How do I talk about something that was once so much a part of my life, in the typical length of my blog posts? I could have simply continued hinting at this part of my past like I have in previous posts, but I felt like it was about time to get real. I’ve written this post several times already. I’ve written drafts of it in my notebook, and spent many hours typing it up, only to scratch it all and start again. That’s much more than the type of effort I can say I put into my other dozen posts. As I start afresh, it’s almost midnight… I’ve long since had my illustration done, but have just scratched the last draft of this post I thought was completed.
This post is so different than any other post I’ve written, and the implications could be far greater than I’d like to take responsibility for. Some of you reading this are old dear friends who have gone through the same thing as me, and some of you are still in that place. That’s a lot of pressure. Other’s who respect me as a Christian might be a little weird-ed out by this post, and view me differently. All I know, is no matter how many times I write this, it won’t be perfect, but I have to write it. People may get offended, and some of you may view me differently, and I just have to be okay with that. Maybe I’m overthinking this, and maybe I could’ve just dove right in, but I guess this is just my feeble attempt to try and show you my heart. I know however imperfect and awkward this post ends up…. What comes of this post, that’s not up to me. All I can do is be obedient to this tug on my heart, and leave the rest up to Him. If He can take this imperfect testimony and draw one person (just one) away from a cult environment, and closer to him, than I couldn’t care less about my reputation.
John 8:32 – And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
As much as a few paragraphs can break down a religion, or a lifetime of thought – I’d like to talk about the group I grew up in. The religion was called ‘The Message’ or ‘Branhamism’. Believers called themselves ‘Message believers’, people on the outside might call them ‘Branhamites’. The founder of the religion classified his doctrine as non denominational Christian, with some baptist and pentecostal leanings. The founder and focal point of The Message was William Branham who lived from 1909 (though the date of his birth is speculated) to 1965. He was considered the ‘prophet for our church age’ and a forerunner to the second coming of Christ, the same as John the Baptist was a forerunner to His first coming. While Branham was on earth he had a healing campaign where he (presumably) healed many people from various deathly illnesses, even reportedly raising a few people from the dead. In his time he carried some fame in the religious sphere, and is considered the initiator of the post world war II healing revival. He also (presumably) prophesied many events thus vindicating his self proclaimed ‘prophet of God status’. He also was known to occasionally use the phrase ‘Thus saith the Lord…’ in conjunction with a point he wanted to get across. Message believers believe His words to be infallible.
Nowadays, followers of William Branham are still out there. Although the varying groups are split in doctrine, the stats show around 3 million message believers worldwide. Despite the digitalization and transcription of his taped sermons, as well as documented evidence that would incriminate him as either a pathological liar and manipulative cult leader at worst, or forgetful/mentally ill at best – The Message continues to be spread. Like most cults, it stays alive because of charismatic leaders, inviting spaces, fear tactics, seclusion/one sided information, and of course making people feel special.
I am already at about half my word count and I haven’t been able to dig into specific nuances of the particular branch of Branhamism I grew up in. Or what it meant in practicality for me to grow up in such a thing. I’ll touch on that last part for a moment. If you knew me at the start of 2014 or years previous, you wouldn’t have caught me in jeans, shorts, swimsuits, or anything shy of a knee length skirt/dress with sleeves. I also had hair about 4 feet long (about an inch past my knees). Cutting your hair was a serious offense – in so much that if a women did it, a man could divorce her on those grounds alone. I went to church on Sunday and Wednesday with services reaching 3 hours on short day, although more usually close to 5-7 hours.
Around the time I was leaving the cult a new ‘revelation’ (there was/are always ‘new revelations’ and anticipation of something big about to happen – like the rapture/end of the world) was that we (anyone who believed in those particular set of doctrines) didn’t just have the Holy Spirit in him or her, but that you WERE the Holy Spirit, that you were the third part of the trinity, that you were part of Jesus Christ when he died on the cross, and since God is without sin, you were without sin. Not because He died and took your punishment upon himself, but because you were a part of that sacrifice just currently suffering from amnesia. Which is clearly unbiblical, not to mention unhealthy.
This cult was a huge part of my identity, it was my past my present and my future. My future was planned out before I had a chance to even think about it. I’d go to college at a spot near one of their churches (if the rapture didn’t come before that), and I’d always live close enough to one that I could commute there every Sunday. I’d marry a man from that group, I’d raise my kids in it. My whole life was pretty much sorted out, all those things were simply a given. I was happy with that because I’m an optimist and I thought that was the right way/what God wanted for me, so who was I to complain?
There was this nagging feeling at my core; A little emptiness was eating away at my insides. I knew if I questioned leaders in the church about it they would pray for me and tell me to pray the doubt away. Which I did try to do, even following an alter call in repentance for the doubt I’d been having. Things were constantly said from the ministry that contradicted each other, but we were supposed to take it all as 100% truth inspired by God. So if you actually paid attention during the sermons it was hard to reconcile the logical inconsistency.
I was complimented on my spirituality, and how well I followed the rules, but I of all people felt something off? I tried praying more, reading the bible, and Message books, taking detailed notes during every sermon but nothing seemed to help – If anything, the more I tried to do, the more empty I felt, and the more doubt I had. One day in a turning point, and moment of desperation I struck a deal with God. I said “God. I am willing to do ANYTHING to breach the gap- to get this little emptiness out of my life, anything to feel you close, and find clarity. Tell me what it is…” then, to prove to God that I was serious, I began to search in my mind what the hardest thing would be for me to do? It hit me. I thought that if my whole framework of beliefs was wrong: that would seriously be the hardest.
So I reluctantly said “God, EVEN if the message is wrong, even if ALL that is wrong-” my mind was screaming, “How could you even suggest that?! Letting the doubt in again?” Since even entertaining a moment of doubting in that church was considered a grave sin. So I quickly added “I know it’s not! But IF… I know it’s not but IF it was. Even that, if that is the thing off, show me, tell me and I’ll change!”
Matthew 7:7 – Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
I stood up without an answer but for the first time in a long time, I felt like my prayer was heard.
A few short weeks later, I walked in on a conversation and heard the following words: “I don’t believe William Branham is a prophet …” something clicked in that moment. I knew this was it, the missing piece and the answer to my rather reluctant prayer.
You must know, everyone, whatever religion someone grows up in, whether it’s right or wrong they usually believe that it is the one truth…. if I’d grown up in Islam for instance, it wouldn’t have made Islam right, but just because it would be all I knew, and all I was taught – to me it would have been the truth. It was hard to let go of ‘The Message’ which I’d thought was the truth for my whole life, and the next few months revolved around a lot of hard conversations, a lot of research into the Bible and into the history of the religious group I was a part of. I had to let go of my whole way of life, and as expected, it was freak’n hard. Since doing all that research however, I haven’t looked back. I’d been told by ministers that staying in, that following all those rules – that was the hardest thing you’d have to do but you’d be rewarded. For me it was different, although I was occasionally embarrassed by my dress code, I followed the rules gladly, because I thought it was the right thing to do. At the time I was in it, it was part of my calling and therefore something I didn’t feel like I needed to complain about.
Leaving? That, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. That loving atmosphere shifted like night to day. I was an outsider in my former element, and because of the encouraged ‘cut off from the outside world’ I had very few connections outside of that group.
God is good though, and a few now beloved friends of mine reached out to me and took me to a bible study – an apologetics bible study. Where doubting and questions were encouraged, and real Christian love, no matter differences or what your circumstances was strong. Iron sharpening iron, and clarity in a time of spiritual unrest. We actually were encouraged to share our faith with nonbelievers, no hiding in the shadows. No trying to be perfect or claiming to be divine or using fear tactics to manipulate. It was just a chill bible study with a small bunch of fun loving, opinionated, slightly (a lot) nerdy high school to college aged kids who really loved Jesus. With their help, and the lovely couple who lead the Bible study, I was able to find strength in Jesus, and a gospel of true grace. I wasn’t worried anymore about being perfect, because that was no longer what mattered, of course I still wanted to do what was right, but I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I’m a Christian, but a skeptic of so many Christian doctrines because I’ve seen some doctrines get carried too far – To a point where it overrides the core Christian beliefs, and ignores the Gospel of grace. I wanted to share this, because although I don’t like the idea that I was in a cult before, it has obviously impacted my current outlook on life, and I wanted my readers to know it so they can take my skepticism with a grain of salt (keeping in mind the place I’m coming from) and so that you can understand the perspective many of my posts about religion or theology are impacted by. Lastly, and most importantly, I share it as a testimony to my savior. If you had told me 5 years ago, where I’d be now, I wouldn’t have believed you. At that time, no amount of reasoning, debating, or truth could have changed my mind. I am so, SO incredibly thankful that God stepped in, when I didn’t even know I needed rescue. He changed my heart in a supernatural way, and although I could explain all day the research it took and circumstances surrounding the whole thing… I was so grounded in one way of thought.. If God hadn’t stepped in, I’d still be in it. So all the praise, honor, and glory goes to Him.
I’ll put a few resource links down below if you’re curious:
- Table.branham.org – A Search tool of archived sermons (provided by Message believers)
- TheMessage.com – A site by/for Message believers which dives into some core message beliefs.
- Believethesign.com – A site once popular as a support of the message, which has since apologized for spreading false doctrine. It is now examines William Branham’s life, credibility, and doctrines.
- Seekyethetruth.com – A site by a former Message minister who shares this website as an apologetics page, focusing on understanding cults, and in particular The Message.
- Searchingforvindication.com – A site examining in a thoughtful and respectful way, the vindication of Branham’s claims and an archive of records, including a timeline of Branham’s church development.