Note: I wrote almost all of this post last week, but couldn’t manage to finish it until yesterday. So all references to “tonight” and “last night” were actually made last Wednesday & Thursday.
This rarely happens. I think up a topic I want to blog about while I am driving to work and I actually remember it when I get there and began a draft. By begin a draft, I mean I typed in the title, selected the category, and saved. Now here I am at the end of the day wishing I was in bed asleep but waiting on a load of laundry to finish so I can put it in the dryer…because I need it dry and ready to pack in the morning. I don’t know where to begin. So this may be long and all over the place since I won’t be finished before I go to bed tonight.
I grew up in church. I’ve been told never to start a testimony with that, but that is a huge part of it. My dad was a deacon up until I was 15. He and/or my mom taught small groups off and on up until I was 19. I got churched at church, and I got churched at home. I knew all of the major Baptist doctrine by the time I was a teen. Saved at 12, baptized at 14, and walked away from the church at 19. My best friend told me not too long ago that I didn’t just leave the church, I wanted nothing to do with “organized religion.” When I walked away, it was over racism, but over time I realized that was just the final straw in what I perceived as institutional hypocrisy.
After 2 decades of wandering in my own self-righteousness and slowly getting more and more debaucherous in my behavior, I got turned back. Yeah, it turned out that living my life in pursuit of instant gratification is empty – totally and completely unsatisfying. But I still had my anti-church bias, and even still after being an active member for the past 2 or 3 years after 20 years of living my life for me.
I am a member of a Southern Baptist(SBC) church now. I grew up in Missionary Baptist churches (which split from the SBC in the early 20th century) that were American Baptist Association(ABA) and Baptist Missionary Association(BMA). The BMA split from the ABA around 1948 or 49 ironically for about the same reason the ABA split from the SBC. My point being, each of the 3 hold to the same basic doctrines despite what the ABA old-timers have said for years. Remember, I stated my bias up front. There are also General Baptists, Freewill Baptists, and Independent Baptists. The Independents, if I remember right, also split from the SBC during or following the 19th century Landmarkism movement (which was a lot of what was behind the ABA split), so they generally hold to the same doctrines as the SBC, ABA, & BMA with the added tendency towards King James Onlyism. I know I throw all that out without any references, but I’m blogging not writing a graduate-level academic thesis. That would be really long. Just sayin’.
And then there are the Westboro “Baptists” of whom I have nothing at all good to say, so I will save them for a day in which I am feeling particularly snarky.
But anyway, my Baptist doctrinal background is ABA & BMA, which differs little from the SBC. One thing I have noticed that is different between the ABA & BMA and the SBC is what is prominently displayed on the wall in the church sanctuary. That would be a huge framed poster of the church covenant present in every ABA & BMA church I ever attended. Yes, is was/is the most prominent feature. You know what else? I never could read it past the first paragraph before losing all interest. I would even try to make it into a song (in my head), but to no avail. It’s just something that irks me now, and I know it is only because of the statement about alcohol. Why? Because it is unbiblical. I’m not saying teetotaling is a bad thing, it just isn’t a commandment. Drunkenness is prohibited, not drinking. And I don’t say that just to justify my drinking. My drinking habit is best described as binging, which is why I voluntarily avoid it. Now. Most of the time. Unlike eating McDonald’s, getting drunk is still a temptation…unfortunately.
Anyway, my perception of the Christian life based on what I absorbed as a child and youth (whether actually overtly taught or not), was a tendency toward performance-based gospel. Yes, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but then don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex until you’re married, and try not to cuss too much. Hmmm, and dress up for church on Sunday, particularly Sunday morning. Dress or skirt mandatory. (Not so much anymore) Recipe for failure. Oh, sure, I learned very well how to look the part, but I failed (at all of them) because I didn’t get enough read your Bible and pray. I’m not saying I wasn’t taught that either, because my parents always stressed that (yet didn’t force me – wise, in retrospect, letting the Holy Spirit do the work), and I had a really good mentor for a few years from 10-15 years old who tried her best to get that through to me. It just did not sink in for 20+ years.
Ok, it was totally not my intent to turn this into a confessional post. Perhaps I should have finished it last night when I was fully snarky. haha Or maybe I should go back and read the blog post that got me riled up to begin with. But my point really is this: yes, doctrine matters. Yes, creeds, confessions, and covenants matter. But they are not the main thing. They don’t save, they don’t regenerate, they don’t produce fruit. Only Christ saves. Only the work of the Holy Spirit in a person saved by grace through faith in Christ will produce fruit. And good fruit isn’t just outwardly following a set of rules. There is no being good enough to win God’s favor. 12 year old me got that, and promptly forgot. 40-something me has had to learn the gospel all over again. Jesus is righteous, not me. He knew how I was going to rebel before and after accepting him, and he loved me enough to suffer and die in my place. And even when I can’t see it for seeing all my faults and failings (which are numerous), I am being conformed to the image of Christ. Much slower than I like, because patience doesn’t come easy for me, but when I look back at what I was, I can see the difference, and it keeps me running.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)