Sunday, January 25, 2009

Looking Back--Part II

Though raised within the context of a fundamentalist style Christianity, I don't know that I could say for sure that I was a genuine full-fledged fundamentalist until after my high school years. Certainly my church background prepared the soil, but the actual planting came from something more. Southern Baptist pastors, at least the ones I knew, stuck pretty closely to the theme of personal salvation. Going to Heaven and avoiding hell were the backdrop or context to understanding that matter. These pastors were not phonies, but sincerely intent upon serving the gospel as they understood it. Generally speaking, they were devout dedicated men, who were quite fired up when they stood in the pulpit to preach. All sermons were followed by very plaintive appeals to 'come forward' and 'accept Christ.'

This feature of the service was called 'the invitation.' Gospel songs were sung in the background, reinforcing the preacher's urging the congregation to 'surrender to God' in the form of 'first time salvation' or 'rededication' and consecration to God. The most favorite and most appropriate hymn was 'Just AS I Am.' To resist such powerful calls to conversion took a lot of willpower ('hard heartedness'). To spurn God's invitation through the preacher was to resist the call of the Spirit and court disaster. 'My Spirit will not always strive with man' was frequently quoted as proof that we had been sufficiently warned. This kind of revivalism with its heavy doses of fiery pressure sent many of us down the aisle more than once. It must have been the same drama that we read about in school when in the 18th century the famous New England preacher, Jonathan Edwards, would move congregations to faint and cry, desparately calling out to God for mercy. I would later learn that my church heritage had descended in part from the spiritual movement called 'revivalism.'

There is a certain power and fascination about revivalism that is unique and perhaps useful. It certainly has the advantage of making people realize that God and the gospel are serious issues. Down the road, I would learn that there were other ways and traditions to communicate the gospel. Nevertheless, this was my church tradition--my family tree, if you will. God uses different means to accomplish his own ends. "The Spirit blows where it wills' and apparently 'how he wills.'

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