J.D.'s story

A former leader leaves the church after a year

Zephyr/March 14, 2001
By Becky Bosshart

When I talked to J.D. Cortez, a 23-year-old education major, three months ago, he was a disciple in the International Churches of Christ and leading the teen group at the Greater Reno Church of Christ (GRCC). He was polite, talkative guy and apparently devoted to the church. In a recent interview Cortez said he had left the church, and for reasons that would seem surprising to anyone who heard him speak about the church while he was still a member.

Cortez came to Nevada to play football for the University in 1999. He looks like a football player, he said people often group him as a "trouble maker" because he is a big guy and shaves his head. He came from a nondenominational church background and lead the youth group at his former church.

Cortez and was looking for a church in Reno when some friends invited him to GRCC. Cortez completed the "First Principles" Bible studies and was baptized. He was a member for all of 2000. He talks carefully, using his hands to accentuate the discussion.

Cortez said what kept him there was the people. "The people are genuine people," he said. "(They) do what they do because they love God. "For me I don't think I ever totally believed some doctrines."

Cortez said one of those ICOC doctrines he didn't believe in was that disciples needed to do a lot of ICOC activities to be right with God. Cortez said he had a very involved schedule and he only had one day a week that he didn't have to be at a church activity that they were "very strongly recommended" to attend.

"I need a personal relationship with God, not a group," Cortez said. "I needed to come back and say, why am I really here, why did I come the first time?" Cortez said that he wants to do things because he loves God, not out of obligation.

When I first asked him about whether the church believes ICOC members are the only Christians who are going to heaven, he had taken out a thin, black bound New International Version Bible, which he called his "little sword." He repeated a verse in the Bible where Jesus said that not everyone who calls him lord will be saved.

"The Bible says no man can judge," Cortez said. "God is the only one who can judge." Now Cortez said he would rather not answer the same question. He said when he was still a disciple and he saw people on campus who weren't involved anymore, it was awkward.

"It was strongly recommended to associate with people in (the ICOC) church, or who could possibly be associated later," Cortez said. He said he got that feeling based on the fact that the church is structured for disciples to bring in as many people as possible. "When I decided to leave (they) obviously tried to tell me 'no don't go,'" he said. "Once I had made the decision to go on it was kinda you are all or none.'"

Through a conversation with his sister and an old friend who lives in San Francisco, he decided to leave the church. Cortez said that he wants to balance the spiritual and physical, and not just have everything balanced on the spiritual "religion aspect of it."

Cortez said that his life, relationships and his future plans have benefited from being part of the ICOC. "The biggest thing I found was that it wasn't for me," Cortez said. "Nothing had changed. It wasn't what I needed, and is not what I need now. God put me through it for a reason. I came to know God more through that experience."

He is now attending Reno Christian Fellowship and is taking a semester off from school. Some people may look at his experience as negative, but Cortez sees that his involvement in the ICOC worked for a purpose.

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