I never wanted to be where I am today. If it’d been left to me, I would have finished school in January, driven fifteen-plus hours to Colorado, moved into my own apartment in Denver, and immediately started writing for my favorite regional magazine.
I wouldn’t be living in New York City. I wouldn’t be interning two days a week, working another three or four in food service, spending at least five hours at church on Sundays — and I certainly wouldn’t be attending a small, independent baptist church pastored by my dad’s friend from Bible college and seminary.
But, lo, and behold (because that’s what we KJV-readers say), here I am.
Here I am, living in the part of Queens furthest from Manhattan, where there’s space between houses and patches of grass they like to call yards. Here I am, interning with City Limits two days a week and recently hired to work three to four days at a gourmet grab-and-go place in the Flatiron District, practically Chelsea (I’ll write about that next week). Here I am, spending a minimum of five hours on Sundays at my dad’s friend’s independent baptist church, singing with the choir, shaking hands, forgetting names, trying to step out of my comfort zone and start conversations, engaging with a women’s small group, and apparently distracting little kids during the messages with my laugh.
Here I am. But never would I have chosen it.
Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against independent baptist churches pastored by preachers trained at my dad’s alma maters — that, after all, describes the church I grew up in (though, as a PK, I didn’t have much say in where I went Sunday mornings).
But for the past three and a half years at school, I didn’t attend an independent baptist church. I attended a non-denominational church in the Midwest — a great church with great people and great teaching, one that filled my only requirement for church (preach from the Bible, not your devotional journal) and gave me no reason to go back to an independent baptist church.
And at the same time, I attended a non-denominational school, which I loved and recommend to anyone entering the college search, but where, if any denomination was slammed, it was the baptist denomination for all the same old, stereotypical reasons: legalism, arrogance, political conservatism, preaching too much fire and brimstone and not enough love — oh, and taking the Bible too literally (this referring to the beginning of the book of Genesis and anything regarding homosexuals).
Usually, these criticisms came from students — students whom, I’d guess, had never attended a baptist church in their life and only knew things via hearsay. Occasionally, these criticisms came from faculty, particularly a social work faculty member whose stances were really unusual on our mostly conservative campus. Who these criticisms or, rather, slams (due to how they were delivered) came from is really of no importance. The point is what the items themselves are, whether or not they’re true, and whether or not their being true is actually a problem.
Legalism. This is often used to describe any sort of dress code or standard of modesty that causes women to dress in clothes that haven’t been in fashion since the late 1800s. At Faith Baptist in Corona, Queens — the church I’ve attended for the past month — you will always see an ankle-length skirt or three or four, but you’ll also see skinny jeans, knee-length pencil skirts, and other flattering, up-to-date styles. What you won’t see is cleavage or the upper thigh — which we can all count as a blessing. No legalism here, folks: people even watch movies and read bestselling books; they’re just conscientious of what they allow into their minds because they know it affects their thoughts and their relationship with God.
Arrogance. Not once have I ever felt snubbed and never have I seen a person go un-greeted. When the service is interrupted for hand-shaking, everyone talks to everyone — it doesn’t matter what you look like or how you’re dressed — and when we’re called back to finish singing the song (a hymn, by the way) people get stuck in the aisles in conversation. The only church I can compare Faith Baptist to, in terms of friendliness, is a charismatic church in Muncie, Indiana, that Taylor‘s Gospel Choir sang at a year ago.
Political conservatism. As a political conservative, a proud American who believes Government should hardly ever interrupt my daily life, I’ve never really seen this as a problem. What I do see as a problem are sermons that dwell or focus on politics as much as or more than they do on the Word of God. Conservatism is not the Gospel, and no one should treat political stances like they have eternal meaning:
All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away: But the word of the Lord endures forever. 1 Peter 1:24-25a
Sermons at Faith Baptist have hardly ever touched politics. There have been parts that talk about the corruption of man and how it’s displayed through politics, culture, and society at large, but nothing that’s said, “If you don’t think this-or-that about the political sphere, you couldn’t possibly be a Christian.”
Too much fire and brimstone, not enough love.
“All I hear from your mouth is hate, hate, hate. He’s going to Hell, I’m going to Hell, she’s going to Hell. Nothing we do is right. God hates everything we do . . .”
You get the idea. This is a common criticism of street evangelists, some of whom may be baptist, some of whom may not even be Christian. The point is that baptist preachers dwell too much on the punishment of sin and not enough on the love and grace of God.
This will (like all other points) depend on the church and the preacher, but in my experience — from listening to my dad preach when I was growing up, to these past few weeks, hearing his former classmates, Vincent Sawyer and traveling evangelist Paul Schwanke — the fire-and-brimstone is stressed in order to give God’s grace and love meaning. Jesus coming to “seek and save the lost” doesn’t mean much if you don’t think you’re lost. Salvation from sin and Hell isn’t valuable if you don’t think you’re a sinner in the first place. God’s love means nothing apart from His justice. The baptist preachers I’ve heard all understand that.
Taking the Bible too literally. I hate this criticism. Christianity’s foundation is the Bible, the written, inspired Word of God. Any time its centuries-long accepted interpretations come under fire (i.e. six-day creation, Noah’s flood, homosexuality), our faith is coming under fire. Doubt in the validity of one part of God’s Word leads to doubt in the validity of other parts, and then you start questioning certain parts of the gospels, Revelation, Daniel.
“Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Did He really heal the blind man with some spit and dirt? Did He really call Himself God? God couldn’t possibly have created the heavens and the earth in six days — it’s too complicated; He’s not powerful enough.”
One thing leads to another, and soon you’re doubting whether this whole Christianity thing is real or if you’ve been swindled by someone you can’t see, who offers to take your punishment and asks only that you give everything up for Him, right here, right now.
Every baptist preacher I’ve listened to holds the Bible in high regard. They treasure it and preach straight from it with more quotations and cross-references than you can write down (I’ve tried). They encourage those listening not to take their words for it, but to look at it for themselves in this passage or that passage. They take seriously 2 Timothy 3:16:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
They apply this concept to all of Scripture: Old Testament and New, minor prophets and major, Psalms, Proverbs, Titus, Ruth, Ezra. You can’t believe in the God of the Bible unless you believe that the Bible is God’s Word — and hearing preachers stand on the Word of God as the Word of God is one of the most faith-strengthening things I’ve ever experienced. Even more so than sing-and-pray chapels and wing worship by Taylor Lake.
I would never have chosen to be living where I’m living. There’s plenty more to be said about that. What I want you to know this week is that one of the reasons God brought me here was to come to Faith Baptist Church, engage with the people there, and be strengthened by a renewed focus on the Scripture as the unchanging, infallible Word of God. It’s made a huge difference in my faith in the past five weeks, and I’m looking forward to the difference it makes in the future.
Bringing you up-to-date:
Sunday: After church, I went with housemate Lili and four women and girls from church to the Queens Museum, where the U.S. World’s Fairs of the 1940s and 1960s were held. The highlight was the diorama of NYC.
Tuesday: First day of weeklong paid job trial. (I’ll tell you about the place in next week’s post.)
Wednesday: Internship. Choir practice and prayer meeting.
Thursday: Second day of job trial. Worked the closing shift, got out in time to catch a train to church for the first of five revival services, preaching by evangelist Paul Schwanke.
Friday: Job trial day three. Revival service again.
Saturday: Job trial day four. Got to church in time for dinner before revival. I always try to be early to work, since I can’t count on public transportation to get me there on time. Today, I was forty minutes early for my 9:30 a.m. shift, so I went to Starbucks, bought a chai latte, and read my Bible in the window. That’s right: I read my Bible in a public place in Manhattan. I’ve also been wearing my Taylor University hat (with a cross on it) to work. No one’s ever said anything, but I still get nervous about it. I keep reminding myself not to live ruled by fear.
Not a super interesting week in terms of activities, but a lot’s been knocking around in my head. I have a couple article ideas I’m considering pursuing. We’ll see what develops in the next week.