This is a very quick review of my experiences with Christianity as a believer, and the important ways it affected my life. It pretty much happened in four phases:
1st PHASE – CATHOLIC CULTURE
I was born and raised in a country with a lot of catholic tradition. My family was originally catholic too, as well as most people around me, so basic Christian concepts like heaven, hell, salvation and biblical inerrancy always seemed like common sense to me. I didn’t really use to question them, I simply took them for granted.
When I was around the age of 8, though, a wave of Neo-Pentecostal Protestantism was spreading in my city, and like many, my family and I were caught by the wave.
2nd PHASE – NEO-PENTECOSTAL CHURCHES
I started to attend a Bible Sunday School at a Neo-Pentecostal Church. There I got to learn many stories from the Bible, from Genesis, Exodus, Acts.. and especially the Apocalypse of John. The church used a dispensationalist eschatology, so we were regularly taught about the horrors of the end times for the non-Christians and the importance of being obedient to God and believing. It was there where I learned to have fear, one of the main motivations to my faith in the dogmas.
Another motivation came from experiences during that time, what I was led to regard as miraculous evidences. The first was the fast recovery of my mother, who at the time suffered from a joints disease. The second one was the occasional fulfillment of prayers I did, like in order to pass an exam or for someone’s health. The third, and most important, were apparent spiritual manifestations, typical of such churches. Those were things like people suddenly fainting or dancing (if you’ve been to such churches you know what I’m talking about), but the most convincing one to me was the practice of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, in which believers in a deep emotional state would start speaking unrecognizable sounds, considered to be the language of the angels. To me, the only explanation for such actions was the divine essence of Christianism. All that made me increasingly more convinced.
3rd PHASE – THE REFORMED THEOLOGY EXPERIENCE
Later my family and I moved to two other churches of similar tradition. Neo-Pentecostalism was the world I knew, the only kind of Christianism I had ever had contact with. I couldn’t imagine there was a so huge variety of Christian practices and doctrines out there.
My perspectives changed a lot, though, when I met Presbyterian missionaries in my college, started Bible study with them and later became a member of their church. Before that, I used to think seeking God was all about trying to receive blessings, achieve material prosperity and success. Reformed theology, however, with more direct roots to Lutheranism and Calvinism, made me turn my eyes to my own ego and for the first time recognize my selfishness and pride. It made me reflect upon the whole idea of suffering, through which I came to understand that much of human suffering does not actually come from external problems, but from the inside, from our own attachments and selfishness. I don’t know if that’s what motivates most of Presbyterians, but what greatly inspired me were the biblical teachings about selflessness, compassion and humbleness. Those were ideas that would change the way I see the world forever.
But at the time, influenced by the church community, I was driven to see the beautiful teachings found in some parts of the Bible as proof of the perfection of the scriptures as a whole. I strengthened my faith in the unique holiness and inerrancy of the Bible and, consequentially, the divine mission of the Christian religion. I had become a passionate believer.
4th PHASE – TIME FOR REEVALUATION
For a period of a couple of years, that I kept studying the Bible and participating in the church’s activities, the concept of biblical inerrancy was the most important thing for me, the basis for all my beliefs and opinions. I felt so assured that I didn’t usually even think of the reasons I had for my faith. But one day, and I don’t remember exactly why, that little doubt that from time to time haunts the minds of Christians, came to pay me a visit. I saw myself thinking: “Wait.. What if I am actually wrong about this? Do I really have justifications for my absolute trust in the Bible??”
I was on my way home from the Sunday Worship Service, but I decided to stop for a while, sit down on a bench and think. I started to review my experiences. I reminded myself of the amazing content of the Bible, the fulfilled prayers and my mother’s healing. I wanted to believe that if such wonderful things happened to Christians, then Christianism could only be the one true religion. But deep inside I knew they couldn’t be regarded as so strong evidence, since many other religions also have beautiful teachings, fulfilled prayers and spiritual healings. I didn’t want to accept, but there was the possibility that such things were nothing but coincidences.
So I held more strongly to the spiritual manifestations idea. I felt very convinced that glossolalia was the major sign that my religion was true, despite of it being only a small part of the religion itself. I saw people speaking in tongues after evoking God, in exactly the same way as the Bible passages describe it, as if it confirmed that the supernatural happenings of the Bible were true. Besides, that was something I supposed to be unique to Christianity, and to me there was no explanation for that other than being a spiritual phenomenon. It had to be a sign from God that the Bible was right, that I could trust my life on it.
Well, maybe I did not have enough evidence for my conclusions, but on that day I made myself believe I did. I felt like I had to believe, I needed it so much. The important thing is that I had convinced myself, reconciled my faith with my reason. For the time being, at least. The truth, however, is that there was still somewhere itching in the back of my mind, and my faith was still to meet its fiercest challenge……….