When I was growing up there was a really awesome drug use prevention program called D.A.R.E. That means "Drug Abuse Resistance Education." I'm not sure how the other kids felt about it, but I absolutely loved the program. I would proudly wear my D.A.R.E. shirt on any occasion.
Understand, I didn't grow up around drugs. None of my close family members were ever strung out. I never lost a friend to an overdose. However, one thing that the program constantly warned against was the gateway drugs. Gateway drugs were not necessarily addictive or dangerous in and of themselves, but they were thought to lead to more dangerous drug use. For example, alcohol and marijuana were considered gateway drugs.
I suppose that there are reasons behind this idea, but I never personally experienced anyone I knew going beyond the gateway. The idea that the gateway drug leads to using more dangerous drugs recently reentered my consciousness as I thought about the beliefs I held that led me to the beliefs I now hold. I call them gateway doctrines. Had it not been for the less dangerous beliefs, I would likely never have tried the hard stuff.
I can't say that I wasn't warned. My former pastor preached quite often about the importance of guarding ourselves from those who taught things that did not line us with what he taught. He told stories of allowing ministers to share with his congregation, only to have the congregation discover their other teachings that were dangerous doctrines. After all, God had revealed to him what the Bible really says and anything else must be from the devil.
You see, gateway doctrines appear harmless at first. Yet, quite honestly, once you try a gateway doctrine you're never satisfied. You always want another hit, something stronger, and something more radical. Gateway doctrines start out small like a mustard seed, but once they take root, they turn into a large bush. If you are careful, if no one pulls you back into the fold, that bush undergoes a wild transformation and becomes a tree large enough to provide both rest and shade.
My first gateway doctrine dealer was Joseph Prince. He dealt a brand of grace that seemed so safe to try. After all, his message was pretty easy to understand. He spoke a language I understood. He often would lace his sermons with beautiful hymns. This gateway doctrine didn't seem dangerous. Surely, this couldn't be what my loving pastor had warned me about, could it?
Prince still taught about the importance of tithing, and the coming rapture. He spoke of the creative power of faith and even quoted Kenneth Hagin, the man my pastor called "Dad." Surely his doctrines were harmless. Of course, there were some differences between what he taught and what I had come to know as truth, but they were major differences. They were little things like thanking God for already being forgiven instead of asking for forgiveness according to 1 John 1:9. There were inconsequential things like as a new covenant believer I'm not under the law; it's not my behavior that matters, but my belief in Jesus.
In time, after having been exposed to these ideas, seeing them explained using the Bible, I began to have side effects. These side effects caused me to do this strange thing I had been conditioned not to do in my church. I started to ask questions. I dared to reevaluate things I had previously accepted as direct revelation from God.
Let me give you a bit more context to why these side effects were so dangerous. I happened to be enrolled in ministry school at the time these side effects started to become most pronounced. Not just any ministry school, but the ministry school founded and run by my pastor. My questions often went unanswered, or they were met by the idea that I needed to submit to the process and trust that the information I had been given was correct.
Now, what I learned about addiction is that when you don't feed it, your body seems to go crazy until you do. I had been exposed and I needed more. I couldn't just blindly accept what I was being taught any longer; I had to search it out for myself. The more I searched, the more I found that Prince was on to something my church either didn't know or had chosen to disregard. Reading Joseph Prince's books was like taking a Jell-O shot. I knew there was alcohol in it, but it was so smooth and familiar that it wasn't jarring.
Previously, I had read a book by Carlton Pearson that was like drinking hard liquor straight. It asserted that everyone was saved by Jesus whether they knew it or not. I couldn't handle that doctrine because it was too strong. But Prince simply promoted Jesus as being sufficient for everyone to be forgiven. That I could tolerate. The thing about gateway doctrines is that they don't shock you all at once like a strong drug such as cocaine or heroine. Gateway doctrines ease you into new ideas and cause you to have subtle reactions such as asking questions, as I mentioned earlier.
Once I could no longer be satisfied by Joseph Prince, I knew I needed something harder. Jell-O shots had been great, but now I was ready for a nice glass of wine. I found that thirst quencher in Jonathan Welton. Again, he spoke a language I was familiar with. He took a lot of Joseph Prince's ideas and expounded on them in such a way that was thrilling, but with a finesse that was reassuring. It was at this time I began to hear, and even agree with phrases such as "victorious eschatology" and "better covenant theology." Jonathan taught so plainly and so clearly from the Bible that it was easy to sink deep into his doctrine.
I had already begun to walk on the wild side, questioning long held beliefs, so it was a natural progression to simply go farther. You see, that's how the gateways work. They take you from one level to the next, from addition to multiplication. While Jonathan was really quite far from my pastor, he wasn't as far from Prince, so I still had a sense of safety. Though he did not belief in a rapture, or three raptures as my pastor taught, he had good reason, backed up by pesky facts and historical events.
He taught primarily on the kingdom, understanding the covenants and something called preterism, but very little else. I had studied the kingdom a lot myself, and so we had a lot of common ground. He simply helped to move me from a milder understanding to a more radical one.
My journey did not end there; I eventually became a full-fledged addict. I had tasted truth and from that point on, nothing less would satisfy me. While I have written in a somewhat sarcastic tone, I do not want you to miss what I am expressing. There are a lot more pieces to the puzzle than I have included in this short section, but I covered most of the highlights.
The gateway I entered was one of truth. In my studies of church history, and religion, I discovered that much of what is taught today is in response to something else that had been taught. For example, the protestant church (most of Christianity) is a rebellion against the Catholic Church, albeit, a much need rebellion, but rebellion nonetheless. Even the word choices in the King James Version of the Bible were made with an agenda in mind. Truth was secondary for the church.
I feel extremely blessed to have been given an inquisitive spirit from a young age, one I did not lose while deep within religion. When I discovered answers that could be verified, supported by history, I felt a relief from the burden of blindly accepting answers that did not make sense. I could never understand how I could have the mind of Christ, yet be so confused by His God. Truth does not require mental gymnastics to comprehend. Truth and freedom are twins.
I am so grateful that I allowed myself to experience truth. It has allowed me to reach a level of intimacy with God that I once only dreamt about. Freedom is a state of mind, one that is given to everyone with the option to accept it or reject it. Fear attempts to enslave humanity and religion is his greatest ally. I believe it is the Spirit of God that took me on my journey through the various gateway doctrines. He set me free. I had willingly submitted myself to the slavery of religion but He loved me so that He patiently guided me back to freedom. This work is a step on your journey. You can choose to accept it or reject it. Just know, that once the door is open you will forever be susceptible to the gateway drugs of truth and freedom.
The Bible records, " if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." The Son set me free, and I am on a mission to assist Him as He frees others. He is the one who raises the dead, and it is my privilege to remove the grave clothes. He is the one who gives growth; I just get to plant and water seeds.