Moving Deeper Into Fundamentalism

RMlogo Moving Deeper Into Fundamentalism

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.

I Surrendered to the Call and Became a Preacher

I went down front convicted and crying—slobbering all over the altar, which was the steps that led to the platform. I do not remember everything I said to the Lord, but there was a sense of anti-climax. I had already prayed all I knew to pray days and weeks before.

I got up from the altar, in tears, and approached “Brother Gerald” and told him that I believe God was “calling me into the ministry.” This way of becoming a preacher is the fundamentalist formula to go into full-time vocational ministry.

Gerald was standing on the platform since he was giving the “altar call.” I was facing him, with my back to the congregation. He smiled big and said, “Tell them,” as he pointed to the people. I turned around, and through blubbering words, I told them that God had called me into the ministry. This announcement was the first time that my wife had heard about our new future life. Whoa!! What could possibly go wrong that? If there were idiot pills, I would have overdosed.

The place erupted as everyone was grinning from ear to ear, shouting the praises of the Lord. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of that church meeting, other than pumping a bunch of hands and relishing in the aftermath of released angst. After most of the people left, I was sitting on the altar (steps) with (brother) Gerald. I asked him what I was supposed to do now. I never considered the next phase.

A Call to Prepare

I had focused my energies on surrendering. It never occurred to me that there were things to do afterward. Gerald told me, “A call to preach is a call to prepare, son.” Well, amen! I needed to go to college for training. There were two preacher boys from our church that had surrendered years earlier. I was the third one in ten years. One was in the pastorate already. The other one would be graduating that year. They went to a fundamentalist Bible College in Greenville, South Carolina. I had never heard of Greenville, South Carolina, even though it was only 135 miles away.

On the way home that night, I asked my wife what she thought about what I did. She said she was glad that I “surrendered” because I was making things unbearable at home. I did not know how the pressure of “the call” was hurting her or our home life. She was excited, though both of us were clueless.

My First Evangelistic Stop

Before arriving home, I decided to stop by my mother’s home, which was across the field from our double-wide mobile home. I wanted to witness to her, which meant to tell her about Jesus, hoping God would save her. She was not “living for the Lord,” and I was concerned for my family. Mother told me she had an experience with God a few years earlier.

She said she was standing at the front door of her home, looking toward the front yard when she saw the ground rise and the sky come down. Then something happened, the details of which I don’t remember. Because of that experience, she knew she was a Christian. I did not respond to what she said. Maybe I should have.

I went home and pondered all the events of the day in my heart. My life had just changed, and I had no idea what God had in store for us or the costs involved.

The Subjective and Ignorant Call of God Into the Ministry

I continued to work in the church through the summer and fall of 1985. I couldn’t get enough of it. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. The church was the world’s greatest playland. My career at Delaval—the machine shop—was going well too. God was showing favor there as I was becoming more involved in committees and training. It was an excellent job for me.

I told Cal Pearson, one of my bosses, that I couldn’t foresee me doing anything else in my life. But I did add that if I do grow weary of the job, I will leave. Of course, I could not possibly imagine that happening. My comment to Call was instructive because it was less than a month later when I noticed there was a drawing of my heart from Delaval. It was out of the blue; I was growing weary of my job. It was amazing.

There was no script for what I was going through, and I was unprepared for the unexpected. The work that I loved doing was becoming taxing and frustrating. Shortly after talking to Cal, I wanted to be somewhere else though I didn’t know where that would be. The only clue I had was that my heart yearned to do more work for the Lord in the context of a local church. These thoughts brought fear and angst.

The Call of God?

Simultaneous to my soul troubles, some of the good church folks hinted that God was calling me into the ministry. “Going into the ministry” is a term from the Independent Baptist movement of churches that meant if a male, Christian had zeal and a desire (burden), God was calling him to full-time work. The three options are pastor, missionary, and evangelist. Yeah, weird, right? But it wasn’t then.

Their approach to pursuing the ministry is not wise even though men do it all the time in religious cultures. Some of the things missing in this equation are a lack of assessment of the person’s gift mix, character, and a season for the outworking of his gifting. And, of course, how he loves and leads his family are critical data points. Discerning these things did not happen. I received no counsel. The irony is that I was merely acting out the gospel in my life as I was learning from Bible reading, preaching, and modeling what I saw other Christians doing.

In retrospect, God was not calling me. Living out the teaching of the Bible should be typical for all believers. If you grow in your understanding of the Bible and live it out, you’re transforming into an expected Christian life. Reflectively, I see how my life was counter to the nominalism in the church. I was the new, shiny thing, and the people were ignorantly excited about the zealous Christian in their midst.

This kind of ignorance is the false continuum that says if you have zeal, God is calling you into the ministry. And the good Christian folks were not shy about stating their opinions regarding my vocational future. Their “encouragement” became a sinful temptation to me. I did not want to “go into the ministry.” I was terrified of this notion.

But their not-so-veiled-comments continued while nobody came alongside me to talk about these matters. They were observing me and giving opinions on how they thought about my future or what God was doing in my heart. It became a waiting game for them. I did not know how it worked, but they knew the day was coming when I would “surrender” to the “call to go into the ministry.”

I just needed to work it out so the inevitable would happen. I think about how insane this is today. How devastating to a person and his family when you “expect” him into the ministry without careful evaluation and soul care.

The Ironic Day When I Brought Revival to Our Little Church

RMlogo The Ironic Day When I Brought Revival to Our Little Church

June 1985 – The Lord’s conviction was as powerful as my love for rock and roll—a real dilemma. I do not remember if I went “down to the altar” to repent of this “sin” or not. (The altar in an Independent Baptist Church is the steps that lead up to the platform where the preacher preaches.)

Many Baptist preachers end their sermons by giving an altar call. It’s “closing the deal,” as you make your way up front and pour out your heart to the Lord while the congregation waits and watches. Being the “good Baptist” that I was, I probably hit the altar. It was vital for me to do business with God.

I suspect there were others in the altar too. Don’s message was one of those that guaranteed a crowd upfront. I mean, who wanted to be the one who shut down a revival?

Back Home: Decision Time

I’ll never forget what I did after I arrived home. It was a Sunday afternoon, in June, in North Carolina, and it was hot. The conviction was so controlling that I couldn’t wait any longer to get rid of those wicked rock albums. I collected them and went to the burn barrel (a 55-gallon drum with the top cut out of it) in the backyard. We lived in the country. The standard way to get rid of your trash was to burn it.

I threw my stack of albums into the barrel, which was a joyless process. (Every act of obedience is not a happy one, at least not for me.) Because it was a Sunday, I could not burn them. There was an unwritten sin about mowing the lawn or burning trash on Sundays. As a new Baptist, I was not up to speed on all the transgressions that aren’t in the Bible, but I did learn them eventually.

Nevertheless, I was as obedient as I could be, and it was a Sunday. I went back to the church meeting that night, knowing that if revival did not come, it would not be my fault. There was no way that I would “stay the hand of God” within nine months of becoming a convert. It never dawned on me how arrogant I was in thinking that I could control the Lord, or bring revival. It was a great church meeting that night.

The Morning After

The next day I was “mostly” onboard with God about those albums, though there was a gnawing feeling of regret while at work. Upon arriving home, I entered the front door and kept walking right out the back door. I just couldn’t let them go. I made my way to the burn barrel, silently glad that I obeyed God by not burning them on Sunday.

Yesterday’s church meetings were over, and so was my conviction. What in the world was I thinking? It is so funny—now—when I peered into that trash barrel. I saw all those albums in a contorted, twisted, and melted mess. They had been sitting in the blazing sun all day.

I felt a twinge of conviction and embarrassment in my soul for attempting to retrieve them. The Lord was making sure that I would not get them back, so He made arrangements to remove this “sin” out of my life permanently.

It is a humorous story from a young man trying to make his way in his new faith. The good news is that we had a revival that week because of God (and me). The bad news is that I burned all those classics.

The Rest of the Story – The Lord gave me iTunes twenty years later.

You Won’t Have Revival If You Listen to Rock Music

RMlogo You Won't Have Revival If You Listen to Rock Music

May 1985 – After hearing from God that we should be at Grace Baptist Church, we started visiting immediately. Baptists call this finding your “home church.” We were about to get us one. Yay!

Grace Baptist was not my first “home church.” I attended First Baptist Church when I was a kid. It was “the church” if you were somebody. Our family did not fit the social category, but we wanted to be what those good Christian folks were. From my perspective, the Deacon’s kids had good weed, so I loved that church.

By the time I was ten or eleven, I stopped the church scene. My mother was the impetus behind us going since my dad was a drunk. But she could no longer manage us. We were on our own, living in the illusionary world of self-reliance before the pre-teen years.

I did attend Tabernacle Baptist Church a few times, the flagship fundamentalist church in the area. I’m not sure why that happened, though I think my brother was dating a girl who was an attendee.

Then I went to another fundamentalist church because Archie and Ann—the couple that worked at Judd’s Restaurant where I bused tables—attended that church. I started my “Judd’s career” at twelve, and wanted to fit in with the others, and they were good churchgoing folks too when they weren’t stealing food from Judd (the owner) during the week.

It’s Revival Week

When we began attending Grace Baptist Church, now that God had regenerated me, they were preparing for revival week. It sounded cool. Don Fitch and the “Singing Fitch Family” was there all week. In the Independent Baptist circles, they have what they call revival meetings. They aren’t revivals in the purest sense of the word.

They snatched the word from a bygone era when there were revivals in America and Europe. The so-called “revivals” of today are a quiet echo of a long-gone reality. It’s more symbolism than substance though the stalwarts feel good about them.

I’ve never been part of a legitimate revival. Nevertheless, it was revival week, praise God! And the Singing Fitch Family was doing the honors. Don and his family toured mostly the south in a large bus, serving small local churches.

Don was preaching on Sunday morning. His prop statement was that if any of us had any known sin in our lives, there would be no revival that week. (Which may explain why there has not been a revival in nearly one-hundred years.)

He said that any sin in our lives would “hold back the hand of God” and revival would not come. Oh, my! It was clear that if revival didn’t happen, it would have been my fault. I had known sin in my life. I took his message to heart and knew that God was speaking directly to me, through this man.

I had only been a Christian for a few months, and I had been listening to rock music all my life. As Paul said in Ephesians 4:22,

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.

Shazam! I had a “former manner of life,” and I brought it into my Christian experience. And now I’m at one of the first crossroads in my young Christian experience. Was I going to obey God or continue living my pagan lifestyle? Oh, how powerful the conviction from the Lord for listening to rock and roll.

My mind immediately went to my extensive collection of classic rock albums. What would I do? The Lord put His finger on my sin, and it was on me as to whether Grace Baptist Church would experience a revival that week.

To be continued.

The Compelling Desire to Be a Fundamentalist

We were sitting in the main auditorium of a Southern Baptist church in the spring of 1985. It was there where it became evident that we should be at Grace Baptist Church on Weddington Road. It was such clarity, as though it came from nowhere. I was sitting there thinking about “whatever,” and then my mind was filled with this need to attend Grace Baptist, the fundamentalist church across town. My wife agreed.

Shortly after God saved me, there was this urge to find a local church and become a member. This “prompting” was one of many things that began to happen to me. I had never had the urge to find a local church or become part of one before salvation. My life had changed, and I was led mysteriously by another power. It was a new day, an objectively different day. After redemption, we went in search of a local church. We visited a Pentecostal church, Southern Baptist churches, Independent churches, and Presbyterian churches. I had no clue about doctrine, the Bible’s teaching on the local church, or the value of the local church, but knew we had to be part of one.

Sometime in the winter or spring of 84-85, we visited Grace Baptist, a fundamentalist church. I do not remember our first visit. But I do remember some of the experiences with that church. The most notable one was walking through the foyer and observing the mem standing there, with their Bibles tucked under their arms while talking about God. This scene was so odd to me. To hear people talking about God outside the “sanctuary” was unheard of—to me. And it got “worse.”

We visited with members of Grace Baptist in their homes, and their conversation would inevitably lead toward God, Christ, and what He did for them. It was surreal; I didn’t know you could do that, but it was compelling. Some of the men of the church were Gerald Medlin (pastor), Rick Baker, Doug Webb, and a few others. Later Jim Greenburg came to our church, and it formed some of the fondest memories that I ever had in any local church then or now.

While sitting in that Southern Baptist church—a friend of mine from Delaval invited me—I knew I was supposed to be part of Grace Baptist. The next Sunday, we went and never left until we moved to Greenville, South Carolina.

These were my formative years as a new convert. I remember walking in Grace Baptist in those early days with my Living Bible, a paraphrase, not knowing that I had the wrong Bible, which was one of the hottest issues in the Independent Baptist movement. I noticed the “guys” all had Scofield Reference Bibles. So, I got one—a red-leather-covered one and carried it proudly. I soon found my place in the vestibule, making up the gauntlet that greeted folks. I was one of the boys.