Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Christian Credentials

Up until fairly recently I’ve believed the basic tenets of Christianity for as long as I can remember. Growing up, there was never really any doubt that the Christian god existed, that Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again, that people had eternal souls that either went to heaven or hell after death, and that the Protestant Bible was the word of God and was absolutely true. Church attendance may have been sporadic at times, but the aforementioned doctrines were always a given.

At six years old on Easter Sunday, after viewing some sort of dramatic choir presentation in a church, I had some kind of emotional reaction and began sobbing uncontrollably where I sat. I don’t really remember much about it now, quite frankly. I remember being really upset that Jesus had to suffer and die and understanding that I was somehow responsible for that because of some stuff I had done. I don’t recall if I prayed a prayer and asked Jesus into my heart or not at the behest of some pastor or other adult, but I assume I did. The details are fuzzy, but since we’re now 30 years removed from those events it probably doesn’t matter.

In the version of Evangelical Christianity I was initially introduced to, there was great importance placed on personal testimonies of conversion and knowing the day you were converted. Recalling that experience as a six-year-old was my go-to story when people asked me when I “got saved.” Of course, truthfully I didn’t really know if that was when it happened. I had been through countless end-of-sermon appeals and prayed along with a number of different pastors asking Jesus to forgive me of my sins, come into my life and be my Lord ‘N’ Savior so many times by the time I was 14 I was certain one of them must’ve taken.

I remember one sermon in particular based on the parable of the wheat and the tares that I now know the preacher at the time completely ripped off almost word for word from a semi-famous evangelist. It quite literally scared the hell out me. I wanted to make sure I got gathered into the metaphorical barn and not burned with unquenchable fire. I prayed the prayer really sincerely that time. Not long after, I was finally baptized into a Southern Baptist church.

From seventh through twelfth grade I attended a Christian school affiliated with an independent fundamentalist Baptist church. In addition to Bible classes on Monday through Thursday, we had chapel services every Friday. At this time I also usually attended my own Southern Baptist church on Sunday mornings and evenings and on Wednesday nights. It was within walking distance of my house at the time so I didn’t have to rely on rides. Couple that with youth group meetings, Sunday school and summer camps and needless to say, I heard quite a bit of preaching and Bible instruction during my teen years.

I believed it all. Oh sure, there were some doctrines I heard taught that I took issue with, but for the vast majority I agreed. I also did my best to live the stuff out too. I read through the Bible on my own. I had daily quiet times. Yeah, I wasn’t a perfect teenager and did some stupid stuff and some things I felt ashamed of, but I never stayed “in sin” for very long before I would feel convicted, hit my knees and seek forgiveness, usually for things that nobody else knew about and didn’t actually hurt anyone. I listened almost exclusively to Contemporary Christian Music, considered secular music to be ungodly and unedifying and often faced derision for this from both my Christian and non-Christian peers.

When I entered the workforce at age 15 I made some attempts at sharing the good news with my non-Christian co-workers at my job. Of course, I tithed my earnings and I’ve given over 10 percent of my before-tax income to the church ever since. Over the past 20 years my wife and I have contributed well over $100,000 combined to the two churches we’ve been members of. Of course, it now sickens me to think about what else we could’ve done with that money.

My senior year in high school I was voted “Most Spiritual” and upon graduation the faculty awarded me a giant trophy called “The Christian Character Award.” In retrospect it occurs to me that perhaps granting such awards is a really good way to manufacture self-righteous hypocrites. Through my college years I continued to be actively involved in the church, teaching Sunday school and vacation Bible school and leading youth Bible studies. By the time I graduated, my wife and I were the only two young adults remaining from our youth group and I was the only one left from the relatively large group of 30 to 40 kids from the halcyon days of the youth group at that church. The rest had either moved on or fallen away. I was the exception to the rule.

I went on to hold several leadership positions in the church. I was chairman of the finance committee, Sunday school director and eventually a paid part-time youth and education minister. I preached sermons with some regularity and even provided pulpit supply on a couple of occasions for another church. I took the study of the Bible and theology very seriously and was encouraged to attend seminary. I was considering it with a view toward full time ministry right before I changed my views about baptism and church polity, which required a move to Presbyterianism of the PCA variety.

It wasn’t long before my wife and I were highly involved in that church as well. We began volunteering in the nursery, going on short-term foreign mission trips, teaching Sunday school and leading small group Bible studies among other things. We were actively involved there for over six years.

That church emphasized the need for fathers to set aside time each day to lead their families in a time of worship. Our family practiced this regularly for six years. For about the first three years we read through the entire Bible together, reading roughly a chapter a night. When the kids got old enough to start understanding things we used a children’s story Bible, sang Psalms, did scripture memory and went through catechism questions. We were anything but one-day-a-week Christians.

I’ve shared the gospel with co-workers, strangers on airplanes, acquaintances and people on two continents and in two languages. A few of those folks actually converted to Christianity to my knowledge. I even once helped convert a well-educated, self-proclaimed agnostic.

I say all this because I know that some will say that my wife and I never really were true believers. They will look at verses like 1 John 2:19 and conclude as much out of necessity. Of course, others may look at Hebrews 6:4-8 and conclude that maybe at one point we sort of believed, but now there is no hope for us. Or maybe some will look at James 2:19 and conclude our faith was like that of demons that believe and tremble, but are nevertheless damned.

That’s fine if people reach those conclusions. Just understand that we weren’t the typical nominal Christians who go to church every once in a while, but never really get involved or give Christianity even a passing thought Monday through Saturday. We knew it and lived it out every day. Of course, all that means to some of you is that hell will just be that much hotter for us. After all, we’ve heard the gospel preached hundreds of times and have been regularly taking communion for over 20 years, all the while eating and drinking judgment upon ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Consider this: given the level of commitment my wife and I have exhibited throughout our time in the Christian faith and the genuineness we felt while engaged in it, how does that stack up to you and your faith? Perhaps you think much like we did that you are a genuine believer. Maybe you think you’d be willing to lay down your life for the cause of Christ without hesitation as I once thought I would. Perhaps you are heavily involved in the church and pray and read your Bible nearly every day as I did. Maybe you’ve even felt the peace and presence of God in your life and witnessed him answer your prayers as I thought I’d done.

Now consider that I have now departed from the faith and rejected Christianity. What’s to stop the same thing from happening to you five, ten or fifteen years down the road from now? If you could go back in time just a couple of years ago and tell me that I would turn my back on Christianity, I would’ve considered such a possibility unfathomable. You have no assurance that you will not reject Christ sometime in the future. You can hold all you want to some contrived doctrine of eternal security that some preacher reassured you of or cling to the day you first prayed a prayer and walked an aisle or when you went through confirmation or when you were baptized or even the time when you first babbled some gibberish that someone told you was holy spirit speaking through you; the fact is you could one day end up just like me.

1 comment:

  1. If only Christians could come up with some way to verify someone's salvation BEFORE they announce their deconversion. They could probably stop a lot of people from pursuing service or ministry opportunities that they would not otherwise since, after all, they're not really saved!