Guy Malone's UPC Experience
Great site, and ministry. I must be brief, for the sake of time right now, but may be able to flesh out more of this later.
While not UPCI, I was saved about eight years ago, and began attending an Apostolic Church (Jesus only, and UPC affiliated). As your site says, very quickly the joy that came from my salvation was replaced with a preoccupation of keeping the rules! I loved the Lord right off, and read and studied the Bible, and "grew" at a quick rate, and began witnessing and "debating" with others pretty quickly. Knowing nothing else, I was quick to argue the "doctrinal distinctives" of my church, and why one must be baptized in Jesus' name, live holy, etc, etc...
While I was a member there for two years, it only took about six months for me to begin noticing that certain doctrines and attitudes just did not seem right, or keep with the spirit of much of the Bible. However, I did, and still do, take seriously God's command to be under submission to leadership, and trusted God to direct my life and steps. Even as I write this, I must stress that rebellion or bad-mouthing those in leadership was/is never the answer, but seeking God and hearing from Him for every step is.
As you point out, we were not encouraged and actually quite discouraged from visiting other churches, and the schedule of events actually prohibited it. A small church, any absence or even missing a Tuesday night prayer meeting was addressed personally in the pastor's office. The clothing requirements were "to the nines" which never made sense to me, is not in the Bible, and all the arguments people use to "look my best for God's house" are really just man's rules and wisdom, and serve to distance visitors from coming. What's funny is when I first came, I was not a good dresser, and did not feel judged, but after being saved and attending for awhile, it was plain (subtly) that I had to dress nicely.
Probably all of the points that your site mention apply in one way or another, so I'll skip many details. One thing that began to help set me free from the "cult mentality" was that someone I witnessed to received Christ, was baptized (in Jesus' name) but never received the (outward, to man) evidence of the Holy Spirit (tongues). According to our church, she was not saved, but she was desperate to know and serve God also, and continued attending at a larger Apostolic church in town.
Over months, from working with her, I could testify to the change in her life, and that she was a born-again person, no matter what evidence others did not perceive. (After being set free from the mentality that her salvation depended upon it, she did receive her prayer language around a year later though, attending a different church, and while she was alone at home!). This was a case where my own witness and careful study of the Bible had led me to believe that what my church taught was not entirely correct, but whether I was called to leave or not was another issue.
The main thing that I "got" in seeking the Lord over long months had to do with Saul and David. While Saul was essentially crazy, David would not talk bad about him or move to hurt him, and in fact, remained there to serve him, almost at the cost of his own life! In time, God solved the problem by removing Saul and exalting David, but this was not a work of the flesh, or something that happened just because David decided he did not want to be a part of this insanity anymore! Even though more and more I saw how off-base my church was becoming, I could not get a "release" from the Holy Spirit to leave then. I continued to serve, even though it became a burden, and I reached a point where I realized that I would not even invite friends to come.
Perhaps I stayed too long, but I was actually led to find a wonderful Saturday night service that I began attending (led by the pastor I am now still under). I met someone at a Kinko's late one night who went there, and I had heard of it many times, and went with her one time. There I was able to worship in freedom, and hear from the Lord and his people outside of my current frame of reference, among those who did not know my situation and would not speak from natural knowledge.
Over time, I began to receive the inner confirmations to move on, but what actually happened is that the pastor where I went fell ill, had to move home to undergo extensive care, and our small church closed. While I was sad for all of that, the point is that I remained faithful to what the Lord had led me in all the time, to serve and not to criticize, while God took care of all the other details of moving me to a more biblical church structure.
This may not be the process by which all will move on, and I really would encourage those who are in a "cultic" or abusive church to seek God extensively about leaving - when to leave, where to go, and how to go about leaving. Ultimately, I would have to say that one should leave a church where the truth is grossly misrepresented, or it is taught that one's salvation depends upon anything but God's grace and mercy and Christ Jesus; however, there is a right way and wrong way to go about almost anything - mature transition should be the goal, because if you don't seek God about where to go if you leave a cultic church, you might wind up never going anywhere, as it's so easy to sleep late on Sundays!
Addendum: I agree with your point about not following doctrine that is in error, but to a new Christian, they often have not sorted out what is error and what is not yet, as "one says this and another says this..." My main point is that regardless of the circumstances, that a relationship with the Lord is what the gospel is all about, and that knowing Him and seeking his will in all things is what takes precedence over all else.
It was specifically knowing that above all else, I WAS SAVED by faith in Christ, period, no matter what some cult tried to tell me (I worked with someone in the Boston COC movement, and went to a few classes with him during my transition period), is what gave me the strength and determination to keep going forward. I had a period of sorting out my freedoms and liberties from my responsibilities and calling, etc., but it has been pretty healthy overall.
Posted December 3, 1999
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