Sandy Blank went through the big doctrinal changes in the Worldwide Church of God, became thoroughly disillusioned, and walked out. After having a powerful conversion experience she went back to Worldwide (now Grace Communion International) to try to make a difference, but left again after 10 years. In “My Theological House” she describes her experience using a punchy metaphor that captures the feeling of desolation that comes from leaving a Bible-based cult.
When I was young I began to build my theological house. I wouldn’t have called it a theological house, but that’s what it was. Everyone needs one because every human spirit needs somewhere to live. That’s why we go to the trouble of building them.
Mine was a little hut assembled from old prayer cards, lyrics of ancient hymns, episodes of Touched by an Angel, and whatever else I could scrounge up. It had a smooth dirt floor that I swept clean with a stubby old broom. It wasn’t much. But it was comfortable, and more importantly, it was mine.
Then I found out about a particular church that I thought was the one and only. They easily convinced me to remodel my theological house according to their exact specifications. For many years I spent more than I could afford on new floors, oddly-shaped furniture and glittering accessories. I was sure that these possessions identified me as one of the peculiar ones who was extra special to God.
One day I heard a troubling report that this church was not the one and only; perhaps it was not even a real church. I quickly dismissed this absurd notion and continued to work on my theological house. However, another year passed and I could no longer ignore the evidence that indeed, this church was not as it had first appeared. It was not the one and only.
How could this be true? How could I have been fooled for so long? What does all this mean? I became angry and turned my back on the group that I believed had knowingly deceived me for so many years. I ventured forth alone on an earnest quest for the real one and only church.
But after many months of searching I became weary and gave up. I returned to my theological house only to find that it was gone. It had vanished without a trace as though a tornado had swept it away without leaving so much as a stick of furniture or even a cracked bowl. All that remained was a deep hole in the ground that looked as if it had been dug for a foundation.
I made my way to the edge of that hole and with much sorrow gazed down into it. All I saw was a level floor with three large flat stones. These represented the only things I knew for certain. They were— first that there is a God, second that Jesus is the Son of God, and third that the Bible is true.
I don’t know how I knew these three things. Perhaps I had known them before I became involved in the group that turned out not to be the one and only. Or maybe I came to accept them during my struggle with the truth about that group. I don’t know. These three stones were all I had and it seemed at the time that they weren’t much to stand on.
I felt orphaned and theologically homeless. It was a desperate aching kind of feeling that hovered over me throughout each day and interrupted my sleep every night. How could I rebuild my theological house? There wasn’t even any debris to sort through, nothing to salvage. It had all been swept away. There was no shelter for my weather-beaten spirit and nothing with which to rebuild.
For the next several years no one came alongside to help or teach me. Even if some brave soul had made the effort I wouldn’t have trusted them. The wounds from the previous time were still too fresh. Nor could I trust my own judgment. How could I know what was true?
I was not comforted or uplifted by reading devotional books or listening to Christian broadcasts. Even reading the Bible didn’t help because I could not trust my ability to understand it. This was a long cold season of losses. My old friends were gone, my social activities ceased, and my very identity was in question. Who was I if I was not part of this one and only group?
It has taken me more than a decade to build my new theological house. This time it’s different because I am building it upon a deep foundation that was fashioned by God himself: the three stones of faith in him, in his Son, and in his Word.
I have been privileged to spend brief moments with individuals who are highly skilled in the art of theological house construction. Their advice has been invaluable, yet none of them have tried to claim that they or their group is the one and only. I now realize that the one and only is not a group of people who cling to a set of external rules and exacting standards. The one and only is only to be found where the truth of God is proclaimed from the Word of God in a community infused with the Spirit of God.
I will never forget my first theological house and the incredible grief I felt when it was taken away from me. I had never known such a sense of desolation before, nor have I ever experienced it since. If I had known how to read the Bible it’s unlikely that I would have become involved with that group in the first place.
I would have recognized that their doctrines were little more than a patchwork quilt of isolated verses ripped from their original context and recklessly stitched together. It would have been obvious that many of their requirements for membership were not mandated in Scripture. But I didn’t know. And I didn’t know because I couldn’t read. I was biblically illiterate.
During her last years in GCI Sandy earned an M.A. in biblical studies and a Ph.D. in Christian education. She currently teaches Bible literacy skills in several Bible study groups in the Los Angeles area with the goal of helping others develop a solid spiritual foundation.