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Eric’s testimony: From Confusion to Christ

I was born in Illinois in 1950s. My parents raised me in a small village called Bradley, two hours south of Chicago. At that time, Bradley had five thousand residents, mostly white, middle-class people. My high school had about 1500 students in grades 9 through 12.

My parents were political, religious, and moral conservatives who belonged to the RLDS church. The RLDS, short for Reorganized Latter Day Saints, is an offshoot sect of Mormonism which claimed to be the "true successor" to the Latter Day Saint church founded by Joseph Smith, Jr., in 1830. For most of its history, its presidents were expected to be direct descendants of Joseph Smith. Throughout my childhood, our church officially taught that it was "only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth," but in the 1970s and 1980s they gradually and progressively rejected this doctrine. They now call themselves the Community of Christ. (If you want to know more about the RLDS church, you can visit the web site www.help4rlds.com or feel free to ask me.)

My father was a third-generation RLDS, raised during the Great Depression on a farm in rural Illinois. He witnessed the supernatural, phenomenal healing of his brother Howard after a car accident in 1944 that should have been fatal. He was pulled out of Basic Training to attend his brother's funeral, but instead Howard left the hospital in 3 days. The hospital office refused to charge the family, because his recovery was so miraculous. (This was a very sacred event to my father, and he never told this story to me until 30 years after I became a Christian. But the details were still crisp: he told me the make and model of car, the intersection of the accident, the name of the doctor and hospital, and many other particulars.)

Dad was stationed in the Philippines during World War II. After the war ended in 1945, he attended Graceland College, a church-owned institution in Lamoni, Iowa. After graduation, he returned to Illinois and met my mother, who was raised in the United Methodist church, but lacked any deep religious experiences or convictions. My father courted her and found work as a civilian employee of the U.S. Department of Defense. My parents married in their mid-twenties, settled in the safe city of Bradley, and had six children. I was their firstborn.

Barbershop, Black Sabbath, and books

Both of my parents loved music and singing. My father sang with a barbershop quartet, and my mother directed a local women's choir, the Bonnie Belles of Harmony, named after Bonnie Pement. I received a thorough music education, taking lessons in piano, violin, accordion, clarinet, and drums. I learned to read music and I played the clarinet for a solid year, but I did not master any instrument. My pre-teen years bloomed during the golden age of rock-n-roll and I soaked up the original airplay on my AM/FM transistor radio: Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf, Cream, Three Dog Night, Simon and Garfunkle, Rod Stewart, and others.

My musical tastes were eclectic: my first three album purchases were a 10-volume set of the complete works of Beethoven, Black Sabbath's Paranoid album, and an LP by Ravi Shankar.

As I mentioned, I was the oldest of six children, but I was a pretty miserable older brother. I didn't know how to interact very well with even my own family, I was a loner, and kept to myself a lot. One of my regrets is having been so self-absorbed in my teen and pre-teen years. I liked math, science, and reading.

My best friends were not people, they were books: comic books, mainly from the DC Comics line (i.e., Superman, Batman, Justice League of America, etc.), but also Mad magazine, "The Silver Surfer," and "Magnus, Robot Fighter." I devoured a lot of novels: Nancy Drew mysteries, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Agatha Christie, and often the World Book Encyclopedia. In my older years, I started reading fantasy and science fiction, with authors such as Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, A.E. Van Vogt, Ray Bradbury, short stories of all kinds, and our church's history and doctrines. For a while I had a "paper route," delivering newspapers by bicycle to neighborhood subscribers every morning. For two summers I participated in our local thespian society, a theater group which presented plays and musicals by junior high students. In my high school years, I bought a bona-fide World War II shortwave receiver for $15, and my dad set up the antenna on the roof of our house. I spent many evening hours listening to English-language broadcasts from around the world: Cuba, France, Holland, England, Germany, Switzerland, and Viet Nam.

Pulled in three directions

I was spiritually restless during my teen years. From my childhood upbringing, I followed a traditional path in the RLDS church. I attended RLDS youth camps every summer of my life from the age of 8 until my last one at the age of 18 (the nearest camp was "Camp Manitou" near Cassopolis, Michigan). At nine years of age, I was baptized and became an official church member, permitting me to take communion and vote at church business meetings. A few years later, I filed my "tithing statement," in which members submit a list of all their worldly assets as their first step in tithing.

My personal copy of the Three Standard Works

In middle school and high school, I accepted the RLDS view of God, life, and history. That is, the Book of Mormon, a worldwide Apostasy, the Three Nephites, God restoring His true church through Joseph Smith, the Three Degrees of Glory, the Patriarchal Blessing, Jesus Christ returning to His temple in Zion (the kingdom of God) in Independence, Missouri (not Jerusalem in Israel, as other churches taught).

At the very same time, I also drawn both heart and mind toward scientific naturalism (the view that nothing exists that cannot be explained scientifically through natural, material processes). From grade school, I was taught to embrace a rationalist view of life focused on Darwinian evolution and a general presumption of atheism. The way it was presented in both middle school and high school is that all forms of life necessarily appeared from chance events, not from any purpose or design by God. I bought into that explanation, and it also meshed very well with my proclivities for science and science fiction. (After all, "Star Trek" would be impossible without evolution occurring on millions of planets throughout the universe.) Some of my classmates in Sunday School called me "the atheist" during those years.

Yet in spite of the science and rationalism, I was pulled in a third direction. I was fascinated by the occult, by paranormal abilities, by psychic powers and general Forteana. So I also joined the Mystic Arts Book Club in my teen years, where I automatically bought books on witchcraft, black magic, occultism, and the paranormal each month. I didn't practice spell-casting or black magic, but I was curious to seek out the reality of supernatural experiences, from whatever source. Then I read Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, a rationalist debunking of pseudo-science and various cultic movements. It kept me from getting sucked in.

In my junior and senior year of high school, two or three Christian students tried to tell me about salvation, but as RLDS we believed that virtually everyone is "saved" in some sense or other. Joseph Smith had a revelation that even adulterers, whoremongers, liars, and sorcerers who die in their sins will ultimately inherit Telestial Glory after a period of suffering, and will be in the presence of the Holy Spirit forever (RLDS Doctrine and Covenants 76:7).

My beliefs about God changed from day to day in my high school years. Most days I believed in God, but on many days I thought God was a fantasy invented by primitive man to explain the unknown, and the God of the Bible was a hateful ego-maniac. Overall, I thought I was a good person who didn't need an emotional experience like these "born again" Christians. I even carried around a Gideon's pocket New Testament at this time, which I never read and used only to argue with Christians who tried to witness to me.

Opening spiritual doors

After graduating high school, I attended Kankakee Community College for one year. Two important things happened to me as I began my freshman year of college. First, the pastor of the Kankakee branch of the RLDS church asked me to teach Sunday School for the Senior High class, which included students my own age and even a year or two older. I took this request very seriously, and started to prepare myself by regularly reading the Standard Works (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants). These three books comprise sacred scripture for Reorganized Latter Day Saints. I bought new copies of the Standard Works with my name in gold at this time (see the picture above).

Second, in my first week of college I met Joe, a transfer student from San Diego who had formerly been involved in a homemade blend of Satanism and ceremonial magick, but was now a born-again Christian. At first, I was suspicious that he was boasting about things he had not done, so I quizzed him with several obscure terms and names I had picked up from my study the previous year, vocabulary of which the average person would have no inkling. Joe identified all these terms correctly. He knew everything that I knew and much, much more that could only come from personal involvement.

He began telling me about Jesus Christ and being "born again," and shared Christian tracts with me. Within a few weeks, my belief in evolution and any lingering interest I had in the occult dropped away. Joe had done things I had only read about, and he knew from personal experience that Satanism was an empty quest for power, while true spiritual fulfillment came from Jesus Christ. I agreed with that in principle, but the RLDS part of me was rising up to answer, "Okay, but there's more light given to us in the Book of Mormon …"

Joe knew his Bible, so I began reading the Bible too, even memorizing all the "salvation" verses used on his tracts . . . after all, I was a Sunday School teacher and we officially believed the Bible was the Word of God, "as far as it is translated correctly" (The Articles of Faith, item 8). I memorized them in the "Inspired Version" of the Holy Scriptures, a version of the Bible with significant alterations made by Joseph Smith.

As it happened, Joseph Smith did not change the popular verses about salvation by grace through faith. (In other words, the "Inspired Version" has no significant differences from the King James translation for passages such as John 1:12, 3:5, 3:16, 5:24, Romans 3:10, 3:23, 5:8, 6:23, 8:1, 10:9-10, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, etc.) Joe had his Bible underlined, so I underlined the same verses in my IV, to help me memorize them and find them more quickly. Yet I also believed that with God's help, I could prove Joe wrong, vindicate the Book of Mormon, and perhaps bring him into the RLDS church.

On the other hand, I recognized that Joe had a spiritual life I didn't have. One poignant memory is when a friend of mine from the thespian society tried to commit suicide. The hospital put him on a locked ward for observation, and my friend telephoned me to ask if I would come and visit him in the hospital. I did not want to visit him alone. I thought about bringing one of the elders of our church, but instead I brought Joe. I knew inwardly, instinctively that Joe had something to give, a reason for living, that I wasn't able to provide.

To be honest, I was still fighting the Natural Selection doctrine that "the weak need to die so the human species may evolve" and I knew that the humane, life-giving answer had to come from somewhere else. Joe was the right person to bring, and the three of us ended up becoming friends.

As RLDS, I insisted on "keeping the commandments" as necessary for eternal life. The RLDS scriptures say that "he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:5f). We had a strong emphasis on good works. One day Joe explained to me about Jesus' reply to the Pharisees, who asked Him, "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God: that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:28-29). Believe on him? That was strange—why didn't Jesus say that the work of God was to "do good works" or to "keep the commandments"? Or why didn't Jesus say the "work of God" was to "believe on him and keep the commandments"? Can I really trust in Jesus alone?

Joe made a few mistakes. He invited my friend (the one who had tried to commit suicide) to a church that Joe had never visited before. It turned out that this church, which had a normal-sounding name, was run by lunatic fanatic fundamentalists. They told my friend that if he didn't get saved that very night, Satan would strike him dead in the parking lot before he left the church property. (It didn't happen.) I was furious with Joe for a day or two, but I realized that it was an honest mistake, since he had never been there previously. Joe apologized and he never went back.

“You can’t give what you don’t have”

I expressed an interest talking to the people who helped to turn Joe from Satanism to Christianity, and he invited me to correspond with the girl who first witnessed to him. I mailed a letter to her, expressing my skepticism. She wrote back almost immediately, answering my questions and explaining that I had some bad misconceptions of what Christian conversion entails. No, it doesn't require a hyper-emotional catharsis, she wrote.

One turning point for me occurred in the college library, when Joe played a cassette recording of a worship service from his former church in California. I could tell by listening that these people were adoring and praising God in a way far, far beyond what I had seen in my congregation or at any summer youth camp. They called it "singing in the Spirit." If our church was "the only true church," then why didn't we have the Holy Spirit there? Why was our church so spiritually dead?

One evening, I went to Joe's house to sincerely ask him how to bring the Holy Spirit into my dead church. He told me, "You can't give what you don't have," and he asked me if I wanted to pray to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I knew that I had been resisting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, namely, that all who believe on Jesus receive eternal life immediately (John 5:24). I had been focusing so much on the "restored Gospel," but Jesus was calling me to put all my trust in Him alone, not in Him plus my own commandment-keeping, or Him plus our priesthood authority. I said yes, and Joe led me in a prayer.

I interrupted Joe at least twice during that prayer: once to tell him that I didn't have as much faith as he did, and once to tell him that I was afraid that if I meant it, I would start to cry and I didn't want to cry in front of him. Each time, he answered me from the Bible. On whether I had enough faith, God says "a man's gift is accepted according to what he has, not according to what he doesn't have" (2 Cor. 8:12), which Joe explained that if I'm believing as much as I'm able to believe, God accepts that. God never says your faith has to be equal to someone else's faith. On the matter of crying, he took me to Romans 10:11, which says "he who believes on Him [Jesus] shall not be ashamed." He told me these words are an absolute promise of God, and "if it would truly make you ashamed to cry, then the Lord won't let you cry. But you do have to believe." From that point on, there was no turning back.

It was a Friday night, June 1st, at the home of Joe's parents in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Joe reminded me of Jesus' promise that angels rejoice in heaven over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:10). He gave me a copy of Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard, to take home with me. It is a fictional parable, similar to The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, encouraging new Christians in their walk of faith.

My life changed that same night. The "born again" experience I previously mocked was now mine, and I realized that I had been completely, utterly mistaken about Christianity for a long time. For so many years I had rejected something I never truly understood in the first place.

As soon as I arrived back at my parents’ house, the first three words I heard were curses leveled directly at me: "You" followed by two unrepeatable profanities by someone incredibly mad at me for no good reason. (It wasn't my parents.) The details are unimportant, except to say that I recognized it immediately as a spiritual attack, because out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).

I had just come from the presence of God at Joe's house, and had unwittingly walked into the presence of hatred, and what was truly amazing was that I did not feel angry or resentful or any sense of retaliation or protest. I marveled at how fully God even had control over my emotional responses. It was truly a supernatural reaction, and I felt that God was "sealing" something inside of me by giving me both peace and love in the midst of darkness.

Everything I saw in the world, I looked at through new eyes. I finished the Hinds’ Feet book in about three days. God gave me a love for the Bible and a desire to know it—and Him—more and more. Within two days, I bought a Jesus People New Testament and began reading it every day. Joe gave me a recording of Jesus Music artists Children of the Day and Love Song, which was my first real exposure to Christian music that I perfectly related to.

Less than 2 weeks later, Joe moved to Texas with his parents. I did not see or communicate with him or another two years. He was in my life for only 10 months, but God worked through him in ways he could never expect.

So how does this apply to you and me? We may be in one place for only a short time, but we cannot know the repercussions our lives can have on someone else, on their spouses, children, and family members. My testimony goes much further, of course, but this is where I'd like to conclude.

At this stage, since you have read this far, I want to ask candidly:

If you have never been "born again" by consciously, willingly, deliberately inviting Jesus Christ to become Lord and Master of your life, I invite you to do so now. It is not the ritual of saying certain words or being baptized that brings forgiveness of sins and spiritual life. Salvation comes through a personal encounter with Christ, with a "head" component (as in "I am convinced that Jesus is really who He claims to be"), a "heart" component (as in, "I believe in my heart that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead"), with words of the mouth ("I will confess Jesus as Lord before others") and walking it out in daily life (as in, "I will pick up the cross and follow Him wherever He goes, and live my life the way He wants, not the way I have been living").

In other words, do not "talk the talk" unless you are also prepared to "walk the walk". Read Romans 10:9-10 and Luke 9:23-24.

Start reading the Bible, plant the Word of God in your heart, letting it rule your decisions, and meet regularly with other people who also have the same faith-commitment in Jesus Christ. If you don't know where to go, pray and ask God to lead you. I would also like to hear from you personally, so please feel free to contact me.

Later: About two years after my conversion to Jesus Christ, both of my parents individually and separately received Jesus Christ and were born again. My father was saved while driving home from work. He had been listening to radio pastor Donald Cole preaching through the book of Romans on FM station WDLM, and the Holy Spirit fell on him powerfully while pastor Cole was teaching on Romans 3:24-26. My mother got saved at home, and did not tell Dad immediately, but eventually it became obvious and our family was spiritually united.

Several years later, I met Carol Hodges Hansen, who attended classes with my father at Graceland College in the late 1940s. She also found the Lord Jesus Christ and was born again. Here testimony is here.

If you are interested in reading other testimonies of people who were lifelong members of the RLDS church and who now have encountered the Lord Jesus Christ, there are many testmonies on this link to the Lifeline Ministries web site.



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Last modified: 2019-08-13