Church Experience #20 – May 22, 2011
Red Bank Baptist Church
Strike One, Strike Two…
So far this year I have attended two Baptist (Southern Baptist, that is) churches and have yet to have what I would consider to be a “typical” Baptist church experience…if there is such a thing. The first one I went to, Central Baptist Church a.k.a. Abba’s House (read my article here), somehow forgot they were Baptist and started worshiping like free-wheeling charismatics. The second Baptist church I went to, Lookout Valley Baptist (read about them here), held a prayer and healing service and abandoned Sunday night church in favor of small groups and community service…what gives??? Maybe it’s just that the small town Baptist church I grew up in was part of a different era than the Baptist churches of today. Can anything qualify as a Baptist church these days, or what? Maybe today’s Baptist churches are encouraged to break out of the mold and take on organic and dynamic (and any other “-ic” words you can think of) characteristics and grow into something unique…a reflection not of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention), but instead of the congregation and church leadership. But, then again, maybe not…so I thought I would give the good old SBC one more chance to show me that all-too-well-known reputation of delivering fiery sermons, tug-at-your-heart altar calls, and those traditional organ/piano driven hymns that seem so down-home simple compared to the rockin’ contemporary worship that has now become all the rage (and which I also prefer, >wink<). With that being said, I took a new friend of mine, Keith Rocha, up on his offer to visit Red Bank Baptist Church. Alright SBC, three strikes and you’re out, so here we go…
A Promising Start
Laura and I met Keith out on the front steps of the massive traditional red-brick church building that sits on the corner of Dayton Boulevard and Ashland Terrace in Red Bank (try to say “red brick red bank” five times fast). We walked in the front lobby, were greeted cheerfully by men handing out bulletins, and then proceeded into the sanctuary. Keith noted that he and his wife, Becca, were “back-pew” people (they have a toddler), so we found seats at the rear, with easy-exit capability and settled in. The sanctuary was all white, with red carpet and red pew cushions, and I wondered if that color scheme was chosen to symbolize Jesus as the Lamb, and His Blood. The service began with a full-submersion water baptism (boom…already on track to be a “real” Baptist service) of a six-year-old boy named Griffin, who professed Jesus as his Lord, acknowledged the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all as the one God, and then got dunked. I love water baptisms…they bring joy to my heart. If you ever want to really experience (or have someone else experience) a water baptism, have my dad, Mark Davis, do it. He believes in “holding you under there for a minute so that you get the full experience”, which usually ends in a big *gasp* of breath on the way out of the water. Wow, I just realized while typing that this is payback for all the years I served as “sermon illustrations” for my dad…he can now be “blog material” for me. OK, I’m seriously sidetracked. I had better end this paragraph and start a new one and refocus.
Marrying The World
After the baptism, the choir filled into their seats in the pulpit, and the worship music began. We sang two songs, both contemporary praise songs rather than traditional hymns, but they were definitely toned down and sang in a hymn style, accompanied by organ, piano, percussion, and a small orchestra with various string and wind instruments. So although it wasn’t exactly the old-time hymn music that I remember from the Baptist church, it was definitely still in the same vein. The songs were peppy but not rockin’, and the congregation sang as if they were still holding a hymnal…in other words, no raising hands, jumping, or swaying to the music. The congregation was diverse in age, with a heavy dose of elderly people, but still a good amount of middle-aged and also young people. The worship leader announced that it was time to greet those around you, and we reached across pews and around people to shake as many hands and greet as many people as we could while the choir provided the accompaniment of “Standing on the Promises of God”. That old hymn caused me to drift off in thought, bringing all sorts of old memories of my childhood church, First Baptist Church of Damascus, Virginia. I spent a few minutes reminiscing about Sunday school classes, potluck dinners, revivals, lock-ins, and gospel concerts, while the Red Bank Baptist choir sang another song during the collection of tithes and offerings. I was brought back to the present as Interim Pastor, Dr. Richard Land, greeted the congregation and began his sermon. Dr. Land taught from Revelation and tied in several instances from the Old Testament about the perils of the Church and believers marrying the world. He noted that when Rome adopted Christianity as the “state church” under Constantine, it was one of the worst things that could have happened to the Christian church. It was a prime example of the Church marrying the world. Out of that marriage came a church that worshiped idols, gave priests the power to forgive sins, required money to buy your dead relatives into heaven, and allowed a man to preside over all the church as a god. Dr. Land pointed out 2 Cor 6:14 where believers are instructed not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, as well as many other Scripture passages that point to the same concept. This was definitely one of those blunt and divisive sermons that I would expect at a Baptist church. They have never seemed to fall victim to the fear of having to become too “politically correct”, which is exactly what this sermon topic was about not doing…marrying the world.
The Christian Race
When comparing the church services of different denominations and churches, I have noticed that some churches are sometimes focused or driven by one function more than others. What I mean is, some churches/denominations seem to be very worship-driven and spend more time on music and prayer, and others can be very sermon-driven and spend more time on teaching and preaching. I would say the (SBC) Baptist church would land on the sermon-driven side of the coin. There is not anything inherently wrong with one or the other, in my opinion, but I do believe there can be an overall imbalance that creates a gap in the spiritual race of believers if they do not get enough of one or the other. I personally think that all Christians have a need for equal parts worship, teaching, and fellowship, and as long as they receive all three, they will grow and mature in their faith. If one of these pieces is absent or lacking, then spiritual growth will be slow or not happen at all. I would recommend for everyone reading this to think about what church functions you attend that provide the opportunity for you to connect to God in each of these areas. If you are getting teaching and worship from Sunday morning service, but you aren’t getting adequate fellowship time…seek out a small group, service committee, or outreach program where you can have fellowship with other believers. If you are getting worship from Sunday service and fellowship from your small group, but you are lacking the real Bible teaching/study time…find a Sunday school class or local ministry organization where you can receive instruction from wise and knowledgeable teachers. The point is, as a Christian, it is not OK to remain stagnant in your spiritual race (1 Cor 9:24-25). We are called to excel, to become excellent, to be sanctified by God in the image of Christ. This cannot be accomplished on your own, but only through obedience and service to the Lord. He deserves our worship, He provides understanding of the Word through teaching and study, and He shows us love through our relationships with other believers. All of these things contribute to a life of spiritual growth and fullness of the Spirit, and create the ability for you to serve, love, and disciple other believers in return. I thank God for giving me the opportunity here in Chattanooga to become more balanced so that I can continue to grow and become a better servant. Amen.
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