From the ages of sixteen to twenty-three, I traversed the landscape of evangelical Christianity. I became part of the following denominations: Southern Baptist, Independent Baptist (a completely different species from the Southern Baptists), Mennonite, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of Christ (non-instrumental), Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Assemblies of God, Church of God, and countless stripes…of charismatic Christianity, including Word-Faith, Third-Wave, Open Bible, and Vineyard.
Granted, it’s a queer mix. But it gave me a broad view of the existing theological terrain. And it furnished me with some rich ground for future spiritual exploration.
In addition to the litany of denominations I sampled, I was part of five parachurch organizations at the University that I attended. In addition, I (along with some other students) created our own parachurch organization.
Why had I moved through so many different Christian organizations? The answer is that I was on a journey. I was looking for more of my Lord. And although I didn’t realize it back then, I was on a quest for the church after God’s own heart.
My journey followed a consistent pattern. I would find Christ in one group, but as time went on, the group couldn’t take me any further into Him. The experience quickly wore out, and I was left hungering for more of the Lord. So I would join another group that held the promise of teaching me a new aspect of Christ. But as time went on, that new adventure grew perfunctory. This cycle continued unabated for years.
I was a desperate young man wanting to learn Christ in all of His depths. It was this desperation that led me across the Protestant landscape. When I was twenty years old, however, something was placed into my hands that gave me hope that my cycle of church hopping would one day come to an end.
It was June of 1985. A friend of mine handed me a book by a Chinese Christian named Watchman Nee. The title of the book–The Normal Christian Life.
I devoured it. It was unlike anything I have ever heard or read. I found Nee’s remarkable gift for presenting spiritual truth in a clear and practical way to be extremely refreshing and challenging.
But there was something more that I discovered in reading the book. I tasted that for which I had hungered. “Deep was calling unto deep,” and I connected with some intangible element that I was searching for in the deepest parts of my being.
I didn’t know it then, but Jesus Christ was ministered to me through that book.
Indeed, The Normal Christian Life proved life-changing for me. It introduced me to an uncommon insight into the Lord that I didn’t know existed. (Many years would pass before I read more of Watchman Nee’s books.)
That book left a deep imprint on me. It brought me face-to-face with a new dimension of spiritual life and understanding. One that would mark the rest of my Christian life.
** Excerpted from Rethinking the Church which contains my never-before-published memoir about “church.” It’s part of the new Rethinking Series.