This is the song that was playing, bringing me straight back to my childhood.
My friend has invited me to her church from the moment I told her I didn't have a church home. She has spoken many times about the transformation in her own family, and about the comfort and support that this church has given her. Over last weekend, I received a little flyer in a "goody bag" from a local event that she spearheaded, and decided "this was the week."
Tabernacle Baptist Church sits off to the side of the road, the steeple rising high and reminding me of Matthew 5:14-16, with the city on the hill and the light showing to all. When I got there, the welcome was immediate. Pews are well-worn and aged to a golden patina, the church is filled with light. My friend came over and told me about her baptism, rubbing her very-pregnant belly. We made jokes about a "water birth", and how slowly and carefully she'd be baptized.
For those who don't know, in a Baptist church, baptism has "nothing to do with salvation." I am taking quotes from the associate pastor who conducted the baptism, but this is also how I was raised and (truthfully) what I believe. Full-water baptism is an "outward manifestation of what happens within," and represents dying to oneself and being raised again, a new person. The idea is to wash off our sins and our old habits and our old ways, and be raised with Him. There are many different types of baptism, many different beliefs that go along with it, and biblical references to Jesus being baptized. Some believe in baptizing infants, some believe in only baptizing adults, some believe that once a person reaches an age of understanding they are eligible. My friend had been baptized at another church, and chose to do this for her own personal reasons and to truly become a member of Tabernacle. I will say, from personal experience, that baptism creates a feeling of starting anew, and (re)committing one's life to Christ.
Her baptism was a lovely thing to behold. Her husband helped her down the steps, carefully holding her arm, and her dripping, joyful smile afterwards was a sight to behold.
On a side note, when I first heard she was to be baptized, I looked all over for the baptistry. I've seen churches use everything from what looked like an outdoor fountain, to a jacuzzi-looking pool, to an elaborate portable tub that reminded me more of a metal coffin. I couldn't see anything here. As the time for the baptism neared, church deacons and other helpers prepared for the baptism by moving the choir pews, removing the floor, and setting aside the floor supports. This baptistry was built into the floor of the choir!
Sometimes the lesson in a church service is particularly amusing in its timing. Just before leaving the house, my husband let me know that he was watching How Booze Built America and enjoying Mike Rowe's unusual take on the, um, history lesson. So, what was the very first verse?
New International Version (NIV)
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit...
I laughed and laughed, deep inside. Okay, I got it. Don't get drunk.
Then the pastor expounded on the verse, saying that this was sometimes used by other churches to show that drinking was allowed, as long as people don't go get drunk. He said he disagreed, and followed up with a second verse. He said, "The Bible never contradicts itself."
The second voice, Proverbs 20:1, expanded his first teaching by saying that anyone led astray by beer or wine is not wise.
The rest of the sermon went on in much the same vein, and some very good points were made. We are, as Christians, called to be separate from and different from the world. He said we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be joyful due to God and not due to the things of the world.
I really liked some points that he made, during the sermon. He said it's a daily choice, that we be filled with the Spirit. He asked if we were running on spiritual fumes. I truly think that God gave me the "meat" of this sermon so that I would go and be changed, versus my knee-jerk reaction to the initial verses. One particular quote that I starred in my notebook was, "It's not that we reject the influence of God, it's that we allow other things to influence us more."
You may be wondering by now, what exactly was my problem? Well, here it is. Though I grew up Baptist (we don't drink, we don't dance), I am not a teetotaler. If we go out to someplace that has alcohol, I generally won't drink because I am either the driver or I am not in a place where I feel completely safe. However, I do occasionally (gasp) have a drink. I like how some wines taste, I like fruity mixed drinks that go down icy and warm at the same time, and I don't mind if my husband kicks back with a beer when he's watching football. Alcohol has a time and a place, just as dancing, and singing, and mourning, and staying silent all do. Ecclesiastes 3:1 is one of my favorite verses of all time, and it's a good lesson to remember.
During sermons like this, I want to say, "Even Jesus drank the wine, pastor. That wasn't grape juice." We are not all alcoholics, we are not all going to be "led astray" by alcohol, and all alcohol is not found in seamy little backwater dives. I really think that this is one of those areas that is up to the denomination, to the church, and to the individual. There are some faiths that think all wine is forbidden, and I respect their views just as I would never tell this church they're wrong. They just have a different interpretation of common verses and teachings.
I will, however, say that this is one of those areas that helps to narrow down where my "church home" may be in the future. Welcoming, loving, and singing are very important to me in the church. Teachings straight out of the Bible are also very important, and I don't want to choose a church that skims over hard topics. I do, however, have to draw the line when it's a rule that goes counter to my own beliefs, based on reading these same verses. Some drink, some don't. And that's okay.