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Religious Autobiography 1980-1998
I know that religion is not considered a topic for polite conversation, but that's never stopped me from talking about it on this site. I've written about religion as a pastor, as a former member of a strange group and more recently as an atheist. But I haven't yet written up an overview of my history with religion and how I have arrived where I am today. Until now. This is going to be divided up into multiple parts.
My mother was raised on a dairy farm and her family went to a Baptist church in the country. My dad's parents were divorced. His mom is an atheist now (I'm not sure about back then), but he lived with his dad and stepmother. His stepmother is a Methodist and the couple also ran the local liquor store. Shortly after getting married, Dad went on a quest to find the right religion. He did a lot of reading and talking with people he knew. He was visited by the preacher from the Church of Christ in Butler, MO (about 10 miles from Adrian, where he lived). Soon Mom and Dad were members of that church and as far back as I can remember we drove to Butler every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening for services.
The Church of Christ is one of those non-denominational denominations. There is no church hierarchy outside of local congregations. Most of the churches do not use instrumental music in worship services. There are several splinter groups divided by various important theological issues such as
Can a church building have a kitchen?
Is Sunday school allowed?
Should churches send money to missionary and benevolent organizations?
Can communion be taken from multiple cups or only from one shared cup like in the Bible?
Is it ok to have a paid preacher?
My church answered those questions like this: no, yes, no, multiple, yes. Various congregations answer those questions in different ways, and they all refuse to recognize the soundness of any church that doesn't agree with their set of answers.
So, as I grew up I heard 2 sermons a week and had 2 Bible classes per week. Mixed in with the normal Christian teaching about sin and salvation (and maybe even overshadowing them) were sermons about the evils of pianos and refrigerators in church and how congregations who form organizations to help them cooperate for missionary work were headed down the path toward Catholicism.
And if they were that hard on fellow churches of Christ, just imagine how damned other denominations were. I was frequently told how most of the churches fell into apostasy not long after the New Testament was completed. The Reformation just substituted Protestant heresy for Catholic heresy (although they never seemed to mind quoting Luther, Calvin and Wesley when decrying instrumental music).
But then, as I was told, some humble preachers in America saw through all the religious confusion, left their Protestant churches and started the Restoration Movement. The true form of New Testament religion was restored at last. But all was not well in God's kingdom. Soon liberals infiltrated the one true church and they had to be ousted. The Disciples of Christ and the churches of Christ officially split in 1906. Some of the apostates had a partial change of heart and in 1926 a group of conservative Disciples of Christ split to form the Independent Christian Church. They still used instruments, but in other ways, they resembled the doctrines of the churches of Christ.
From 1906 to the present, the churches of Christ continued to divide over the issues I listed above and others. Lucky for me, the church I was raised in happened to belong to the one splinter group who was following the Bible correctly.
One of the few interchurch fellowships I had was at the Florida College Summer Camp at the Lake of the Ozarks. Kids from our type of churches of Christ from all over Missouri and Arkansas met for a week. Now I realize that most churches that do summer camps couldn't fit all of the interested youth from two states, ages 9-18 into a single week of camp. But that never occurred to me at the time. I loved it. I made some good friends there, including Tim, who plays a big role in the rest of my story.
One of the purposes of the camp is to recruit kids to go to Florida College, a junior college in the Tampa Bay area. As far as I know, it's the only Bible college that my type of churches of Christ considered sound. Several of my friends were planning on going there and Tim and I flew down for a college visit during my junior year (his senior year). I think we were both genuinely undecided at that time, but the trip was kind of disappointing. The library was pathetic, we had some strange experiences in the dorm we stayed (including one resident walking around naked with rubber mask on his face), the academics seemed weak and we knew how much it would cost. Neither of our families had a lot of money for college. My brother went to FC and was able to transfer his credits to a university, graduate and start a good career, so I don't want to sell the school short too much. But Tim and I weren't sure it was worth the cost.
Tim went to Truman State University in Kirksville, MO on a good scholarship. Several of our friends were disappointed, including me. I was still leaning toward FC even though I had doubts. I decided to apply to some in-state schools, including Truman, just to see what kind of scholarships I could get. And so that when I was ready to transfer after getting my associate's degree at FC, I would already have been approved by some schools. Truman accepted me and offered me a $4000 a year scholarship. FC accepted me and offered a $200 scholarship. Truman, with in-state public school tuition was shaping up to be a near-free education. FC would have put my parents in debt. I visited Truman and was impressed, especially by their gigantic library. After much agonizing, I reluctantly decided to part ways with the rest of my friends and join Tim at Truman.
Once again, many people I knew were disappointed in this decision. I almost talked myself out of it at my last year at camp just weeks before leaving for college. No one really pressured me, but I really questioned my decision. Some of my friendships would never be the same. Could my faith handle going to a secular school? I even called home in tears asking my mom if it was still possible to change my mind and go to FC. She told me it was my decision and they would make it work if I wanted to do it. On the last few days of camp I asked advice from a lot of people and I spent the bus ride home mulling the decision. I finally decided to stick with Truman State. It's strange to think about how different my life would have been if I had made the opposite decision.
That was a turning point in my religious life and in my life as a whole. I don't really remember if I was having doubts about my church's claim to be the the one true faith. I know that Tim told me about getting involved with a campus ministry that (gasp!) used instruments in worship. I remember being concerned but intrigued. I intended to look into this campus ministry and possibly get involved myself. So, I must have had some doubts about the CoC even before going to a state school.
Have you read Flannery O Connor! That is pretty much the most extreme swing from religious points of view. Keep your head up.