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My name is Garth Young and I grew up in the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City. I am 41 years old, and am married to Elaine whose maiden name is Moore. We have five children, three of whom were born while we were attending the Church in Oregon City.
For those of you who are curious, this is the first time I have ever written anything about the Oregon City Followers of Christ Church - anonymous or otherwise. This is a brief recounting in my own words of what happened to me ten years ago, when I led my family away from the church that had been our life.
Being born and raised, and starting a family within this group has meaning. It means this is my life; these are my people, my family and my friends. We had a common bond not just because of the close relational togetherness, but because we were different from those outside because of what we practiced and how devoted we were to the assignment of following Christ.
Dedication to being a member by attendance and belief in the church held out great potential for escaping the wrath of God and going to heaven. This makes complete sense because nobody wants eternal punishment and even the simplest mind can grasp the idea that good people are rewarded while bad people are punished. As a young person I was taught from the pulpit to get my good works in early and that would make me prepared. I still remember a time as a boy helping stack firewood for an older couple in our church, my friend brought up the fact that we were doing it; we were getting in our good works.
The last elder died when I was fifteen and there was no more teaching from the pulpit. The potential hope for salvation now came down to attending church twice a week and singing hymns – and of course, being a good person was still a huge part of the equation. Helping people within the group (especially when sick) was highly promoted, as was prayer and fasting, greeting with a holy kiss, and abstaining from the services of a physician. Along with these I had heard from an older and seemingly wise man that drunkenness, sexual sin and killing a human would greatly hinder my chances of finding favor with God, but most of all stay in the church. As a result of this, a pattern began to develop within me; everyone makes mistakes, but if I can do more good than bad, it should work out in my favor, especially if I remain part of the church. This was my understanding of what God wanted his people to know and to do.
There were opinions within the FOC that considered some of the essential teachings of the church to have been radically softened over the last twenty years. The hard lines that made up the earlier church had been restructured as a remedy for our missing parts. Baptism, Lord’s Supper, preaching and leadership were areas of contention because they didn’t exist anymore. These practices disappeared due to a lack of leadership (Apostle or Elder) to implement them. At nineteen, I was well on my way to becoming an obstinate hardliner. Not only did I think salvation was achieved by going to the right church and following the prescribed actions, I also believed the bar of earning salvation needed to be raised.
I was familiar with the bible and considered myself in agreement with the teachings of scripture. My reading however, centered on me. My understanding of the bible was always filtered through the lens of what I must do, and how I must continue in my own strength. I prayed for help, I prayed for a preacher, I prayed for understanding, but really I had the idea that faith was self mustered. There were many deficiencies in my character like pride and anger, just to name a couple. My assessment of the continual behavior and desires that proceeded from my heart and mind fell far short from the calling Jesus gave to be perfect as the father is perfect (Mat 5:48). If perfection was the requirement for entering the kingdom, then I was disqualified at every level and so were all of my family and friends. But if perfection was just a target to aim at in hopes of an occasional hit, all the while knowing I was safe because I’m part of the right church that does the right things, I could rest. The burden of perfection was relieved because I did what I was supposed to do. Or did I? Was it really possible that my actions could somehow erase all the condemnation that my sin had accumulated?
Little did I know, my life was about to radically change.