or far. I invite people to come to church with me, because at my church everyone is welcomed unconditionally, all are invited to receive the Holy Eucharist, all are embraced as Brothers and Sisters in Christ, whether they are professing "Christians" or not. To the extent that I am able, I "preach the gospel to every creature", including the seagulls I meet on the beach. But I draw the line at trying to force the gospel on anyone. If I offer it, and it is rejected, I respect and honor the wishes of the other person, for that is between them and God.
Jesus said, Seek and you shall find; ask and it shall be given; knock and the door shall be opened to you. It has been my experience that all the truth which has been revealed to me personally came from one source only: The Holy Spirit. Sometimes it was after "seeking", "asking" or "knocking". Other times the truth was revealed as a "bolt from the blue", when I wasn't aware that I was even looking. I could read the Bible, but no matter how much "truth" I was reading, until it was inscribed on my heart by the Holy Spirit, I would know nothing at all.
Over a period of many years, I have studied the Bible, in a number of versions, and I have found much truth in each one. But I also know --from the truth revealed to me by the Holy Spirit; by my own studies of history, theology and by just plain logic and common sense-- that the Bible (whichever version) was written by human beings. It was translated by human beings, and human beings decided what would be included (in the different versions) and what would not. But human beings are not God; they are fallible, they make mistakes, and some have agendas ("religious" or otherwise) that do not necessarily come from God.
True, some of those human beings whose writings appear in the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit, there is no doubt in my mind, even if only because some of the same truths have been revealed to me personally by the very same Holy Spirit. In particular (aside from the New Testament) some of the Prophets; the Psalmist and the writers of Proverbs speak to me as God's Truth. But only because it has also been inscribed directly on my heart. The Holy Spirit does not change the truth to suit the needs, the desires or the agendas of men. Those who look to the writings of men (no matter how inspired by God) rather than to God Himself, will be limited in their knowledge and in the power which is given by God, through His Holy Spirit.
Then, there are the non-canonical gospels and scriptures. It was "decided", again, not by God, but by the councils of human beings, which of these would be included in "the Bible". The most commonly read, and accepted version of the Bible is the King James Version (KJV). Many fundamentalists consider this the ONLY "inerrant Word of God." They believe the KJV is written in stone, dictated from On High, from God's mouth to the ears of His prophets and those "taking dictation", and that any deviation from it is not permissable in the eyes of God. This belief has an obvious corollary: That each and every writer of any part of the scriptures was completely and totally "taken over" by the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God), and is therefore possessed of "perfect", irrefutable, supreme, absolute knowledge and truth; and that those who translated and compiled the scriptures were equally infallible.
Obviously, I don't agree. Call me a heretic if you will, Bible-thumpers, be my guest! The judgments of men will not dictate what I believe. And one thing I do believe is that God, the Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, is so much bigger, so much more glorious, His truth so much more vast, than that which could ever be contained in any book of scripture, no matter how inspired were some of the writers by His Holy Spirit.
Personally, I have studied all the different versions of the Bible which I could find, including the KJV; I have read the non-canonical gospels and scriptures as well, and I have a large collection of all sorts of these Bibles and related volumes. Mostly, I use the KJV and the NIV (known by some as the "Catholic Bible"). I love reading Biblical scriptures and I have found value, comfort and inspiration from them all. And I don't believe for a minute that God would not want me to keep searching for truth, to build my faith in every way available to me. For, example, there are gospels and scriptures not included in the KJV -- such as the Apocrypha, the Ecclesiasticus of Sirach, which are included in the NIV and certain others. Then there are the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. etc. which I have found extremely inspiring and of great value to increase the depth of my spiritual and historical knowledge and understanding.
But most important, I know that without the Holy Spirit I would have no understanding and no truth. I am a believer, first and foremost, in Jesus Christ and His gospel. I trust that God will inform me of all I need to know, and that all I am given to know, through the Holy Spirit, will suffice in God's purpose for my life.
Religiously reading "the Bible" (whichever version), reciting scripture by rote, taking the words or doctrines of men and making a "religion" of them, will not "save" you. The Word of God is ALIVE in Christ and in the power of His Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Truth. It is not just a "feeling", it is not a mere "belief system", it is a LIVING POWER. Unless the Word of God is inscribed on your heart, no matter how much you "know", or think you know, no matter how often you read the scriptures, you will know nothing of any real and lasting value, and you will be in thrall to the doctrines and manipulations of men, and of the world of men. You will not belong to Christ and you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. You will not arrive at spiritual truth by striving to use your intellect, by literalism or legalism, and it will not bring you the peace of Christ.
SPIRITUAL REALMS, GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT & SUPERNATURAL WARFARE
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.
1 John 2:20
...the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
John 14: 17
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil."
1 John 3:8
This world is not "all there is". The truth of the resurrection of Christ, above all, proves that beyond any doubt. There exist spiritual realms which are for the most part "unseen", but are nevertheless very real.
Angels are real. Those Angels under the command of Christ serve as God's messengers, ministers and warriors. Demons are also real, though I have heard many Christians say they do not "believe" in them. Unfortunately, the demons, under the command of Satan, believe in you, and in me. They not only believe in us, but they will look for any way to get inside our houses and wreak havoc in our lives. They will use all forms of deception, and even masquerade as "Angels of Light." But their purpose is to separate us from God. It is a war for hearts, minds and souls. Don't let them win!
As Christians, we are called not only to believe in Christ, to seek God through prayer, but also to engage in spiritual warfare. The world of spirit is supernatural, beyond the realm of the physical, in other dimensions, yet interspersed with the physical plane. There is no "time" or "space", not as we normally understand them from the limits of mere "physical" perception. But if you do not have Christ, if you do not have the Holy Spirit, you will be defenseless, for you will have no spiritual power with which to war against evil, to effectively resist the schemes of the devil.
In certain gifts of the Spirit, God has blessed me greatly. I did not earn these gifts, they were bestowed on me by the Grace of God and I am responsible for obeying God in the use of them. I don't expect that I will ever fully understand the mysteries of God, so I try the best I can to work with what I have been given, and to give thanks and praise for His blessings. I do know that if I misuse these gifts of the Spirit, God will correct me. If I were to try to take the credit for these gifts, or boast of them as if they were some badge of my own achievement, God will take them away from me. Why? Because the power of these gifts comes from God to use only for His glory. What God has given, He can take away.
Spiritual discernment (or discernment of spirits) comes only from the Holy Spirit, of that I am certain. If I am able to see into the spiritual realm, which is as real to me as anything in this world, then I am also called to use my gifts to the Glory of God and as a soldier in the battle to destroy the works of the devil and to win souls for Christ. I am not to use my gifts for any other purpose, nor for worldly ambition.
I have heard many Christian preachers inveigh against "clairvoyance", as if it is the "work of the devil". The word simply means "clear seeing". What could be more "clear" than the visions given by the Holy Spirit? "Clairvoyance" is a word, nothing more. Perhaps it is a word which has been given a negative connotation, especially by fundamentalists. But I am not talking about occultism, as in "psychic powers" where one seeks to cheat God of His glory by willfully seeking knowledge or powers from spiritual realms not of God. This is the witchcraft practiced by table-tippers, spiritualists, wiccans, theosophists, new agers or secular humanists. And yes, satanists. These are the "doctrines of devils", and to be scrupulously avoided by those who serve Christ.
But God does bestow gifts of the Spirit on His people and we are meant to use them to serve His will. It is this spiritual perception (also called "spiritual sight") which allows us to see who and what we are really dealing with; it can serve as a warning system when there is evil intent in the heart of another, or when danger looms around the next corner; and it can serve to give us understanding of the realities in the lives of others whom we wish to help with intercessory prayer or spiritual counsel, always assuming they have requested it. Healing by the laying on of hands, or by prayer alone, is another gift of the Spirit.
As long as we use these gifts of the Spirit in the ways God intends, we do no wrong. But if we were to use supernatural warfare, for instance, to curse, or to attack someone (as in Voodoo, Santeria, etc.) we are doing evil, we are engaging in witchcraft, which is an abomination to God.
Secular humanists, new agers and the whole "human potential" movement are not of God. In essence, they believe that they themselves are "gods", that they are complete in and of themselves, in their own knowledge and power, with no need for God --or worst of all, believe that they can usurp the very power of God. How mistaken and misguided they are! They are deceived by the doctrines of devils, by the belief that they can manipulate reality, or "create their own reality", leaving God out of the equation. They may promote "love and light", but their "love" is shallow, self-serving and insincere and their "light" is not the light of Christ, but from a sinister and false source, namely Lucifer, the "light bearer". True love is spiritual and comes only from God, from Christ within us.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5: 13-16
For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
Will we stay silent when we witness the Glory of God, as revealed to us by His Holy Spirit?
Or will we proclaim Christ's redeeming love to the world?
Will we stay silent when we witness the works of evildoers?
Or will we step forward in the power of the Holy Spirit and rebuke the workers of iniquity, those who would steal our peace in the love of Christ?
Will we come to the defense of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ when they are threatened, oppressed, tyrannized, abused, wrongfully accused?
This is the "salt and light" of Christ's gospel. Christians are not meant to be wimpy, wishy-washy or lukewarm. We are not called to be approval seekers or people pleasers. We do not serve the world of men, but the Kingdom of God. Genuine "love and light" have immense power and come only from God, from the indwelling of Christ and His Holy Spirit.
WORKING OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Philippians 2: 12-13
Many Christians seem to think that all they have to do in order to be "saved" is to profess a belief in Jesus Christ, or to witness before a congregation. They can just go on sinning, doing whatever they please, God will forgive them, and all will work out in the end. But anyone who has the love of Christ in his heart, anyone who has the Holy Spirit, knows different.
Those who love God will want with all their hearts not to sin. They may struggle with sin, but they will not believe that God will simply overlook their sin just because they say they have accepted Christ.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
True, all fall short of the glory of God. But can we willfully continue to sin without consequences? Working out our own salvation includes true repentance and a full effort to turn away from sin.
When we have the Holy Spirit we are instructed in our hearts as to the true nature of sin. We are convicted in the Spirit, and we can sincerely repent, ask God for forgiveness, for guidance and strength. God will not "stop" us from sin, we must make that decision ourselves, using the free will bestowed on us. But God can and will help us to stop sinning if we are sincere in our hearts and in our efforts.
True, we need to follow Christ's commandments, we need to listen to His gospel, but I also believe that for most people, much of what constitutes "sin" should be as obvious as the sun in the sky at high noon.
Do you have hatred and murder festering in your heart?
Or do you make every effort to love your neighbor as yourself, as Christ commanded? Do you "do unto others" as you would have them do unto you? Maybe just as important, do you NOT do unto others what you would not have them do to you?
Do you turn away from those in need when they ask for your help?
Or do you offer what you have and share what God has provided, knowing that He is the giver of all good things to His children?
Do you violate the God-given rights and liberties of others, or try to control others for your own advantage?
Or do you respect the privacy, personal boundaries and God-given rights and liberties of others, just as you would want others to respect yours?
Do you exploit or manipulate others for your own self-serving ends? Do you bear false witness against others in an effort to cover your own wrongdoing, or for your own gain? Are you a false accuser?
Or will you be honorable in your relationships and in all your delaings with others, having true concern for the well-being of others and respecting their integrity?
Are you abusive and cruel in your treatment of others, demeaning them in the false belief that you can elevate yourself at another's expense? Are you a bully and control freak who tries to intimidate others with threats or blackmail? Do you blame others for your own problems or circumstances, even when they have done nothing wrongful to you?
Or, asking God's help, do you take responsibility for your own attitudes and actions, repent of any wrongdoing which has harmed others, and ask God to help you change your heart, to obey His commandments and His will?
Those who love God will make every effort not to sin; they will repent of sin and do all in their power to make amends to those they have harmed, willfully or not.
Forgiveness may be one of the most difficult things to accomplish, but the true nature of it first must be understood. Many Christians will think it means, "Forgive and forget". But "forgetting" is simply not possible, it is only a form of denial of the truth. Nor should we try to forget. If someone sins against you, especially if it is a pattern of behavior, such as any kind of exploitation or abuse, if we treat the sins "as if they never happened", we can become enablers of the abuser if we don't stand up and confront the person who is doing us harm. Attempting to forget (even if it were possible) will only makes things worse, as it only allows, and even encourages, the dynamic between abuser/offender and victim to continue.
Neither does forgiveness mean that you have condoned the offenses against you. Just because you can find it in your heart to forgive does not mean that what the offender has done (or continues to do) is "okay"; it does not mean you should ever tolerate the offensive behavior. God does not want us to become doormats, or to allow ourselves to be made into victims, slaves or hostages. We have the right to stand in our own defense and to seek God's justice.
Forgiveness does not mean that you can necessarily trust the person who has sinned against you. Trust has to be earned, over time. If someone continually proves he is not worthy of your trust, if the abuses or the betrayals continue, then there is no reason to trust, nor should you.
In some cases, you can have true reconciliation, but not without the heart of the offender being changed. In some cases, although you may be able to forgive, there can be no reconciliation, and all you can do is walk away and "shake the dust from your feet." God sees what is in your heart. You are not held accountable for the wrongdoing of others. If the sin is not yours, God knows that.
"CHRISTIANS" WHO HATE
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
One of the things I find to be most distressing, as well as a cause for righteous outrage, is the smug pronouncements of those who claim they are "Christians", but who promote not the love of Christ, but rather hatred and bigotry. This bigotry may be focused on any group, those of any particular ethnic, racial or religious heritage.
Some, for example, would have you believe that certain "bloodlines" are the "spawn of Satan", or the "seed of Cain". They claim that these groups, "Edomites", "Ashkenazi Jews" (or even all Jews), are evil by their very nature and that they are responsible for all the evils of the world. Same holds true for other "Christian" bigots who claim that black people (or others of color) are "the Lower Races" "mud people", etc.
There are neo-Nazi groups with their own "churches" who extol the "virtues" of Adolph Hitler and actually promote their hate in the name of Christ!
These hate groups and individuals will use the Bible as a weapon against their Targets, claiming that their hatred and bigotry is not only justified, but even "commanded" by the scriptures and by God Almighty!
How, you may ask, could the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit fit into this grossly and monstrously demonic ideology? It can't, it doesn't and it never ever will. The answer is clear for all with eyes to see, ears to hear, or the love of Christ inscribed upon their hearts.
"CHRISTIANS" AND PORNOGRAPHY
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
1 Corinthians 6:18
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
1 John 2:15-16
Can someone be a Christian and use pornography? I've heard people who claim to be Christians saying that there's "nothing wrong" with pornography, even that it is "healthy" or "natural", or that just because it is "legal", there's nothing wrong with it. I completely and absolutely disagree. In fact, I believe that there is EVERYTHING wrong with pornography.
Pornography is an abomination to God. It defiles the body and corrupts the spirit. Can the Holy Spirit dwell in an environment of corruption? Or will the corruption attract unclean spirits? Pornography is of the demonic realms, not of the Kingdom of God. And never the twain shall meet.
Pornography (aside from the greed of those selling it) is created for the singular purpose of inciting lusts of the flesh. It is not only demeaning, to both men and women, but poses the worst danger to children. Because pornography, by its very nature, flashes the "green light" for all sorts of perversions and debauchery. Users of pornography become addicted to the negative effects it produces, just as abusers of alcohol or drugs become addicted. The "thrill" they experience soon dulls and they seek a more potent "thrill". Children become victims of sexual abuse most often in cases where the adults raping them have been led down that path by the use of pornography --ANY kind of pornography. Pornography also destroys marriages. Let's face it: What decent, self-respecting woman (or man) would want to be married to a porno freak, someone who is lusting in his/her heart after anyone other than his/her spouse?
Remember the admonition of Jesus Christ:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
And what about those women who claim to be Christians, and yet pridefully allow their bodies to be put on display for the express purpose of inciting lust in the hearts of men? Does anyone really believe that the Playboy Mansion is just a place for "good wholesome fun"? Do they know that the Playboy Empire was founded by a satanist? Do they have no discernment at all?
I've read the testimonies of former "Playboy Bunnies" who claim this was an innocent and enjoyable pastime, even something they "loved" being. As Christians, how can they not recognize the truth? Such a woman may not be engaging in hardcore pornography, but where do they think such activities are leading? Do they think the men who frequent such establishments are not using pornography? But most important of all, do they actually believe that this is how God wants them to glorify their bodies in the service of Christ?
By promoting and condoning such activities, are these the "Christian" values they want to teach their children?
I was baptized as an infant in the Orthodox Catholic Church, otherwise known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Throughout my childhood I was taken to various churches, Protestant and especially Episcopal, on certain occasions. Neither of my parents were particularly "religious", though both came from religious churchgoing families. I still have my Mother's Bible, presented to her as a child from the Presbyterian Church. I was named for Saint Barbara, a Christian martyr of the third century. (Saint Barbara is the Patron Saint of "artillery" and there exists to this day The Ancient Military Order of Saint Barbara. I have even known some people who are members.)
So although I can say I was "raised as a Christian", there was not any regular formal instruction in leading a Christian life. But in my heart of hearts, I felt the presence of God, and knew His Holy Angels were never far away.
In my young adulthood, the one church that appealed most to me was the Catholic Church. It was certainly not because of the doctrines or the catechism, which I was not trained in --and from what I knew of them, they didn't appeal to me at all. I did not attend services on a Sunday, but while walking down a street, I would often find myself drawn to a Catholic church. I would walk inside when the church was mostly empty. I would usually light a candle, give an offering and sit alone in a pew to pray. And I did feel the presence of Christ in the silence, often more so than at other times. Of course, this was in the days when most churches (even in NYC, where I lived) kept their doors open at all hours of the day and night. It is a very distressing feeling to walk up the steps of a church, a House of God, only to find the doors barred from entrance. And although I understand why the churches are now locked, due to theft and vandalism, it still bothers me, as a church is meant to be a sanctuary.
Throughout most of my adult life, I was not a regular churchgoer. I had my own ideas about "church", and I never found anywhere that I "fit in". Mostly, it was the dogmas, the lack of freedom to worship in a way that came naturally to me. And as mentioned earlier, I was not the kind of "Bible believer" who could endure having my worship of God and my spiritual life limited by the religious doctrines and judgments of men. And in some cases, I mean "men" literally. I cannot respect nor adhere to any religious doctrine that treats women as if they are somehow lesser beings in the eyes of God, or that women should have to "submit" to men, rather than solely to God.
In my quest for God, I did undertake seminary studies, and was ordained (1979) as a minister in the Universalist Church, but I didn't "fit in" there either. This church was not "Christian" enough for me and it didn't feel right to continue any association with them. Christ was not the focus, but rather a mixture of various religious traditions and secular humanist ideas. I guess "ideas" is a good word, because it didn't enhance my faith in God, but rather would have led me down another path where I did not want to go. The same can be said for my other intensive studies of religious and spiritual traditions, including Eastern mysticism, Buddhism and even certain religious cults. In searching for spiritual truth, I looked far and wide, but always found that Jesus Christ was the only answer, at least for me.
In any case, I didn't do much officially as a "woman of the cloth" and not having much use for "religion" per se, I've never been led in the Spirit to be a pastor of any church. I was asked to officiate at a couple of marriage ceremonies, and they were held at the people's homes. My specialty in seminary training was pastoral counseling, and also having been trained as a Jungian analyst, I did work for years in such a capacity, for both private clients and on staff at various educational institutions, and also as an instructor. But although I am no longer involved in those practices, I still consider myself a Christian minister.
For many years during my adult life I would go to different churches on an occasional basis; I would usually go to a service on Christmas Eve, sometimes on Easter Sunday, or whenever the Spirit moved me. I would sometimes go with friends or family to their churches, and sometimes I would go alone. Except in rare cases, I usually benefitted from being there, and enjoyed the Christian fellowship, but God did not put it in my heart to join any of these churches. Religious orthodoxy, for the most part, does not suit me, though the lack of membership in a church did not diminish my devotion to Christ.
I actually thought, during these years, that I would not ever become a member of any church. I changed my mind (or maybe, God changed it for me) in 2009. But before telling my story about the church I joined, I should explain certain things which might elucidate my decision.
Here's the big "secret" I have kept largely to myself for most of my life: In my heart, I have always felt like a "catholic". It was the reason I walked into those churches so often, on the spur of the moment, many years ago. This feeling was strange to me, since I have many "issues" with the Catholic Church. I don't believe the Pope is God's representative on earth. I don't like the male-supremacist, authoritarian doctrines and "rules", such as that women cannot be ordained as priests, but are relegated to being nuns, considered lesser beings in the sight of God. (I don't care what anyone says contrary to that, that is the way I see it.) I don't believe that priests should be forced into celibacy and not allowed to marry, as the price of serving God. I'm well aware of the corruption in the Vatican (and I won't even begin to get into what I have learned about that...) I don't believe there needs to be so much emphasis on "guilt" to make the parishioners obedient to God (or, as many Catholics see it, obedient to the strictures and dictates of the Church.) Aside from these observations, most of the practicing Catholics I have known are true Christians who love Christ. I have no quarrel with them. I still go to a Catholic Mass on occasion and feel perfectly comfortable being there, as I am there to worship Christ, and that is all that matters.
If a stranger walked into my house, he would most likely draw the conclusion that I am a Catholic. I have religious statues, paintings, crucifixes, candles for the Saints, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, icebox magnets with quotes from scripture. As for the images of angels, they are everywhere --suspended from the ceilings, placards on the walls, stone angels, carvings, prayer cards displaying angels from scripture. I have a particular love of angels, as I have often been blessed with visits from angels, throughout my life.
I have been collecting such religious icons for most of my life, many of which I end up giving away as gifts to others. To me, these images are not "objects of worship" in themselves, but they serve as reminders of God's Kingdom, His Saints and Angels, and enhance the hope and joy I have in Christ.
So it's true that in my heart, I am a "catholic", despite my disagreements with the Vatican. But I also don't believe the Vatican is the exclusive "catholic" church, nor the only "Church of Jesus Christ". As I stated, I believe that is the Body of Christ, which includes the Catholic Church, but is certainly not limited to it.
The church I have been attending since 2009 is the one where I finally felt like I "fit in". It is the Episcopal Church, otherwise known as Anglican, which is the only church which is considered both "Protestant" and "catholic".
The way I see it (as do many others, mostly those who have come from a Catholic background), the Episcopal Church encompasses the best of both Catholic and Protestant. Priests are allowed to marry, and most of them do. Women may become priests, as well as members of clergy (a more recent reformation, during the 1970s). You don't have to be "confirmed" to take Communion. Everyone is welcome to receive Communion (Holy Eucharist) at Christ's table, and it is held at every service, rather than just once a month, like at some Protestant churches.
The Episcopal Church has retained many of the original liturgies, sacraments and beautiful traditions of the Catholic Church. Some will say, Oh, that is just window dressing. Not by my way of thinking, as I still find it inspirational and see no harm in it. We celebrate the holidays of the Saints and honor them, including the martyrs for Christ. In addition to the Bible, we use the Book of Common Prayer, both at services and for private study and prayer.
And although it is still a "religion", there is nothing I am asked to do that compromises my principles in any way. If I have a problem or disagreement with anything the Church is doing (and it's not often that I do), I simply do not participate, and my Brothers and Sisters in Christ respect my right to worship and serve as I will, as led by the Holy Spirit. There is never any pressure, nor judgment.
Actually, I have some history with the Episcopal Church. I had my son baptized in the Episcopal Church, many of my friends and some of my family have been Episcopalians, and the services I attended when I did go to church were most often there.
But I didn't so much choose this particular Episcopal Church, as it seemed to choose me.
I joined the Church in 2009. I later decided to be "confirmed in Christ" in the Episcopal Church ("one holy catholic and apostolic church".) My confirmation was on November 6, 2011. It was a special day for me, one that I will always remember. So, I found a way to really be a "catholic" after all. Without making a single compromise. Hallelujah!
I found my church when I wasn't looking for one, at least not on a conscious level. One day, as was my regular habit, I was walking on the path down by the beach, collecting seashells and driftwood. I was going through a terrible time in my life, with major upheavals and severe stress. My health was suffering and I couldn't afford medical care. I was so impoverished that I was actually going hungry at times. I had no one I could rely on for any sort of help.
On my walk that day, I met up with a neighbor who lived on the same street, just two houses down the block. I knew him only as a casual acquaintance, someone I would say hello to, when he was walking his dogs, or out for a jog. And although he and his wife had been my neighbors for the past six years, I didn't know he was a priest, not until that day, when I saw him wearing a clerical collar for the first time.
So I said to him, I didn't know you were a minister. He said, A priest, actually. I then asked him, What church? He told me it was the Episcopal Church, the name and the location. I told him that I am a Christian, and we had a brief discussion about that. I explained that a few years ago I had attended another Episcopal Church in a nearby town, but had not felt it was the right church for me.
At the end of the conversation, I told him that I might stop by his church some time. I went the very next week, not to a service, but to a church supper on Saturday night which was held in the Fellowship Hall. I was made to feel welcome by the Priest and everyone there. I liked everything I saw in the beautiful old church (it was founded in 1626, which I found amazing), and I felt a strong presence of the Holy Spirit, and so I decided I would go to the service the next day. And although I had no intention of "joining" a church, I have been attending on a regular basis ever since.
Joining this church has made all the difference in my life. The Priest and members of the congregation are not only my Brothers and Sisters in Christ, they have also become my friends. They have gone out of their way to help me and support me. They have driven me to the hospital or doctor's appointments when I couldn't get there on my own. They brought me groceries when the cupboard was bare. They have listened to my problems, even while struggling with their own. They don't care where I came from, what I was involved in, and --what a relief! -- they don't care what I wear to church. (I don't get "dressed up", for any reason.)
I have seen in my own life what their prayers have done for me. I don't think I have become a more devout Christian, but I do think I have become a better Christian, in many of the ways that count.
At my church there are a number of different ministries to choose from, and I can participate in the ones best suited to me. We collect and distribute food for the needy, we support the homeless shelters, we have community outreach programs, church fairs, Bible study and other classes, Evening Light services with gospel music, and regular church suppers, breakfasts, and other special events for Christian Fellowship.
But most important of all, we are called at the end of every service to be "Christ's heart and hands in the world", to "go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord."
And as far as I can see, that is what it truly means to be "Christ's Own".
Barbara Hartwell Percival
February 14, 2012
Barbara Hartwell Percival
Legal Defense & Research Trust
PO Box 22
Old Orchard Beach
Barbara Hartwell Vs. CIA
Legal Defense & Research Trust
PO Box 22
Old Orchard Beach
Barbara Hartwell Vs. CIA