On New Years Day, 1985 six Americans (mostly from Church Of The Open Door) boarded a plane for London, anticipating three months of “discipleship training at Living Waters Bible College in North Wales. One of my Personal Care Attendants agreed to accompany me, enabling me to defy my disability and live out my dream of being near the England that had produced so many of the writers I had studied at Dominican. Even better, I would be living with other Christians!
The thought of chronicling my memories of that winter somewhat overwhelms me. My inclination leans toward regaling you with some of the funny stories, and my tendency toward honest self-disclosure instructs me to write about my struggles with homesickness. I will do neither. In keeping with this autobiographical series’ purpose of showing God’s grace in helping me navigate through doctrines and practices that didn’t line up with Scripture, I will focus on the two main characteristics of the school: Charismatic theology and legalism.
At the time, as my regular readers may remember, I still accepted the bulk of Charismatic thinking, so I didn’t question much of what the teachers said. Indeed, the class on the spiritual gifts offered me great comfort because the teacher admitted that he often wondered whether or not he was making up his “prayer language” when he spoke in tongues. Rather than encouraging us to examine the gift of tongues by studying Scripture, however, he advised us to continue praying in tongues until the doubts vanished.
Actually, the classes on Old and New Testament didn’t teach us much about Bible study methods. Instead, using Song of Solomon and the Sermon on the Mount (respectively) they taught us to interpret portions of God’s Word as a means of self-affirmation.
One memory, however, stands out as an encouragement that, despite my Charismatic leanings at the time, the Lord had given me a measure of discernment. Toward the end of the course, two converted gypsies came to teach for a few days. On their last afternoon, they met with each student individually to “prophesy” over them. Every student but me. I refused to meet with them, knowing that they merely “Christianized” gypsy fortune-telling. Leadership disagreed with my stand, and my PCA accused me of stubbornness, but people respected my convictions.
Six years later, I began my journey away from Charismatic theology. But that afternoon in Wales, perhaps the Lord planted a seed of discernment, certainly protecting me from an occult experience that I really didn’t need.
The school imposed an elaborate system of rules, explaining that each one was necessary to make the school function. My four years at Dominican (a Catholic environment) had already instilled in me a penchant for legalism, so I delighted in my ability to keep all the regulations. Of course, I didn’t really keep them all — but by gum, I tried!
That three months at Living Waters solidified my attitude that, although I was saved by grace, the Lord really judged me according to my performance. That kind of attitude bolstered my pride, confirming that I did have righteousness in myself. Although I had legalistic tendencies long before I went to Wales, I believe that my experience there made them much worse.
As an example of the legalism, the director of the school imposed a mandatory fast on the students and the staff during the fourth Friday of each month. This imposition of a discipline that should be voluntary undermines the purpose of fasting. None of us fasted out of devotion to the Lord; we did it because the leaders decided we would do it.
Yes, I have positive memories of those three months, as well as the ten days I spent in London before returning to California. But the reasons for writing about that time today don’t lend themselves to talking about those memories. I returned home loving Wales, but no more educated in the Bible than I had been before I left. In my next installment, I will explain how my time in Wales led to my position at Love In Action.