Checking in on the Past

Its getting close to the first anniversary of the limey family move to a coastal location (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/settling-into-a-new-location/).

A lot has happened in that year, yet it feels like its flown past. On the whole we are very happy with the choice we made. We like where we live, we have made some good friends, our daughter is doing very well at her new school, better than we think she would have done had we not moved. We are more relaxed and happiness is up.

There has been one big negative. A dear friend from our last church lost his fight with cancer and we were unable to attend the funeral. Accounts say the church was packed and I am not surprised, he was an immensely popular man and was hugely respected by many of the young people. It was very upsetting not being able to attend but things conspired against us and it simply wasn’t possible.

On a more positive note; other good friends held their regular start of the summer BBQ and we made the trip back to our old town. That was a far more appropriate occasion to catch up with many familiar faces and share stories and updates on the past 10 months. Before the BBQ we stopped by to see the wife of good friend mentioned above. We were pleased to see that she’s being cared for, but adjustment to losing a spouse after all those years and having to deal with an empty house must be hard.

One of the inevitable conversation pieces during the BBQ would be the state of the church we left behind. Some more of our friends have left since we moved, yet the church continues to attract new members so the loss does not appear to be affecting the membership; though the demographic has been affected.

One of the friends who left is cancer survivor. She left because she didn’t like seeing people in corners obvious talking about her in hushed tones. Her illness and survival seemed to change the way some people approached her, specifically those who didn’t know her so well. Her friends of course treated her and loved her just the same and it really was good to see her again. One specific person in the church, who is now a deacon, has very strong literal and creationist views. On one occasion he had intimated something to her husband about sin and illness and the couple were left feeling that they were being judged for her not having claimed her full healing in the Name of Christ!

I think that would likely make me leave a church. I don’t know what the exact conversation was, but I do know that if I’d been the husband on the receiving end of such wisdom I’d have been far less gracious than that husband was.

There was one more shocking account of our previous church to come; this time involving the pastor. In a conversation with another couple where the subject of leaving the church came up (again I don’t know the exact details of the conversation) the pastor’s attitude was that he wasn’t bothered if people left the church. This was especially the case if the issue was on differences of theology. The pastor’s attitude was plainly that he was right and people leaving was because they were not on his side and if it was a theology issue it was an attempt by the devil to devide.

His arrogance in these matters appears to know no bounds. Sadly I am not surprised that this is his view, but I am deeply saddened.

By way of contrast, many years ago, in the early days of our marriage; my wife and I went to our Vicar (this was a Church of England Church) and explained that for all the good church did. It didn’t meet the needs of a young couple without children. He shed a tear and expressed his sadness. That is how one should react when people talk about leaving your church.

The Christian (Theist) Challenge

 

To follow on from the atheist challenge (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/10-questions-for-atheists/), thebiblereader (http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/the-atheist-challenge/) has created 10 questions for Christians.

The 10 questions can be found here: http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/the-christian-theist-challenge/ and rather than repe4at the questions I’ll let you pop over there to read them and I’ll provide the answers below that I think my former Christian self would have replied. This will be an interesting challenge for me as it will provide me with an opportunity to attempt to think as I once did about God and salvation and examine those thoughts through my new eyes.

 

1)      Religion is a man made concept and as such there will be elements of religiosity that do conflict with God and the Bible. Those conflicts would be entirely the fault of the people involved and not at all to do with God. God and His word, however, do not conflict.

2)      A lot depends on the context of this, I can recall certain situations where immediate danger to my family could have resulted in this sort of interpretation out of a desire for retribution. However, in the cold light of day in my western life in glorious England, I really can’t see how that might happen. Even with absolute certainty that it was an instruction from God I can’t see myself going ahead with it.

3)      God always was and since he created the laws of physics when he created the universe, there is no violation as he is outside of those laws.

4)      Yes, of course its inerrant. Perceived errancy is down to misunderstanding the context of the situation.

5)      Its not right or justifiable by today’s standards. Life in those times were different and the rules of war and engagement. God wasn’t ordering killing for killings sake. Nasty killings were going to happen anyway, wars of that nature in those times would have been very brutal. God’s instruction on dispatching the enemy did not make the end result any worse than it would have been anyway. This was a kill or be killed scenario and utter oblivion of the enemy reduces the chance of a repeat performance later on.

6)      God did not make a mistake. He intentionally gave us the option of following him or not. The choice had to be ours to make. Having a creation of adorable puppies that mindlessly stick to his heals and wishing to please at every one of his whims is not what he intended to create. Through a free will choice, comes imperfection as a consequence of those choices, when they are made truly and freely. Would a creation of those puppy-like followers be perfect? I would say not.

7)      Yes he will hear. God might help that person get find the way again, or he might know that they will manage it anyway and so not intervene. The Christian might never know which.

8)      I never considered that this could even be an option. I can’t imagine what I would do.

9)      Being a creationist. The proof would have been that creation was wrong and evolution right after all because the unpacking of that would mean so much of the bible simply can’t be true and that kills the foundation of the gospels dead. (As it turns out, this is precisely what happened)

10)   I had always been happy to admit to indoctrination. I was happy with that because I was secure in my faith. Other Gods were not compatible and so they could not be believed in. Other religions were violent, cultish or a bit New Age and fluffy. None of which were attractive.

On Women in the Church

This isn’t a post I expected to write just yet, but recent events have meant it’ll soon become a source of much conversation.

But first some history

I am old enough to remember when the Church of England voted to allow the ordination of women, about 20 years ago. There was a lot of media attention on the matter and at the time I was never convinced by the arguments against the ordination of women. As a young Christian man, my opinion was that the spiritual qualities of a minister and their abilities to lead a congregation in a biblical were far more important than their gender.

At the time I worked in a computer shop and one of our regular customers was a vicar. A few days after the vote to allow women to be ordained he brought his computer in and he’d set up his Windows to have the most ghastly colour scheme you could ever imagine. Pretty much everything was a different colour and they were all bright and clashed horridly. When a comment was made, his response was that he had attended the vote and during the pre vote debate, so much was said that he considered unpleasant that when he got home he was in a such an emotional state it was the only way he could distract himself long enough to wind down to sleep. He was involved in the organisation of the Women’s World Day of Prayer, so I don’t think it’s difficult to guess which side of the argument he was on.

The Sunday after the vote, the leadership of the Church of England church I attended stated that they considered that the Church had lost something of its essence as a result of the positive vote. I never really understood what was meant by the comment and I never felt confident enough to ask. I was a little surprised though because the church did seem to support women in leadership. There was at least one female Lay Reader and women did preach on occasion as well. There was certainly nothing obvious about the language and the leadership of the church that indicated opposition to women in leadership.

After we got married, my wife and I were briefly involved in a church plant that this same church was involved in. The team put together was mostly women and the church actively supported the church plant and the members of the team.

When we relocated, we started attending a Baptist Church. One active church member, who we worked with in the youth ministry, was anti women in leadership. She was anti to the point where she would not attend a service when a woman was preaching. This included the occasions my wife would preach.

How do you support and work with a person on a close level and yet, due to their gender, don’t consider them worthy of your ear when they preach? The contradiction led to a couple of unhelpful conversations but, again, the reasons for the non-support of the female preacher never made any sense to me.

And so to now

Now we’re heading for the first anniversary of our latest move, gosh how the time flies! We’re at another Baptist church and we’re friends with the minister and his wife, and a handful of others too.

The church has its challenges, it has a far more conservative congregation, mainly due to its older demographic. The church forbids the women to preach, it’s in the constitution. The current minister does not support this rule, but he can’t change it without the support of the majority of the congregation. So my wife will not be preaching at this church any time soon, though she has already started leading worship on occasion and organised a worship group; two things that appear to be appreciated.

So why bring this subject up now?

Well, at the weekend one of the less old members of the congregation approached my wife and asked if they could meet up at some point to have a conversation because he suspected that they didn’t agree on women in leadership and he wanted to have an honest discussion before there was a chance of a misunderstanding.

I’m disappointed that this gentleman is closer to my own age than the traditional older members of the congregation, but I do admire his desire to head off a confrontation and hope that the result will be positive. However, I don’t really see either changing their minds so the result can really only be a return to the uncomfortable friendship previously described at our former church.

This makes me sad, but there is not a lot I can do about it, my wife is a big girl and she doesn’t need me to protect her from this sort of situation, however it is something she could do without. I guess we’ll have to see what transpires and deal with it from there.

Final thoughts

There is a paradox about not allowing women to lead and preach that has always bothered me. Churches (and people) that don’t support women behind the pulpit seem happy with women leading the children’s groups. If what the woman has to say is so unbiblical then why the hell allow her to talk to impressionable children but not to adults who can apparently think for themselves? If a woman is not worthy of expounding the gospel to adults then why the hell is she teaching the children?

I don’t get it.

The Move to Secondary School Didn’t Change Much

Life at secondary school did little to change my Christian belief and certainly didn’t seriously challenge my creationism.

Personally, life during these early teen years was horrid. My parents were going through an increasing antagonistic relationship. Well the antagonism was all going in one direction, which I and my brothers reacted badly against.

The emotional pain of it was very isolating and I earned the reputation for being a bit of a cry-baby. Not a good start for someone at an English all boys boarding school. Oh how I missed my friends in Zambia, and especially my brothers. It didn’t feel right being at school in England, I didn’t want to be there, I was in an unknown culture and I terribly lonely, I needed more than anything to be in a loving environment, with people I loved. School in England simply did not provide that, despite the very Christian ethos of the place and the couple of students whom I also knew from school in Zambia.

You’d have though that an English secondary education in the 80s would have included evolution to some level. I am sure it must have at some point, but I simply do not recall it coming up in any class at all. I remember we covered the basics of some parts of the body in biology, and then there was the obligatory frog dissection. That’s about all I can remember.

The only evolution discussion I can remember is with a class mate who accepted evolution and I challenged him over where each progressive animal emerged from. With each answer I laughed louder and pronounced evolution as impossible.

With each school holiday I loved returning to Zambia, the sun, my mother and brothers, the occasional safari. Oh how I loved those holiday safari’s, probably the only times I was truly relaxed in the presence of my dad and the new woman. If I close my eyes tight I can still go back to those moments, the warm sun, the still air, the clear blue skies, the silence, oh the silence. Scanning the bush for animals, any animal would do, getting clues from the birds in flight about what we might be able to see. Oh I could go on and on….

Sadly those moments were always too brief and real life was always a shock.

Staying with mum was the exception. I always looked forward to the holiday time spent with mum. There would typically be a few days of wind down but simply being there with her was often enough. There was no need for anything more special. Her always loving and gentle patience was so badly needed during those years.

I was very angry and the situation she was in, an only child, thousands of miles away from her parents, single mum living in a small flat who saw her children for only half of each holiday, the rest of the time they were at boarding school. There were numerous times when I tried to be act as her protector and she had to remind me that I was her son and it was her who protected me, not the other way round. They were hard lessons for a teenager in deep emotional turmoil.

Brief Recap

Before going into my adult experiences of Christianity and young earth creationism I thought it would be a good idea to give brief recap of my beliefs and level of Christianity moving from childhood.

The posts that come under the category of ‘The Beginning’ give the salient points of my upbringing to the age of 18.

What I believed, either through direct teaching or through assumption.

  • God made the world in 7 literal days
  • Up until the time of the biblical flood, there had been no rain, the rainbow account was the first occurrence of a rainbow, ever
  • All the characters mentioned in the bible, and their adventures occurred exactly as stated. This includes:
  • The spiritual gifts listed in the bible are real gifts that humans can and do use
  • God is a personal god of love and has an interest in us as individuals.

In terms of my own Christian dedication, I had no doubt I was a Christian and I had no issue with going to church. I considered it important that I did, the thought of not going to church just didn’t feature. I attended many different churches of different denominations over those early years.

As a person I had very low self esteem, thanks to my parents marriage breakup, controlling step-mother and step-siblings, English public school and probably other factors too. I recall not having much freedom to find and express my own views, opinions and ideas.

Christianity to me was defacto and unquestionable. There had been boys at school in England who challenged Christianity, but the school itself did not, with the majority of teachers being practising Christians. There was even a school Chaplin.

So at 18 years old, I was to leave home in Zambia, with a plane ticket for England and make my way in the big bad world. Of one thing I was certain, I would be looking for a church to attend with the same seriousness as I would be looking for a job.

First experience of Gifts of the Holy Spirit

It was during the years between leaving school and living permanently back in England that I first encountered Gifts of the Holy Spirit. As previously mentioned my parents were going to two very different churches. Mum a Pentecostal and dad a Presbyterian.

It was during a family meal when dad asked about the church mum went to and said something about them speaking in tongues there. I replied that I had not witnessed it happen, which was true at the time, I hadn’t witnessed any speaking in tongues, or any other gifts of the Holy Spirit at the church, yet. Dad, relaxed visibly and said, more to the step mother than to me, that maybe they’d stopped doing it.

I never knew the reason for dad’s concern about speaking in tongues and I never pushed it. I had learnt by now never to challenge or ask questions in dad’s house. Survival meant going with the flow and being as compliant as was possible, or at least giving that impression.

It wasn’t long before I did witness speaking in tongues in a service. I can’t remember at all what my reaction was at the time, or much of the detail of the event. It was to be repeated again not many weeks later and I would witness it quite a few more times before my final service at the church. Life at this vibrant and active church was so much more fun that the staid and boring church dad went to. The songs were sung with much gusto and there was genuine praise and worship going on. Such a different experience to the drudgery and hymns sung without enthusiasm.

I loved the clapping along to joyful and exuberant songs, the swaying and dancing in the isles and those wonderful Zambian voices. Oh those voices, they sing with such beauty and harmony, the sound of which beats pretty much any UK choir you could mention. A spine tingling joy radiates from a host of Zambian voices singing in enthusiastic unison that is almost impossible to adequately describe. Even though my British genes barred me from the honey voiced throng, I was in awe of the wonderful experience of being among that congregation.

Even though I now reject the concept of a God, the memories of being surrounded by a joyful throng of black voices, all singing wonderful harmonies is something I treasure. The men with such deep bass that I could feel it vibrate in my chest, I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

I don’t remember any specific teaching on spiritual gifts at the church, or what other gifts may have been used besides tongues. I only remember that tongues were occasionally used during a service.