Reflexions of a Pentecostalish/Fundamentalistic Christian

2004-2007

Previous posts can be found here and here

formal me

I came to a spiritual crossroad towards the end of high school. Because of a girl, I’d gotten back into youth group attendance and eventually added church attendance in 2003-4. Then a Christian schoolmate had invited me to attend his home group/Bible study during my final year of school.

Things seemed to be getting a bit more serious for me and although part of the reason was definitely connected to keeping the girlfriend and her parents happy, that was far from the whole picture. I realised that when I went to university I was going to need to decide whether I’d live independently as a Christian young adult, once the crutch of school chapel and the spoon-feeding of caring Christian teachers disappeared into the rear vision mirror of life. I knew uni wouldn’t do anything to make it easy to live as a Christian, so I felt confronted with the need to either commit or acknowledge that my faith would slowly melt away.

God truly was at work in my life during this season and as I left high school, I continued with church, youth group and home group. I was growing more convinced and committed rather than less and I wanted to ensure I was living as a sincere disciple in response to God’s offer in the gospel.

In August 2005, I had one of the most significant experiences of my Christian life. I was baptised after making a public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from my sins. In my own mind this was my decisive step in declaring my genuine discipleship to family and friends. But as I went down into the waters and subsequently emerged I experienced a powerful sense of assurance from the Holy Spirit that I had indeed been washed clean by the blood of Christ, died with Him in His death and risen again to new life.
I knew the water had not done anything special to me, but at the same time I knew God had. A new chapter had begun and I was determined to live for Jesus, trusting in Him for salvation and following Him as Lord in a way I had neglected to do for so many years of calling myself a Christian.

I was once again part of Pentecostal Christianity and experienced all the strengths and weaknesses that come with this particular expression of the faith. My church and home group instilled in me a greater appreciation for both the Bible as God’s Word and its place in my life, as well as the vitality of a relationship with Jesus through faith and the inner working of the Holy Spirit. I had experienced what Pentecostals call the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” a few months before my water baptism and spoken in tongues and developed something of a mystical spirituality when it came to relating to God. On more mature reflection, I think Pentecostal spirituality can be like a two-edged sword. It helpfully cuts away at religious formality and emphasises real, holy Christian living on one hand, but at the same time it can deeply wound the conscientious soul that is striving for spiritual attainments that are seemingly always out of one’s reach. I think the teachings on holiness I received during those years had an incredibly positive impact on my life in some respects. But at the same time I developed a strong fundamentalistic, reactionary posture to help me survive the harsh secular environment of university and to navigate the temptations of youth – which was not terribly helpful to me or others and often sunk into legalism. I don’t wish to pin the blame for this on others, as I’m aware that my own personality and way of thinking was fertile ground for this perspective on life to develop.

I also had a very speculative approach to understanding Bible prophecy which was fuelled by influences within my circles of fellowship, along with online influences I’d discovered as a high school student. I believed the European Union was the revived Roman Empire and that the Great Tribulation would probably begin before I finished university. Living a godly life and evangelising the lost both seemed much more urgent to me than other things during this period – especially long-term life-planning like super-annuation.

This was the theological and spiritual position I was in when I made some of the most difficult decisions and faced some of the most difficult trials in my young life up to that point. I broke up with my girlfriend because of my new convictions about living a holy life (in hindsight a difficult but wise and right decision). I left university without completing my degree (I’d return later) because I thought God wanted me to give this up too as a sign of devotion towards Him (in hindsight, probably an immature and unwise decision, given I ignored the counsel of my pastor in making it). And in 2007, I experienced terrible personal trials as my family unit broke apart – something which is still difficult for me to speak about today and which has impacted me enormously ever since.

There is no other way to describe this period than this. I got crushed. Emotionally, relationally and spiritually. My theology and spirituality helped me through in some ways, but they did not spare me any suffering and I lacked the maturity to properly process what was going on. I stubbornly persisted in the ministries at church I was involved in and carried on in the Christian life, but I was hurting and felt let down.

After this season I was a changed person – mostly it felt for the worse. I would need to gradually recover personally, but also change theologically and grow into greater spiritual and emotional maturity. More on that in the final installment.

Reflexions of a Nodder

2000-2004
[NOTE: It probably makes more sense to read Part 1 first].

yarran dark 2

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

Reflexions of a Christianish kid

1987-1999

primary

I was sort of brought up as Christian. What I mean by that is, I was dedicated as a baby, my mother took me to Sunday school and church, my Catholic grandmother taught me how to pray and I believed in God and Jesus…But my father and his side of the family were non-believers, so I did not have a cohesive family worldview to grow up in. Christianity was how I came to understand a lot of the world, but naturalism, materialism or atheism (call it what you will) was the default alternative view in my environment.

The type of Christianity I grew up with was Pentecostalism from a range of different churches – sometimes of the mainstream variety, sometimes a little on the extreme, “Word of Faith”, borderline heretical kind of side (eg; at one, we watched creepy videos of Kenneth Copeland’s daughter as “Commander Kelly”). I can remember “asking Jesus into my heart” at around 7 (probably the first of several times) and attending a range of groups for children and youth and singing Hillsong tunes, thinking they had been around for as long as any hymn (when in fact they were often off the latest CD!)

Naturally, I can’t remember a lot of the specifics I learned at church and Sunday school, due to the time lapse. But this kind of Christianity was “normal” to me as I proceeded through childhood. I sometimes doubted God’s existence during these years, but never for long. The existence of the Christian God was always the default position I returned to and His existence did have an impact on how I thought about life and death.

Sometimes I got a sense that something was wrong with me spiritually, like when I sang “Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone” – and knew it wasn’t true. Or when the good feeling of going to church suddenly disappeared when I fought with my sister in the car as we left the church car park. These were matters I’d take, unresolved, into teenagehood.

Towards the end of primary school I did find myself in a different kind of church for the first time. We attended a Church of Christ in Logan City for a couple of years from when I was around 11 or 12. My impression of this church looking back is mostly positive. The youth leaders seemed to have a genuine love for us and wanted to ensure we not only had a good time, but learned the truth about Christ. I’m convinced that the Church of Christ’s non-denominational, restorationist kind of ethos had a big impact on me for the rest of my life. Though I find it hard to see how the Churches of Christ are not a functional denomination themselves, their emphasis on simply being “Christians” is something that has long resonated with me. I believe the church had a formative influence on me in terms of how I understood evangelical Christianity as I went into my teenage years.

However, that church was to be the last one I’d attend for many years. I hated getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning and gradually I went from losing the fight with my mother about getting up to go to church as a young boy, to consistently winning it as a teenager.

There was a time when I tried to return, after some time away, but I found the in-crowd of young people too hard to break into after my time of absence. And so, I turned my back on going to church – but not on Christianity. I still saw myself as a Christian in the years to come, more of which I’ll relate about in part 2.