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Friday, November 26, 2010

My first experience with the weakness in institutional church forms

            This story goes back to my sophomore or junior year in high school.  For context, my parents didn’t go to church, but on Sunday mornings, beginning when I was about 8 years old, dropped me off to go to Sunday School at a little Calvinistic theology church in a small town of about a couple hundred people.  I am guessing that about 70 went to this church.  I was dropped off just before then end of the regular service, so sometimes I was there early enough to hear the elderly pastor yell something to make a point.  I would go to Sunday School, and afterward go to the diner about 2 blocks away, meet my dad, and went home.  Between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I came to faith in Jesus, and started going to the worship service.  Almost the same time as my becoming a Christian, the elderly pastor passed away.  Since this church was so small that it couldn’t afford to hire a pastor for the amount traditional in that denomination, the replacement was a young man who just finished last in the seminary class.  Somehow, he was just the right person to cross my life at that time.
            One of the things he did was take over the Sunday School class that could be described as 7th grade through young adult.  Somewhere along the line, he must have picked up the idea that persons in that church really didn’t buy into the Calvinistic idea, not held by most parts of the Christian faith, that infant baptism was correct theology.  One Sunday, he asked how many of the dozen or so persons in that class agreed with this idea.  One has to get the context that some of the “students” were believers, and some were probably there only because their parents were there.  I was sitting in the front row. As I knew that to agree was the correct answer, but I wasn’t too confident in it being correct, I raised my arm about halfway, and shook my hand in a quivering fashion to indicate unsure.  I was to later find out that no one else raised their hand at all.
            Given that, the pastor taught us for the next three weeks on this idea, and then asked us again.  For anyone unfamiliar, this idea is based on Calvin’s idea that infant baptism was the New Testament equivalent to circumcision.  While there is a general principle in scripture that things that God did in the physical realm in the Old Testament with the physical chosen people are analogous to things He has done in the spiritual realm in the New Covenant with the new chosen people, the church, infant baptism isn’t a spiritual thing, and doesn’t align.  At 16, I understood that.  As such, I didn’t raise my hand and neither did anyone else.  In the rest of the time I was around him, that subject wasn’t brought up again.
            The point here is that there are different points in different “churches” that don’t line up with scripture, and for those who have desired to serve God by getting in such positions of leadership, they eventually find that part of their getting paid is to defend such points.  The easiest way to deal with the situation is to avoid the embarrassing point.  Given that they control the agenda, avoiding it is relatively easy, most of the time.  A number of years later, before graduating from college, I was considering going to the seminary in that group of churches, even to the degree to applying and getting accepted, but the problem for me was recognizing that part of that job was defending that and a couple of other doctrines that in good conscience I didn’t agree with.  For all the struggles I’ve had in my life, going that direction was one of the possible mistakes I didn’t make.  It was years before I came to grasp that leadership in the true church is by gifting.  There is nowhere in the Bible where God gave to any person, committee or corporation any right to accredit or certify who is a leader.  Given how almost all of the world’s organizations operate on a leadership hierarchy, God’s way of appointing leaders by gifting is, by being contrary to the world’s ways, a sign of His hand on His true followers.  I might say that, in reality, many gifted persons have gone through the world’s system due to various reasons including assuming that the previous generation of leaders somehow have it correct.  Maybe, I just feel this way due to my tendency to have assumed the background behind leaders I have respected must have been valid without realizing that I had not thought it through, or even considered that a problem might have existed.
            Let me conclude by giving an example of this.  If one was brought up going to an institutional church that had a Sunday School, one heard the story of David and Goliath at a young age.  In 1 Samuel 17, it tells that David’s three oldest brothers had gone to war, albeit that the war was not far away.  Jesse, David’s father, sent David to bring food to his older brothers and their captain.  That is what David is doing there to hear Goliath’s derision, and how the story ensues from there.  The point I wish to make is about the little point that is usually passed over in telling this story as it would be told children.  Why is David coming up to the area behind the lines with food?  Our military provides food, clothing, and equipment necessary to the job of the military.  Here is the U.S., since 9/11, it is just about impossible to get on military property without a military pass, an escort from a military person, or, in the case of a “welcome home” celebration, at least being able to say who you are welcoming, and that involves a procedure that differs every time.  Now, when one is four to nine years old, those are details one wouldn’t have the experience of life to think of, but, if you hear this story once every two years (the general time frame for covering Bible stories in Sunday Schools), one can easily think one knows this story, and miss the point that this all happened in a culture far away, very different from our own.  It is easy to assume one knows all about the familiar.

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