Continuing with my study of Ben Giesbrecht’s book, Keeping the Faith and I find a few more things I want to address. First of all, let’s take a good long hard look at this; on page 104 he is speaking of the Inquisition. He says, quoting a former Catholic priest, “I, like the Catholic pilot of the Nagasaki plane, ‘The Great Artiste” was heir to a Christianity that had for seventeen hundred years engaged in revenge, murder, torture, the pursuit of power, and prerogative violence, all in the name of our Lord.”
I know it is a very broad generalization to begin to compare the actions of the Holdeman church during the purge of the 1970s to the Catholic Inquisition, but one must not overlook the similarities. On page 100 Ben says “The Inquisition was one of the most cruel processes devised by man.” Instead of looking at the methods used to bring people under control, let us focus more upon the motives. I think it is stated clearly in the first quote, mentioned above. “The pursuit of power.” Now, they might say they were cleansing the church. They look back on it as a great revival. Let us define more clearly what actually took place.
The church had come through a time of prosperity and relative thriving, and many of the practices that held it in check were eroding and becoming blurred. Ben put it well in the statement he made about the teaching of the one true church being necessary in order for the church to have power. Hence, the cruel knuckles of the purge. The power to beat the members came from enforcing the belief in the one true church. People were called in for visits. Paneled, as it were. They were called in for “interviews.” In these interview, questions were asked and people were then given a “writing.” Often there were people who believed they were walking with God. They wanted nothing more than to be a part of the church and be a Christian. Much to their shock and surprise, they were told they were lacking. Some were told on the spot that they would be excommunicated. Others were given a limited amount of time to “come up with an experience.” The experiences that allowed people to survive and retain their membership had to do with bowing to the authority of the church, and asserting convincingly enough that they bowed to the ministers and their assessment of the individual’s spiritual condition. The terror and dismay caused by all of this was unimaginable. I knew a woman who had lost a son in a car accident many years ago and she said that the ordeal that she endured in the paneling was worse than the death of her son, and she was never even put on repentance. How do you figure all of this?
Let me quote another passage from the book. Where Ben uses the words “Catholic Church” as you read, change that to Holdeman. “Why do we give so much space to the errors of the Catholic Church? Is it because we think Catholic people are not good people? No, Catholic people are like other people. Among them there are many good people. We might say that as a people they are neither better nor worse than people of other religions or beliefs. The Catholic Church has done many great works of charity. There are many highly principled Catholic individuals. But this can be said of any people.” This is true. The people do not make the system evil, but rather the beliefs and practices. I can hear what you are saying now. You are saying, So you think that there is nothing good in the Holdeman church? No, I am saying that the whole system is simply wrong. You could go out there and change systems, find one that more realistically fits your needs, and still be wrong. You are to come OUT of systems entirely. Systems are worldly. The world is full of systems, religious, political, corporate. They are all the same. They all operate on the same principles. They are a power structure, and the ones at the top will control the ones at the bottom or there will be chaos. All systems are wrong when it comes to being a Christian.
Among those with spiritual discernment, there is an uncomfortable, embarrassing difference between the power and practice of the New Testament Church and the religious organizations and denominations that have since come into existence. What began as a living, Christ-centered faith has evolved into something far removed from what Jesus intended when He declared: “I will build My Church (Ekklesia), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
What IS this Church that Jesus is building? What does it look like? Where is it located? Who is in charge of it? Do the religious institutions and leaders of today really represent the faith that was first given to us by Christ, taught by the apostles and confirmed by the Holy Spirit? Or has Christianity been replaced by “Churchianity”?
Some say God is calling us to restore the Church to what it used to be. They believe the answer lies in preaching, repentance, reformation, and working from within the system to repair it.
But a growing number of Christians say that the Church as it exists today was never God’s intention in the first place. They have forsaken the “old wineskins” and religious structures of Christendom to follow Jesus in the simplicity that the early Christians followed Him. They are not called to fix the system, but to come out of it altogether. They still love the people, and are concerned for the people. They do miss something of the fellowship they once thought they had. And sometimes they miss it so much that they do go and visit other churches, trying to fit in, trying to find a place. But try as they might, something in them just cannot go along with it anymore.
If we continue to nail down every precept, doctrine and tradition, we have missed completely the message that Jesus came to bring. He came to make us followers of HIM, not followers of a lineage or a religious tradition. He came not to enforce rules, but set us free from rules. He came to put the law in our hearts, not on paper or stone. Can you not see this my friends? Are your eyes blinded by tradition, love of ease and acceptance?
When we speak of power, what should we be speaking of? On the day Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out. He came with power. What kind of power was this? Was it the power of one man to control others? Did it endorse the power of a system to force people to follow under pain of great loss? No, this power was personal, individual. It was the power to overcome sin. It was the power to actually cast out demons, heal the sick, and the Bible actually says to raise the dead. Look at what Jesus told his disciples in Matthew chapter 10 (v.8) “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” He tells them how to go about doing all of this. Then in verse 17 he says “But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;” I feel that is a verse that someone could claim when they have been cast out of the Holdeman church for no particular sin, but simply that they undermined the power structure of the leaders and the one true church system. Have you been delivered up to a council? Have you been scourged in the church? If you have and you have an experience to tell, we would like to hear about it here. There is further liberty, as they say.