by Tony Hoyle
"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him (Pr. 18:17)"
I joined the Manchester Christian Church on 26th July 1991. I had been seeking God and attending a local church for about six weeks and had spoken to about three people, so when two people approached me on the street one evening I was eager to learn about a church that seemed interested in me. They were holding a special service on Thursday which I was welcome to attend. Thinking it was nothing but an unexpected invitation to a church service, I agreed to go and gave them my telephone number.
The service was held in a local church hall, and attended by about 200 people, and seemed lively but 'a bit American'. However I was impressed enough to agree to meet close to my home the next day for a 'Bible Study'. At this point I had no knowledge of how 'real' churches recruited people, so I saw nothing unusual in this. Suffice to say, I was baptised exactly a week later after the next 'special'(!) service.
For a time I had no real idea of what I had got into. The church was 'non-denominational', appeared to have no affiliations except to an (unnamed, thus far) church in London. I travelled up to Blackpool at weekends to see my girlfriend, who was a fairly committed Anglican.
One day my discipler called me into a room with the Family Group Leader. [They told me] I had to leave my girlfriend. Using many Scriptures they showed she was deceived by Satan and would lead me astray if I had any more contact with her. It was either my salvation or her... At that point in time my choice was obvious. That Saturday night still lives in my memory as one of the worst experiences of my life.
It was then shown to me how all the other churches must be wrong, because you never saw them evangelising. Curiously, as I look back, the issue of doctrine wasn't raised at this point - this church was judging the salvation of all Christians on the basis of one thing they apparently didn't do.
Soon I began to have serious doubts about what I had got myself into. However by this point my whole life was oriented around the church, and it was made clear to me that to leave the church was to enter the 'world', which was ruled by Satan. Hebrews 6:4-6 was often quoted about people who left, giving a strong incentive to stay.
As a result of the pressure I was under to evanglise, coupled with my doubts about the church (which were always turned back to me as whether I really wanted to be a committed disciple), I began to suffer severe depressive periods. To be fair, some of my disciplers tried their best to help me through them. Others, however, merely rebuked me for not being joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
Life in the church was like one long rollercoaster. Some days I would be on a high, ready to evangelise the world. On other days I would be in the pit of despair, convinced I had failed as a disciple. Three times I tried to leave, believing that the reason I was finding life so hard was my own fault. Once I was rebuked by the lead evangelist for not being fruitful enough. 'I'm trying my best!' I said. 'Your best isn't good enough. Try harder.' came the reply.
At the beginning of 1993 a series of events happened.
Firstly, we heard from London that 600 (some say 400, but I'm quoting the figure I heard at the time) people were expelled from the church for not being 'fruitful' enough. During the week leading up to the 'revival' in Manchester, I saw people who I knew to be strongly committed disciples break down in tears openly in fear they might be expelled from the church. As it happened only about half a dozen people were thrown out of the Manchester church at that time.
Then I saw a friend driven to attempt suicide by uncaring disciplers who had been warned (by me, actually) that she was depressed and to leave the pressure off for a bit.
I also remember someone else telling me they were getting baptised again. 'Why?' I asked... 'Because the wall got too high', came the answer (a reference to the 'wall of sin' analogy used in the baptism study - not the Pink Floyd song). Even as a committed member it was news to me that people could be baptised twice. (I have since heard that this is a common practice.)
Just before I left I was hauled before the lead evangelist (who suspected I might me ready to leave) and subjected to an hour of verbal abuse. I vividly remember the statement 'Your ex-girlfriend must have been mentally retarted to have gone out with you'. I might forgive him for that. One day.
The day I left I had to move everything out of the 'brothers flat' and to my parents, by hand. I also left my job (I was working for the tape ministry at the time), and essentially everything that constituted my life at that time. However, by that point there was no doubt in my mind the church was seriously wrong in both its practice and doctrine.
Five years on I am still affected by my time in the MCC. Certain phrases or actions, meant innocently enough, can leave me frozen with fear. If I hadn't been through it I'd never have believed that other people could affect your life so much.
©1998 by Tony Hoyle. All rights reserved.
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