[NOTE: It probably makes more sense to read Part 1 first].
As the new millennium began, so did the next chapter of my life: high school and the teenage years. As I mentioned at the end of previous post, this was also the beginning of “churchless Christianity” for me. I’d won the fight not to get out of bed early on Sundays and I had the perfect excuse not to go to church anymore. I went to a Christian high school.
Chapel services every week with all the singing, preaching, praying etc; etc; etc; “Who needed Sunday morning church when I had Friday morning chapel?” I’d concluded.
I picked the title above because I often describe my religious status during these years as a “Nodder.” By that I mean that I’d continued my childhood assent of many of the central tenets of the Christian faith. If you had asked me whether I believed: God was Triune; Jesus was the Son of God; He died for my sins on the cross; He rose from the dead on the third day etc; I would have nodded. And I believed that because I believed these things, I was a Christian and I would go to Heaven when I died.
But what I seem to have adopted was a kind of “cheap grace” or “easy believism.” I wanted Jesus as my Saviour, but not as my Lord. The Bible was only a partial authority for how I lived, and while Christian teaching did shape my morality in many areas, I was incredibly selective in which bits I followed and which bits I conveniently dismissed or ignored.
I thought my eternal future was secure based on my ability to tick a few essential doctrinal and ethical boxes. In hindsight it isn’t hard to see that I was a self-righteous rebel throughout these years, until things began to change later on.
But going to this school did impact me both positively and negatively. The school was run by the Uniting Church, but the staff and students were from a very wide range of Christian churches and traditions. I was taught by sincere Christians, including people like my Year 10 Pastoral Care Teacher, Mr. Horne, who made it his mission to ensure all his students at least had the opportunity to hear the entirety of Mark’s Gospel read out in class throughout the year. I had good Christian friends, some of whom continue to be great encouragements in Christ to me today. And in one or two friends in particular I really saw Christ-like character that affected me profoundly.
Of course there was the downside too. Some of the teachers were incredibly strict and moralistic in their approach and provoked resentment and rebellion more than reflection on the central message of the Christian faith.
The broadness of the Uniting Church probably accounted for the fact that some of the teachers who influenced me greatly were more liberal than evangelical in their understanding of Christianity. And then there were the hypocrites. The kids who sucked up to teachers and joined the chapel worship team to get leadership positions that would look good on their CV after graduation, but who bullied others when no adults were watching or showed little interest in Christianity when there was nothing to be gained from it. I hated people like that – even though in many ways I was as bad as they were.
And so these years were a real mixed bag. I was impacted from time to time by devotions, chapel messages or conversations I had with people. I prayed with Christian school friends at certain times, went along to youth events at their churches and thought about different issues like eternity, sexual morality and the compatibility of Christianity and other ideas.
In those years, political issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict were quite important in my thinking (I could not understand why so many Christians supported atheistic and Orthodox Jews against the Palestinians, among whom were a much larger group of Christians). I also came to the humorous conclusion that because I was often taught that “Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship” – I could be a Christian AND have my own religion. So I drafted my own rule of life, full of legalistic, man-made commandments which allowed me to avoid certain places and activities that I held in disdain.
It was in many ways the perfect expression of my self-righteous, independent-minded attitudes, which characterised my life during that time and continued to cause me trouble when I finally began to grasp what biblical Christianity was all about in the subsequent years. I was lost without recognising it. And I’d wander around in this wilderness until I saw the intimidating approach of the needle that would pop the bubble of comfortable Christianised existence I’d enjoyed at high school. But more on that next time…