“A change of habit
used to go bar-hopping
you started church-shopping, did ya?
It’s been a problem
finding one to fit ya
you didn’t feel good, did ya?”
-Steve Taylor “Steeplechase”
As a Southern Baptist I learned scripture, asked Jesus Christ into my heart and then took off on a steeplechase.
In my youth I wasn’t ashamed to be called Southern Baptist. Royal Ambassadors helped me learn scripture and gave me a better social life than I probably would have had. Bible drills left me versed in scripture that would later provide peace during chaos, even the chaos of church splits.
Awanas currently helps my children the same way. I love Awanas. My Southern Baptist mother actually teaches a group of Bible-toting tykes.
But back then, after my military discharge, I moved on to a Bible Church associated with Dallas Theological Seminary. This was in large part due to their campus ministry where I met someone I wanted to date, then I hopped over to the Episcopal Church due to the influence of other friends (mainly because I liked their choir and they let me sing in it). Finally, I’m back at a Bible Church “very loosely” affiliated with Dallas Theological Seminary. A member said they’d rather be known as Bible-based non-denominational.
In between, I did a lot of searching Steve Taylor called “a steeplechase” on his album “I Want to be a Clone.”
For those who didn’t already know through first-hand experience like mine, the Pew forum (funny name for a group doing a religious study, huh?) has released a study noted in an Associated Press story below:
(AP) — The U.S. religious marketplace is extremely volatile, with nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds.
The study released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is unusual for it sheer scope, relying on interviews with more than 35,000 adults to document a diverse and dynamic U.S. religious population.
The rest of the article provides more details. A question that arises in my mind is why? Why are so many seeking God in so many directions? Should denominations matter? Should they exist? How do I know I’m at the church where God wants me?
I may have already, elsewhere in these blog entries, described a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian that I believe shows the beginning of denominations. Brian runs off from a village after preaching religious babble, a crowd of messiah-seekers in hot pursuit. He drops a gourd and a pursuer picks it up and shouts “Follow the Gourd! Follow the Gourd!” Brian loses a sandal and it is immediately seized and another pursuer proclaims “Follow the shoe! Follow the shoe!” A melee ensues and Brian escapes unnoticed.
Like C.S. Lewis noted, I do believe there is such a thing as “Mere Christianity.” Everything else may come down to be window-dressing, I don’t know.
I can sum up my disagreements – mind you these are broad stereotypes and I do remember exceptions – with the various denominations I joined thus:
I believed the Southern Baptists focused more on Jesus Christ, some on God the Father and not enough on the Holy Spirit. I always seemed to join a church about to split as well.
I believed the Episcopal Church had a more balanced approach to the Holy Trinity but was too permissive and occasionally overdid the pageantry.
I believed the Brethren Church was too passive.
I believed the Bible church affiliated with Dallas Theological Seminary was too strict because they booted their Campus Outreach Minister who was leading us in Bible study. He was mid-trib, not pre-trib – proof dispensationalism can be deadly or you can at least lose your job over it and be publicly excoriated in a loving manner.
So I followed love. No, not all the ladies I chased unsuccessfully in churches. (That provokes an interesting image of Harpo Marx in church). I went with the church that reached out to me in love and met my physical needs as well as spiritual ones. So happened they were a Bible church that preaches Jesus and Him crucified, but they also preach an accepting, loving Jesus who forgave the woman at the well and, in my case, the guy living in a car down by the river.
So that’s what I sort of recommend if your still steeplechasing. Pray God would lead you to a biblically-sound church full of sinners loving other sinners – a church that takes all parts of the Holy Trinity seriously, disciples thoroughly, and loves everyone the way Jesus said to.