Vol. 11 No. 8 August 2009
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Nearly 40 years ago, I remember a Gospel preacher who often told his conversion story one night of any Gospel meeting in which he preached. His personal account of how he became a Christian appealed to his audiences. In addition, one quality of telling about his translation into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13) was that he provided both knowledge about how to become a Christian and encouragement for others to do likewise.
Sometimes, when I mention that I was reared as a Catholic, people ask me how I became a Christian. Recently, I received an email inquiry posing the same question. Though I have verbally conveyed the answer to this question from time to time, yet for convenience, for satisfaction of curiosity and for any encouragement possible to anyone contemplating obedience to the Gospel (Romans 16:26), it is time for me to commit “my conversion story” to the proverbial pen and paper.
I was born a Catholic, and (according to Catholic doctrine) I will die a Catholic (though, obviously, not a very good one). My Catholic grandparents on my dad’s side of the family taught me to revere Almighty God. Nevertheless, I learned hypocrisy from them as well, and I learned disregard for Catholicism and religion generally from my parents. (Since then I have learned that hypocrisy alone is insufficient reason to turn from a religion, because Christians also can practice hypocrisy, which may drive away other Christians as well as non-Christians from the church of the Bible.)
At the tender age of 17-years-old, I made some false starts in my attempt to find the one, true church, for I no longer believed that the Catholic Church was that one, true church. On more than one occasion, I responded to “altar calls” in various denominations. In each of those instances, I was expected to acknowledge that I was saved based on subjective feelings. With no more assurance than “feelings,” and because I did not “feel” differently, I continued to search for the one, true church; I was not looking for the one, true church of the Bible, since I had been taught all my life that the Bible is a “dead letter.”
Subsequently to escape a home life with which I was unhappy, I enlisted in the United States Air Force before I graduated from high school, scheduled to report to basic training six days following graduation. At the conclusion of basic training, in an effort to insulate myself from the rigors of military life if it proved as unpleasant as basic training, I applied for a position as a chaplain’s assistant. However, the Air Force chaplains were not interested in a confused, Catholic youth, and they sent me back to my barracks. By then, others had selected career fields from what had been available. Hence, I was assigned a career field that I did not want, put on a bus on which I did not want to be, bussed two states east to a state to which I did not want to go and assigned to a military school that I did not want to attend.
Around 5:30 a.m. daily, I found myself in classes to make me an Administrative Specialist (clerk). In one of those classes, I had to demonstrate that I already knew how to type so that I could skip a typing course and advance to the next lessons. The test involved placing a sheet of carbon paper between two sheets of paper and typing a specified text. My mistake was putting the carbon paper upside down between the two sheets of paper. (Many younger people today have no idea what carbon paper is.) Naturally, I had two copies of the text—on either side of one sheet of paper, and I had one blank sheet of paper!
When I sheepishly went to the front of the classroom to ask the instructor what he wanted me to do then, he opened his briefcase just long enough to retrieve something from it. During the brief time that the briefcase was open, I saw a bumper sticker that decried the use of instrumental music. This peaked my curiosity, and I asked the instructor if he didn’t believe in instrumental music at home. He responded that instrumental music was fine at home, but not for use in worshipping God. My instructor, Dwayne Jones, a deacon in the Rodenburg Church of Christ of Biloxi, MS, and I began studying the Bible and viewing the Jule Miller filmstrips in the evenings; we might study until 2 a.m. and be in class at 5:30 a.m. Six weeks later, I obeyed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing full well what I was doing, knowing that my sins had been forgiven and that I was a member of the one, true church of the Bible.
Becoming a Christian is an emotional encounter (John 4:24), but emotion accompanied and validated by knowledge (1 John 2:3, 5). Everything else is baseless subjectivity! The Bible is God’s revelation to mankind (not a dead letter, 2 Peter 1:18-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17), and especially the New Testament for the age in which we live conveys to us how to take care of the sin problem in the God-approved way. One must resort to the Word of God or the Gospel, allowing it to be the source of one’s religious faith and practice (Romans 10:17). A person must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son or God or the Savior (John 8:24). Someone desiring to be saved must repent of his sins (Luke 13:3, 5). He must publicly acknowledge his confidence that Jesus is the Messiah or Savior (Romans 10:9-10; Acts 8:37). Then, one must couple his faith and repentance with immersion (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12) in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). Obeying the Gospel (Romans 6:16-17) leads to salvation (Hebrews 5:9), whereas disobedience will result in an eternal tragedy (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Generally, Bible students acknowledge that God does not answer the prayers of sinners (John 9:31). However, the one prayer by a non-Christian to which God will respond is the prayer-request to know God’s Word for the purpose of complying with it; I had essentially prayed the prayer of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2), and God answered my prayer by sending me a Peter (Acts 10:5). Though God’s providence (Romans 8:28) is difficult to impossible to recognize in real-time, looking back in my life, I see what appears to have been the providence of God working to provide me an opportunity to become a Christian. Without ongoing divine revelation today, no one can say definitively about any set of circumstances that it was the providence of God, but in my life and in other contemporary events a person must either declare they were a series of coincidences or they were occasions of the providence of God. I tend to believe that the several events preceding my conversion, over which I had no control and which were counter to my desires, were the unfolding of the providence of God in my life. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking by it!”