So a friend of mine recently asked me to write a personal testimony. That’s a Christian term where one gives account of their spiritual journey. It’s interesting that he asked me to do so, as I write about about myself to convince anyone that I am a completely self-absorbed egomaniac. Now I have written or given orally many such “testimonies” in my day. I couldn’t dig up anything that quite fit what he was looking for, however, as he was asking about things that pertain to the total of my life history, but that are reflected through the lens of my current situation.
Normally these Christian testimonies have a theme of, “look how bad I was before, and look how good I am now,” or, “look how wrong i was before, look how right I am now.” This testimony won’t have any elements of that. See, I have been writing lately about how I am done with Christianity and the Christian churches. But this friend of mine is a Christian. So obviously I am not done with Christianity in every conceivable way. I can still maintain Christian friends and relate with them a lot. Further, this Christian friend of mine really centers his Christian experience on his his Christian church. His spirituality exists completely within the context of it. Yet I have a rich but nebulous spirituality that is harder to define, that intersects with his mightily, but is quite different. And he is curious about that. So I am writing this testimony simply to satisfy his curiosity of wanting to know about my history in Christian churches and maybe give an idea of why I am done with them.
So I will begin. I have said elsewhere that I was raised in an extended family of Protestantism, but that my mother was agnostic and progressive and secular in her values, my father was new age in his, and my step-father was technically agnostic, but pronouncedly secular and unfriendly to religion. In the event that my parents read this and are offended at these characterizations, i will tell you that these depictions in no way reflect their spirituality at this time. I am just telling you how I was raised.
I’ve also said elsewhere that I was a spiritual seeker in my teens, but became a Christian in my early 20s around a “come-to-Jesus” moment at a New Years Eve party where I thought I was going to die. Following that experience I had one of the wildest years in my life as an infantryman in Germany. Girls, parties, travel. A year of that convinced me of the vanity of it in the end, and it was in such a state that I found myself guarding a mountain of ammunition for a gunnery exercise for Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles in the foggy hills of Bavaria. I was out there with my Sergeant of the Guard for days at a time, only occasionally receiving a packet of food and supplies from a logistics delivery. My Sergeant, Dave, was a Christian. It was just the two of us talking.
So I had always had a mistrust of organized religion from my youth. My mother was progressive and open-minded, and her extended family were a group of upstanding rural Oklahoma farmers who always behaved nicely never did anything wrong, and really didn’t know much about anything. Or so I thought as a child. My concept of religion was that of priests demanding time in the confessional and threatening hell.
Interestingly, Dave hated that idea too. Dave was what we call an Independent Fundamental Baptist of the King James Onlyist variety. Those guys are fundamentalists. They are so fundamentalist that they don’t see too much difference between Southern Baptist Evangelicals and the pope. They absolutely refuse to acknowledge any religious hierarchy except that of their local church pastor. Further, the guy told me he didn’t even trust his pastor further than he could throw him. His pastor was just a guy like him. No sacramental superpowers or anything. The only true and ultimate authority was his King James Bible. So much so, in fact, that when he could not reconcile his KJV with the Hebrew Old Testament or the Greek New Testament, those texts were wrong. God inspired the King James Version as the absolute authority, and all these German speakers around us had better get familiar with Elizabethan English. Nevertheless, I was impressed by his bravado that he could figure out the Bible as well as any pastor, and that nobody had any ultimate authority above him, the spirit that inspired him, and his Bible.
Ironically, it was his message of not giving any authority to any church that enabled me to be convinced to go to church with him. And at this point I want to make an aside. Shortly after starting to go to church with him, I had been pondering issues that they were talking about there concerning the need to really follow through, to “repent” as the Christians say. And it was while pondering these things while driving between Vilseck, Germany and the nearby town of Grafenwöhr, that I had what can only be described as a vision of sorts. It didn’t involve me seeing anything. It was more about my mind being flooded by thoughts that were not my own, that made sense in a way that never would have or should have occurred to me. I won’t talk about those thoughts here, as they are not within the scope of this testimony. I will only say that I had this experience while listening to the song “Don’t Cry Tonight” by Seal. And that it was powerful, to the extent that I had to pull of the side of the road to avoid an accident. I couldn’t drive. And there I sat on the side of the road and cried. With joy.
But alright, back to the churches. It wasn’t long before I found out this church was consumed by a Christian dogma called dispensationalism. It was their answer to everything. Despite Dave’s insistence that nobody had any authority but the Bible, this church was in love with a mega pastor in Florida who was one of the louder advocates of this particular dogma. And I could easily shoot holes in the dogma. Also, they would sing old-times rural Christian hymns and look at me confused as to why I didn’t know these songs or really care too much about knowing these songs. There was definitely an issue of Christian culture here, even though it wasn’t supposed to be about culture or community, but biblical truth. Finally, the pastor had an ego problem and a spending problem. This was a small, quasi-cultic church with fewer than a dozen members. But the pastor wanted to have a print ministry for distributing tracts and religious literature (in Ukrainian, for missionaries in the Ukraine), and he preached constantly about giving money tho the church, and the church bought huge amounts of printing equipment, and he preached about duty to the church, and had his entire congregation working long hours after their ordinary jobs in his print shop making his Ukrainian bible tracts. Finally, he was taking pilot lessons and saving to buy an airplane, and he would regularly preach about timing by telling the congregation, “don’t make me have to use money from my airplane fund…” I’m not lying. He said this. And then there was the whole issue of the Hebrew and the Greek being wrong if they couldn’t make it make sense with the King James. That was pretty ubiquitous fare.
I left those guys, of course. I moved across the way to another church of the same type, but the pastor, John Beach, was great. That’s actually where I got baptized. I ended up not staying there too long, though, as it was time for my military service to end, and I wanted to go to the Universität Heidelberg. Now I couldn’t qualify to get into a public German University, but I found a private Jewish university, the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien, which was funded by private donations and was also free of charge. So I went there. That started an interesting leg of my spirituality that continues to this day. But this testimony isn’t about that. It’s about churches.
So I will say one thing in retrospect about John Beach. he was a good guy. Balanced. But no genius. And if I stayed with him, I might have come under him enough to be limited to his view on things. Traveling around from church to church has done me good, I think. But it hasn’t been without pain. So I will tell you about Pastor Gary French.
Moving to Mannheim, near Heidelberg, I found a European Baptist Church. Those guys are the Southern Baptists in Europe. Basically standard evangelical Baptists. They didn’t care much about Dispensationalism. They didn’t know much about Dispensationalism. Or really much of any doctrines. Gary preached out of the New International Version. That’s a horrible, wretched translation that says the Torah commands a rapist to buy his rape victim from her father for fifty shekels of silver. But it’s easy to read. Gary was all preoccupied with doing whatever he could to grow the number of his congregants. He wanted a parking lot so there would be enough parking. He would tear up in a sort of crying at the end of almost every sermon. For about thirty seconds. It didn’t seem genuine. He often fought with his church council about getting paid more and complained about his credit card bill that he racked up coming to Germany to be a missionary. They hardly spoke German, just like John Beach and my first pastor didn’t. There are a lot of guys who like to be missionaries to really cool places to go live and don’t want to do the work to really be able to be a missionary there, so they become missionaries to expatriates or American soldiers abroad. I’ve written elsewhere about people with divine callings to basically do what they want to do. At any rate, there was a point where the church, in lieu of giving him the salary he wanted, paid his entire credit card bill. It was a huge chunk of the church coffer. A year later he would be complaining about his credit card bill again. Spending problems, maybe? Of course at least he didn’t have an airplane.
I stayed with that guy until I got married. Couldn’t get a visa to Germany for my wife, so I had to relocate to the USA. In retrospect, this was because I was under the control of my wife’s anxieties, and she was not willing to do the things necessary to get that visa, so I just ended everything and went to the USA. Wanting to keep my Judaism studies going, I next explored Messianic Judaism.
That’s where I ran into Dave Schiller and the crowd. Dave didn’t call himself a rabbi at that time because he had not gone though a proper rabbinic education path. Messianic Jews had problems with those guys in those days. He called himself a Zaken, or an elder in English. He was a born Jew, both mother and father, and had a passion to show the Jews the Messiah. He wasn’t going to let anyone tell him he wasn’t a Jew because of his faith. He followed all the commandments from the Torah and the Talmud. The Netilat Yedayim and everything. Hardcore. Now as for his preaching, this guy WAS a genius. I am not kidding. He found things not only in the Torah and the Bible but in Ruth Rabbah and all the old aggadot, the Talmud, everywhere, that blew my mind. And a lot of it used the same kind of thinking related to that vision that I mentioned above. It dealt with metaphor and allegory, drash and remes analysis, all of it. He was a good preacher, but it wasn’t that his preaching style was so good and powerful, but the stuff he was saying, you just never heard it anywhere, and it was DEEP. In this I do not lie. And yeah, David Schiller would cry a bit at the end about half the time. But it was real.
Now Dave did have one problem. I ranted about it a bit in a recent essay condemning messianic Judaism, actually. It was the idea that all Jews and all Gentiles woh believe in Jesus as the Messiah should follow the Torah commandments and live like Jews. But gentiles were not allowed to convert in Messianic Judaism So he wanted his congregants to run around with kippahs and tzitzit and tell people they weren’t Jews, which would force them to offer explanations of what it was they were on about. I didn’t read the underlying scripture the same way I did on that issue.
I did stay with those guys until it was time for me to leave, though. I had been working in a clean room electronics factory and as TSA a priory security trying to make ends meet, and it was exhausting. I had joined the Army Reserve as a Hebrew and German linguist to get dental insurance for my family, and my wife got pregnant, and I needed to have a baby on Uncle Sam’s dime, so I got activated to go learn Arabic, and this introduced me to the Army Intelligence community. I had been trying to use that to better my career prospects. Did I mention that my wife was Russian? Trying to get a job at the DIA with a Russian wife is no easy matter, even if one is an Army Intel reservist, so I ended up going back into the Army as an officer. I had to part ways with David and the gang.
Concerning churches, I didn’t want to continue with Messianic Judaism because I wasn’t a Jew, and nobody understood Jesus people in Kippahs who weren’t Jews, and I didn’t think people who weren’t Jews needed to follow those commandments anyway. I still don’t, as I have written. So I went through the Army life of moving every year or two and deploying. I went to whatever churches I could find close to any given base. Usually run of the mill Baptist or Calvary Chapel or some such Evangelical strain. Here I found a variety of groups, some of them impressive, but I always found that in order to do anything with that group, I would have to spend years of cleaning toilets before anyone bothered to recognize my spiritual gifts. So in this sense my experience with churches was just being the stranger or the new guy. You have to stoke the right egos to get anywhere. In most cases I felt I knew more than the pastors and had more to say, but that wasn’t going to trump bureaucracy and culture. It was my introduction to life as the unknown stranger.
Later on, though, I my experiences in Judaism and Messianic Judaism lead me to find a kind of analog in Charismatic Episcopalians. So the Messianic Jews are often a rather charismatic bunch with festive worship services that came out of their connection to Christian hippies in the sixties. The Charismatic Episcopals were much the same, but they had had a Catholic twist So they would read liturgy and wore all the pretty robes of the Catholic priests, but they had Protestant doctrine that I could tolerate, and they jammed with electric guitars. It was hard to find one of their churches nearby, though. But I followed along with them as best I could. However, they had a scandal that involved their “Patriarch” screwing a secretary or something. Then and now, I don’t worry about that sort of thing like a lot of moralist types do. More worrisome to me was the “Patriarch” showing up in his leather jacket and Harley-Davidson, seemingly more interested in being a cool guy patriarch than anything else. All this didn’t force me to run away from those guys, though. It just told me they were another group of yahoos.
Another move, and the PTSD story that I write about elsewhere, with all of its facets of my destruction as a human male, lead me to a group of gay Independent Catholics. These guys knew no theology. They also had more bishops than congregants. They invented organizations that were nothing but websites. There was even a story about one group of them accidentally ordaining a dog over the internet. Easily the nuttiest group I have ever been a part of. Now the Messianic Gentiles who think all British people are the true tribe of Dan competes for the honor of nuttiest religious folks in the world, but I wasn’t a part of them. The one thing I got out of these Independent Catholics was that they turned me on to monasticism, and I became a Dominican Friar with them, and I would later become a hermit with the Anglicans.
Yes, after getting drummed out of Army for being a male, and acquiring PTSD in the process, I decided not to continue with the Independent Catholics, opting for a more established religion. Standard old Episcopalianism. That’s where I learned about the centrality of the lesbian priest agenda and congregants and priest and bishops who knew nothing about God whatsoever, with many not even believing in God.
I had been living in my mother’s spare bedroom in Oklahoma after the Army, but I was fighting to get my Army retirement straightened out with the VA, and once that started happening, I moved to Arizona to be closer to where my ex-wife had taken my daughter. I opted for a different strand of Episcopalianism, the Anglican Church of North America. There had been a split with the Episcopals over the issue of gay bishops. And they made a show of being Protestant, and showing allegiance to “historic Christianity”. I ultimately ended up with a reformed branch of those guys. Episcopalianism, or Anglicanism, is split between the high church “Anglo-Catholic” types and the low church “Reformed” types.
Of course the Reformed types said they were “sola scriptura,” that they only believed the Bible, like from my Independent Fundamental Baptist days. And their doctrines were very deep and thought provoking. But I could still poke holes in them. And they positively IN LOVE with their creeds and their theologians. If you disagreed with one of them, you couldn’t be saying anything worth hearing. Kinda like you would expect the pope to be. But that wasn’t all with those guys.
So Reformers are also called Calvinists. People complain about Calvinists. They tend to be too doctrinarian in general. But also, a big complaint against them is that they are fatalists. They concentrate on divine sovereignty, that everything is predestined. A critique of that attitude is that a person won’t do anything because it’s all predestined. People don’t think they can decide. Well, at one point I was doing individual prayer with my pastor, and at the end of one of those prayer sessions I mentioned that we had forgotten to pray about something, and he said, “no big deal. He already knows.” Classic Calvinist fatalism that any baby Reformer should know to avoid.
This guy also had a microscopic congregation of attendants who didn’t know anything about anything. And I was relegated to replacing the toilet paper in the bathrooms trying to earn station in order to serve in accordance with my gifts. This guy should have been coming to me. I should have been preaching him sermons.
At the same time, he would go in his collar to bars to look the part of a Reformed Anglican pastor. I tell you, religious leaders with all kinds of wild clothes should always be a red flag. Further, this guy was a dean. That is, he was in charge of other congregations, a priest of priests, so to speak, a position that developed because Bishops in this denomination were usually in charge of huge swaths of the United States and spend all their time flying around doing confirmation ceremonies. The denomination looked to him to define their qualifications for ordinations. Also, they didn’t know what monks were because King Henry VIII abolished monasteries in the sixteenth century. And as an Anglican hermit, I was a monk.
I’d really had enough of those guys. And this occurred when my daughter wanted to go to Russia, and I wanted to follow her to the other side of the world , so I went to Israel to be close to her, to explore opportunities for the both of us, and to make something out of my connection with the Jews.
That’s where I ran into Messianic Jews again and the insane aftermath that I have written a novel about that ultimately defined a a sense of destiny to connect with Israel and become a Jew. I recently wrote an essay condemning messianic Judaism primarily on the basis of those experiences.
When leaving Israel in a very charged emotional state in 2019, I did call up my Anglican Church of North America bishop and told him that I had a fat retirement and could go anywhere in the world for him for and do anything at all for him without pay in service to his diocese. He took a long time to get back with me, and he ultimately told me that he didn’t have anything for me to do. I imagine it had something to do with my decision to separate myself from his illustrious dean.
That was really when I was done with the Christian churches. Jews operate in a different spectrum. They’re actually a people. A race. For some of them matters of personal religious belief are indeed of paramount importance. For others, it’s all about obeying commandments of Torah regardless of belief. For others it’s about Israel and Hebrew and nationalism. For others it is about common history, the holocaust, etc. Many have various shades of these identities and impulses. I had been studying and still do study Kabbalah. I had bizarre experiences where ideations about a chick I never met corresponded to a sense of destiny to Israel and Jews and Judaism. I am sure that last sentence makes no sense to someone who doesn’t know me. Anyone who wants to quit their job and devote their lives to reading my blog will probably be able to figure it out. Maybe. But I had a unique sense of a life path, at any rate. I had spent years knocking on doors begging people to say Jesus was their savior to no effect. And finally, I had a sign from God that depended on some Christians actually acting like Christians with regard to me, and the sign was answered with their silence. Again, that last sentence is something that a real fan would have to read a lot to get his mind around. Just know that I had a sign from God that said it was time to be done with Christianity, even Messianic Judaism, and really religious dogmatism and dogmatism of religious culture as a whole.
So I hope this answers my friend’s question about why I am so against Christian churches. Against Christianity itself, but only in some ways. I maintain an eclectic set of personal beliefs. I still know the New Testament like the back of my hand, and still quote it here and there. Of course I will still befriend Christians and find common ground with them. But something more essential and personal is on my mind these days, and it relates to Jews and Torah. However, that would be another essay. Here, you have my “testimony” about the churches.