In February 1986, my pastor, wife, and I took a road trip to Greenville, South Carolina. It was a cloudy day. And, no, I don’t believe in signs, though that could have been one. I hardly spoke during the 2.5-hour trip. My soul was unsettled about uprooting my family and moving away from all we had known.
As we made our way to Greenville, I said something about the sunlight piercing through the clouds. It rendered what many artists and anyone with a camera want to capture. There were several “fingers” of light breaking through, reminding me of my favorite Artist. Gotta give it up for the Lord; His handiwork is phenomenal. Gerald saw it too.
And that pretty much sums up the conversation. Though I could not articulate what was going on in my soul back then, I now know. I was struggling with faith in the process of what we were about to do. I’m a small-town boy with a redneck’s heart. Moving to the “big city” was not my dream. As I was learning, the Lord was deconstructing and rearranging my dreams.
Tabernacle Baptist College
We had an appointment at Tabernacle Baptist Bible College (TBBC) on White Horse Road. Dr. Jerry Clark was the Dean of the college. They were going to provide us with an overview of the program and a tour of the campus.
We took exit 44 (White Horse Road) and drove the five miles to TBC and TBBC. The church and school were on the same property. The church building stood prominently alongside the road. When Dr. Harold B. Sightler and others bought the church property in the 50s, White Horse Road was a narrow street making its way toward the mountains of North Carolina. In ’88, it was a six-lane highway. The only thing that separated the church building from the highway was the sidewalk. Literally. You could stand on the road and reach over the sidewalk to touch the building.
That day, we saw the church building, the college campus, the children’s home, and the widow’s apartments. You could be part of that ministry from cradle to grave. The radio station was still in Pickens County. We also saw a few church-owned homes where some of the students stayed.
Dr. Clark was in his forties. He was wearing a suit, of course, and every hair on his head was in place, held neatly with hairspray. I’ve never seen him in any other clothes, and his hair was always the same. We used to joke that he slept that way. (That might not be a joke.) I suppose there is something to say for consistency, though I’m more into comfort these days than maintaining a self-imposed or anticipated image.
The Fundamentalist Way
Independent Baptists are fundamentalists. Think conservative regarding their social practices. They model a lifestyle that mirrors how most people lived in our country during the 40s and 50s. They are always consistently 30 to 50 years behind the current times and trends.
Their music had a Lawrence Welk vibe. (You can Google L.W.) They mostly wear long or short sleeve dress shirts to their church meetings, and nearly anywhere else. Lots of suits. The ladies do not wear pants in public, though some will wear them in the home. The closest they come to “pants on women” would be culottes, which I call Baptist britches for women.
Their conservatism is mostly preferential rather than biblical. The fundamentalists have a skewed view of worldliness, believing it to be “in the world” rather than in the heart. (See James 1:14-15). Thus, they react to what they see in the culture by doing the opposite. Ironically, if you played their music from the 1980s in the 1880s, it would be scandalous. If you remove the words, it’s barroom music, which I always found humorous (and instructive).
They have a “chronological conservatism” that adjusts according to the times. It keeps them distant from and out-of-step with their culture. Biblical conservatism, however, transcends cultures and eras; you can dress with the times and engage the people but continue to be different from them.
By having a chronological conservatism, you can show your differences by what you wear, which is similar to the Amish culture. It’s an external display of what they represent. The worse case of this is the Pharisees, who wear their religion on their sleeves. I was a fundamentalist from the point of regeneration until my life fell apart. More on that later.
I trusted and practiced all of their ascetic beliefs. The truth is that I did not know any different. When God regenerated me, I did not know any Scripture, including John 3:16. One of their core tenents is strict adherence to the 1611 King James Bible (KJV), which is a translation from the original KJV. Yes, it’s ironic, but there are a lot of ironies within this movement.
Though I don’t hold to most of their religious practices any longer, I do love these people and fondly look back on those days with appreciation. It is my heritage. I learned about God within that movement. The things we did were some of the happiest of my religious experience. I was appropriately dumb, innocent, hungry, and teachable.
We chose to move and set-up camp in Greenville, South Carolina.