Imagine growing up, as I did, with the understanding that you are set apart from the rest of the world by God. Some of the elements that identified me as one of God's chosen people were that I never ate the unclean meats listed in Deuteronomy, and I never attended any extracurricular school activities or employment functions from Friday night sundown till Saturday night sundown.
I kept the Festival Holy Days listed in the Old Testament as a strict command from God; I tithed 20 percent and sometimes 30 percent; and I never dated anyone outside my religion.
Everyone followed the pyramid leadership formation in my church with unquestioning loyalty. It would be common for the minister to ask women to grow their hair to a proper length to meet the church's guidelines or to tell a man he could not attend church services if he continued to chew tobacco.
Now imagine, after dedicating your life to living this way in order to please God, you discover the beliefs you once firmly upheld were in error.
I don't have to imagine this. The church from my birth, the Worldwide Church of God, the only spiritual truth I have ever known, said that it had been wrong in some of its doctrines. These changes affected me and other members around the world in an emotionally and spiritually dramatic and confusing way.
Virtually every decision I have ever made had its roots in my fundamental religious convictions, from the friends I made, the clothes I wore, the classes I took in school, and the employment I applied for. The upheaval led to a re-evaluation of my beliefs, my motivations, my relationship with my husband, family members, and friends. It was hard to accept that my beliefs were being challenged by the same church that instilled them in the first place, which I'd attended for over 25 years. This was by far the greatest spiritual and emotional crisis of my life.
My once close-knit family was divided over the doctrinal change issue. No two opinions were completely the same. Family gatherings became tense and less frequent. I struggled for weeks; part of me wanted to stick to the only spiritual food I'd ever been given, and the other part wanted to consider the new information now being taught by my church. There was no easy answer. Either direction I went, someone around me would be hurt by the decisions I had to make. People I love and respect were on both sides of the issue. Family and friends who had had a big influence in my spiritual life eventually decided to leave our fellowship, while others were convinced that leaving was wrong.
After much prayer and soul searching, I decided to put people's feelings aside and trust God to lead me. The study guides our church published, sermons, and much personal Bible study led me along the road of discovery. I cleared my mind of all prejudices. I refused to listen to any rumors or read any "black marketed" dissident materials. I was determined to hear the new doctrinal information with an open mind, like the Bereans did in Acts 17.
With my mind open, a new understanding of Scripture poured in. I grasped a new knowledge of what God's grace means in our lives today. The zeal for God's work, which I had prayed for many times in years past, came flooding in. I have a new urgency to discover what specific work God wants to accomplish through me for his kingdom.
There are years of spiritual growth ahead for me. When God led me down an unknown path to an unknown destination, with conflicting judgments about whether or not it was right, it created a stronger, more binding faith in God's love and mercy. Although it is scary to have your religious convictions challenged, it has high rewards when you face that challenge with a willingness to prove the truth according to Scripture, wherever that truth lies. The doctrinal changes incorporated by our church forced my faith to be tried by fire as prophesied in 1 Peter 1:7. But I have never seen our congregation this happy and energized. I am living in the most exciting time of my spiritual life because, in a historical event, God laid his hands on our organization and steered us in a direction we had not anticipated to place us where he wanted us. And it all happened in my lifetime.
By Camilla F. Kleindienst, who lives in Fulton, Missouri. This article was originally printed in the July 15, 1996, issue of Christianity Today.