I grew up Catholic because I attended Catholic Schools from kindergarten through high school (called secondary school where I came from). In my early twenties, still a new immigrant in America, I rebelled against everything I was taught. I became a deist and worshiped science. I became convinced then that if there was a God, He must have left the universe to work on its own like a giant clock which eventually will run its course and fall apart.
I happen to have a photographic memory and I kept replaying in my mind sequences of dreams I had as a child, of a bunch of hot orange balls of fire falling from the sky lighting the darkness of earth in what my young mind imagined to be the end of the world. I used to be paralyzed with fear in my sleep at the sight of super bright baseball-sized balls coming at me at a remarkable speed. I was told by my sister that I would become combative in my sleep as both she and my grandmother would unsuccessfully attempt to restrain me, and my screams would even wake neighbors up in the middle of the night.
Then one day, friends who were both scientist and Christian invited me to launch a magazine with them. The leader of that enterprise knew of my love of writing, and I accepted the invitation to hang around those Christians. They were all part of a Southern Baptist French-Speaking church, and eventually as God drew me closer to Him through their witness (and that of others), I was yanked from my spiritual stupor, had divine light rushed through me, Jesus Christ became the Son of God instead of just a great man of history, the Bible was finally coherent literature, and I was on fire to do God’s will rather than mine.
Following my spiritual regeneration, I tried several other denominations before I settled for my friends’ church as it was the only one that appeared to be lined up with what God was teaching me personally. So it was natural for me to become a Southern Baptist, and I accepted baptism there.
Not long after I became a Christian, I met the woman whom God had prepared for me, and we got married. Three days after our wedding, we were in Louisville, Kentucky so I could attend the Southern Baptist Seminary, the flagship theological school of the Southern Baptist Convention. That is the short version of our journey.
Despite the similarity in biblical doctrine, I developed no deep connection to my denomination, and I felt no loyalty toward her. There was a chasm that was not just cultural or ethnic, but it was deeply rooted in a lack of unity and the Church not working as a body. I felt like I was accepted as a brother, but not connected as a member of the body of Christ.
As godly wisdom and biblical knowledge were poured out into my soul through fasting, prayer and the study of the Bible, I became more and more skeptical of the theological stance of my denomination, which I thought by now was steeped in traditional theology, ethnic biblical ideology, and cultural epistemology.
I have always wondered why a denomination which was founded on a split from their stance on slavery and the American civil war can go on claiming to be the denomination with the soundest biblical doctrine while never addressing that past seriously. Many things do not add up.
Recently, we lost our home. After having been cared for a while by some relatives, we entered a transitional housing program which, by any means, claims no adherence to any religious organization, but has used the services of churches in the area to house families such as ours for a week at a time. There are about 18 churches, and they are from all denominations. One of them is even from my own denomination: Southern Baptist.
It was amazing to see so many churches coming together for the purpose of caring for the body of Christ. These were churches that are very diverse in their theology and their biblical doctrine. If they were all gathered in one room, there would be a cacophony of arguments over whether people should be sprinkled as babies or immersed as adults, for baptism to take place. They would argue whether one should term communion “the Lord’s supper” or “the Eucharist,” or whether the poor should be cared for or left to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
However, as theologies and ideologies were muted, and love took over, all those churches were able to come together to the help of those who needed a safe place to sleep, a hot shower to clean themselves up, and a hot meal in a comfortable place. As imperfect as the program might be, there was something divine about the love shown to Jesus in caring for the least of these, which my family and I have become in the eyes of society and God.
In many ways, they were applying God’s word in our situation even though they disagreed about hermeneutics. I then perfectly understood why I failed New Testament twice in seminary: instruction did not match application. In seminary, instruction focused on theology. In real life, application must model reality. I also realized that my application of the word of God was contingent upon my interpretation of the Bible, and as far as hermeneutics was concerned, my professors and I did not always see eye to eye. Therefore, it was hard for me to conform to their views and get the grades. During my stay in the homelessness program, I realized sadly that some so-called liberal churches adapted the word of God to reality better than the so-called conservative churches did. It was an eye opener. What appeared to have been an economic catastrophe in our lives was in fact God-ordained to open our eyes to the reality of the church of Jesus the Jewish Messiah.
In a nutshell, on the one hand, every time I read the Bible, what leaped out of those pages was a realistic God faithful to His own word and showing up in people’s lives through other members of the Church, and that happened regardless of our degree of understanding of that word. On the other hand, I am affiliated with a denomination confident that her teaching is the soundest while her dwindling membership and a culture going increasingly haywire are evidence that something is amiss. After all, are we not supposed to be “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth?”
Perhaps, the mystery of the Southern Baptist Convention’s inefficiency is hidden in its past. After all, there is a historical aspect to the Southern Baptist Convention’s predicament. The southern part of the United States had often stood for rebellion, and the rebellious mentality appears to have taken over everything from religion to politics. Man’s natural depravity helping, we can infer that the cognitive dissonance of Southern Baptist Christians is based on a lack of understanding of how Scripture applies to reality. Otherwise, how else can one explain how a belief that one holds God’s truest doctrine is not accompanied by proofs of God’s power working through the denomination to influence the culture for good? In other words, why are we not influencing the culture positively and why are we declining rather than getting stronger?
What people around us witness is rather a paradoxical relationship between us Christians and the culture in which we emulate it even while we oppose it. We try to fight fire with fire… the wrong way. The culture says, “God is dead,” and we come out and proclaim, “God is not dead.” Under attack by scientists who believe in evolution, we riposte with our own creationist scientists. Every time we try to find our theological root, we go back to Martin Luther’s Reformation instead of going back to the Bible.
We forget that the Holy Spirit is the only fire power that God has given us to use in our witnessing of the world. If the world can see God in us, they will certainly know that God is alive. If we preached God and were serious about what God says concerning creation, evolution would be a non-issue. Our root is not in the Reformation, but in the unadulterated word of God. Martin Luther was just God’s vessel to bring a revival in his time, but now, God is looking for a people to bring about a revolution in our time using solely His word.
We appear to have the desire to influence the culture for good, but we are doing it the wrong way. Instead of promoting God, we promote our constitutional rights as Americans. We may be seeking to reap a good harvest of lost people as God would have us do, but we are more concerned with our denominational census than we are with the souls of those people. God wants us to share the gospel with the lost, but we drive the lost further away by standing as judges against them rather being teachers of the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. They see us as judgmental because we are.
We seem content to preach the good news of the Gospel to one another in a remarkable real-life application of the proverbial “preaching to the choir,” as we seat comfortably in the padded chairs of our cathedrals. We accumulate wealth and neglect the poor while we revile prosperity gospel preachers in our sermons. We rebuke the homosexual sinner while reveling in our self-righteousness; all the while ignoring the fact that God destroyed Sodom, not just for the proliferation of homosexuality but mainly for the absence of righteousness, for God is more interested in getting glory from His creation rather than in the destruction of His image bearers.
Unless there is an alteration of the Southern mentality of Southern Baptist leaders, I do not foresee a spiritual revival in my denomination, or in the Church at large. God took me from a distant land and brought me here to America to show me what His Church was about. I came, I saw, and I learned. I owe so much to the Southern Baptists as far as my biblical and theological education are concerned. My greatest hope is to see them engage in the reconstruction of the Church of the living God, without worldly compromise, but with a spirit of meekness, knowing that a deep transformation needs to take place if they are to become effective Christians. God, in Christ, is gathering us like a hen gathers its chicks. It is up to the Church not to scatter, but to gather with Him.
God the Father placed His church on earth to resume God’s plan of the salvation of mankind. Unless the Body comes together as one through the word of God understood from God’s perspective, the American Church is doomed. Ultimately, for the Southern Baptist Convention to embrace God’s perspective of His Church, an entire shift must be performed in the Southern mentality of the Southern Baptist leaders. That can only happen if Southern Baptists break away from traditions and seek a deeper understanding of the God of the Bible and His word. As for me, I have been made alive by Christ’s work on the cross and the Holy Spirit of God giving birth to my spirit, and as long as I live, I want to truthfully glorify Him. I am just calling on my brothers from the Southern Baptist Convention to do the same.