While Christianity offers a wide range of churches and denominations to align with, one theology professor is urging believers to transcend those separations and go straight to the source – Scripture – in order to deepen their faith and trust in God.
William Sheppard, a professor and family counselor, is urging Christians to take their faith beyond a loyalty to a particular denomination or church and into a deeper understanding of the Bible and, by extension, God.
"I strongly encourage people to get into the Bible," said Sheppard. In his book Snatched from the Jaws of the Enemy, he uses the illustration of jungle predators attacking a panicked herd of water buffalo to describe how the devil is trying to take hold of our minds.
"The struggle for our minds and hearts, and eventually our souls is no less a vicious, titanic struggle," he writes. "The enemy of our souls has us surrounded."
He desires for believers to overpower their divine foe, not with the words of their church pastor or the beliefs of their denomination, but with the inspired Word of God.
"I'm trying to encourage people to get into the source that the pastor is looking at," said Sheppard.
Sheppard's message stems from his personal life.
He was born during the Great Depression. At a young age, his parents, both of whom were struggling financially, abandoned him and left him to raise himself and his five siblings with little but a suitcase full of clothes. In struggling to be a better parent to his own child, Sheppard ended up watching a broadcast of evangelist Billy Graham. He gave his life to Christ after watching the broadcast.
He then began to look for a church home. Sheppard eventually settled on a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. He became completely immersed in the Seventh-Day Adventist church until he became bothered by how he had begun judging other denominations by his own.
Seventh-Day Adventists, considered a cult by evangelicals, are known for their observance of the Sabbath on the seventh day (Saturday) and adherence to various dietary observances rooted in Levitical law. The church also follows the teachings of 19th century writer Ellen G. White, who is, according the website Religion Facts, also considered a prophetess in the Adventist faith.
That's when Sheppard said he turned his focus from learning about the teachings of his church to learning more about God and the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Looking back on his church choice, Sheppard said, "I was trying to make sense of religion from that perspective ... I was trying to find something that was meaningful for me."
Sheppard, former professor and the head of the religion department at Southwestern Adventist University, still worships with Seventh-Day Adventists. He said, though, "My whole focus is different." He said he now reads his Bible more voraciously and analyzes everything with the question, "What is this telling me about my heavenly Father?"
He also encourages others to go deeper with their faith by adopting the principles of reading the Bible with a desire to know more about God, considering scriptures in the context of other passages and the time period within which they were written and claiming the promises of God in order to deepen their understanding.
He said he wrote his book not to challenge any denomination in particular, but to encourage Christians not to concern themselves with judging which denominations are true or which ones are false. Those who do, he said, are in for a surprise.
"In the kingdom of Heaven, we're going to be totally shocked as to who is there [and] that God may look at people from a totally different perspective," said Sheppard.
That perspective, he believes, will be is based on a personal relationship with God.
Correction: Thursday, May 5, 2011:
An article on Wednesday, May 4, 2011, about William Sheppard's call to transcend denominations incorrectly reported that Sheppard is a professor at Southwestern Adventist University. The Christian Post confirmed with the university that while he did serve as an SWAU professor for many years, he no longer is an employee there.