Part two of my story. To see part one, read here.
My early years at a Baptist church, and the crazy youth camps.
When I was a youthful lad, I went to a baptist style church, or at least it had the word ‘baptist’ in the name. I liked to think my church was non-denominational though. I was quite involved in the youth group we had back then. I enjoyed youth group because we played lots of games and went to various camps every now and then. There was a Christian aspect to it, of course. We watched Christian DVDs or studied Bible passages, or listened to the youth leader speak. Pretty standard Christian stuff, so nothing special?
The Christian camps we went to stuck out from memory. One Christian camp in particular had an outdoor playground with climbing ropes, swings, and a river to go kayaking down – that was pretty rad. Of course, we weren’t there to just have fun. These were ‘youth Christian conferences’ after all. During the day you would go to ‘seminars’ which would talk about various Christian related topics. Topics like dating, missionary work and ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ were common at these seminars. Ah gifts of the spirit. The churches I originally went to believed that as a saved Christian you could be imparted with special gifts (abilities) from the Holy Spirit, like prophesy, healing or speaking in tongues. Does it sound like something from World of Warcraft? Yeah probably. Of course, the belief was that it was the Holy Spirit working through you to do these miracles, not yourself. So if the requested miracles didn’t happen, it was because God didn’t will it to happen. Hmmm. Back on topic. At night time, these camps would have preachers come in alongside some fired up militant Christian music. Usually at the end there would be lots of pressuring to give money, which people like myself would happily oblige to do, being under an altered emotional state. It works like this: You’re feeling heavily emotional and under ‘the presence of God’, and you’re told that if you give then you’re ‘sowing a seed’ and can reap blessings from it. In this selfless state of mind you feel happy to give, to support these great great preachers and you really want God to bless you too. I didn’t think much of it at the time, in fact I thought these youth camps were life changing, but now? It seems somewhat dodgy. Here are a bunch of teenagers who have little to no money, and many of them end up being coaxed to give hundreds of dollars, if not more, to these pastors. Don’t you think there might be something wrong with that? I do.
Getting fired up at a Pentecostal church.
Alongside the baptist church, I regularly attended a Pentecostal one. These churches are really heavily into the ‘gifts of the holy spirit’ that I mentioned above. For all the flak these churches got, there were some things I liked about it. The preachers seemed very passionate about what they were preaching, and going to church felt more like going to a rock concert of sorts than an old chapel. I really enjoyed their services. But the downside of these churches it seemed, was that they didn’t take a lot of their bible very seriously, and I actually found it hard to make friends at these churches. These Pentecostal churches appeared to be less community focused. For the above reasons, I ended up leaving this Pentecostal church.
Time away with the heathens.
All of the above happened in high school. As I mentioned in Part 1, I considered going to Bible college afterwards but instead went to university to study earth science. This required me to move towns and of course go to a different church, but I didn’t really pick up another church for a while. Part of this was because I visited a church a couple of times which freaked me out a little (more on this another time). The main reason was because even though I was Christian, I spent the majority of my time with non-Christian friends (except when I was at church). Ah yes, these heathens would drag me down a bit. I still believed in God but I essentially lived a non-Christian life for a good 3-4 years.Why did I not bother with church then? Perhaps it was because church made me happy when I was in high school, but now I could get my happiness from other sources, and without petty restrictions. Yeah a selfish thing to say I know, but let’s be honest here.
Moments of unhappiness.
At university, I did what many people call ‘flatting’. Basically you rent a house with a bunch of other people, sometimes friends, other times it was whoever you could find a place with who hopefully wasn’t a serial killer douche bag muppet skin. Some of the flats I stayed in were really good, and others? Not so much. One flat I really didn’t like because one of my flatmates was drunk half the time, while the other was a druggie, and they really weren’t nice people either – the risks you take. One time I caught up with one of my old Christian friends who I used to go to school with. He used to constantly abuse alcohol and other drugs, and was a pain to be around, but now? He appeared to have turned his life around and was on the ‘straight and narrow’. I ended up visiting his church, which I initially enjoyed, so I started going back to church regularly again. I also quickly moved out of the bad flat and in with some Christian friends – life seemed to be getting better again.
Looking back at this now, I was quite unhappy at the time; so moving into a flat with friends and joining a church seemed to fill this unhappy void for a while. Did I really believe in a God back then? I think I did, but not to the same extent that many of my fellow Christians seemed to. Still, church did something for me back then. For much of my life, I hanged out with non-Christian friends despite being Christian myself, so I was happy to have a group of Christian friends who I could regularly see.
New church life with the brethren.
Even though I initially enjoyed the new church life, I quickly found that this church was quite different from the churches I originally grew up in. Christians might all believe in the same God, but the specific details and various beliefs differ widely. The new church I went to was more of a brethren style denomination. They didn’t seem to believe that miracles happen in this day and age, and that God doesn’t personally speak to people except for apostles usually – this is the opposite to before where I believed in a more personal God who would speak to us. At this church, preaching was expository, meaning that particular Bible passages were read out and discussed (from the viewpoint of the pastor of course). Usually preaching was done this way on a particular book, which could take up to a year to analyse from start to finish… yawn. This is in contrast to topical preaching which I was used to, where the pastor would talk about Christian related topics eg prayer, holy spirit etc. What else? They were really big on communion, ESV bible translations and complementarian gender roles. If you’re wondering what I meant by the last one, basically women and men have different but ‘complementary’ roles in the church. Aha, except the women had much less roles than men, weren’t able to have leadership or preaching positions, and were required to submit to men (but not the other way around). Yeah, I can’t say I agreed with the church on that, but I still stuck with this church for a while. This was one of the teachings which I felt was quite ‘legalistic’ and it may have been one of the drivers which got me to consider leaving Christianity.
While this church studied their bible scriptures in microscopic detail, I kinda wondered if they possibly overlooked some of the original meanings of the scriptures at the time. After all, when the Bible was first written, many of the people who received it weren’t the greatest at reading or writing. I felt that some of these preachers were over-complicating things a bit. Nonetheless I still had many enjoyable times at this church, making a bunch of friends to go swimming with after church, or play video games, or have lunch at someones house. Those lunches were deluxe!
Eventually I would finish my university and move towns again to find work. Moving into an unfamiliar city, I joined a ‘community based’ church. I quite liked this church as they seemed to be much more liberal minded, and they actually did things to try and help out the community. They did counseling for people with various problems (including drug abuse), helped people find work and I remember doing some grueling gardening work for some church friends. I don’t know what it was, but to me these people seemed to be more like real Christians than at the brethren church I previously mentioned. How? They didn’t have many of the legalistic trappings which I felt would distract people from obediently living out a Christian life… To me, Christ was outward thinking. Also, if God is all knowing and well… God, why do you feel that you have to pray to him a certain way or do certain rituals to get a response!? I fell into this trap myself too, but looking back it seemed very patronising to pray like that. So yeah, out of all of the various churches I went to, I think this one fitted me best.
Eventually I would end up leaving church and Christianity. What would cause me to do that? Find out next week in part 3.