Sunday, May 20, 2007

Free at last!

I grew up in an independent, separatist fundamentalist environment. I didn't know that was what it was until Joseph Zichterman gave me those words. We just called ourselves "the true church."

As far as we were concerned, every other church had fallen into one grievous doctrinal error or another. The only people we were sure about going to heaven were those in our own church -- and some of them were doubtful. The other independent church across town? Not sure about them. Denominations? We wanted nothing to do with hell-bound compromisers.

We were always fighting. If we were not fighting the doctrinal error at other churches, we were fighting among ourselves. We saw it as a badge of honor, as proof of our holiness before God and our zeal for pure doctrine. When "error" crept into our congregation, we drove it out. If we could have forced the other churches to shut down, we would have been proud to do that. Since we had no power over them, we condemned them as evidence of the End Times Apostasy.

Then an e-mail shows up in my inbox. All it contains is a quote and a link to a blog. The words cut like a knife:

"There are two sides to religious self conceit; one is where the soul mostly contemplates its own superiority; ... and the other side is where the soul mostly contemplates the defects of others .... The censorious man belongs to the latter class, for while spiritual vanity is a part of his make-up, yet spiritual inquisition and severity with others constitutes the major part of his life. There are many who think that mere power to detect evil is a proof of holiness, and that growth in grace itself shows itself by an increasing aptness to ferret out the weaknesses and shortcoming of others." (George Watson)

Light pierced my darkness. Jesus died for me because I cannot, but he could -- and did! His perfect life and saving death purchased for me what I could never earn on my own! God's amazing grace! I am free at last -- libérez enfin!

I am still struggling to understand whether I was a Christian all those years or have just been born again. I feel like a new person. When I look back at my old life (and my old church), I do not see much evidence of Galatians 5:22-23: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." I do, however, see lots of Galatians 5:19-21: "immorality , impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing." Maybe not all of those, but most of them.

In retrospect, I see the irony of it all. Have you ever noticed that sometimes a church's name gives you a clue to what is really lacking in the church? One of our fights forced out some members, which organized a new church that called itself "Unity Baptist Church." Another fight created "Fellowship Baptist Church." And our name? "Grace Baptist Church." Grace is what we proclaimed most loudly, but it was what we were missing most.

God has done a new work of grace in my heart. It is like a heavy load has been taken off my shoulders. I feel so light, I think I could fly! I have been overwhelmed by God's grace ... the real thing, not the empty word used so often from our pulpit. All my life, church leaders loaded two heavy burdens on the people -- living perfectly moral lives and believing perfectly correct doctrine. All we ever really learned was that we could not behave and believe perfectly -- no more than the "apostates" and "heretics" we constantly condemned. The list of what you could not do and could not believe just kept getting longer and longer.

In any case, I want to share the joy that comes from realizing I am accepted and loved in Christ and I do not have to put others down to justify myself. I have been made righteous before God, not by my own perfect belief and behavior, but by the blood of Jesus!

I hope this blog helps other modern-day pharisees escape their "yoke of slavery." I hope it helps others not fall into that slavery. But most of all, I hope it helps all God's children -- inside church and out -- find the freedom Jesus paid for with his life.