At this point, I would like to dive in and share with you stories of our life in the ministry. I am not really able to do this without describing my mom and dad. I really plan on dedicating several future blogs to my parents. They truly were amazing people, and deserve both respect and honor.
To set the backdrop, I need to dedicate a blog to a theological concept. This comes into play because at the time my mom and dad started dating my mom believed that she was unsaved, and beyond grace. If you knew my dad at the time you would see that it would be likely to end up in the ministry. A sticking point in their dating relationship was that Mom knew it wouldn’t work for her to be an unbelieving preacher’s wife.
This leads me to a theological question that I have pondered much of my life. What does Biblical Salvation look like? Is it the penitent sinner weeping at the altar? Is it a herd of Sunday-school kids praying the Sinner’s Prayer at an altar call? Is it walking down a half a mile of stadium aisle to meet Jesus on the fifty yard line of a football field at a Billy Graham Crusade? Can a Biblical change be so subtle that you don’t know that it happened, and so radical that you live your life following Christ with all your heart forever? If you can’t be saved without the Spirit leading you to salvation, how do you know he was leading you at the moment of salvation? Do you have to declare Jesus as Lord? Does he choose you, or do you choose him? How do you make a judgment call on a life that shows little evidence of change? What happens if you renounce your faith? Can you sin away your day of grace? When does a person get baptized? Is his baptism synonymous with his moment of salvation? Do you baptize the convert again when he gets resaved or reresaved? Should you baptize that sucker till he gets swimmer’s ear if he has a lot of doubts?
Theologians have slain many trees and drained many inkwells working through some of these issues. This is a blog reflecting on my life. I have established what I believe on many of these questions. If sorting through the actual Scriptural data were not enough the waters get really muddy when you throw in our Christian subculture, bad preaching, and sensational eschatology into the mix. Most of us have endured hours of anguish of the soul wrestling through questions about our own salvation. Consider what happens when our own doubts intersect with our church culture.
Welcome to the stage “The Testimony.” By this we mean a speech somewhere between two minutes and two hours about all the details of the moment of your salvation. We really should call this the bragamony. Really good testimonies include most of the details of your former life. It is hard to trump the testimony of a guy relating that he was the head witch of seven counties of Southern California when his girlfriend broke a hepatitis infected needle in my arm, because she was afraid he would expose all the ritual sacrifices from last Halloween. http://www.answers.org/satan/warnke.html Being captured trying to rescue POW’s in Vietnam is always a plus. Killing your Grandmother with a dull axe gets attention, but is a little over the top. But Christians are notoriously good storytellers. We can brag about our innocence as well as our depravity. Thusly we have the, “I was saved when I was three in my bedroom, and I have never doubted it once testimony.” Testimonies are as varied in Christendom as chicken recipes at the dinner on the ground after the service, but most of them equate assurance of salvation with something that happens at the moment of salvation.
Next onstage is the traveling evangelist doing a revival, the churches’ Gospel Gunslinger. In the never-ending quest for notches on his gospel gun belt, it becomes his job to get people unsaved so he can get them saved. The evangelist has several tools in his toolbox to wrangle the penitents down the aisle. The first tool in the box is to get people to doubt their salvation, by asking them introspective questions about how they did the moment of their salvation. Questions like, “Was the Spirit drawing you? Were you holding back on any sin in your life? Did you go forward because your friend went? What did you say? Were you truly sorry?” are usually quite effective and making anyone have doubts. The answer is one more trip down the aisle, one more time through the sinner’s prayer, a short public interrogation to demonstrate your assurance, and somehow it isn’t good enough to quell your doubts for half an hour.
Another tool in the evangelists’ tool box is the persuasive algorithm. Verses are arranged in a flow chart that guarantees that any response obtained from the savee will lead to the saver to send the savee to Salvation from the Savior. This works well on kids and people prone to multilevel marketing schemes.
The final tool in the toolbox is the moving story. “He left the church and said,”NOT NOW” and as he walked out the door the steeple fell off the church and impaled him.” “If you don’t respond tonight this might be the last time the Spirit speaks to you.” “The Rapture will happen, and you will accept the Mark of the Beast, and be damned forever.” “The Son has come and you’ve been left behind. You’ve been left behind. You’ve been left……….” Add to the mix several verses of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” and the Gospel Gunslinger puts his smoking pistol back into his holster, carves a few more notches on his gun belt, and saddles up the Winnebago for the next gig.
Is the concept of the “Moment of Salvation” flawed as we preach it? Here I agree with the concept in the idea that we are born out of the Faith, and at some point in actual time we come into the Faith. On questions on concepts of Faith and Assurance I think the focus ought to be on the present and not the past. What do you believe now? What do you trust now? What is your testimony, the life you are living, right now? Another concept that is possibly flawed is that we produce faith in someone by persuading them to salvation. An individual believes, or he doesn’t believe. Truly there is nothing in a man’s dark heart that desires God. You can’t produce faith from persuasive speaking, emotional manipulation, or clever arguments. It is a work of God in the heart of a man that God chooses to involve other Christians as his servants in the process. I agree that an illuminated heart decides to follow God as part of a process that involves God’s sovereignty and a man’s accountability. But we sing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” with the same sense of meaning with “I Have Decided to Put Ketchup on my Eggs This Morning.” Ultimately the life of a believer should be lived daily in resting that Jesus is my only hope of salvation.
I think that much of the turmoil of my mom’s early years were a result of Baptist preaching. At some point she came to the conclusion, that she had made a decision when the Spirit wasn’t drawing her. When she pondered this she knew she should repent, and wasn’t willing to do this. After years her heart was cold, and she didn’t sense conviction any more. She lived in fear that she was both unsaved, and beyond grace. Enter the dating years and she is being courted by a man that drives into the slums of Nashville to pick up kids and bring them to the mission every Sunday. Ultimately she broke my dad’s heart with an explanation that, “You don’t really know me.” At some point my mom prayed and told the Lord that if He would convict her again, she would give her heart to Him. During a revival, the Spirit blew one more time on her cold heart, and she became the woman of faith that we all knew.
May 11, 2011 my mom saw the God she served face to face. They weren’t strangers! Passing to the future reality was just the next step in a life that lived in the present reality of resting in her Savior. One of the preachers that eulogized mom made a statement that still makes me smile at the irony. He said, “Mrs. Jean is dancing with Jesus.” My mom was way too much of a Baptist to ever know how to dance. I am sure that in the presence of the Lord, Mom knew how to dance in an instant. Maybe there is hope for a Baptist even yet.