God and I go way back. As in before I was even born. The story goes that my mom had her third kid in 1972 and it was shortly there after that she felt God was telling her to have one more child. She claims to have had a vision or a dream of a boy in his crib jumping up and down saying, “Have me! Have me!” So in 1980 at the age of 40 my mother gave birth to me. She had the name picked out – Vincent, because it meant conqueror. She later told me that she felt God had told her I would be a fully converted Christian and would serve Him with my whole heart.
I had great folks. Very loving and involved. We were a very poor blue collar family that mostly kept to ourselves. My family didn’t socialize much except through our church functions. To me it seemed the church was the entire focal point of our life and everything came out of that.
My parents were members in the Worldwide Church of God. The church had some great things about it: a strong sense of community among the members, strongly encouraged and expected their members to do their own personal bible studies and read the bible for themselves daily, belief that God wanted us to give Him our whole self and every part of our being as we continue to follow Him. The church accurately taught that following God was to be “a way of life”, not just something you add into your existing life. However, what the church was well know for outside of our ranks were it’s unorthodox and most distinguishing traits:
-they believed that they were the only true church and everyone else was devastatingly wrong, under a false gospel, not real Christians, and completely deceived by satan
-believed in British-Israelism which holds the view that the people of America are genetically, racially, and linguistically the direct descendants of the lost tribes of Israel as spoken of in the Bible.
-they kept Saturday’s as a “holy day” of the week (no playing with friends, no work, no TV, no nothing except a day of rest, going to church, and bible study)
-they kept all the Old Testament food laws and holy days – this meant no pork, shellfish, or exotics in regard to food and then we had out our “church holidays” that were observed as mentioned in the Old Testament like Passover, days of unleavened bread, day of Atonement, Feast of Trumpets and Tabernacles.
-belief that all of the secular holidays (birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.) were not only wrong to celebrate since they had pagan origins not found in the Bible, but were also sinful to participate in.
-BIGGGGGGG on bible prophecy and specifically interrupting bible passages in light of current world events as it related to the specail relationship American had with British-Israelism. This was probably the biggest hallmark and signature of the movement next to the keeping of the Sabbath and food laws.
-We believed that the end of the world as we knew it was right around the corner. It could happen at any moment. In fact Armstrong made MANY predictions that the end would come either within months, or a year, or within 5 years, or within a decade, or as he once wrote an entire booklet on, in the year 1975.
-discouraged believers to go to doctors or seek medical help and instead told it’s members to believe God for healing for health issues
-Oh, and our head leader, Herbert Armstrong, believed he was a special apostle sent by God to proclaim the “original” message of God that was preached by the apostles in the book of Acts that had be long lost for some 1900 years. The Bible had not be fully understood up to this point in time until God had revealed it to Armstrong in this century. He alone had the only complete revelation of how all the puzzle pieces of the Bible fit together.
So really the church was more like a cult due to the exclusion and relative damnation of all others who weren’t in it. But it wasn’t a cult in like people were running around naked having orgies and offering sacrifices to satan or anything like that. They were pretty much all good people who just believed God had called them into a realization of “the truth” through His chosen last-day apostle Herbert Armstrong. To someone who isn’t familiar with the church it probably sounds crazy. It sure didn’t seem crazy at the time. It seemed normal and all of you seemed crazy to not believe this obvious prophet of God! (ok, now I’m sounding like cult member, ha, ha).
I was told from an early age that I was one of the “chosen” of God who was privileged to come to knowledge of the true church. I was told that I was to be God’s representative to this present world, an ambassador of Christ, to which someday God would bring His Kingdom back to the earth and set up His ruling physical government when there would at last be world peace and a restored order to all the present chaos.
Because the church believed God has to “call” you into His Church it lead me believe that I was somehow more special then the rest of the people in the world. This was logical since God had chosen me and not them. I didn’t know why, I just accepted it.
It wasn’t an easy time for me in public schools. I had a lot stacked against me. Having a big red birthmark on my face meant that I got teased horribly. I was in the weird cult that didn’t get to receive or hand out Christmas or Easter cards in school or sing holiday songs like the rest of the kids. I wasn’t gifted in sports so I was always picked nearly last when making teams in the schoolyard and my parents were didn’t train me in subtle social cues so I was pretty awkward and didn’t fit in. To top it off I was book smart which was never a turn on for making friends.
All of the awkwardness just further fed into the idea that I was ingrained and groomed with from the church, “You are not of this world. You are of a small chosen people for God. You are suppose to be different. You are not going to fit in.” So in some ways the crap that I got from my peers reinforced what I was being told by the Church.
Something unique about my early childhood was that I really enjoyed talking about the philosophicals with my parents (philosophicals that were of course always in context of the Christian faith and our church teachings). “What will it be like when we become like God in the New Kingdom? What happens to my mind when I die? When will God bring the end of the world? Aren’t we going to be bored if we live forever? How come my neighborhood friends aren’t ‘called’?” Those are some pretty deep questions for a 8 or 9 year old but I remember asking them. And I had all of this eternity stuff actively on my mind as I went about my day to day life. It certainly brought me a different perspective than what I assume other kids my age had.
I also remember having an ear ache as a young kid, maybe 5 or 6. It was really bad and I think lasted for days. My church taught against going to doctors as a first line of defense so eventually we had the church elders come over and “lay hands” on me for my ear, or it might have been a “prayer cloth” that was brought over. I remember that within a few minutes the pain totally went away and I was playing on the railing of my living room having a great time. As a child this just seemed like normal routine and event. I knew that God had healed my ear and I was happy.
My parents were also great people of faith. My mom’s bookshelf was filled with church literature, bible studies, and bible where she had self annotated everywhere. My dad would pray for HOURS….I mean HOURS. Even on vacation he would go into the bathroom on most nights, turn on the light and close the door, and get on his knees and pray. We tried our best to live good Christian lives. My parents were very honest and giving toward others and really tried to follow the Bibles teaching. To me they were the real deal…and still are. They knew there Bible stuff and practiced it – well, mostly. As of course as with all families there was a huge amount of crap too. I didn’t figure that out till I got older. But from my childhood perspective, and even looking back now, they were definitely seeking God in a genuine and sincere way with all of their hearts.
As for me, I loved going to church as a kid. I didn’t like dressing up in a suit + tie and fancy clothes but my dad said we did it to honor God. And I was truly zealous for God! I would to take my own sermon notes, brought my own briefcase with paper and pens, and did my best to understand the Bible and do what I thought God wanted me to do. I tried to do what the grown-ups did. For example, when my church annually observed the Day of Atonement (a day to fast and not eat) I observed it too. I remember being no more than 6 or 7 and feeling so bad that I couldn’t make it the whole 24 hour fast as I ate a banana with only a half-hour to go.
Regarding bible study my church was HEAVY on the Old Testament so I was greatly familiarized with all of the major old testament stories. We didn’t call it Sunday school but we did have our own meeting times with the kids where we would go through our Youth Bible Lessons which included fun coloring, some reading, crosswords and puzzles, and the dreaded MEMORY VERSE at the end of each lesson packet- ahhhhh! I used to stress out about those memorization verses so much.
Throughout the whole process I really believed in God. I can remember sitting in my backyard listening to the trees blow in the breeze on Saturday mornings by myself before church thinking about the things of God. It was like God was all around me and I thought I saw Him in everything.
The hardest thing that I remember about the whole God thing was that living this “holy life” out sucked. I didn’t get to do so many of the things my non-church friends did which stunk and crippled me socially. I had to throw out one whole day of the week to “rest” for God on Saturday’s and it seemed like doing God stuff was just boring. And it was REALLY hard to resist not doing bad things – like lying, stealing and and the little things the boys get themselves in trouble with. I remember that part was hard.
The church also taught that the end of the world was DEFINITELY coming ANY year or month now. I grew up thinking that God was undoubtedly coming back before I would be twenty years old, maybe even when I was ten. So that gives a kid a really different perspective on life. For example, when the Berlin wall came down in 1989 taught this was all a big fulfillment of Bible prophecy and the end was inching ever near.
Any talk of bombs or wars meant that Christ was coming back soon. At nine years old I was thinking, “Wow, God kingdom will be here on earth like any day now!”. Having this prospective did make me more aware of world events than most kids. I wasn’t scared, I knew I was going to have a big part to play in Gods new world order…AND there was this thing called the “place of safety” which was a promised place where God would magically wisp away Hes chosen ones (Armstrong thought it would be at Petra) where we would be safe while the world nearly destroys itself. So I had nothing to be afraid of.
Apart from the teasing from the school kids, fitting in socially, and being dead broke poor…oh yeah, and my dads temper and the corporal discipline of the belt or paddle against my bare butt, I actually had a pretty good childhood. There was some trauma, but everything always seemed to work out. And I had an eternal purpose in life that explained all of the crap in the world and with it knew that a great new “World Tomorrow” was unbelievable close on the horizon where there would be a beautiful restoration of the Earth under God’s earthly government.
MOSTLY GOOD TIMES
When I’m stressed out now as an adult I like to sometimes think back to those days in the church when life seemed all figured out and I had so little worries. I think about my church, the special events and feast days we’d attend, the special songs that only our church sang, and the simple purpose for life that the church said I had as a chosen one. It’s still very therapeutic.
The WWCG for me in early life was mostly good times. I felt like I had a pretty good and special relationship with God too. There were a lot of nice adults that befriended me as well.
All was going well with me and the church till the early 90’s. Then everything fell apart.
–> Continue reading to part 2
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!