In the spring of 1988 I moved from Indiana to Florida with our two young daughters to meet up with my husband who had moved there a few months ahead of us. I was a little anxious about moving away from everything that was familiar to me. Actually, I really didn’t want to move, but I’d prayed about it and was trusting in God that it’d all work out. We were pretty excited to move into an “almost” new home in Brandon, Florida, a suburb near Tampa. We leased it with an option to buy.
One of the first things I wanted to do was to find a new church. So I prayed and asked God to help us and I mapped out a list of nearby churches. I narrowed the search down to either Baptist, Methodist or possibly an independent denomination. I chose Baptist because I’d been enjoying listening to some Baptist preachers on the radio for the previous couple of years, and Methodist because I’d been a member of the same Methodist church ever since I was a little girl. Some of my favorite memories there go as far back to when I was a little child in vacation bible school, a preteen singing in the youth choir, and a teenager in the youth group. It was there that I first trusted in Christ at age 12.
So, as soon as we got settled in our new home, I got the girls ready every Sunday, and we’d go visit a new church. It wasn’t long before the girls were complaining and I was also getting tired of visiting so many different churches. Something was wrong. None of the messages seemed convicting. None of people seemed seemed very friendly. None of the churches felt like “our new church.” It was discouraging.
Then one day I opened the door to two young men who wanted to talk to me about God. So, I welcomed them inside and we talked. I don’t remember all what we talked about that day, but I do remember thinking how nice they were to go out to talk to people in person. They spoke of Jesus, high family values and good clean living. I was impressed! They gave me a paperback copy of one of their books and I accepted their invitation to come visit their church.
So the next Sunday we went to their church. The first thing I noticed was that there wasn’t a cross anywhere, inside or out. They didn’t have a pastor, but instead, they had a few members who stood up to speak. When they spoke it seemed more like a business meeting than church. Then they held communion and used water instead of grape juice. I began to question myself in my mind, “What kind of church is this?” Everyone was so nice, but I walked out of that church confused. These people were probably some of the sweetest people you’d ever want to meet, but this church, who used the name of Jesus Christ in their name, and who spoke of Jesus, was not like any church I was used to.
The following week, the two young men came back to visit and ….
I asked why they used another book besides the Bible and they said it was because they believed that the two books were better than one and that they complimented each other. They said, “Are not two witnesses better than one?”
I asked why they didn’t have a cross on the church. They explained that crosses on the top of churches were just lightning rods. So then I asked why there wasn’t a cross on the inside and they said there was one inside but I must not have seen it. Then they questioned why would churches want to put crosses up everywhere when dying on the cross was such a horrendous way to die.
I asked why they used water instead of grape juice for communion and they said that water was a better representation of Christ because of its clarity and purity. They questioned why anyone would want to drink “blood.”
I also asked why they didn’t have a pastor and was told it was because they believed that it’s wrong to pay someone to talk about Christ. They said that pastors who accept money for preaching are “apostates” or people who have left the faith.
With each of their answers I became increasingly uncomfortable, especially when they referred to their other books. They basically had an answer for everything and even some biblical references but I really wasn’t seeing the connection. I felt their explanations were wrong but I lacked the biblical knowledge to be able to reference chapter and verse to debate them. At the same time I was confused because they claimed to be Christians and they were so incredibly nice.
I told them of my own salvation experience as a 12 year old, my drifting away from God in my teens and early twenties, and then my conviction of sin in my mid twenties one night after watching Billy Graham on TV. Then, they questioned who Billy Graham was, and I thought, what kind of Christian doesn’t know who Billy Graham is? I escorted them to the door and decided it was time to pay a visit to the local Christian book store to find out a little more about this church.
I found a book titled, The God Makers, and began reading it on a Saturday afternoon. I stayed up almost all night reading the entire 600+ page book. It was more than just enlightening; it was shocking. How could I have been so naive? How did I not know that they had a false gospel and that they worship another Jesus, not the Jesus of the Bible? Keeping in mind the World Wide Web and Google were yet to be invented in 1988, but still, how did I not know?
After only a few hours of sleep, I woke up late and thought if I hurried I could go to the closest Baptist church to our house, right around the corner. I had previously dismissed visiting this church because the building was so old and small. It was nearly time for church to start when I turned into the tree lined driveway next to that old tiny wood framed church. I was totally surprised to then see a huge new church building further back on their property surrounded by trees. That old tiny church out front was just a memorial of their original church building!
I rushed in just in time for the service to start. The church was packed, The songs were spirit filled. The people had their bibles, pens and paper in hand to take notes as the pastor spoke. His message that day was on the grace of God. Everything the pastor said was so true, so convicting and spoke directly to my heart. He quoted bible verse after bible verse on the grace of God. Everything made perfect sense. I went forward at the end of the service. I was both moved by the pastor’s sermon and upset with myself for having such a precious gift of salvation and somehow not knowing enough not to go to that other church. And all the while, this church was the closest church to me! How ironic? Well actually, how providential!
Soon after, I joined that Baptist church and was baptized by immersion. I got involved in bible study, children’s church, the bus ministry, and eventually helping with the visitation ministry – the very thing that I admired in those two young men. Except, when given the opportunity, I told people…..
…..that the Bible alone is God’s word and it sufficient and sovereign. No one should add or take away from it, and…..
….. that the cross is the symbol of our Christian faith and that it is nothing to be ashamed of or be hidden from view because it was on the cross that Jesus died in our place, for our sins, and….
….. that the shed blood of Christ is precious to us because it provided a way of salvation to all who believe in Jesus. Grape juice has long been used for Christian communion of the Lord’s Supper as a symbol of His sacrifice and the new Covenant.
God answered my prayer about finding a new church in a way that I never expected. I got so much more than just a new church home. I learned some things that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
First of all, although my heart may have been in the right place, my motive was wrong. I was praying and looking for a new church but I was putting too much emphasis on finding a “church” and not enough on growing my personal relationship with Him. God, by His grace, moved me 1000 miles away from home, to grow me in my faith and in my relationship with Him. I was perfectly happy at my old church but I really wasn’t growing in Christ there, or at least not in the way that God was wanting me to grow. He used this experience to teach me that although He loves the church, it’s our personal relationship with Him that is most important. Our relationship with Him should always be growing, and if it’s not, we should pray about it and do whatever is necessary to get our focus on Him and His will for our lives.
Secondly, I believe God allowed this experience so that I’d be able to warn others about false gospels. The church I went to, if you haven’t guessed by now, was a Mormon church, also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS. After what I learned about them, those initials might as well stand for Lucifer, devil, and Satan. Did you know that their founder, Joseph Smith, claimed that Jesus was the spirit brother of Lucifer? Did you know that Joseph Smith believed that you can become a god and that God started out as a man? Interestingly, the LDS church has kept pretty busy over the years rewriting Joseph Smith’s books. Joseph Smith claimed to have written the most perfect book in the world, The Book of Mormon, but that book, as well as other LDS books, The Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrine and Covenants, have been edited and changed numerous times over the years by the LDS church. And these are the books they hold in higher esteem than the Bible?! By the way, I threw my paperback copy of The Book of Mormon in the trash soon after reading “The God Makers.”
Of course, false religion is not limited to the Mormon’s. I write about them here because of my own personal experience, but the fact is, false religions and false gospels are everywhere. A simple Google search today will give you lots of links, but the problem with web searches is that some of the links have questionable sources. Actually, the best way to recognize that which is false, is to know that which is true. So my best advice is this: know Jesus and know His Word; trust in Him alone and in His Word alone. That’s it, plain and simple. That’s the best protection against false religions and those who preach “another gospel.”
So whatever your situation and whatever your prayer, and whether He moves you a thousand miles away or he keeps you right where you are, I pray he answers your prayer in a most unexpected and wonderful way like He did mine.
“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 3:17-18