Last Sunday I had the opportunity to witness 3 people being baptized into Christ. At least I hope they were. They are friends of mine and had made their decision to be baptized about a week prior. Now, this post isn't going to be about the reasons and purposes of baptism but rather my experience at this particular organizations services.
There are some students from Turkey here visiting for 3 months and they wanted to do something and I asked them if they wanted to witness a Christian baptism. They agreed and I picked them up and we went. (Turkey is between 98-99% Muslim population) I got pretty excited to find out that they were from Izmir (Modern day Ephesus)!
Anyway back to my trip.
Apostolic Truth Church (ATC) is a building and group of people located on the Northeast side of Appleton near the corner of Meade and OO/Northland Ave. They have a hefty member count. I didn't get an exact number but there was more in attendance that day than Pathways was when I visited there a year ago. The services provided can be seen HERE.
We arrived just before services were starting and were greeted in the parking lot by at least two ushers. They had their little name tags on and I could tell they felt they had a VERY important job to do. Not sure where "ushers" were mentioned in the New Testament but hey, at least they've got something to do, right? Of course as expected we were mostly ignored by the rest of the congregation aside from those whom we were specifically introduced to. (That's the Usher's job after all.)
I greeted my friends who were being baptized that day and was able to speak to them for about two seconds before we were pulled away to do something REALLY important. We were
We then made our way into the auditorium where there were 4 rows of LONG pews and a concert stage up front that was no doubt furnished by some very expensive instruments and audio/video equipment. There were three digital projectors on the ceiling and were used mainly for scripture and spiritual song lyrics. (Good way to save money on Bibles and Hymnals. While at the same time limiting people from reading the context of any verses that are displayed while trying to get your point across during the sermon.) I had my NKJV with me. However, they seemed pretty stuck to the 400 year-old KJV. Which, in my opinion, just makes it that much harder for people to follow along in understanding, while at the same time creating a complacent "laity" that trusts the "clergy's" interpretation. If you wanted to search the scriptures on your own you were better off bringing a notebook rather than your Bible.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The service started off with the baptisms of my friends. The baptism seemed to have been performed properly (i.e. full bodily immersion in water, and in the name of Jesus Christ) But there was a lot of double-talk going on by the pastor performing the baptisms. He rightly stated that baptism was for the remission of sins and that it was the moment you come in contact with the blood of Christ. But he went on to say that they were saved the Wednesday before when they were "baptized by the Holy Spirit". I did ask pastor Soto about this afterwards and of course I got hit with your typical Pentecostal stories attempting to confirm that what they do is legit in regards to speaking in tongues. To be honest, I heard a LOT of gibberish speaking every time the service leader lead a prayer. And furthermore, being honest, it was all quite distracting and I'm not sure anyone heard what was being prayed by the service leader. Yet without hesitation, EVERYONE gave a resounding AMEN when the prayer was finished. That pastor could have prayed for pancakes for all anyone cared.
Again this post is not going to be about specific doctrine, (I will answer those questions in another post), but I want to just cover my experience.
So, anyhoo, what I did enjoy about the service was the singing. I really enjoyed the praise and worship. I even teared up a few times singing those songs. Singing is probably (in my mind) the most pure way to worship God. Unfortunately, there were a number of people jumping and dancing around erratically during many of the songs. I understand lifting up Holy hands to God in praise, but I don't remember jumping around and causing a raucous being in scripture. What I do remember is a chastisement by Paul telling the Corinthians to keep things decent and in order lest non-believers come in and think your crazy. See 1 Cor. 14
Now I know what you are thinking, "Chad, Let's be reasonable here. Jumping and dancing to praise God does not mean it's not decent or in order. And certainly anyone who attends there will know to expect that." I would be inclined to concede that for lack of evidence, however, the first thing the Turkish students mentioned to me when we got in the car to leave was that they thought some of the people there were crazy because they were jumping around and speaking gibberish with no explanation. Hmmm, point made?
After the service was over I was visiting with my friends and shortly after we were called to the "Hospitality Room" which felt more like being called to the principal's office. There, we were treated to coffee and cookies. Of course we were surrounded by clergy there. They seemed WAY more interested in the Turkish students than myself. This didn't bother me much. What did bother me is that I'm not sure what the whole point of dragging us all off to the side to talk to us was. And when I did ask some questions they didn't really want to answer them.
One saving grace was that they were willing to help the Turkish students find a place to live with one of their members as they have a little bit of a housing issue right now. I wasn't about to let them be subjected to that though without fair fore-warning that they would be in store for 3 months of straight up militant evangelism. :\
After they had their fill of us, and when most of the other people had left we were quickly ushered out. I guess they all had other things scheduled. I got to speak with my friends for a whole of about 5 minutes of the 2 hours we were there. I didn't get a chance to discuss anything with the "leaders" of the congregation and I certainly didn't get a chance to properly introduce myself to anyone there.
So in essence it was just a smaller version of Pathways Church to be sure. A lot of fake sales tactics being used to rile up the laity and get them to put more money into the coffers of their organizations treasury.
I think the Father's day gift of extra dark chocolate they gave me as I walked out of the auditorium summed it up quite nicely. Extremely bitter taste. My son Max had grabbed a piece of it when I came home and it brought him to tears. Literally. :\ Maybe they should have saved the money they spent on pens and got some decent tasting chocolate. :P
Needless-to-say I enjoyed the singing. But I had absolutely no impression that the "leaders" of the organization had any intention to preach the Gospel but rather to put on an entertaining show. I need to stop attending these churches on holidays. It did seem, however, oddly appropriate having attended this "mini-Pathways" exactly 1 year after attending Pathways itself.
P.S. My wife said this post sounded like it had a lot of sarcasm in it. I think she's right. But I will leave it be as I felt that the service I attended was mostly a joke anyway.
P.P.S. You'll have to excuse my bitterness. I haven't slept much recently and I am going through a bit of a current disappointment with humanity in general. Feel free to suggest any overly offensive parts be changed and I'll be sure to season it up a bit.