Unloved by Christian Friends

My wife has an old friend (not the same friend talked about here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/how-we-lost-a-great-friend/). They lost touch many years ago but recently have re-established contact and both are looking forward to seeing each other again and catching up.

They have been friends for many years, long before my wife and I met. As these sorts of old friendships often go, they both got married, moved away, had a family, moved again and as life changes and evolves sometimes these old friendships suffer and fail to last. This is one such friendship.

Hidden in all those years, my wife’s friend has had to battle illness and depression. One of the casualties of that low period is that her marriage failed and she is now in a relationship with her counsellor. I don’t know all the details and its certainly not appropriate for me to speculate or even divulge more on the personal cost here.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, my wife and her old friend are back in touch and looking forward to spending a few hours with each other this week while the limey family are on holiday in the area.

Over the weekend, while discussing this week’s plans, my wife divulged that said friend and made a comment on Facebook about the support she had recently from friends over her very recent ill health and that it had revealed who her true friends were and how she’d been abandoned by her Christian ones.

My wife confessed to a tinge of guilt and wondered if she was one of the guilty Christians. So it was with great trepidation that she suggested a catch up this week and to much relief the response was warm.

The story of this friend goes beyond ill health and failed marriages. She and my wife were both committed Christians at the height of their friendship. Now her life has led her away from Christianity and her status as a Christian is in doubt.

Hearing about abandonment by Christians in this sort of scenario always makes me sad. This story especially struck a chord with me because I’ve read in the last month a couple of critical Atheist blog posts pointing fingers at Christians for using prayer as an excuse for doing nothing. The accusation being that Christians meet for prayer, feel good about it and then actually do nothing practical about the situation. While I am sure there are some who do this, I think it’s very unkind to tar all Christians with that brush, so reading those blog posts actually made me feel defensive about Christianity.

Then, off the back of those feelings my wife tells me about her old friend who feels abandoned by her Christian friends.

The story makes me feel sad and leaves me in a quandary. I know that there are many Christians who care greatly for those around them and go to great lengths to be supportive of those around me; often at personal cost. My wife is one of them. I won’t list all the stories of her saintliness; you’ll just have to believe me. I also know there are atheists who care so little for others they scoff at the idea of ‘holding them in their thoughts’; the non-believers equivalent of prayer.

So, is the recent comment by my wife’s old friend fair? What about the atheists pointing an accusing finger at those who pray but do nothing? I think they are both guilty of a bit of confirmation bias, that is, they have reached a conclusion and then highlighted the evidence that supports it.

That said, I can’t help but wonder if the proportion of Christians who do actually act to help others in practical ways is any different from the proportion of non-Christians. Is it unreasonable to expect there to be more Christians going out of their way to help those they know in need? If the effects of the Holy Spirit are real, would there be a greater number of Christians being supportive? I think these are reasonable questions and I think that it’s also reasonable to conclude that if Christian claims of God are true then an effect of that would be a measurable disparity between Christians and non-Christians who give practical help.

I wonder if such a study exists.

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Can a Christian Lose their Faith?

Well obviously yes, since I now call myself an atheist, having been a Christian for many years. Yet the answer is not at all that cut and dried.

I once had a discussion with a close friend of mine about this very question and we disagreed very strongly with no common ground at all.

I argued, that yes, one could lose their faith. One could come to the conclusion, for various reasons that they didn’t want to be a Christian any more and actively reject their old Christian life. Or one could ‘backslide’ as we called it in those days, and eventually fall away from faith.

My friend argued the opposite; that a Christian could not lose their faith. His argument was that the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian would be an active block against desertion of faith.

His point rang bells with me, because I had once held that view too.

As a young child at boarding school inZambia, I distinctly remember having discussions with school friends along the lines of ‘Once you are a Christian and God has you in the care of His hands, then He will never let go and you will always be a child of His’. I’m paraphrasing there, but the basic synopsis is that once you are a Christian, then its just not possible for you to unconvert. It’s a once only irreversible decision. I’m not sure where the original idea came from, but it was reinforced by the conversations that children have between each other on the playground.

Years later, here I am having this discussion again, but from a very different perspective. I wonder what had changed.

At the time we were both very definitely Christians. He is now a vicar and I am now this anonymous internet blogger spouting my stuff as if its important. He probably reaches more people weekly than I do.

What if I do it?

Anyway, during the conversation I posed the hypothetical suggestion that at some point in the future I would abandon my faith. Of course I knew it would never happen, but lets ignore that and just pretend it does, oh the irony!

My friend’s retort was that if that were to happen he’d question if I was a proper Christian to start with. Ouch!

But of course that would never happen because he knew I was a proper Christian.

I wonder how the conversation will go when (if?) he finds out about my change of heart. I guess for the moment I’ll just have to ponder, but eventually he’ll find out and I am a little bit curious as to how the conversation will go.

Its the End of the World as We Know It

Given the publicity and internet talk of the last week, this seems as good a time as any to make a post about what in Christian circles is generally referred to as End Times.

Like the vast majority of people, the rapture prediction of Harold Camping did not have me fooled at all. Even as a rapture believing, literal thinking, fundamentalist; I would not have accepted that any person could know in advance the date of Jesus coming again, or any rapture event. After all, the Bible does say that no man can know the date. Plus the clues that Mr Camping followed to get that date, apparently exactly 7000 years after Noah’s Flood, are dubious to say the least.

Thinking back to my childhood and the literal indoctrination I received at mission school inZambia, I remember a surprising amount of End Time teaching. We were taught to live as though Christ would come again tomorrow and to live in expectation that we would live to see that day. The rapture scenario was assumed to be true, though biblical doctrine of it is a tad dubious.

On more than one occasion the assertion that we were ‘living in End Times’ was made. Despite my young age, this wasn’t so much scary, as exciting; imagine the privilege of being of one the glorious few who would actually get to witness the second coming with their own eyes rather than the more common, being raised from the dead!

Why the fear?

I read with great interest this post and the associated links; http://secularwings.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/what-happens-may-22/. Zoe touched on a subject that had not previously occurred to me. That Christians would fear judgement day. For me, confident from a young age in my assured salvation, judgement day was something to anticipate not fear. It was the day of reckoning for those who denied Christ, but for those to accept him, there was certain salvation and everlasting joy. Our sins would not be a barrier to salvation, so long as we still have the Holy Spirit in our lives, which I did from the day that I knelt down and prayed the prayer of conversion.

I certainly don’t want to mock or belittle anyone who had a fear of the day of Christ’s coming again. I guess our reaction depends on how we were taught. I was taught that being perfect and sinless was not a criteria, being saved was. The concept of having to account for our actions to a Holy King was taught but not swelled on, the emphasis was that those who denied Jesus would be the ones who had much to fear. Hence my confusion that Christians would be concerned about that day; yet it appears that many are, or have been.

Personally I put this down to confused teaching rather than Christians of uncertain foundation. If the preaching and teaching on the subject is such that it leaves Christians in fear of their eternal soul, then something is very wrong.

But what of the dubious theology behind the rapture?

I am not aware that any church I have regularly attended as an adult has had a minister or pastor who accepted the rapture as a viable biblical prophesies. Internet searches on the subject seem to indicate that our Christian cousins in theUSare far more pro the rapture than mainstream Christianity is in theUK. In fact I remember one very well liked pastor going out of his way to condemn the theology behind the Left Behind series of books.

Now I have to make it clear that I am by no means an expert on the book of Revelations and I certainly have no credentials that entitle me to talk with authority on the subject.

When one considers the End Times prophecies that are taken from the Bible, especially the last book; the reality of a rapture and prolonged period of judgement before Christ’s eventual return on bodily form, seems highly suspect. Its not at all like the first chapter of Genesis, where a literal reading leaves one in little doubt over what supposedly happened.

End Time theology and prophesy requires much interpretation and reading what different people say reveals a vast array of differences. About the only certainty is that no one can no for sure; which leave the previously mentioned Harold Camping in the unenviable position of being mocked and ridiculed by Atheists and Christians alike.

Personally, I was taught that the second coming and the rising up of all Christians into heaven was a single event, yet many seem to interpret them as two distinct events, the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing, each separated by varying amounts of time, depending on who you read.

Leave the End Times alone

If there is anything to learn from the sordid mess; its that prophesy and teaching on End Times should be left well alone.

Yet, that seems to be impossible; like a cloud of insects around a porch light on a dark night, Christians and crackpots seem incapable of avoiding the subject and each time the result is the same.

The Dramatic Deliverance

Okay, big post coming up…

It’s a bit of a tangent to my creationism story but since the details I am about to recount are part of that story I feel its important to tell it, even if I am a tad hesitant. I am still not absolutely certain how much detail to give, I’ll make that up as I go along, I am very happy to answer any questions that come up in the comments.

It all came about as a result of counselling. My relationship with my father was at an all time low and it was having a big effect on me. I carried a huge amount of baggage due to the divorce of my parents and I found it extremely difficult to make friends and maintain good relationships.

So, with some pestering, I went to a Christian counselling service. I can’t remember much of the detail of want went on in the sessions, but it was a very important outlet for me. I was able to talk about issues that affected me in an honest and frank way; which I have never done before.

The end of the counselling sessions happened to coincide with a special healing service at the church I attended. This was going to be a service which focused on the need for healing, in all the Christian senses, and would major on individuals receiving specific prayer. For practical purposes, this service would be held in the Church Hall and not in the much larger sanctuary, which was filled with rows of pews.

I remember little of the service itself, when the time came for the prayer ministry I went forward. I explained to the gentleman that would be praying with me that I had just been going through counselling for personal issues and that now it was over I wanted to dedicate it all to God, especially my relationship with my father.

If I had even had the remotest hint about what was going to happen that evening, I’d have probably stayed in my flat. What happened next would be a major event in my life and define my way of thinking for a long time to come.

The gentleman prayed for me in response to what I had just discussed with him and as he finished I toppled back and hit the floor; ‘Slain in the Spirit’ is a common phrased used to describe it when someone falls over after receiving prayer in those circumstances. Usually said person enters a relaxed state and is left on their own in peace, only being interrupted if they take too long to get up again and return to their seat.

For me it would be utterly different.

Instead of relaxing I started hyperventilating, this I didn’t expect. The hyperventilating gave way to unpleasant noises and an uncomfortable tingling sensation. Instead of peace fear started to build because now I had an idea of what was coming next and I really wasn’t ready for it at all.

Recognising what was happening; a couple of nearby prayers immediately crouched down next to me and started commanding demons to leave me. Some minutes later (I have no idea how long exactly), the woman who was one of the prayers light heartedly commented “well that’s got rid of half a dozen”. Immediately my throat contracted and I had to fight hard to control the urge to rebuke her directly with words along the lines of “Do not joke about such things”. I have no idea where that urge came from, because it was never in my nature to be confrontational like that.

Very soon after the wife of the husband-wife team running the healing ministry service came over and instructed that I was removed from the meeting. I can’t remember what was said specifically, but it was clear I was being disruptive and that it wasn’t going to end soon. I remember being disappointed by her tone and it came across unsympathetic and unloving. She would later apologise to me for what was said and explain why I needed to be removed. Sadly the respect she had previously lost would never be regained from me.

So, there I was, being half carried half frog marched from the hall into the back of the church sanctuary by people I didn’t know feeling very dazed and extremely emotional.

Thankfully it was the church that I regularly attended and so being placed in a chair at the back of a church I knew, which was only half lit, was both comforting and relaxing. The resident minister of the church was also a man I knew well and respected immensely so it was a great comfort to see him come join my group of attendees.

I don’t recall if the original prayers remained in the hall or came with me, but the focus of what happened next changed. I had about 5 or 6 people standing around me now, one of whom was the church minister already mentioned. Another of note is an older lady, not the same one who made the of hand comment earlier. This lady had a man in constant attendance, he would whisper things to her (which I could hear) and she would repeat them to the group. Yet I do not recall anyone acknowledging him at all. Although I would see the lady again in future services, I would never see the man again. I came to the conclusion that he was an angel guiding the process of my deliverance.

I don’t remember who any of the other people with me were.

I have no idea how long the rest of my deliverance experience lasted, it involved praying to God for guidance, naming of emotions, instructing demons to leave and the invocation of the name of Jesus and the power of his blood.

At one point the minister picked up my right wrist and examined a bracelet I had on. It was a twisted copper and silver bracelet from Zambia, which was made to look like a snake was circling my wrist. He eyed it thoughtfully for a moment and then placed my hand back on the arm of the chair. Later, back at my flat, with my right arm twitching uncontrollably I removed the bracelet and dropped it in the bin, the twitching stopped instantly. On being told this later, the minister responded with a smile “well that’ll teach me not to listen to God”.

When it was decided enough was enough and my ordeal was over, at least for that night, I was escorted back into the church hall. The service was long over and most people had left, it was just a few stragglers and tidy uppers left. Those I knew were keen to see how I was. I just wanted to hug my girlfriend and tell her how much I loved her, which I did. Understandably, the whole process had been very upsetting for her and she had sought solace with the minister’s wife, a most wonderful lady with a fabulously welcoming smile and the gentlest demeanour you could ever wish to experience.

That’s pretty much it for the deliverance part. There is a follow up which will have to have a post of its own.

First experience of Gifts of the Holy Spirit

It was during the years between leaving school and living permanently back in England that I first encountered Gifts of the Holy Spirit. As previously mentioned my parents were going to two very different churches. Mum a Pentecostal and dad a Presbyterian.

It was during a family meal when dad asked about the church mum went to and said something about them speaking in tongues there. I replied that I had not witnessed it happen, which was true at the time, I hadn’t witnessed any speaking in tongues, or any other gifts of the Holy Spirit at the church, yet. Dad, relaxed visibly and said, more to the step mother than to me, that maybe they’d stopped doing it.

I never knew the reason for dad’s concern about speaking in tongues and I never pushed it. I had learnt by now never to challenge or ask questions in dad’s house. Survival meant going with the flow and being as compliant as was possible, or at least giving that impression.

It wasn’t long before I did witness speaking in tongues in a service. I can’t remember at all what my reaction was at the time, or much of the detail of the event. It was to be repeated again not many weeks later and I would witness it quite a few more times before my final service at the church. Life at this vibrant and active church was so much more fun that the staid and boring church dad went to. The songs were sung with much gusto and there was genuine praise and worship going on. Such a different experience to the drudgery and hymns sung without enthusiasm.

I loved the clapping along to joyful and exuberant songs, the swaying and dancing in the isles and those wonderful Zambian voices. Oh those voices, they sing with such beauty and harmony, the sound of which beats pretty much any UK choir you could mention. A spine tingling joy radiates from a host of Zambian voices singing in enthusiastic unison that is almost impossible to adequately describe. Even though my British genes barred me from the honey voiced throng, I was in awe of the wonderful experience of being among that congregation.

Even though I now reject the concept of a God, the memories of being surrounded by a joyful throng of black voices, all singing wonderful harmonies is something I treasure. The men with such deep bass that I could feel it vibrate in my chest, I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

I don’t remember any specific teaching on spiritual gifts at the church, or what other gifts may have been used besides tongues. I only remember that tongues were occasionally used during a service.