Dear Brothers and Sisters,
John 8:32 says “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”.
I am so thankful that God revealed his truth to me about the meetings, and now I am free. There’s still so much more about God’s truth which he is revealing to me as the days go by, and I can honestly say that his truth indeed is liberating.
Since God has led me out of the meetings, I reflect back on how one of the key things which I have been set free from is fear, specifically the “spirit of fear” mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (NKJV). I will come back to this point again later, but I should state here that now I am no longer in the meetings, I can see how back then, I operated out of fear of losing my salvation (based on lies and false teaching) rather than love and sound mind (I wasn’t supposed to use my mind or my God-given sense of logic and intelligence, just follow blindly and unquestioningly). This fear was indeed debilitating, because it affected my entire life (i.e. my outlook, my attitudes, my interaction with people, etc.). I praise God that I am now a beneficiary of His saving grace, as captured in Isaiah 61:1: “He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners”.
Anyway, I jump the gun. Wind back the clock and here we go. I was born to professing parents, who are still professing. Wednesday night and Sunday morning meetings continue to be held in my parents’ home. Both sets of grandparents, and one set of great grandparents also professed. To this day, a significant number of the professing people here in Singapore are my relatives.
I made my choice when I was 11 years old. To this day, I think I stood up more because I felt that it was something my dad wanted me to do rather than because I knew what it was all about. It just seemed that from what I heard being discussed around the dining table by the workers whenever they visited, the ages of 10 to 13 seemed about right. Below 10 and you probably didn’t know what you were doing. Above 13 and friends and workers would be wondering whether you had stuffed dumbbells in your pants whenever the meeting was tested.
Truth be told, I spent most of my time in the meeting reading books at the back of the hall because I hardly paid attention to what the workers were talking about. Meetings were hell boring and most workers didn’t know how to preach (and I believe they still don’t). After I made my choice, I started to pay a bit more attention, but as time passed, I realised that the same old stuff was being repeated over and over again. Alas, indoctrination, especially that which takes place from a very young age, is powerful, and I didn’t dare ask any questions. Questions are a tool of the devil, they said, and just as Satan sowed doubt in Adam’s mind in the garden of Eden, he will sow doubts in your mind too if you let him. So don’t question anything.
I took the step of baptism in my early twenties, also because I felt some pressure from my dad. Again, I think I probably did it to just get some people off my back. Lest you think I didn’t take the meetings seriously, I did. I seriously tried to live according to what was being preached but even on the occasions I succeeded, I always wondered why I never felt close to God in anyway. It certainly made the people around me happy, but God was still very distant. In fact, I had no idea who He was. On hindsight, there was a lot of superficiality, but little substance. There was a lot of legalism, but the most important “law” of all, the law of love was conspicuously absent. Many things were said about God and His character, which I now know to be inaccurate.
One question that crosses my mind these days is – when these professing people meet God eventually, would they be able to recognise Him at all? Or, in an ironic and tragic twist to the parable of the ten virgins, should God knock on their door, would they say to Him – ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Life to me consisted of 2 separate parts – the meetings and everything else. It seemed almost impossible to integrate the 2 together. In fact, the workers I encountered here in Singapore seemed so removed from life outside the meetings I wasn’t sure I could talk to them about life in general. Anyway, whatever misgivings I had I quickly quashed. Questions are a tool of the devil, they said, and just as Satan sowed doubt in Adam’s mind in the garden of Eden, he will sow doubts in your mind too if you let him. So don’t question anything.
All through the years, I certainly didn’t feel comfortable about things in general. I say this because I was always unwilling to discuss my religion with people who weren’t professing. Actually, there was no discussion with professing people either, since all that was done was just repeating, rehashing, and reaffirming whatever the workers said. I believe the discomfort and unwillingness to discuss my religious beliefs were indicative of the fact that I didn’t really know what I believed in, or that I didn’t really believe in what I thought I believed in, or a combination of both (which I think is more likely). But whatever the case was, questions are a tool of the devil, they said, and just as Satan sowed doubt in Adam’s mind in the garden of Eden, he will sow doubts in your mind too if you let him. So don’t question anything.
Sometime around my mid-twenties, I dated this girl from university who wasn’t a Christian. Well, I still have doubts as to whether I was a Christian back then either. We dated for a couple of years and when things got serious, I told her that I would only be able to marry her if she professed. Okay, she asked, what is this professing business all about? What are your Christian beliefs? What’s wrong with other churches? Why can’t you attend another church? What’s with Thee and Thou and art and all that jazz? Why does your church have no name? Why do all the women in your church dress funny? Would I be expected to dress the same way too? Why can’t I paint my nails? Why can’t I wear jewellery? Why can’t I colour my hair? Why don’t you have a TV at home? Why didn’t you tell your parents you were going to watch a movie? Sheesh!!! Arghhhhhhhh!!!!
I had absolutely no idea how to respond. I didn’t have any coherent answer at all, other than to mumble something about how she should just keep coming to the meetings and eventually God will reveal the answers to those perplexing questions to her. Or even better, how about having a chat with the workers? Ah yes, the standard answer to everything the people of the world throw at us, because we simply don’t know the answers, and the pat answers we give cannot stand up to scrutiny. And if you cannot accept the answers given, it shows you have a hard heart, an unbelieving heart. Oh, you cannot question these “immutable truths” – questions are a tool of the devil, they said, and just as Satan sowed doubt in Adam’s mind in the garden of Eden, he will sow doubts in your mind too if you let him. So don’t question anything.
Well, to cut a long story short, the relationship couldn’t progress. She confided in me that she would never be able to profess because she had no clue what on earth was going on. Of course, the truth is that I myself wasn’t in that much of a better position compared to her but my salvation was at stake and of course, questions are a tool of the devil, they said, and just as Satan sowed doubt in Adam’s mind in the garden of Eden, he will sow doubts in your mind too if you let him. So don’t question anything.
I eventually called off the relationship, and I did it because she highlighted her hair purple. I still feel gutted whenever I think about it. What a freakin’ MOMMA ALWAYS TOLD ME NOT TO SWEAR I was. But as I mentioned earlier, I was messed up. I was driven by a spirit of fear, not love and certainly not a sound mind. I mean no disrespect, and I’m sure there are exceptions, but I still believe that most professing people do not have a sound mind. There is something about the indoctrination that causes the mind to shut down when it comes to dealing with the glaring inconsistencies. God gave me intelligence, logic, powers of reasoning, etc. but I don’t know why I just did not or could not apply all these faculties to the issue of “the way”. I was in captivity.
I should mention briefly that in my late teens, I accidentally stumbled on one of the earliest versions of The Lying Truth websites online when I was using the computer at my uncle’s place (he and his family are still professing, by the way). He had bookmarked the page. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was all about, but as I read a little more, I quickly closed the page. It felt wrong. I can’t quite describe the feeling now, but I sort of felt the same way when I first flipped through a Playboy magazine when I was in my early teens at the San Francisco airport – intense curiosity yet mixed with a sense that this is something I really, really shouldn’t be looking at.
Anyway, fast forward now till my late twenties and I started dating another lady who is now my wife. Now my wife is Christian indeed and as Christian as they come. For those who are familiar with the organisation called Bible Study Fellowship, she attended the full course for 7 years and served as a discussion leader for another 5 years after that!
When the relationship got serious, she asked about the church I attended. Oh boy…
Would you like to attend and see for yourself? Okay, she said, so she attended 2 gospel meetings. At the second one, one of the brother workers said that God’s true servants don’t go to bible schools because they are taught by the Holy Spirit. Man, did she seize on that the way a pit bull sinks its teeth into a juicy piece of meat!
Does your church teach that bible schools are wrong? Does this mean the other churches where the pastors are schooled in theology and attend seminaries are wrong? Does this mean that only your church is right? What is the biblical basis for this? What does the scripture say? How can you say the scripture says this when there are other parts that say something else?
I’m pretty sure you can imagine the carnage that followed. As I told her more about “the way” and what our beliefs and practices were, she concluded that whatever “the way” was about, it certainly was not doctrinally sound and she gave me an ultimatum – if I wanted to continue to stay in “the way”, she and I would have no future together.
Well now, I loved her loads and this ultimatum made me really dig into everything and now, with so much hanging on the line, I really had to question the basis of everything that the workers preached about and which I had been brought up to believe in since young. To this day, I believe God brought her into my life because only she could have provided me with the necessary impetus to start digging.
I started checking out our supposedly divine origins, which we now know was Irvine and not Christ. It seemed to be that everything stemmed from that and so it would be a good place to start. This was when I recalled (or God made me remember?) the website I had accidentally stumbled upon in my uncle’s place about ten years ago. I went online and started searching for everything I could find about “the way”, “the truth”, “2x2s”, “Cooneyites”, “cults”, “mentally unsound”, etc. Cherie’s website Telling The Truth was invaluable, as well as Lynn Cooper’s book, The Church With No Name.
The more I researched and studied (as opposed to reading as I used to do) the bible, the more I realised how way off things were. I realised how scripture was conveniently quoted out of context and as it’s said, when you take the “text” out of ”context”, what you land up with is a “con”, and boy, did I feel as though I had been massively conned! Anger, despair, frustration, confusion!
Now my mind was starting to work. Logic pointed to the exit. However, it was very difficult for me to really break away because I was still fearful that I would lose my salvation by leaving “the way”. 27 years of indoctrination is not easily overcome by logic. I did what on hindsight now appears pretty naïve – I took my findings to my parents and my sister and tried to discuss it with them.
Yes son, what do you want to talk about? Sorry, what did you say?? You did what???
Questions are a tool of the devil, they said, and Satan has successfully sowed doubt in your mind now, and he has used your girlfriend to this end. You be careful now, you’re walking on dangerous ground. Suffice to say, there was a lot of emotional blackmail going on at this time as well. Sarcasm from my dad was not unusual. I dreaded to go home every night. The environment wasn’t pleasant. Mom would leave “notes” on my table or in my bible containing scripture that was supposed to show how wrong I was and how I should be praying that God would show me “the way”. Ironically, that was what I was indeed praying about and God was showing me the way out of “the way”.
They refused to read any of the material I put before them or engage in any discussion with me. The hard copies were dumped in the bin and the soft copies deleted without so much as a cursory glance. At this time, I thought to myself that their actions showed that I was really onto something. If what they believed in was the truth, then the truth should be able to stand up to scrutiny and investigation. The fact that they refused to talk about it or discuss it was evidence that something was amiss, and greatly encouraged me in my own search for the truth, which I now realise was the genesis of my real relationship with my Father and my God.
At about that time, God planned it that I would attend Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). As I was desperate to study the bible for myself instead of relying on worker interpretations of scripture, my girlfriend suggested that I attend BSF and it so happened that the study then was the book of Romans. Romans is heavy going stuff theologically, but it was all about the doctrinal foundation of Christian belief – and the part about salvation by grace and grace alone was what I needed to hear. Also, Romans was all about Paul appealing to the logic of his readers and he was quoting scripture from all parts of the bible, especially the Old Testament, as support for his arguments. Now, this was also interesting stuff to me – logic, reasoning, supporting evidence. So God wants me to use my mind after all. Come, let us reason together… and this time, it’s for real. God was gradually helping me overcome my fear.
The spirit of fear also had another manifestation – that of attending another church. I was so scared of attending service in another church that my girlfriend and another close friend of mine had to accompany me just in case I fainted because I felt that God was going to strike me dead for attending another church. I felt so terribly out of place when worship started and it was the guitars, keyboards, drums instead of an old piano that was out of tune. When the congregation starting singing and clapping their hands and raising their hands to heaven, I wished I could dig a hole in the ground and bury myself there and then. When the offering bag was circulated and it started to come my way, I wished I could have also been taken out of circulation immediately. When it was time to greet each other (and everyone would walk around and shake hands with each other) and welcome visitors (which entailed clapping), my first reaction was – ssshhhhhh – quietness invites God’s presence (or so I have been told for ages) so what the hell are you all doing?? And to cap it off, the pastor’s sermon had references to a movie (World Trade Centre it was)!!
But I remember before attending that service, I prayed that if God was present, He would speak to me. He did. In the sermon, the pastor quoted a line from the movie World Trade Centre – help is on the way. That was for me. In my situation at that time, I needed help, and God was telling me that help was on its way, and he used a line from a movie too! Thank you, God.
I church-hopped for a while before settling down in my current Presbyterian church. However, I think I should also mention that there was another church service I went to where I was thinking about the issue of the exclusivity of “the way” before the service. At the service itself, the pastor spoke from Mark 9:38-40. “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” God addressed whatever concern I had there and then – whoever is not against us is for us – every church that preaches Jesus is on the right path; there is no exclusivity.
All the above took place in the few months after my girlfriend gave me the ultimatum and before I decided that I couldn’t be part of “the way” anymore. As I said, it was difficult to leave, not just because of the situation at home but also because I had deep-seated fears. The fears, however, God was dealing with gradually as the incidences I described above show. It was my parents, however, that was more challenging. Things came to a head one night and I remember shutting myself in my room and just pleading to God that He would open the way for me to leave. I distinctly recall my prayer which went along the following lines – Dear God, You have shown me that this is not your way. I want to leave this way and follow after You, but I cannot do so because my family is holding me back. If it is indeed Your will that I should come to learn more about You, please make it easy for me to leave. Just as you parted the waters of the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through all those years ago, please open the way for me to leave now.
You know what?
He did. When I told my parents a few days later that I was no longer going to attend the meetings, they muttered a few words under their breath but nothing else. I was free. Free to grow in my love and my walk with God. Free to grow in my knowledge of him and his love for me. Free to grow closer to Him.
It’s been a few years now since that took place. Of course, I have many more stories to share but I think this is enough for one evening. I’m glad that Cherie encouraged me to write an introduction (can this be considered one?) because in the process of writing all this and recalling past events, I couldn’t help but give thanks and marvel at the way God has set me free, answered my prayers and bringing me to where I now am in my walk with Him. I still have a long way to go but oh, how far I have come in the last few years, and all through His grace.
I suppose another episode I can talk about is my wedding.
I proposed to my girlfriend when we were on holiday in the UK in 2008 and she accepted. Yippee! Now the problem was – how to break the news to my parents. As I alluded to earlier, I believe that my parents never really warmed up my girlfriend because they believed that she was the reason I left the meetings and thus her influence over me was anything but positive. If they could have changed my name to Solomon, I’m sure they would have!
Anyway, I didn’t really know how to tell them. I suspected that they wouldn’t have been too pleased because their son was now going one step closer to damnation – marrying someone on the “outside”. I guess that for as long as I was still single, even though I had left “the way”, they still hung on to the hope that I may return. But with marriage, the odds of a return were slashed drastically. Well, the thought of telling them face to face didn’t appeal to me, so I sent them a text message telling them that I was getting married. To this day, I still don’t know if this was the right thing to have done, but it’s water under the bridge now.
Their response was lukewarm at best. No congratulations or well wishes. Just silence for a couple of days. In fact, I was wondering whether my message had reached them and was checking my phone when I got a response. The text exchange that followed was something like this:
Mom – When are you getting married?
Me – Am not sure, it depends on which date I can book the hotel ballroom for the wedding banquet, but it is most likely to be a weekend.
Mom – Friday is best. Saturday and Sunday not good.
Me – We were thinking of a Saturday.
Mom – We are not keen on a Saturday dinner because there’s a meeting on Sunday morning and Sunday dinner is out because of the gospel meeting. (When I read this message, I was close to tearing out my hair because my parents had attended lots of other wedding dinners on Saturday evenings before. In fact, for my dad’s secretary’s daughter’s wedding dinner, we drove across to Malaysia to attend her wedding on a Saturday evening and got back home at close to 2 am on Sunday morning!)
Me – Okay, will try to accommodate. (It’s not appropriate for me to tell you what exact thoughts were at this time. Suffice to say that I was very pissed.)
When I was back in Singapore, my mom and I had a conversation:
Mom – Why did you not consult us before proposing? We’re not happy.
Me (in my head) – What’s there to consult about? You would probably have discouraged me from doing it.
Mom – Are you getting married in a church?
Me – Yes.
Mom – Dad wants you to consider a civil ceremony and solemnization at the Registry of Marriages instead. You can then have your church service after that.
Me – No. We’re getting married in church and the pastor will solemnize.
Mom – What God-given authority does the pastor have to solemnize?
Me (in my head) – And what authority do the workers have to solemnize, you twit? They don’t have any authority under Singapore law, and I’m pretty sure God didn’t give them authority to marry people either.
Mom – If you have the solemnization done at the Registry of Marriages, Dad and I will attend. We will not attend if you get married in church. We will, however, attend the wedding dinner at night.
Me – You’ve attended many church weddings of friends and colleagues before. How come you won’t attend my wedding?
Mom – It’s not the same. In those weddings we attended, we were just passive observers. In your wedding, we would be required to participate and it is against our beliefs.
Me (in my head) – What freaking participation are you talking about? It’s Jo’s dad that has to give the bride away! All you have to do is sit and observe and all dad has to do is to sign as a witness on the marriage certificate. Your beliefs are quack, by the way! This is my wedding and you’re not going to at least give me some face by being present? In fact, it looks like you’re treating me worse that your friends and colleagues.
Mom – We spoke to the brother workers and they said that there is a fine line and it’s up to us and we have prayed about it.
Me (in my head) – What fine line? Those goons just shirking responsibility for making a decision because they haven’t got a clue!
I suppose you can understand that in any wedding, especially a Chinese wedding, if one set of parents do not attend, it is a big thing. One of the main implications is that they do not approve of the wedding and do not accept the son-in-law or daughter-in-law (as the case may be) as part of the family. Needless to say, Jo’s parents were upset, especially since it was going to be extremely awkward at the church wedding itself where the guests would be wondering where Dave’s immediate family (apart from my younger sister) was and what their absence signified.
A couple of weeks before the wedding, my mom called Jo’s mom up to try to explain to her why they could not attend the church wedding and if not for the fact that Jo and I had already briefed her parents about the “unorthodox” beliefs of my parents, I’m pretty sure that the conversation between both moms would have turned out quite differently. Naturally, in attempting to explain why my parents would not be attending the church wedding she was also indirectly saying that her beliefs were “right” and if Jo’s mom had not been briefed earlier, she would have tried even harder to explain to my mom why her beliefs were flawed and non-scriptural. Anyway, one disaster averted there!
Fast forward to the wedding day itself and I still remember my cousin (who isn’t a part of “the way”), who was also my best man, coming to fetch me and he asked my mom “Auntie, are you sure you and Uncle are not attending? It’s not too late to get changed and get going.” The reply he got was “No, we cannot”. We cannot – pretty insightful if you ask me.
Well, of the family (all of which are professing) on my dad’s side, only 2 families out of the 6 showed up (one aunt’s family and one grand aunt’s family). I appreciate their attendance. It meant a lot to me to see them there that day.
Up until the very last minute, I was praying that my parents would have a change of heart and attend. I kept looking at the back row hoping that they might have sneaked in and were watching from the back. I have to admit that when my bride was walking down the aisle, I wasn’t fully concentrating on her as I was also glancing towards the back seats. They did not show up. 21 March 2009 was the happiest day of my life. 21 March 2009 was also the saddest day of my life.
The anger has since abated. I was angry with a lot of things, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. I was angry with my parents. I was angry with the workers who “advised” them. Perhaps I was even angry with God. Why did he allow Irvine to do what he did? Why did he allow this great deception to carry on, even till today?
Nowadays I find my peace and solace in God’s promise to me that all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I know that God is sovereign and I cannot and will not be able to understand His ways and His plans. But no matter, because I can trust in His love for me. I know that as I pray for the freedom of my family He hears my prayer because what I pray for is according to His Will (2 Pet 3:9). It just has to happen in His time and in His way, but until that happens, I will continue to pray for them, and for all the others around the world who are still trapped in “the way”.
June 14, 2010