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 A lot of those emails have been replaced by newer ways of keeping touch.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?
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.
As a fundamentalist, I believed two things:
- That we were adhering to the fundamentals, or first principles, set down for the church 2,000 years ago, and
- 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!
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
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?
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!