Uncomfortable Questions: “What Do You Believe?”
The Disadvantage of Transition
People expect that you should have immediate answers for why you are leaving and, ultimately, where you are going. After all, you’ve obviously found something better. Right? Should you have an answer – or is it okay to not know?
The stories differ between people who leave The Message. Some people are naturally more adept at deep study and spend months looking at the issues. Others are less comfortable with theological questions, and/or have a sudden and sharp departure – thus feeling woefully unprepared. In either case, there’s usually a significant disadvantage to the person leaving (for many reasons) when discussing theology or spiritual things. This is a natural companion to untimely transition.
In contrast, the average message believer has spent a large span of time (even their whole life) establishing their script and understanding towards scripture and general ‘world’ knowledge based on The Message teaching.
A Personal Story
It was only a few days after I resigned my position as Assistant Pastor when I found myself in a restaurant sitting across from a man I had long loved and respected. He was an elder to me, a deacon in my church, and a family member. Perhaps more than that, he was a friend. We had spent hours upon hours discussing “the word” over the years. He was a person I sought to talk to after most church meetings; I enjoyed our fellowship immensely.
On the very last day I would spend in a message church (before he knew I was preparing to leave), he defended my character before the entire congregation with supportive words. And now, here we sat in a restaurant speaking to one another about my decision to resign and walk away from our church.
He was nothing but a gentleman in our conversation, and no less the friend that he had always been. We shared tears and exchanged sincere respect for each other. Inevitably, the discussion turned to the beliefs we had shared towards The Message. As the topic was lightly raised about the doctrines and teachings of William Branham, I knew immediately I was in a distinct disadvantage. I knew the quotes and teachings very well, and I knew he did also (and perhaps more so than I did). He suggested to me that he could “tie me in knots” with his knowledge of the Message. I didn’t disagree – although there really wasn’t much to disagree about.
What he may not have understood was that I did not have a vastly different opinion than what The Message taught. In general, I still believed the teachings of William Branham from a doctrinal view. I hadn’t had any time to redefine my opinions; it’s not like I was seeking to throw away my belief system. By not being equipped to provide any reason or alternative to Message-teaching, I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of helpless subjection to the “authority” it had held over me as a ‘believer’. As I sat there, I felt inferior and vulnerable to attack. It actived fears and doubts for why I would want to leave at all.
If I would have been challenged about subjects such as “Godhead” or “Serpent Seed”, how could I have defended my decision to leave when I could not offer an intelligent alternative view? How could I express that I knew of something “more” or “better”? I could only remain silent when doctrine was raised.
Here’s the point. You must realize that when you first leave, you have had minimal opportunity to clearly examine the message from a different paradigm. In contrast, the seasoned, well-versed Message Believer knows all the pressure points to hit when speaking about their biblical viewpoint. They aren’t in transition, so they can quickly rattle off the phrases, teachings, quotes with confidence and unwavering faith. They know how to incite fear in doubting “believers” through Message rhetoric (“the great falling away”, “make-believers”, “Judas”, “Eve”, “Cain”, “Dathan & Korah”, “Jezebel Religions”, “The Great Whore”, “World Council of Churches”, etc).
It’s likely they will attack the idea of there being any truth outside of the Message. So when they begin to identify problems with viewpoints held by non-message/denominational churches (often uneducated & inaccurate), you are ill-equipped to provide answers that satisfy the challenge. You probably can’t even satisfy yourself because your mind is still significantly indoctrinated to see things in a similar way.
Recognize the situation. You are standing on unequal ground, and you do NOT have to provide instant answers for something you have not had an opportunity to study or thoughtfully examine.
You have every right to simple say: “I don’t know” when someone asks you what you think about “serpent seed”,”godhead” or any other foundational doctrine. Any threats, demeaning/condescending commentary towards you (or other groups) should serve as a red flag. Respectful dialogue SHOULD be possible if intelligent and insightful learning is an actual interest of both parties. If time to explore a question in detail is non-permissible to the discussion – then the fact is this: they want to maintain the advantage of unequal ground.
My nature is to be a peace keeper, I do not have an encyclopedic memory and witty debate is far from my forte. When challenged to think on their toes in the throngs of heated emotion, most people do not articulate the best information in the best way. Often the conclusion of a “debate” occurs when someone is caught without a response – and that is deemed a victory.
If you are ever pressured to “answer NOW”, “don’t study”, “don’t read”, “don’t investigate”, “don’t ask”, “only believe”- that is what I now consider a key-warning sign. Any group that discourages you from critically asking questions or seeking to understand beyond what is spoon-fed to you via the ministry (including the books/tapes) is essentially trying to control the information you have access to. At one time I considered this an prescribed attribute of perfect faith – to believe at all cost. I now call this dangerous ill-intent.
Permission for Time & Learning
I Peter 3:15
“…and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear…”
I used to read this verse with a sense of fear. I always felt like I would be failing God if I was unable to offer a brilliant explanation for any question or challenge against my faith in the moment that I was asked. You do NOT need to feel defeated when you walk away unable to offer an explanation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know how to answer that right now. I’ll take some time to learn more about it – and come back to you”. That is something that ought to become your friend; the freedom to ask, probe, and learn. If someone won’t allow you that freedom, that is another resounding demonstration of why you’re leaving.