Why I Left the Church
When I was about 10 years old, my Mom and I occasionally attended the Seventh-day Adventist church in a nearby town. The Adventist Church was very legalistic back then, though I did not understand what that meant and so had no concept of that at the time.
I thought of myself as a Christian though I had never had a conversion experience or asked Jesus into my heart. I'm not even sure I ever heard the Gospel clearly explained to me. I gave intellectual assent to the truth, that Jesus was the Son of God who came to die for my sins, but I didn't have a personal relationship with Him. This was not a saving faith, for the Bible says that "even the demons believe--and tremble" (James 2:19).
The turning point toward disaster came when I borrowed a sermon tape from the church library. The tape basically said that Christians never sin. They probably used Scripture references such as I John 5:18 -- "We know that no one born of God sins." But this is a poor translation. What it actually means in the Greek is that no one born of God continues in sin, that is, a truly saved person will not be able to live in continuing sin. It does not means that a saved person never sins, for I John 1:8 says "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. First John 1:9 starts off "If we confess our sins..." This presupposes that Christians do sin. Moreover, verse 10 continues the thought. "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a lair, and His word is not in us."
Another verse the tape may have used is Numbers 15:30. This verse says that anyone committing a willful sin shall be put to death and that no animal sacrifice is sufficient, but that "that person shall be cut off from among his people." This verse does not take into account the myriad number of verses in the New Testament, such as I John 1:9, that our sins are forgiven in Christ. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." People also fail to realize Old Testament stories such as that of King David's adultery with Bathsheba. This was a willful sin, yet he was forgiven.
What I took away from the tape, whether or not it was explicitly stated, was that if I sinned even one more time in my entire life, that I would be unredeemable. In short--it would be the unforgivable sin. When I sinned in some minor way shortly after this, I fell into depression. I felt as if, in the words of a well-known evangelist, I had "outsinned the grace of God." I thought I had nothing but hell to look forward to when I died, and life felt so short. What was even 60 more years in comparison to eternity?
I didn't dare tell anyone and the haphazard church attendance of my Mom and I must have ended shortly thereafter. I had no pastor, no mention of God in my home. Additionally, I had lost the only thing that makes life worth living--hope.
My weight dropped, not precariously, but a bit. I contemplated suicide, but what good is ending it all if I only had eternal torment to look forward to? And so I stayed alive, living in total fear. Feeling that God had forsaken me, I forsook Him. He wasn't very likable anyway. I hated Him.
Grace was missing from this picture. Also missing was the work the Holy Spirit does to help us follow the will of God.
It was about a year and a half later that I opened the phone book and randomly called a pastor, telling him my problem. He reassured me that I had not committed the unforgivable sin and that God would take me back. This could have been a turning point in my life, a turning back to God, but it wasn't. Perhaps it was because spirituality was not encouraged in my home, that we never attended church, that my Dad looked down on Christians. Perhaps I was still angry at God and saw Him as not very likeable, much less loveable. Perhaps all of the above. But for whatever reason, whether I decided for myself or it was decided for me, I didn't go back.
If I had not lived it, I would find it hard to believe that a sermon tape could derail a person's walk with God for 15 years, yet that is what happened to me. Even though I knew the way back was open, I did not go back.
But I still had and needed to fill the "God-shaped hole" that we all have within ourselves. I hated the Christian God, so I eventually went looking for acceptance in the arms of other gods. In my late teens I became interested in the New Age, then later in Wicca. I can see now that I was still searching for truth, and for love and acceptance from God, but I was searching in all the wrong places.
How I wish I could go back in time! I would sit down with my 10-year-old self and warn her away from that sermon tape. If she heard it anyway, I would explain the true Gospel message--grace, and forgiveness of all sin. I would show her the truth of forgiveness from the Bible.
I remember a picture of me when I was about 10. I am filled with sadness as I look at that little girl and think back on what was yet future for her. How I want to fix it! How I want to stop the pain!
We live in a fallen world and the god of this world is Satan. He saw a vulnerable little girl interested in the true God and used the legalistic church she attended to draw her away. If it were not for God's direct intervention when I was 25, I never would have found my way back.
Mad at God!
I used to be really angry at Christians. And is it any wonder? They followed a God who was mean, vindictive and would smite you for any little thing you did. He demanded more obedience than I could give. I felt that God was disgusted with humanity. When I lived in Berkeley, California (1990-1992) I used to go over to the university and listen to people taunt the Christian speakers on the plaza. I would involve myself in this as much as I could. One reason I wanted to learn about the Bible was to use it as "ammo" against them. Over a period of about eight years God softened my heart and brought people into my life who showed me Christian love. By the time I took my second undergraduate course at University I wanted to learn about it for the sake of knowledge, not as ammo.
I practiced Wicca for 4-5 years, beginning in about 1991. I was dedicated to the Pagan path that same year by the coven I belonged to, and in 1992 was initiated as a Witch. I also went to many public rituals, and began to make a name for myself by writing articles for Pagan magazines such as Green Egg, Circle Network News, and Hole in the Stone.
The Beginning of the Beginning
In 1995 I began reading my Bible again--going through the New Testament. It didn't seem to do anything at the time except fill some gap. I didn't know why I wanted to read it; I just knew I had an interest in it for some reason.
Salvation begins with God, of course, but He often uses people to accomplish His will. In that sense the beginning of the beginning was with Jim, a liberal Christian I had met on the Internet. In January of 1996 he went through some difficult times and asked me to pray for him. I began by praying to the goddess whom I worshipped at the time, but then thought that I should pray to his God. After all, his problem should be brought before his God.
I remember how humbly and apologetically I approached his God that day. I told Him I wasn't asking anything for myself, that indeed I wouldn't expect anything if I did ask. Then I presented my request for Jim. But I did end up asking for something for myself, and it turned out to be one of the most important things I have ever prayed for. I can't tell you why I did it and even now I'm not sure of the reason, but on two occasions after my prayer for Jim, I tacked on a request for myself: "God, please help me to get to know You." At the time I thought the prayer so important that I promptly forgot about it.
Life continued on as always. But God hears sincere prayers, and He heard that one. He had always worked behind the scenes, but now my prayer had given Him permission to work openly. Things began happening, slowly at first. The next milestone on my journey toward God was just over a month away, at the end of February.
A month after those prayers I met Charles, a Canadian, on the Internet. He became invaluable to me over the next few months. He helped to answer my questions and concerns. I believe he was truly sent from God because the timing was too perfect.
Charles and I met when I was cruising the soc.religion.christian newsgroup. One day I posted this question: "In one hundred words or less, why are you a Christian instead of something else? Why do you believe? Please, no sermons. I've had quite enough. I just want to know why you believe what you do. Thank you."
As you might imagine, I got quite a few responses, some of them very long (I guess they didn't read the part about no sermons?), and some much more respectful of the length. Charles tried to be respectful, keeping his to 150 words. He gave me a clear, concise answer, but that wasn't what caused me to write him back. What caused that was a single line at the end of his e-mail, looking more like an afterthought than anything else, but still an honest question. "Out of curiosity, why are you a Pagan?" he asked. And I replied, and we just kept writing.
God Shows Up
A month after this, at the end of March, I went to a small Christian music concert held in the gymnasium at St. Mary's College in Moraga. It cost only $5 and was really nothing spectacular. Jesse Manibusan was opening for Margaret Becker. I have always loved Christian music and I wanted to buy a tape from Jesse (it couldn't be bought in a store.) That's one reason I went. But at the concert something happened that I will remember for the rest of my life. There I was, minding my own business, enjoying Jesse's music, when I became aware of this incredibly loving Presence that filled the room. After being taught a God that was mean, angry, and spiteful, this Presence of pure LOVE startled me. There was no way to reconcile it with what I had learned. I hated God, ran from Him. I had spent the last several years of my life doing that. Still, He came after me. While I am sure that the Presence was there because of the music and the love of the people, and not for me, there is no doubt in my mind that I was led there. It took me completely off guard, and when I got home that night and found myself alone in my room with my thoughts, I began to think about it, and I knew some things would have to change. It set me off on a month-long search for this God. During this time many small coincidences occurred, too many and too small to chronicle here, but more than enough to convince me that this God was real, powerful, and that He loved me. It is a scary thing to be chased by God, but exciting, too. You know you're safe and in good hands, but when you're currently worshiping other gods, you don't know which hands are the good ones anymore.
Let me just tell here a couple of the strange things that happened as God reached out for me. Days after the concert, with God very much on my mind, I was listening to a secular lite rock music station on my Walkman when the song "Right Here Waiting" came on. The chorus goes like this: "Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will be right here waiting for you. Whatever it takes, or how my heart breaks, I will be right here waiting for you." I felt God calling me through that song. It was Him singing to me, asking me to come to Him.
The following day I was listening to my Walkman again when I heard the beginning of a commercial. I couldn't tell you what they were selling, but these two sentences leapt out at my ears, "Are you listening? Do you hear it?" That's all I remember, but it was enough to get me to think of God. After all, how does one not listen to God?
A few days later, another song on the radio. The chorus went like this: "I loved you, you didn't feel the same. Though we're apart, you're in my heart. Give me one more chance to make it real." In those words I felt God asking me to seek Him one more time before throwing Him away. I felt Him tell me to stop running and just give in. Trust.
There is one other thing I wish to mention before moving on: two dreams I had, one just before I was saved, and one after. The differences in their tone is worth noting. First, some background and a clarification. The Satanist in the story below is just that_a Satanist. Satanism should not be confused with Wicca, as Wiccans do not worship Satan, and in fact, do not even believe in him. It is impossible to consciously worship something you do not believe in. Most Wiccans I knew (and still know) are wonderful, law-abiding folks who simply disagree with me in some key theological areas. They are not Satanists, and should not be confused with them. However, as a Christian I do feel that because Wicca does not acknowledge the God of the Bible, it is wrong and therefore evil, though Wiccans themselves are not conscious of this.
Ok, now on to the background of the dreams. I was attending college at the time, and in one of my classes was a Satanist, Jay. (I learned his name when we ended up having a few classes together over time and I would occasionally make small talk with him before class.) He was a nice guy, never acted untoward to me, but he freaked me out anyway. He missed a lot classes between the beginning of the year and the midterm, but after the midterm he began to show up more frequently, and instead of sitting in his usual place in the back, moved forward in the desks until, just after my conversion, he was sitting with me in the front row, just a few seats away. Even though he had never done anything to hurt me, his mere presence became a symbol of evil in my life.
Toward the end of April, about a week before my conversion, I had a dream. I had been thinking about God so much that my mind, overwhelmed with all that was happening, put my fears into symbolic form. I'm walking toward my college campus and it's night. A van pulls up and the Satanist guy from my class is driving. Suddenly, in the way dreams just "move," I find myself in the passenger seat of the van. There is no invitation on his part, and no acceptance on mine. I'm just suddenly there.
I ask him to let me out at the next block, but he just keeps driving, and soon we are away from the campus area. I crawl behind the front seats to the back of the van, but then I realize that no matter where I go, I'm still in the van with him. I realize I need to get out. I crawl back up front. I tell him that I'm a "white-light, fluffybunny" type Wiccan and this seems to turn him off.
But the scariest part of the dreams was when I asked him, "What do you want?" I will never forget his reply: "To get to know you better." I know it was only my own fears, that evil and good were duking it out over my soul, but it shook me up a bit. It took me an hour to get back to sleep, after I had written everything down.
About two weeks after my conversion, I had a second dream, markedly different in its mood. I'm working in the cafeteria (I worked part-time in the cafeteria at my college). I'm just starting my break and am in line at the taco bar to get some food. On the other side of the bar is Jay, also getting some food. He asks me if I would like to go to the movies with him and I tell him no. Right at that point, out of nowhere, a man who I took to be another student, speaks up and tells Jay to lay off me. Jay asks me if he is my boyfriend and I tell him no, wondering myself who he is. Jay and my mysterious "rescuer" exchange a couple more sentences that I don't catch. At the end, Jay tells the newcomer "You'd better be careful," and then he goes to sit down to eat. The new guy just sort of disappears. I couldn't tell you what happened to him. I go to a table away from Jay to eat my food.
Charles said that he thought my "mysterious rescuer" was him because he was praying for me, basically "standing in the gap," and that this sort of thing did not make Satan happy. Perhaps on a subconscious level I knew this and hence had the dream.
Visions and Prayers
There were many times over the month of April that I prayed to Jehovah, asking Him to help me. Toward the end of the month I reached the point where I told Him that, though I wasn't willing to follow Him, I was willing to become willing. Another time, about a week later, I asked Him to help me to love Him.
I prayed that I would get to know Him and learn about Him. I prayed that He would show me the way He wanted me to go, walk with me down it, and tell me what to do to serve Him. Often I "felt" Him listening and knew I was heard.
I knew that if I was going to get to know this God that I would have to learn to trust Him. And so I used a technique I'd learned as a Wiccan.
I visualized myself on one side of a doorway with the Goddess standing near me. Jesus stood on the other side of the open door. I remember saying to Him, "Give me one good reason I should follow You?" His response stopped me in my tracks: "Because I love you." Jesus kept reaching out for me, telling me to take His hand. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't do it.
And then, one night in mid- to late April, it happened. I closed my eyes to do the visualization, and I could take His hand! I knew that He wanted me to step through the door as well, that stepping through the door was a sign of real trust, but it was a few more days until I was able to do that.
Once I had done that, I knew I was crossing a line, a line of trusting God, maybe only a little, but more than in years. He was patiently working with me, knowing that I could never ask Jesus into my heart if there wasn't at least some trust there, however small.
April of 1996 was the most difficult month for me with coincidences abounding. I felt God reaching out for me, and yet I kept shrinking back. Due to my interest in Christianity I was currently attending a class in Christian history at my college. The teacher believed in the hands-on approach, and one of our assignments was to go to some services and write a report. We had to attend Orthodox Lenten and Easter services, and a Catholic Easter service. So there I was, struggling with God very hard, and having to attend all these services. Don't tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor!
Finally, on May 3, 1996 at about 6:45 p.m., I called Charles and had him pray with me, and gave my life to Christ. But it wasn't during the prayer that I felt it. It was when I said, "I want Jesus in my heart" that I felt it. I had accepted Him. I was Christian. Me, the Witch, a Christian! Ironically, this was four years to the day of my dedication to the Pagan path--to the very day.
Later I discovered that Charles had had a strong feeling for half that day that he should pray for me, and that at the time of my phone call he had been, off and on, for about six hours.
Riding the Fence
Of course, I didn't stop my Wiccan activities right away. Soon after my conversion I attended a large Pagan festival in Northern California. I felt it may be my last Pagan "fling", so I went even though I knew God didn't want me to.
However, I didn't count on Him showing up.
Within a day and a half of arriving I was very confused. I realized later that going there was like walking into a spiritual battle without armor on, like Paul writes of in Ephesians 6. As a new Christian I was a target of the enemy, and here I was willingly walking onto the enemy's ground with no protection! I was so confused that I called Charles (all the way in Canada!) on a pay phone. He told me to talk to God. I said I didn't know if God would listen to me because I was being so bad. He assured me that God would hear. I agreed to think about it. Two or three hours later I went out behind the Meadow Building, sat under the oak tree, and began speaking to God out loud, not a prayer really, just talking. But He heard and He came.
I hadn't spoken two sentences when I sensed this Presence under the tree with me. As at the concert, it took me off guard. Unlike the concert, this was a completely personal experience. He was there for me, because I had called Him. I expected Him to be angry with me for doing something I knew He didn't want me to do, but He wasn't. Now I know that He meets each of us where we are and gives us exactly what we need. I needed understanding and compassion at that point, not judgment, and that's what He gave me.
But His presence made me angry. I didn't know what to say, and I wasn't going to repent. He was being too loving by coming to the festival, coming after me, so I told Him to go away. He refused, remaining near. I repeated the command. He still didn't move. Finally I had to get up and walk away. If He wouldn't leave, I would. He remained close for the rest of the festival, reminding me that He was there just waiting for me to call on Him, to come back. Needless to say, all this made a big impression on me. Later, an acquaintance of mine, Bruce, the man who later baptized me, told me He didn't go away because I had invited Him into my life when I gave myself to Him. He wasn't about to leave me alone.
I was baptized at the end of the summer, but not without having to first choose sides. Two days before it was to happen, Bruce discovered that I had not yet renounced Paganism. He told me he wouldn't baptize me unless I did. It was hard for him to tell me this, and hard for me to hear it, but it needed to be said. I am glad he put Christ and the Gospel before the comfort of either of us. He helped me to understand how important baptism is: How could I undergo a death and rebirth initiation ritual unless I really was dying to my old life? How could I be raised to new life in Christ if I was still holding onto and practicing the old ways?
I mention my baptism because it was an important turning point. I call it my "Joshua moment" because, like Israel with Joshua, I was being given a choice of whom to worship. I made the same choice they did, a conscious decision to worship only Jehovah. Giving my life to Him on May 3 was only the beginning, as I had not given up worshiping other gods. He worked with me and on me, patiently walking me to this decision point.
Much has changed in my life since I accepted Christ. I have a sense of peace I never had before. Somehow this God puts to rest all the doubts that the Goddess never could. Even when I run from Him I know He still loves me and that someday I will be with Him in heaven. He answers the questions about this life, and the life to come. He tells me everything will be okay, and that He'll never abandon or forsake me. He shows justice tempered with love, which is mercy.
Directly after my conversion my relationship with my boss improved dramatically. Where once he threatened to "let me go" because of my bad attitude, he no longer spoke of this, and became downright friendly. My co-workers also mentioned how happy I seemed all the time. (Dancing with my mop as I clean the floor is not depressed behavior.) Other people have noticed that I complain less. I also worry less. I had a bad attitude and was irritable. The Goddess was not very helpful when I wanted to change these self-destructive behaviors. I was, in fact, unable to change no matter how hard I tried. With God, I didn't have to try. It just happened. The peace and joy He gives really is beyond all understanding, and one's attitude cannot help but change when bathed in this love.
Some people will tell you that Christianity and Wicca can be blended, that you don't have to give up one to practice the other. This is untrue. I tried to blend the two, but at every step the Holy Spirit told me I had to choose (Joshua 24:15).
I've naturally begun to re-evaluate who the Goddess is. I've noticed that there have been times when I was in life-and-death situations and called out to her, only to get no response. One situation occurred in January, 1996 when I was hit by a motorcycle as I crossed the street. In my pain and fear I called out to her. I received silence. She promised she'd never forsake me. She lied.
We worship a wonderful God! Who else than the God of the Bible, the only true God, Jehovah, could take an initiated Witch worshiping other gods and bring her to the Gospel light? What other God would bother? I deserved justice, and justice dictated that I continue to live, and eventually die, in the dark. But God, in order to show His mercy and magnify His glory, stooped down to me even though I had persecuted Him and blasphemed the very glory I should have worshipped.
I used to worship other gods; now I worship the one true God. Under Joshua's leadership, the Israelites were given a choice of whom to worship: "Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15). Joshua then told them who he would worship: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (24:15). And the Israelites chose the same: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods" (24:16). Like Joshua and the Israelites, I too have chosen to follow the Lord, and Him alone.
This story doesn't have an end, as no story about one's life ends until that life comes to an end. I hope this helps or enlightens you in some way. May God bless you richly as you search for and walk with Him.
Victoria's homepage: http://newbirthlovesjesus.net
Email Victoria: firstname.lastname@example.org
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