My name is Paul Pavao. I am married with six children, two of which are still at home, two in college, and two married to wonderful wives. I spent the last 18 years at Rose Creek Village, the last decade as a teacher and leader. I have now moved to Memphis, TN to join a couple of brothers in teaching the power and testimony inherent in community. By “community” I mean the church operating not as an institution or club, but as the family of God, committed to one another for the length of this life, whether they live on the same plot of land, as Rose Creek Village does, or not.
That is my mission in Memphis. On this blog I am crusading for honesty. Humans love comfortable. But Christians can’t just live comfortable. You ought to be able to simply look around and see what happens when Christians live comfortable.
There are solutions, but we will never begin implementing them if we are not honest with ourselves.
I was raised Roman Catholic, gave up on it at 13 or 14, became a new ager throughout my teens, then an atheist for a few months. God reached me (long story) in 1982. I had one of those lightning bolt conversions, utterly shocked by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which transformed me and my outlook on life in a moment.
In 1983 I was sent to a remote air station (Galena) in Alaska. With so few people, there were only five other committed Christians on the base. I got them together for Bible study, prayer, and witnessing in the eskimo village nearby.
There I learned the power of denominationalism. We were all from varied backgrounds, brought together only by a military assignment, and it took only six weeks for us to splinter in six denominations of one person each.
In the meantime, my friends back in Florida had been influenced by some Gene Edwards/Watchman Nee style teaching. After teaching in my old church that we shouldn’t call ourselves by denominational names nor simply blindly submit to leaders in the church, several of them were cold-shouldered out of the church. (Note: I believe their teaching about not submitting was overboard.)
I was horrified at the state of things.
Thus began a search for the will of God. At its foundation was a book I read called The Early Church by Gene Edwards. Gene says a lot of things I don’t agree with, but he is one of the best storytellers ever. After reading that book, I fell in love with the idea of church life. How do I describe that idea? Acts 2:42-47.
I spent 12 years looking for or trying to build something that would resemble that life. I wanted to be able to be a part of a church that not only had that kind of fellowship, but could say with Paul, “I am confident that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of King Jesus.”
I couldn’t find any churches like that. In most churches I encountered, I wasn’t sure that 50% were even Christians, much less that they were growing in Jesus.
I have learned that my perception was not wrong. The Barna Group, pollsters on Christian issues, says that 60% of professed Christians admit that they are either stagnant or backsliding.
Note: This was 1983-1995. I could find churches in 2013 closer to that ideal for which I was searching. Perhaps I just know where to search better now, but I don’t think so. I think people are growing tired of the “believe for fire insurance” message that was very popular during the time period of my search.
In late 1995 I ran across a church of 17 families. A friend told me about them with two sentences: “They are a mess” and then “Behold, how they love one another.”
I have spent the last 18 years living among people who want what I want:
- A wholehearted commitment to Jesus Christ
- A wholehearted, lifelong commitment to one another
- A lot of mercy and love for our failures in those commitments.
- A lot of loving exhortation, compassionate help, or stern rebuke (as needed) for ongoing disobedience to Jesus.
- A willingness to work out everything in order to diligently maintain the unity of the Spirit
It has been powerful, delightful, difficult, and the only life that I believe Christians are meant to live.
That’s a little hard for some people to grasp or come to terms with. I talk about it a lot because I think that understanding the church is a matter of revelation, not just of understanding. Nonetheless, it is the Word of God that brings “hearing” and thus revelation.
Marriage and Children
In 1987, I visited a Southern Baptist Church, an American one, in Einsiedlerhof, Germany (near Kaiserslautern). I went there because it was walking distance from my house.
To (sadly) make a long and very interesting story as short as possible, the church was kind enough to send out my future wife, Lorie, to visit me on visitation. We had to iron out a few things, like my rejection of eternal security and my unwillingness to become a church member, but we worked things out. I was really glad because I knew within a week of meeting her that I would never find another woman like this one.
I never have. Greatest wife ever. Perfect for a seeker like me. Patient, kind, loving …
Well, enough about that. We have had six children. They are now ages 11 through 23. The oldest two are married to girls that my wife and I adore. No in-law problems for the first two. Whew!
Early Christian Writings
In 1990 I ran across a book called Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up. It was a discussion of what the churches of the second century believed. More importantly to me, it was a revelation that we could know what the churches of the second century believed. I bought the entire set of The Ante-Nicene Fathers and began reading.
I have been reading and quoting those writings for 23 years. I do not quote them as a second Bible, but I do quote them as a guide to interpreting the Bible. Why not? We’re fighting among ourselves so badly that six individual Christians could break into six indidividual denominations. (Or at least we were.) People that close to the time of the apostles can help us.
Further, I learned to look for lineage. A doctrine that can be traced to a source far after the apostles is by that one criterion alone proven false.
That is another hard idea to grasp, but I think with a little exposure and thought, it is self-evident.
Faith and Works
It was pointed out to me by a friend that I focus on faith and works a lot.
Even in the 1980’s, before I ever knew writings from the early churches existed, I recognized that there are a lot of Bible verses we don’t like. We don’t even want to know what they mean.
As a young Christian, I was a little befuddled by what John 3:5 meant by being born of water. My denomination didn’t believe John 3:5 was a reference to baptism, but they didn’t seem to have an alternative interpretation. (I know two alternative interpretations now.)
When a friend asked me one day what I was doing, I told him, “I’m writing down every verse in the New Testament that has baptize, baptism, baptized, baptizing, or water in it.”
“Why?” he asked.
“I want to figure out what John 3:5 means when it talks about being born of water.”
“It doesn’t mean baptism.”
“I agree, but I want to find out what it does mean.”
“Why? It doesn’t mean baptism. You’re just going to get yourself in trouble studying things like that.”
This really happened. I’m not making it up, and all my friends agreed with him.
1987: My wife and I attend our first married Sunday School class at the Baptist church. We are there with three couples, and the teacher tells us that Matthew 6:11 is wrong. Jesus tells us there that if we don’t forgive our brother, God will not forgive us.
This is not true, the teacher tells us. We are forgiven forever when we are saved, so forgiving others has no bearing on our being forgiven.
We are stunned. We object strenuously to this teaching. The three other couples side against us. We are aghast, and we never return to that Sunday school class. Later, when I ask a friend–yes, a friend–in a note why he skipped over Galatians 6:7-8 in his Sunday school class, commenting on it with one joke, then leaving it behind, he turned that note over to the pastor, who asked me to leave the church.
I didn’t listen to him until a few months later when he kicked my friend out for showing the congregation the full church budget. Then I left with my friend.
Skipping Verses and Pitting Verses Against Verses
I could give a hundred more examples, and I am doing some of that on my blog here and there.
Other example would be the way denominations argue with each other.
“John 10:27-28 proves eternal security.”
“2 Peter 2:20-21 proves you can lose your salvation.”
“1 Cor. 1:8 proves eternal security.”
“Gal. 5:19-21 proves you can lose your salvation.”
And on and on. I even saw a systematic theology once that had a chapter on eternal security. They laid out their case, and then they wrote that there are verses that “seem” to contradict their position. They then listed thirty to fifty verses. Yowee!
I determined years ago that I would say everything the Bible says. I would say that I am justified by faith apart from the works of the law (Rom. 3:28), and I would say that I am justified by works and not by faith only (James 2:24). I would say that I look for the coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Tit. 2:13), and I would say that for us there is only one God, the Father (1 Cor. 8:6).
I would say that we are saved by grace through faith and not of works (Eph. 2:8-9), and I would say that baptism now saves us (1 Pet. 3:21) and that we wash away our sins in baptism, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).
If the Bible says it, I would feel free to say it, no matter what reaction I got, until my understanding caught up with my Scripture quoting.
When I read Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up the only thing that was new to me was that the early churches refused to participate in war. Otherwise, I already knew and agreed with everything in his summation of early Christian beliefs.
I talk about faith and works a lot because that is the place here our taboos are most evident. The way we talk about faith and works is nothing like the way the apostles or Jesus talk about faith and works. Oh, sure, you can find verses that seem to back up our way of thinking, but you can also find many verses that we never say, not to anyone or in any situation.
That is indicative of a problem, and it is that problem I would love to be a part of curing, even if I offend everyone along the way.
Yes, there are good things that Christians do. There are highly committed, wonderful, godly Christian people who believe things that I stand against. It’s true, but the reason I stand against them is expressed very well by Ray Comfort, though I am paraphrasing him. (I agree with very little that Ray Comfort teaches, but his analysis of the problem in Christianity in spot on, in my opinion.)
For every convert, for every godly, committed Christian, we create 9 backsliders. Nine people with a false idea of Christianity, thinking that they’re going to heaven when they are not. They have never even been told that they must do the will of the Father to enter heaven (Matt. 7:21). They have never even been told that if they love their father, mother, or children more than Jesus they are not worthy of him (Matt. 10:37).
It’s wonderful that someone heard a messsage that boiled down to “Heaven is a free gift if you believe because Jesus died for your sins” and went on to gratefully surrender to Jesus, learn his teachings, and follow. Statistics say, however, that 80-95% do not. They’ve been inoculated against the Gospel.
I haven’t just read about it. I’ve seen it over and over.
So I talk. I blog as well. I hope you are motivated to live for the will of Jesus and to believe that nothing in the universe is as important as his words.