By Wayne Simpson
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could,
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made the difference.
-Robert Frost -
One occasionally hears some famous or wealthy personage being interviewed, and upon being asked if he would do anything different if he had his life to live over he would answer arrogantly " I wouldnt change a thing. I did it my way and it been just great." In my view, such a person is a fool. He hasnt learned anything. His life has been a waste.
Life is for learning. We start out knowing nothing. We have to learn to sit and to crawl, and to smile. Then we learn to talk and walk and many other basic social skills. At last, we are ready to get a formal public education. After many years we finally graduate and go out into the world to seek our fortune. But we should not imagine that our learning years are over. Indeed the greatest lessons of our lives usually take place outside this framework. These will be lessons which form within us our character, our personality, our drive, and our destiny. Those are spiritual lessons that really determine who we are. Sometimes they seem to come without much effort as if they were just given to us. Other times they come through diligent search and through perseverance and the exercise of great personal discipline. Yet the most profound of these lessons can sometimes be the most bitter. They come as the result of our mistakes and our bad choices. We hurt ourselves and we hurt others who are close to us. They leave us with shameful memories that remind us never to do those things again for the rest of our lives.
But there is a way to avoid the worst of these lessons by actively seeking the guidance from the Creator of the universe. You will still have to learn the lessons. In fact there are sure to be many more lessons if you prove to be a good student. But if one enthusiastically seeks to align himself in harmony with the Derek Hashem (the way of God) the learning will become less painful.
I offer this observation. Life is a journey. We know well where we have been. We are sometimes bewildered about just where we are. But we only have the vaguest idea about where we will end up. It pays to have a Good Guide.
I have to believe that if one has sought to led by the Almighty during his life, that He will at times guide him to correct his path. It isnt always obvious at the time, and it probably happens much more often than we realize. It logically follows that such a person should be able in his later years and to look back over his life and to recognize some of these events and to judge what the effect has been. As I have gotten older I have been able to recognize some of these events in my own life. They have fashioned my personality and my character. They form the skeleton of the most important part of the account of my life.
Some of my earliest memories are of the church in which I was raised. It was a Holiness church, which at that time was a sort of borderline Pentecostal church. We did not practice speaking in tongues, but all of the rest of the emotionalism and the chaos of Pentecostalism was standard faire.
The preacher behaved like a madman. He would shout and shriek and sputter, and gasp and wheeze. He would stomp across the stage bellowing at the top of his lungs, shaking his fist and pointing his finger. He would do everything possible to whip up the emotional state of the congregation. People in the congregation expected this and they played their part, shouting "Hallelujah" and "amen", and "you tell em, preacher". They would cry and raise their hands up to heaven, and wipe the tears with their hankies. Occasionally, one of the laypeople usually it was a woman- would become so emotionally overwrought that she would jump up with a shriek and go tearing up and down the aisles praising God, crying and waving her hanky. Sometimes she would fall to the floor and have what appeared like a seizure. I once saw a 200 lb man leap up and dance across the tops of the pews across the auditorium until he came to one on which no one was sitting, causing it to turn over. The whole service was about emotionalism. The more pandemonium, the more successful the service was thought to be.
I dont have a problem with a reasonable amount of emotionalism if it is recognized for what it is. But when pastors study techniques to work up the people and then claim that it is the working of the Holy Spirit, it is nothing short of blasphemy. I have often thought just how similar this scene is to a wrestling match or a rock concert or a football game, but no one would argue that those were spiritual events. You would think thing that as a child, having been raised in this environment, I would have accepted it as normal and natural. But I did not for some reason. I could not believe that God expected people to behave in this manner. It creeped me out! I would rather have been anywhere else, but I had no choice.
Arguably the worst time, however, was the Wednesday night testimony meeting. For the would-be preachers in the congregation, it was their opportunity get up and deliver their little sermonette. But for those of us who were shy by nature it was torture, especially for those of us who had ambivalent feelings about the practices of the church or, worse yet, about the teachings of the church. We didnt want to be hypocritical so we composed our words carefully so as to be as non-committal as possible. We chose the fewest words possible, and we spoke softly, almost mumbling.
So why did we not just keep our mouths shut? There was a very good reason. Certain church busybodies would start to notice. The preacher often was heard to say that, "if you are too ashamed to get up and testify for Jesus, them he will be ashamed of you at the last judgement and he will spew you out of his mouth, quoting a passage out of the book of Revelation. If you let very many weeks go by without giving your testimony, you could expect to see one of these ladies at your side some Sunday night during the alter call. She would slip her arm around you and say something like this:
"You know Wayne, Ive been praying for you. I can see that you are not where you need to be with God. I can see that you are "backslid" (bad grammar was commonplace). Why dont you come down to the altar and get saved again."
(unlike the Baptists, we could be saved and lost many times). To have this happen was our worst fear.
I can tell you that there was nothing more degrading and more humiliating than taking that long walk down that aisle. All eyes of the congregation were on you imagining what a miserable smuck you must be, conjuring up all sorts of images of the evil you must be involved in. You would kneel at the altar and all the "saints" of the church would gather round. They would put their hot hands on you and start to pray. The pastor would lead the prayer, but that only meant that he uttered the first word. Quickly all the people would chime, praying their own prayer streams, bearing no resemblance to that of the pastor. Each one began to pray louder and louder as if competing with one another for Gods ear. The intensity of this strange cacophony of conflicting ideas and words mounted ever higher until the din was intolerable. I had to wonder just how God could make sense of that kind of disorder. Finally, with all that negative energy being focused on you, it was inevitable that you would break down and cry. That was the signal the brethren were watching for. They reasoned that when you cried, that that meant that you had been forgiven of your sins. You had "prayed through", as they liked to put it. As for me, I didnt hear the voice of God. I didnt hear angels singing. I heard little more than the creaking of my suspenders.
So the din gradually subsided as the people stopped praying one by one. The pastor would then get you to stand up and give the congregation your testimony. Then the irony would strike you. IT WAS THE LACK OF A TESTIMONY THAT GOT YOU INTO THIS MESS! So you had to be careful to say something positive sounding or, by golly they would get you down and pray for you again.
So that is the church environment that I came from.
Something curious took place, however, when I was about 13 or 14. Sermons in our church were not teaching sermons, they were harangues. And the milquetoast Sunday School lessons were a joke. But every summer our church held Vacation Bible School for about a week. This was the one time each year when some serious teaching was done. We spent time memorizing scriptures like the 1st Psalm and the 23rd Psalm, and the 10 commandments. We memorized the order of the books in the Bible. Never mind that it wasnt the correct order, it was still useful information. They taught a different subject matter each year, such as early church history or the specific history of our church, etc. This particular year they decided to teach us about the Jews.
There are not many Jews in our part of the country and I had never seen one that I knew of, and I had absolutely no knowledge of them. The teacher told us about their beliefs and customs. Eventually she mentioned that they went to the synagogue on Saturday. This statement piqued my interest. I asked the question, " Why do they go to synagogue on Saturday rather than Sunday. Her answer was that Saturday was the 7th day of the week the Sabbath.
By this point I was clearly concerned. You see, I had always been taught that we went to church on Sunday because the 4th commandment said that we were to keep the Sabbath holy. I therefore had always thought that Sunday must be the seventh day of the week. (I am a little embarrassed to admit that I didnt know better by that age). I protested that Sunday was the seventh day, so the teacher took me up to a calendar and had me count the days from Sunday through to Saturday. I was stunned to realize that Saturday was truly the seventh day of the week.
Well, I was convinced, but something else occurred to me at that moment. I realized that my church -and even my family - had been lying to me. They didnt lie intentionally of course. They were fine people, but they simply did not know what they were talking about when it came to understanding the Bible. It was as if a big red light bulb lit up in my brain at that instant. I couldnt understand why no one around me seemed to be disturbed about what had just happened. I realized for the first time that I couldnt depend on these folks to tell me what to believe or what to practice, because none of them really knew. I had often heard them wonder about some point of practice or belief, and someone would inevitably say "brother or sister so-and-so does such & such. And I have confidence in them so I will do what they do." They were like sheep following one another around without a shepherd. It didnt seem to occur to them to dig into the Bible for the example to follow. So I was shocked by this situation and I determined that I could only depend on myself to find out the truth. I had not the slightest idea how I would do it but I knew I had to try.
As I look back on that episode, I realize that was probably the first time that God opened my eyes just a little to understand something that I might have blindly passed over. It was because of what now I understood, that I took a small step away from the path that I was following and changed my direction ever so slightly.
Some time passed and I had the opportunity to go into a Bible bookstore for the first time. I was fascinated at the many shelves full of books. There were Bibles of all kinds, commentaries, dictionaries, and many bible helps. I had some money in my pocket and I decided to buy something that would help me understand the Bible. I purchased the Halleys Bible Handbook and then I knew I had to buy a different translation of the Bible.
Our pastor had preached many times about translations other than the King James Version. He would say idiotic things like "people buy other translations because they dont want to obey the Bible, and they try to get one that lets them get by with what they want." To him the only "real" Bible was the King James. This made me suspicious, and I knew I had to see another translation.
I looked briefly at several translations but I didnt know one from another. I saw a copy of the Amplified Bible that had just been published. Only the New Testament had yet been finished so that is the one I bought. Anyone who has read the Amplified version knows that it is about the most unreadable translation ever made, so frankly I didnt get much out of it. But it was mostly symbolic anyway. I felt I was being a bit of a rebel in going against my pastors teaching.
The Halleys Bible Handbook proved useful in that it was a very brief overview of the entire Bible in a systematic way. Even though it was kind of elementary, it was more than I knew before. Together these two books were perhaps not the most educational books I might have bought, but it was a place to start. I took them home and read them both. I had taken the next step along the new path I had determined to follow. Another small course correction! I had made a simple beginning to educate myself for the journey that was to follow.
A few days later I noticed that my father picked up my Amplified Bible and thumbed through the pages, reading a passage here and there. Then he said "Wayne, Id like to borrow this book for a few days. I said "sure", not knowing what he had in mind. To my surprise he took it to church on Sunday evening. He had charge of a short lay service that evening that was always held just before the main service. He introduced his program by saying that there had been a lot said about other new translations, so he was going to read some selected passages side by side with the King James version. He said he wouldnt make any judgements or comments, but he would simply allow the listeners to make up their own mind. I never imagined that he would do that. Needless to say, my estimation of him as fair and open minded man grew substantially that day. Curiously, I never heard another comment from our minister about other translations after that.
I had the feeling that I had learned an important lesson that day. I learned that if you do the right thing, or at least what believe to be the right thing, there will be people who will follow you. Even though no one says anything, they admire a person who stands up for his convictions.
A few years passed and I left home for college. Still later I got married to a girl that I had known from church many years before. In my own household I finally began to feel free to think for myself for the first time. I became more serious about Bible study. I was not satisfied with the non answers and half answers that I was getting in the church, so I began to listen to other voices and read other literature. My wife was dissatisfied as well, though for different reasons. She had been the daughter of a preacher. She was privy to a lot of behind the scenes activity and she felt there was much hypocrisy there.
One of those voices we heard was a radio broadcast sponsored by the Worldwide Church of God, then called the Radio Church of God. I liked their approach, and their emphasis on Old Testament issues seemed to address things which were puzzling me. So together we decided to leave the church of our childhood and we became members of the Worldwide Church of God. It was a radical change for us a whole new lifestyle. We now went to services on Saturday rather than Sunday. Instead of Christmas and Easter, we were observing Passover and other Jewish holy days. We changed to their own version of a kosher diet. We began to follow what I now call a Readers Digest version of Torah.
Leaving our old church proved to be traumatic because of the radical change. It was just too much for our families to accept. My wifes father was an ordained minister and her mother a Sunday School teacher. My father was a Sunday school superintendent and my mom was a Sunday School teacher. They all seemed to be embarrassed and threatened by our decision to leave. They probably would not have been nearly so upset if we had just stopped going to church, or left their denomination for the Baptists or the Methodists. But to get into an organization that was virtually a polar opposite, they took to be a slap in the face. They tried everything from tears to intimidation to get us to see the error in what we were doing. Our fathers would probably have let us be if it werent for goading from our mothers. They took it as a personal affront to their child rearing. Of course we did not intend any offence to them. As adults, we only wanted the right to follow our consciences. Their responses only served to steel our determination. We had the courage of our convictions. We tried to deal with them courteously and respectfully, but we doggedly persevered in our decision. Im sorry to say that this episode unavoidably damaged our relationship with our respective parents. We tended to avoid each other after that. I got 20 page sermon letters from my mother and my wife got tearful visits from her mother. Soon we learned there were things we knew we just couldnt discuss. Although in time we were able to resume a sort of normalcy, there was always a barrier there.
This time it felt as if we had taken a giant fateful step in a new direction on our journey of life. This time we had burned a bridge and there could be no turning back.
We were to spend the next ten years in this new church organization. As I look back on that time, I can say a number of good things about it. The church was very family oriented. Children were not shuttled of to some separate Sunday school class. They were taught in the same group as the adults. Parents were encouraged to conduct family prayers and Bible studies with their children. In this way children were actively taught rather than just allowed to grow up. They were disciplined to sit quietly and learn. Members were encouraged to spend time each day in personal prayer and Bible study. There were crews organized to help widows and sick people with their day to day needs. Members who were in a position to do so, brought organic produce and raw milk to meetings to aid non agricultural families obtain more natural foods. For the most part these people were highly idealistic. They prized their understanding and their faith. They would have endured any hardship in order to preserve it. Many, if not most of them would have died for their faith were it necessary. But for some the sacrifices they made were formidable indeed.
There are also things I could say about the church that are not so laudable. The church was governed from the top down. Basically it was controlled by the whims of the one man at the top, the founder of the church. About the time I became a member, some of the ministers began to refer to him as an apostle. Apparently this term appealed to him, and he began to use the term himself. This seemed a little presumptuous to me. One could see that his feeling of self-importance was growing exponentially. Appropriating that title gave him the kind of absolute power he craved. His detractors began to refer to him as a protestant pope.
There is no doubt that this organization would be called a cult by many, although we as members were all there because we wanted to be. No one was intimidated to stay in. In fact the opposite was true. If any member (or minister) challenged the teachings of the church, he would be kicked out and members would be warned not to associate with him. Being disfellowshipped was considered a very serious thing because it was actively taught that this was the only true church. This only true church teaching was another very powerful method by which the church controlled the membership.
The teachings of the church, especially in those early years, were far from benign. I personally saw families of second marriages split up because of the churchs strict teaching on divorce and remarriage. When a family sought to become members, they were usually questioned about their marriages. Many who were forced to split from their second spouses could not remarry because they were still married to their original spouse in the eyes of the church. I personally knew one young man who took his own life because he was trapped in a bad marriage by the church.
I saw church members die needlessly of cancer or other serious illnesses because they followed the teaching of the church by refusing drugs and medical treatment. I sat through the night with some of these folks during their decline.
In spite of the great idealism of the members there were other, even less worthy, motivations that were becoming known in the ranks of the ministry, especially at the top. Rumors began to spread about many improper activities that were going on. There were reports of immorality, ministers using their power and influence to solicit sexual favors. There were reports of smoking (it was forbidden for the members), drunkenness, and gambling (using church funds no less). The man at the top had amassed great wealth and lived a regal lifestyle, at the same time asking the members to make great personal sacrifices so that their unique gospel could go out. From time to time small groups of people would leave or be expelled when they became privy to this information. Often it would be told that they were put out because they were demon possessed or because they were involved in terrible sins. This was done to discourage others from talking to them.
In addition to the corruption, the doctrines of the church were coming under sustained criticism from within the church. One of the things that will happen in that environment is that conscientious people who are studying their Bibles and growing will eventually out grow the church. They will eventually bump up against conflicts between their own beliefs and the teachings of the church. And when the church will not yield, people leave.
Eventually however, the rumors could not be suppressed. A large group of people left at that time. My wife and I decided that we would leave too, since our own understanding was becoming quite at variance with the church. We left the church with the full knowledge that there was no place left for us to go in the church world. I was by that time well enough acquainted with the spectrum of teachings of all the churches that I knew we could not fit in anywhere. For me the entire concept of church had been shown to be lacking and corrupt. It was kind of disorienting at first.
But I decided that I would simply pursue a one-on-one relationship with God. I would continue to pray and study my Bible, and there would not be any man or organization to tell me what to think or what to believe. I promised myself that I would never again allow any man to exercise that kind of power over me. I remain convinced that the exercise of that kind of spiritual authority is a great evil. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. So I left church forever.
As it turns out, that was the best decision I had ever made. I soon discovered that I could understand the Bible with much more clarity. I did not have to justify the beliefs of some preacher or church. I did not even have to justify my own preconceived notions. I could simply acknowledged my error and change my mind. It now seemed that my spiritual understanding was growing at a much greater rate.
Eventually I began to feel an urge to share my understanding with others, although I did not have the slightest idea how I could do that. I had no inclination to start some kind of church organization. I knew very few likeminded people. I decided that I would write articles expounding the insights that I had gained over the several years of study. I would go into the details that led me to draw the conclusions that I had reached. When the material had been written I felt that a way to disseminate it would become available to me. I soon had a few articles on subjects of interest to me, but I had no place to publish them.
About that time I came across an old copy of the Book of Jasher. I immediately recognized the title as coming from the Bible in the books of Joshua and Samuel. I was skeptical that it could be one and the same book, but I had to know. I quickly bought it and read it. I found it utterly fascinating. It was not a religious book but rather a book of history. It covered the early biblical period and most of it was about biblical personalities. The most obvious feature of the book was that it provided many additional details about biblical accounts. It was tremendously valuable for supplemental information. It made terse or confusing biblical passages clear. I began a study of the book that is still going on to this day. I was quickly convinced that it was indeed the original book mentioned in the Bible. But I couldnt get over the fact that it was almost completely unknown. I decided that I would undertake to publish a new edition of Jasher which would include my notes and analyses.
By the time I had my first printing done, the internet was heating up. It was becoming obvious how it could revolutionize communication. It was destined to enable small independent publishers like me to reach the whole world. I created my web page at www.jasher.com and began promoting the book on the internet. I also posted my articles on the webpage for all to read.
During this same period, I had a great opportunity to study Biblical Hebrew at the local junior college. For several semesters I studied Hebrew with great enthusiasm. It opened up a whole new dimension to my studies. I now had a tremendously valuable new tool for my investigations. I could now write more convincingly than before.
I have always been fascinated with Genesis. Some years earlier, I had undertaken to write a commentary on the Book of Genesis, outlining understanding that I had gained at the time. As I went systematically chapter by chapter, I came to the 8th and 9th chapters and became bogged down. Though the narrative about Noahs sacrifice and Gods response seemed clear enough, it was apparent that something more was taking place than meets the eye. There was clearly an important covenant, yet it seemed vague and unclear. I consulted every commentary and resource I could find, but all had little to say except for a rainbow and a promise from God never to destroy the earth with water again. I was sure there was more. God would not make a covenant frivolously. None of the scholars seemed to know anything about this covenant, and most just passed over it in icy silence. After a couple of weeks of trying to make sense of it I decided to skip over it for the time being intending to come back to it later.
That passage stayed in the back of my mind and I thought of it often. I had learned the importance of the covenants of the Bible. I had realized that God never breaks a covenant He makes, yet this one is almost completely misunderstood and ignored by everyone.
Some time later, I came across an article in the Jerusalem Post about a small Baptist church in Athens, Tennesee that had broken away from the Baptist conference to become independent. They had undertaken an in depth study of Torah and they were re-assessing their teachings. They took the word Baptist out of their name. As their studies progressed, they also took the word Church out of their name, becoming simply The Emmanuel Congregation. They were embracing something called the Seven Laws of Noah, laws that were given to all mankind at the time of the Rainbow Covenant. The article also mentioned a man in Fort Worth Texas who headed a small group pursuing the same teachings. These people applied the name Bnai Noach (the sons of Noah) or Noachide to themselves. Immediately I recognized that these folks were on the same path of thought as I. I did not immediately see how there were seven laws given there in Genesis, but I knew I had to explore this and understand what they were teaching. I began to read their literature and learn about these seven laws. These were very small groups of dedicated people who were focusing their lives on the understanding of Torah as it relates to gentiles. To the outside world they seemed to be Jewish because they sought instruction from the Rabbis. But there were large differences in practice. They were practicing the way of life that Judaism recognizes as proper for all non-Jews. Judaism has always believed that the observance of the Ten Commandments and the accompanying 613 commandments of Torah were intended only for Israel as an obligation of the covenant of Sinai. The rest of mankind was bound only to the Seven Laws of Noah and other laws derived from them. Thus these gentiles were in tune with Torah teaching, though their practices do not include all the things practiced by Jews. I cannot take space in this treatise to explain more about the Seven Laws because it is a lengthy study on its own and it is not my present purpose.
But I evenualy realized that I was a Bnai Noach, even if I did not previously know what it was called. It was very consistent with what I had come to believe. Bnai Noach is not actually a formal organization. We are not organized. There is no membership list. There is no national or international organization. There are some differences in belief among them because there is no manual of discipline (other than Torah). There is simply a loose knit group with common interests who stay in contact and pursue Torah learning.
In time I was able to some attend annual conferences at each of these congregations. I studied the seven laws of Noah in more detail, and became convinced that this was the way of peace and truth for all mankind.
So I had been led to another course correction. My direction has now become quite different than it would have been had not that series of subtle events not occurred over the years. I am sure that there will be others to come.
So as I look back over my life I can see that it has indeed been a journey. I did not have a clue where I would be in the end. I can clearly recognize some of those little course corrections that changed my direction ever so slightly. But over the distance and over time I have ended up far away from where I would have been otherwise, and I am pleased with where I have gone. We cannot know in advance where life will take us. We can only take each step with integrity, honesty, and with guidance from God.
Addenda-In regards to my background, I have not previously put this material on the web because I didn't want the website to be about me personally. I am not any kind of preacher or pastor. I am not looking a following nor am I looking for tithes and offerings. I have no initials after my name that will influence anyone to accept what I say because of who I am. If anyone believes what I say it will have to be on the basis of the persuasive presentation of factual information, the thoroughness of the research, and compelling logic. That is what I strive for in my material.
(c) Copyright 2006 by Wayne Simpson
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