The term ‘evangelical’ has become attached to so many negative meanings nowadays. It’s really sad that most things to do with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or anything ‘religious’ (I don’t like that term) are met with such hostility. Though I do understand some of why that ‘is’. Sometimes Christians can be their own worst representatives. I also learned later (in my 30s) that a person’s ‘assumption’ of God often reflects how they view their earthly father. If that relationship was damaged or weak, it’s hard to comprehend a loving, consistent God. When I read the Bible for myself, I found a very compassionate and constant God. I also found so much more love than judgement.
I grew up in an evangelical church from the time I was a newborn. It just ‘was’ in my house. I had a great experience in that church when I was a kid. It was my primary social contact, and the youth groups were a lot of fun. I was in various choirs, and most weeks, I was at church functions at least four different times. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evenings, and some sort of weekend youth activity. In the summers we had Vacation Bible School as little kids, and I worked as a VBS volunteer when I was in high school. I spent eleven years working in the church nursery. We also had an amazing summer camp that I attended for week long sessions as a young kid. For 2 1/2 summers I was on summer staff as a nature counselor between my senior year of high school and early college ages. My memories of that camp are amazing; I still love that place.
When I was growing up in that church, I never felt that there was an exclusivity about it. Back when I was younger, there weren’t that many controversial issues that were discussed openly. That made for a fairly sedate experience. The things I was taught were directly from the Bible. Were there some ‘taboo’ topics? Yep. But it wasn’t something that was beaten into me by some rabid preacher. There were simply Bible verses that were discussed about various topics, and that was that. No drama. Nobody talked about abortion, LGBT issues, or even divorce (until well into the 80s when a Sunday School class for divorcees was started). But I didn’t hear much about those things outside of church either.
As a teenager, there was the expectation that sex happened after marriage (and I had no issue with that). Language reflected character, and was expected to be G-rated (I later had some issues with that, and had a lousy character for a while). Clothing was expected to be modest- but wasn’t Puritanical- shorts and t-shirts were fine, as long as they weren’t Daisy Dukes or low-cut. There weren’t any bans on dancing, playing cards, or going to the movies. The guidelines for deciding activities were simple: Was it something that glorified God? And God is a pretty open-minded guy on many issues ! (I have read through the Bible many times, and found that most of the ‘rules’ were imposed by humans, not the Bible). There were instructions about the power of music and the lyrics and beat that could distract from beliefs; music is powerful. I never got into hard rock, and even paid attention to the softer rock. It had to have a positive message.
How I decided what was right for me was also simple. It was in the Bible. When I became a Christian (an actual event- not a progressive tally of behavior and deeds), I was very young. As I got older and realized the sacrifice of what Christ did on the cross for all of us, obedience to the Bible became something I wanted to do. It wasn’t forced on me; I wanted to follow the Bible out of respect and gratitude. I don’t always do it ‘right’, but I’m a work in progress. Since God has my heart, He can work in me. It’s a relationship more than a religion (which to me implies mindless rituals and Sunday behavior that isn’t the same as the rest of the week). It’s something that grows and gets more mature in time. It doesn’t end, but that’s the beauty of it; God won’t leave me.
I had no interest in having sex before marriage. I wanted to wait until I met someone that I loved, so it was special and not something to take for granted. My body was considered to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, and what I did with it was to reflect that. Drinking and drugs weren’t of any interest- I did go through some stupid drinking when I moved away from home (1200+ miles away), but it wasn’t fun. I stopped. My activities were always rather dull. I’m just not that interested in things that I couldn’t do with Jesus standing next to me (which He is). I don’t feel I missed out on anything. My eating disorder years were a bad example of Christian values; I didn’t respect the body God loaned me.
I do think that some issues were either glossed over or ignored. I was always taught to help my ‘neighbor’ (basically anybody), and not think much about it beforehand. I wasn’t taught to evaluate a situation and feel that it was OK not to help someone if my safety was at stake. It IS Biblical to be safe and not suffer from the absence of common sense. But that’s the big ‘negative’ I experienced (and it was significant in how it affected my life). On the whole, I value my church upbringing as THE single best thing my parents ever did.
When I hear about the extremists on the news, it breaks my heart. Most evangelicals (or conservatives in general) aren’t haters. Many have strong convictions, and may disagree with some social issues, but that’s not the same as ‘hate’. God wants everyone to join Him. Heaven is a choice. Salvation is a decision- it can’t be earned by any deed or quality of life. God used social outcasts for most of His plans in the Bible. He used people of good reputations as well- He can use anybody. God doesn’t hate anyone (that preacher from Kansas is going to have a lot of explaining to do one day). I can’t view anyone who hates another person as someone who is following the Bible. God is the only Being who has the right to judge anyone. He gave us all free will and it’s not up to me to define that for anyone. Do I have opinions on things? Yep. But I can’t climb on board the hate wagon.
As far as salvation and Heaven go, it’s very simple. The Bible is clear on that. Those who believe that Jesus died on the cross to be a sacrifice for our sinful nature , He rose from the dead, and is coming back someday to take believers to live in Heaven for eternity. For those who die before He returns, their spirit goes to Heaven when they die IF they have prayed for Christ to forgive their sins, and believe in His gift to us when He died on the cross. It’s very simple. It’s open to anybody. There are no mandatory deeds to ‘earn’ salvation (earning salvation isn’t possible – which is pretty neat, nobody is excluded from eligibility).
(We’re born into sin as human beings; the age of accountability is different for everyone, and includes developmental stage and the awareness of right from wrong; I don’t believe that babies or those who can’t understand the process of confessing sin and receiving Christ will go to hell).
Baptism is a sign of obedience, but not a requirement for salvation. The Holy Spirit is a guidance system, and comforter. Speaking in tongues isn’t something dramatic used to ‘show’ other people anything. It’s a language between the believer and God, and not required for salvation, or as ‘proof’ of the Holy Spirit’s presence. He can be very quiet and private ! The Bible is a constant, and never changes (the versions and translations may, but the message is the same, from the same Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic sources). There are so many verses that are ‘go-to’ verses when times are tough. Psalms and Proverbs are huge helps when I’m feeling bad, or feel I’m being ridiculed by humans. Proverbs is also a great source of direction on how to live a prudent life. The New Testament gives me the blueprint for living as a Christian (the Old Testament is still valid, but the words of Christ are invaluable). The books of John and Romans are great for new Christians and those who want to go to the ‘nitty gritty’ before anything else.
I mess up living as a Christian all of the time. I ask for God to forgive my daily screw ups, and He is faithful and just to forgive me when I confess my sins. He knows my heart like NO human ever will. With Him, I am totally understood. There is none of the feeling of being misunderstood that I encounter with the vast majority of people I know. But since asking God to forgive my sins and receiving the gift that Jesus gave when He died on the cross, I can never be ‘unsaved’. I can fall away from the type of life I want to live- but I can also return to a closer walk with God at any time. He is still there. He is the ultimate loving Father. The decisions of others, and my own decisions, can lead to trials and struggles in life… but that doesn’t mean God is ‘punishing’ me, or that he ‘makes’ bad things happen. All decisions have consequences; I decide how I react to them.
I’m comforted all the time by the assurance of Heaven, especially with my health problems, but even before then. I know that I’ll see other Christians again, which makes earthly death less painful. I grieve for the temporary loss here, but know that in the grand scheme of eternity, the time on earth is very short.
I hope I’ll see you there. 🙂