empty white product label against a black background

What I Used to Be, or a Look at Labels Long Left Behind

Email no longer excites me. Bill noti­fi­ca­tions. Spam. Newslet­ters I’ve for­got­ten to opt out of. In the ear­ly 2000s, though, my email was filled with mes­sages I could actu­al­ly look for­ward to with hap­pi­ness instead of annoy­ance. A lot of those emails have been replaced by new­er ways of keep­ing touch. My dad and I don’t email each oth­er any­more; instead, we’re a text or phone call away from each oth­er. And numer­ous oth­er peo­ple I used to email are now Face­book friends whom I rarely inter­act with any­more. … Bummer.

Anoth­er com­mon batch of emails that once graced my inbox were mes­sages sent to a Yahoo! group — remem­ber those? — called Oper­a­tion Salvation.

I don’t remem­ber how I came to be in the group, but it was found­ed by two young ladies whom are remain acquaint­ed with me to this day (thanks again, Face­book): Hilary and Karisa. The group — OSians, col­lec­tive­ly — was pret­ty active, and every day com­ing home from work, I could expect to find new con­ver­sa­tions to catch up on from the group.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for them, I was at a point in my “spir­i­tu­al jour­ney” that did­n’t real­ly favor mixed com­pa­ny — and by that I mean the com­pa­ny of those who weren’t the same type of Bap­tist I was. Oper­a­tion Sal­va­tion wel­comed Chris­tians of all stripes; it was co-found­ed by a Catholic, of all things!

I was very much hung up on the “what fel­low­ship hath light with dark­ness” Chris­tian­i­ty of the fun­da­men­tal Bap­tists, so I drew the line in the sand at every oppor­tu­ni­ty, and I made a fool of myself to those poor girls over some­thing as sil­ly as labels.

“Bap­tist” was­n’t enough for me. Oh no. I was an inde­pen­dent fun­da­men­tal Bap­tist who believed in the ple­nary inspi­ra­tion and inerran­cy of the Bible and preser­va­tion in the King James Ver­sion, who believed in the pret­ribu­la­tion­al rap­ture and pre­mil­len­ni­al return of Jesus, and yes, who believed in a recent cre­ation across a lit­er­al six days.

It was a mouth­ful, but for the first sev­er­al years of being in church, I harsh­ly defend­ed those labels every­where I was giv­en a plat­form. While it did get some­what heat­ed argu­ing about the terms — or whether some­one even needs to label them­selves all up for the sake of what they believe — with a few OSians, the group was full of grace and nev­er kicked me to the curb.

Although they prob­a­bly should have.

But what I want to explore a bit here is just what all of my old labels meant and whether the labels stuck with me til I left Chris­tian­i­ty? If I were a Chris­t­ian today, know­ing what I know now, would I keep any of the same labels?

Independent

The first term is prob­a­bly the sim­plest: being inde­pen­dent meant that my church was­n’t con­nect­ed to a net­work of others. 

That’s not to say that my church — Gar­ri­son Creek Bap­tist, then at its old loca­tion — was­n’t asso­ci­at­ed with oth­er church­es. We had a close rela­tion­ship with a Bap­tist church the next town over, among oth­ers, I’m sure. How­ev­er, being inde­pen­dent, the church was­n’t behold­en to any out­side denom­i­na­tion­al authority.

I always believed that inde­pen­dent church­es were the way to go, though through­out my years of belief, I’d briefly be a mem­ber of a Church of the Nazarene con­gre­ga­tion and would become an active, Bible study-lead­ing mem­ber of a Pres­by­ter­ian Church in Amer­i­ca con­gre­ga­tion a few years later.

Were I to be a Chris­t­ian today, I’d be an inde­pen­dent — per­haps even more so than I ever was back then.

Fundamental

As a fun­da­men­tal­ist, I believed two things:

  1. That we were adher­ing to the fun­da­men­tals, or first prin­ci­ples, set down for the church 2,000 years ago, and
  2. That we took a strict, lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tion of the Bible.

For the first point, I can con­fi­dent­ly say that that is bunk. Nobody meet­ing in a brick and mor­tar build­ing called a church, chapel, cathe­dral, etc. is prac­tic­ing the Chris­tian­i­ty of 2,000 years ago, for example. 

As for the sec­ond point, well, every Bap­tist church I came into con­tact with — indeed, every church I came into con­tact with — taught that Satan was once an angel called Lucifer, which is just one of the many fail­ures of so-called “strict, lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions” used by Christians.

Were I a Chris­t­ian today, my fun­da­men­tals would like­ly look pret­ty dif­fer­ent from those of most churches!

Baptist

This label was a big one. “Bap­tist” set the tone for what church meant — a sin­gle elder led con­gre­ga­tion com­posed by those who were saved by grace through faith and then bap­tized by full-body immersion.

Bap­tists, at least the ones I com­muned with, fan­cied them­selves inher­i­tors of a great long line of church­es, dat­ing back to Jesus himself.

We did­n’t sprin­kle babies, and we only bap­tized the believ­er once.

I did­n’t stay a Bap­tist. The fur­thest I got from it was join­ing the Nazarene church, which I most­ly did for my then girl­friend. I nev­er did assent to cer­tain of the Nazarene beliefs, includ­ing that sal­va­tion can be lost — which is iron­ic con­sid­er­ing that years since leav­ing Chris­tian­i­ty behind, a friend of mine from that church let me know that I was still on their church roll, and to this day I still get occa­sion­al Face­book invites to what I would think are mem­bers-only events. I digress… 

A few years lat­er, after return­ing to Bap­tist church­es for a while, I found myself at a Pres­by­ter­ian church. Mul­ti­ple elder-led con­gre­ga­tion, sprin­kling mode of bap­tism, and an empha­sis on art and the beau­ty of creation.

I liked it a lot, though I nev­er did real­ly accept the sprin­kling bap­tism stuff. 

When I left Chris­tian­i­ty, I end­ed that peri­od by being a blend of Bap­tist and Pres­by­ter­ian, though I had no church home.

Were I a Chris­t­ian today, I’d have no time for denom­i­na­tion­al ties… or tra­di­tion­al church ties at all. Small gath­er­ings of believ­ers in homes would be much more what I’d be tak­ing part in.

Who believed in the plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible

“Ple­nary” is a fan­cy word — the­olo­gians love fan­cy words — mean­ing “absolute.”

“Inspi­ra­tion” means that the Bible was inspired by — or lit­er­al­ly “breathed out” by God, that the words of the Bible are his words.

“Inerran­cy” means “with­out error.” If the Bible spoke on a mat­ter, it did so with absolute author­i­ty, for God makes no mistakes.

Togeth­er, this meant that the Bible was the unques­tion­able source of absolute truth.

How­ev­er, over time I’ve come to real­ize how vari­ably that “unques­tion­able” is applied. 

To use my pre­vi­ous doc­tri­nal exam­ple, try telling most Chris­tians that Satan isn’t a fall­en angel, and you’ll prob­a­bly be talk­ing to some­one who dis­agrees with you. Addi­tion­al­ly, angels look and act like men, and there is noth­ing in the Bible that pre­vents men from hav­ing a plu­ral­i­ty of wives.

It was believ­ing — not prac­tic­ing or intend­ing to prac­tice, mind you, just believ­ing — that men may have mul­ti­ple wives which got me kicked out of the Pres­by­ter­ian church, after I was sat down in a room with the elders of the church and basi­cal­ly giv­en an ultimatum.

Were I a Chris­t­ian today, I’d of course still hold the Bible as my guide, but as before, it would­n’t look quite like most Chris­tians would be used to. It’s amaz­ing how much tra­di­tion and denom­i­na­tion­al idio­syn­crasy that even Bible fun­da­men­tal­ists have trou­ble get­ting rid of!

Preservation in the King James Version

clasped hands held over a leather-bound Holy Bible resting on a red fabric surface
Pho­to by Pix­abay on Pexels.com

The King James Ver­sion of the Bible, also known as the Autho­rized Ver­sion, was the only accept­able trans­la­tion of the Bible. 

All sorts of wild jus­ti­fi­ca­tions were giv­en for why that was the case, and while I have to admit that just hav­ing one ver­sion of the one book that doc­trine could be derived from made things a lit­tle eas­i­er, it was also a posi­tion which did not stand up to scruti­ny over time.

Through­out my time as a Chris­t­ian, I came to use a vari­ety of trans­la­tions, though I’d come to pre­fer the New Amer­i­can Stan­dard Bible and the Eng­lish Stan­dard Version.

Were I to be a Chris­t­ian today, I sus­pect that I’d be using those same versions.

The pretribulational rapture

The first of two escha­to­log­i­cal — or “end times” — doc­trines that we Bap­tists loved to insist were impor­tant enough to apply labels over per­tained to the tim­ing of the rapture.

The rap­ture, for those who don’t know, is gen­er­al­ly believed to be a mirac­u­lous event where­in God would call all believ­ers, bod­i­ly, to Heav­en. Those believ­ers who were already dead would be res­ur­rect­ed. Those who yet lived would be transformed. 

I believed that this rap­ture of the saints would occur at the begin­ning of the Great Tribu­la­tion, a sev­en year peri­od of increas­ing tumul­tuous activ­i­ty on Earth dur­ing which God will pour out his wrath upon those who remain while an evil trin­i­ty — the antichrist, false prophet, and best — rule the world. All of which cul­mi­nates with the…

Premillennial return of Jesus

The tribu­la­tion peri­od would end with the glo­ri­ous return of Jesus, who would set up a 1,000 year reign on Earth, dur­ing which there would be peace and harmony.

And final­ly, this peri­od would cul­mi­nate with the final judg­ment, where­in a new heav­en and a new earth replace the old.

I’m not sure what sort of escha­to­log­i­cal view I’d take were I a Chris­t­ian nowa­days. Since leav­ing Chris­tian­i­ty, I haven’t stud­ied the end times stuff much, so my views on what the Bible says about it have been frozen in time as they were back in 2010. 

A recent creation across a literal six days

Final­ly, I was a young Earth cre­ation­ist. Yep, I was one of them. I not only fol­lowed the likes of Dr. Dino and Answers in Gen­e­sis, but I had bought and read a vari­ety of Answers in Gen­e­sis’s books and argued against “evo­lu­tion­ists” any chance I could, includ­ing in places as irrel­e­vant to reli­gious debate as the phpBB.com com­mu­ni­ty.

I viewed pub­lic school with sus­pi­cion for try­ing to push an evil agen­da of lying about our origins. 

This atti­tude per­sist­ed through­out my Chris­tian­i­ty, and I’d prob­a­bly be a young Earth cre­ation­ist again were I to be a Chris­t­ian today, but cer­tain­ly not because “the evi­dence” points to it. 

If we go by the evi­dence, Earth is pret­ty clear­ly mul­ti­ple bil­lions of years old, and aging every day accord­ing to pre­dictable nat­ur­al processes.

I’m not con­vinced, how­ev­er, that that would be incom­pat­i­ble with a recent creation.

There is a mock idea in phi­los­o­phy called last Thurs­day­ism, a posi­tion which states that the uni­verse was cre­at­ed in a func­tion­al, mature state last Thurs­day. Like a show start­ing in media res, so to would the uni­verse have begun in the midst of the action, with mature adults; evi­dence of the past such as craters, fos­sils, and scars; and so much more.

That idea is intend­ed to mock young earth cre­ation­ism — if the Earth was cre­at­ed at a mature point 7,500 years ago, it could have been cre­at­ed at a mature point last Thursday!

And sure, absolute­ly, but just because you can mock some­thing does­n’t mean it’s false. 

I’d be a young Earth cre­ation­ist, but I’d accept that the world oper­ates accord­ing to how sci­en­tists have deter­mined it oper­ates, which is more than I can say for so many cre­ation­ists who dis­miss evo­lu­tion as “evil-ution.”

But what am I really?

statue of jesus
Pho­to by Sev­en­Storm JUHASZIMRUS on Pexels.com

I’m not a Chris­t­ian today. So far as I know myself, I’m an athe­ist, though like Win­ston Zed­de­more, I “love Jesus’ style.” 

I’ve always had a pen­chant for the wild and won­der­ful, though, since get­ting into the super­nat­ur­al back in mid­dle school. I real­ize the val­ue of being skep­ti­cal, and I absolute­ly respect the work of sci­en­tists; how­ev­er, that does­n’t stop me from let­ting my imag­i­na­tion and sense of won­der run a lit­tle freely.

Inquiries about reli­gion fit right along into that. I don’t look at reli­gion and see it as a blight that needs elim­i­nat­ed. Reli­gion is human­i­ty reach­ing out in hopes to under­stand the world around us, try­ing to make sense of the world around us in ways that make sense to those doing it. Yes, it has been used as a tool to oppress. So has sci­ence or eco­nom­ics or sim­ply hav­ing a big­ger stick than a neigh­bor­ing peo­ple. It’s human nature to fail to be excel­lent to one anoth­er, sadly.

I have been on both sides of the Christianity/secularism divide, and I have failed to be excel­lent to the oth­er sides pret­ty consistently.

Despite all of it, though, I am grate­ful for friends I have made along the way — friends like Hilary and Karisa of Oper­a­tion Sal­va­tion — who have dis­played a remark­able long-suf­fer­ing through the years, both dur­ing our Oper­a­tion Sal­va­tion mem­ber­ship and in the years since as friends on Face­book. I’ve lost friends along the way, sure — friends I well and tru­ly cared about, regard­less of dif­fer­ences in beliefs — but life goes on, and I wish them well.

I am tired of the antag­o­nism so often found between Chris­tians and athe­ists, par­tic­u­lar­ly when most peo­ple are so mod­er­ate in their beliefs that they get along with every­one just fine regard­less of beliefs. Why do those who take their beliefs more seri­ous­ly have to be so adversarial?

We aren’t going to change any­one’s mind by insult­ing them. There has got to be a bet­ter way, but I’m not going to change the world by try­ing to find it alone. I’d love to hear your thoughts below on how soci­ety might be strength­ened, despite (or per­haps even because of) our differences! 

1 thought on “What I Used to Be, or a Look at Labels Long Left Behind”

  1. Reli­gion is also, often, a gate­way into a com­mu­ni­ty. This is a pow­er­ful draw for many people.

    I did­n’t know I was a Last Thurs­day­ist. Although I don’t believe I was stat­ing “The uni­verse could have been cre­at­ed five min­utes ago” to mock any­one. Just to make the point when the actu­al “moment” of cre­ation took place is not real­ly rel­e­vant to much.

    I recent­ly read of a new Bible trans­la­tion that, among oth­er things, rearranged the order of the books. Now I can’t find it. I feel like it just went to press this year.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Use your Gravatar-enabled email address while commenting to automatically enhance your comment with some of Gravatar's open profile data.

Comments must be made in accordance with the comment policy. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam; learn how your comment data is processed.

You may use Markdown to format your comments; additionally, these HTML tags and attributes may be used: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Rick Beckman